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: 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!

Ink-Dipped Advice: The Social Media Conversation

Social Media. We love it. We hate it. We’re addicted to it. There are dozens of “experts” telling us how we “should” do it.

Social Media is pretty basic. It’s shared information, shared interaction, conversation.

That’s not how it’s used, especially not with all the trolls out there. Not worth engaging with them. Block them and move on. Use your energy for your work and for positive interaction. As a friend of mine often says, “You can’t fix stupid” and there’s a lot of stupid out there.

Social Media is also an excellent marketing tool. Freelancers can use it for all kinds of things. I’ve found some of my highest-paying gigs via Twitter. Sometimes it was an ad; more often, someone read some of my Tweets on a topic, liked what I said and how I said it, and hired me.

As a writer, I’m hired by small businesses to run their social media accounts, expand their profiles and reach, which, when done properly, increases both sales and visibility. When it’s done well. Also as a writer, I use social media to get out information about my own books, and I support and encourage fellow authors and other artists as much as possible.

If someone follows me, I try to follow back. The obvious bots and Evangelical trolls are ignored or blocked. But I don’t follow back someone who only has advertisements on the account. I don’t follow back someone who never engages with anyone else, and only posts “Buy This!” all the time. It also annoys me when someone follows me, I follow back, and I get an immediate DM trying to sell me something. That’s an immediate unfollow, and often a block. No conversation, just an aggressive demand that I buy something.

No.

I believe in buying books by living authors, and I buy as many, every week, as my budget allows. I share and comment on other author’s posts. When I read something I particularly like, I post about it. If I don’t like a book, I might post about elements I don’t like, but I don’t trash the author. Writers need to write what they write. Readers need to read what they like to read — but not demand that writers write something else.

We all have elements that work or don’t work for us. I loathe novels written in present tense. Whenever I try to read one, it feels like the author stands between me and the story, screaming in my face, “Look at ME! I’m such a great stylist!” instead of letting me live the story. I don’t care how famous the author is or how many copies the book has sold. I can’t get past page three before I’m ready to throw the book across the room.

I was deeply disappointed when an author whose work I’ve loved over the years wrote her latest book in present tense. In that case, I didn’t even make it to the end of page one.

But I didn’t complain to her about it, either publicly or privately. She has the right to write what and how she wants. I have the right not to read it. I don’t have the right to attack her on social media or to email her to bitch and moan. And no, I’m not telling you who she is. Read the above.

I engage politically on social media. Not on behalf of clients — if I run a client’s social media presence, we have a discussion about the topics and opinions that best reflect the business. Unless, of course, they are politically-oriented and they’re paying me for it — and I agree with their views. Most businesses for whom I handle social media keep the politics out of the business account and, if they engage, only do so on their personal accounts, which I do not run.

I’ve been politically active since I was 15. If you don’t want to be political, that’s up to you. But you’re not going to tell me that I can’t. Let’s face it — those who don’t like my politics won’t like my books, because my books explore many of the issues we face, even when they are set in alternate worlds or in a different time period. I have met many interesting people through political activism with whom I might never have crossed paths in real life. I value their opinions and their commitment.

An unfortunate trend is that the only way to get customer service from far too many companies is to complain about them on social media. Then their “care” division will respond. Sometimes, it’s bogus. Publicly, they will pretend to fix the problem while privately not doing anything. But sometimes, you get results.

Your profile
Think of it as the hook not just for your book, but your career. Short, interesting, but you.

How often you engage
That’s going to depend on your schedule. I try to get on social media for short periods of time a couple of times a day. A basic client package is two tweets each business day and one Facebook post. The next tier up includes a (short) blog post once a week, that is then promoted on social media (separate from the two tweets per day). I aim for at least one day a week where I’m disconnected from internet/phone/social media, etc. I need that. Otherwise, it interferes with both my creativity and productivity.

