Fornicating Monkeys and Finding Your Voice

So, I might have lied to you a little bit.  Tiny, little teeny itty bit.  But if it helps any, I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time.  That is to say, I was in denial, so I don’t think that’s the same as lying.  Anyway, whatever it is, you’re still groveling here, so you clearly love abuse.

I have been busy, but I’m never too busy for this blog.  This blog is an exercise for me.  I don’t skip it because I have other work — it makes that other work easier to do.  I’ve been skipping it because there for a little bit I sort of lost my voice.  I’ve done it before, but this time it was a sneaky sort of thing, I didn’t even see it coming.  I was just writing along and some motherfucking ninja snuck up behind me and voice-napped me while I worked.

Where Did All the Voices Go?

It’s kind of a problem for our industry.  You spend so much time trying on different hats that sometimes you forget what’s under all of them.  You find another hat (OOOH!  A FEDORA!) and it’s so shiny and nice that you walk right out of the store with it before you realize that your everyday hat is still hanging in the dressing room.  It’s not the end of the world, your name’s clearly written inside, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to remember which dressing room you left it in right away.

I didn’t realize I had lost my hat, my swing, my voice, until last night when I was asking a friend to look over something I was really struggling with.  You have to understand, business blogs are my bread and butter, I know this stuff back and forth, I am the motherfucking Queen of the eCommerce Blog — so when I ask for someone to look them over, something is seriously fucking wrong.  She read this goddamned train wreck, then remarked that she knew how I felt when “I hand you fornicating monkeys. It just doesn’t feel right.”

For those of you unfortunate enough to not work for me, Fornicating Monkeys are something you never, ever do.  They’re casual voice that isn’t working.  They’re a failure.  They’re a rewrite.  They’re what I like to call a “gut & cut.”  Fornicating Monkeys result when we lose our own voices.

Finding Your Swing, Taming Your Monkeys

So, this blog is about finding your voice.  Not about monkeys fucking a football.  *ahem*

As a side effect of writing golf blogs for almost three years, I learned a lot about the game of golf, which was quite upsetting.  One of the things I did over the years to keep going with those blogs (I no longer write them, but they left a scar) was to watch and rewatch the movie “The Legend of Baggar Vance.”  Hang on, I’m going somewhere with this.

In the movie, there’s a magical caddy, played by Will Smith, who helps the main character, Matt Damon, find his talent again.  Spoiler: he’s a golfer, it’s his swing, whatevs.  But the thing is that as writers, we’re kind of like that… we each have our own voice buried under those layers of education and stylebooks and client preference and life going on around us being one giant fucking distraction.  And in all of that sometimes we kind of forget who we are and what we sound like when we just write free of it all.

In other words, sometimes we get such a big stick up our own asses that we forget how to write.

If you’re like me and in a huge need of dislodging a nine-iron, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Stop fucking judging yourself.  If you’re at a high level in your game, for fuck’s sake, stop second guessing every word.  “Do I sound too country?  Is this phrase worn out?”  My God, person, just shut the fuck up and write.

2. Write, then edit.  Age old advice that I never follow.  Write, then edit.  WRITE FIRST.  Give your ideas life, then shave all the body hair off, clip the unsightly moles, trim the unibrow, dress it up a little.  But it has to have life before you can give it shape.  You dig?

3. Relax a little.  Ok, this is more of an exercise, like a stretch, than a mental thing.  I want you to reach behind you and grasp the handle that’s firmly protruding from you like a tail, grab with both hands and pull as hard as you can.  If it’s shiny and silver, it’s probably an iron.  If it’s grained and stained, it might be a wood.

4.  For fuck’s sake, just write.  I may have mentioned this, but just fucking write already.

If none of that works, I hear that a lot of writers find solace in hard drugs.  I’ve always been a fan of a mix of caffeine, Flonase and Sudafed.  But to each their own.

NOW GO FUCKING WRITE, FUCKERS.

I’ll be back next week with more tips on building a better blog.

Writing By Beats

The world goes by beats — the sound of rain on the roof, the clicking of the subway train, the rhythmic beating of the heart… if you listen closely you’ll hear it.  Some beats are regular, some are irregular, but they’re always there.  Those beats inspire poetry, but they should also be informing prose.  Writers of every variety need to learn how to capture that natural pulse in order to create work that transcends the paper.

