Rogue Ink

October 9, 2008

Assaying the Essay

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:20 am
Tags: ,

Just because I know what both of those words mean. Alliteration for everyone!

Short post, about personal essays and how to get one down on paper. Ten rules, for your consideration.

Rule #1

Rule #1 never changes, and it is always this: do not be boring. Do not be boring. Do not be boring. Thank you for your attention regarding this matter.

Rule #2

Do not be – I think we’ve run that Fight Club joke into the ground, don’t you? Yes, me too. See Rule #1. No, this rule is different, and it is: pick a personal topic. You would be surprised how many people try to write a personal essay and forget to be anything resembling personal. You can rant about politics or social whatever, but you have to bring it back to you. This is required. I require it. So do editors. So does the genre. ‘Personal essay.’ You see? Right there, with the P.

Rule #3

Write every single thing on the topic that comes into your mind. Seriously. Just write. Don’t try to put it in logical order, you will totally fail. Or if you succeed, you will be one of those writers that all other writers hate, which means that you can never come on this blog and tell me I’m wrong, it is possible to write in a coherent plotline, because all the rest of us will rise up and destroy you. So. Freefall it. Write everything down.

Rule #4

Now make a plotline. Open a new document, line the two up side by side, and type it into an order that resembles a plausible plotline. Note: the first time you do this, you will get it wrong.

Rule #5

Smooth out the transitions. The transitions are the bits where a new paragraph starts. Or when a new subject starts, but seriously, if you’re starting new subjects in the middle of paragraphs you’re not ready to write essays yet. Stop reading and go pick up a good manual of style, catch up, and come back later. The post will still be here. It’s all good.

The transitions WILL be shaky the first time you go through with your new plotline, because you’re essentially cut-and-pasting from a thought process that didn’t have a logical plotline to begin with. So they’ll be shaky. That’s why you smooth them out now. Don’t panic. It’s not like your writing will ever know what your brain is up to, anyway.

Rule #6

Have someone else read it. I picked Naomi and Stephanie. I would have asked James, but he was too busy. Something about his daugther’s birthday. Lame excuse, but whatever. Stephanie edited, Naomi gave me a general impression of whether she thought it was on the right track. Here’s what Naomi sounds like when she gives feedback.

“Wow. I really wanted to hate it, but it was good.”

Naomi is subtle. She also said ‘it felt long, but they like long’ and I asked her if she felt bored. Which brings us to Rule #7

Rule #7

Ask your readers direct and unflattering questions about your writing, and be prepared to hear the answers. I asked Naomi if she was bored because I suspected ‘it felt long’ was the nice way of hinting just that.

She said, in an unusual display of Naomic tact, “a little,  but it got better when you mentioned Craigslist guy.” (We’ll get to Craigslist guy later.)

Rule #8

Figure out a possible solution to your readers’ objections, and ask them while they’re still captive to your will. Otherwise you’ll have to ask new people, and they will have other objections, and you’ll never get anything done.

“Would it be better if I flipped the whole plot back to front and started with the guy?” I asked.

“Now you mention it, yeah. That’s exactly what you should do.”

The really great part about asking people if you should do something when you haven’t already done it is that they will usually tell you if you are about to take a long walk off a short pier. If you’ve already done it, they start saying stupid stuff like, “Well, you’re a little wet, but it’s nothing to worry about.” Before the mistake, they’re much more likely to say something like, “Look, why don’t you just go to the edge of the pier and dangle your feet in the water? I think that’d be better.”

Rule #9

Follow up on their suggestion immediately, otherwise you will lose momentum. The personal essay stops being compelling the exact same instant you become disenchanted with your own subject. The disenchantment happens when you spend too much time thinking about writing it and not actually writing it. Stepping away from the personal essay while it is still in plot format is the best way to kill it. Once the plot is there in order, you can step away and come back and fix the adjectives. That’s totally fine.

Rule #10

Take your own advice.

I gotta go fix this essay. Play nice while I’m gone. Anyone written a personal essay out there? Got something to share? Bring it on.

