How Are Your Pet Projects Doing, Writers?

I died about this time last week.

Obviously, it didn’t stick.

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

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

We All Lose Our Way Sometimes

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

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

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

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

And then I died.

Recalibrating Your Project Compass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Letter 2018

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

Was it the Year We Needed?

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

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

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

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

A New Normal

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

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

Friends Near and Far

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

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

Who’s chopping onions in here?!?

On to This Year’s Goals!

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

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

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

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

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

Rule #1 for Writers: Always Be Genuine

If there was only one piece of advice I was allowed to dole out to writers and potential writers and kids who want to grow up to be writers, besides the obvious “don’t!”, it would be this fancy pants line from Shakespeare:  This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

I dunno if I’d push it as far as not being false to any man, I mean, that’s on you, but I definitely support being true to yourself.  That goes double for when you’re writing.  There’s a certain rhythm that you develop as you go along, some people refer to this as your “voice,” but if you’ve done this for long you know that your voice can kind of slip along with whatever you’re banging out.

Sometimes you get bits of other voices stuck to your own.  Gross.

That’s what this blog post is about.  Shaking that shit off and just being you.  Because your audience can tell.  They can see when you’re phoning it in, they can tell when you’re trying to write someone else.  There are always tells.

What Does it Mean to be Genuine?

Being genuine is one of those things, like being in love or being an asshole, that’s a little bit hard to define.  We seem to basically know it when we see it, but explaining it to someone else is difficult.  Yet, Writers, we’re the masters of written communication, so let’s give it a go.  Merriam-Webster defines “genuine” like this:

  1. a : actually having the reputed or apparent qualities or character genuine vintage wines
    b : actually produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author the signature is genuine
    c : sincerely and honestly felt or experienced a deep and genuine love
    d : actual, true a genuine improvement
  2. a : free from hypocrisy or pretense : sincere His apology seemed genuine.

I’m going to assume we’re talking about 2a.  I think that’s the one I mean.  Free from pretense.  Yeah.  That.  So, thanks, dictionary!

Anyway, what it really means in a functional sense is that you’re not trying to write like anybody else.  Because it doesn’t work that way.  You can only write like you.  If you try to write like Douglas Adams or fucking Thomas Jefferson or whoever you please, it’s not only going to sound awful to the ear, it’s going to be an assault on the person you’re trying to imitate.

Readers can tell when something’s just a little off, especially if they read a particular author often.  They might not be able to put a finger on it, but something… maybe in the way you use commas or how you punctuate phrases, or where you find paragraph breaks to make the most sense.  They just know.  It’s intuition.

And this sort of goes back to the post on ghosting from last week, too, I guess.  I never try to write like the person I’m ghosting for, I try to write like a version of me that’s in their pants.  For example, I write for a successful marketing professional who shall go unnamed.  I’m certain he and I have very different writing styles in reality, which is probably because he sells commercials and I write words.  But when I write for him, I just do my best to sound like a version of me that knows a lot about selling commercials.  I don’t pretend to believe I can write exactly like him.

Benefits of Being a Genuine You

Believe it or not, writing like you has some pretty massive benefits.  Yeah.  Being yourself can be cool, who knew?  This is the part of the blog where I list some shit and you read it.  So, here we go!  Benefits of writing like you!

Increase your writing speed.  This is probably the most important for us, especially considering how many of us work by the piece.  Writing speed is vital, if you can’t crank a blog in an hour, you’re not going to survive.  When you write like yourself, it’s almost effortless.  You know what you want to say about the top ten travel destinations in Texas or the six most infectious types of parasites or five ways that turnips changed the world.  So just say it!  Don’t worry over every word, use the words you’d use.  Just get the tone right and you’re glorious.

Improve engagement with the audience.  As I stated above, your audience can tell when you’re not quite yourself.  There’s something wrong with the cadence of the sentences, the paras don’t flow properly and everything is just a little… skewed.  It’s obvious that you were trying too damn hard, so stop.  Just stop.  Instead, be genuine and invite your readers in.  They’ll be more likely to become engaged because they won’t smell a rat.  Or a turd.  Whichever applies.

Create a thing that’s never been.  Here’s the ultimate goal of every writer, creating a thing that’s never been.  It’s the ultimate goal of all creative types, really.  And you can make a thing that’s totally new by taking a topic and infusing yourself and your special little brain into it.  So go marrying some shit together, go fuse stuff and see what you get.  I never said it would always be great, just that it would be new.  New is new.

