Ink-Dipped Advice: Word Choice Matters — and Has Power

I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. She shared that she parted ways with her previous marketing/social media person because that individual did not work with her to communicate the client’s message effectively.

Ms. Marketing Pro came in with the attitude that she knew everything and the client knew nothing. She set up a series of social media channels, used marketing buzzwords, spread identical content on all the channels, but didn’t communicate the message or the product that my client sells. When my client wanted a particular type of promotion set up, or a particular message communicated, she was told that she didn’t know what she was doing, and to leave it to the professionals.

My client was paying; the business did not grow. They parted ways.

When I started working with her last year, I tweaked the message for each content platform, aiming to use the strength and identity of each platform to its best reach. In one month, I expanded the social media reach by 86%, resulting in a 26% sales bump.

I know, as a consumer, there are certain buzzwords that turn me off. If I see something listed as a “boot camp” or a “hack” — no, thanks. I’m not interested in that. Nor do I promote my own work using those phrases. At this point, they are overused and meaningless. Plus, the choice of those terms does not effectively communicate what I want to say to people. It doesn’t give them any information about what makes my work unique.

Also, if a business has marketing materials out there that show a lack of discernment between possessive/plural/contraction, as a potential customer, I assume they’re too stupid to be worth my money, and I go somewhere else.

No, I don’t approach them and tell them their materials are full of errors and they should hire me. That would guarantee they wouldn’t. But when I meet them at a networking event, I give them my card and say, “If you’re looking to freshen up your marketing at any point, I’d like to work with you.”

As a marketing person, I have an arsenal of tools I use to spread a message, that includes web content, media kits, blogging, social media content, press releases, ad creation on multiple channels, PSAs or radio spots as appropriate, pitching articles to the media, and, again, if appropriate, event scripting or video scripting.

Not every client wants or needs all these tools.

I offer them, but I don’t tell them they “have” to use them. We work together to find the best tools to communicate the message.

One of the most important thing I can do, as a marketing person, is genuinely listen when they tell me about their business, why they’re passionate about it, and what it means to them.

By listening and getting to know who they are AS WELL AS what they want, I can help them craft their story, their message, and expand their reach in a way that is unique to their business. Sometimes that does what I call “drawing the ear” — which, to me, is as important as drawing the eye.

Sure, you want strong visuals, and you need to work with a great graphic designer.

But you also need to choose the right words to communicate your message in a way that engages rather than attacks.

When someone hard sells at me, when I feel attacked or as though my space is invaded — be it physically or emotionally — I shut down. If I’m really uncomfortable, I fight back. What I don’t do is spend money with someone who makes me feel bad.

It’s often the same societal structures that cause problems when they are transformed into sales pitches. For the women reading this, how often has a male salesperson used the tactic of invading your personal space, of patronizing you, of treating you as though you should “listen to the man” in order to part you from your money? Or how often has a female salesperson used negative language to make you feel bad about something personal, and tried to convince you that only by listening to her and buying the product, can you feel better and will you change others’ negative perceptions of you (which exist in her mind, and which she tries to plant in your mind).

At this point in my life, when someone is aggressive towards me, I push back. Hard, without filters. As a potential customer, I tell them exactly why I’m not buying what they’re selling.

As a marketing person trying to shape the message, I do my best to:

–listen to the client
–offer suggestions to shape the message for different platforms
–communicate the message in a way for a positive reception by the target audience
–offer options and a variety of strategies, so if one thing doesn’t bring return, we have something else ready to launch

That means choosing words with care.

Just because a marketing Pooh-bah says this is “the” way to present something doesn’t mean it is.

Wanting to cast a wide net doesn’t mean use bland language. If anything, you need to be more specific in word choices.

You want to create a positive, sensory response. So choose words to evoke positive sensations.

Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

The five senses evoke emotions.

What kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience?

Taste and smell are closely related, as are sight and touch (or texture).

Use active language — verbs rather than adverbs, and avoid passive or past perfect as much as possible. “have been eating” is weaker than “eat” or “ate.”

Use specific adjectives and avoid overused tropes. If someone tells me it’s a “bold” wine, it means little to me, other than I expect a vinegary aftertaste. If they tell me it’s a “deep red with plum, cherry, and chocolate tones” — now I have sight, texture, taste, and scent cues. Not only that, but I expect a deeper sound when it pours into the glass.

My favorite medium is radio. One of the reasons I love to work on radio dramas or radio spots is that I choose specific sounds to drive the story and character. I love that challenge because the more specific I am, the better I communicate with the audience.

Individuals will receive the specifics within their own frame of reference. You won’t please everyone. An individual may have a negative association with a specific detail you and your client choose.

In my experience, I’ve found that those are rare, and more people will respond positively to compelling sensory detail than to vague marketspeak. Overused marketing terms always makes me feel like the seller is trying to get my money for snake oil, and I’d rather put my money elsewhere.

