Where Copywriting and Journalism Converge: The Art of the Story

I know there are some number of young writers who read this bloggo, which I take as a deep complement and also a statement about the situation your generation finds yourselves in.  I am not a role model.  I am a neurotic mess of caffeine- and sugar-induced hysteria.

But I guess that’s better than the hero of my youth, Hunter Thompson.  He was a psychotic amalgamation of prescription and recreation drugs, coated in nicotine and hard liquor.  Oh, Hunter, you were hilarious.  And brilliant.  And fucking terrible.

Anyway, I know a lot of these blogs are pointed toward people already in the industry, but once in a while I like to write a bit for those of you looking into doing this for a living (God help you).

If I could give you one piece of advice that would improve your copywriting career and make you far more competitive, it would be to really learn how to be a journalist.  There are certain superpowers we Journos are imbued with though our Jedi training that really come in handy when you’re trying to sell stuff or segment audiences or what have you.

The Differences Between Journalists and Copywriters

First of all, let’s define our parameters.  Obviously, this isn’t going to be totally complete, both because I’m a lazy fuck and because that would just be nearly impossible.  Journalists and copywriters are very different when it comes to the foundations each builds their education upon.

A copywriter’s primary pillar is persuasion.  They are taught from the get-go how to manipulate the emotions of their audiences.  There’s a reason some of the most influential writers of the 20th century happened to also be copywriters.  They can paint with pain points.  It’s kind of impressive, really.

A journalist’s primarily pillar is balance.  No, stop laughing right now.  Stop it.  In a perfect world, journalists are unbiased and exist outside the story, or at least they approach stories with balance in mind.  It can be tough to present both sides of an argument that’s obviously stupid and should be handled my way, but hey, that’s the job.

Although these foundation issues are worlds apart, they share something in common: they require that the writer understand, on a deep and fundamental level, their audience and material.

Copywriters and marketers get more education in business; journalists get more education in research.  Both ultimately become masters at telling stories, even if they tell them differently.

Hey, Look, Examples!

Let’s say that your business wants to bring a new product to the market.  It’s a whistling electric kettle, why not?  If you presented the problem to both types of writers (in a perfect world where they were wholly exclusive), this is sorta what you’d get:

Copywriter:

“Life is full of distractions.  Between the kids needing help with breakfast in the morning and your husband losing his keys for the fourth time this week, it’s easy to forget you’ve put the kettle on.  Modern electric kettles are great for consistency and convenience, but it’s hard to know when they’ve properly heated your water.  Why not start the day right with a kettle that whistles when it’s ready to serve up that first amazing cuppa?”

Journalist:

“Acme industries has announced an innovative electric kettle that they say will change how tea lovers make their tea forever.  Instead of simply boiling quietly, which can sometimes lead to significant evaporation if an electric kettle is set and then forgotten, Acme’s kettle emits an audible whistle, much like a traditional stove top teapot.”

You see what I mean?  As someone who wears both hats (HELLO!), I feel that I’m — well, not uniquely because I’m far from the only journalist who had to learn how to copywrite in order to feed my eating and having electricity addiction — I feel that I’m positioned to see further than either a pure journo or a pure copywriter can.  I see that horizon and these worlds are absolutely convergent.

Achieving Ultimate Journo-Copywriter Status

If you want to be a writer in this modern era, if that’s the ember that burns in your black, black soul, my best advice is to go to school for journalism and minor in marketing.  Had I to do it over again, that’s the only change I would have made.  They’re two sides of a whole.  Journalism gives us the outlook and the framework and copywriting the passion and ferocity.

RAWRRRR

From where I’m sitting, it looks like it’s going to be a long time before copywriters are extinct.  Even though THEY continue to threaten us with bots who can do our jobs, the truth is that the right turn of phrase and the proper sentence pacing is (for now) a rare human ability.  Writing is like singing, but in your head and also there’s no music.

Alexa’s an amazing pal, but she’s not got that spark.  Maybe one day, but that day is not today.

This is where I tell you to go fuck off or something, but today I’m going to offer this up instead: be a journalist in your youth and mature into a copywriter.  The pay from copywriting is way better, but the experience of handling news ethically is invaluable.

Freelancers! Work from the Beach! CLICK HERE NOW!

Ha ha ha! See how much fun I'm having working on the beach? Holding the computer like this is giving me carpal tunnel syndrome. Hee hee hee. It's the best! Also why are my pants wet?

