Karoshi for Copywriters: An Introduction

When you’re freelancing, it often feels like you’re either running around like mad trying to get work or you’re trying to keep yourself buckled into the hot seat writing all the work you managed to find.  The ebb and flow is pretty rough on a person, there’s no doubt.  Burnout is for real and can completely ruin lives.

There’s another danger that we as a culture fail to address.  Maybe this is because “Protestant Work Ethic” or maybe we just don’t like to talk about things that are unpleasant, but we’re talking about this today.

The Japanese call it “karoshi,” which translates to “death from overwork.”

Work/Life Balance and Freelancing

We’ve visited the concept of work/life balance when you’re freelancing more than once, but that was before I knew that karoshi was a thing.  I read the linked article above and I see myself in a lot of it.  Of course, it’s not corporate culture forcing me to work all the time, it’s trying to stay ahead of the bills and the ever growing pile of work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that so many businesses trust me with their words.  That they want *MY* voice to be the one that represents them is truly humbling.  But I also feel like I could, at any given moment, start dancing on that line between overwork and karoshi.

Let’s look at the cases highlighted in the The Guardian:

Miwa Sado, 31.  Death by heart failure.  In the month leading up to her death, she logged 159 overtime hours and only took off two days.  Breaking that down, she worked four 80-hour weeks, with only two days to recuperate.

Matsuri Takahashi, 24.  Death by suicide.  For months before her death, Matsuri regularly put in 100 or more hours of overtime.    She tried to vent some of the stress from it by posting on social media in the weeks before her death.  Her messages got dark weeks before her death, saying things like “I want to die” and “I’m physically and mentally shattered.”

And though Japan is working on changing the circumstances that cause karoshi, this will remain a  problem among freelancers.  Freelancers aren’t driven by corporate culture because it’s really a corporate culture of one (or maybe a few if you’re part of a team), we’re driven by a mix of fear, greed and desire.

The Three Deadly Sins of Freelancing

If you want to get to the bottom of your overwork problem, there’s almost always a root in at least one of the three deadly sins of freelancing.  Trust me on this.  Fear, Greed and Desire are great until they aren’t.  They’re awesome until you approach karoshi.

Sin The First: Fear.  No matter where you are in your freelancing career, Fear will still be a driving force.  You remember the lean times and fuck all if you’re gonna go back to living on Ramen and mushrooms from your bath mat.  Fear can be used for motivation and often is, but when it turns into a sneaky anxiety spiral, you’ll trip your fight or flight reaction.  Do you freeze?  Do you go like mad and act like a person possessed?  DO YOU GIVE YOURSELF A HEART ATTACK?  Karoshi.

Sin The Second: Greed.  I will be the first person to tell you that greed is one of my strongest motivator.  Oh man, so much.  I want to not only take in more work year over year, but to spend more money year over year.  We can’t all be perfect.  White chocolate Twix don’t grow on trees, you know.  Greed will getcha, though.  Every so often you’ll have several of your projects converge and the result is that you wish you were dead.  It’s juggling client requests without making excuses for not being done on time.  It’s when you can’t go on, but you must.  That’s karoshi waiting to happen right there.

Sin The Third: Desire.  Desire and greed might sound like the same thing, but they’re not, ok?  Desire is more about accomplishing things, where greed is about amounting riches and objects.  For me, Desire is really about a longing for approval.  Clients like what I write, I get that little buzz.  Clients don’t like my work and I turn into a quivering pile of snot.  No joke.  I desire your approval, so please approve of me.  Because freelancing is so much a hamster wheel, long time clients often won’t comment on content because it meets their expectations, which just makes people like me run harder on that little wheel to make them love us again.  Karoshi, my friends.

If you find yourself practicing one or more of these Deadly Sins, you have time to change.  You can change your trajectory, but it all starts by recognizing what’s up.

Elvis Won’t Be the Only One Who Died on His Throne

I used to think the worst place to be found dead would be perched on the toilet, but nowadays, I think I’d rather be found dead there than at my desk.

