Tuesday, November 1, 2011

At the Threshold of NaNoWriMo 2011

As some of you no doubt know and understand, Shannon has been having a lot of trouble giving many fucks about creative writing lately. Of course as November loomed closer and closer regardless, I eventually had to figure out what I was going to do about NaNoWriMo this year despite my lack of fucks actually given. I think I may have finally reached a decision... no later than the very last minute, which is certainly true to form for me.

At first, I really didn't plan on participating at all. Seriously, the thought of finding enough extra time and energy to pour into a 50,000-word novella this month sounded like the free-time equivalent of wedging shards of broken glass underneath my fingernails just to see how badly it would hurt. However, I do have a soft spot in my heart for the event and probably always will. I like doing something creative with my friends. I like popping into the forums when I'm bored or feel like talking to other people about writing. The one year I did choose not to participate in any capacity, I felt really bummed and left out.

That said, I've decided to kind of go for a compromise and... well... like my little macro image up there says, set the bar really low for a change. I think a big part of my problem is that I'm a perfectionist. I expect all or nothing from myself at all times... especially when it comes to anything creative. If I can't see myself churning out something that I will see as a personal masterpiece and a potential future triumph, I tend to fail to see the point in sitting down to write at all and simply won't do it.

That pretty much misses the point of NaNoWriMo anyway... and believe me. I am aware that I have personally missed the point every year I've ever done it because of how much I was expecting of myself. I know it's not supposed to be about writing the next Great American Novel, but that's pretty much what I was always trying to do within the confines of my own mind regardless. I guess I felt like it was OK if other participants wanted to just dink around and have a good time, but I was never able to feel like "just have fun with it" was up to my standards for some reason. I was a "real" writer, dammit! I took myself seriously and planned on getting somewhere with my work someday. Fun... bah!!

Well, I'm not doing that this year. In fact, I'm going to make a concentrated effort to see if I can just spend a month doing this thing (and writing in general) for fun and without expecting much of myself.

  • I'm not even going to write a novel. Seriously, I've "won" NaNo so many times by now. I no longer need to prove to myself that I can hit that goal or construct long fiction when I want to, so I'm just not going to bother. Instead, I'm going to be writing... just... whatever I want and calling it a collection. Short stories, poems, flash fiction... just whatever sounds fun.
  • I'm not going to worry about daily quotas very much. Although ideally, I would like to hit the 1667-word goal each day simply in the name of forming a habit and writing for fun on a regular basis again, I'm not going to marry that idea. On days when I don't feel like it, I'm just not gonna. Who knows. That may turn out to be all month. We'll just have to see!
  • I'm not concerned with actually "winning" the event. Don't get me wrong. I'd be thrilled to wind up with 50,000 words worth of flash fiction, poetry, or story snippets by the end of the month, because that's a lot... especially for me right now. However, I'd be happy with even a few thousand at this point. Hell, even a few hundred would be more than I've been bothering to produce lately. I figure no matter how little I do, I'll still come out at the end with more than I'd have otherwise and I'm willing to take that at this point.
I guess we'll see how it goes and I will certainly try to actually communicate as far as how I'm doing, both for people who follow me and for myself. In the meantime, you can visit my NaNoWriMo profile and keep an eye on my progress that way should you actually give a crap. Eventually, I'll probably bother to upload some excerpts or something the way I used to. Like I said, I'm just going to play it by ear and let whatever happens happen for a change.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Off With Your Heads!

Anne Boleyn -- Shannon Hilson
In the interests of wishing you all a happy National Beheading Day, I am pleased and honored to direct your attention to Under the Juniper Tree, an independent publication specializing in dark and macabre stories for children and young readers. One of my favorites of my own art pieces (Anne Boleyn) is featured in their September issue alongside "Royally Beheaded" by Darling Dire, a wonderful short story all about lovely Lady Anne. 

The issue can be viewed for free right here and both the story and my art can be seen on page 25. However, the entire issue is really worth checking out! There are some wonderful reads by some very intriguing voices included this month... and every month, for that matter. For prints and products featuring Anne Boleyn, you can visit this section of my online art shop. Off with your heads!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Things That Make Me Go Hrm... or WTF, Rather

My fellow human beings often confuse me. If you know me in any capacity, whether personal or professional, then this is hardly news. Every so often though, someone I cross paths with in my travels will do something that no one I keep company with seems to understand.