What Does it Mean to Write By Beats?

Long ago and far away in a writing class we discussed the power of beats.  Short sentences and tightly spaced punctuation convey meaning beyond the basic word — they add context and rhythm.  For example, short, choppy sentences can create the sense of fast, excited speech to a reader.  In the same way, long drawn out sentences that don’t have a lot to really say for themselves can convey a more relaxed tone.

It’s about the beat.  The rushed beats, the prolonged beats, the irregular beats.  The pulse of your writing, the pulse of your life, the pulse of the lives of your characters or your readership — they’re more than words, so much more.  And the more you pay attention, the better you’ll do with them.

The Trick to Writing By Beats

Writing by beats is a much more tricky thing, though.  For some people, it comes quite naturally — I wrote by beats before I knew what beats were.  Others struggle, they grasp at it and can’t quite make it happen.  There’s a rhythm they can’t hear, but this is a skill anyone can learn, no matter how much you’re struggling with it today.

And this doesn’t just go for fiction or poetry — I write digital copy by beats each and every day.  I write this blog by beats.  I do it subconsciously, pounding out the words like I’d pound on a drum.  Fast for when I want you to be excited about a product — slow when I want you to carefully consider what I’m writing.  Beat, beat, beat… it goes on and on.

So, just how do you learn to do what I do naturally?  I have some ideas that have helped plenty of writers before you.  Here we go!

1. Set a Mood.  When I say set a mood, what I mean is that you need to choose some music that perfectly reflects the beats you’re trying to create.  I write sales copy to a playlist I named “Happy, Punchy Copy.”   It’s both happy and punchy — and that’s where that copy comes from.  The thing is that you have to sort of push it away and absorb it like a meditation on rhythm.  So, stick on your headphones, immerse yourself in music, then ignore it while you compose.

2. Read Everything Out Loud.  Beats are something you feel, but they’re also something you hear in your head as you read.  Like you’re reading this, someone else will read what you’ve written and narrate it as they go.  They’ll hear a voice in their heads, they don’t just read the words — words are never just words.  If you can’t get the beats right, start reading your work out loud to yourself.  Feel the words, feel the beat as you go.  If you hit spots that seem awkward, talk it out until it’s smooth.  Hone that copy like a fine steel blade.

3. Study Rhythmic Poetry.  I have a particular opinion on non-rhythmic poetry that there’s not space for here, but if you need some real obvious examples of beats pick up a poetry anthology.  Read those rhythmic poems, commit them to memory, understand how they pulse in the mind of a reader.  Poetry is a gateway to better writing, if you’ll only learn how it works.  Beat by beat, it’ll improve your copy exponentially.

Beats are one of the most misunderstood parts of a writer’s voice, in my opinion.  As you write more and more, your voice will develop — but if you really want to pack a wallop, figure out this beat stuff early on.  The rest will be child’s play.

Now get to work, fuckers.

Kicking Off NaPoWriMo!

It’s a day early, but I’m kicking off NaPoWriMo anyway.  Check out the poetry archive I’m building up under the menu thingy.  Click the orange button with the three lines and you’ll find a link.

YEEHAW!

5 Reasons NaPoWriMo Should Be On Your To Do List

Hi.  Me again.  After waking up from a winter-long stupor, I realized that it was almost NaPoWriMo.  It’s one of my favorite times of the year.  I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, considering how much I loathe NaNoWriMo (seriously, bro, that’s a nightmare).  NaPoWriMo is a different beast entirely, though.  It doesn’t require you to lock yourself in a tiny room by yourself, banging out 50,000 frantic words during a month that includes a major holiday.

NaPoWriMo only asks for one tiny poem a day.  It can be haiku, it can be free form, it can be whatever.  It’s an exercise in streamlining your thoughts and conveying them in a way that everyone should be able to understand.  Poetry isn’t the song of the elite, it’s the music of the masses.  So, without further ado — five reasons you should do NaPoWriMo this year.

