Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the Origins of My Life as a Copywriter

Did I ever tell you guys the story of how I decided to get into copywriting for a living? I didn't go to a fancy college to study writing or plan on doing this from a young age. I don't come from a family of copywriters or folks in the publishing business. (Actually, to the best of my knowledge, I'm the only professional writer in the family.) Oddly enough, I got the idea from a movie I saw a few years ago of all places.

It's called The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio and it is sincerely one of my favorite movies. I really wish more people had heard of it. It's also (along with Julie and Julia) one of the movies I find most inspirational, just speaking as a writer who got into the business by following an unconventional path. I still put this one on relatively often... especially when I feel like being inspired all over again.

It stars Julianne Moore as 50's-era housewife Evelyn Ryan. She's married to this shiftless, alcoholic, good-for-nothing husband who pisses away his paycheck at the liquor store every week despite the fact that they're struggling to raise a fuckload of kids. I don't even remember how many, but it's a lot of dang kids. Before she got married, she was a journalist of some sort, so she makes money for the family by entering contests -- contests that call for the writing of advertising jingles and pay out big time if yours is chosen. She wins a lot of them, too. When she wins items like cars and such, she sells them and her efforts are what keep the family fed and afloat. Her writing skill pulls the family out of hot water more than once, too.

The coolest thing about all this is it's a true story. It's based on a real woman and real contests. I was honestly really blown away by that... and Evelyn's story really made an impression on me. I saw how Evelyn was so talented and found it easy to beat out the competition. I saw how awesome her attitude was and was inspired by how she never gave up no matter what happened. I looked at her and thought: "I can do that. I'm that talented and always have been. I'm also used to being able to easily beat out competition just by doing my thing. I wonder if there's any way a person can do what she's doing in this day and age."

At the time I first saw this, I thought there were only two ways to have a career as a professional writer. I thought you could spend thousands of dollars and years of your life earning a journalism degree or something and then go write for a newspaper or a magazine... or you could roll the dice at novel-writing and hope some publisher somewhere thinks you're the next Anne Rice or J.K. Rowling. This movie introduced me to the idea that perhaps success could come simply from being talented and ultra-resourceful as far as finding avenues for your talent. Maybe it didn't have to be about luck or a fancy degree that I'd never be able to afford. Maybe it could simply be about talent, drive, and the way with words I've always had.

So I decided to look into the possibilities and see what I could make of my writing. I started writing informative content basically on a whim and I made a concentrated effort to get really good at it. When I thought I was good enough, I tried submitting a couple of articles to publishers and actually sold them... so I did it some more. Then I started answering ads on freelance job boards from companies advertising for freelance writers... and I got hired over tons of other writers who wanted the same positions. Then I did such a good job that I got hired again. Now I have a thriving business and many clients... and I have Evelyn Ryan to thank for it.

So thank you, Evelyn... wherever you are! You'll just never know how much you inspired me. As for those of you who haven't seen this movie yet, you need to put it on your Netflix list or something. That goes double for anyone else who can appreciate the writing angle to this. It's very, very inspiring and makes you think about just how much a person can accomplish if they put their mind to doing so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Pros and Cons of Ghostwriting

People seem to be of two minds when it comes to the idea of ghostwriting. Either they approach it from a purely practical standpoint and see it as a great way to make money or the idea of writing anything that they can't take credit for makes them sick to their stomachs. The truth of the matter is that ghostwriting is like anything else. There are both positives and negatives to it for sure. How you personally feel about the idea probably depends on what kind of writer you are and especially on your reasons for writing in the first place.

The Good Part

I would say that probably the strongest pro to being willing to take on ghostwriting work is that there is honestly plenty of it, because most people looking to hire freelance writers are looking for ghostwritten content. If you're good at generating advertising copy or informative content and you're capable of mimicking many different writing styles and voices, then there are a lot of potential clients out there that would consider you an absolute godsend. You can trust me on that one.

Ghostwriting may be for you if the primary purpose behind your writing is making money, as opposed to collecting kudos and pats on the back for what you've done. It's not a shot in the dark or a crap shoot like novel writing is. It's pretty much a sure thing that there is a huge amount of demand for. Once you establish a name for yourself as a ghostwriter and build up a work history, you will pretty much always have as much work as you want. You may even wind up having to pick and choose the way I'm having to now. I don't have the time or energy to take on every project I am offered by potential clients, but I personally see choices as a good thing. It allows me to spend more time writing content I find interesting and less time churning out boring drivel just to keep the bills paid.

Ghostwriting also offers writers who are new to the publishing scene or the idea of professional writing to get their feet wet in the industry and make connections. You'll learn what works and what doesn't as far as all sorts of content. You'll find out tons about advertising, SEO, web marketing, and lots more as well -- all extremely valuable subjects for serious writers or bloggers to understand. You'll also have many chances to learn about yourself as a writer -- what subjects you actually do and don't like to write about, for instance -- so I personally consider ghostwriting a great way to play the field for a while and decide where you might like your writing to go in the future.

The Not-So-Hot Part

Well, the major downside to ghostwriting is that you will probably rarely get any sort of credit for your ghostwritten content and when you do, it will most likely only be as a contributor or co-writer. If you're the sort of writer who slits open a vein and marries every word they produce, you may have a hard time with this. Ghostwriters really need to see their writing as a product they're producing for someone else for the purpose of making money and nothing more. Otherwise, they're probably just going to feel used or taken advantage of.

As a ghostwriter, you will also really not have much opportunity to express yourself or get your own ideas out there through your work. I'm lucky in that I do have a couple of clients that are hiring me just as much for my expertise and vision in regards to certain subjects as they are my writing talent. However, that is not the typical norm at all. Most clients in search of a ghostwriter have their own ideas and visions they want to put out there in print. What they lack is the writing talent to actually do that themselves and that's where you come in.

The Importance of Finding a Balance

It's actually perfectly possible to be happy as a ghostwriter and some writers choose to do that for the rest of their lives. However, many ghostwriters are using what they're doing as a stepping stone to something else or will decide at some point that they would like to move on. That's why I think it's important to devote at least some of your energy to writing the type of content you really want to be producing and finding ways to get it out there under your own name even if it doesn't make you a lot of money at first. Just do it in your free time.