First, my desk is always severely cluttered, so God knows if you could even get me out of the house without tangling in a shitload of cords.  Secondly, dying in the bathroom means that I at least managed to get up and walk around a bit.

Karoshi.  It’s for real.  It’s killing writers, don’t let it get you.  I like you.  You read my ish and don’t complain when I use phrases like “hairy box turtle whore” and “moist jelly bean.”

This One Time Honored Secret Will Improve Your Writing Dramatically

I’m about to reveal one of the biggest secrets in the writing trade.  Are you ready?

We don’t write to perfection.  We write until it’s good enough.

“Wait,” you say in a sad, almost childlike voice.  “But you’re a seasoned professional, that means you’re among the best at this job.  How can you just phone it in?”

Ah, little grasshopper, that’s not what I said.  I said we write until it’s good enough.  That doesn’t mean I have low standards.  That means I know, deep in my black heart, that I will never find every misplaced comma, not every turn of phrase will be gold, I won’t always spell everything right.  There will be typos.  There will be mistakes.

But I’m ok with that.

Perfectionism, Writing and You

One of the biggest problems I’ve see among the newly minted writer is an insidious sort of perfection that looks and sounds like fear.  These kids will literally edit all the life out of their work, they’ll write until the piece is begging for an early death.

When this happens, I tell them that they’ve “touched it” too much.  If you can imagine a piece, any sort of piece, as a butterfly’s gossamer wing, then you can get what I mean.  You catch Mr. Butterfly and those delicate colored scales start to fall off.  The more you touch his wings, the more color disappears.  In the same way, the more you touch your work, the more you fuck it up.

I’m all for a first and even second proofing pass.  I do this myself.  I read work out loud so I know it flows properly.  But after a pass or two, I’m done.  I walk away.  Your client, your readers — whoever is judging you — may demand changes that you may never have caught on your own anyway.  Because of shit like the Gestalt effect, it’s hard to see your own errors.  Your brain fills in the blanks and makes it look right.

This is the biggest unsecreted secret of all pro writers.  It’s not about having the right latte or the perfect typing machine or even having a vision of pixies to guide you.  IT’S THIS.  Good Enough.  It’s THE secret to it all.

Time is important when you’re writing, the more you spend, the less you make.  So learning to proof quickly and walk away, that’s the secret.  I can’t possibly give you any better writing advice.

When I Was a Young Writer…

Not that I’m an old writer now.  I’ve just got a few miles on me.  And a spare tire…. shut up.

When I was a very young writer, I read every piece of writing advice I could get my hands on.  And the thing I didn’t realize then that I do realize now is that there’s no formula, there aren’t any magic tips that’ll make it work.  Experience and effort will guide you.  They will.

So how do you know you’re “good enough…”  Or rather, that your work is?

OH LOOK A LIST!

Being good enough is sometimes harder than being perfect because it’s tricky knowing when to stop.  But, these are a few rules I’ve made up just now that you can live your entire life and steer your career by:

Use spell check, but also learn how to spell.  I am one of the world’s worst spellers.  That’s my Kryptonite.  If my spell check stops working, I literally have a meltdown because I can’t spell those five dollar words.  And some of the nickel words…. but spell check is there for me most of the time.  And while I always look at what it has to say, I also read through everything to check the spelling myself, because that’s the biggest fucking thing, dude.  If your spelling is shit, no one will listen to a word you have to say — and spell check can’t always catch errors.  Like, for example, accept vs. except.  Which one do you need?  They’re both spelled correctly.  But they’re different….

Read your work aloud.  I know I already mentioned this above, but I wanted to discuss this method of proofreading down here, too.  Take a rough draft, any rough draft — the rougher the better — and just read it to yourself, but do it out loud.  This is an old technique writers use to ensure that their prose is following a proper rhythm for the type of piece it happens to be.

Let’s say you’re writing a really exciting fiction scene and the protagonist is being challenged and he’s kicking ass six ways from Sunday.  You want to use a lot of short, choppy sentences to really get that heart rate up.  When things calm again, you want to go back to softly melodic sentences.  Those things are hard to gauge just staring at the page, but when you hear them read, you can tell where the problems are.