October 7, 2008

Non-Profit Marketing Package Giveaway

I told you good denizens some while ago that I wanted to give away a free writing package to non-profits once a quarter. The first of those giveaways is starting right now, with a little extra bonus throw in. The very talented Amy Crook of Not Dead Yet Studios saw me posting on the subject awhile back and suggested we combine our powers to create the ultimate in non-profit giveaways. Being one who knows a good idea when she sees one, I took Amy up on the offer and we’re now jointly offering the first official Non-Profit Marketing Package Giveaway.

There are full details at Good Ink, please go on over to learn how to submit your favorite awesome non-profit. And of course, if you know anyone who might be interested, you should send them on down. All they’ve got to lose is the most awesome free marketing package EVER. FREE, I tells you! FREE!

We’ll be sending around press releases later today. If your local paper would like to get in on the action, just let me know who they are and I’ll send a press release to them too.

Go forth, good denizens! Spread the word!

Stupid Fear and Smart Fear and Stupidity That’s Smart

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:28 am
Tags: , ,

All right, here’s why I’m scared of marketing, are you ready?

First of all, marketing beat me up in first grade. He shoved me into a mud puddle and he stole my lunch money and he said mean things about my ponytail holder. Also, he used to smell faintly of brimstone. If that’s not enough to maintain a healthy fear of marketing on into adulthood, I don’t know what is.

There’s another reason, though. Totally irrelevant. We don’t really even need to talk about it. Much, anyway. I mean, if we didn’t talk about it you probably wouldn’t get a post today and I’d be that loser all over again, so. Well.

I’m Afraid of Looking Stupid

Which is, let us confess, one of the most idiotic fears a freelancer can have. We all have it though. We figure out somewhere around age five that someone doesn’t like the way we run or the way we dress or the way we pick our nose, and forever after we are aware that there are stupid ways of doing things, and non-stupid ways of doing things. We are pretty certain that most of the time, everyone else knows what the stupid ways are, and they’re not telling us until we’ve already done them. Then they point and laugh and won’t share their fruit roll-ups. Or their company’s money.

This is my fear. Speaking of stupid, this fear personifies that quality quite well. There are stupid and non-stupid ways of being afraid. Being so afraid of appearing stupid that you never do anything to draw attention to yourself (like, you know – marketing) for fear that someone will notice your stupidity = the stupid kind of fear.

Fear of big angry bear mama whose cub you have recently bopped in the nose = smart kind of fear. Pay attention to that fear. It will steer you down the right course. Through the blackberry bushes and into the rushing river.

So How Do We Get Rid of the Stupid Kind of Fear?

I am fearful of an awful lot of things. A long-winded example for you: I used to be afraid of going to martial arts classes, because I was afraid I would throw a punch like a girl and then everyone would point and laugh. (My father used to do this. I’d punch him on the shoulder after he punched me on the shoulder, and he’d chuckle, because I looped my punches and wasn’t getting any kind of power behind it. Just wait till my dad’s old. I’ll get him then. Though he’s been talking about getting a big stick when he’s old, so maybe not. Weren’t we talking about something else? Martial arts. Right.)

So I didn’t take martial arts for a long time, even though I really, really wanted to be Ziyi Zhang or Summer Glau and destroy everyone with the sheer power of my awesome awesomeness.

Then I took my first martial arts class and discovered that, while there are indeed guys who fly through the air with the greatest of ease and can crack your jawbone out of the rest of your skull while they’re up there – there are also guys who go through class looking like spastic upright turtles. They’re awkward. They’re uncomfortable to watch. They are much, much worse than you, but you do not point and laugh. No. Because you’re an adult now, and you really don’t have the inclination.

You do, however, take a strange schadenfreudic pleasure in the fact that you are better than they are.

That’s how you get over the fear.

There is Always Someone Worse Than You

Seriously, if you ever want to feel better about the quality of your skills, go browse around the web for awhile and look at the websites of people in your city, people who post on freelance job sites, people who blog, people all over the place. I’m not advocating getting all sneery and superior. I’m saying look at the quality of their work, and then look at yours, honestly.

Is it just as good?

Is it – dare I utter the word – BETTER?