Focused blogs on subjects you're passionate about are great places to start, as are publications and sites looking for providers to write columns on various subjects. If you want to be a food writer, for instance, you should have a food blog where you write exactly the kind of stuff you feel is missing on the web and give it your own spin. You should also keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on as far as the established food sites out there. Many of them advertise for contributors from time to time or have a way to submit some of your work for consideration. Make sure you apply!

If you want to be a creative writer, then it's important to make time to work on your novels, poetry, short stories, or whatever it is you like to produce. As a hard-working ghostwriter, this will become a challenge after a while, which I know all too well. Yes, I am telling you to do as I say and not as I do, because I almost always prioritize paying work over my creative writing and it's pretty difficult to get any truly creative tasks accomplished that way. If you want to be a published novelist someday, you should be regularly submitting queries and content to publishers for consideration as well.

Ghostwriting is great for the money, but if you dream of doing something else someday, it's very important that you not forget to also produce some writing that is about you and your vision for your writing now and again. No one is ever going to give you the column of your dreams or a book deal if they don't know you even exist.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chit Chat: Shannon Dawn Hilson


The following is a copy/paste of an interview I did for recently. You can either read/comment on it here or where it is posted at the original site here. I do so love doing interviews. It means the world to me that people care so much about my art, because art is certainly something that is important to me.
Your Full Name
Shannon Dawn Hilson
Tell us about you.
I’m a full-time freelance writer, artist and spiritual counselor from Northern California.
I run my own writing, design, and consulting business called Shannon Hilson Creative. When I’m not busy either writing or making art, you can probably find me reading, cooking, or playing the piano. I also love gaming, going on long nature walks with my fiancé, and simply enjoying life to the fullest any way I can. Art is a lot more than simply a way to make a living or pass the time to me. It’s also a way to express myself and share stories, lessons, and personal symbolism with other people in a way that seems to get my meaning across when words alone cannot.
It is hard for me to imagine life without art as a huge part of it. The art I’m doing these days can best be described as digital mixed media. It incorporates many techniques including digital paintwork, 3D imagery, and photomanipulation. My current professional life as an artist covers many bases. I take on private commissions, as well as illustrate for my clients. Sometimes I also do graphic design. Often, I have clients who require both writing content and artwork from me, so I get to combine my passion for multiple forms of creativity quite frequently. This is truly what I was born to do and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for me.

In your opinion, what would be the secret ingredients to become a great digital artist?
Staying true to yourself is the most important thing – putting out art that conveys the message you want to get out to the rest of the world and not letting anyone tell you should be doing differently. Also, attention to detail and loads of practice are essential.
Where are you located?
Monterey, California
What is the most fascinating part of being a digital artist?
Being able to imagine and then create these amazing worlds that you can then invite others to be a part of. I love being able to share how I see and experience things with the rest of the world. I’ve also truly enjoyed some of the connections I’ve made because of my art. I’ve met people I probably never would have any other way.
Where do you get inspirations from?
Anywhere and everywhere. A lot of my inspiration comes from dreams I’ve had or stories I’ve written. Other times, inspiration can be triggered by something as simple as a conversation with a friend or a single image from a movie. Once you learn to think like an artist, everything becomes inspiring.
Do you promote/ sell/ showcase your work? If so, how?
Right now, I sell and showcase my personal work primarily online, although my work has also been seen in conjunction with CD designs, role-playing games, and the like from time to time. I have an account on DeviantART where I get a lot of exposure and sell my prints. I’m also an active blogger, so my blogs and social networking connections have been huge parts of how I promote myself and expand my audience. Then there is the way my professional work helps me reach people in yet another way.
If you have a long range goal in your life. What is it?
My ultimate dream is to be making my full-time living solely via my personal creative work. I’d love to be a best-selling novelist or poet who also illustrates her own work someday. I’m happiest when I can write and make art in tandem like that.
What types of assignment/ project are you attracted the most? Why so?
My forte is fantasy, gothic, fairy tale-related, or mythology-based work. I tend to get most excited about illustration projects that allow me to work with this type of subject matter or else projects related to new age spirituality (tarot decks, astrology, and so forth). I have an overactive imagination and a great love for symbolism. I’ve found that these types of projects really allow me to play to my strengths, indulge my passions, and really shine as an artist.
Who is a digital artist that you look up to? Why so?
I most admire digital artists like Natalie Shau or Marta Dahlig, as they tend to work with symbolism, bright colors, and female forms the way I also enjoy doing. They’ve also each achieved considerable success with their work the way I would one day like to.

Describe a difficult work/ project situation and how would you overcome it?
As both a commission artist and a professional illustrator/graphic designer, I am constantly running into situations where the client doesn’t quite know how to put what they want into words. However, I am very good at helping people figure such things out by asking the right questions and simply being intuitive. I’m proud of the way I’m able to help bring someone else’s visions to life with the same level of accuracy that I can my own.
What do you think about the Internet and how it is affecting our lifestyle?
I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have achieved the level of success and exposure I have without the internet, so I naturally think it’s wonderful. Offline, I’m very introverted and shy. I’m not good at knocking on doors or pounding the pavement and shaking hands, looking for opportunities.
However, online I’m really in my element, as I get to communicate mostly through writing, which is a great strength of mine. Web marketing and internet-based networking are two more things I am very good at and have been able to use to my advantage. Sometimes I’m still taken aback by how much the internet has brought to my life and allowed me to achieve.
If you could turn back time, how would you do things differently?
I got into what I’m doing now a lot later in life than I would have liked. I didn’t see art as a truly viable career choice for quite a long time and thought of it as more of a hobby only. However, once I realized that people really are interested in my work and willing to pay me good money to make it, I thought differently.
I suppose I’d choose to have started my business years ago instead of relatively recently. Who knows where I’d be by now if I had! I would also choose to explore digital art earlier on in my journey as an artist. I used to work solely in traditional media, and I still enjoy doing so, but there’s just something about digital mixed media that is such a perfect fit for me.