The more practiced you get, the more quietly you can read these things.  I give you my permission.  When it all sounds like a song, when the words flow effortlessly, you’ve found good enough.  It’s funny how sometimes the not quite right word will do, contrary to what that asshole Mark Twain had to say on the subject.

Try to write it in one go.  Depending on what you’re writing, this may be impossible, but at minimum, write a whole section, a whole thought, all at the same time.  This does two things for your writing: first it ensures that the voice remains consistent and number two, it helps you to finish faster and not ramble.  Rambling may be fun when your grandfather’s telling stories at Thanksgiving, but it’s not awesome for a commercial writer.  Instead of rambling, get to the fucking point, use as few words as possible and kill more when you do your read-through.  It’ll be easier to accomplish this if you do the whole piece at once.  When you’re done writing, proof it.  Right then.  And then send it.  Just… all in one session, bickety bang.

Don’t begin to pretend you’re flawless.  PAH-LEESE.  You’re not perfect.  Fucking Stephen King, one of the best writers of our age, isn’t perfect.  We all have our weak spots.  Mine currently is the overuse of the words “often” and “so,” it’s happening so often that I really have to watch what I write so no one notices that it’s often a serious mental stutter for me.  So, anyway…. no one is perfect, so know yourself.

Learn what problems you tend to have, that way you can sort of cheatsheet it and look for those items a little extra hard.  What hangs you up will change over time, but something always will be a consistent pain.  If time is short, just look for those things that you always fuck up.  It’s better than half-assing your proofreading.

I’m so glad you joined me today on the blog.  Usually I tell you go to fly a kite or something around this point, but instead I’m going to leave you with these immortal words (I seriously can not make this kind of thing up):

“There’s nothing wrong with making friends with nature.
[muttered] One of these days nature is gonna take over and you’re gonna need a friend…”
~Bob Ross, The Joy of Painting, Season 12, Episode 2.

 

Treading Water Isn’t Failing In This Writing Life

I heard an incredible story over the weekend about a woman who was found in the Atlantic ocean treading water.  She wasn’t into extreme sports or out for a water jog, she had apparently fallen into the drink and had no idea what else to do.

She spent 10 hours like that.  Ten. Freaking. Hours.  It’s unimaginable to me that anyone could tread water for that long, but then I look over my writing career and I see that, in some ways, both myself and other writers I know have had periods when we’ve done just that.

Starting Out is the Hardest Part

Whether you’re getting started as a freelance writer or you’ve just gotten a job at an agency as some sort of creative, there’s going to be a massive learning curve and a lot of stuff is going to get away from you.

Starting out is always the hard part.

Your friends, family and possibly even your co-workers are going to expect that you’ll get over the initial shock in a week, two weeks… and then you’ll be ready to tear the world up.

The truth is that it can take a long time to develop the skills needed to fit well into your new position.  As a freelancer, you’ve got to be fast, agile, accommodating and willing to give up your lunch break and sleep in order to build a name for yourself.   In an agency setting, you have to be a team player, learn to decode directives that may be contradictory and do it all on tight deadlines for less pay than you might think.

Neither are ideal for the writing process, which requires both caffeine and sleep to execute properly.  Also, a little sugar never hurt.

Are You Sinking?

Like the lovely Brit who was collected by the Croatian Coast Guard, you’re probably just doing everything you can to stay afloat.  You might lack the systems and processes required to do your job well and keep everything organized or you may be learning how to write fast in order to meet all these deadlines that keep popping up.   You may even feel like you’re failing horribly and will never make it.

I have news for you, Bucko.  You’re still working, so you’re still winning. 

Step one is to tread water successfully.  Then you can work on the fancy stuff.  Those breast strokes are for the Glitterati.  You’re functional.  You’re utilitarian.  At least for now.

Moving From Treading to Transcendence

Now, I’m not saying that you’re in shark-infested waters, but I’m also NOT saying you’re not in shark-infested waters.  That being said (or not said), it’s a good idea to move beyond treading water as fast as possible.  I mean, it gets tiring, so at some point you’re just going to give up and sink into the deep, dark depths, where Schrodinger’s sharks might or might not be.