More and more people are practicing conscientious consumerism, choosing where and how they shop to align with their values. I think that’s great. I want people who align their wallets and their ethics to connect with my clients.

Here’s an exercise for anyone who reads this to try, be they a marketing person, a business owner, a consumer: For one week, only speak and write in specifics. Remove vague language from all your interactions. Keep track of it.

You will notice a remarkable difference in the level of communication.

What are your favorite ways to choose the best language when you work with clients, or as you communicate your business?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Translating Nano Advice into Work Practicalities

 

Yes, this is another National Novel Writing Month Prep Post.

Because techniques I learned and advice I heeded in my Nano years translated well into my freelance work life.

Yes, Nano is fun and a great playground to stretch into types of writing you don’t usually try.

But can build skills.

Here are the best techniques that transfer well from Nano into professional work.

Write (Almost) Every Day
Nano’s goal is 50K in 30 days, which breaks down to 1667 words/day.

Generally, I wrote a full chapter a day, of about 10 pages or 2500 words. Unlike many people, who find it useful to end in the middle of a thought, I like to work in completed chapters.

But Nano got me into the habit of working on what I now call my “primary project” (whatever I’m drafting), first thing in the morning, when I am at my most creative.

“Morning pages” don’t work for me. But working on the creative project in draft first thing does.

This has translated well into the rest of my writing life. As Carolyn See advised in her book, MAKING A LITERARY LIFE: “1000 words a day, five days a week, for the rest of your life.”

As a professional writer, I now have to write a great deal more than that on most days, but the 1K/day on my primary project works well.

Choose the Days You’re Not Going To Write
People huff and puff that “write every day” is not realistic.

It is if you’re a pro.

But that doesn’t mean you never take a break, a day off, a vacation, a sabbatical.

The difference is that you plan them. You choose to take however many days off per week or per month.

Then you do it.

I created a handout/download called “30 Tips for 30 Days” from the motivational emails I used to send out to the writers I mentored every morning. I’ll probably post it again this November. Within that, I built days off.

The second part of that means you adjust your daily word count to cover the days off. If it’s 1K/day for 5 days a week, but then you take a week’s vacation, you up your word count for THE MONTH before your vacation to absorb the words you won’t write (or will write on something else) on your time off.

Do it BEFORE you leave, because you won’t catch up if you just let it slide.

If you choose time off and then enjoy it, rather than just letting the writing slide and “not getting around to it” you will be more productive at the desk AND more productive the rest of your day, because you don’t have the “I should be writing” guilt hanging over you.

What if life gets in the way? Unexpected illness or an accident or whatever?

Deal with your life. Adjust the writing.

I find that sticking to the writing during a crisis helps me survive and cope with it better. It gives me a break from the stress and allows me to drop into my fictional world, even if only for a couple of hours here and there.

When, for whatever reason, I can’t do that, I decide how many days I can afford (on both financial and emotional levels) to be away from the writing, and I adjust the word counts around it.

I live on deadline. If I expect to keep and grow my career, I have to meet those deadlines, even while life is happening.

Bank Ahead
Instead of procrastinating, work ahead of your daily goal, especially at the top of the month.

That translates well to so doing at the top of any project.

The first flush of enthusiasm on a new project is great. Get as much down as fast as you can early on. That way, if and when obstacles come up, you’re both ahead of the game, and you don’t forget what you meant to say but didn’t write down anywhere.

Translate that to getting ahead on any project you do, and you’ll find less scrambling near deadline, unless your client is the one dragging his feet and creating obstacles (and you’ve planned contingencies in your contract. Right? RIGHT????).

Finish What You Start
This is one of the most important things I learned during Nano, although so many people lose heart and motivation during Nano and give up.

Unfinished projects drain creative energy.

The more unfinished projects you have hanging around, the harder it is to creatively breathe. The harder it is to see ANY project through.

When you rely on creative work to keep a roof over your head, you have to be ruthless about cutting out obstacles to that creative work.

Finish what you start. Then put it away for a few days, a few weeks, a few months (if it’s on someone else’s deadline, that timeline may need adjustment).

Once you can look at it objectively, decide if you want to retire it, put it in stasis, or continue work on it. Then set a schedule and deadlines and get to work.

I teach an entire course on this, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, and the workbook is available here.

I developed these techniques by finding out what worked for me within the Nano structure, then applying it to my other creative work, and making the necessary adjustments to streamline and strengthen the process.

This year, the traditional Nano structure and schedule does not work for me, which is why I created the Women Write Change forum. I may go back to Nano at some point in the future. But even if I don’t, I am grateful for what I learned there, for the camaraderie, and for the chance to focus intensely on a project for a month.

What are your experiences? If you’ve participated in Nano, what has or has not worked for you? Have you been able to translate any of it to the rest of your writing life? If you’ve never done it, have you been tempted? Why did you choose not to?

I’m genuinely interested in your answers.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Should Business Writers Do National Novel Writing Month?

 

It’s mid-October, which means thousands of writers and aspiring writers are getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

Is it worth it for a business writer?

