Thursday, November 20, 2014

And So It Goes

Well, that certainly didn't last long. And by "that", I mean NaNoWriMo, of course. I suppose I need to finally admit that I just don't have enough free time or excess creative energy on my hands to participate in that sort of thing anymore. I'm just way, way, way too busy with professional commitments these days. Even with having been able to raise prices and reduce my work hours, I've still apparently got a full-time, full-commitment business on my hands.

Things went really well for about the first week or so. Then the typical avalanche of over-sized orders and last-minute requests from clients reestablished itself. Before I knew it, I'd limped my way through several weekdays that were so busy and stressful, I had zero time to work on my book. And as anyone who's done NaNoWriMo before already knows, you can't skip your writing for the better part of a week and expect to catch up without killing yourself in the process. As much as I wanted to do this, it's not important enough to me to make myself sick over it, so I officially decided to throw in the towel last weekend and learn from the experience.

That said, do I have some free time that I can devote to creativity these days? Yes. Is that better than having no free time for such things? Absolutely. But do I have enough free time and energy to write 50,000 words' worth of fiction in a month for shits and giggles? Not even close. I keep forgetting that back when I used to knock NaNoWriMo out of the park every year, I was basically a homemaker with no outside responsibilities to speak of. Realistically speaking, I'd probably have to be in a position to quit copywriting altogether before I can pour that kind of energy into personal projects again. As much as I'd love not to have to be a copywriter anymore, I also realize that's something that won't happen for a while unless some magic publishing contract or winning lottery ticket unexpectedly falls into my lap sometime soon.

On the bright side though, I did come out of NaNoWriMo with at least a little bit to show for it. Since I elected to work on a collection instead of an actual novel, I actually finished an entire short story and wrote my way through the better part of another one before I threw in the towel and quit. I also wrote a couple of original poems as well. I'm still not sure about the potential value of the story I haven't finished yet, but the completed story and the poems are actually pretty decent. With some polishing and rewriting, I'd actually feel comfortable submitting any or all of them somewhere for consideration.

So I guess that's the way I'm choosing to see things. I'm not going to lie. I'm disappointed in myself for not being able to stick with things even though my reasons for not being able to do so were legitimate. I'm also a little resentful over the fact that I once again had to set aside writing I really wanted to do in favor of writing other people needed me to do for them. However, I still came out of even the attempt with some decent material I'll be able to do something with. No, I still don't have the ability to write a novel with my life the way it currently is... but I apparently do have the ability to write the occasional short story or poem. I can live with that for now.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Opening the Lid of the Jar of Lies

I actually made good on my promises to actually sign up for NaNoWriMo and follow through with starting this weekend, so that happened. I have to admit that so far I'm having a real blast as well. I've stayed away from it the past couple of years because I really couldn't picture myself handling all of my commitments to my clients and keeping up with a brand new novel at the same time. However, I really have enjoyed spending some time this weekend actually being creative for a change... and creative on my own terms, no less.

I'm really super excited about my project as well. As I hinted in earlier posts on the topics, my book isn't a full-fledged novel. It's officially more of a collection of horror stories. For some reason, the great majority of my best, most coherent ideas seem to have to do with cannibalism of one kind or another. I'm really not sure why, because I didn't plan it that way at all. That's just what happened when some of these interesting imaginary folks I dreamed up were let loose to wreak havoc on their respective worlds.

I've always heard about characters really developing minds of their own when the circumstances are just right, but I can't say it's ever actually happened to me before. Either way, I'm off to a great start and I'm excited to see where it goes. Yes, it's only two days into the event, but I've made my word count both days without a problem and I really like what I'm writing so far. Plus, I have this super awesome cover you see here that was designed for my by Seth. It makes my book feel much more "real" than it otherwise would. I'm involved in some neat discussions via the NaNoWriMo forums as well.

I'm not exactly sure what I plan to do with this book or its individual parts once I'm finished with it. Part of me still really likes the idea of self-publishing something just for fun and to take some of the pressure off of myself. There seem to be some interesting avenues for doing that that have popped up in recent years. However, I also find that I'm taking myself a lot more seriously as a writer these days and really don't want to miss out on traditional publishing for that reason. I suppose I should probably just focus on getting the damned thing written before I worry about publishing options though. Wish me luck and pray that my workload doesn't make me hate the very idea of NaNoWriMo eventually!