Let’s get you into a higher state.  I’m throwing you a lifesaver, grab on!

  1. Invest in time management.  I wrote on this recently, but I think it bears repeating.  If you’re easily distracted by Facebook or the television or some random pop-ups that keep happening on a certain website, for fuck’s sake, close it down.  Pay attention to your time sinks and limit your exposure to them.
  2. Organize thyself.  Your shit is literally scattered all over the house, from tip to stern (this is your houseboat, right?).  Your brain is equally scattered and I don’t even want to get into your desktop.  Take a day — take a whole weekend if you need to — to get your house in order.  Create places for things to live, put them away when you’re done, prioritize projects, get all of that on a calendar so you can see when everything is due.  Organization is key.
  3. Ready, set, go!  Challenge yourself to write faster while still maintaining quality.  This week, just write like you would, but keep track of how much time it takes to do each piece.  You can average them or whatever you want later, but we need a baseline.  The following week, set a timer that’s five minutes shorter than the time you spent writing similar content last week.Do this repeatedly until you’re fast enough to actually make a living.  For me, that’s around an hour for a 500 word blog, but someone I know can crank ’em out in half that time.  You should always strive to improve this time.
  4. Exercise regularly.  I don’t mean writing exercises, either.  I mean, get outside, go to the gym, do something to move your body.  Hey, I used to think this was business bullshit, too, but physical stimulation and mental stimulation can go hand in hand.  Also, you’ll sleep better and it’ll help cut your anxiety down.  I know you’re anxious AF.  I can see right into your soul through the power of the Tubes ™.
  5. Delegate properly.  You can’t do everything.  Well, maybe you can, but it’s not going to be pretty.  Get a buddy, hire an assistant, something.  They can do the little stuff so you can focus on doing the things that your reputation will be built on over the longer term.  There’s enough room on that door for someone else, Kate Winslet.
  6. Treat yourself like your best employee.  I mean, you probably are, anyway.  Your best employee will always be treated with a little bit of extra care since you can’t bear to lose them, right?  If they need a day off, you’ll give it to them.  Or, say they need an upgrade to their laptop because the one they have is too slow to get anything much done.  You’d dig deep and find that ish, right?  Why not be as generous and kind to yourself?  Get what you need and take no shit.

Well, kids, that’s all I have today.  If you’re treading water, remember that you’re still not sinking.  As long as you tread, you can work toward summoning that Croatian rescue boat into being.  You don’t need luck, though, you just need to work smarter (man, I hate that phrase).

Today is your day.  Today.  Do it for yourself, then do it for anyone else who might be watching.  Like me.  Or Santa.

Twitter is a Cesspool and Other Things I Shouldn’t Say Aloud

I mean, you could also call this “something something social media neighborhoods blah blah,” but I have neither the brains nor the energy to come up with a title like that.  So instead, I’m going to call it as I see it.

Twitter is a cesspool and our President is the Creature from the Twitter Lagoon.

I don’t care who you are, what your political leanings happen to be, you cannot continue to ignore the fact that Twitter is one motherfucking bully convention and the President of the United States practically lives there.  Birds of a feather and so forth…

Looking at Social Media Neighborhoods

When social media started becoming popular among the Plebs, it was a golden era.  We were kind to one another.  We shared our days, our lunches and our pets.  It was innocent.  Even Twitter, albeit in short sentences.

But that was nearly a decade ago and those neighborhoods have sort of started to attract like-minded people to different areas of their platform.  Twitter, for example, is filled with negative people who spend their days cyberbullying others, threatening women and generally being assholes.

And the biggest asshole of all seems to think that he’s the King Badass of Twitterdom, which, even if he was, that’s like being the biggest fucking salami at a vegetarian buffet.  Who fucking cares?  The Donald is slumming it, or he’s actually showing his true colors.  It’s hard to know.  The one thing that’s obvious from his tweets is that he knows what kind of God-awful people live in his neighborhood and he’s ok with it.