I write many things: business writing, novels, short stories, plays, radio drama, etc. Maybe my experiences will help you decide.

I have had some great times with National Novel Writing Month. And some frustrating ones. I’ve been a mentor to new members, sending them a daily morning encouragement. I’ve hit the 50K goal and more every time (although the year my grandmother was dying during November was more challenging than some of the other years.

I’ve gone to write-ins and meet-ups and participated in forums. Met a lot of great people. Connected in new ways with writers I already knew.

I’ve participated in Nano five times (four successive years, then a break, than a few years ago). I’ve completed four novels, and have two novels partially done (last time I did Nano, I did a “tandem Nano” where I worked on one project I’d already started, and one I started on Nov. 1). One of those partials has been retired; it will never amount to anything. One novel was torn apart and reworked over a period of years. It was published under a title that sunk it; I got the rights back, switched publishers, and it became PLAYING THE ANGLES, which launched the Coventina Circle series. One novel was put aside for several years, and has been torn apart and revised over the last couple of years; it will go out on submission to agents in spring. One novel needs another revision and then, it, too, will go out on submission. One has been put aside until I can get it into the revision queue; it has a decent premise, but needs more craft. One novel needs to find its way back into the writing queue to be finished, then revised, then go out on submission.

When I was making the transition from working on Broadway to writing full-time, Nano helped me get into the habit of writing, first thing in the morning, around 2K/day (and then I’d settle back into at least 1K).

I have discovered the work written during Nano needs more revision than other work.

50K in a month is not a stretch for me anymore. 1667 words a day is pretty normal for my first writing session on my primary project – many more words have to be written each day in order to keep a roof over my head. This is my business, not my hobby.

So, for those of us, especially in business, does it make sense to write on our own time at that pace during Nano?

Do you want to try something new? I find Nano useful as a playground, to stretch into directions I don’t normally write. In that regard, I find it useful no matter what other kind of writing I do.

Are you willing to make the commitment to do 50K on a particular project on that month? Because just writing along with Nano at your own pace, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of Nano, which is “lots of words on paper really fast without editing.”

Because of my contract schedule, Traditional Nano does not work right now. I have a book coming out in late October; another one coming out in December; another in January; I’m working on the next books in those series for next year. I’m also prepping another series for re-release and am in talks about other releases.

The last time I participated, I was disappointed in the forums, which had always been fun before. I found too much whining; not enough writing. And moderators accusing professionals of “self-promotion” every time they answered a question by an unpublished writer. It felt like professionalism was discouraged.

But I like riding the wave. And I’m tired of feeling exhausted and furious about the current state of the nation (and the world).

So this year, instead of “Traditional Nano” I started a closed forum called Women Write Change. It started as not-quite-a-joke during the Kavanaugh hearings that we need a women’s rage forum during Nano. I re-read a manuscript I’d put aside a few years ago. The writing was universally praised, but I was told to “tone down the rage, because women’s rage makes readers uncomfortable.”

This book’s time has come.

This forum is for progressive artists in all disciplines who identify as women. It’s something different than Nano, although hooking into that enormous wave of energy that happens when tens of thousands of people write during the same time. It’s a place to develop work inspired by current situations.

It’s what I need, artistically and personally, right now.

But is it worth it for a business writer, tired from writing for others all day, to do Nano?

I’d say try it once, if you want to try something different and are willing to make a commitment. You’ll learn valuable information about how you work, and where inspiration comes from.

The most important thing it teaches, if you stick with it, is to put your own work FIRST.

I have found that techniques with which I experimented during Nano have helped me in other writing. I’ve found it exhilarating and frustrating. I think it’s worth doing at least once in your life – and then deciding what you can take from the experience and apply to other types of writing.

Ink-Dipped Advice: How To Lose A Customer

A few months back, a start-up that claimed to be dedicated to health and wellness offered me an invitation to an invitation to be one of the first subscribers to their new monthly box.

They sounded interesting, so I said yes, I’d like an invitation to the invitation.

I got on the mailing list, I got emails.

Then, the invitation came through. The same week that I had two deaths in 24 hours close to me, and was overwhelmed on many fronts. There was a flurry of emails, every day. The products were good, but not what I wanted at the time. I had questions about the pricing structure – the way the initial invite was worded, it looked like it would fluctuate, month-to-month.

Honestly, I couldn’t deal with it at the time. I put it aside and MADE THE CHOICE not to subscribe.

As a POTENTIAL customer, that was my right.

It was an INVITATION to an INVITATION. It was not a commitment.

About two weeks ago, I got an email from the company ATTACKING me for not subscribing, with language such as “did you not understand what we’re offering?” and further phrasing berating me for not subscribing. As though I was too stupid to understand the product.

As though they were supposed to be my priority, and as though I’d let them down.

No.

I understood the product. I CHOSE not to buy it. As is my right, in any such transaction.