I did this for a bit of today. I found a successful freelance writer who had written for companies I really want to work for – she had so many misspellings and grammar problems with her blog that I had to look away for fear of damage to my retinas. I found a freelance copywriter who wrote that he had too much work to handle, but his website was poorly written and his samples were more awkward than a fourteen-year-old putting on his first jockstrap. And as I sorted through these writers – whose work wasn’t bad so much as mediocre – that fear of being stupid started to dissolve into something worse:

The fear that I already was stupid. Because I hadn’t gotten off my rear and put on my shiny superman cape and marketed myself. Maybe nobody was pointing and laughing at this particular stupidity, but that’s because I work at home and no one sees my shame but me and the spider that has taken over dining room chandelier. But I know. I hung my head when I passed by a mirror. Of course, then I couldn’t see myself hanging my head, so the shame inducement may have been mitigated, but the PRINCIPLE STANDS.

The Intelligence of Stupidity

Now, these people whose work I was pleased to note came far short of mine? They clearly had no idea their work wasn’t great. Or at the very least, their copy and their self-promotion showed no such weakness. They thought they were awesome. They were psyched about ‘there’ new clients. They had tips for better writing, even though one of those tips may have been ‘use corect spelling and grammar’. They were totally oblivious to the notion that they were not the best damn copywriter to come down the pipe.

Children are stupid like this before the finger-pointing starts. They run stupid. They talk stupid. They do stupid things. They pull their shirts over their heads in public and stare open-mouthed at bald people wondering where all the hair went. But they don’t care, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re awesome. And we, as adults, we buy it. They’re children. They ARE awesome. What else could they be?

Remember the cool kid in high school? Not the popular one, not the handsome football player guy. The COOL guy. Or the COOL girl. The one I’m thinking of was named Sofia. She had about every attribute that could make her goth – the clothes, the makeup, the dyed hair. She ought to have been a cliche, like all the other goth kids. But she was so beatific, so haloed in her own gloriousness, that she was nothing of the kind.

She dyed her hair in mermaid colors and designed her own tattoos. Other goth kids were trying, like they knew you might catch them, like they knew what they were doing might possibly be stupid. You could never in this world have pointed and laughed and said Sofia was stupid. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that she could be. So it wouldn’t have occurred to you, either.

If you’re unaware of your potential for stupidity, so will everyone else be.

Unless you fall over a small Pomeranian and fall nosefirst into a vat of custard. There’s really no cure for that one.

Subscribe. Tomorrow I’ll talk about confidence, which means James’ll be making an appearance.

P.S. Addendum. It occurs to me that I never thought sales guy was stupid. I thought he was underhanded and a shyster, but I never once thought he was stupid. There was no room for that. You can’t be a sales guy and think that you’re stupid. So let this be a lesson to you – stupidity is not necessarily doing something stupid. It’s thinking you’re doing something stupid.

October 6, 2008

Why Sales Patter Kind of Sucks

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: , , , ,

So I’m joining a leads group in my local Chamber of Commerce. This is very cool, because it makes me feel like a grown-up. I’ll explain what a leads group is in some other post when I’ve got a better handle on what goes on and I can figure out whether I’m for them or against them. At which point I shall take a righteous stance on one side or the other and woe betide those who dissent.

Trouble is, I don’t know if a leads group is a worthy investment of your time. Because I apparently was not at the leads group meeting that Thursday. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a sales pitch for a ‘success’ seminar lead by a dude named Brian Tracy, who is apparently (according to the always-helpful Wikipedia) from Canada, so be it known I am holding that illustrious nation responsible for the following story.

Don’t fret, James. You don’t want to KNOW all the stuff I hold the U.S. of A. responsible for. Paris Hilton, for a start. Oh, and Australia is responsible for Crocs. Just so everyone keeps track here.

So this guy walks into a room . . .

He’s short. Notably so. I might not have noted the short (being as we were all sitting down, he was standing, and heights tend to get a little skewed in that situation) except that he was so obviously compromising for it by being well-groomed, and well-dressed, and holding his chest about four inches out from his sternum. There is a relaxed quality that most people who don’t much think about their appearance have, and this guy lacks it. Now, I’ll grant you he didn’t go the alternate route of getting all shy, but over-confidence is equally unnerving. It lets us know you’re compensating for something, and then we simply must find out what. (Low sex drive? Secret garage full of old Star Wars memorabilia? Third nipple?)

This is also true for guys in nice cars. You can tell the sort of guy who has a nice car because he’s just really into cars, as opposed to the kind of guy who has a nice car because he thinks everyone else is into cars. Even if you have never consciously had this thought, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This guy had the physical appearance equivalent of a midlife-crisis car draped all over him.