How do you keep your work fresh? Do you need to consciously adapt your style or does it progress naturally?
It’s a natural process for me. My artwork is very personal, so I find that as I naturally grow and evolve as a person, it grows with me. Keeping things fresh is thankfully not something I need to worry a lot about.
Name 3 of your favorite (art) books/ magazines.
As far as magazines go, I love ImagineFX and Photoshop Magazine for the incredible tips on digital art technique. However, I really enjoy looking at fashion magazines for inspiration as well – especially some of the ads. They’re just amazing. Vogue features especially artistic spreads that totally satisfy my need for eye candy.
What is your life motto?
Always follow your heart and the universe will take care of you. Whenever I listen to my heart and follow my instincts, things work out for me. Life is really very simple when you make the choice to live this way.
In what kind of a work environment do you do your best work?
My favorite place to work is honestly at home on my own computer at my own desk, surrounded by my own things. (I’m a homebody, so it comforts me to be at home.) I love to work in the midst of relaxing sounds and smells as well, so I often burn essential oils or candles as I work or listen to music that matches the mood of the piece I’m working on. Sometimes in the evenings if I’m working on a special project, I like a mug of tea or a goblet of good, red wine while I work, too.

What do you like the sound of? Why so?
Aside from just the sounds of my favorite music, I love weather-related sounds like wind. My favorite is rain falling… or thunder. Something about wet, rainy weather makes me feel super creative. I also love the way I can hear the ocean and the sea lions at night if I leave the window open. I find it comforting to be reminded of my connection to nature and to the earth this way.
If you have online portfolio, what is the URL?
Right now, I’d say the best place to see a good, comprehensive collection of my artwork is my DeviantART page which can be found at
. That’s where my prints and art products are for sale as well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

So How Did Everyone's NaNoWriMo Go?

Mine was kind of mixed bag for a number of reasons. To begin with, I have to confess to my readership that I never actually crossed the finish line and I would be lying if I said that that didn't bother me more than it probably should.

I was doing pretty well during the first week of the month or so. However, it is important to note that I had no work assignments or other obligations demanding my creative attention at the time. I went into this afraid of what would happen if when work assignments began to fill my plate again and require the lion's share of my time and energy... and my worst fear pretty much came true. Work took over my schedule and hijacked my creativity, leaving me with very little to devote to my novel at the end of the day and the rest is history.

The thing is most writers really do dream about being able to earn their living doing what they love most in all the world. However, what they don't bargain for is what that does to their ability to consistently produce personal writing. I may not be able to speak for other writers, but I use the same mental muscles to write for my clients that I do to write for myself and after a long day of writing informative content or ad copy, the last thing my mind is able to do well is write creatively for myself. Maybe if I'm lucky, I can eke out a couple of updates for my blogs if I'm feeling energetic, but that's typically about it. Naturally, this began to become a problem for me this past November.

I was faced with a decision to make and I really did agonize over which would be the right one. I could force the writing out of myself and probably wind up with a less than satisfactory product that I'm no longer excited about and don't want to so much as look at again after November. Alternatively, I could just write what I could when I could and see where it took me. I chose the second option, of course. It cost me my NaNoWriMo win, but I think it did wonders for the preservation of my excitement over the plot, characters and direction the whole project is taking.

Normally, after a NaNo win, the last thing I want to do is keep working on the same piece of writing and I typically wind up abandoning it. However, with Prophet Birds, I find I am still excited about it and still interested in continuing. I also have come up with a number of very cool art concepts that I'd like to do in regards to this novel. I actually don't think it will be a problem finishing this novel the way it has been with NaNo projects past and that is kind of a breakthrough for me. I wanted this NaNoWriMo to be different and it was... just not in the way I expected.

That said, I am beginning to wonder if perhaps I am outgrowing NaNoWriMo. That's a very sad thought that I don't want to have because of how much I enjoy the event and love participating. However, it is likely that unless I suddenly start making an unheard of amount of money doing my professional writing -- enough to barely work -- I probably no longer have the time or creative energy for such things. I still very much enjoy creative writing and want to have published novels out there one day. Nevertheless, it seems like I have passed the point where I need NaNoWriMo in order to produce and really, that's what I needed it for in the first place.

I guess we shall see. I am by no means saying that I won't ever do another NaNo. These are just some thoughts I'm throwing out there after the event as usual. It will depend largely on how this new rhythm I have struck throughout the writing of Prophet Birds so far works out for me and, of course, what my November schedule looks like in individual years to come.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

3 Common Misconceptions About Introverts

This is what introversion looks like? Really?
I'm going to be extra bad today and actually start out on a tangent, because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want. Last night, I was reading a couple of articles about introversion and this morning, I thought it would be a good idea to maybe write a few quick thoughts about it here, since I have yet to address this subject as it relates to creativity.

So I run a quick Google search to find a couple of pictures or something to go with the post, because I think Blogger posts are just so much nicer when they have some kind of picture involved. I was really struck by how many of the pictures that came up under a search for "introversion" actually feature an image of a person, an animal, or whatever that robot thing above is sitting by itself while looking miserable, sad and dejected.

That says a lot to me about how our extrovert-centric world sees us introverts and I can't say I like it one bit. I can kind of feel this post going away from what I originally wanted it to be about, but that's OK. I can always address other aspects of introversion in future posts. In the meantime, I think I'd rather begin to speak about introversion by talking about some of the stereotypes we as introverts face, so here are a few common misconceptions about introverts along with some simple truths straight from the horse's mouth.

1. Introverts are miserable, sad and dejected individuals like our little robot friend up there.

While it's certainly possible for introverts to be miserable, sad or dejected, it's simply because they're human and those are emotions humans can sometimes feel. However, being an introvert does not go hand in hand with that. Many introverts are very happy people and a great many also live very rich intellectual and creative lives that they find very fulfilling.