Monday, October 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo and Other Things That Bite

I am sure it won't be long before I'm over here complaining because I once again know what it is to rue the day, but at present, I'm thinking that I might be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.

I haven't really thrown myself into anything like that since before my copywriting business started to pick up speed and I really miss that -- making commitments to my personal writing that are just about having fun and getting something done. I'm finding that such things are starting to become important to me for their own sake again.

I don't know that I'll be attempting to write a novel this time though. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I perhaps don't really have the staying power required for longer fiction. I'm like that with artwork, too. Really, I have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to any sort of "project". If I can't finish it over the course of a sitting (two or three tops if I'm really on fire about a given idea), then it's likely that I will never finish it at all. My creative passion is really not terribly shelf stable and I have to seize it while it's actually there.

At this point, I've pretty much given up on the notion that any of this will ever change about me. I've simply embraced it and now I'm learning to work with it. That said, I can't remember the last time I wrote anything that was longer than a medium-length poem or perhaps a very short, concise story. (Nothing I've shared or sent away to publishers for consideration, but yeah.) If I'm going to commit to NaNo, then I'd far prefer to come out of it at the other end with a handful of shorter works that are actually finished than yet another long, rambling, unfinished novel that I know I will never look at again after November, let alone finish or polish.

Which brings me to this year's idea file. It's sitting on Evernote filling up with story notions, each one weirder than the last. It would seem I feel like writing about horribly bloody things right now. No more faux-classy hipster stories set in fanciful alternative universes. No more lush imagery, spread over the top of things, thick as cupcake frosting, in an effort to distract from the lack of a coherent plot. Definitely no more God damned fairies or emo vampires.

These are just going to be mostly about normal people into sick things. People that have done sick things or are thinking about doing them. People that are sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten -- chewed, swallowed, and then shit back out again. People that have made an art out of living under rocks. Most of these ideas involve telling stories about things I find darkly fascinating, even if I would never do them myself. Others may become semi-autobiographical stories lifted from my real life and built around people I have actually known... or built around myself.

I like the idea of throwing those two approaches together in the same pot, stirring it for a little while, and seeing what comes out of there when it's time for dinner. Along with my usual blogging, that should provide me with an excellent balance for the copywriting that's currently paying my bills. I need something to get excited about again when it comes to writing and I'm excited about this. For the moment, anyway. Knowing me, I may feel completely differently by the time November actually gets here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

3 Things Aspiring Artists and Writers Do That Make Them Their Own Damned Problem

I've always been an artistic, creative type. I've also always been considered kind of weird. Whether or not my weirdness was a good thing depended entirely on who you were and how you felt about people that are different from what you already know.

I thought that when I finally made the decision to embrace and accept myself as someone that was simply meant to be an artist and a writer, my days of feeling weird were over. I could simply associate myself with other artists and writers . Then I'd have "a people"... a tribe. This tribe would no doubt understand me. I would also understand them and they would never, ever leave me shaking my head, right?

Yeah, not so much. Honestly, one of the saddest discoveries I made when I first decided to throw myself into the pool as far as existing creative communities go was that I don't really like most other artists and writers very much. They keep doing the same things over and over again to piss people off and bug the ever-loving shit out of everyone, including their peers. Things like the following. If you do any of these things, please stop. For the love of God and all that is holy, stop.

1. Over-Promoting Yourself

OK, we get it. You paint pictures. You have a blog. You just self-published your first completed novel. We're happy for you... but we don't need you to sell whatever it is to us all over again every hour on the hour. Telling people that you're working on a project you'd like them to consider supporting is one thing. Acting like a walking, talking commercial every second of every day is another. The fact that you're always trying to sell yourself makes you seem even more annoying.

The thing is, your stuff may seem ground-breaking or earth-shattering to you, but in all likelihood, it's not everything you think it is. We're all a bit blind when it comes to our own work, after all. Even if through some miracle it is everything you think it is, not everyone will be interested and it would probably be best to quietly respect that. How interested were you in actually reading the last piece of crap fiction some person you barely know on Facebook wrote in the first place? And how badly did you want to rip his stupid head off after he made his billionth promotional post about it? Yeah, exactly.

I find that quality generally tends to speak for itself. That said, maybe spend less time trying to force your crappy material on other people and more time actually getting so good at what you do that people just can't resist becoming part of it. Concentrate less on making sure you're posting enough announcements about your latest whatever-it-is on social media and concentrate more on actually showing people how interesting, funny, and worthwhile you are as a person. The interest will soon begin to extend itself to what you do. I promise.