I sent back a strongly worded email that not everything was about THEM, I was dealing with two deaths, and I’d never committed to purchase. I said I was interested in the invitation. I had the OPTION to buy or not buy, and I chose not to.

I unsubscribed from their mailing list.

I wanted an apology, although I knew I wouldn’t get one. I also realized that it wouldn’t matter. I wasn’t looking for anything free or a discount coupon. There was NOTHING they could say or do that would make me trust them with personal and/or financial information.

I also felt, that, as a supposed heath & wellness company, they were hypocrites.

Hmm — wellness meant THEIR well-being, not that of their customers. Got it. Moving on.

I understand that starting a small business is stressful. But this is not the way to woo potential customers.

I moved on and did other things. I have a subscription box already, with the wonderful, amazing, stunning Goddess Provisions, who always seems to know what I need and time the monthly box to arrive at the right time. For instance, the day after those two deaths, the Heart Chakra box arrived. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Plus, they are kind and responsive and quick to answer questions or concerns.

I finally received a sort-of apology last week. The company stated they “didn’t mean” it to feel like an attack, and they understood it was an emotional time for me. If they didn’t mean for it to feel like an attack, then they shouldn’t have used phrasing that made it so.

I didn’t bother to respond.

While I know we all make mistakes and believe in second chances, I found the exchange revealing. Instead of actually supporting a potential customer going through a rough time, first they attacked, then they did nothing, then, weeks later, they sent a half-baked whatever it was.

Would a response within the standard 48-hour business protocol response time have changed anything? I don’t know. But a sincere response, instead of further defense, would have smoothed things over. Taking two weeks to respond, and then sending something mealy-mouthed didn’t cut it. Take responsibility. Work to fix it (which doesn’t necessarily mean offering something free )– just work on phrasing. As in maybe hire qualified writing/marketing people for your product and pay them fairly, instead of going off half-cocked and turning off your customers.

Not a way to run a business in my opinion.

Not a company I plan to spend my money with.

Does it make me more careful in my own interactions? I should hope I already am, but it also makes me remember not to send out a mass email in a moment of anger. The person who wrote/sent the email to non-subscribers felt angry and betrayed. Feelings are feelings, and valid. How you use them on other people is something to consider. Because there are consequences.

And perhaps, instead of sending something in a flash of emotion, you should have written it, taken a step back, a breath, and thought it through. Thought if, perhaps, there was a better way to entice those who had passed on the first opportunity you sent them. Where did it fall short for them? Was it only timing? Money? Content? Presentation? Ask for feedback. Don’t attack.

Frankly, that email should have remained in the “unsent letter” file that I learned when studying journals and their writers, and when I taught journal and diary writing. You write the letter to figure out your feelings. You use it as a tool to figure out positive ways to deal with the situation.

But it remains unsent, unless you are willing to burn that bridge.

As far as I’m concerned, the bridge is burned.

I wish them well, but I will not be one of their customers.

My conscious consumerism takes me elsewhere.

Thoughts? Comments? Anecdotes to share?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Pieces of Teachers

“Everyone wants a piece of the teacher, but you don’t get that piece until years later.”

That quote is attributed to author Kate Green by Natalie Goldberg in her book LONG QUIET HIGHWAY, which I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time.

That quote reverberates with me. I remember many teachers from my life. Far too often, I didn’t realize the gifts they gave me until years after.

My fifth grade teacher, who bought me a set of Rudyard Kipling at a yard sale because she knew I loved to read the classics; My sixth grade teacher, who let me read and write far off the reservation, and encouraged me to write stories during class time, even during lectures. Who taught me I could spit out a first draft any way I wanted, but then I had to shape it in order to present it to the world. My band teacher in high school, who knew I loved to write, and suggested I write articles about the high school band, orchestra, and chorus for the local newspapers (my first professional published byline).

In college, I was lucky to have a fantastic teacher who was also my advisor. At a competitive school like NYU Film School, that was vital. I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years, and even got together with him when I visited NYC a few years back. I’ve also kept in touch with one of my screenwriting professors from NYU. The two of them helped me get back on track when I got unfocused, especially when I put other people’s work ahead of my own.

I think they were both surprised when I went into theatre instead of film as my career, but were interested in how I looped what I learned in their classes to the rest of my theatre and writing life.

When I teach, students come away with handouts and workbooks (I am the Queen of Handouts – the bins I haul into a conference workshop cause eyes to widen and backs to groan).

I’m a strict teacher and don’t put up with excuses or not writing. I make it clear that during the scope of the class, things are strict, and then, AFTER the class is over, they get to keep what works and toss the rest. I see many of my students toss quite a bit initially, and then slowly work their way back to what we did, in their own time.

Either way is great. You find your process by trying many different things, not staying in a rut, taking chances, and building your skills with every piece you write.

I am deeply grateful to my teachers. Even the ones I didn’t agree with gave me something important. And I’m still realizing the pieces, and will continue, my entire life, as long as I pay attention.