As an introvert, it's simply that different things make me happy. I feel happy when I find time to curl up with a good book and a pot of tea or paint a picture. I feel happy when I'm around the teensy handful of people I'm close to, as well as my cat, and can enjoy a delicious meal that I cooked myself. I feel happy when I have a free afternoon that I can spend practicing Tori Amos songs on the piano. Parties, gatherings, and crowds on the other hand -- you know, the things that make extroverts happy? Those things pretty much just make me want to crawl under a rock and die, so I avoid them the same way anyone else avoids activities they don't enjoy or that they consider unpleasant.

Also, introverts aren't naturals at the game of show-and-tell. We don't feel the need to give voice to every thought that floats through our heads like an extrovert does. (I would say I myself actually say maybe 10% of what I'm actually thinking, if that.) We work through our emotions via inward reflection and quiet thought, not "talking it out". You can't always tell what we're thinking or feeling just by looking either. Extroverts mistakenly think that if someone isn't bouncing off the walls at all times or yammering a mile a minute, then they must be unhappy. Maybe it's time for them to think about the fact that not everyone is just like them and that that's perfectly OK.

I would also like to add that most of the misery, sadness and dejection I've experienced had nothing to do with my introversion and everything to do with the fact that other people couldn't seem to accept me as I was for whatever reason and leave me the hell alone. I don't know why the simple sight of someone minding their own business and reading a book instead of yapping and socializing non-stop bothered other people so much, but it really did. Some people even seemed visibly disturbed by the fact that I really wasn't interested in making friends or talking a lot, despite the fact that I wasn't hurting anybody or bothering anyone else. To this day, I still don't get why that had to be such a big deal when my choices affected no one but me.

2. Introverts don't have any kind of social skills or social confidence whatsoever.

Again, not true. Introversion and social ineptitude are not the same thing. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing either. A shy person has trouble with social interaction for any number of reasons. An introvert simply prefers not to socialize very often (if at all) because they find it draining, but said introvert may have excellent social skills. There are shy introverts out there for sure... but there are also shy extroverts as well. I'm actually a perfect example of an introvert with social skills who simply prefers not to use them. I worked in high-end retail sales for many years and I was good at it. I hated it and considered it to be the worst possible job for me, but I had to do something to make money and that was the most lucrative option available to me at the time.

Most people I worked with had no clue how introverted I really was though. Some never picked up on it at all and just saw how charming and popular I was with the customers. They were the ones who thought I must have been the homecoming queen or the head cheerleader in high school instead of the school weirdo, which would be closer to the truth. Then others did pick up on it, but really didn't know what to make of it. They just thought I was a bitch... or a total snob who thought I was better than everybody else. Then again, most salespeople tend to be extroverts, so that's hardly surprising.

My professional life is much better suited to me now. I get to make a living by being creative, which is a strength with many introverts. I also get to work at home on my own computer on my own schedule. I can play whatever music I like and can have as many pots of tea as I can drink. Best of all, I call all my own shots, so I never have to answer a telephone or deal with strangers walking into my office and interrupting me. I make up all the rules in regards to how I do business, as well as how and when people are allowed to contact me, and if other people want to work with me, they follow those rules. It's that simple. As a result, I finally feel the same way about my work life as other people have always said they felt about theirs.

3. Introverts are mentally unhealthy and need to be broken out of their shells. Don't worry if they kick and scream at first. They will be thankful for it once the process is complete.

Oh, for Pete's sake!
This is the one that always makes me chuckle and pull out both middle fingers. There is nothing "unhealthy" about being an introvert. In fact, you extroverts probably enjoy a lot of what introverts have had to offer the world without even realizing it. Did you know that it's your introvert that typically grows up to be a scientist, an engineer, a writer, a painter, or an inventor? Do you appreciate the novels you read or the medicines that make you better when you're sick? How about modern technology-related items like cell phones, iPods or the internet -- do you like using those? Well, thank an introvert! Chances are it was one of them that made it possible. Good thing no one ever succeeded in turning them into a different person, huh?

As for the part about all introverts just waiting for some kind extrovert to come along and force them out of their shell, it is never appreciated. I definitely speak from personal experience here. I've had many past friends, ex-boyfriends, and former acquaintances roll through my life that volunteered to take me on as a little pet project without my knowledge or permission, figuring I'd thank them for it later once I was enjoying my brand new extroverted life.

These include an extroverted ex-boyfriend who thought his relentless attempts to force me to dress up in booty shorts and go clubbing every other night would be good for me and an ex-acquaintance who actually thought I should abandon my copywriting business to punch a cash register at a bottom rung department store because it would force me to socialize on a daily basis. Naturally, it didn't matter that I personally hate booty shorts, clubs and retail jobs. I'm sure it isn't lost on you that my vocabulary also states that these individuals are no longer part of my life and you would be correct in assuming that that's the reason why. I'm nobody's fixer-upper. Anyone who thinks I should want to be needs to GTFO.

No one appreciates being told that they aren't good enough as they are and that they need to change in order to make themselves acceptable to someone else. Would you? Well, neither do we. Most of us like being relatively solitary and keeping to ourselves. It gives us time to record the many ideas we have and to work on the creative projects that make us feel alive. It's what we were made for, after all! We're also happy with the way we don't talk much, party much, or have a tendency to seek out the spotlight at all times.

There are, of course, many more misconceptions about introverts out there, but those are the three that have been the most prevalent in my own life and the lives of other introverted creative types I've known over the years. If you'd like some further recommended reading, try Caring for Your Introvert. It's probably one of the best articles I've ever read on introversion, actually. It even comes complete with a picture of happy, smiling introverts for a change! Also, feel free to share your own experiences as an introvert as well. Clue me in on what I missed and maybe I'll address it in a future post.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Proud Maisie and the Beginning of an Obsession

Proud Maisie - Frederick Sandys
I have ridiculously strong memories attached to this piece. I didn't know what it was called then, but when I was still in high school, my art class was given a copy of this image to imitate as a study on how to draw hair and facial expressions. I really can't remember a time before or since when I had more fun with an assignment.

It was really all about the hair. 

Before I'd ever seen this piece, I'd already been obsessed with the idea of beautiful hair for a long time. I was born with horrendously bushy, frizzy hair myself and I'd always wanted nice, long, shiny, beautiful hair instead. It probably goes without saying that the day it was decided I was old enough to start wearing my hair however I wanted was about ten times better than Christmas.  