Have something to say
It’s more than just about what you’re trying to sell. It’s about why people should be interested in you rather than someone else, or in addition to someone else. Share what interests you, what excites you, what makes your world better. Balance business and sales tweets with engaging content.

Respond to other posts
Liking and sharing/retweeting is great and appreciated. But also take time to make a comment when appropriate. You don’t have to re-iterate what was said, but if you have something to add, do so. If you see someone who could use a few words of encouragement, say them. Help your contacts celebrate their successes, and give them kind words when they need it.

Proofread your posts
Many of us use our phones for social media. I know Auto-correct is my Nemesis. Or, as I call it, Auto-Incorrect. Even when I’ve proofed and fixed, it will change it back to what IT wants as I’m hitting send. But do the best you can.

Build relationships
I’ve met quite a few people in person after first getting to know them through social media. Mostly at conferences or events (safety first, always have the first meeting in public, where you feel safe). I’ve also met people at events and conferences and continued building the relationships on social media.

Don’t lash out in anger
It’s tough. Remember that someone’s page is theirs; they have the right to express their opinion. You have the right to disagree. But is it worth an argument? If you don’t agree with something, you can scroll past. You can block, you can mute, you can unfollow or unfriend. Are they threatening harm? That’s different. You have to make a decision whether to talk them down or report them to the appropriate authorities. There are times when you MUST disagree, but try to do so with as much dignity as possible. No, I don’t always achieve that either. But I’m trying to be better about it. Sometimes, an angry response is both necessary and useful. But take the time to think it through and phrase it so it says what you mean, and comes from both the heart and the brain instead of just a reaction.

Sometimes, you grow apart
On or offline, you will grow away from people. Life takes you in different directions. While social media can help keep you connected over miles, sometimes you can’t maintain a relationship. Whether someone’s path takes them somewhere you disagree with so much that you have to break contact, or you grow in a way that means you need to cut toxic people out of your life on and off line, it will happen. Try to part in peace rather than anger, and let go. Sometimes, you will find your way back into contact; sometimes not. People come into your life at different times for different reasons. Sometimes, they have to leave.

Use social media; don’t let it use you
It should enhance your life and add interest, engagement, and opportunity to it. It should not consume you, depress you, or put you in unsafe situations. Use common sense and trust your gut.

Social media can be a great, positive way to grow your network both personally and professionally. You can meet interesting, intelligent people and learn a lot. Know when to engage, when to move on, when to block. Don’t hard sell. Engage. Converse. Grow. Support each other.

Ink-Dipped Advice: Craft and Passion

Note that I did not write craft VS. passion. Because I don’t think they are at odds.

I love to write. That’s why I became a writer. I look at those who only want to “have written” and feel they miss so much. I love to actually sit down and form the words that create a world in which to transport readers. Make them see, feel, experience life in a different way than their daily routine.

In order to do that well, I need craft. I need to know how to construct a sentence. I need to know the shades of meaning in each punctuation mark. There’s a world of difference between what a comma elicits from what a semi-colon does; a huge difference between a period and a question mark.

My goal is that every piece I write is better, both technically and artistically, than the pieces before it. Growth, change, evolution, improvement.

I’m interested in almost everything, so it’s easy to be interested in my clients’ work and how to communicate it well. If I don’t have passion for what I do, I don’t do it well.

There are plenty of writers who disagree with me. They claim it’s “just a job” and professionals can make “anything” sound interesting. That they don’t have to agree with what they’re writing or agree with the values of their clients to work it.

It works for them. It does not work for me.

Writing is how I earn my living. It is my business, not my hobby. That’s why I froth at the mouth when people who need writing in order to communicate their business don’t want to pay for it, because they think “anyone” can do it. It’s even worse when wanna-be writers sigh and say, “Oh, I don’t get care if I get paid. I do it for the love of it.”

Why shouldn’t you get paid for doing what you love?

Why does enjoying one’s work negate the right to earn a living from it?

It doesn’t.

