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.”

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.

 

Reconnecting Your Social Networks in a Post-Russia World

It doesn’t take long looking through memories on Facebook to realize how rapidly social media fractured for Americans over the 2016 Presidential election.  Even now, there are huge divides keeping us apart and it’s more than what we can blame on algorithm shifts and a natural cycling of “internet friends” and fans.

Since the incredibly surprising turn of that election cycle and the subsequent fingering of Russian interference in our election process, Americans seem to have pushed deeper into their safety bubbles and forgotten how to build bridges and find commonalities.  As business owners and professional communicators, it’s up to us to help turn social media around or else we’ll all be sunk.  It begins with reconnecting our social networks and remembering how it was to talk to our people without worrying that we’d offend that one perpetually offended person, I think.

Axiom # 1: You Can’t Please Everyone

A friend recently reminded me of something I thought I knew too well.  You can’t please everyone all the time.  You’ll always be on the outs with someone.  And that’s ok.  He gave me permission to piss people off, which, as it turns out, I needed.  And that’s what I once preached in this blog, at least to some extent.

The fact is that you can’t please everyone.  And for as fractured as social media has become, you certainly can’t please all the people who subscribe to you all the time.  This is why we segment professional marketing work into manageable groups and have friends who are interested in whatever weirdness we have to say, not simply to increase our numbers.  You can’t please everyone and there’s no fucking point in trying.  You’ll just wear yourself out, make yourself feel like a failure and ignore the data that says otherwise.

It’s ok if you lose 10 percent of your readership because you said something a bit risky.  It’s ok that you had an opinion that lost a small percentage of your market.  In fact, it’s probably good that you do because there are always some lurkers that aren’t doing you any good.  And that goes for both personal and professional social media.  Some people exist to make you feel like you must walk on eggshells, and that’s just wrong.

Fly that fucking freak flag.  Fly it high.  Your people will find you.

Axiom #2: You Need to Please Some People

I’m not here to make a moral argument, though there’s plenty here to make.  I’m going to leave that to you and your people to figure out.  But, from a pure marketing standpoint, you have to remember that item #1 up there isn’t for every post.  You can’t sit around all day, every day, rattling a saber and claiming that Martians are coming to seize your car illegally and retain a broader audience.  You might find lots of people who have experienced Buick abductions themselves, but when that happens, that becomes your new audience.  That’s what happened as a result of your giving no fucks.

Actions have effects.  This is a universal truth.  So, while having an outlier thread now and again is a low risk way to increase engagement, having lots of outlier threads make them become the norm.  This will result in a significant shift in your audience base.  Ultimately, whatever you do on social media comes back around, provided you keep at it.  So, if you have an audience-focused Facebook feed, for example, you need to keep your audience in mind.  If you’re just out there to be out there, give it Hell and good luck with the results.

Axiom #3: There’s Not One Right Way to Social Media

The most important part, I think, is that there’s no right way to social media.  Obviously, you don’t want to be that guy who is always pissing people off, but then again, maybe that’s your schtick.  You don’t want to be that guy who is always advocating for the extreme, unless you do.  For most of you, it’s going to be a good bet to try to act as a uniter, even if that means having to unhitch from some of your horses for the greater good.

What I mean is that while social media becomes increasingly fragmented in the personal spaces, brands and public figures need to be trying to focus their efforts on themes that are uniting for their overall social media presentation.  Beyond that, it’s up to you how to go about it.  There’s no right way.  The only wrong way, as I see it, is to add to the issue of fragmentation.

So corral them doggies, share some #NotEntirelyUnpopular posts, add something new to the landscape.  I think by now, we can all agree that 24/7 politics are exhausting and there’s hardly energy enough for them any longer (this is not to say that there’s not room for larger messages woven into overarching brand stories).  There’s really only selective call for politics in a brand space, anyway, but again, my opinion on this.  If your brand is all about selling white bedsheets to Klan members, obviously, you’re not *my* market.

I know this seems like a mess of a blog.  But the point is that although you can’t please everyone, you have to please someone and if you’re a brand, you should consider the bigger picture.  As social media continues to fragment, you don’t want to be the business with just one guy as an audience.  You (and I) need to be doing the things it takes to reunite those audiences, even if only as brand advocates.  I think it’ll do a world of good to remind people that just because their politics are slightly different, they all use the same brand of toilet paper.