I also find hair really interesting on a creative level because of what it represented to me when I was younger. It's really the one thing about your appearance that can literally be anything you want it to be, provided you're willing to do the work and bother with the maintenance. You can make it any color, any length, any style -- and when you get sick of it, you can just change it up and try something new. It's a little bit like a metaphor for life and as a teenager, it also represented broader concepts like beauty, freedom, and choice. Being able to change the impossible, out of control hair Mother Nature stuck me with into exactly what I wanted instead made me feel like I could do pretty much anything and that "I can do it" attitude has actually stuck with me over the years.

Naturally, when my cheap photocopy of this piece was placed in front of me to copy that long-ago day in Mrs. Jay's drawing class, I was thrilled. The hair on the model in this is just amazing and I was chomping at the bit to get started on the challenge of capturing it myself. The experience was almost kind of meditative, as well as very challenging. I really did well at it, too. I've always been good with graphite and I'm terrific at using it to capture minute details. Hell, for all I know, that drawing is still around here somewhere despite the fact that I did it more than fifteen years ago. 

That day in art class actually began my obsession with drawing hair. Before I did that exercise, the hair on the characters I drew wasn't that huge of a part of the composition or anything. After I did this, it always was. It still is to this day, which you know if you've seen much of my personal art in any of my galleries. It also tends to represent much the same thing it always did for me as a young teen. It's odd the experiences that one day dictate the trademarks your work will always have.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo First Day Jitters... Conquered!

Well, I successfully made it through my first day of this year's NaNoWriMo. I'm proud of myself for sticking with my decision to participate this year instead of skipping it like I did last year even though I still have other things to do. Now that my writing clients keep me busy pretty consistently, I just can't let work obligations be a viable excuse for not working on my personal stuff anymore. (I'm never going to become a novelist one day with that attitude!) At this point, it's either figure out a way to find the energy and time or not do it at all... and not writing for myself ever is just not an option I'm willing to entertain.

I was pleased to see that I've apparently learned a lot about how to structure a novel and keep it moving... probably thanks to learning how to mentally structure something by doing it constantly for my clients. I've also been taking mental notes on story and character building by studying how it's done on television shows and movies where I really like the style. Mad Men has been a big one. I really like the way the writer for that show doesn't bind himself to lots and lots of boring follow-up in regards to the storylines. If it doesn't help illustrate his theme or keep things moving, he just doesn't bother... and it works.

I've started Prophet Birds by structuring it similarly and it seems to be working really well for me as a style. I used to get lost in hundreds of words worth of boring, long-winded "explanations" for things that probably don't really need explaining. This year, I'm trying to "show not tell" by developing characters through shorter scenes that reveal their personalities by allowing you to see into their lives voyeur-style instead.

I really like how it's going so far and I'm really excited about what the finished product will be like. Not only does it read better, but it's more fun to write. I've learned to trust that when I don't feel like describing someone's bus ride home from their job... or some annoying scene that really isn't anything but them eating dinner and talking about nothing? It's probably because the scene isn't necessary, meaning I should just skip it. I feel like I've made some kind of break-through as a creative writer that should have been made a long time ago. That's a real motivator for me!

I'm mildly annoyed that since I tend to be up and writing past midnight, my word counts for the day tend to be kind of jacked up and inaccurate, but whatever. I know I got my shit done on the right day just as I was supposed to and that's all that matters, right?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just Call Me the Expert On Horror Novels

Some of you may or may not know that Seth runs a website all about the horror genre and everything related to it called MoreHorror. Well, he's been doing really well with it lately and I mean really well! In fact, his site has definitely gotten to the point where it's getting noticed by some incredibly big names. Major movie studios have been sending over DVDs for us to review. Many of them are screeners for movies that aren't even out in the theaters yet. He's been getting swag like t-shirts, signed movie posters, and other items along those lines as well.

We've recently started getting a fuck ton of books from major publishing companies lately as well, also for review. Although I've written the occasional odd piece for MoreHorror in the past and have been an official staffer for a while now, Seth really needs more help as the site continues to grow and become even more popular. That said, I'm happy and proud to say that I've recently been given the responsibility of reading and reviewing any and all books we get from here on out. I'm nothing if not a bookworm and I'm definitely a proud book/writing expert, so this will be a lot of fun in and of itself. I am very excited about this opportunity to get more of my reviews and writing samples seen and enjoyed as well.

Above are just a couple of the items in my "for-review" pile right now. The one on the right with the zombie on the cover is a copy of the Night of the Living Dead  stories. (This is the first time they've been included in one volume.) I'm currently chewing on it in my free time and I will be letting everyone know how I liked it, as well as critiquing the story line, character development, and use of horror elements very soon.  The book on the left is called Grim Reaper and is based on the original Inferno by Dante. Anyone who's been following me long knows The Divine Comedy is one of my favorite books of all time, so I'm especially excited about reading and reviewing that particular book.

Sometimes I'm really kind of taken aback by how far we've both come in just a few short years of really giving this whole "earning a living/making names for ourselves with our talents" thing a real shot. I've always loved to paint and write, but I can't say that even five years ago I thought I'd be up to my neck in copywriting jobs, art fans, and books that someone somewhere is waiting with bated breath for me to review. It's pretty dang awesome, but then writing's awesome. Creativity is awesome. The way life can be when you really focus on what you were meant to do is... well... awesome, too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On NaNoWriMo Reward Systems

I'm sure I'll get my share of hate either here or elsewhere for saying this, but whatever. "Gators gonna gait." Sometimes I really get hit in the face with a wet rag in regards to how much I've really changed as a writer since I first made up my mind to be good at this someday. That kind of happened earlier today.

I had decided to keep my work day a bit lighter today, so I spent some time earlier hanging out on the NaNoWriMo forums to help myself continue to get in the mood to churn out a novel next month. Eventually, I found myself reading a thread where people were talking about what their reward systems were going to be this year. You know, for actually sitting down and writing this novel that they voluntarily signed up to write? What treats were they promising themselves for actually hitting the 10,000-word mark or the 40,000-word one? I remember this well from all my previous attempts at NaNo, only I'm not really sure I understand it very well anymore.