2. Hitting Up Fellow Creatives for Free Services or Support

There was once a time when seeing that a person was a fellow creative made me more likely to accept a random add request from them. I would instantly think: "Oh good, a peer. I can always use more peers on my list." You know what I think these days? "Oh, fuck. Another one." This drastic change in outlook was a direct result of the way so many independent artists and writers not only over-promote themselves, but also seem to think their more successful peers somehow owe them free endorsements, services, or help with that over-promotion.

Case in point, I got a friend request a few months ago from some dude that was obviously an aspiring writer because the last twenty-five posts on his Facebook were in one way or another advertising his new novel (which -- rumor had it -- was horrible). I accepted the request against my better judgment because the person and I had mutual friends. This dipshit proceeded to made a half-assed attempt to feign interest in me as a person for a day or two. Then before I knew it, I woke up to a message from him telling me he'd like me to read his next book and write up a positive endorsement for display on the back cover. He totally acted like this was some amazing privilege I should feel honored to have, too. When I politely told him that I can't/don't provide endorsements on demand, he unfriended me.

As someone that actually earns a living as a writer, I get this kind of thing a lot. Other creatives think I somehow owe it to them to give them a leg up and should feel honored for the opportunity to do so. If they don't expect me to help them advertise, then they expect me to use my reputation to endorse their work or my experience to help them get to the next level. Some even have no qualms flat-out asking me to donate artwork or perform other services that I would normally charge a lot of money for.

You've got to get rid of this "you owe me" attitude when approaching peers that you perceive to be more successful than you are. First of all, if they're anything like me, they probably don't have the money and resources at their disposal that you think they do. I'm very open about the fact that even though I make an OK living as a writer, I still have trouble making ends meet just like the great majority of creatives do, especially those in business for themselves. It's just that no one seems to hear me when I talk about it. Second, no one owes you a damn thing, least of all your fellow creatives. Do your own heavy lifting. The chances are excellent that that person had to.

3. Acting Like Being a Non-Professional Makes You Better Than Your Peers

Writers and artists that create and share their work solely "for its own sake" are great... but so are those of us that do what we do for our living and bring home a paycheck. Lately, it seems like there are a lot of hipster-like independent whatevers out there that are clearly interested in getting somewhere with what they do, because they promote it ad nauseum and are constantly bragging about how popular they think their material is. However, they sneer in the general direction of anyone that's actually getting somewhere with what they're doing.

You probably know the type because it seems like there's one on every Facebook list and blog roll these days. They spend so much time talking about what sell-outs other creatives are for caring about traditional publishing or for accepting opportunities that actually allow them to make money doing what they do. They also apparently have no idea that they're not fooling anyone in the least and that everyone can smell the sour grapes. If you truly didn't care that all of your stuff is self-published or that you can't get anyone to pay you to make your art, it wouldn't be coming up so often.

I know because when I was younger, I used to be that sort of creative and I absolutely remember why. Like many creatives, I didn't think I had what it took to ever make real money writing or designing. I was so into the idea of self-publishing all my things because I didn't really see myself in the same league as "real writers" that get book deals, and columns, and actual paychecks or "real artists" that have their things hanging in actual art galleries. So I flipped both middle fingers at all of those concepts in an effort to make myself feel better about being mediocre.

Looking down my nose at traditional success gave me a really great excuse not to even try to achieve it. I would never have to read a rejection letter or be told "no" after seeking out an opportunity I really wanted. I'd never have to find out whether or not I was actually as talented as I claimed to think I was. Convenient, right? Then I grew up, put on my big girl panties, and got honest with myself about my reasons for thinking there was something so very wrong with caring about actually being successful at the very thing I was pouring so much of my energy into. I'm not saying everyone should define success the same way. What I am saying is that people shouldn't be so quick to write off the possibility of succeeding in a more traditional way as being "only for sell-outs".

Don't get me wrong. I still do a lot of creative things just for fun and self-expression. For instance, this blog doesn't make me a dime. Neither does the great majority of the stuff I produce just because I want to. However, that doesn't mean I'm not proud of the fact that I've achieved some professional success as well. Being able to provide people with something they actually want enough to voluntarily pay for it is pretty awesome. Being able to keep my cell phone connected and pay for food using what I consider to be my one God-given talent is pretty rewarding, too, actually. I will even go so far as to say that feelings like those are really too good to pass up. Just saying.