  1. Poetry is fun.  Where else can you tangle your fingers in words strung like yarn on the page?  Where else can you fundamentally toss the rules of English so completely that no one cares if you fail to punctuate and capitalize as long as you’re understood?  Poetry is the closest thing we writers have to recess.  Go play.
  2. Efficient writing is a valuable skill.  If we’re being fucking practical (screw that), poetry is an exercise in efficiency.  Unless you’re Homer.  But you’re not, so let’s assume you’re writing short form poetry.  Being able to completely express yourself with a minimum of words is a skill that’s valuable to journalists and copywriters everywhere — you might as well practice tightening your copy up here and there.
  3. All writing is a song.  When it comes down to it, all good writing rolls by beats.  All good writing flows like a song.  If your writing doesn’t move like satin through your reader’s head, it needs honing.  Poetry can help to marry prose and song in a way that will forever change how you write.  The thought process behind it is perfect for all types of writing.
  4. Writing a little poem every day isn’t a huge thing.  Unlike NaNoWriMo, you don’t have to give up your social life, deny your family, throw out your exercise routine and focus on doing nothing but noveling.  You only need to dash off a few little lines and you’re done.  A bit of art every day can make your day a lot better.
  5. Because I fucking said so.  I’ll be participating in NaPoWriMo because I think it’s important.  I don’t tend to write really serious poetry, but it’s a great outlet for me because I get to think about writing differently.  This is a valuable thing, if you can do it in a way that doesn’t take away from your regular work.

Write, motherfuckers, write.  I’ll see you at NaPoWriMo.

Totally Off Topic: Strength and Tragedy

You sweet little motherfuckers might have noticed my absence the last few weeks — that wasn’t because of something you did, though I’d love to blame it on you.  Really, I would.  But, unfortunately, even assholes need a chance to reflect sometimes.  That’s where I was.  I was in my Thinking Hole ™.

Something many of you don’t know about me is that I’ve spent the last five years living a nightmare of epic proportions.  My health has been very bad, I was told by doctors not once, but twice, that they believed I had liver cancer.  I’ve had a dozen surgeries, been on a zillion fucking medications and been snatched from the jaws of death more than once.  I’m not even being hyperbolic.

As it turns out, it’s not exactly an easy process to be a patient in the American medical system.  In fact, it can be the most difficult thing you ever do.  You have to fight for yourself while doctors glare at you and ask condescending questions like, “Do you have any medical background?”  I won’t go into my string of issues, but needless to say I’ve spent as much time in medical facilities as the doctors and nurses who ask those sorts of fucking questions.

The Concept of Strength in Tragedy

I saw a post earlier from a friend on Facebook from an atheist perspective that discussed how she (the writer) was offended when people say that so and so was given strength from God to get through something hard.  That’s sort of what prompted this post, actually.  Because I spend a lot of time thinking about that concept — the idea of Strength in Tragedy.  That’s what I’ve been pondering in my Thinking Hole ™, actually.

I don’t think people who have never been in a bad place really get it.  I don’t think they understand what this idea of Strength in Tragedy actually means.  When you’re at the brink, when there’s no more rope and you’re being told on December 23 that you have to be evaluated right away because liver cancer, there are literally only two ways you can respond.  You can shut down or you can stare that fear right in the eye and boop it in the nose.  Some people have to do both.  On December 23, I opted for door number three.

I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for my family, but I also didn’t want to go to St. Louis for this evaluation and then spring a cancer diagnosis on them out of the blue.  So, I waited until after the holidays to say anything.  I shut down because I couldn’t handle the thought of fighting another day, I didn’t think there was any way it could end well — I just… didn’t want to deal with cancer on top of Christmas.  It was too much.

I cried for weeks until my appointment.  I managed to tell my parents before I went, but it was hard.  I made funeral arrangements (Holman-Howe in my hometown, if you’re wondering where to send flowers in 100 years), I tried one last time to get life insurance (failed miserably).  All the while, my close pals cheered me on.  All the while, they held me up when I was dying inside.

Later, after the cancer scare was over and every test in the world for tumor markers came back clean (I now have to repeat these yearly), people praised me for my strength.  How they could never go through something like that, so on and so forth.  I know, in my heart, that these people mean well.  I know they do.  I appreciate that they were trying, because I know it’s hard to know what to say in these situations.  I usually call someone a cunt and then ask them if they want to get some tacos, but that’s just me.