Ha ha ha! See how much fun I’m having working on the beach? Holding the computer like this is giving me carpal tunnel syndrome. Hee hee hee. It’s the best! Also why are my pants wet?

I love the ads that I see now and again telling people that they can “write from the beach,” or implying as much with a photo of someone with a laptop and a brightly colored fruity drink.  I get no end of amusement from these ads.  If you’re a freelancer, you know what I mean… they’re fine fodder.

Instead of posting anything useful today, I thought I’d just talk about all the great things there are about writing from a beach.

Wanna hear it?  Here we go! Continue reading

Counting the Dead Through My Uninterrupted Rage

I’ve been pondering the situation in Annapolis for several days now (I’m writing this on Saturday, June 30, FYI).  As I was once a member of that noble profession, in the role of lowly local reporter/photographer, it’s hit me surprisingly hard.

I wanted to say how important it is for us to continue to tell the truth.  How it’s important to keep going no matter what happens because people deserve to know what’s going on without rumor and conjecture.  I wanted to say that some of the most reliable and useful news comes from the local papers.

But I can’t.  I am so stunned that I’m wordless.  Continue reading

Exploring the Unknown: Stretching into New Writing Territory

Recently, I announced the opening of my marketing company, In The Cloud.  This was an effort about six months in the making, so it was sort of a big deal.  But it wasn’t just a big deal because of the effort I put into it or how many times I’d tried to do something like this and didn’t get to the execution part of the story.  It was a big deal because I was going way outside of my comfort zone.

Sure, I manage a small team of writers at Top Shelf Copy, but the truth is that these days we only have one main client and one deadline a month to juggle.  The stress level there is low, is what I mean.  And we’re not offering other kinds of deliverables, just the wordy words.  So, launching In The Cloud means something more.

Staying Positive and Keeping the Faith

Hey, I’m going all in on the hokiness today.

The truth is that I’ve been struggling really hard against Imposter Syndrome.  I’ve told myself I’m not sure how many times that I can’t do the thing.  I don’t have the background (I actually do), I don’t have the skills (that’s a bit more questionable) and I don’t deserve to accomplish this goal (meh).

I don’t deserve this.  Because I’m not good enough.

But that’s just the Doubting Man doubting me.  He’s a bit of an asshole, if you ask me.  Never gives me much peace.  I’m sure you have your own Doubting Man.  It’s a common problem.

For the last six months, the Doubting Man has been at his old hijinks.  Pulling the rug out from under me, punching me in the gut, making me cry when times get too tough.  You should have seen him when I was entering uncharted territory (like I said, I’ve tried to do this before and failed).  Take, for example, the first job I bid, just a week or so ago.

Suddenly I was worried about the price structure, whether our value-adds were really adding anything, if I was wearing the right colored shoes — if it could be worried about, I was worrying.  Then there was the whole being responsible for other people’s livelihoods… which, I won’t lie, is a lot of pressure.

I mean, my people are freelancers, but asking them to invest a lot and get only a little back is still inhumane.  I want them to do well.  I want us to do well.  I’ve been taking my own advice as I push forward through the Hell that is my own insecurity.  This is faith in its most obvious and blatant form.

Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Success

Ah, you knew we’d come to the part of the story where I make a list.  I love lists.  I basically am just one big, walking list.

There are two types of barriers to success that are different, but basically the same: fear of success and fear of failure.  Your anxiety might come from a different place, still, it ends up the same.  You’re frozen, probably covered in your own tears and mucus, sitting on the floor eating the powder out of the bottom of an empty Cheetos bag.

Or is that just me?

Success is a weird thing.  What I think makes me successful may make you think I’m ridiculous.  And as I sit here pushing my fourth decade, I have to say that you can go fuck yourself.  Life isn’t a contest, contrary to what we’ve all been taught.  Your success is only quantifiable by you, that’s the first lesson.

Here are a few more:

It’s hard to know you’ve made it if you don’t have defined goals.  I am constantly surprised by people who feel like they’re going nowhere, despite what looks like a lot of success in their current and previous efforts.  It’s probably because they don’t realize they need goals.  Little boxes to tick off.  Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve achieved anything?  This is a contest against yourself only, you have to set the goalposts.