Throughout my life, I’ve found that those who denigrate artists (in all disciplines) and demand that artists not get paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work are those who hate their own jobs, and resent that artists have the courage to go after what they want, and that artists are ruthless enough to create in spite of people trying not to pay them, trying to shame them for talent, trying to sabotage their work by demanding proof that they are more important than the art.

I’ve kicked more than one guy to the curb because he demanded that I prove he was more important than the work by not doing the work. Not because he had something equally important going on that needed my support, but just in the regular course of the day, that whatever his needs and whims were, they were more important than anything I could possibly want or need.

Gone.

A healthy, balanced relationship means that partners don’t demand that from each other. Everyone needs the other to give on occasion, but when it becomes one partner doing all the giving and the other doing all the taking — get out.

That applies to both writing and life.

I’ve ended working relationships that demand the same imbalance.

What about clients with whom I disagree?

That depends on the level of disagreement. As a marketing writer, if I think someone’s product is harmful or awful, I’m not going to take them on as a client. I won’t do a good job, and they should hire someone who will. I don’t find it a “creative challenge” to convince people to buy something I think is awful.

When it goes deeper, and in this political climate, it often does, I have to weigh what the job is and how what I do promotes an agenda I feel is hateful or ignorant or harmful. If we simply disagree in our approach to how to reach issues where the end goal is the same: a better world, a cleaner environment, social justice — we can focus on the work and agree to disagree on other stuff. If a client actively participates in or promotes a platform of hate, discrimination, oppression — not going to work for that individual.

As a consumer, I believe in “conscientious consumerism.” That means I put my money to companies and products that align with my beliefs. If the owner of a company starts spouting off in a hateful manner or implements discriminatory practices, I will not buy their products/shop at their stores. That doesn’t mean I expect them to change; it means I will spend my hard-earned money elsewhere.

When someone criticizes my political activism and tells me that they won’t buy my books, that is their “conscientious consumerism.” They have the right so to do. Chances are they wouldn’t like my books anyway, because my books deal with love, loyalty, social justice, building a better world (something I think is effectively achieved in genre fiction). My political activism reflects those issues. So if someone doesn’t like what I stand for politically, they’re not going to like those aspects of my books. Life is too short to read books one doesn’t like. They should spend their money on other authors, whose work resonates better.

But I’m not going to write books based on a reader threatening not to buy my books because I stand up for that in which I believe.

When there’s a boycott of a personality or a company or an artist because of what he or she believes, I always watch the trajectory of it. Did the person just say or do something stupid? We all do or say stupid things sometimes. If there is an apology, is it genuine? (“I’m sorry IF I offended anyone” is not a genuine apology. You offended. You’re sorry or you’re not sorry). How does this incident fit the overall body of work? Is there a pattern? Has the mask finally slipped and the individual shows the real self? How does it affect my response to the art? If future art goes in a different direction, does it come from a genuine place of exploration or someone desperate to save a career? I make decisions from there. We all make mistakes. But there’s a difference between a mistake and trying to do better, and pretending you don’t stand for something when you do.

But isn’t art — and the best art is a mix of craft and passion — supposed to change the way one sees the world? Absolutely. That means I read books by people whose viewpoints I disagree with. I might still disagree with them at the end of it, but I’ll have a better insight to the thought process.

That’s why libraries are so important. They contain multiple points of view on issues, and one can find an array of opinions on a topic, research those behind opinions, and make informed decisions. That’s known as critical thinking, which falls by the wayside far too often.

How does that fit into a discussion of craft and passion, especially when it comes to business writing (and I’m mixing business writing with other forms of writing here)? Because who you are and for whom you choose to write matter.

The best writing combines great craft with great passion. It doesn’t matter if it’s selling tires or urging people to register to vote or the latest thriller. Words matter. People are shaped by the words they read and hear.

The more passion you meld with the more craft you’ve built — you can change the world in a tangible way. For better. Or for worse.

The choice is yours. So is the responsibility.

Write with craft. Write with passion. Write a better world.