But the idea that you couldn’t walk through fire if you had to — that anyone would do anything differently — it doesn’t truck with me.  I think you would do exactly the same thing I did in a time of tragedy.  I think you’d reach out to your friends and family, I think you’d find it within you to face that fear headlong, I think you’d mourn and I think in the end you’d be ok.  I think it’s within us all to do this.

Depression and suicide in the face of these things — that’s something else.  That’s a person who is already suffering from a separate problem being pushed too far.  Depression is another thing.  If you’re mentally healthy, you’d respond the same way.  And I know of that which I speak.  In late 2011, I was faced with the same diagnosis — but back then, I was freshly divorced (literally like two months out), I had just lost my farm and my little dairy goats and my fucking dog.  I mean, I had nothing.  I was living out of boxes in a friend’s apartment, I was in a bad way.  I’d had my gall bladder out, then the cancer thing… and another surgery — I couldn’t bear the strain, mentally or physically.

It was too much and I jumped hard.  I own it.  I did it.  I tried to untether myself from this mortal coil.  I never told anyone my gruesome plan, because they would have been markedly more horrified than they were when they found me unconscious from an overdose of narcotic pain medication.  But it would have been a death fit for the level of emotional pain I was in at time time — betrayed by my ex, by my body, by the world.  As I laid in my bed, waiting for the pain meds to numb every inch of my being, to calm the consuming fire inside of me, something else moved in… something comforting… and that was the night I lost my fear of death.

The following weeks were hard, I was forced into a mental institution because suicide is illegal here.  It is a crime and I was treated like a criminal.  There was no therapy, there was no help — only TV time, sleep time and group activities that mostly consisted of coloring.  They talked at us about how taking a walk outside could help curb stress while we were locked in a building that was smotheringly hot, where the windows couldn’t even be opened — we had no way to go outside for a walk, or even a long-distance stare.

I have a book outlined about my experience there.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to write it.  The first 22 pages were written while I was inside, using the only implements I could get at the time: a golf pencil, a marker and a crayon.  If anything could convince a chronically depressed person to succeed at suicide, that facility would do it — you never wanted to go back to that den of isolation and hypocrisy for any reason.

The Moral of the Story, I Think

Anyway… the moral of the story is that there’s strength in each and every one of us, a deep, deep strength that keeps us moving — maybe it’s hardwired in our DNA — but it’s there.  You can and you will pull through, there is not a tragedy so large that a mentally healthy person can’t overcome.  Yes, it will hurt like a sumbitch, and you’ll cry rivers of tears and you’ll think you’re completely losing your mind and coming apart at the seams, but you’ll get through it.

Someone has been through that same shitpile you’re going through now, someone else has plowed their way to the other side.  Their example proves there is an other side and with enough pushing and screaming and punching and weeping you’ll get to it just like they did.  Whether that strength comes from God or your strong belief in vaccines or your dream of one last tasty cream-filled donut, I don’t know.  I think it comes from without and I think it comes from within.  I think we all have someone watching out for us.  Even if that someone is a buddy masquerading as a guardian angel.

So, I think the next time someone you know overcomes a bad situation, you need to say “Way to go!,” or “You’re awesome!!”  or even, “Hey, cunt!  Let’s get tacos!” instead of telling them you couldn’t do the same.  Because you can.

Now go back to writing or I’ll find you and beat you to death with a golf pencil.

 

PS.  I’m much better now, in case you were wondering.  I’m in full recovery, everything’s peachy fucking keen, except for these enormous medical bills and prescription prices.  Get on that, would you?

Grammar Nazis, You’re Missing the Best Parts…

I love the English language, in a way that I don’t think most people really appreciate.  I love it for its weirdness, for its tricky rules and for how you can learn the basics fairly quickly, but it will literally take a lifetime to truly understand.  For me, that pursuit is 25 or so years old — I’ve been studying English longer than I can remember.  Funk & White spoke to me, “On Writing” made me weep, I have particular affection for the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

I love this language, but I also am beginning to really get to know it in these fast-moving times.  It’s not what you think.  At least not what most people think.  The best part about English is how little most people really get it.  It’s like a secret code that few can legitimately decode.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.  Loving the language for what it truly is.