Who are your most memorable teachers? Is there anyone with whom you kept in touch?

Ink-Dipped Advice: Don’t Settle! Multiple Skills Deserve Higher Pay

 

In local job listings, I’ve noticed an infuriating trend: ads for part-time jobs, without benefits, that expect the employee to be the receptionist, the bookkeeper, the marketing/communications director, and the general administrative assistant. They want computer skills, graphic design skills, web development skills, photography/social media skills, writing skills, customer service skills, and accounting/QuickBooks capacity. For minimum wage.

No.

I touched on this in an earlier post.

Value your skills. Research each of these skills. What is the range of pay in your area for this type of work?  Graphic design usually starts around $60/hour. Basic bookkeeping is anywhere from $35 and up. Web development/IT skills range anywhere from $85 to $150, marketing writing can be anywhere from $35 to over $100, photography is usually close to $100.

So when someone posts an ad asking for ALL those skills, figure out how much that person should offer. Figure out what to ask.

Some places post all of this in the ad with the lowest allowed hourly minimum wage.

Skip them, unless you’re in a position to need interim dollars to keep a roof over your head.

Some listings will have percentages of time they believe each task takes up: 20% bookkeeping, 40% receptionist, 30% marketing, etc.

First of all, make sure it adds up to 100, and not some higher number. Because if  it’s more than 100, they need more than a bookkeeper.

Second, figure out how much the job should actually pay for all those skills. In a 40 hour work week, how many hours does each percentage break down? How much should each of those skills be paid? That’s your baseline figure for the bottom of the rate.

If these percentages and the ad have been written by a so-called “HR” person in the company, it’s not going to be accurate. The person with whom you’re working most directly will have the real knowledge.

If the ad does not list how much a chunk each skill is projected to take (because it’s never going to be accurate. Human beings works at different rates; business ebbs and flows), ask. 

If the money doesn’t align with what you want and should be paid for the multitude of skills, move on.

But I’m a freelancer, you say. Why would I even read these ads?

First, because it’s always good to see what employers think they can get away with. There’s a hue and cry that there are so many jobs out there that “can’t” be filled. That’s simply not true. Employers don’t want to pay for the skills employees have honed over the years, and they don’t want to pay people to do what they’re good at. They’d rather pay poorly for people who can do one thing decently and six things poorly than hire more than one person to do what they do well. Or pay one multi-skilled person fairly and give benefits.

They claim they “can’t.” The reality is that they won’t. There’s a difference. If they broke the job down appropriately and paid fairly, the business would prosper. But they are stuck in poverty consciousness and that’s what they extend to their workers, and it spirals downwards. It infects a region like a monetary cancer.

Because businesses talk to each other, at networking events, at dinners, during golf games. If one guy gets away with paying crap for a job encompassing 16 different skills that are usually paid at market rate, all his friends will do the same. 

And the cancer spreads.

Second, as a freelancer, if you find the company interesting and exciting, it is sometimes worth it to approach them with a proposal to work as an independent contractor or consultant.  Point out how your skill will earn them money if they hire you in as a freelancer, rather than unrealistically bundling it into an general assistant job.

They’re not paying benefits anyway. It doesn’t hurt them.

Don’t work for minimum wage; charge your rate.  Hold your boundaries — you are not an employee. Maybe you’ll do some hours on site; maybe it’s remote. Spell it all out in your contract. You are paid for meetings. You know I believe on being paid for phone time. If they insist you are on site, travel time counts.

You have to be better at what you do than anyone they have on staff — but not only is it a better situation for both of you, but, by doing well, you are teaching the employers that freelancers with specific skills are worth the money.

Those of you who know me know that I don’t “niche.” I have areas of specialized knowledge, and I can learn about anything else that interest me quickly in order to write about it. But I consider myself a Renaissance Writer (not a Generalist). 

So why am I against listings for a variety of skills?

Because it’s about not paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It’s about getting as much as possible for crap wages.

Most jobs with such listings aren’t worth courting as an independent contractor or consultant. But, every once in awhile, some of them are. Once in awhile, you find a small business that is committed to walking a positive talk. That is a case where they might not be able to pay much; but they are willing to pay fairly. They will temper what they ask for to the bounds of the budget. They want to be treated fairly, so they treat others fairly.

These businesses usually grow. It’s exciting to be a part of that growth. Finding the one business that is worth working with counters the 250 crap ads you combed through, looking for that one.

Value your skills. Know your value. Study the market. Craft your pitch. Create partnerships and working relationships that work for everyone.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Tired Brain

image by super-mapio via pixabay.com

We all suffer from “tired brain” at times. When it’s possible, take a few hours or even a few days off to refresh the creative well.

But sometimes, we suffer “tired brain” with an immovable deadline. Your choices are to suck it up and deal or default and lose the gig. The third choice is to push yourself in the wrong way and still screw it up.

I prefer Option 1.

I’m sick and tired (of being sick and tired, but that’s a different conversation) of being told how much I should sleep, and having people flake out on something because they’re sleeping.