Common ground is the key to life and to refocusing our social media efforts.  It’s up to you to decide what that means before it’s too late for your brand image.

 

Digital Media and the Erosion of Journalism

There’s no good way for me to introduce this piece, so I’m basically just going to scream at you.  I mean, there’s no point in lying.  This isn’t a fist-wagglin’, get off my lawn sort of curmudgeon discourse, it’s actually a pretty serious thing.  So pay attention, ok?  Keep hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.

I realize that being a young Journo from a family that included a Journo from a Golden Age of Journalism gave me a bit of a skewed perspective on what journalists should and should not do.  But, OMGYOUGUYSES, the news has gone crazy and also a bit stupid.

Let me explain.

Journalistic Practices Circa the Pre-Digital Age

There was a time, so long ago now, when news stories were a means of driving subscriptions and thus, advertisers, to a paper-format publication.  It might be a weekly news magazine, or a daily newspaper, but the general public considered these the sources of Truth and Intelligent Commentary.  Of course, there were fringe publications, but they weren’t where the majority of people got their news.  Back then, sensational headlines were frowned upon.  Instead you were encouraged to craft headlines that were interesting and informative, so the reader could decide for themselves if they wanted to read on.

For example, my student paper covered a really serious tornado in our town, as well as the community’s response.  Our headline?  “Damn the Tornadoes — Full Speed Ahead!”  That was the most sensational headline I was ever involved with pre-Internet.  Today, you have too many “news” outlets (and some truly legit ones) that essentially trick people into clicking in order to fluff up their numbers for the purpose of extracting more money from their advertisers.

Another thing Journalists used to do, funnily enough, was their own research.  *pauses to launch hysterically*  I use a news aggregator to get a view of the day’s events, as well as the general chatter in a number of industries, and I gotta say, I am so genuinely disappointed in what claims to be original reporting.  One site will break a story and the rest rush to issue THE SAME STORY BASED ON THAT FIRST STORY’S INFORMATION.  I don’t have the words for how frustrating I find this practice.

What happened to like, I dunno, calling sources, looking shit up yourself, fact-checking and so forth?  A breaking story these days is rarely accurate or complete, even when it comes to local news.  Everyone’s in such a Goddamn hurry to get the news out, they don’t bother to wonder if they’re writing good news.  Much of what we get today isn’t much more than the Internet Age equivalent of the older folks in the neighborhood gossiping and speculating on what’s going on down the block with that ambulance.

To compound this problem, we as an audience have gotten really fucking stupid.

Let me type that again, because it felt so good.  You, the reader, are a bloody idiot.

Three times just seems like an insult to your intelligence, but then again….

We allow these once prestigious news outlets to continue with sloppy reporting and too-hurried news stories that require considerable backpedaling or further explanation in order to correct.  We reward BobsNewsSite.com (not a real site) for reporting that leaves more questions than answers by clicking on his fucking Click Bait headline.   We have created this dumbing down of the industry as a whole, and now we’re freaking out because “fake news.”

I’ve seen these fake news sites.  Most have some tiny bit of truth to them, but they’re not staffed by old school journalists who actually care about content quality.  They purposefully take things out of context, they get readers worked up, and all for increased ad spend.  These guys, as much as anyone, are feeding the increasing factionalization of America.

But you’re doing it, too.  I am not letting you off the hook here.  You keep feeding the fucking fake news and the sloppy news and the fucking wrong news and struggling outlets hire kids right out of school to break the biggest stories… it’s a terrible cycle that has to stop.  But WE can stop this.  We can find a way to bridge these gaps.

1. Fact Check Everything.  Don’t be lazy.  If you’re going to post to Facebook, make sure what you’re reading is actually right.  Even highly prestigious publications like the Washington Post or New York Times have been known to rush a story to social media before it was fully formed.

2. Learn to Identify ClickBait.  If there’s a headline, any headline, that implies there’s gonna be a shocking reveal once you click, FFS, STOP YOURSELF.  Even clicking is feeding these parasites, don’t click! If you can’t trust your own judgement, install a tool like BS Detector, which will help you figure out which is which.  I actually use this tool because there are so fucking many things on social media that I need to debunk on a regular basis and it makes my life easier.

3. Support Your Media Outlets.  Hey, did you know you can subscribe to digital media?  Yep, you sure can.  If you read the local paper daily online, why not support them with a subscription?  Digital TIME Magazine reader?  Check out that subscription thingy.  Maybe it’s not always necessary, but it’s right.  Stand up for real news with your dollar.