If you’re struggling to tap into what makes you you, you may want to try a really basic writing exercise that many young writers spend hours and days and years at.  Freewriting is a technique where you just write, whatever comes to mind, for five or ten minutes and you don’t stop.  You just write.  You don’t edit, you don’t erase and for fuck’s sake, you don’t try to be anybody else.  It’s stream of consciousness and it’s a delightful way to yank your own youness out of you.

Go getya some words, my word warriors.  You can do the thing!

Surviving as a Ghostwriter in the Shadows

Digital publishing is a funny thing.  Too often, we the free writers of the virtual world, are treated like footnotes within bigger projects, most of which we’ve created in their entirety.  Our names never appear anywhere, we get no credit, only a fat paycheck to ease our woes.  Paychecks are lovely, don’t get me wrong, and one of my favorite things about this life, but I’m also really into getting *more* paychecks.

That’s where it gets a little tricky.  When you’re a ghostwriter, that is to say, a writer who never gets credit for their work, how do you prove the article attributed to Mr. Dan Smith was actually penned by you?  How can you establish that you have the chops you claim?

My Ongoing Fight with Nest (Yes, the Smart Thermostat Company)

This whole piece was inspired by a recent issue I had with a marketing piece that landed on my desk, via a couple of layers of marketing agencies, from Nest, the company that makes the little round learning thermostat and now a bunch of home security stuff.  I’m working under a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t tell you too much about it, except to say that either the marketing company or Nest itself wanted me to include information about their Nest Pro program for building contractors within this 1200 word piece.

Except no one would give me the fucking information.

So I went to Nest directly and asked for it.  I explained the project as best I could without breaking my NDA, but I was constantly deflected.  I finally reached someone I thought would help me.  When I explained I was a ghostwriter acting on behalf of a marketing firm whose name I didn’t even know because of the layers that separated me from them, that door slammed shut in my face.

I started pondering this situation from that moment on.  I also emailed my company’s contact, again requesting the information I’d been after for most of a month.  I got a one sentence response, at which point I just threw my hands up, wrote the piece as best I could and turned it in.  That’s one I’m glad to be done with.  Nest is paranoid, this marketing firm is incompetent and I was the ghostwriter stuck in limbo between them.

Proving Your Meddle from Writing Purgatory

Because I was a journalist first, I very rarely encounter problems with potential clients believing that I’ve produced the content that I’m using for samples.  They can google my name and find plenty of things to back up my long career in this here writing life.  But a lot of you aren’t so lucky and have ghosted most of your lives, so I came up with some ideas for how to actually support your claims.  Ghosting is great when your clients edit your work into garbage, but it’s heartbreaking when you’ve written something that goes viral and it has someone else’s name on it.

Next time you have someone doubt your ghosted pieces or your status as a ghost, try these tips, ok?  I think any reasonable person would find these acceptable solutions.  If not, fuck ’em.  You don’t want to work for that asshole anyway.

#1. Ask your existing clients for a reference.  When you write consistently for a particular client, you should be developing a relationship with them.  You are, right?  This comes in handy when you’re trying to expand and find new clients because that other client you’ve been ghosting for can provide you with a reference that says you’ve written their content.  I’d suggest choosing the samples you want to use and ask the client to specifically mention those pieces.  Or, if you write their entire blog, for example, they could just pen something like “Sally has been writing my blog exclusively since 2009 and we’ve seen engagement triple during that time.”  That’s a nice thing.

#2. Suggest a paid trial.  I was recently asked if I could provide samples of an email campaign I’d worked on for a potential client and I had to tell them that this violated my agreement with every client I’d ever written those for.  Email campaigns tend to be kind of tightly protected secrets, even though most companies end up writing them kind-of-the-samey.  But, anyway, since I couldn’t give him the specific kind of sample he wanted, I suggested we do a paid sample so I could show him what I can do with an email.  I’m a wicked email slinger, but no one knows it.  It’s ok.  I can sleep at night knowing that no one realizes how mad my skills are.  Anyway, we’re in the middle of that now, so I’ll let you know, but I think it’s going to be ok.