I’m not saying #AllTweeters, but there are enough waffle stompers in Toupeeland to make it an incredibly bad neighborhood.  And Twitter knows it.

If you were a brand or even a human starting out with social media, the last fucking place you should be is Twitter.  You might as well be throwing ad spend at a burning billboard that’s in the middle of nowhere and also it’s inside of a volcano.  The leadership has tried and tried to get a hold on the problem (or so they say), but it just doesn’t get better.

The Twitterverse, my friends, is a plague on humanity.

But the Others Aren’t Much Better

About six months ago, I stopped following any of my Facebook friends who were on the “extreme” ends of things.  Of course I want justice for black people who are being shot down in the streets like animals.  Of course I want immigrant children (often asylum seekers) to be kept with their parents.  I’m not a fucking monster.

But there’s a difference between raising awareness and becoming obsessed with a cause.  My best friend in the world’s oldest kid loves pangolins.  He adores them.  And they’re adorable.  But he doesn’t spend every fucking waking minute talking about pangolins.  He’s got more to him than that.  He’s seven and he has more dimension than a lot of the people I know on Trump Era social media.

I believe Facebook can be saved.

Twitter should be burned to the fucking ground.

Pinterest didn’t do anything to me.

Instagram?  Love the photos of your breakfast.

Reddit.  What are you even?

SnapChat, I don’t even understand you, so you’re gold for now.

But the problem we have, the big one, is that there are still echo chambers.  There are still left-bookers and alt-right-blockers (is that even a term?), there are people who collect from all over the world just to be vile to others on a global scale.  We have to recalibrate before it’s too late to save our own souls.

Dialing Back the Anxiety

I believe, though I have nothing to base this on besides observation, that the heart of this issue, the thing that’s ruining our neighborhoods isn’t the guy that forgets to mow his grass in 100 degree weather, it’s the anxiety level that social media is magnifying.

We, liberals and conservatives alike, became anxious when we realized somehow we were going to have a game show host for a President.  And not a charming one like Reagan (who was actually an actor and may have had his own hair).  After the election that brought Trump to the White House, we were all suddenly on The Apprentice, and he was firing people like crazy.

Of course, the firings weren’t as bad as the hirings.

He blew his Horn of Racists Summoning and gave tactless, witless troglodytes that believed they were superior to people of color, people with different beliefs and people who had completely intact prefrontal cortexes the impetus to come out of the shadows to where they had been banished.  They had the fucking nerve to march on neighborhoods where people of color lived.  They felt strong.  They’re still not sorry or embarrassed.  They’re spineless shitewads.  Oh, and btw, they also live in the Twitterverse.

But the anxiety.  We’ve been so afraid of what Trump might do that we’ve forgotten there are still things we can do on our own.  We can feed that fucking anxiety or we can speak out, shield our friends and families when the Klan comes a-knockin’, say “No more.  No more of your shit, you imbecilic bleeding hemorrhoids.”

AND WE CAN END TWITTER-LIKE SHITTINESS.

Sure, the bags full of dicks may move on to another platform, but we just have to keep saying no.  “No, you can’t spoil my lovely brunch photos because I’m too happy telling people about my eggs.  You can’t ruin this for me.  You’re a Godless cretan and a shitstain on society.  Get bent.”

As a marketer or freelancer, you can refuse to write their shit.  I know money is important, but have you ever considered the state of your soul?  If you look back, you’ll find me advocating for “work is work,” but since then I’ve realized how wrong I was.  You can refuse to help them spread their hate with effective advertisements and divisive fake news ala Cambridge Analytica.

YOU have the power to end this.  We’re a hive mind now because of social media, folks.  Do we want those goose-fucking buffoons poisoning our well?

The Elephant in the Room: Time Management

No, no, really.  I needed a reminder that time management is a thing that adult people do, so I figured I’d just put you on blast while I was at it.  See, last week I had another procedure for a chronic *THING* and the lead-up plus the actual doin’ of the thing has thrown my schedule into chaos.  So, let’s fix this ish, yo.