This week, I've spent a decent-sized chunk of my time cleaning house in regards to my web presence, especially in regards to written content out there with my name on it. I've been having a major problem with a former client who -- for reasons I sincerely do not understand -- apparently started posting ghostwritten content I wrote for him a long time ago under my own name instead of posting under his own or using a proper pseudonym.

Why he did that in the first place, I honestly don't know. Most clients who hire a ghostwriter do so expressly for the privilege of taking credit for writing that is of considerably better quality than anything they could produce themselves. They don't often give the writer a byline because that defeats the purpose. Why this client didn't stick to our original agreement regarding my hire as a ghostwriter, I may never understand, but he didn't, nor did he bother to ask my permission to use my identity like that before apparently deciding it was A-OK that he do so.

Wait for it though, it gets worse. For reasons I really don't understand, this person has been continuing to post content under my name all over the web even though we no longer work together and haven't for a long time. However, the additional content in question is naturally not even written by me. Some of it is obviously spun content that some cheap abortion of a software program shat out onto a computer screen at some point in the past. The rest is just plain bad writing that seems like it was produced by cheap writers from third-world countries who are far from fluent in the English language.

The last thing I need is for potential clients or publishers interested in my work to Google me and think those are actual examples of my writing... yet there they are anyway, just as plain and day. It's embarrassing and considering the reason why it's happening, it's also completely unacceptable.


Obviously, I am livid about this whole thing -- especially about the fact that this has been an ongoing problem that has escalated over time. For one thing, I am very picky about what I will allow my name to be attached to. Clearly, anything I write and publish to the web for personal purposes on one of my own sites I will want credit for. Bylines in regards to creative writing or poetry of mine published elsewhere are imperative. I also far prefer to have a byline if I'm writing an article or a review that is actually reflective of my own unique views and opinions.

Ghostwriting is a different animal though. If I agree to ghostwrite content for a client -- especially any sort of advertising material -- I'm basically agreeing to assist them by simulating their voice in a way they can't do for themselves. If I help them produce a product review or some copywriting material that endorses their website or company based on information they provide, I don't want my name attached to the work. I may have written it, but those really aren't my words. They certainly aren't my opinions or recommendations; they are those of the client.

Forget the fact that he eventually started posting writing that had nothing to do with me whatsoever. By attaching my name to even the material I wrote without my permission, he basically impersonated me and told what potentially amounts to the whole world that I use and endorse his products. Yeah... how about no! Contrary to popular belief, writers aren't complete byline whores. We don't throw our hands up with glee when we see our names in print without any regard for the circumstances. These are our names. We care how they're being used and what's being done with them.

I'm not famous. I'm not well-known. I am honestly not even sure what this client thought he was going to gain from using my identity like that. He was in the habit of complaining constantly about my rates and trying to come up with reasons why he felt I should be giving him discounts or special treatment though. Maybe he planned on pointing out the fact that he was oh so generously giving me OMG FREE BYLINEZ as yet another "don't you think I deserve a discount" campaign at some point. Maybe he was just too lazy to make up a damn pseudonym. I honestly have no idea... and I'm not really sure it matters. It was a shady thing to do either way.


Anyway, a week or two back, I decided enough was enough and contacted him insisting that he either remove my name from the accounts he was using to post his advertising and link-building material or else delete them. I also told him it should go without saying that I don't want to see any more of this "writing" appearing with my name on it in the future either. 

Time went by and I never even received a response from this person, let alone an apology or anything. However, I did notice that many of the accounts and articles were either removed or changed just as I'd insisted on when I went to check on my own before e-mailing him again about the issue. There were still quite a few older postings that hadn't been touched though, so I spent the better part of a recent afternoon reporting the ones that remained for copyright infringement, abuse, and fraud. 

Honestly, he's lucky I didn't directly contact the company that he works for to complain to his boss about how he's handling their marketing and link-building campaign! If I see any more fake Shannon Hilson articles going up in the future, I will though. I'm that pissed off.