#3. Provide bylined copy that’s unrelated.  I’ve had to do this more than once.  The nice thing about having a mature and established voice is that no matter what you write, it’ll kind of peek through.  Anyone who reads much will be able to recognize your signature on both your bylined copy and your ghosted copy.  Even if your bylined copy is about high school baseball, it’s better than nothing.  You might as well try as not.

Ok, that’s what I’ve got for you today.  The holidays were a mess and got me terribly behind.  I’m gonna go over into the other window and write a buncha blogs now.  Until next time…

Self-Care is Fundamental to Your Writerly Health

I’m writing this blog from the end of the road, the bottom of the barrel, the length of my rope.  You see, I’ve been neglecting my most important asset for the last month: me.  I’ve not been sleeping well, I’ve not been eating well, I’ve been overworking myself, I’ve been skipping the gym, I’ve been pushing when I knew I had nothing left to give.  I’ve been on empty and there wasn’t anything for it.  I continued to plunge ahead.

If you stay in this business, this life, for long, you’ll find that this state of workaholism isn’t unique to me or something to admire.  It’s a kind of sickness that some of us get.  We forget to stop.  We get wrapped up in the work, in the thrill of the keyboard, the rush of a new project (never mind the old one isn’t getting finished because you’re spread so damn thin).  I’ve been pretty good to keep it at bay, but I met a fella recently who brought me some really special projects and there it was, peeping at me from around the corners.

So, my fucking friends, today we’re gonna drag this ugly beast out of the motherfucking shadows and talking about the thing we don’t talk about.  Because tomorrow it might be you, it might be the person you’re collaborating with, it might be your best fucking friend.  Freelancing draws a certain kind of person, they’re often quite intense and have quite intense reactions to life.

Workaholism and Burn-Out: Where We Are Now

I collapsed from exhaustion this week.  At my desk.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I need to own it because that’s literally the only road out of this pit.  If you’ve fought the battle against workaholism, you know what I mean.  You can’t pretend that you’re just really hard-working or that it’s just that you’re really interested in *this* project.

It’s a full on obsession with creation, breathing life into a world that never existed until you strung the words together like so many fairy lights.  But if you don’t own your shit, it will absolutely kill you and take everything you love.  Burnout is real, my friends, and it’s mighty unpleasant.  Mental collapse is awful.

I don’t know where the act of creation turns into the act of self-destruction.  There’s a line there somewhere… but it’s fuzzy.  It’s easy to cross over, it’s easy to get too deep into that and forget to eat and shower and take care of the basics in life.  That’s where you start dancing with burnout and all the nasty stuff.

American culture elevates work addicts and workaholism, but it’s one of the most dangerous compulsions you can possibly have.  Like with compulsive eating, you have to work, so you’re always sort of risking it, every day.  Is today the day I’ll slip?  Is tomorrow?  Am I already in a downward spiral?  These are the things I have to ask myself to keep my head above water.

Your Daily Self-Care Checklist

I’m writing this blog more for myself than for you, but I figure that if I’m having this issue, some of you are, as well.  I know a few of you are also serious workaholics and will hurt yourselves to make deadlines and so forth.  I once believed that was admirable, even something to aspire to, but time and experience have shown me that self-immolation isn’t sustainable.  Self-neglect isn’t cool.

Or, as I like to say to people who aren’t me, you can’t fill others’ tea cups from an empty pot.  In actuality, you can’t do shit with an empty pot except smash it and if you break your teapot, well, you’re in a lot bigger trouble than you realize.  So, step one and step two and step three hundred and fifty six is self care.  Every single day.  I made a checklist.  It’s for me, but maybe it’s for you, too.

Self Care Checklist

Shower.  Take a real shower.  Shampoo your hair.  Then put on something nice that makes you feel like a person and not a slovenly zombie.  Shoes, too.  Be fancy.

Breakfast.  Protein shakes and meal replacement bars are ok for breakfast.  Just do it.  Swoosh.

Meds.  Eat them pills.  They make you strong.

Exercise.  Every day.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday, take the dog for a walk/jog around the neighborhood.  Tuesday and Thursday, go to the pool at the Y and thrash about like you’re drowning.  Eventually you’ll learn how to swim properly this way.  Saturday and Sunday are for adventure walks with the whole crew.