There Are Many Englishes

As a writer, you have to understand one thing — it’s fundamental: you can’t master English.  It’s a beast that can’t be tamed, it can’t be chained and it can’t be held still.  Between the various dialects and legitimate language spin-offs (like Ebonics, which is recognized as a distinct variety of English, Spanglish and even American English), there is so much more to English than you can possibly imagine.

That being said, there are still an awful lot of you who believe in a single standard version of a language that is, in essence, a living thing.  You balked when the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “Interweb” as an entry in 2015.  You freaked when text-speak started creeping into legitimate use.  You, my friend, are about to hit a wall and hit it hard.

I’m not even going to try to count the number of dialects of English that Wikipedia mentions, but it’s a hell of a lot.  English is currently the most widespread language on Earth, if not also the most frequently spoken.  And it’s come a very long way from what we think of as Old English to the form we generally use today.  I could elaborate on this, but I think this video does a much better job than I could:

Learning to Allow English to Flex is the First Step

I assumed you watched my video, but if you didn’t, it outlined the changes and progression of English throughout its long history in just 10 short minutes.  If nothing else, I hope you now realize how silly it is to try to freeze a language that’s ever-changing.  Latin, for example, is a language you can harness and find comfort in for its consistency and unchanging nature — but it’s also a dead language.  That’s actually what kills a language, you know.  Not changing.

English is something else.  It’s one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn because of all the words that don’t make any sense within the basic framework, it’s a linguistic puzzle.  I’m pretty sure English teachers are the worst about pushing the stereotype that English is a thing you can hold in your hands.  It’s not.  It’s a maddeningly changing and shifting thing.

I see it day in and day out on the web.  People who bitch and moan about other people not using the language properly when they (the bitchy whiners) are clinging to archaic forms of the language no longer in use.  I want to smash those people upside the head with a brick.  I want to check them for capacitors because I’m pretty damn sure they’re robots.

OMG, someone wrote OMG!  That’s not a word!  

Actually, it is.  Now.  You know why?  Because English is cool like that.  English is constantly growing and changing.

English is the most democratic force on the planet.  It exists and changes because we want it to — as a group.  New words come into use because we use them.  Old words fall out of favor because we’re sick of them.  English follows fashions, English loves a good trend, but some of that stuff sticks… some of it carries on.  As we change the language, it also changes us.

This is my tribute to the English language.  I love it.  I love it like a shifting sand.  I love it like a blowing wind.  I love it like a rippling tide that can’t be stopped.  I love it for all it is, I love it for all it isn’t.  I love it for the freedom it gives me.  I love it for letting me hold on to my heritage while still connecting with others who are very different from me.

Go, English, go.

It’s Important to Take Writing Breaks

I know a perfectly lovely lady who is a digital copywriter.  She works her butt off all the time, and she’s constantly tired and stressed.  I happen to know she’s very talented, but she neglects self-care.  And self-care is one of the most vital parts of being a writer.

I was there, I was her, just a few years ago.  I would write for two or three months straight, without weekends, and wonder why I was getting slower and slower — why it got harder to get up and go to work every day.  The truth is that I was completely worn out.  But I kept trucking because I had to pay the rent, pay the utilities and buy groceries.  It never had to be that way, I just thought it did.

The Value of Weekends

There’s something so freeing in having a weekend to look forward to after a long, hard week of writing.  There’s something so nice about it.  But beyond giving you some shiny, happy feelings, it also gives you a chance to unwind and destress, a chance to clear your head.  Sure, I know it sounds like utter shit, and I used to believe that, too… but I was wrong.

See, I (and I expect you, too) was raised in a world where the ability to work yourself to death was considered a virtue.  This wasn’t a world that spawned creativity, it was a world of pure industry, where everyone was herded into factories to mechanically build consumer goods.  So if you could work for a long time without dropping dead or going insane, it was a really good thing.