He was also, just so I’m not ragging on him all the way through, quite good-looking. Nice jawline.

And starts to ask us about our small businesses.

Which is kind of nice. We go around the room, we give the ten-second version of the elevator speech, everyone smiles at everyone. We feel congenial, banded together, pleased with ourselves for not accidentally saying ‘like’ when we have repeatedly told ourselves to do no such thing (what? I’m young, and my generation says ‘like’ a lot. It’s a horrible habit, I’m working on it. YOUR generation probably smoked, and that’s way worse for you).

So that’s all good. He asks us whether we need to improve anything in our small business running, and we of course all confess that we do, except for a very tall grumpy guy looking put upon directly across the aisle from me, who maintained an expression throughout this session that is probably best described as ‘smells something foul in his sister-in-law’s house and is waiting for the right moment to undercut her by drawing attention to it’.

As it turns out, he had the right idea.

Presentation guy asks us about our strengths and weaknesses.

He’s got a little chart. We write things down gamely, rating our ability to do certain things from 1 to 10. If you’re interested, the stuff I suck at is prospecting and procrastination (even in my faults, I am alliterative). Everything else I’m fantastic at. No, really. I rock at everything else.

There might’ve been some sevens in there, but whatever. Seven’s a lucky number.

He gets motivational.

Fear is the mind-killer, he says. No, he doesn’t, because most people aren’t dorky enough to get a Dune reference. Instead he uses some handy acronyms – False Evidence Appearing Real and Forget Everything and Run. Fear is a bad thing. We get it. Stop being afraid. Get out there and do your business up right. Awesome. We’re all feeling motivated and groovy, like we can conquer the world.

Then he name-drops.

He picks up a book from the table and starts talking about how it changed his life.

Now, all the way through this whole presentation, this guy has had a patter going. He’s gotten us to finish sentences with him – “How do you eat an elephant?” – “One bite at a time.” Stuff we know, stuff that gets us involved with him. I can hear the patter, it sounds like patter, it sounds like the sort of voice a frat boy puts on when he’s read The Game one too many times and thinks he can pick up Madeleine Albright if he wanted to. I knew it was coming.

But I still felt like a jackass when it did.

He sells.

He sells us the book, the man who wrote it, the man whose seminar he’s hawking. We all like him by now – of course we do, he’s likeable, he’s used all the techniques sales people use to endear themselves to their audience. I watched him do it. I know what’s up. When he asked us to spend $500 to see a day-long seminar – go now, we won’t be back through Denver for another two years! (OFFER ENDS NOW!) – I was not at all surprised.

And I still felt kind of used.

The problem with sales of this kind.

Sales copy does more or less the same thing. You’ve seen websites and ads like this all over the web – “I made over $1,000,000 with this technique and so can you. This book shows you step-by-step everything you need to get a great career going in a new field. In just one week, people who have read this book got an average of five new clients. Start your new career today.”

“Oh. Cost? Right. Um. Tell you what. I’ll patter at you for another eight pages, get you really psyched about this new career of yours, and then tell you the cost, okay? At which point one of two things will happen. Either you’ll get really pissed at me for dragging you along for all that time, building up your hopes only to discover it’s $120 for the package, which is way too much of an investment for a book that’s probably going to wind up to be a scam, OR you’ll be in such despair you’ll think, well, I guess I’ll buy it anyway. Maybe this one is for real.”

I saw people at this seminar have the exact same thought process. Words are words whether spoken or written, and sales patter is the same throughout the kingdom of communication. The way that these guys make money is through those people who feel guilty. They’ve come this far, they might as well take the chance. Maybe it’s for real. Maybe it will work. Those are the people who buy.

Which is good for them. But it sucks for you.

Sales patter is very, very rarely the prelude to a product you want. Sales patter is there to disguise the product itself. Good products don’t need patter – they stand by themselves, you don’t need to be convinced that you want them because you really, really want them. You can tell that they’re worth hiring because their statements are straightforward and unambiguous. They don’t need to say things like, “And one guy who bought this product came home and found an elephant just waiting for him in his front yard! He’d always wanted an elephant, ever since he was a boy! A childhood dream came true because of this product! Also there was cotton candy! And acrobats! And a fire-breathing dragon that unfortunately set a small community alight but OUR GUY WHO BOUGHT THE PRODUCT WAS UNHARMED! HA!”