In Conclusion

So, yeah. If you ever wonder why it is that people don't seem to respond to your work the way you want them to, you're probably doing one or more of these things. If your way of putting yourself out there seems to earn you more ridicule or hatrid than real opportunities and respect, you're probably doing one or more of these things. If you ever deal with the nagging suspicion that other creative people don't really like you or find you annoying... well, one or more of these things is probably still the reason why. I guess that means your options are either to work on it or quit caring.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tell Your Stories, Own Your Experiences

This little graphic goes around online every so often and it always gives me a lot of food for thought. I need to be thinking those thoughts more often. I stay so busy with professional commitments these days. When I'm not writing for clients, I'm probably blogging if I really feel like I have a lot to say on a given subject and firing off frivolous one-liners over social media if I don't. That said, it's been a while since I really sat down and spent more than a few minutes here or there writing any fiction. I've been feeling the urge lately though, as I sometimes do when summer draws to a close. 

It's been so long since I wrote creatively on a regular basis that I've been forced to really ask myself some questions as to what my style is even like anymore. I've been suspecting for a long time that I'm no longer the fanciful, young person that was very concerned with producing things that are beautiful and imaginative. Recent years have found me certain of it. I'm much more raw these days as a person. I say what I really mean instead of beating around the bush. I'm more concerned with whether or not the way I look, the way I live, and the way I express myself is true to who I am, as opposed to specially designed to earn me the most approval possible from the people around me. I feel like the most recent stage in my development has been taking place quietly inside of a sort of cocoon and that now, I am finally ready to emerge.

I can tell that same rawness that permeates my social media feeds these days would also come right out in my writing if I sat down to write a creative piece at this point in my life. As I've mentioned before in brief, I relate much more to an author like Charles Bukowski than I would Jane Austen these days. I feel the urge to do what he does -- tell the real stories of the things that have happened to me in my life. The people I've known, the places I've worked, and the experiences I've been through. I'm good at nothing so much as I'm good at just being me and I would like to see what that looks like in some form of creative writing.

There's just one little obstacle left to consider -- how certain people are going to feel when they recognize themselves in the things I write. It will all be fictionalized, of course. However, these people are very likely to recognize my perception of them and of certain events in the stories I tell and they're not going to be happy about it. That's been a concern of mine for a long time... but the last time I saw this Anne Lamott quote roll through my Facebook feed, I think I realized that no longer care. Why should I? It's not like any of the people I'm thinking of ever stopped to consider my feelings. I'm ready to write my stories and I won't let anyone take them away from me ever again. Let the shit storm begin.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Oysters, Pearls, Ham on Rye: I'm Here for This

I tell you, the Internet is a seriously wonderful entity. It's opened me up to so many things that I am not sure I would have discovered otherwise -- especially when it comes to music, or television shows, or movies. It's these subscription services you can buy these days. You know... services like Netflix or Spotify that give you access to a potentially limitless catalog of media to enjoy and discover? When trying something new doesn't actually require me to drop additional money just to try it or even leave my house to go looking for it, I try things on a whim a lot more. I'm spontaneous as it is, so that set-up is perfect for me.

These days, there are options like that out there for people that like to read as well and I've definitely been taking advantage. I'm personally a fan of Oyster for books, as well as Next Issue for magazines, but there are other similar services out there as well. (No, no one is paying me to say that. I just think they're aces.) Nothing has... like... every book or magazine ever written at this point, as such services are still pretty new, but there are a lot of awesome things to choose from. Also, more are being added all the time, just as with Netflix and Spotify. It's pretty rad.

All this selection is teaching me a few things about myself. Once upon a time, I think I identified a lot more readily with cultured, ladylike authors like Jane Austen, or Edith Wharton, or Charlotte Bronte. However, these days it seems like my true literary spirit animals are really filthy, really drunk old dudes like Charles Bukowski, and Henry Miller, and William S. Burroughs. Don't get me wrong. I'm still totally here for some Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre... and The Age of Innocence remains one of my favorite books of all time. But there's just something about the rawness and honesty of work like Ham on Rye or Tropic of Cancer that I really relate to at this point in my life. 