Isn't creative writing for self expression supposed to be... fun? If you have to promise yourself new toys, or a night out with your friends, or permission to shove half a chocolate cake in your face as a reward for doing something you supposedly love, then I have to wonder what you're doing wrong. I don't know that I ever had to hang a carrot in front of my face in order to encourage myself to cross the finish line during that first NaNo, but I think it's safe to say that I needed a lot of encouragement. I doubted my ability to actually churn out a piece of work that long though. However, once I knew that I could, actually keeping my eye on the prize wasn't really a problem. I sincerely loved to write though. Finishing something I set out to do in regards to my writing was truly its own reward. I thought that was supposed to be what NaNoWriMo is all about.

My attitude toward this reward system has changed in other ways as well. I'm not in the same position this year that I have been in the past. I've started writing on a professional basis since then and last year, I actually had so much to do for my clients that I literally couldn't even entertain the thought of starting a long piece of personal fiction for no other reason than self expression. I'm hardly complaining. The worlds of copywriting, ghostwriting, and web content production have been really, really good to me. I love writing for my clients and I love being able to earn a living doing something I'm so proud of. However, once you get to the point with your writing where you're doing it professionally as you always hoped you would be, something happens in regards to how you see your personal writing. If you're busy at work, you don't have much creative energy left over at the end of the day to write stories or poetry. When you do, you probably find it hard to justify actually sitting down and spending time doing that instead of simply continuing to do more work. This is me these days and then some.

That said? I'd say that my NaNoWriMo novel is my reward -- my reward for working all day and spending so much time writing things for other people and trying to meet other people's standards. Really, permission to do some writing for myself sounds like a nicer treat than even the richest piece of chocolate cake could ever be. I'm a creative person though. I consider time spent being allowed to be my creative self and write something for me for a change to be a refreshing change of pace. Then again, thinking of ideas or getting the writing out of myself once I put my mind to it has never been something I need to be pushed to do. It's feeling like I shouldn't be working literally all the time that keeps me from producing the way I'd like to. NaNo is my permission to spend some time doing something else for a change and I am looking forward to making the most of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010, Here I Come!

I can't believe it's almost that time again -- November, also known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). For those of you who have no clue what I'm even talking about, that's the annual web event you've probably heard some of your friends talking about where you attempt to write a novel (or at least 50,000 words) during the month of November.

It's more of a motivational exercise than anything else, as to win, all you need to do is meet the goal. You don't get anything as a reward for winning other than the pride that goes along with knowing you met a goal you set for yourself either. However, that's exactly what makes NaNoWriMo so awesome... and fun, too -- getting together with other people who love writing as much as you do, encouraging each other all the way to the finish line, and simply doing it for the hell of it.

I really don't know where the time goes, as it seems like just yesterday that I was contemplating NaNoWriMo 2009. I'm excited though, as I will definitely be participating this time around. I decided to forgo it last year for personal reasons. My fiancé had just come home from the hospital after a very serious illness. Also, I was very busy with work projects at that time and really didn't have the time or writing stamina to invest in starting another novel. This year is much different though. I have more free time, I have more energy, my fiancé and I are in a living situation that is much less stressful than our last one, and the conditions are just better all around when it comes to getting back in touch with my creativity.

This pleases me greatly, because NaNo and I go way, way back. I participated for the first time way back in 2006 and that was honestly the first time I'd ever sat my little butt down and attempted to put together a piece of creative writing that was longer than a short story or some flash fiction. Before that, I was like a lot of aspiring writers. I had the stories in my head and the desire to put together a longer piece of work one day. However, I kept putting off starting to work toward actually writing a novel in hopes that the "right time" would eventually come along.

Eventually, I realized that the right time would most likely never arrive and it wasn't like I was getting any younger, so I let some online friends talk me into signing up for NaNo at long last. I don't think I really expected to enjoy the event so much. In fact, I honestly had a blast! I also found out I was capable of accomplishing things with my writing that I never really thought would be possible before. I've been a regular participant every year (with that one exception) without fail and continue to be so now that I write professionally for my living. It's honestly still a lot of fun and being the kind of person who has trouble making enough time for my creative work, it's a great way to make sure I start at least one longer manuscript a year as well.

My novel this time around is going to be called Prophet Birds. It's actually a revamp of my first (as yet unfinished) NaNoWriMo idea, fleshed out and made worthy of the much better writer I've become over the past four years. At least that's what I'd like it to be. I have this terrible habit of not finishing what I start and my NaNo projects are not immune to my general lack of attention span by any means. I'm sure I've said this before, but I'd like to change that this year. I want to come out of this with a wonderful, cohesive piece of writing this time. I also want to polish it up properly, illustrate it (perhaps), and put it out there for public consumption.

It's a new year, a new event, I have a new niche blog where I can write about the process, and I have a renewed determination that I think comes from having had such a tough, shitty year last year. I'm hell bent on making it count! If you'd like to cheer me on, you can do so by following my progress here at my NaNo profile. I'll eventually be posting excerpts from my novel. Sooner or later there will be cover art and a synopsis up as well. I'm working on an outline and deciding once and for all where I'd like the plot to go before I attend to the details. If you're a NaNo person as well, feel free to add me as a buddy! We can encourage each other, do word wars, or hang out on the forums!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Once More With Feeling

Seriously, how is this a difficult concept?
Normally I wouldn't really want to litter this particular blog with a lot of cross-posts from Formspring or anywhere else, but I thought this question was relevant and probably worth sticking here for people who don't follow me on other sites. It is art related, after all, and it relates to my previous post about whether or not artists should ever work for free. The following quote is the question and my answer.