Hon, the first time I slept regularly for more than four hours a night was well after I moved out of NYC. I would not have had a career in production if I demanded or expected eight hours’ of sleep regularly every night. It simply doesn’t happen in most professions that require hard work.

Jobs have regular hours and clock on and off times. Careers demand more.

For years before I left New York, I lived in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I got a lot done. I had a great time.

I’m older now, and my body requires different things. I hear a rumor that if I live to be REALLY old, I’ll sleep even less. We’ll see.

But for now, when I have “tired brain” there are a few things that get me back on track and help me get it done:

–eat properly. Often, if I’m fading, it’s because I didn’t stop for a meal, or stop for the RIGHT meal. When I was doing eight shows a week on Broadway, flipping people in and out of clothes, I ate constantly, and I ate a lot of carbs. Now that I sit for many more hours a day, I lower the carbs and up the vegetables. If I really need to focus, I eat protein.

–switch tasks. If there’s something else I can knock off quickly without too much brain power or research, I’ll stop the task on which I’m fading and switch to the other one. Finishing the shorter tasks gives me the energy and motivation to tackle the bigger one.

–do the thing you like least first. Once it’s out of the way, there’s less tension and dread over everything else.

–take a shower. I get many of my best ideas in the shower. When I’m having major plot or wording problems, I’m so clean I squeak.

–Do something physical. I prefer yoga, or taking a walk, but do whatever activity invigorates you. Friends of mine use swimming as their go-to energizer.

–Meditate. When you “just sit” and focus on your breath, the murk in your brain clears up and problems solved.

–when you’re actually sick, take time off and get well. There’s a difference between “I’m sick” meaning “I don’t want to do this” and “I’m sick” meaning there’s actually something wrong. When it’s the latter, stop sooner rather than later, focus on getting well, and then you won’t drag out your illness with relapses.

–Schedule regular “well days.” No matter how busy your schedule, book in regular time to do something you think is fun, that is only a “want to” instead of a “have to.” When you take the time to refresh the creative well, you’ll be surprised how much more productive you are.

When I worked in theatre, we had the phrase, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”

And when I spent months with a minor league hockey team to research a book, I learned the valuable lesson of “Dig deeper and get it done.”

Namaste.

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Right to Love Your Job

 

I say this often, and figured it was about time an entire post was devoted to it:

Loving your job does not mean you forfeit the right to make a living at it.

Let’s break this down. For most of us who work in creative arenas, unless we are famous, we spend a great deal of time being asked when we’ll get a “real job.”

Being creative IS a real job. It’s a demanding one. Most of us work nights, weekends, holidays, because we CREATE others’ leisure activities.

I used to try to “educate” those who try to demean what I do for a living. Then, I realized that it’s not that they’re ignorant; it’s that they resent that I love what I do. So now, when someone asks that, I usually respond with something flippant or snarky. My subtext is always, “when you get a brain” but I don’t always say that.

How many people do you know, outside of the creative realms, who love what they do?

I’m always delighted when I meet a lawyer who loves lawyering or an accountant who loves taking care of the books, or a mechanic who loves fixing cars. Because that means I don’t have to learn more than the basics, and I can trust that individual, who loves the job, to do a good one. I can hire that individual, for a fair day’s pay to do a fair day’s work, and I don’t have to worry about it.

But most people I know don’t love their jobs. It’s something to pay the bills. Not only do they dislike their jobs and resent them, they are angry at anyone else who loves their job.

Being a creative person and committing to make a living doing what I love is a risk. It requires commitment. It doesn’t mean that I “don’t have responsibilities.” I have PLENTY of responsibilities to my family, etc. I am the breadwinner. It’s up to me to keep everything going. To point at me and claim I don’t have responsibilities because my family structure is different than someone else’s is not a valid argument.

For someone to say they “would” do something else if they “had time” or “didn’t have responsibilities” is simply a cop-out on their part. We all HAVE the same amount of hours in the day. How we choose to use them defines us. We prioritize. We make time for what matters. If we allow others to shape all of our time, that’s not on them, that’s on us.

If we are trapped in jobs we don’t like, then it is up to us to sock away as much as possible while we look for a job we like better that pays better. So many of us have to live paycheck to paycheck that it’s a challenge. We all know people who are working two or three jobs just to get by. Sometimes it’s us. We do what we need to do. But ANY job that is out of our creative work is only to support the work itself. As soon as you land something better and in your creative line, you take that opportunity and leave the lesser one. Too often, we remain trapped in a bad situation because it’s the devil we know.

Life will always change. Make sure YOU make the decisions, and they’re not made for you.

On top of that, REFUSE to do the work you love for those who don’t respect the WORK it takes to do what you do and won’t pay a fair wage. Especially in the arts.

I don’t have the patience for people who try to punish me because I love my job and they hate theirs. That is on THEM – the refusal to get out of being stuck.