Realize that your challenges are different than those of the next guy.  Sure, your friend is doing amazing with their Etsy store that specializes in macaroni pictures of elves.  They’re getting lots of orders and commanding a premium for their efforts.  They work like 20 hours a day at it.  Your writing business, on the other hand, isn’t making as many sales and you definitely can’t spend 20 hours a day in The Chair ™.  No way.  Although your company is growing, it’s happening much more slowly than your friend’s.  Here’s the thing.  Your friend’s big challenge is having anything else to fill their life with joy.  Yours is that you’re trying to maintain a work/life balance.  Don’t envy your friend, or compare yourself to them, you’re not even competing in the same type of sporting thing.  (Go Sportsball!)

Understand that getting started is hard and everybody ebbs and flows.  If you’re beginning to see a light at the end of your startup tunnel, keep marching.  If you don’t, keep marching.  Starting out is the hardest part and a lot of people give up *JUST* as they’re about to turn the corner.  It’s tragic, really.  Every one is going to have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad ones.  If you totally flubbed last week’s orders, stand up, look yourself in the mirror and repeat this until you believe it: “I r gud riter.”  Or, you know, something equally inspiring.

I know you can do it.  You can.  When you’re going through Hell, dudes, keep going.  Also, if you’re lacking in inspiration, you could pop in on my friend InspiroBot.   Its message for me today is that “Holes are just the beginning.”

Well put, InspiroBot.  Well put.  Holes are indeed just the beginning.

The Internet: The Final Frontier (Now With More Tubes!)

My lunch. #TexasIsTacos

The Internet.  It’s like the final frontier, but for pictures of cats, other people’s lunches and memes.  Or, at least it used to be.  I feel like all this Russian stuff has really cost us our innocence, we the free people of the web.  I find myself sending pictures of cats to random friends, just to avoid all the angry news and “news” on social media.  I miss that golden era of oversharing.

It was inevitable that the Internet would grow up.  It had to.  All things, even Tubes, grow and change.  Otherwise they stagnate and die.  As much as it pained me to see how we found our collective online maturity, I think it will ultimately give us something much better.

Some Internet-Themed Ramblings

I didn’t really feel like writing about writing today, so instead I’m writing about the place we go to do the writing thing.  I mean, who uses a non-cloud-based word processor these days?  MONSTERS?!  I never could remember to save regularly on local WPs, the Cloud is my best freaking friend.

“Oh, you did the thing, but the power went out before your glorious lede was saved?  I gotcha, pal.”

So Cloud.  Much Wow.

I’ve been an Internet denizen since 1994, when we first got a text-based dial-up version of the Internet in my hometown.  We did it with money from a big grant, though being many years ago, my memory sort of doesn’t remember the circumstances.  But we had Internet.  For the first time.

And the really neat thing about the Internet and my hometown and 1994 is that a community that was, in many ways, completely isolated from the bulk of the world, suddenly was exposed to new ideas and different people and experiences it would never have had otherwise.

For me, the Internet meant freedom of thought.  A chance to be more.

For my home in the Ozarks, it meant a cultural upset.  It meant thoughts that might disrupt our way of life spread rapidly.  It meant that we would largely assimilate into modern American culture.  So, it was good and bad.

But, from those humble text-based beginnings sprang this amazing tool that everyone uses to connect to friends, family, ideas and experiences.  It’s just normal now.  Having a computer in your pocket is what you do.  Having a best friend or significant other thousands of miles away is no big deal.

My Predicts for the Future Internet

Having spent all of my formative years engaging with the Internet from devices that ran the gamut from desktop computers to Pocket PCs (sort of like an early smartphone, but without calling capabilities) to Blackberries and Smartphones, I feel like I’m a good authority on where this thing has been and where it’s headed.  This year has been rough for all of us, but I think we’re about to see a turnaround.  So, without further hesitation, my predictions for the Internet’s near future:

Social media will revert to photos of cheese and cats.  Hey, I love me some food porn and cat pictures.  I think we all do, deep down.  Social media was fun for a long time because of those deeply personal things we’d share, even when we didn’t think it was all that impressive.  When we give bits of ourselves freely to our friends, it’s an incredible gift that makes a huge impact.

Google will get better at filtering out the trash.  If you’ve been in the digital marketing world for any amount of time, you’ve heard of things like search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine results page (SERP).  Google has all kinds of algorithms that determine just where your site (or any site) will appear in the SERPs.  The problem there for a bit was that unreliable news sources were getting ranked because of a combination of user shares and clicks on social media and some sneaky sneaker gaming the system.  Google has to step up and become a bit of a parental figure to help quash any future issues like this.  I believe it can and that it will.