I could literally write a book about how low the bar has fallen for reporting in this day and age, including but not limited to fake news sites, but I have other stuff to do today.  And although I despise news outlets with obvious biases, they’re far less disgusting than those that abandon the truth entirely.  I don’t recommend you support those guys, either — after all, Journos are supposed to be neutral observers — but at least some of them still bother to do news.

Be a better person.  Do news right.  Don’t feed misinformation and paranoia in these confusing times.  Fact-check.  This is my moral imperative to you.  Hold news outlets accountable for shit reporting by refusing to feed them.  Reward responsible journalism with subscriptions and clicks.

Commentary: Google’s New Policy on Email Scanning

Friday’s post on Google’s own blog is causing a pretty significant stir in my circles right now.  Largely, I think it’s because no one really realized that their emails were being read by The Googler. For me, it’s something else… it’s speculation on why this is happening.  What’s coming?  WHAT IS THE GOOGLE HIDING?!?

I know a lot of you have waited a long time for Google to eventually reveal that it was actually behind the last year’s hyjinx all along and is now plotting world domination.  I know you believe this is going to happen, or at least that Amazon is going to undermine all retail, ever.  As with most things in life, it’s none as sinister as you reckon.  The truth is always somewhere between the two extremes in any argument, you just have to find it.

Back to Google’s Email Scanning

Because Google directly impacts what we do, it’s important that we stay on top of what it’s up to — but it’s equally important that we understand what we’re reading.  This is akin to how we use statistics or study data or anything like that, it’s one thing to read it and another to actually understand it.  The understanding is the thing, is my point.

Google has stated that it has never scanned its G Suite emails, only mining free email accounts for information.  When many people read this, the first thing they do is cry, because they’ve emailed some pretty personal/sexy/intimate thoughts using the service.  The thing those folks need to realize is that what Google IS STILL DOING (many headlines made it read like it was stopping Friday, but it’s not stopping until October — that’s another rant for another day) is simply scanning for keywords it can use to feed you ads.  I mean, this is nothing.  It’s a non-thing.

What IS interesting is that they’re stopping.  At least, to me.  Google has spent many years developing some pretty crazy advanced computer systems that can not only make reasonable assumptions and predictions, but learn from data that they’re fed.  Their machine learning is on the cutting edge of everything, Google’s machines are smarter than people in many respects, which is both exciting and frightening.

This not-headline is what the news should be, in my opinion.  If they’re not scanning emails any longer to feed us personalized advertisements, how are they going to do it?  Ad personalization isn’t going anywhere, so what we should be asking is “what’s next?” for Google advertising.

More Speculations on the Google Machine Future

Because Google is predicted to make $72.69 billion this year in ad revenues, I have a hard time believing that it would make a move that would damage that income stream.  More likely, one of two things is happening right now: Google has realized that scanning emails is a fruitless place to hunt up information that enables accurate predictions or (and this is what I think) it has found a much better way to sort this.

After all, keyword-based predictive algorithms are incredibly resource intensive, so if I were a Google, I’d be looking for a faster, easier way to achieve the same level of accuracy.  And hey, it turns out the minds at Google have actually thought a lot about this stuff, as evidenced by papers like “Ad Click Prediction: A View from the Trenches,” published in 2013 and the on-going craziness happening at the Research at Google site.

The thing, the real thing here in this story, I think — I believe with all my brainy bits — is that we’re entering a new stage in the maturation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Facebook, Amazon and other internet giants will certainly wonder what Google has built instead of focusing on the minutiae of unscanned email.  Although Google is a not terribly awful overlord, it’s still in it for the money.  Dropping the email scanning is not one of those things that it did just to make people happy.  It simply found a better way to keep you checking your email so you’ll see ads that might convince you to buy a thing.

Mark my words — MARK THEM! — the real story isn’t what Google posted, it’s what it held back.  There’s more to this story, and I have a funny feeling it’s about to get pretty fucking awesome up in here.  Even as my once-noble profession, journalism, is threatened by machine learning, I’m thrilled as fuck to welcome our smart machine conquerors.

Do you think they’d like a muffin basket?

How Does Your Writing Stack Up to the Cheesecake Factory’s Menu?