Labor laws and whatnot were invented to protect the average Joe from his employers forcing this sort of endless labor onto him, but we self-employed creatives aren’t bound to those laws.  We really should be.  Like truckers, we should be limited in how many hours a day we can write.  This is probably a variable thing for different writers and for different projects, but when we can’t set limits for ourselves, we need to take a cue from others.

It wasn’t that long ago that I’d have four or five day long “Write-a-Thons.”  And when I say I was writing the whole time, I’m not joking.  I’d write 11 days in a row, all day long, because I thought I should.  I’d write for months without a break.  And you know what happened?  I started to suck in a big way.

Giving Yourself a Break

Yes, writing is work, and it’s not easy work.  That being said, you need to give yourself a break now and again.  Maybe you can’t do it all at once, but you can start to make changes today that will allow you to treat yourself better in the long run.  Do I have tips?  OF COURSE I DO!

1. Get Organized.  You’ll never break the cycle of weekend writing if you’re disorganized.  Organization is the key to much of this — if you don’t know when to write a thing, how long that thing will take and when that thing must be delivered, you’ll not only miss deadlines, you’ll kill yourself fighting against the mess.  Get organized.  Free tools like Google Calendar can go a long way to helping you sort out the chaos.

2. Ask for Help.  Sometimes you get so much stuff on your desk that you can’t possibly get it all done.  Oh, I know.  I’ve been there, my friend.  There’s no shame in asking another freelancer for help — with a caveat.  Never outsource without asking your client if it’s ok.  Some may want to only work with you or have sensitive information they’d rather keep to themselves.  Respect those wishes, especially if that client is your bread and butter.

3. Set Realistic Deadlines.  As a freelancer, you’re probably asked by your clients when you can deliver.  The answer should never put you in a place where you’re neglecting self-care.  Learn how much you can realistically write, really figure it out and be honest with yourself.  Everybody writes at a different pace, and so long as you’re paying the bills, it’s ok.

For example, I’m most comfortable at four to five 500 word pieces a day — gives me plenty of time to think about them.  That doesn’t mean I can’t write more when I have to, but I limit those “have to” situations as much as possible.  I tell clients it could be a while before I get to their stuff, most of them aren’t in a hurry, so it’s ok.  If they demand work right away, I charge them accordingly.  Be hard, stand your ground, and take no shit.

If  you take nothing else away from this blog, Fuckers, it’s that you need to take better care of yourself.  I don’t care if you’re taking Tuesday and Wednesday off or Saturday and Sunday, you need a fucking break and every week.  Treat yourself nice so you don’t blow your top.  Trust me, you’ll last a lot longer in this life if you pace yourself.

Some Days You Just Can’t

NUNMy goal with the WaterworthWrites blog was to help writers learn how to push themselves and improve their skills, but once in a while I just don’t have anything to say.  Today’s one of those days… and I’m sure you have days like this, too.  My blogging brain is empty because I’m so full of thoughts about client work.

I’ve also had way too much Monster.

Anyway.  This is more of a placeholder than a true blog, but hey, gotta appease the Google Gods.  Some days you just can’t.  When it’s client work, you have to find a way, but when it’s your own… it’s harder to find the motivation.  You want your own stuff to feel right — you don’t want to have to force it.

So, since I don’t want to force it today, I’m not going to.  I’m just going to leave you with this thought:  Sometimes you just can’t.  And that’s ok, provided you’re not missing a deadline.

I’m going to go run around like an idiot in the sunshine instead.

Later, suckers.

Campsite Rule Applies to Writing Clients, Too

Look, there’s something we need to seriously talk about, Copywriters.  I’m finding myself picking up the pieces you left in your wake, and frankly, I’m tired of it.  So, from now on out, the Campsite Rule is in place for client contacts.  Just like Dan Savage (a talented writer and seemingly decent human) long ago declared for human relationships, I declare that you shall no longer leave your clients a wreck.

If you’ve not heard of the Campsite Rule, let me introduce you.  Savage, a sex columnist, coined the phrase in the mid 2000s for relationships where one person is considerably older than the other — but let’s face it, this shit applies to all sorts of situations.  The gist of it is that you’re to leave the other person in at least as good of a condition as you found them, just like at a campsite.  Don’t break them and leave a mess for the next guy.  And, boy, do you Copywriters love to leave a string of bodies in your wake.