What's wrong with letting people use your art for free? I don't see how it's not fair to you if the person isn't trying to make money off it or anything.
How exactly does someone asking to take advantage of a service I offer as part of my living for absolutely zero compensation fail to be unfair to me?
Let’s say you own a sporting goods store and selling running shoes is part of how you make your living. Let’s also say that I really, really love the shoes you sell and come into your shop expressing my enthusiasm in regards to having a pair. However, I also make sure to tell you that I won’t be using the shoes to try and win the Olympics, or become a professional athlete, or anything like that. I only want the shoes for my own personal, non-competitive purposes — walks around the neighborhood or perhaps the occasional jog. 
Because I won’t be attempting to make money or gain prestige for myself in any way using your shoes, I think you should give them to me for free. Don’t worry though. I like your shoes so much that I’ll be telling all of my friends about your shop and maybe even sending them in your direction. Maybe if you’re lucky, some of them will be willing to wear free shoes as well. Imagine all the exposure your store will get with all these people walking around town in your product! Isn’t that exciting? Aren’t you grateful that I happened to wander into your shop today? I think you should be. I just paid you a huge compliment, after all.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Most people would even say such an attitude smacks of entitlement, delusion, and utter disrespect. Nevertheless, this is exactly what people are doing when they approach an artist thinking they should be able to ask for free services, free use of their work for personal purposes, and so forth. I hope this clears the matter up for you.
As I stated in my previous article, most people don't really have too much trouble understanding why it bugs me when people approach me expecting to be given free permission to use my artwork for whatever they like. If you simply don't know how it works and are assuming out of ignorance, that's one thing. I'm really not talking about you. If you're the type of person that simply doesn't want to pay for artwork or can't afford to, I'm not talking about you either. You're under no moral obligation to give two shits about my artwork or anyone else's.

It's the people that take my responding to their inquiry with price quotes on licensing fees or usage rights as some grievous offense and cop a "well, I never" attitude about it that I'm looking at with this type of response. You're not doing an artist some kind of favor by offering to put their work to good use or give them something to do. You're not paying them a compliment either, nor will any professional artist with so much as a lick of self esteem take it as one. I don't tell other people how to run their businesses or make their living, but if I ever tried, I'd thoroughly expect to be verbally spanked for it. I'd deserve it, too. Seriously... shame on you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When Is It OK to Give Your Art Away for Free?

Balance -- Shannon Hilson

I've been doing my art professionally as part of my living for quite a while now and I've been displaying it via online galleries, blogs, and websites for even longer. Naturally, I get a relatively steady stream of requests from third parties who are interested in using some of my work for one purpose or another by now. Sometimes it's a professional endeavor of their own for which they need imagery. Other times someone just wants to take it and make blinkies or web graphics out of it for their own personal use. 

Either way, they always receive the same response from me -- an expression of willingness to allow use of my work if they're willing to pay a licensing fee. Naturally, I wouldn't charge someone just looking to make a MySpace layout the same amount I would a t-shirt company looking to slap one of my images across the front of their merchandise, but I still expect them to compensate me. It probably goes without saying that I charge appropriate fees for custom graphics, commissions, web design, and anything else along those lines as well. Any artist who considers him or herself to be even a semi-professional does.

Most people find this completely acceptable, even if they're not willing or able to pay my fees. However, there is always the occasional expression of total shock and outrage at the mere idea that I might actually want something in return for my work . Far too many people seem to believe that artists don't need or expect to be treated the same way you'd treat someone else who had something to offer that you wanted. They may even think that a "real" artist would never even consider sullying her art by charging filthy, filthy money for it... and they'd be wrong, too.

I'm personally of the mind that all artists should be charging people for their work. They work just as hard as anyone else at what they do and they deserve compensation for it. Does your next door neighbor or a visitor to your website want something done? Quote them a price. If they don't want to pay it, too bad. It's their loss, not yours. Does someone want your work for their own purposes -- non-profit or otherwise? They should have to pay you a licensing fee for the privilege... period. It's only fair. However, there are a few times when I feel it's perfectly OK to consider doing your art for free. I'm not a money-grubbing Grinch all the time.

It's something you're giving away as a gift.

Personalized pieces of art make the very best gifts in my opinion. I have been known to create the special piece or two for key people in my own life and I love that I'm able to offer something no one else would ever be able to in quite that way. However, when I say gift, that's what I mean. If a relative or a friend wants something custom done, you're within your rights to give them what they want as a favor... but I think that even people close to you should be willing to pay at least a discounted fee for your services. It helps those close to you understand that you're serious about your art and see it as having value as well.

The person asking you really has something to offer when they say "here, have some exposure".

One of the lamest (and most common) alternatives to actual money that people will try to offer you in exchange for use of your artwork is a link back to your website from theirs. You know... for "exposure". Come on now. A link and proper credit to you as the original artist should be included in addition to payment, not instead of. It's also probably not really going to do much for you exposure-wise unless we're talking about an extremely popular website or blog that gets tons of visitors. Normally this isn't the case though. The person asking probably has a shitty Alexa rating and next to no real traffic. They can't even offer you what they're promising. 

The only time I'd be willing to grant use of my artwork for the sake of exposure only is if we're talking about a site or publication that's extremely popular and capable of delivering on that promise. I would also expect the person or establishment asking to present me with concrete examples of how this arrangement is going to be so beneficial for me despite not getting paid in actual money and they had better be damned convincing. Otherwise? No. They need to show me the money or find themselves some other sucker.

It's for charity.

Although you should never feel forced to participate unless you want to, I think donating art for use in a charity auction or giving it away for a cause you really believe in is perfectly fine -- a children's hospital, for example. After all, it's charity. Enough said. There's nothing wrong with being discriminating though and there's nothing wrong with saying "no" if you're not interested. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about it either. It's your artwork. You are ultimately the one who has the right to decide what is and isn't done with it.

I'm sure I'm leaving out at least a few other exceptions, but these are really the main ones I can think of. Every other time, I truly do believe that artists should be charging for their work. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a professional, if people want a piece of what you're putting out there, it's still wise to expect them to value it enough to compensate you for it. Artwork is so much like children to so many of us. Do you really want yours going to a home where it's not really considered to be worth anything? Yeah, me neither.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's Just Like Riding a Bicycle... NOT!