So, I was cruising the web the other day, as I am apt to do, and I came across this gem from Neil Gaiman’s blog.  The TL;DR version goes something like this: he was asked to read the Cheesecake Factory’s menu for a highly publicized charity stunt.  And that got me thinking, scratching my long luxurious lady-beard, and I wondered to myself: How would I feel if what they had chosen to read was something I had authored, even if it was ghosted.  After all, I still hold a little piece of those word babies tight to my chest and feel responsible for them for their entire lives.

Then I thought “Well, Hell, that could be a blog topic!”  So here we are.  You are now officially caught up.  Thanks for sticking with me.

How Does Your Content Read to Others?

As you probably know by now, I work with young writers from time to time, giving them whatever weak bits of advice I can come up with and generally acting like I actually know something.  One of the most common roadblocks these young’ens have is a fear of not being good enough or of being out-written by the competition.  I’m sure you’ve had this fear yourself at some point in your journey, or maybe you feel that way right now.   I’d be a liar if I said I never felt that I wasn’t as good as other writers.

But you know what?  If someone is paying you for writing on a consistent basis, you’re doing better than most.  Even those keyword-driven content monkeys are doing a better job with the words than the vast majority of the public, else the Google would have blacklisted their sites long ago.  And that, my friends, should bring you some level of comfort.  However, resting on your laurels is what’ll get my big black boot right up your ass.

You can always be better.

What if Neil was reading YOUR infomercial, blog or product descriptions for charity?  How would you feel?  Would you shrink in shame because you phoned it the fuck in and didn’t bother to actually care?

Although I’m not exactly proud of all the work I’ve done, and I’ve worked for some clients that I felt were totally fucking awful slimeballs (ambulance chasers, for example), if Neil Gaiman were to read any of those pages, any of those pieces out loud, I’d take a front seat.  I’d be like, “Them’s my words, motherfuckers, and Neil bloody Gaiman is reading them!”  And then I’d pass out.

Improving Your Content, Improving Your Mindset

There are two kinds of writers in this world.  Those that write with confidence that they’re doing all they can to produce top notch content and those who bang out random words in hopes of getting paid.  You can easily tell the difference between the two.  Writer #1 is crippled with self-doubt and reads blogs like this.  Writer #2 has no fucks to give.

You’re reading this, so I assume you’re Writer #1.  And if you’re Writer #2, maybe you sorely want to be Writer #1, so I’m giving you a pass just this once.  Charity.  Don’t get used to it.

That writer that’s wracked with guilt, that wishes they could do more, be more, learn more, get better and better, they’re the ones to watch.  And there’s a reason for this.  Not only are they meticulously checking their work for places it could be improved, they’re also spending time reading and learning, which tends to trickle down into a wider vocabulary and even better ways to turn a phrase.  Tends to.  I mean, you can’t get away with reading cereal boxes and learn anything, but I digress.  This blog is built on generalization, after all.

If you’re already doing all that stuff — the reading and the learning — well, I mean, that’s about all there is out there.  There’s no magic to good writing.  You simply learn the words, you figure out how they fit together, while demystifying punctuation and developing a sense for how people read along.  Metre is important, it’s so vital, but it’s something you pick up as you go.

So, if you’re struggling, if you’re wondering if you’re enough, and you think you’d be mortified if Neil Gaiman were to read your blog, you’ve probably alright.  A lot of it comes with experience.  You’ll learn when to hold them (keep working on a piece) and when to fold them (stop touching it and turn the motherfucker in).  You’ll learn when to walk away, you’ll learn when to run (from bad clients?  This metaphor isn’t holding up).   Write, that’s the thing.  Keep writing and keep caring.

Writing Readable Content is the Goal

There are lots of tips out there for writing clean and perfect content (it’s a fucking unicorn, stop chasing it), but there’s only one you really need.  Read that shit out loud, motherfuckers. Read it to your cat, read it to your pet barracuda, read it to the stars, but read it.  There’s only so much you can extrapolate about the flow of a thing by simply staring the words down.  You need to hear them, bring them in through your earholes and savor each umlaut.

Listening to your content is the one and only way to ensure that others will read it as you intended it.  Clear your mind and read that shit out loud.  You can break the rules, you can put an m-dash where there should be a period, provided it all flows right in the reading.  Look, I don’t know what your mother told you, but English is a language that should flow easily from the tongue, even if you’re reading a automotive parts catalog or a Cheesecake Factory menu.