You’re Fucking Up Big Time, Writers

If there’s one thing — one thing — that I always advise when it comes to clients, it’s to never, ever fuck them or burn your bridges.  You never know when you’re going to need a reference, a recommendation or simply want to reconnect with them.

This life is too unpredictable to destroy carefully cultivated relationships.  Period.  Your clients are putting their trust in you and their business’s marketing in your hands.  If you can’t commit to that fully, you need to bow out gracefully — not leave them in the lurch.  Let me give you an example.

I know of a guy who isn’t the best client in the world — he’s not going to get any sort of award for being an amazing client, but he’s still an ok guy.  He’s gun shy about working with copywriters because some, a few, have taken his money and never delivered.  Because it’s been small potatoes, he didn’t have much in the way of recourse, other than to become even more defensive and paranoid about the next writer.  I’ve worked with this particular fellow on and off for the better part of three years because he keeps trying to find a cheaper copywriter and keeps running into this problem.

Well, I can hear you say, he deserves it for being such a cheap bastard.  Normally, I’d agree with you, but no… no, you’re wrong.  Super fucking wrong.  No one deserves to be treated like this.  If you feel like you deserve more money, it’s on you for not asking for it or for not finding a client who can or will pay the toll.  It’s NOT on you to rip off a client because you can.

I have another client who is entirely too nice and lets a lot of things slide.  One of her former writers was consistently late, putting her into a bad position with the companies she was cultivating.  She either had to pick up the slack, or more often, deliver late and further damage her reputation.  This is also not cool, people.  Campsite Rule.  You don’t burn down the fucking campground where you’re staying!

Being a Better Human and Copywriter

I work with writers at all levels of this profession, both as Project Manager at Top Shelf Copy and as an independent freelancer who frequently collaborates with others.  When I say all levels, I mean from green behind the ears junior copywriters to 20 year veterans in the field.  These guys earn a huge range of pay, but the ones at the top have a few things in common.  Mostly, they observe the Campsite Rule.

But, since some of you can’t fathom what that even means, I’m going to give you some tips for being a better human, earning more as a copywriter and building a solid reputation that will be worth more in referrals than you can possibly realize right now.

1. Always deliver on time.  Sure, things happen — we all get sick, we all have accidents and whatnot.  You can’t be expected to be invincible.  However, you have to make every effort to deliver on time, every time.  Otherwise, you not only put your job at stake, but the reputation for that person who is taking your delivery.  If you know you can’t deliver, tell your client as soon as you realize it.  Then work out a plan to make sure you hit the deadline.  Collaborating with other writers of a similar skill level is a great solution, as long as the client approves this strategy.

2. Your copy better shine.  That copy you deliver can’t be shit.  I don’t care if you spent all night writing and rewriting and you’re strung up on coffee, you dig down deep, channel your inner beast and you do your fucking job.  Follow the guidelines for the project and then polish that product until it shines as much as it can.  Some are better than others, some days we’re better than other days, but if you give your all, you’ll always be enough.  I can tell when writers phone it in, I guarantee your clients can, too.

3. Do everything you’ve agreed to do.  This is especially important if you’ve taken a deposit or are working on a prepaid project.  You do everything you agreed to do, get it?  Just man up and fucking do it.  I don’t care if the client stopped responding to your questions, you track that motherfucker down and get some answers.  It’s up to you to be the kind of writer who makes a client a better client, for the sake of the entire industry.  Sometimes clients need to be taught how to work with a writer — that’s an implied part of the contract, too.

4. Inspire confidence in clients.  Above all else, give off an air of confidence that is genuinely hard-earned.  Don’t be iffy, be confident.  Even if that means you’re confident you can’t get to those web pages for a month — always be honest, always have integrity and never, ever promise things you can’t deliver.  Inspire confidence that the product will be given the time it deserves, even if that means you need a month.  Be honest and then write like the wind.

5.  When you fuck up, come back swinging.  Everybody fails sometimes.  Don’t make it the story of your life.  When you screw up big time, take a breath to figure out what went wrong.  Are you overworked, do you take on too much, are you poorly organized?  Sort out your shit and then come back swinging.  I promise the time you invest in yourself will pay out in the end.