When someone tells you they are giving you a “great opportunity” – chances are it’s great for them and not so great for you.

Do some research. If it’s a job with a company, check with salary.com to find the median range for the position. If it’s a freelance gig, do some research with other freelancers, the Freelance Union, and places like Writers Market, who, in their print edition, have a list of standard rate ranges.

Put together your quote from that. Give yourself some wiggle room. Decide what your bottom number is AND DON’T GO BELOW IT.

It is often better to not take the gig than to take it for content mill rates.

If you keep getting lowballed and accepting that, then you’ll get the reputation for being the “cheap choice” rather than the “most creative” choice.

Another trap freelancers and creatives often fall into – the self-deprecating comments. Undervaluing ourselves in our words. Often, we’re trying not to come across as boastful or arrogant. But, in reality, we are telling those to whom we speak that we don’t value what we do, so they shouldn’t, either.

When you’re in a meeting or a networking event, frame what you do and how you describe yourself in positive, active terms. No negatives. No passive or qualifiers. Positive verbs. Don’t make claims on which you can’t deliver, but keep your phrasing positives.

If you don’t expect and demand respect for your work, no one else will, either.

When we do work we love, our lives are better. When we do work we love, the work itself is better. When I’m excited about a project — whether it’s writing a play or researching my next novel or planning a marketing campaign for one of my clients — the excitement reflects in the work.

The work is stronger and better. The excitement I feel as I work on it, that energy, is absorbed by the words themselves. Good marketing people can communicate the energy of their projects to engage, enchant, and enlarge their audience.

Great marketing people are also excited by the work itself.

It’s a very specific talent to form words and images into engaging, sensory content, to be able to ignite energy and excitement, turning the two-dimensional form of a page or a screen into the three dimensions and beyond of imaginations.

We deserve to be paid — and paid well — for doing so.

Loving our jobs makes us BETTER at them. Which means we are worth MORE than, not less than, someone who does not.

Don’t settle.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Bill For Phone Time — Why Everyone Wins

 

I loathe the phone. I have a rare condition called hyperacussis, which means I am hyper-sensitive to certain sounds. Some sounds (like leaf blowers) can trigger a heart arrhythmia, and, in the right circumstances, a heart attack. Other sounds make bruises appear. No matter how upscale, there are certain sounds involved with phone technology that feel like someone jabs knitting needles through my ears. It can take a couple of hours to recover from a five minute call.

There are more reasons I loathe the phone. People deny what they said in a phone conversation. “That’s not what I said” or, even more irritating, “That’s not what I meant.” Words matter. Use the right ones. Understand what you’re saying and say what you mean.

Which is why I write a memo after any forced phone conversation going over what was discussed. And stating that if I do not hear to the contrary within two business days, I will move forward on what we discussed, as written in the follow-up memo AND contract.

Most of all, I resent the time phone calls take. There is no “good time” for me to be on the phone. Any phone time interferes with my writing time and creative process. By “my” writing time, I don’t just mean working on novels or plays. I mean the uninterrupted creative writing time I need in order to deliver my best work for the client. That best work that the client DESERVES.

A “quick” phone call (and they never are) can derail creativity for the rest of the day. I only accept phone calls by appointment. So, when I am forced to schedule phone time, I do it during my least creative times of the day. And I have to build the recovery time into the day (that is not billed). Also, I’ve yet to have a business-related call of more than 90 seconds that wasn’t a waste of MY time, or that couldn’t be handled more efficiently in an email. It’s the caller liking the sound of his own voice and wanting someone to applaud as he works out whatever he wants to work out.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for brainstorming. But I’d rather do it in person. Or via email. Body language, tone, and environment are important to a successful brainstorming session. It’s not an effective use of time to brainstorm on the phone while typing a letter on the computer and interrupting as people wander in and out of the office. It’s wasteful of time and energy for everyone involved.

Both in-person and on-the-phone brainstorming sessions are billable hours, as far as I am concerned. It is time out of my workday that is devoted to the client and the client’s needs. Which is fine. That’s why I work with clients. To meet their needs. But that time needs to be scheduled, respected, AND PAID.

When it is, and when the uninterrupted time I need to create excellent material for my clients is respected, the client is the one who wins.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from my fellow freelancers about how frustrated they are by constant phone interruptions. How it makes it impossible for them to get the work done on time, how it negatively affects the quality of the work, and how much time they lose from their workday.

I tell them to bill for the time. Or to schedule specific times for phone consultations.

“Oh, I can’t do that! My clients expect to reach me by phone!”

Why?

Because you’ve allowed that expectation.

A lot of freelancers offer an initial free half hour phone consultation to generate new business. I’ve never found that resulted in booking more paid business. In fact, I’ve attended conferences where participants boast on how many free phone consults they do, and all the free information they gather, never having to pay anyone for their time. I also no longer do coaching sessions via phone. I do them either in person or via email. Occasionally, I’ll use Skype, but under specific conditions. Too often, the person on the other end of the phone is invested in the Myth of Multi-Tasking and is doing six other things while on the phone. None of them are being done well, and the consultation is a waste of everyone’s time.