If you follow me elsewhere online, then you might be aware that I'm in the middle of this whole self-improvement kick as well and have been for the better part of... two years, at this point. I'm dieting and making at least a modest attempt to get in shape. (I've lost over 30 pounds at this point, so I can just go the fuck on with my bad self.) That period of time has also found me becoming incredibly spiritual... and not just in a hip, modern kind of way, but in a pretty serious, traditional way. This vast online world of reading material has proven to be an excellent source for really good spiritual advice, nutritional information, and so on. 

And all this Bukowski and Burroughs fangirling has resurrected my old desire to write some sort of memoir-esque fiction. The fact that those guys exist make me feel like it's perfectly acceptable to be as raw and risque as I want for what might be the first time in my entire life as a writer. My life has been full of people and happenings that would make excellent literature. I'm sure that the things I eventually write will cause some of the people from my offline life to have aneurysms when they realize that I am, in fact, writing about some of the things they've put me through, but I guess that's their problem. They should have known better than to piss off a writer in the first place. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

3 Signs It's Time to Put Your Foot Down With a Client

If there's one thing I hated about working retail back in the day, it was the way the customer was pretty much always considered to be right. If they wanted a discount or special treatment, they didn't even have to come up with a good reason why half the time. It didn't even matter if it was obvious the customer was lying to you through their teeth or blatantly trying to take advantage of the establishment you worked for. You as the service provider were always expected to find a way to make whatever they were after happen for them.

The same went for your boss. If you didn't like your schedule, didn't think you were being paid enough, or were otherwise being forced to accept treatment you didn't think was fair, that was too effing bad. Of course there were limits to be sure, but you more or less had to basically smile and say "yes, sir" to whatever your boss or their customers decided to dish out in your general direction.

When I originally had to return to work for financial reasons (years ago at this point), I chose to become a freelance writer instead of just going back to retail for a reason. I was tired of living my life based on someone else's schedule and pretending I didn't mind being paid very little in exchange for putting up with other people's abuse. I wanted to do something that put my natural skills and intelligence to good use, as well as something that might give way to some sort of future one day, so I decided to do that with my writing.

I generally assume that other freelance writers started doing what they do for similar reasons. Exactly why it surprises the hell out of me when they let clients take advantage of them and treat them like they're still working retail. Don't get me wrong. Nine out of ten clients are generally really cool and really fair... but it's important to realize right out of the gate that freelancers have to worry about the occasional rotten apple trying to take advantage of them. It helps to know when it's officially time to put your foot down.

1. Pay That Just Doesn't Cut It

Just about every client is going to have a budget in mind as far as what they're willing and able to pay in exchange for your services. That's perfectly fine. What isn't fine is pressuring writers to take less for their work than it's worth. Make sure you're charging clients in a way that reflects the full value of the writing you produce. Some factors you can and should take into consideration include the following:

  • The time it actually takes you to produce the work
  • Your experience level, both in regards to writing and the specific subject matter you're writing about
  • What the work you're producing will be used for
  • Whether or not the client expects "extras" to be included -- like images, graphs, or link embedding 
  • How much research and prep work will be involved
Generally speaking, you as the writer need to be collecting compensation that makes it worth your while to sit down and actually complete the projects you're taking on. If you're like most of us, pay that's equal to or less than what you'd be making to flip hamburgers at your local McDonald's is only going to lead to loads of resentment down the line. Resentment leads to serious burnout. I've been there and it's not pretty.

Don't let your clients browbeat you into believing minimum wage or below is all you deserve in exchange for your work. Seriously, you're not making Big Macs or doing any other menial job a monkey could do. You're creating content that will have a pretty sizable impact on your client's SEO campaign, public image, or bottom line. If you're good at what you do, you bring even more benefits to the table that people need to be compensating you for. Hold out for clients that not only realize this, but are willing to pay accordingly. 

Don't tolerate clients that expect to flip-flop in regards to what you've both decided that you'll be paid for your work either. I've had clients that expected to decide for themselves what they were willing to pay on a per project basis based on criteria known only to them. Others have been willing to pay the rates I asked on an initial project, but expected the price to go down by as much as 50% for future work for no particular reason. The thing is we're writers, not rug merchants at a Persian flea market. It's important to demand consistency when it comes to pay and when clients can't honor that, it's time to put your foot down.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Deciding what you'll be paid for your work is one thing. Figuring out what the client has a right to expect in exchange for what they're willing to pay is another. Sooner or later, you'll wind up with one or more clients that are completely out of their minds when it comes to what they expect to get for their money. However, such clients can be difficult to spot out of the gate unless their unreasonable expectations are so high, they're actually comical.