Teenagers will grow up and rejoin Facebook.  When I wear my marketing hat, I see lots of articles written by hand-wringers saying that teenagers are jumping ship from Facebook.  Of course they are, they’re rebelling.  In this new and crazy digital world, even leaving your parents’ social network might be some kind of rite of passage.  Give the kids the room to be all SnapChatty or whatever they’re into these days.  Ultimately, they’re going to reappear on the social networks where their family is because that’s what you do now.  Their jumping ship today doesn’t mean anything.  Worry when Millennials and Boomers start leaving in droves.

Echo chambers will stop echoing.  It was scary for everyone that Donald Trump was elected president (I mean, besides the Russians).  So much so that many people began to break away from their social circles to immerse themselves in private groups that were basically echo chambers.  These were very polarizing, causing so many people to turn on people who were once friends and allies.  But slowly, the echo chambers started to eat their own because they weren’t using the language perfectly or they weren’t able to maintain all aspects of their lives in an extreme way.  I think, I really feel, that we’ll see these echo chambers start to break down for the most part (there will always be some around) and more people re-establish their old connections.

MOAR advertising opportunities.  Last, but far from least, I see more ads in our future.  Lots of kinds of ads, stuff we’ve not even conceived yet.  Banner ads, social media ads, Google ads, YouTube ads, ads about ads, we’ll have them all!  But with so many ads comes a high level of annoyance.  That, I believe is where we’re going to be really putting in the effort next.  We know digital ads work, but we have to find ways to deliver them that are better.  Honestly, we need both better ads and a more pleasing way to push them to shoppers.  With a little effort, ad modules will get better and more discreet.  Less annoying ads make the whole industry happier.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  I may come back later and do Internet predictions number two, but only if it’s a rainy day and I feel more like napping than doing real work.

Who said that?

Go away.  I’m done with your stupid face.

 

Dressing for Writing Success: Beyond Sweatpants

Working from home, no matter your chosen (or had thrust upon you) profession, presents a number of challenges that we’re still all trying to figure out as a culture.  One great example of this is the subject of work attire.  Some are firmly in the “underpants and pizza grease” camp, while others dress for work every day they intend to.

Believe it or not, I’m in the second group.

Not only do I have regular video conferences, I find that I’m significantly more productive when I dress like an adult.  Mind you, it’s business casual around here, 24/7, and I may be wearing Chucks with my skirt and blazer, but this is what I’d wear to a job.  At least until I got fired for breaking the dress code.

Dress for Success!!

Just because I do a thing doesn’t mean that it’s automatically right.  I mean, it should, but I’m told that it doesn’t.  So, what I’m saying is that it does.  So put on a clean shirt and listen up.

There are several small-scale studies that show a laundry list of benefits to actually dressing for work, even if the hot seat is in your spare bedroom.  Improvement was shown in key areas like feelings of competency, authority and focus, depending on the study you look at.

But dressing for work does something else, too.  It gives you and your housemates very clear signals about what you’re up to at the computer.  If you’re in yoga pants and a sports bra, you’re probably playing WoW and pretending to work.  If you’re in a button down shirt and a blazer, you’re probably actually working.

Work-life balance is one of the most troublesome areas for remote workers, hands dow.  Anything you can do to make a distinction between Work You and Play You will help.  Learn how to turn your work off and use every tool at your disposal.  If you have to buy one of those neon signs that says “open,” then do it.

Finding Some Fashionable Balance

No one expects you to don a double-breasted three piece suit, but you should look like you’re trying.  Below, you’ll find my top tips for dressing for work when your work is your home.

  1. Employ lots of solid colors.  Patterns are ok, but they tend to look less professional than a nice, crisp solid colored shirt with khakis.  Choosing more solids applies to all forms of clothing, though.  There’s nothing to read into a red shirt or a purple dress.  Toss a blazer over that right before your next video conference and you’re suddenly a total pro.
  2. Sorta clean doesn’t cut it.  Look, I know what it’s like.  I have Parkinson’s and I also eat at my desk, so I can come away from lunch looking like I had a burrito explode in my face.  I mean, maybe I did.  But I don’t leave that evidence laying around.  Anything that won’t rinse out immediately requires a wardrobe change.  You might as well go back to the sweatpants if you’re gonna leave mustard on your shirt.
  3. Try not to over-accessorize.  I’m the queen of accessories.  I just love things that sparkle, which is why glitter bombs kind of backfire.  I WELCOME YOUR GLITTERY CHAOS!  But it’s easy to overdo it when you don’t have regular human contact to keep you grounded.  Check your look in the mirror, then ask yourself, “Do I look like a mall mannequin?”  If yes, take something off and try again.
  4. Remember that you have control of your climate.  One of the best things about living in Texas is that it never gets really cold.  One of the worst things about living in Texas is that it never gets cold, instead it gets frighteningly hot.  Take today, for example.  When I opened the back door to let the dogs out, I thought I was experiencing a backdraft, sans smoke.  Did I dress for 900 degree weather today?  No.  Well, sorta.  I dressed for 72 degree air conditioning because aside from hitting the mailbox later, I’m not going out in this ish.  I’m the master of my climate and thus, if I think it’s currently too hot for dress pants, I can do something to change that.  Your thermostat is your friend.  Use it.