I'm not enough of a jerk to actually name this company or anything so that this blog post comes up in Google searches under their name despite the fact that they potentially spoiled my professional reputation the same way. However, I will assure you that anything you happen to see on the web that appears to be written by me, but has anything to do with aluminum briefcases or related products is not an actual reflection of any of my personal opinions or views. 

Regardless of what it looks like otherwise, I'm certainly not encouraging you to go out and buy briefcases from the company in question in any way whatsoever... at all. Why the hell would I after their marketing director decided to pull something like this on me? For the record, I do not use aluminum briefcases myself for any purpose and I certainly don't use or care about these particular ones. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

3 Terrible Reasons to Start a Blog

I don't know why this keeps coming up as a theme in my life and in my conversations lately, but it does. "Blogging -- How does it work??" I'm finding out that an awful lot of people don't know and even worse, they don't know that they don't know. (Hrm... reminds me of how so many people view life or relationships, but I won't even go off on that tangent here.)

Blogging -- or any sort of web writing, really -- is just like anything else creative. A lot of people will probably try their hand at it at one point or another. Most of those people will wind up quitting as well because of the unrealistic expectations their heads were full of from the beginning. The following are some of the things I hear people say about starting a blog that make me instantly aware they're headed straight for disappointment.

1. "I'm going to make so much money!! I can't wait until I can quit my job in a month or two."

Yeah, that's not going to happen. Trust me. Anyone who says this obviously has no idea how difficult it is to make more than a few dollars here and there from Google ads or any other sort of advertising. To make even enough to be worth mentioning, you need to have traffic levels that are off the charts. If you're lucky enough to have traffic and popularity levels that are that amaze-balls, then you'll probably be able to sell ad space on your blog now and then as well, but that's not going to make you rich either.

Most blogs don't rake in the passive income by the bucket full and you'd best believe that the ones that do have had a lot of hard work poured into them over a number of years. Possibly months if you're really dedicated, have amazing content, and are a complete whiz when it comes to SEO, web marketing, and other such areas. You're not going to just open a Blogger account, yammer about your boring life or a couple of things you're interested in for a month or two, and suddenly be able to quit your day job though.

It's not just friends of mine who wind up disappointed by this either. I've written content for a great many clients who thought they were going to start a website, open up a blog, post two or three SEO'ed ghostwritten articles up there, and never have to work another day in their lives. Oh, don't I wish! If we writers were capable of laying golden eggs like that, why would we be taking on freelance work in the first place instead of just posting our own articles and rolling around in all the millions our words have the power to generate?

2. "My blog's going to get me discovered. I can't wait until the book deals start pouring in!"

Before you jump down my throat, yes. I am well aware that there have been writers who did get discovered via a blog they kept. Also, I would be lying if I didn't admit that I secretly daydream of something like that happening to me. However, if that's honestly why you're starting a blog, you're probably going to be disappointed. For every blogger out there that gets lucky and winds up attracting the attention of some big-name publisher who wants to take a chance on them "for reals", there are a million to whom no such thing will ever happen.

A number of those bloggers are honestly good... great even! However, the sad reality attached to any sort of creative endeavor is that being talented isn't a golden ticket to success. Talent doesn't automatically give off some kind of magic homing beacon that publishing houses will see radiating into the heavens. In fact, it often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Believe me when I say I know how frustrating that reality can be.

If being published is your ultimate goal, you really need to be sending regular submissions and queries in to publishing houses instead of sitting around waiting for someone to notice you. Most publishers have more than their share of work to do just going through the submissions they receive. They don't spend their days trolling the blogosphere looking to recruit the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling off of LiveJournal or anything.

3. "I know more about Subject X than anyone and produce great content, so it will be easy for me to build a readership."

For every one would-be blogger who is just completely blind to the fact that building a successful blog actually takes work, there are probably five who are aware of all that, but simply think it doesn't apply to them for some magical reason. They think that because their mothers pat them on the head and tell them they're fascinating, everyone else in the free world will naturally think so, too. They think that they're the one person who knows more about their subject of interest than any other blogger out there, so naturally people will want to read what they have to say. I've even known more than one person who entertains daydreams of a celebrity taking an interest in them and being willing to promote them to everyone they know for no good reason.