Companies who have something worth selling have statements that usually run something like, “I’m very good at this. You should hire me to do it for you.”

The Difference Between Buyers and Clients

Sales patter gets a lot of admiration because sales copy and sales patter tend to get buyers. I’m not denying this. They definitely get buyers. However – and this is a big however – they don’t get clients. If you actually go through with buying the book and it’s the same drivel you’ve heard a million times before for free on blogs, you’re never going to buy from them again. That’s okay – they’ve got your hundred bucks. And there’s a lot of people out there just waiting to be lulled by patter.

Getting a client – one who will stick with you for years to come, who feels loyalty for you, who is grateful to you for always being exactly what they needed – is far, far different from getting a buyer.

People who are seeking buyers are like the people who run Vegas. They only need you to come once. They’ll show you a good time, they’ll make you feel special for a bit. You’re taking a chance, going crazy – WHOO! But then, at the end of it all, you’ll feel kind of used and you won’t know why. You signed up for it, after all.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas because you’d be too ashamed to admit you did it anywhere else. If I’d signed up for the day-long $500 seminar the guy wanted me to sign up for, I’d never admit it to anyone. Because I would have been had, and I would know that this was my own secret shame, to be confessed to a priest and maybe a bartender immediately after.

Don’t fall for sales patter, seriously. It’ll make you get that old-vodka taste in your mouth and an empty wallet, and you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

And the short guy. And Canada.

Subscribe. I will denounce more people tomorrow, I’m sure. Maybe weasels. The weasels totally have it coming.

October 3, 2008

On Writing on Politics

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 6:51 am
Tags: ,

My fellow University of Chicago alumnus and writer John Scalzi, whose blog and writing I admire very much, recently posted on why writers ought to put forth their opinions on politics. Now, I’m not going to go into politics in this post, and I don’t really intend to in the future, unless an intense turn of events goes down and government takes it upon itself to ration keystrokes or something. At which point, I will come out full force for the Free Qwerty Party, and you can quote me on that.

So while I don’t want to write about politics, I do want to write about writing about politics, because semantics are fun.

Scalzi makes the truly excellent point that we should all consider it our duty to be as engaged with politics as we possibly can. We should read papers and watch debates and listen to the rantings of the seniors at the old folks’ home, because nothing is more enjoyable than encouraging someone to speak at length on a topic when they don’t quite have full command of their teeth.

And yeah, we should write about it.

There are a lot of folks out there who ONLY write about politics, which is totally acceptable to us as a society. When writing about politics is your full-time job as opposed to an occasional indulgence, it upsets no one. Strangely, it is the exact opposite for sex. Think about it.

I’m grateful to the people for whom writing about politics is a full-time job. The people at FactCheck are my personal heroes, since I am too lazy to look up how each senator voted in the past or how exactly they pronounced the word ‘tomato’ back in 1997. They are the ones who finally told me who the first person to put lipstick on a pig was (it was Noah. Yes, of the Ark. Little known fact. I imagine it got boring during the flood). I like the good people who write at the New York Times and the Washington Post, for the Village Voice Media all over the United States, for Slate and Salon – heck, for the Onion.

I often disagree with them; I often agree. But I’m always grateful that someone gets my thought process running at all. It is harder to kick-start than a rusty lawn mower, and I personally do not want the job. You cannot have an opinion on a topic if you don’t know about the topic. If someone had asked me at age seven what my opinion was on the situation in the Middle East, I would have had nary a pro or con to contribute. Because as far as I was concerned, the Middle East was located at the center of China. If I had been reading on politics at the time, I might have had an opinion. (Actually, I was reading about politics, I just didn’t know it. Dr. Suess remains one of the best political pundits ever; his medium just happened to be children’s books. The Better Butter Battle is the best description of the Cold War ever depicted in print. When I finally ran into the Cold War in eighth grade history, I recognized it immediately.)

Without political writers, I wouldn’t know what to have an opinion about. And that would be sad for my opinion. It likes to express itself. Frequently in the form of finger paintings, but that’s neither here nor there.