Living in a massive metro area means that I have even more things to cram into every day because it takes so damn long to get anywhere.  Ugh.  But this isn’t about me and my sloppy habits, it’s about you and your sloth.

You know that’s one of the seven deadly sins, don’t you?

The Domino Effect is a Bitch

It starts so simply.  It’s a nice sunny day or you’re a little over-tired from staying up too late the night before, and you think to yourself, “hey, I can just do this tomorrow, it’ll be fine.”  But some part of you knows better.  You’ve already got a packed tomorrow.  But you put it off anyway because, hey, you’ll do better work tomorrow anyway.

And that’s the moment you’ve just condemned yourself to weekend after weekend of digging out from under your one moment of poor judgement.

In the almost nine years I’ve been running Waterworth Writes, I’ve done this more times than I can possibly count (I was educated in the Missouri Ozarks, though, so…).  One day full of poor judgements leads to a month of working weekends.  One month of working weekends leads to slower and slower writing, more and more working weekends — and eventual collapse.  Because we’re none of us fucking robots.

I know you want to be WordOBot 5000, but you’re not.  If you were, you’d not do dumb things like take off early on a Tuesday because there’s a sale at the market.  You’d be a robot who didn’t need food, but who also knew that you could shopping go after you finished that last stack of blogs.  But mostly, the not eating thing.

Step 1:  Ignore Outside Interference

Dudes, I know.  I do.  I have the worst problem with this, but with a lot of effort, it can be done.

Did you know that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all those other jerks are actually sites you can close to get some quiet?  Did you realize that everything that happens while they’re shut stays around when you’re not looking so you can check it all at once at a time when you’re not so busy?

I’m not being an asshole.  Not right now, anyway.  These questions very much represented my attitude before I went on a social media diet.  Even though I have a group that I’m officially in charge of, I check in a couple of times a day at best.  Used to be that I was always on, always there, always lurking.  Now I walk away as much as I can.

It’s hard because that’s where my coworkers, contractors and friends (often all the same person) live, so as a compromise, Messenger is open at all times.  That, too, can be ignored until you’re ready for it.  If it’s an emergency, someone will actually telephone or text you.  I swear on my grandmother’s grave.

Other outside interference can be harder to ignore.  For me, this is email.  OMG, EMAIL MAKES ME ITS BITCH EVERY TIME.  I treat these like emergencies.  I shouldn’t.  I should write a thing, then check email and repeat.  That’s a much healthier way to do it.  It also makes you look less desperate, even if you’re extremely desperate.

And, hey, for all the sayers of nay at Windows 10, the email notifications that pop up when one comes in helps me be less anxious when I see that number going up in a background tab.  I can be like, “Oh, look, another wasted email from Amazon.” and go on with the next sentence.  (It’s wasted because I buy basically everything there.  We’re a little bit married.)

Step 2: Set up a Structured Schedule

You’ve turned down the noise, but cramming everything in is still proving difficult.  I have a solution for that, too.

Google Calendar, 10to8 or pretty much any other calendar system is your best friend if you’ll use them.  I use the two mentioned, which is probably no surprise considering the name dropping.  Anyway…

You know it takes you about 75 minutes to write a short blog, three hours to write a really killer homepage for a website.  You need 30 minutes for a professional email, five minutes to hit the bathroom.  You know how you do.

Get in there and start blocking off time.  Do you do most of your writing at night or in the morning?  Even if you’re not dialed down to the minute, you can block off time for writing from, say 11 am to 4 pm.  Block off things you do for yourself first: shower, gym time (this one is so important for us since we sit on our butts all day), lunch, etc.   Then fill in with client calls, consultations and so forth.  Last, but not least, stick in those writing blocks.

It’s kind of the reverse of that modern parable about the sand and the rocks in the jar.

Self-care, client care, the shit that makes actual money.  In that order.  And don’t forget to plug in some time for your bookkeeping and other business garbage.  Cuz you need that, too.

Man, you’re really busy, I should let you get to it….

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.