Look, I’m no fashion expert by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes I do ok, but often, too often, I whiff.  But I do know one thing:  since I decided to try out working in work clothing, my productivity has jumped, my focus has improved and, frankly, I feel more like grabbing the bull by his cojones most of the time.

Off with you.  I’m working!  Can’t you tell from my special Chucks with the little daisies?!?

A Video Doorbell Changed My Life

If you’ve been a regular reader, you know that I don’t always go off on personal tangents.  But this one, I mean, it’s a Big Deal ™.  A few weeks ago, RIng dropped the price on its basic video doorbell.  I’ve been wanting one for a long time because I’m a scary hermit that doesn’t answer the door or leave the house.  What I mean is that UPS knows my address by heart, but has no idea what I look like.

So, anyway, when the price was dropped, I was poised to strike.  I mean, I was confident a video doorbell would make a difference.  It took all of 10 minutes to install once I got the frikken hole drilled in the brick on the front of my house.  If you have a basic understanding of power tools and a little extra time over your lunch break, this is definitely something you can handle.

How are Doorbells Related to Writing?

My ever-questioning horde, let me explain.  To start with, I have four dogs.  Four.  In Missouri, this was not considered totally crazy, but here in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s a different story.  People just don’t have that many dogs.  Nothing is really made with that many dogs in mind.  So I have to go out of my way to keep them calm and quiet so the neighbors two blocks over aren’t disturbed and call Animal Control.

It is what it is.  I try to not be annoyed by my new homeland.  It has a lot going for it, like a lack of winter weather.

Combine these doggos with my almost compulsive urge to order shit from Amazon, eBay and other merchants so that I don’t have to leave the house.  See, if I’m out there in the world, I’m not safe inside my ice cave.  And that’s just no bueno, you know?

in pre-Ring days,  I’d have a sign that people would ignore.  It said, more or less, “don’t fucking ring this bell or knock or I will cut you.”  Delivery guys were assholes and did anyway.  One, when I asked him why in the world he rang the bell that was covered by one such sign, countered by asking me how else I’d know my order was delivered.

The answer?  Uh, I get a text message as soon as you log it.  Jerk.

You don’t need much of an imagination to understand how loud and stressful this was becoming.  Between delivery people who didn’t understand how their own system worked and my easy to work up terriers, it was… it was chaos.  Loud, ugly, overstimulating chaos.

I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t sleep for all the stress.  So, I did it.  For $99, I solved that problem.  Bitches like it when you solve problems.

Better Writing Through Quiet Doorbells

You know how it’s super annoying when someone interrupts you mid-thought and you have to stare at the page for 20 minutes to sort out what it was you were driving at when it happened?  Yeah, that’s what my dogs were doing to me several times a day.   It was affecting my work.  It sucked.

Today, when a package comes, I get a silent alert on my desktop and a vibration on my phone.  That’s it.  Most of the time, the dogs don’t even realize someone has been here.  That spells quiet time more often, fewer false alarms and so many more fully executed thoughts.

I have literally reclaimed hours of work time due to this doorbell.  It has paid for itself over and over again.

Just so you know, as part of the quiet installation I had to disable the bell on my doorbell.  In case you want to get one because I said it was pretty awesome.  That’s my special tip for you.

Now Go Write!

I know that I usually give you some sort of advice or whatever, but today it’s all doorbells.  Doorbells will change your freaking life if you get the right one.

Now go!  Go forth and write like the wind!

Some Days You’re the Butterfly, Some Days You’re the Windshield

There you are, flying around all glorious and free, flapping your obscenely painted, oversized wings, sweating glitter and promise, then BAM!  It’s all over.  That Chevy Citation ends you in truly epic fashion.  This is how I feel every time I do agency work.