You guys, this isn't Field of Dreams. I don't see Kevin Costner or James Earl Jones anywhere. Therefore, "if you build it they will come" does not necessarily apply here. Even if you do have something truly unique to offer (and most of us don't, no matter what we like to tell ourselves), great content doesn't always equal a large readership. That takes hard work and a lot of self promotion. Then once you've got people's attention, you have to be interesting enough to keep today's fickle-ass internet surfers intrigued enough to actually come back. That's really not that easy to do.


So a lot of you are probably going: "So, if you don't get rich, famous, or discovered when you make a blog, why start one at all?" Well, self expression to name just one reason. If you love to write, are passionate about something, and are the sort of writer who really enjoys sharing your thoughts and opinions with others, a blog is a great way to get your thoughts down and put them out there for the consideration of others. 

This is probably the main reason why I keep blogs. I have always enjoyed expressing myself through writing, I feel like I know a thing or two about a couple of subjects, and I like to use what I write to connect to other people. No, it doesn't make me a ton of money, but then it's not supposed to. I don't complain if money does come my way because of my blogging addiction, but this is really more of a hobby for me. The regular practice and feedback from other people who stop by to see me have made me a better writer though, which has led to more opportunities as a professional, which have led to more money via avenues that are already open for me. I've made some interesting and very enjoyable social connections because of my blogs as well. 

Really, blogging isn't that much different from creative writing in that way. You're best off doing it because you really like to write, sticking with it for that reason, and trying not to put too many expectations on things beyond that. At the very least, you'll have fun, get better at writing, and make a couple of friends in the process.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More Forays Into Dark Art

Finished Bill Oberst Jr./MoreHorror T-Shirt Design

I know I haven't been particularly talkative in regards to specific projects I've been working on either privately or professionally. (This is despite the fact that such things were really the reason I opened this blog in the first place.) I think that's a bad habit I picked up from doing so much ghostwriting. I'm just used to having clients and whatnot prefer that I not blab too much in regards to things I'm working on for them, so then even when it's cool (or even advisable) that I do, it's just no longer my first impulse to share.

Nevertheless, I would really like to share this recently completed t-shirt design I helped to create. Some of you are aware of the fact that Seth and I own a pretty successful horror genre site called MoreHorror. This t-shirt was produced to promote both MoreHorror and a highly valued business associate of ours by the name of Bill Oberst Jr. Bill is an incredibly talented actor who specializes in the horror genre and he trusted Seth and I to design this for him. We felt very privileged to have been allowed to be part of this and we can't thank Bill and the rest of our associates enough for their continued faith and support.

My painting of Bill vs. the original photograph used as reference.

Not only is Bill himself very pleased with the design, but Seth and I are both quite proud of it as well. Those of you who are familiar with my artistic style can probably see that I was responsible for painting Bill's portrait. Seth did all of the post work and handled the additional design elements. I personally can't wait until the t-shirts are in production and I can have one to wear for myself. 

This piece is also very important for me in that it is the first piece of completed visual artwork that I have actually posted and shared with anyone other than the client it was created for in something like two years. It's made me remember how much I absolutely love connecting with others through art. It's been especially nice to be reminded of how pleasant it is to be able to share artwork and actually receive credit for what I've done openly as well. That's something that's been sadly missing in regards to my professional life... but also something I am all the more eager to recapture now. 

I've never been someone to whom a lot of praise and hand-patting has really mattered. That made it really easy to downplay the role public recognition actually played in regards to my ability to stay creative and prolific in regards to my own creative work over the years. However, being recognized for this design has really helped me remember how much I enjoy sharing and discussing my art with other people. I will have to make sure to do it more often. Maybe even this weekend sometime. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Professional Burn-Out and Other Demons

Writer's block? It's something that happens to every writer now and again and it's something I can really always deal with. I'm not the sort of writer who ever really runs out of ideas, but I can be the sort who hits the wall hard when it comes to how best to implement those ideas. That always sorts itself out in time though. Sometimes time isn't even necessary. A day at the beach or a couple of afternoons spent reading instead of writing and I'm perfectly good to go.