I know that most of you don’t mean to fuck up.  I really do.  You either want to please everybody, or you underestimate how much time a project will take — or both.  But part of doing this job is learning, every day.  You learn your clients, you learn your projects and you learn about your abilities as a writer.

Learn, motherfuckers, and clean up your fucking campsites.  I’m really tired of finding such big messes.

3 Completely Tasteless Ways Writers Self-Promote

I was going to skip this blog post because I honestly didn’t have anything to write about, then I got an email.  Another writer, who I just met, had asked for some pointers on a piece she wrote about pest control, which happens to be an area of expertise of mine.  After I had made some very useful and thoughtful points, she followed up my email by asking me to link to her blog.  Instead of eating her head, I thought I’d turn this into a blog — because maybe some of you simply don’t know better.  Now you will.  No excuses.

Self-Promotion in the Internet Age

I know social media and sharing can be confusing, especially if you’re just starting out as a digital copywriter.  You want to be loved, you assume all writers are pulling for you and whatnot, but it’s simply not true.  I mean, we’re not all rat bastards, but most of us couldn’t care less if you make it or not.  It’s nothing personal, but we’ve just got better things to do — and probably a lot of them.

We’re not clogging up our blogs or our social feeds with your bullshit, that’s how you get a reputation for being a walking, talking spam machine.  Instead, we work hard to develop content and hunt up shareables that people actually want to see.  Stuff that teases and titillates, not garbage spam clogged with ads.  You may be a great writer, but I don’t care.  Unless I read your stuff, or I had something to add to the article you wrote, I’m not sharing it.

That’s that.  I’m not your publicist.  I’m my own publicist.  And the last thing I want people taking away from my publicity is that I’m a whore who will give anybody attention in the name of creating a virtual traffic jam for the people who read my work.

If you write something and you want another writer to promote it, you have to earn it.  Write something worth reading.  There’s not enough begging, pleading, sweet talking or payment (ok, maybe payment) that will be enough.  We work hard to build our personal brands, so must you.

Three Types of Self-Promotion to Avoid

Let’s get to the heart of this thing.  What not to do.  And I’m going to be very specific because this behavior is total garbage, completely unprofessional and it happens ALL THE TIME.  You guys need to go to school.  These are, IMO, the three worst self-promotions I see.

Promote a Stranger.  This one gets me, but it also drives other writers I know totally mad.  It’s when a writer you’ve never read, or have only read in a very limited capacity asks for you to promo their book, blog or whatever.  I don’t have a clue if you’re worth a shit as a writer, why would I recommend you to anyone?  Prove to me you deserve that recommend.

Rapid Fire Spam Promos.  I see this on social media a lot and it makes me want to kill.  Seriously.  A writer who feels compelled to shoot marketing at you all the time, machine gun style, is not a writer I want to read.  You could be the next Stephen King and I’m still going to tell you to go fuck yourself and block you.

Link to Me, Link to You.  A few shared links between friends is one thing — I know a dozen writers off the top of my head that I’d link share or even let guest post here without a question.  Then there are all the others.  The newbies, the wannabes, the neverweres that believe that if I were to link to their blog, they’d get something magical out of it.  In exchange for this magic, they’re going to link back to me.  Hooray.  Oh, wait.  No.  The opposite of that.  I don’t need your promo, I don’t want to link to you, go fuck yourself.

Now, this is not to say that self-promotion is a sin.  Far from it.  You have to promote to get ahead, but you can do it in a way that makes it seem like a gift rather than an obligation.  You get it?  Don’t beg me to promote for you — do it yourself, to your own audience.  Or get together with some other writers in your genre and do a giveaway.  There are lots of ways to get new readers without doing any of the tasteless stuff I mentioned above.

Several novelists I know share bits of their works in progress and ask for feedback from their audience.  That’s a very genuine way to invest the audience, self-promote and give something special to the people who are supporting your sorry ass.  These people are total winners in my book.

Now get back to work.  Promote like a grown-up or I’ll slap your face until you shut up.