Why?  Well, those kinds of jobs tend to practice “edit by committee,” where you’re not edited by one person representing the client, but half a dozen.  So you get things back that are commented all over, have requested changes from different people on the same item that are literally contradictory and there’s no one to go back to in order to ask specifics.  It’s enough to kill you a little bit inside.  Or at least smear you on a windshield.

But, as a pro, you can’t let that ish get you down.  At bare minimum, you have to pretend you can walk it off so you can function and write the other six things that are due that day.

Rub Some Dirt In It: Tips for Surviving a Brutal Edit

Now, some writers will advocate for drinking heavily and taking lots of interesting drugs in order to get past these kinds of things, but since I’m not that fucking person, I’m going to give you some real advice for functioning workaholics.  Edits aren’t the end of the world, even truly epic ones, but damn, they feel like it might be around the bend.  Rub some dirt in that shit with these tips:

1. Repeat “It’s not me, it’s them.”  Sometimes, people have the idea that editing a document means having to make lots of comments.  We know better.  Often, a good edit is just taking out Oxford commas or breaking up run-on sentences.  Clearly the corporate clients of your agency don’t really understand the process, so they’re bumbling along blindly the best they can.

2. Remind yourself that the only joy in corporate life is belittling others.  Working in a corporate setting, I’ve read, is sort of like sitting in a pressure cooker.  The people below you are always trying to undermine you in order to get your job and the people above you won’t retire, so you can’t move forward on your career trajectory.  You have little control over your own life.  The one thing you can do is make a writer cry, so you stick with your strengths.

3. Go for a walk on the beach with your laptop.  We writers have all been promised that we’d be able to go work on a beach somewhere, and it’s high time we did!  With the sound of the surf hitting the sand and the gentle “woosh-woosh” of the waves out at sea, it’s hard to be too intimidated by edits that have gone horribly wrong.  Watch out for those seagulls, though…

4. Take a kickboxing class.  Even if you haven’t yet reached “writing on the beach” level, you can still take those frustrations out on an innocent punching bag or trainer.  Take a kickboxing class and beat those edits out.  Imagine you’re punching the client over and over again (just the logo, not, you know, the person who did the edits).  Beat the fuck out of Coca-Cola, show Johnson & Johnson who’s boss.  Pound Walmart like you know you want to.

5. Check your bank balance.  Last, but not least, some universal advice for all sorts of writers.  When edits get you down, log into your bank account and check the balance.  Unless I’ve just had a client pay, I’ve found this to be the most effective way to motivate me to grab my big girl panties and move along.  Edits happen, they’re part of the process.  You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

Sometimes, those edits will mindfuck you a bit.  You’ll feel like the worst fraud ever and that no one likes you.  While this may be true, if you’re still making money at writing, then at least you can keep the lights on and the fridge stocked.  I don’t know you, you may be a tragic mess of a human.

Client work can be hard, it can be sad, it can be totally heartbreaking and doubt-inducing, but at the end of the day, it’s better than being a professional dog poo scooper.

How Are Your Pet Projects Doing, Writers?

I died about this time last week.

Obviously, it didn’t stick.

But that’s beside the point.  Sometimes, life presents these kind of moments where you have a chance to kind of look back and assess where you are.  I typically do this over Dead Week (irony is not lost on me), but being dead made me think that maybe this is something that should happen more than once a year.

For example, I’ve been letting everything in the world get between me and you.  You guys, you’re the best, and I’ve not blogged at you for like… well, too damn long.  And I have a lot of information packed into my brain that you probably could use for something.  Even if that’s an example of what not to do.  Like die unexpectedly.  Don’t do that.

We All Lose Our Way Sometimes

Last year, another death sent me reeling ’round about this time.  My good pal the Honorary Honorable William Bradberry shed this mortal coil.  I spiraled for a while because it turned out that I had never bothered to imagine a world where he wasn’t.  He was sick, it was a long march to ruin.  I had time, but I didn’t.

We had several group projects going that we never finished (and now we never will), pet projects that we’d touch for a while when work was slow, but never really had a good plan to focus them in with.  Some were pretty good, some were fucking awful.  But it didn’t matter, because sometimes you do the thing just to do the thing.

Anyway, when he passed on, I should have taken the time to recalibrate my compass, but I didn’t.  Instead, I just sort of marched forward, best I could.  There was always the next project, the next blog, the next client.  Before I knew it, it was Dead Week and I hadn’t finished anything I wanted to accomplish for the sheer sake of ticking it off my list.