Politics at the Dinner Table

So we’ve established that if it’s your job, it’s totally cool to write about politics. In fact, it is laudable, especially as I find it personally beneficial. The same can be said of making truffles. But what if it’s not your job? What if you’re a plumber or a schoolteacher or an impeccably charming freelance copywriter? Then we get into the whole dinner-table debacle, where conventional wisdom tells us politics is the last thing we should discuss.

The reason you’re not supposed to talk about politics is that, theoretically, it makes people upset. No one wants a tableful of upset dinner guests. Particularly if the ‘upset’ relates to their gastrointestinal tract. If I disagree with the guy to my left about foreign policy, someone might get stabbed in the eye with a lobster fork before the dinner is out. Because clearly, we are incapable of having discussions.

This interests me.

I’m not supposed to write about politics because I might offend some of you. Now, I’m going to give the good denizens of the Lusty Weevil some credit here, because I have written a post on journalistic terms that would try the Offense Meter of Buddha Hisownself. I seriously doubt any of you would be so offended by a post on current events that you would never speak to me again. But this is the sincere argument behind not discussing politics at the dinner table or in the blogosphere – the fear of offending people. Which brings me to the following points – are we really that easily offended? And when did we get so fearful of discussion and debate?

Offensive Writing, and Why There Isn’t Any Such Thing

To me, stating an opinion is never offensive. Offense occurs when I decide that I’m right, you’re wrong, and you should just shut the hell up. Which, while always true, is not generally how I go about putting forth an opinion. I’ll put one out there right now.

“Killing is not always wrong.”

This may or may not be my personal opinion, but whatever. It’s a strong stance, it’s a volatile topic. Did anyone out there spontaneously combust by virtue of my writing it? I seriously doubt it. Though if I’m wrong, I’m in a dandy position to find out whether your spouse has an opinion of their own on that topic, particularly as it applies to vengeance, so please don’t explode, even if you want to. Please? Thank you. Have one on me.

Here’s the fun thing about opinions, though. Now everyone who reads that opinion has to think about it. Some will agree, some will disagree. And while they may know instantaneously which side of the debate they fall on, and why they may never, ever change their opinion from the first day the topic occurs to them to the last day their memory functions at all, now they all have to think about WHY.

How freakin’ COOL is that?

I just made you think about WHY something is. I just made you consider the essence of truth itself. That’s amazing. That’s the power of writing.

Now we can have a discussion about it, like civilized people. (We don’t have to. We can debate all the other stuff in this post, the stuff that isn’t politics, since apparently that stuff is less likely to make you guys explode than the politics stuff.) We don’t have to throw things or scream or make up a drinking game to keep score. We CAN, but we really don’t have to. We can just talk about it. It’s okay. We don’t all have to agree. That’s not the point. The point is that we all think, collaboratively, about WHY.

Back to Politics

The government affects virtually every aspect of our lives. We should be thinking about it, forming opinions on it, and every time we see a scrap of writing on politics, it makes us question our worldview just a little bit. That’s fantastic. There is nothing more amazing than being assured that while your opinions may not be anyone else’s, they are your personal truths. To have a personal truth is to carry with you, at all times, a household god.

It’s no fun to have opinions that have never been questioned by the written word. Writing about politics makes us better thinkers, better people, and better citizens, and if one day I have the ability to do so for a living, I believe I’d be proud to do it. Until then, I’ll be bringing it up at the dinner table. Because ignoring a subject that impacts us all so much is a disservice to the human mind.

And a Final Note from Scalzi Himself

Scalzi wrote mainly about why he would continue to write about politics on his blog. Scalzi writes about pretty much everything on his blog, including books and politics and his family and movies and a whole lot of bacon and cats. Since he’s been doing it forever, Scalzi’s allowed to talk about politics on his blog, since he hasn’t really limited his field at all. But he makes the following note as an author, and I wanted to share.

To go back to fiction writers and politics, there’s another reason I feel obliged to freely speak my mind: Because so many writers cannot. PEN has a handy list of writers currently imprisoned all over the world because they’ve written about the world they live in; it also has a list of writers who had been imprisoned and who, while now released, continue to face prosecution and danger should what they write offend the wrong people. Are there fiction writers on these lists? There sure are. These writers chose to speak about their world, despite the certain risk, and were punished for it by prison terms or worse — and I’m supposed to hold my tongue because someone might not buy my book? Give me a fucking break. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t dare.