Set it out in the contract. If you want to give them X amount of free phone time, go ahead. But otherwise, state in the contract that you charge X dollars for X minutes of phone time.

I charge in 15-minute increments, like a lawyer, and state that appointments for calls must be made in advance. I send an invoice immediately after the conversation, and expect payment by the end of that business day via PayPal. Anything else, send an email. During business hours, I’m quick to respond.

Clients don’t believe I will actually adhere to the policy and hold the boundary. But I do.

That is why a thorough contract is so important.

It has cut down on unnecessary phone time, because they don’t want to pay for it, and they learn pretty fast that yammering on about nothing costs them money. The result is more focused time when we are on the phone, and my clients get a faster turnaround time with higher quality work. So it benefits THEM in the long run, even though it’s a different process than the way they’re used to working.

Some people adore doing the bulk of their business dealings on the phone. If so, good for you. Unless that time is built into your project or hourly rate, though, I suggest billing separately for phone time.

I found it makes a huge positive difference in both productivity and quality.

Which means my clients are happy.

And we all win.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Research To Prepare Your Perfect Pitch

 

The best freelance gigs I land generally come about when I get interested and excited about a company and decide I want to be a part of their team. Which means convincing them that their lives are better/easier/more profitable if I’m part of it.

When I was younger, I used to emphasize my flexibility – my chameleon-like ability to adapt to most situations (unless I find them unethical or feel my integrity is being compromised).

As I’ve aged and gotten more experienced and more confident, my angle has changed to be more about being very much myself instead of what I think they want. At this point in the game, I bring a lot to the table. Either it will be a good fit to move their vision forward, or it won’t. I’d rather know by the end of the first interview than find out six months in. The best way to do that is to be unabashedly MYSELF from Moment One.

But Moment One won’t happen if I don’t do my homework.

When I find a company that interests me, with whom I think I’d like to work, I go through the website. I go through press clippings. I read about the members of their staff, about what’s important to them as human beings as well as well as the overall company vision. I go through social media, articles, interviews, newspaper articles.

Then I figure out how and where I’d be an asset. Where do my skills, and, even more important, my energy and enthusiasm for what they do, support and fit their platform? How can I expand and engage their audience? Spread the message in a way that is positive, productive, and truthful?

From there, I craft the pitch/cover letter. I mention what I like about their company and how I think my unique skill set would add to what they do and what they WANT to do. I don’t tell them they’re doing something “bad” or “wrong.” I might not agree with the current approach in their marketing/web content/etc. materials, but I don’t know the story behind it. As someone who claims to be excited by their vision and want to work with them, why would I shame them? If there are things I think could use a different approach, I can talk about it in the interview, but within a positive construct.

As someone who regularly gets spammy emails from content mill marketers and faux writers stating my content is “bad” and theirs is better, I know how off-putting it is. Also, most of these generic emailers stating they want to “help” me reach a wider audience are full of errors AND have obviously not spent any time reading ANY of my sites – or they’d know my specific needs and vision.

If I wouldn’t hire someone like that, why would I want to BE someone like that?

I don’t.

I do try to find an individual to whom to send the pitch, not just a general, vague email. I have a cover letter template, but I slant each letter to highlight the parts of my experience I feel are best suited to their unique situation. I read carefully to decide which of my several resumes are most suited, what kind of samples to send. Of course, if they demand unpaid, project-specific samples written just for them, I stop the process and look elsewhere (see last week’s post).

Of course, there are always companies that, once you do the research, don’t look so inviting. I’ve ditched more than one pitch when they demanded that contact be to a specific individual at a specific email, but then didn’t have a staff list and stated “no phone calls.” If it means digging all the way back into the articles of incorporation filed with the state, it’s probably not a place that’s a good match. Or, if, as I do my research, I get that feeling that maybe they aren’t working along lines I can agree with. Of course, when I read negative or positive pieces, I then research THE WRITERS of those pieces, to see what the context of the article/interview/critique is.

I also keep detailed notes, much like my fact check sheets when I do an article, to follow the path in case I need to double back and reconfirm a piece of information.

I also see if any of my colleagues know anything about the place, and what their experiences were.

Yes, it takes time. But, if I really want a gig, it’s worth it.

In the course of my research, of course, I come up with some of the staff. Still, I prefer to check a current staff list just before I send something, to make sure I’m not sending a pitch to someone who just left. Or was promoted.

Or, if there’s an “online application” through a third party head hunter, and I have to re-enter, manually, everything that’s on my resume – pass. Waste of everybody’s time.

My rule of thumb now is, if I find the process of contact irritating, that’s probably a good indication of what it’s like to work with them. Best if we don’t put ourselves through the pain.

Because there are an awful lot of exciting, passionate, ethical entrepreneurs out there.

It just takes a bit of work to find them!