Burnout is a different animal though. It sneaks up on writers almost without their realizing it. You brush off feelings of resentment you begin to have toward your clients as just you being tired... or maybe you even blame it on your clients and their demands altogether. You catch yourself feeling drained instead of energized at the end of your work day more and more often, but you just tell yourself you probably just need a good night's sleep. If your'e a passionate sort of writer (like I used to consider myself to be), you most likely assume that there's no way in hell burnout could ever happen to you despite these warning signs, but let me tell you right now that you're wrong. This is something that can happen to any freelance writer, no matter how much they once loved words, writing, or what they do for a living. 

Well, burnout (at least when it comes to my article writing and professional stuff) is definitely something I've been dealing with like whoa lately and it's been steadily creeping up on me over the past couple of years if I'm really honest with myself. At first, it was just a niggling feeling at the back of my mind and a little voice that pretty persistently kept saying: "You know what, Cat? I'm not really enjoying this the way I used to. I'd literally rather be doing anything else." At first, I only felt that way occasionally, but as time went by, I started feeling it more and more often. 

Now I would say I have that attitude toward pretty much every project I take on, more or less. Some are better than others, of course, but yeah. Even fun projects that I would have been over the moon about a couple of years ago now just seem like total chores. I think back on the days when I used to happily breeze through articles like they were nothing, churning them out with a smile on my face and turning them in well ahead of schedule. Now I look at the way I leave things until the last minute whenever possible and procrastinate all the time about anything work related and can barely remember things being any other way. That makes me sad, to be totally honest, because I miss the way I used to feel about my job and my clients.


I'm sure many of you are wondering what on earth happened, because writing for a living was once this huge source of happiness and personal pride for me. For a long time, I wondered as well. Truth be told, I never dreamed of being a copywriter or a journalist... at all. I enjoy that as an aside, but I don't consider that to be who I am as a writer. In truth, I see myself as more of a storyteller. This is true whether we're talking about my writing, my art, or anything to do with the music I want to write one day. I think I had hoped that getting into what I'm doing now would open some doors for me in other arenas or lead to other things by now. I guess I currently have a big old case of butthurt in regards to the way it's only led to more of the same instead. I feel like I've hit a huge dead end and am faced with the big "what next" question that always presents itself when one finds herself in such a situation.

I've been trying to figure out what to do about that, because really. This has become a real problem for me. It's even beginning to affect my health by aggravating my depression, which naturally only makes staying on top of responsibilities and goals harder. I've spent lots and lots of time talking about things with people I felt would understand or be supportive instead of just going: "Oh, nonsense. Do you have any idea what I would give to get to write for a living? Stop whining and start appreciating how lucky you are." That's helped a lot. Seth gets it, because he writes and runs websites as part of his living, as do many of my friends. 

I've also been taking more days to myself lately. If I don't have anything that needs to be completed for work, I get on my bike and go for a ride by the water instead of trying to force myself to stare at the computer screen anyway and churn out something else I consider to be productive. I pick up a book. I've actually been reading again, which feels awesome! I watch a movie and let it inspire me and lift my mood the way I used to. I do things that make me laugh. I go out and take pictures to share with my Facebook friends when I get home. Recently, I've felt like I've been getting to a place where I can kind of think about writing again without feeling resentful or instantly negative at the mere thought, hence my popping in here to blog publicly for a change instead of just in my little personal blog at LiveJournal.


I think that what may be the toughest part of feeling burnt out on writing really is for me is that it's taken away something that was once my primary outlet. Since I was little, I've kept journals. Once I got on board with computers and the internet age, I started blogging and have been doing it ever since that first day online. However, ever since I've been having so much trouble with creative burnout, I've found myself avoiding even my blogs and that's bad. Without them, I fall out of communication with peers and people I care about. Without writing my feelings and struggles out where I can see and reflect on them, they sort of build up in a jumble inside of me. Most important of all, without blogging and creative writing, there is nothing of my own unique voice going "out there"and increasing my chances of making the kinds of connections I wanted in the first place.