I did a piece a while ago about writing by beats, and I still believe in this.  I do this every single time I write.  Do I need to write something super peppy and salesy?  Crank the happy music.  Am I writing a somber report of sadness?  Slow and steady, man.  Writing by beats is a quickie cheat to getting your metre right.  I’m very pro-cheat, or “life hack,” as we now call this shit.

What I hope you take from this blog is that you are absolutely capable of writing better content than the marketers at the Cheesecake Factory.  Your content can fucking sing if you’ll let it.  Just keep writing, just keep writing, and don’t forget to crank the jams.

I’m counting on you.  Make me proud.

Cloud-Based Office Apps for Writers and Other Maniacs

If you have a memory that functions better than that of a fruit fly, you’ll recall that on Tuesday I published a piece on why moving your operation to The Cloud just makes fucking sense in 2016.  I’m not going to leave you hanging there, though.  I went out to the web to figure out what options you had for Cloud-based office applications so this blog would be like… useful and shit.  Anyway.  That’s what I’ve been doing since Tuesday.

There are a ton of specialized Cloud-based spaces today, you can get anything you want from blank canvas hosting to point of sale software and project management tools out there in the wild.  There are also a ton of outdated links to tools that no longer exist (I realize the future irony of that statement, so shut your face).  In light of all of that, I thought I’d just make it a lot easier and bring all the information I found together into one space, tell you about my experiences and what I’ve heard and let you make your own decisions.  How’s that sound?

Enter the World of Cloud-Based Apps for Writers

In my hunt for the better Cloud-based office suites, I found four that I consider to be major contenders in the market as of right now.  Right now.  Remember, these things change constantly, new stuff comes in, old stuff shrivels up and dies like so many raisins in the sun.  Staying power is actually a major consideration for me, since I feel that The Cloud should host my data forever so I don’t have to bother to move it again.  That means really my choices are really limited to two, but I’m still going to present all four for you.  Ok?  Ok.  So here they are.

Zoho Office Apps.  If you read anything about Cloud-based word processing, it’s going to include the Zoho suite because, frankly, the writer’s desperate to get away from MS and Google.  The truth is that the Office section of Zoho is bundled UNDER the Mail program, which, to me, says that it’s basically an afterthought.  Zoho is really a productivity and project management tool, it’s not a fucking word processor.  I mean, it can get the job done, but unless you primarily want it for the other stuff it can do, I’d steer clear.  Forget this thing ever existed.

Polaris Office.  Admittedly, I’ve not downloaded Polaris Office, but from the tellings, the sayin’s on the web, this is actually a really awesome suite that’s super affordable.  If you can’t quite spring for Office, but you’re no fan of the Googler, Polaris can do everything MS wants to do and is free to get started.  Functionality and storage improves as your contribution improves, of course, but that’s the way life is, idn’t?  The one thing to note is that Polaris, like MS, will require some local storage.  So if you’re working with a device with limited disk space it might not work out for you.

Microsoft Office 365.  By now you’ve probably heard of a small company in Seattle called Microsoft.  They made an office suite, aptly called Office.  When it went to The Cloud, they called it Office 365.  We used to bitch about how much it cost, but now we can subscribe to it on a monthly basis for like $7.  It’s really quite cheap and you can save stuff in their Cloud space and all of that.  It works with all your mobile devices, it’s a Microsoft product so you don’t have to worry if your documents will be compatible with users of Microsoft Office (which is a rare complication of using any of the non-MS products).  Lots of bonuses.  Downside is that it’s still Microsoft, so there’s that.  They do at least now offer a free version (thank you, Nancy Allen, for that correction.)  Here’s the link.

Google Drive.  I saved the best for last.  Or, I saved the one I use for last, at least.  I love Google Drive… for a number of reasons.  First, I can export to just about any format, with reasonably few problems.  Second, it’s free unless I want to pay for extra storage (which I do, to the tune of a whopping $1.99 a month).  Thirdly, even though it’s still a pretty basic word processor, it can do a bunch of stuff — so it’s kind of a split between the graphically heavy, overly functional MS Word and the more basic WPs available elsewhere.  I can do a resume on this thing as well as write a document.  I don’t need another thing.  I can do all the things here.  So, it’s my go to.  It’s also compatible with my Chromebook, which I use for writing quite often.  *shrug*  I like it.  I’d actually pay for it.