Don’t skip lunch.  You do this a lot.  Don’t do it.  When the bell sounds, you get up and go find food.  Even if it’s a cookie.  Cookies can be lunch if there’s other good stuff with them.  Take the time to find the good stuff.  It’s good and it’s stuff, what’s not to like?

Dinner promptly at six.  Don’t eat so close to bedtime.  It just makes it hard to sleep and you really need good sleep.  You can always go back to writing after.

Movie time.  From 8 pm to 10 pm, sit and watch TV with the fam.  You deserve a break, you’ve worked hard today.  You work hard every day.  You work yourself to death.  Learn to let yourself have some fun to death.

Weekends are for exploring.  Stop working on the weekend.  That’s exploring time.  You need to figure out where all the good stuff is, but you can’t if you’re always working on the weekends.  Just stahp.

Get enough sleep.  You’ve been neglecting this one big time.  That extra hour you’re getting to work in the morning is literally killing you.  Your brain can’t function on six hours of sleep, it’s pretty evident from your heart rate monitor and general mood.  Sleep until you’re done, or at least eight hours.  Eight hours.  Zzzzzzz….

Above all else, listen to your inner Homeland Security Advisory System.  If you’re on Red Alert, you need to stop right the fuck now.  If it’s a blue alert, keep on keepin’ on my friend.

The Secret to Keeping Your Writing Fresh

Come, Little Grasshopper, and sit at my feet.  I’ll give you one of the most important secrets of the writing trade.  Don’t be afraid, I don’t bite.  Well, not often and not unless you’ve really screwed the pooch, you know what I mean?  You know…

Anyway, in writing for a living, there are a few major struggles you’re going to encounter over the long run.  First and foremost is the all-consuming fear that you’re going to run out of work and never see another paycheck again.  Next is the realization that you’ve got too much work and you’ll never see daylight again.  But somewhere between the two of those is the worry that you’re starting to sound monotonous.  Blah blah blah keyword blah blah, ykwim?

High Quality Input = High Quality Output

I’m about to say something that you’re not going to like, so before I do, screw on your big girl panties and brace yourself.  Here goes.  You can’t just write forever and be lauded as a motherfucking genius.  Because you aren’t.  What comes out of you is directly influenced by what goes in, so if you’re not bothering to put anything INTO the data stream, you’re not going to get anything but garbage out once you run through your personal backlog of reading material, popular culture, current events and so forth.

You are not brilliant.  There’s nothing new inside your special little head.

What makes a writer is how they connect the dots between data points, not the fucking nouns or verbs or vocabulary.  I mean, that stuff is important.  If you don’t have it, no one will hire or respect you and I’ll probably laugh at you a lot, but if you can’t connect dots, you might as well just go work at a cardboard box factory.

In order to connect those dots, you have to have those dots to connect in the first place.  Which means that at least half your job is non-writing stuff like watching television, playing video games, reading books, dicking around on social media, interacting with fleshy humans and so forth.  Data collection is so vital to your world, you can’t even imagine.

Ways to Make More Time for Input

We live in a world of data, which is pretty awesome if you’re a writer with not a lot of extra time to cram information into your own head.  You have to make some time for new data input, you absolutely do, but there are more efficient ways to go about it if you’re in a time crunch.  There are plenty of writers these days who don’t read a lot of books because they simply lack the time, but they’ve consumed every single article that their favorite social media feed has shared in the last two years.  Reading is reading, don’t get pretentious about it.

Anyway, here are a few things to try in order to increase your data input volume:

Crack Open Some Audiobooks.  A friend of mine swears by these.  He’s listened to some that sound to me to be pretty damn cool, but I’ve barely cracked the cover on them.  I can’t vouch for audiobooks one way or the other, but I’d say that if you got a lot from your college lectures, audiobooks will be a world full of learnin’ for you.  You can listen and do stuff like email prospects or clean your house to make the most efficient use of time.

Thrash to New Music.  Hey, you may not think of music as a form of writing, but as long as you’re listening to the kind with words, booyah!  There are words here.  Music to me is more like poetry, but poetry is a great tool for developing a voice that glides easily across the page.  Spotify has several different features that suggest new music to users based on music they’ve already heard and I use them often.  New music gives me new ways to connect words and, sometimes, even new metre to measure sentences by.

Call Your Mom.  I’m not saying you’re not doing your best, but your mom wants to hear from you, and she’s probably been doing some interesting reading or television watching, eh?  Depending on who your mom is, you might get the latest headlines from Fox News or the greatest hits from the Discovery Channel.  It’s a gamble.  But your mom wants you to call.  You could call once in a while.