Some writers feel differently, but I wholeheartedly believe one of the easiest ways to avoid getting stuck with unreasonable clients is to avoid taking writing projects that pay by the hour. In my experience, someone who expects to pay a writer by the hour doesn't have any understanding of or respect for what the act of writing actually entails. They literally think they're just paying someone to sit in front of a computer and type when you and I both know writing is so much more than that.

They also tend to employ backwards thinking when it comes to how work should be priced. A client that expects to pay a writer $10 an hour to write web content not only expects to get higher quality content from a better, more experienced writer, but he expects to get more of it for his money, since a better writer is also presumably a faster writer. It doesn't take a genius to realize that this makes zero sense, since it means the better a writer becomes at what they do, the less they should expect to be paid for each individual piece they write. 

Writing isn't and shouldn't be considered by-the-hour work, as you're talking about something that couldn't possibly be easier to itemize. Clients should be paying per page, per 100 words, or per word -- possibly with adjustments for projects that are unusually difficult or that need to be rushed for whatever reason. By-the-hour pay is for personal assisting, consulting, marketing, and other types of services that really are about paying people for their time. 

Also, the more experienced and skilled a writer becomes, the more they should be charging for their work. It's an issue of overall value we're talking about here... and the value of a piece of writing goes well beyond the time it took to pound a few keys. 

3. Too Many Revisions

How revisions should be handled is an area that a lot of writers forget to consider when they're deciding what their business policies are going to be, but it honestly shouldn't be. Many clients really have a tendency to take advantage here, so it's important that you set some limits and stick to them. 

Decide what the word "revision" actually is going to mean in regards to what's covered by your fees and what's not. I personally tell clients that I will perform up to two minor revisions on a piece for free. By "minor", I mean simple rewording in regards to parts of the text, simple reformatting, and other tweaks that can make a big difference in how a piece reads, but don't take up a massive amount of a busy writer's additional time. 

It's well within a client's rights to request things like this and I don't mind doing them at all... but even that I'll only do within reason. I won't revisit something again, and again, and again over multiple days or weeks. (Clients are required to request revisions within three business days of receiving their finished content.) I won't tolerate nitpicking either. I have actually had picky clients return items to me "for revision" literally for the sake of adding a single period or changing a single word in a specific sentence. Yes, really.

I also don't do full rewrites for free and here's why. To begin with, that lets wishy-washy clients think it's perfectly OK to change their minds in regards to what they want done mid-project or waste your time having you "try" article idea after article idea until you hit on something that blows their hair back. (Yes, people actually do this.) It also makes it easy for dishonest clients to scam free articles out of content providers by simply calling each one they ask for a revision request on a previous article. They get to pay for one article, but walk away with five or six.

Make sure your clients understand the importance of really knowing what they want right from the get-go. Believe me, if they know they'll have to pay for rewrites, they get a lot more diligent about coming into projects fully prepared as far as keywords, subject matter, and so forth. This not only makes your job easier, but it helps you deliver great content more quickly and efficiently as well. 

Also, make sure you set and communicate clear limits as far as what you consider a revision to be, how many you're willing to do, and within what time frame. Never, ever, ever offer clients (real or potential) unlimited revisions of any kind as part of the package. That's the best way I can think of to attract the most disrespectful, opportunistic clients roaming God's green earth today.

Never Be Afraid to Say "No"

When I was younger, I not only had a hard time realizing that it was not only OK to let my "no" mean no and my "yes" mean yes, but I also failed to realize that it was perfectly all right to say "no" to things, people, and situations I didn't want in my life. I eventually learned that if I didn't want to be taken advantage of both coming and going, it was essential that I learn how to say it in professional situations in particular. Really, "no" is one of the most glorious words in the English language and I have yet to hear of one that has the power to buy you more freedom and peace of mind if you learn how to use it properly.

That said, you shouldn't be afraid to use it with your clients. You're under no obligation to take on every single project a client offers you or to take less for your work than you know it's worth. If a client's being unreasonable in regards to revision requests or they're bothering you on your days off when you've expressly asked them not to, put your foot down. You went into business for yourself for a reason and it wasn't so you can put up with the same garbage you had to when you worked for someone else. Make the most of it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Things People Really Need to Start Understanding About Language

Saying that the internet is full of extremes when it comes to the way people feel about grammar, language, and word choice is like saying the sky is blue and it really shouldn't be that way. As with most extremes, stances like these don't really have a place in modern society. The extremists themselves always seem to find out the hard way when those they interact with inevitably want to beat them to death.