When I first opened this blog while still living in Montana, I primarily intended it to be about all things art and writing as they relate to my life, both professionally and personally. However, those of you who follow me elsewhere -- Facebook, Twitter, or LiveJournal to name just a couple of examples -- already realize that since then, I've made a relatively unplanned move back to Northern California where I'm from. This very conveniently puts me back in contact with my beloved musical instruments, allowing me to once again include music as part of the mix.

I've played piano for the better part of my life. In fact, I started playing so early that it's difficult for me to remember a day when I didn't know how to play Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach... and later on, also Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and so forth. However, after I moved away from my mother's house where my piano originally lived, I unfortunately had no real space to put said piano, meaning I simply learned to live without it. Then I moved away from California to Connecticut and later to Montana which put me out of contact with musical instruments altogether for a while. The result? Really going a long time without playing anything and falling ridiculously out of practice.

Naturally, one of the first things I considered after making plans to move back to California was the opportunity to get back on the ball with my piano, as well as my violin which I picked up right before moving away in the first place. I hoped the ability to spew out golden tunes the way I once did would come right back to me with little coaxing. Boy, was I wrong.

Let me tell you right now that playing the piano is not at all like riding a bike. You do forget how and retrieving the know-how is not at all easy. I sat down to play a little on my first day here and could barely remember how to read the music, let alone play anything at a listenable level. It was kind of scary, really. I could tell that my old skill was still under there somewhere though... buried, but present.

Earlier today I decided to give it another try. It was pretty tough going at first, but eventually my mind did kind of start to recall how to make the piano produce a passable tune. Then there was this total moment of clarity that practically made me wet my pants. I opened one of my classical books to Handel's Sarabande and wound up recalling it completely and playing it... well... perfectly. Of course, that didn't happen when I tried to reproduce the event for Seth's listening pleasure later, but I was still pretty thrilled.

For the first time in a while, I felt like I might be able to justify calling myself a musician again at some point. My ultimate goal, if you really must know it, is to successfully write and record some of my own music at some point. Not necessarily for big money or anything, but just because. In case you haven't noticed, I like to share so much of what I create. I couldn't imagine not sharing any kind of music I ever wrote the same way I share my writing and artwork. It will be a while before I'm there, of course. However, it feels so good to be playing music again. It's like a little piece of my soul that's been missing for a long time is finally back in place.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Winds of Change

Although it still seems like yesterday that I started sharing some of the fruits of my creativity with the rest of the blogosphere, I guess I've been doing what I do for... a while. I'm not even talking about my professional life or anything. I'm just talking about creativity in general -- art, words, life, emotion. Different aspects of what I consider my raw essence to be made of at its core.

In that amount of time, I've read many, many articles offering advice to aspiring creationists on how to stay productive, stay creative, generate ideas, and so forth. Some of it's good or even great advice. Some? Not so much. However, the directive I dislike the most is also one of the ones I see popping up with the most consistency. "Force yourself to create on a regular basis. Do it every day whether you feel like it or not. That's the key to lasting success."

Now, I'm hardly knocking productivity or consistency. I'm a big fan of them both and I strive to embody both to the greatest extent possible. I've just never thought of art as something that could successfully be forced into the world, kicking and screaming. Believe me when I say I've tried it. I feel that it shows quite obviously when I've done something just for the sake of being able to say I'm staying productive, as opposed to when I've done it in a frenzy of true, unbridled inspiration. I like my inspired pieces, but I can't say the same for the ones that had to be strong-armed into existence every step of the way.

Creativity ebbs and flows for many reasons and I truly believe that unless we're talking about something you're doing for a client that has a deadline attached, you're only shooting yourself in the foot if you try to make yourself create when you don't really want to. At best, you'll wind up creating something that... well... kind of sucks and lacks any kind of a soul. At worst, you could eventually find yourself hating the act of creation and seeing it as a chore to be avoided at all costs. Art should never be that, in my opinion. It should be a haven you feel like you can run to when you have something to say that can't quite be expressed in any other way. If it feels any other way, you're doing it wrong... seriously.

My own relationship with my creativity has been... interesting to say the very least. I have said so often on my other blogs, but I consider myself to be an artist to my core. Art isn't just something I do or make. It's an essential part of how I see and approach the world that I personally couldn't imagine life without. That doesn't change according to how productive I am at a given time.

I've had periods in my life during which I was very creative. Downright prolific, even. During those periods, I might have created a new piece of visual art -- or even two -- from start to finish every day. I'd be the same in regards to my writing. I remember times when I was actually writing and posting so much new material each day that I was worried about my readers getting tired of hearing from me, even if the material was really substantial and inspired.

Then there have been periods of dormancy where I never once felt moved to paint or write a thing. It wasn't for lack of good ideas, because I get those constantly. It was for lack of comfort, freedom or security in my life. For that reason, I've learned to use the intensity of my own creative drive as a means to assess the truth of how I really feel about a given situation, because the thing is... I can lie to myself. However, I can't lie to my creativity. The more creative and on fire for the actual act of sitting down and pouring my soul into my art I feel, the happier and better adjusted I find I really am at a given time. On the other hand, if I have to force myself? Something's not right at the Circle K and sooner or later, I will have to think about knocking down a few walls.

I don't really care to discuss my current living situation in depth as far as this particular blog goes. This is a place for me to talk about art, writing, the creative process, and so forth -- not my family drama or personal problems. However, suffice it to say that my current situation is.... insufficient. I haven't created a new piece of artwork or completed a new piece of creative writing in a very, very long time and as I said above, that's indicative of a very bad fit and a strong need to change the scenery to something more apt to nurture a creative spirit like mine. My fiancé and I are doing just that very, very soon and I am excitedly looking forward to it and all that it could mean for my drive to create.

I've been productive professionally for sure, but I haven't taken much time to explore my personal creativity in a long, long while. I've been feeling some artistic stirrings as my life moves into its next phase though, hence the opening of this blog despite the fact that I'm not actively painting, drawing or writing creatively right now. That's going to change very soon and I'm truly excited about the shift I feel coming within the next few weeks as far as my output goes. It's in the air for sure. Can you feel it?