I did put some wheels into motion at the beginning of this year (big announcement coming soon), but as the months between January and today came and went like so many sprockets on a conveyor belt, I began to doubt and fear that I’d never find my way through the complicated workflow.  In fact, last Thursday, I was almost certain I was going to give up.

And then I died.

Recalibrating Your Project Compass

There wasn’t a bright light or an angelic choir (I mean, did you really expect I’d be escorted into the Great Beyond with such a thing?), not even smoke-belching flames.  I was under anesthesia and suddenly, I didn’t have any blood pressure.  I didn’t know I had died until I woke up in a recovery ward, surrounded by strangers that seemed to be waiting with bated breath.

As far as I knew, I was good.  They told me otherwise.

It’s a terrifying thing to realize how many loose threads you almost left behind.  At least, it was for me.  I resolved to find my compass again and recalibrate it, because it was clearly not showing me good information.  It was saying “tomorrow, tomorrow” when it should have said “right the fuck now.”

I’m struggling to find the words to put to this, but I’m afraid that if I don’t write it out while I’m in that “I almost died, here’s my epiphany” mode, I’ll never do it.  That’s the right the fuck now part.  This attitude won’t last forever.  That compass needs daily maintenance, you know.

Next time you find yourself listing to the left or the right of your intentions, recalibrating your compass may help.  This is what I’m doing and what I do when I realize I’m dangerously off course:

Assess where you are.  You have to be brutally honest with yourself when you’re in this stage of the game.  Did you really mean to end up in Toledo?  I mean, really?  No one wants to go there.  Ohio is the worst.  Just having this discussion means that you probably know you’re in the wrong place, own it.

Figure out where you want to be.  Hopefully you took some time to write down your original destination back when you headed out.  If not, there’s no time like now to sort that.  Even if you did, you might have learned something that changed the picture.  Stop reading right now and figure out where you’re going.

Write out the major steps to get back on track.  Think it’s trite all you like, but without a map, that compass is pretty damn useless.  It won’t give you all the answers on its own, it’s just a tool to help interpret the data you’ve got.  Write your steps down.  Using a tool like Any.do or AirTable can help you see where you need to be and when as you walk along.

Consciously review this plan weekly or monthly.  Just because you set off in the right direction doesn’t mean that you didn’t manage to somehow take a wrong turn or get led astray by temptation.  The best part of a good plan is the way you can constantly revisit it to make sure you’re progressing.  That’s why writing down all those steps helps so much.

Celebrate when you realize you did the thing!   Did you find your destination?  HOORAY!  YOU DID THE THING!  This is definitely a time to celebrate and take a breath.  You accomplished something most people only dream about.  Good on ya!

I died on Thursday, May 17, 2018, and I was reminded what it means to be alive.  I am a walking cliche.  But that’s ok, because it turns out that old cliches are pretty useful for content marketing.

Now get the fuck off the Internet and do something.  Don’t get hit by a self-driving cars in your eagerness, though.  Always look both ways.

New Year’s Letter 2018

I’ve been writing these New Year’s Letters for long enough now that it’s not only a tradition, but a compulsion to do them.  So much so that I think about them long before it’s time to put fingers to keys and punch them into life.  Every year, I think that they’ll be trite and meaningless, and every year, they serve as a refocusing point for me, and maybe for some of you, and so I think that makes them pretty much ok and not entirely self-serving bits of debris in a sea that’s already fairly stuffed full of flatulence-loving self-promotional acts woven together from delusions of grandeur and mental masturbaton.

Was it the Year We Needed?

Another year has come and gone, and it’s been a Hell of a year.  It was not the year I expected to have, not by a very long shot, but maybe it was the year I needed to have.  As most of you know, I moved house from southwest MIssouri to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metroplex in February 2017.  I very nearly lost my mind during that process.  I have never before felt so much stress or so little control over anything, and I’ve been told I had cancer twice (I did not).

Even once that move was complete, the stress level was immense because of the incredible amount of culture shock I was experiencing.  Along with that, I had to maintain my business, maintain some level of workload, try to rebuild a household, maintain my health and not fall to pieces.  As it turns out, these were very significant challenges.  I spent a lot of time stumbling around in the dark, but as they say, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”  And I did.  I had to because there wasn’t anything else.