  • On the one hand, you have your die hard grammar Nazis that can't stop themselves from ripping someone's week a new Saturday if they misspell something, misplace a comma, or accidentally type "their" when they really mean "they're". They're sickened by anyone who would dare swear in their written communications, dammit. Don't even get me started on how they feel about slang.
  • On the other, you have the type of people that leave me wondering how they even managed to pass fifth grade. You know the ones. They communicate in text speak and misspell words on purpose pretty much all the time, even in so-called professional communications. They think they're making themselves look cool, cute, or unique when really they're just making themselves look stupid.
Then there are those of us who not only know the ins and outs of proper English, but also know how and when it's appropriate to mix things up a bit. You know... normal people. People who understand the following concepts.

Language is a living, breathing thing.

Yes, there are rules to language and everyone really ought to know the basics. However, it's important to understand that that English language doesn't exist in a vacuum. It really is a living, evolving thing. It's influenced by pop culture, different subsections of society, and many other fantastic things. Like it or not, people do bend the rules of word use. It's their way of taking something we all share and making it their own. 

That said, there are a million different ways to express yourself with language that wouldn't be considered textbook "good English". Swearing can be a perfectly legitimate way to really add emphasis to what you're saying, especially when talking about feelings. Well-timed slang or off-color expressions can be fantastically funny when used in the right context. This is something that is especially important to understand if you're a creative writer who'd like to master a really simple way to give your characters some individuality.

A person occasionally using popular expressions like "amazeballs" or maybe having a bit of a potty mouth shouldn't add up to their automatically being written off as stupid or taken to be someone who doesn't take words seriously enough. If you did that, you'd have to condemn some of modern literature's most noteworthy authors.

There's cool and edgy... and then there's confusing.

Of course, this isn't to say it isn't possible to completely overdo things. We've all had the experience of trying to decipher something someone wrote or texted that is so "individualized" we can't even read it. We all also know "that guy" that drops an f-bomb pretty much every other word. Then we're outside the realm of simply being expressive and into a land of confusion where we can barely understand what's being said.

The whole point of language is supposed to be to communicate. If you're having a hard time getting your point across because of the way you express yourself, it might be time to tone it down. It's not cute, or edgy, or cool. It's just confusing. It's also making you look like an idiot. Fuck is a great word. Really, I assure you that I'm a big fan. But there are other words out there that are really pretty cool, too. Why not keep things interesting and mix it up a little bit?

There's also a time and a place.

Another thing I wish more people understood is that there really is a time and a place for casual English. And guess what. It's not when you're writing a professional e-mail, writing a college paper, applying for a job, or anything else along those lines. And yes, people really do this.

I've actually received so-called professional e-mail from potential clients before that was full of text speak -- "u" instead of "you", "ur" instead of "you're", et cetera. There wasn't any shortage of confusing run-on sentences and really obvious misspellings either. Needless to say, this hardly got me excited about working for these people. Now... they may well have been serious about wanting to hire me for projects, but do you know what happened? I ignored the messages. I mean... literally ignored. These people didn't even get a curt "no, thank you" in response.

Other people's mileage may vary, but I legitimately didn't think someone who couldn't be bothered to type out y-o-u in a professional e-mail warranted the time and energy it would take me to send a response. I most certainly wasn't interested in working with someone like that and it's because of the impression they made. If they're that lax about writing e-mail to people they might potentially be working with at some point, then what else will they not take seriously? It could be consistency, promptness in communication, and reliability when it comes to actually paying me for my services.

Now it's perfectly possible that I was wrong about those people. However, that is nevertheless the impression they made on me. Don't let it happen to you. Show potential employers (and employees) that you take them, yourself, and what you're doing seriously and devote the time necessary to write out a courteous, professional message instead. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece of modern English or anything, but it does need to be legible and reasonably free of errors. Really, it's not that hard and it really does make a difference.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Evidence Boxes and Mysterious Objects

Louisiana State Evidence
So last week, something pretty fantastic happened. We received our first official promo box on behalf of More Horror.