Binge Some Fucking Netflix.  Whoever first said that television was an idiot box was clearly a hater of fun and destroyer of joy.  There’s lots of really smart programming out there these days, both fiction and non.  Right now I’m watching some shit about volcanoes and stuff.  I’ve been streaming Netflix for weeks and weeks while I work, it drowns out the sound of construction in my neighborhood, skanks can’t be bothered to keep it down.  Oh, and now I know things about lava.

Ok, turd mongers, that’s it for today.  Go away and fill your brain with useful data and make your writing better.  Look at different writing styles.  Explore other genres.  Try out new stuff!

Above all else, STAY INTERESTING!

What’s Plugging You Up, WriterFace?

Hi, guys.

It’s been a bit, I know.  But I mean, it’s NaNo time and you know how much I like to bitch and moan about that, so I had to wander back here eventually.  It’s been a really weird few months, I won’t lie.  Weirder than usual.  I’ve been a big plugged up, like there are lots of bits of things in the way of doing what I need to do to be really successful at this writing shit.  So, what the Hell.  Let’s make a blog!

“It’s Writer’s Block” and Other Things I’ll Punch You for Saying

First of all, I want to make this heard loud and fucking clear.  There is NO such thing as Writer’s Block.  There’s “I don’t wanna,” there’s “I have to eat a bunch of sugar to overcome my inner critic,” there’s “I’m being pulled in too many directions to complete a thought,” but there’s no such motherfucking as Writer’s Block.  There’s just doing and not doing, and not doing is typically due to a psychological overwhelm.

It’s not because of your magical fairy farts that are unique to your writerly garb.  It’s because you’re not willing or able to focus on the project.  Period.

Ok, so now that we’ve got that out of the way I’m going to say that sometimes I really, really want to write, but I feel all plugged up.  Like a tube of toothpaste with a hard bit at the end.

Wait… let me back up a little bit.

My Writing Technique: Mental Pre-Writing

When I write, I start by pre-writing in my head.  This is the bulk of my writing, to be honest.  Clients don’t necessarily understand or appreciate this method.  I’ve been fired before for not having ongoing notes, but fuck those guys because that’s just not how I work.  It’s in my head or it’s all done in one go, there’s not a lot to put down besides research required to fact check what I think is probably right.  I think everybody has a little bit of their own technique, but I’m pretty sure that mental pre-writing isn’t unusual in writers who are expected to crank copy like mad (like journalists, for example).  If it is, paint me pink and call me a Goddamn unicorn.

Anyway, so I have all these ideas jumbled up in my head, rattling around, sometimes mixing with one another, making weird hybrid ideas and eventually they’re ripe enough that I sit down and pull them out and work with them.  Sometimes time doesn’t allow that, so I pull them out not ripe and fucking salt and pepper the shit out of them and serve ’em up the best I can.

Not every piece is a Pulitzer.  Sometimes you just gotta get the information out there and live with the end result.  That’s life in the fast lane.  But rarely, another thing happens.  You get all plugged up.  If you think of that mental writing space as being sort of funnel shaped, then you can see where I’m going here.  This piece is too oblong or too big or too fucking green to go through the funnel properly, or two things are trying to go through at the same time, and nothing happens.  You can feel it trying to come out, it’s like an itch you can’t scratch, but nada.  That’s your mental plug.  Gross.

I’ve dealt with a lot of these little bastards, they’re nasty as fuck.  Luckily, there are a few tricks to work them loose so you can move on with your life and get your content delivered on time, every fucking time.  And that’s what we’re gonna talk about in the next section.  Prepare yourself for an obligatory header.

Tricks for Unplugging Your Writing Funnel

When your funnel’s plugged, it’s the worst sort of feeling.  The pressure’s building, both from your clients and internally, and you just might explode writing ideas everywhere if you’re not careful.  So let’s talk about unplugging.  We don’t need you to make a mess in here.

1. Write it Out.  I’d say about 60 percent of the time when I’m plugged up, it’s because I’m trying to enforce my own priority on projects that won’t have it.  For example, right now I need to be writing a dental blog that promises to actually be good fun, but I’m plugged up, so I’m writing this blog about being plugged up because it’s actually what’s causing the plug.  I reached up there and I saw that my lack of attention to this blog has been in my way for a while, so I’m fixing that shit.  Unplugging the funnel.  Prepare for chaos!