As of right now, these are your options.  I’ve heard that LibreOffice is working on going to The Cloud, so if you’re a fan, you may want to watch for updates about that.  I don’t know more, I could sort of take it or leave it.  Whatever, yo.

Get thyself some Cloud computing.  It’ll change the way your life works forever.  FOREVER.

4 Reasons All Writers Should Be On The Cloud

In my early years as a young, budding journalist, there was no key combo as important as Apple-S.  Apple-S.  You wrote a beat, then Apple-S.  Oh, Apple-S.  Did I remember to Apple-S?  Let’s Apple-S just in case we didn’t Apple-S.  Every article was a long string of words invisibly punctuated with Apple-S.  (For you PC-types, that’d be CTRL-S)

The computers we used back then were amazingly sleek replacements for our typewriters and onion skin papers, but they couldn’t quite be trusted.  Oh no.  Those little fuckers would lock up or forget we’d written something or just sort of vomit whenever it seemed to suit them.  The closer to the deadline, the more likely this was to happen.  So, everything we wrote back in the 90s was punctuated with Apple-S because we were engaged in a never-ending battle with a technology that was created to make our lives easier and actually ended up creating a new subconscious keystroke for an entire generation of writers.

Eventually technology caught up to our actual needs and this amazing fucking thing was invented.  They call it The Cloud.  It’s not white and puffy, it’s not a sign of stormy weather, it’s a thing out there where you can store data and shit.  It’s fucking unicorn magic and puppies and fairy dust and donuts with sprinkles all wrapped up in a big soft down comforter and compressed into ones and zeroes for your fucking consumption.  So let’s talk about that.

Get On The Cloud Today, Freelance Writer!

So, The Cloud.  You can’t really understand The Cloud without experiencing it, but I’m going to do my best to explain it to you so we can both feel like we did our jobs here.  Now fucking sit and listen, because I’m sure as shit not going to repeat myself.

Do you remember when we had to use floppy disks or Zip drives or other portable media for files because we shared computers and did other unsanitary things in the newsroom?  You’re too young for that?  Hmm.

Well, there was a time when we had to carry our data with us because there was no where else safe to put it save inside the belly of a single computer, where it was difficult to share with anyone who might need it.  Instead of emailing files, we carried them to one another on coasters containing encoded magnetic circles that magically recreated our ideas — mostly.  I mean, if they got too close to a magnet or you dropped them or used them for an actual coaster, well, you were probably fucked.  And that’s why The Cloud is really important.

Know your computing history.   Here are four reasons why using The Cloud is superior to all that data lugging bullshit:

Two words: Auto. Save.  If you’re not part of the Apple-S Generation, you don’t know the struggle of constantly having to save your data for fear that you’ll lose it all if your computer were to suddenly crash or the power were to go out in a freak wind storm or something else horrific were to happen.  If you’ve never lost an entire article to one tiny computer hiccup, you don’t know the struggle.  But for those of us who lived through those dark times, The Cloud offers an anxiety-free alternative: Auto Save.  For example, Google Drive literally saves every character as you type.  It doesn’t get much more up to the second than that.  You can also configure your computer, smartphone or tablet to back everything up to your Cloud drive… so there’s literally nothing you can’t protect.

Improved Data Integrity.  Remember those disks I was talking about like 10 seconds ago?  Well, like cassette tapes, they didn’t have especially great data integrity.  Meaning that sometimes, even if you “Apple-S”ed as hard as you could go, you’d still lose your data because your disk was garbage.  Or if you did get your disk too close to a magnet or something that contained a magnet, it might wipe the disk entirely — making you double fucked.  Hard drives were also easily corruptible in the old days, basically nothing could be trusted.  So you had to print a copy and carry around a digital copy if you had any hopes of keeping your data intact.  The tech that backs The Cloud is so secure and has such excellent integrity that credit card companies and banks are moving their entire operations there instead of trying to upgrade their internal systems to match the level of tech.

Many Services Offer Built-In Software.  Your old, slow word processor that’s no longer compatible with anything or anyone needs to be chucked, along with the platform shoes in your closet and those fucking parachute pants.  NO ONE LOOKS GOOD IN PARACHUTE PANTS!  There are a number of Cloud services that offer built-in software suites for people just like us.  Access to word processors, spreadsheets and even presentation software is as easy as spending your $5 or $10 a month for your storage and access.  Your software’s always up to date and you’ll never have to have that embarrassing conversation with a client when they ask why they can’t open your file.