This is a more serious post than usual, but the VP debates had me thinking. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the strangely compelling sales guy. Subscribe so you don’t miss it.

October 2, 2008

Hire Me Already. Jeez.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 4:53 am

In Which I Discover That I Am Terrifying

I was chatting with James on the IM the other day and he told me that he occasionally gets emails from people who want to hire me. This bewildered me no little bit, since I rarely get emails of this sort, and I’m pretty sure that only snail mail gets delivered to the wrong address.

“Well, then, why don’t they tell ME they want to hire me?” I said, all bewildered. There are clients out there chatting with the Men about me? David Tennant on a cracker, what are they doing way the hell over there when they could be in the pub chatting me up?

“They’re scared of you,” says James.

“Scared of me? Innocent little me? Me who buys the drinks and slings the sass and ‘fesses the terrible errors she’s made? Me who is delightful and charming and loves to talk to people about their dope businesses and the kind of writing that would best promote those businesses? Me who has the most delightful customer manner ever? QUOI?” said I, though I may have abbreviated that thought process to “What the hell?”

“You’re a better writer,” says Jamie. (He meant better than the potential client, not better than him. I believe it will be a frosty summer noontide in the Iraqi desert before James ever says I am a better writer than he is. Which is how we know the stars are all in their correct spheres.) “It intimidates people.”

“Funky,” say I. “This is like boy-logic. ‘You’re too good for me, I couldn’t possibly go out with you.’ And then no one ever asks me out and I stay at home weeping into my wineglass.”

“Yep,” Jamie says. “Sucks to be you.” (James is a very sympathetic man. Tender, you might say. Sensitive.)

Email ME, you guys. Screw James. James, though generally delightful, has the unfortunate habit of not being ME.

For which we pity him, but seriously, the man gets more than his fair share of emails already. I want emails! I love emails! All you quiet people out there who want some fun, sassy copywriting – or some artistic, poetic copywriting – or some compelling marketing copywriting – jeez almighty, hire me already. I love being hired by people who read my blog. They tend to think I’m awesome already. Also, they tend to be small business entrepreneurs, and they’re some of my favorite people to write for.

Fear Factor

I can’t figure out where this comes from. Sure I have a sword, but I only use it in defense of the English language and the last chocolate truffle (I saw you eyeing it). I cuss a lot, but so do a lot of people, most of my clients among them. Some of them are very polite and therefore only cuss into a handkerchief, but we all do it. I am quick with the wit, but last I checked all of that works in your favor.

So what’s freaking everyone out?

No, seriously, I want to know. I don’t want to be the scary one. That would suck. Then no one would talk to me at parties, and even if I tap-danced with Gene Wilder on stage, they would still be afraid of me, and I’d have to go off and elope with Madeline Kahn. And they won’t let me do that in most states yet, so we’d have a big falling out over gay marriage policies in the United States and I’d be alone again for the townspeople with pitchforks to find me.

I don’t want the pitchforking townspeople to get me. Save me from the pitchforking townspeople. Fire bad! Pitchforks worse!

And so, to reassure everyone that horrible things do not befall those who contact me to hire me for copywriting, I give you the following case studies. Hopefully these will show that I am not fearsome – indeed, quite to the contrary, I am gay and joyous and occasionally sip tea with my pinky finger crooked. Also, I’m pretty good at this writing thing. But I’ll let them tell you.

Reassuring Tales From Those Who Braved the Rogue, or, Shameless Self-Promotion

These are a couple of people who hired me directly from the blog. They are, both of them, one-woman shops, entrepreneurs, and delightful people, and I have not harmed or damaged any of them in any way while providing them with copy. One initially feared me, the other did not. These are their stories. (Cue dramatic music.)

Steph Vandermeulen of the recently-launched EditQuest

Steph was apparently one of the ones who was too freaked out to hire me. I did not know that. Here’s why SHE said she was all scared to get in touch in the first place.

“I think I was afraid you might be one of the too-cool mean girls while I was one of the slavering, pathetic nerds. Meeting you one on one was a pleasant surprise; while as competent as I expected, especially in nailing what concept I wanted and my voice, you were actually softer and, er, warmer than I anctipated.”