When we lost Will this summer, then both my grandparents, a friend from school and my great aunt, I was pretty sure I was going to lose my mind completely.  I shut down emotionally for a while.  I’m sorry about that.  You deserved better.  I deserved better.  But it was much too much for me to handle all at once.  Those of you who pulled me out of that deep, dark pit are saints for everything you did and continue to do.  It was a very bad, bad place with no color.  I won’t lie, I’m still recovering from that.  Mostly, I’m ok, but sometimes I’ll hear a song or something and just start crying for no reason.

I was also given hot and cold news about my health this year.  The neuro added a diagnosis of mixed Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremor, the rheumatologist added Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis.  The hepatologist, however, said that my liver was in really good shape, the tumors have all but disappeared and the inflammation is gone.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.  But it means that all the exercise and healthy eating has to be a permanent thing or that liver transplant becomes a discussion we have to have again.  So good and bad.

A New Normal

It took months to return to normal, but I’ve found it again.  I’ve found maybe better than normal.  I’m hoping.  Every night I go to bed and hope that this is a permanent thing.  I’m allowing myself to believe there’s going to be a tomorrow and a yesterday and that I’ll remember a week ago.  So far the memory is still a bit hit and miss, but it, too, is improving.  Texas has been very good for me and it’s nothing like what I expected it would be.

I’ve started some new projects that are very, very promising.  I’m excited to see where they go in the new year.  It’s boring work stuff, but for me it’s pretty exciting.  I have a lot of creative control and my input is valued highly.  Sometimes that’s worth a lot more than money, really.  It’s difficult to describe how much that matters, but trust me, it does.

Friends Near and Far

One of my very real fears about moving to Texas was being so far from my home base, the people I’ve known my whole life and my family.  The culture in the Ozarks is very family and clan-focused and it’s really the central focus of the whole thing.  I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I knew my health would make it extremely difficult to get back often or regularly.  Eight hours in a car, minimum, is a lot for me.

But, you know, my dad was right when he said that things aren’t like they used to be.  All you have to do these days is hop on the Internet and your friends are right there.  All the friends I have in the box.  They were there through the toughest times and the easy ones, too.  If you’re reading this, you know who you are.  You have no idea how much you’re appreciated.  How much you’re needed.  How much easier you made it to make this massive transition.  

Who’s chopping onions in here?!?

On to This Year’s Goals!

Now!  As for the coming year, there should be goals.  There should always be goals, even if you don’t achieve them.  Otherwise, what are we?  We’re just floating along like jellyfish, hoping something will hit, I guess.  So, I suppose we’ll start with these:

  • Consume at least one book a week.  So, maybe reading is still a little tough, but audiobooks are working out ok.  Thanks John and Jason for pushing me in that direction.  
  • Travel a bit.  I’ve been to Austin once, and San Antonio twice.  I can make both trips very easily, so I should go more often and for funsies.  Also other places….
  • Establish and enforce better work/life balance.  I am the worst for dicking around on the Internet when I should be working and then panicking and doing a bunch of work at the last minute.  This has to stop.  Time management and work/life balance should be this year’s main work goals.
  • Invest more time in my personal brand.  If I can do the thing above, I should have time to do this thing.  My blog is sad and lonely and a site I’ve literally been working on for a year needs to launch.  It’s pathetic.
  • Get better at meal planning.  Ah, this is also a time management thing.  If I had better meal planning skills, I’d not take a freaking year to figure out what I was having for lunch.
  • Lose another 50 pounds.  This is partially because of all the med changes and partially because I like cookies too much.  I need to get back on the one cookie per meal diet, exercise more and track everything.
  • Run three 5Ks.  I’m signed up for the Cowtown 5K on February 24th, but I’d like to do at least two more.  It’s a little bit of a challenge because I need to ideally take Annie.  All this has to be cleared ahead of time and can be a pain.
  • Explore the metroplex.  I’ve lived here for 10 months and have yet to really explore the city.  I need to do this.  Annie needs to see the world.

I know a lot of people guffaw at New Year’s Resolutions, or even year end goals, or whatever you wanna call it.  It’s all the same thing.  Really, the timing is arbitrary, but I think it’s pretty important to have a set time of the year to stop what you’re doing, evaluate where you are versus where you want to be, and kind of double down your efforts.  

I don’t think it hurts to assess your progress.  You can disagree all you want, that’s your right, but I can also call you a pig-faced waffle stomper, so I think that makes us a bit even.

So, whatcha got?  What hot burning desires do you have for 2018?  What’s driving your engine this year?