Group Think.  Even if the other stuff isn’t appealing to you, there’s one thing you can do on The Cloud that you’d never be able to do on your Earth-based PC.  You can’t share a document and literally work on it at the same time as someone else.  For any sort of group think project, from editorial calendars to branding projects and even blogging brainstorming sessions, having more than one brain in your working document can improve it exponentially.  Or it can fucker it up — I mean, I don’t know what sort of shitwads you work with.

Like it or not, unicorn butt sniffer, times change and we get better tools.  It’s to our advantage to use them instead of clinging to the same old technology we’ve been using since the Dark Ages.  Break your dependency on routine, check out some Cloud tools and see what you’ve been missing.  In part two of this two part series I’ll be discussing and reviewing some of the major Cloud subscriptions so you can make a more informed decision.

 

This Internet Life: Consider Who You Want to Be Online

As the presidential election season heats up for America, I’m being reminded once again what complete and utter assholes you can all be when you’re running your mouths completely out of control.  It’s one thing to do this on your personal social media that you have locked down and only your friends and family (God help them) can see.

It’s quite another to do it in full view of your adoring fans and potential clients.

I’m not saying you can’t make political statements and be a successful social media giant, or that you can’t even have a very strong political thread going through your social media branding.  What I am saying is that before dropping a sudden political bias where one never existed before, you need to consider who you want to be online.

You Can Be Anyone Online

On the Internet, you can be anyone you like.  That’s both a blessing and a curse.  For person to person communication, it can create trust issues, but when you’re acting as a business, like a writer who’s providing professional services, THE TRUTH and “the truth” are very different things.  You don’t have to bear your soul to the followers of the social media account you’re using for branding — in fact, it’s better that you don’t.  Obviously, you need to do something to be a bit human, but you can be human and not infuriate everyone you can find at the same time.

I think it’s really important that people follow you because they want to read your blogs and use your services, not because they want to troll you or try to bait you into saying something that might hurt your business.  Call me crazy, but there’s a line where TMI is truly too much information.  As a business, it’s absolutely vital that you figure out what your persona is — who you are — online before you begin to establish your social media branding in order to avoid that TMI zone.

I know it’s tempting to share political or current hot-button news items, but if that’s not part of your current branding, trust me on this — you’re doing far more damage to your image than you can imagine.  Think about it this way: if your plumber suddenly started sharing memes that you found incredibly offensive, wouldn’t you think twice about doing business with him?  It’s the same sort of thing.  Always remember that all eyes are on you, that your social media branding is actively in force when you log into Facebook or Twitter or SnapChat, and what you do can’t be unseen.

Different Types of Branding

You might have gotten the impression that I don’t believe in niche branding.  That’s not the case at all.  In fact, I fucking embrace niche branding.  You fucking niche yourself out, bitch.  Niche it up.  But you  shouldn’t be approaching a niche willy-nilly.  Know that niche inside and out.  It’s a little bit like knowing a fiction character.  Before you post a thing, you should know how your niche is going to react.

If your niche is, for example, made up of fans of a particular hardcore Conservative political candidate, then there’s probably no problem with posting a video of his recent speech.  However, if you happen to know that your vegan niche is also filled with people who are adamantly opposed to the same Cheetos-colored candidate, posting that same video is only going to end in flames.  I don’t care what your point might have been, you were totally off track.

THINK BEFORE  YOU POST, MOTHERFUCKER.

Your business is about llama herding or selling raincoats or duck burglary… so keep it relevant.  Keep your social media tied to what matters to your audience so they’ll keep coming back for more.  The goal is fan and customer retention, not customer repulsion.

If you’re in doubt about your online image and your audience, take some time to write up a description of your social media account and who it represents.  What does it stand for?  What is your goal for social media?  How can you best achieve this?  What type of posts will attract the people that you need to help with your goal?  What posts will keep them coming back and growing your business?

You can be anybody online.  But when you’re a business, even if that business is being a blogger or an Internet personality, the key is to be consistent.  If you’re a professional asshole — fine — continue to stick it to your visitors.  But if you’re usually a Tupperware salesman, FOR FUCK’S SAKE BE A TUPPERWARE SALESMAN.

… and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.


If you’re having trouble crafting your online persona, there’s no time like today to fix that shit.  I’m here to help, but only if you’ve got cash.  Email me at Kristi@WaterworthWrites.com and we’ll sort your fucking business out.