2. Cry it Out.  Maybe 20 percent of the time, I can’t make the words work right because something is really bothering me and I can’t quite focus on the task at hand.  I’m trying so hard to hold my emotions back that I can’t open the funnel fully to let the ideas out.  It’s a mess.  This has also been happening lately.  A good friend of mine died in late May and I didn’t realize how much trying to hold that tidal wave of emotion back had also been holding me back professionally until yesterday when I broke down crying because he wasn’t on Spotify.  Believe me, I felt as stupid writing that sentence as you did reading it.

I cried like someone had shot my dog for over an hour.  Just, buckets and buckets and I kind of still feel a bit leaky, if we’re being honest.  This was someone I used to collaborate with on stupid shenaniganry, as we both honed our craft.  I feel his loss in an immeasurable way.  But in all the crying, I also realized that I was starting to unplug.  Part of what was holding me back from a really cool opportunity, maybe the opportunity of my lifetime, was not wanting to move forward without Will, which is obviously impossible.  So, for every time that starts to plug up my funnel, we’re just gonna get out the chocolate and cry it the fuck out.  Endorphins are pretty cool.

3. Force it Out.  There are other times, not a huge number of them in the grand scheme, but enough, that the words don’t come and it feels like there’s no relief from vocabular constipation.  I think of those times like giving birth.  Not that I have, so I might be wrong about how it goes.  But, basically, you sit down and you write.  And that sounds easy, but when you’re plugged up solid, it’s the hardest thing.  But just write anything.  Write one word.  Then write another word.  Write a sentence.  Write two.  Write a paragraph.  Don’t worry if they’re awful, you can fix it in proofing.  Some days it just takes a few sentences, some days it takes whole paragraphs, but by simply purposefully writing on one topic, you’ll blow that plug to kingdom come.

Ok, that’s your useful bullshit bullshit for today, kiddos.  I’m back, shit’s gettin’ real.  It’s Day 7 of NaNo, I hope it’s going well for you.  Even though you know how I feel about that whole thing.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am trying very hard to write some nice sonnets about cats for a friend who’s been having a rough time lately.  Best wishes to those of you who are.  Doing NaNo, I mean, not writing sonnets about cats.  But if you’re writing sonnets about cats, I’d be happy to pass them along to my friend.

If you’re reading this, Eli, they’re coming!  Sheesh!  Enough about it, it’s boring!!!!!!!! 😉


What’s Your Blog Post Adding to the Conversation?

I imagine there’s not much you can Google right now that won’t give you a boatload of articles that all say roughly the same thing.  I’m almost positive.  Content creators great and small have generated so much Internet flotsam that it’s almost impossible for an average user to see through it all.  Fortunately, Google sees all.  Oh, mighty Googler.  Google me up a dream.

What I mean is that despite all the seemingly huge pile of — let’s say “chaos” so I can promote this post on social media — out on the web, there is still preference being given to better quality content.  High quality content is still king.  It rules.  It’s everything.  Don’t forget that.  But if you think your special way of regurgitating everyone else’s content is the key to creating blog posts that are truly useful, you’d better think again.  Sit down.  I’mma ’bout ta school ya one.

Value Added Content Matters to the Big Picture

Whether you’re writing a blog to entertain your friends or sell your new fiddly widget, there are rules.  You can’t just steal other writers’ work and hope to get away with it in the Age of the Googler.  The Googler knows all, remember?  It will downrank you for any sort of content regurgitation it can detect and it’s getting smarter all the time.  This matters to you, believe it or not.  You want your site to rank, don’t you?  You want to get like, site visitors and clicks and all those happy horse apples, right?

This is where your big beautiful pulsating brain comes in.  Absolutely you don’t have to be an expert on a thing to write about it, but it’s vital that you have a functional knowledge of the subject area.  That’s because of this value added thing I’m trying to come around to.  When you take an article someone else wrote and attempt to simply rewrite it, you not only create a reasonably obvious attempt at being a dirty hack, you also don’t come off as being particularly knowledgeable.