Naturally this is something I've been working on as well, because I think it is the key to reconnecting with what made me want to be a writer in the first place. I think it has a little to do with why I chose to open blogs and journals instead of simply running personal websites as well. I certainly didn't do it to post articles and resources all the time, although those are certainly great to offer as well from time to time. I did it so I'd have a place to tell stories. I did it so that I could connect with other people and write about my thoughts, experiences, and feelings in regards to subjects I'm passionate about.


When it comes to this blog in particular, I wanted to let people in on the life of a writer/artist who is finding her way in the world still and discovering her voice as a professional. However, I've let the professional side of me take over too much, I think. Professional Cat thinks too much. She never posts unless she can think of something resourceful and useful to talk about. She's dry and boring. I really miss Creative Cat after whom this blog was named and I think so do my friends and readers. She was a person who never overthought things. If she had something to say or something to share, she simply hit the "new post" button without giving it a second thought and went for it. She was funny and she had a lot of fun with her writing.

I never wanted to whine in this blog or complain. Really, even now as I write this, I am wondering if I really should, because I don't want to hurt my professional reputation by outright admitting to being burnt out right now. I don't want to discourage other writers or artists who might be thinking about freelancing either by making this sound like a nightmare to avoid. However, I have come to the realization that things like this are all part of the journey, as are my thoughts and personal feelings about different aspects of what I do, and as such they should be recorded here. They're valid and they feel worth writing down to make sure the story I am trying to tell here is as complete as possible.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Walking on the Pier With Freedom and Enterprise

Jim Morrison -- poet, rock star, genius.
Don't you hate it when someone starts a blog, actually goes to the trouble to make it interesting, builds an audience, and then inexplicably drops off the face of the planet for months on end? Yeah, me too. It's amazing how time flies though. You feel like you just updated a couple of weeks ago only to check and see... nope! Try a couple of months ago, you disorganized boob.

That said, I sorely apologize for having been "that sort of blogger" over the past few months or so. I've mostly been MIA because of how busy I've been, especially with writing clients and my personal life. However, I don't think that's really any excuse and I should have a lot more time for this sort of thing in the near future. I've made some changes to my client line-up recently and retooled my schedule a bit so I have more personal time. The only thing that will be standing in the way of posting more regularly now will be my ability to sit my butt down in a chair and get 'er done.

So now that the apologies are out of the way, did you know that it's National Poetry Month? I actually didn't, but I do find that fitting, as poetry's been on my mind and in my heart a lot lately. I've been listening to a lot of retro rock lately and marveling over the imagery in some of the lyrics. Yes, I'm sure there were drugs involved as far as a lot of that inspiration goes. However, I'm sure it also has to do with the fact that a lot of these people considered themselves to be poets and artists to the same extent they considered themselves to be musicians.

Case in point, our friend Mr. Jim Morrison in the photo up there. Long before even he had heard of a band called The Doors, he was writing incredible poetry and I personally feel that that poetry background really shows in his music. Some people don't get what the difference is, but I assure you that as both a poet and a musician, there is one. If anyone has ever wondered what my deal is as far as 60's music goes -- and especially Doors music -- there you have it. When I listen to artists like The Doors, or The Beatles, or The Byrds, or Donovan, I hear a lot more than just some pretty awesome music. I hear people who write and think like me.

That said, I've been listening to a lot of Doors music lately and that sort of activity never fails to make me want to churn out some poetry and then make paintings about the imagery to boot. How could it not when we're talking about stuff like this snippet from "Stoned Immaculate":
One summer night, going to the pier  
I ran into two young girls 
The blonde one was called Freedom 
The dark one, Enterprise 
We talked and they told me this story
As anyone who's ever read any of my poetry knows, I love anthropomorphizing abstract concepts as was done here. I also very much enjoy drawing direct inspiration from songs like these, adopting the basic idea, and taking it a few steps further in the making of my own stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if you see Miss Freedom and Miss Enterprise make cameos in something of mine one day soon. After all, it's National Poetry Month! It would be a sin not to write at least a couple of poems before the month is out.