As anyone who is familiar with that aspect of our lives knows, we already receive quite a lot of screeners and opportunities to write reviews or conduct interviews. We also receive a lot of invites to premiers and horror-related events (which we usually can't attend due to a lack of transportation and funds), as well as requests to spread the word about goings-on in the industry. We had yet to actually receive an honest-to-goodness promo box though. We've been wanting to see something like this show up for a long time though.

This one was promoting an upcoming series for HBO called True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It looked exactly like an evidence box and came complete with red security tape and very official-looking labels. When we opened it, we found it contained a very odd-looking "unknown object" (as specified by the evidence labels). It looked like a cross between a voodoo doll and one of those curious twig totems from The Blair Witch Project. Similar objects can be seen in one of the official trailers for the show.

"Unknown Object"
The object itself is really pretty cool-looking and it's now sitting proudly over in Seth's work area where he keeps many of the DVDs and other very cool swag we receive. Quite creepy-looking and very neat. I actually felt the need to bless it or something, so well done, HBO's sculpture artist (whoever you are). You can read more about the show and watch a preview as part of Seth's True Detective promo write-up.

Like a lot of people that run relatively successful indie start-up companies, we sometimes wonder whether or not we're really getting anywhere with what we're doing. I don't have a ton of time or energy to pour into More Horror myself these days, as I am perpetually busy with my clients and other professional projects. I do the occasional media review or resource article for the site, but Seth spends the bulk of his time on it.

Those who love the site and envy/applaud its success kind of tend to assume that we must make a lot of money off of it, or be swimming in glamorous opportunities, or something. In actuality, that sort of thing rarely comes our way via that avenue, so acknowledgement of the site's clout with something like a promo box from HBO really means a lot to us. Seth says that we probably earned that clout at least partially because of the reviews I've written for so many of HBO's shows (like Dexter), so that makes me feel pretty awesome as a writer, too.

I want to be someone fantastic someday as far as what I do with my writing. The going is really fucking frustrating sometimes to be sure, but just when I need it most, something seems to happen that reminds me we've already got the most difficult part of the equation in the bag. We're talented and we actually have something wonderful to offer. We just need more outlets for those resources and it's at times like these that I have faith we'll find them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tablets: A Gateway to Creativity

It's almost embarrassing how lazy I'm getting in my old age. I'm slowly beginning to realize that the primary reason I don't do more of the personal things I say I'd like to do isn't really not having the time or the energy the way I'm always saying (although those are certainly also legitimate factors). It's really sheer fucking laziness more often than not.

At the end of my work day, I quite simply don't feel motivated to do anything particularly creative for myself even when I really kind of want to. For instance, I might well have a fantastic idea in my head for a piece of art and even actually feel like drawing, but actually creating whatever it is doesn't feel like it's worth the trouble of getting my Wacom out, hooking it up, waiting for Photoshop to load, and all the rest of that jazz.

I've been like that when it comes to a lot of the things I've wanted to start doing again, but never quite got around to. I guess that's why I'm lucky to live in a day and age that finds everyone else getting lazier and less inclined to actually do much with their time as well. The result is the way even the average mobile device can be equipped with a million different solutions that make "getting shit done" so easy and convenient, you really have no more excuses.

I first started figuring that out when I finally caved and bought myself an Android phone. Thanks to that phone, I finally accomplished a couple of things I'd been wanting to for a while. For instance, I somehow managed to cultivate a daily prayer and Bible reading habit thanks to some really handy-dandy apps I installed that made it super simple. I even got where I actually bothered to read the news on something  the neighborhood of a regular basis. In fact, I got where I liked my Android phone so much, that I decided to buy myself a tablet for Christmas as well and it's been really helpful to me so far.

For one thing, I'm reading again. Like... really reading on a regular basis. There are apparently a couple of services out there now that are like Netflix for books that make the book part of the equation pretty simple. (I'm currently using Scribd.) I've also just discovered that you can apparently draw some pretty cool shit on these things as well. Really, I installed a painting/sketching/doodle app on it yesterday and suddenly found myself scribbling away for no real reason at all.

I didn't make anything special, as you can see -- just doodles -- but hey. Plus, Seth seemed to actually like them and begged me not to just erase them when I was done, so here they are getting shared with the intrawebz at large. So yeah... I was actually creative yesterday... and in a way that actually found me making visual art instead of just writing. It's literally been years, so that's definitely a good thing. Really, if I'd known that all it would really take to get me interested in once everyday essentials like reading and drawing again, I would have gotten a stupid tablet a lot sooner.