Sure you can check out the other articles on the topic and hopefully gain a bit of insight from them.  Absolutely you should note what else is being said.  How else will you be able to add something that’s not being said to the conversation?  For example, let’s say I’m blogging about the history of the umbrella (I have no idea why so many of my examples revolve around raincoats, umbrellas, rubbers and duckies, but that’s life).  There are other articles on this topic already, but a quick scan reveals that not a one of them is discussing the very important but little-know fact* that the Aztecs used human skin stretched over a small frame to create the first parasols yet discovered.

Obviously, you’re going to have to overlap some information to write the article you or your client needs.  That’s the nature of the beast.  But, because you know a fair amount about umbrellas, you can chuck that nugget of wisdom in there with the rest.  That’s a value you’ve added.  Now, when people google “History of the Umbrella,” some of them will come across your piece, read it and recommend it to their friends because it paints a more complete picture.  More people will come.  More people will READ and that sort of thing gets the Googler’s attention.  The Googler will then bless you with a higher page ranking, so sayeth the Googler Blog.

The more you can differentiate your blog from the others, well, I mean, the better.  You’re not a sheeple, are you?  Naaaaaaaaaaaaah.  (I’m hilarious)  A blog doesn’t have to be long to be impactful or helpful or useful or just straight-up good.  I’m not talking about making it longer, necessarily, just… better.

4 Ways to Add Value to Blogs

So, I’m sure some of you are staring at me like I have three heads, but I swear there’s a way to do this.  In fact, it’s not even that hard.  You just have to use that thinker and the Googler will bless you.  Here are a few tricks to add value to your blogs and subsequently, earn notoriety and prizes:

Insert missing information.  Like in the example above, there’s almost always something missing that should be in a blog on any given topic.  “Six Ways to Make Your Colleagues Feel More Welcome” probably includes ideas like giving them candy and inviting them to meetings and asking their opinions, but I dare say, none of the articles I see mention office shenanigans.  And what office is complete without them?  Really?  That’s a value add.  When doing a list, I try very hard to ensure at least a third of my list items are unique, but the more the merrier, man.

Correct incorrect claims.  Oh boy.  You could spend literally all day doing this with Natural News, but I digress.  As an industry mind, someone who writes on these topics a lot, you probably *know* a fair amount of stuff about it.  I mean, even if you didn’t mean to, some of it stuck.  That’s the sad truth of this life, we collect bits here and there and our brain sort of hugs them until they’re needed.  So, if you see a lot of blogs claiming that the sky is orange and we breathe sulfur, you can totally value add by correcting that bad information and then citing an unshakable source or getting a quote from an expert that says as much.  Here: “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration certifies that the sky is, in fact, blue and humans breathe a mix of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and other stuff.”  Or “‘Of course the sky’s blue and we can’t breathe sulfur,’ said Dr. Bob, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Your Mom.  He added, ‘Are you some kind of idiot?'”

Zig where others zag.  Oh, the zig-when-they-zag trick is an oldie, but a goodie.  Say you’re writing “5 Things to Do at a Party.”  I mean, let’s just say.  The other articles you see are all focused on what to do as a party-goer who likes to vacuum chips and quaff free soda.  Instead of following that mess, you go get a snack, then sit down and write about activities that an invited person could spontaneously lead at a party.  Perhaps the Hokey Pokey.  Or shooting off fireworks out of soda bottles like proper ‘Murricans.  Digging a hole for the bodies.  You know, what you do.  In journalism, we call this changing the angle of the story.  In copywriting, we call this fucking unheard of.  Be a thought leader.

Provide some fucking data.  I get really exhausted by articles that make wild claims and then never bother to back them up.  “30 percent of all divorces lead to spontaneous orgies, so you should really look into that.”  Um… source needed?  I can’t tell you how much it matters when someone finally has the iron labia to actually find that original study or meta analysis.  Sometimes they can’t be found, in which case you shouldn’t be fucking declaring that thing as fact.  But if you, my precious ones, if YOU can give us facts where we only had claims, well, that’s something glorious and miraculous.  Amen.

If any of you read Dan Savage’s “Savage Love,” you’re gonna be familiar with the Campsite Rule.  Basically, Dan says you should leave your lover in a better shape than you found them in.  I say this also goes for your content and even your reader.  Just because some other lazy fucking slag was willing to stop before the article was really done right doesn’t mean you get to.

You’re one of mine now, motherfucker.  Do the shit right.

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 (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.