Now, anyone who went to high school with me will tell you that I was totally not one of the cool girls. The cool girls, in fact, tended to nicely pity me, as if they longed to take me in hand, give me a makeover, and show me how popular I could be if only I tried. I kept waiting for one of them to actually get an Emma-inspired (though most of them would have thought it was Clueless-inspired) plotline going, and then I’d get to fall in love with some hot-but-idiotic jock guy and dump him for a sweet indie dude, and wouldn’t that have been great? But no, it never happened, and I wound up being a writer with an inordinate knowledge of Lord of the Rings.

Steph discovered for herself that I am an equally slavering, pathetic nerd, as evidenced by the debate she and I had over whether Frodo’s ring was too controversial to appear in the text of her website (she edits fantasy fiction, it was on-topic). It was the dorkiest debate ever in the history of copywriting, but I am pretty sure Steph is assured that she is not the nerd talking to the cool kid anymore. Also, that working with me is fun, as evidenced by this quote, which she wrote me in response to her first draft:

“I actually snorted aloud. I laughed. Hooray! As sloppy and generic as this word is, and as much as you might hate to hear your writing is ‘great’, it’s great. Seriously. Thank you.”

Let this be a lesson to you all. Fear only keeps you from debates about fantasy symbolism, and (peripherally) kick-ass copy.

Kerrie Lee, of PoppyFish Jewelry

Now, Kerrie, being an artist, is clearly hip to my sensitive, tender and loving side, and had no fears at all about contacting me.

“Generally, I tend to be easily intimidated, but you seemed very approachable. Your writing seems expert without taking away the real person-ness. And I like your sassy attitude.”

See? Kerrie gets me. She really gets me. Oh, Kerrie. You’re so awesome. Why doesn’t everyone else think like you do? Why are they scared of me, Kerrie?

Kerrie got into this fantastic habit of telling me how cool I was every time I turned around, which started to get a little embarrassing in the awesome way, like when a friend of yours keeps chatting you up to a potential love interest. She liked my process of asking lots of questions up front:

“I wanted to say that these questions helped me organize my thoughts a lot. When I started writing, I didn’t believe my art was special and I didn’t feel like it had that mystique I long for so badly. But by the time I got to the end of it, I started seeing my art (and myself as an artist) differently. And I see the recurring themes in my work now. Maybe I’m more artsy than I realized. Which is cool.”

I LOVE stuff like this. If I can do this for every client, I’m a happy camper. And then she sealed my love for her forever with this exuberant response to her first draft:

“I HAD to email you IMMEDIATELY and tell you how amazingly amazing it is. I’m seriously at a loss for words and I called my mom right away and told her “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I have to read this to you!” You captured my thoughts perfectly. So perfectly! I sound like such a dork right now, I know.”

Apparently my target demographic is dorks. I’m totally thrilled about that notion, actually. May I have dorks for clients forevermore. Kerrie also gave me one of the best compliments of my writing career, which was poetic and sweet in the way that she is, and pretty much captured what I’d always like to do for my clients.

“I give you muddy water and you make it clear.”

It’s clients like this that make me want to go the extra mile for them, which is what wound up happening for Kerrie. She happened to be designing a new line of jewelry, as yet unnamed, which she sent me pictures of. In the process of doing the writing for her, I stumbled over a word that seemed to encapsulate what she wanted those jewelry pieces to be about, and I suggested it to her as a name for the line, free of charge. She loved it and she’s going to use it, for which I am deeply honored.

Back to Being Humble.

Now, I wouldn’t normally toot my horn quite like this on the blog, because marketing is supposed to be more savvy than this. But it’s devastating to hear that there are awesome folk out there who would like to hire me but are too afraid. I’m definitely stumbling around through the freelance world and my general response to uncertainty is to be quippy and sassy, which makes for fun blog entries and embarrassing anecdotes, all of which I’m happy to share with you. Please don’t let that keep you from getting in touch, though.

I love small businesses, small business owners, and people who dream about being small business owners one day. I love to talk about them, I love to brainstorm, I love to hear what you’re up to. I’ve been chatting with one of my readers for months now about her small business. She’d like to hire me and can’t afford to just now, which is fine by me, since I know that if and when she decides that fresh copywriting will be worth the investment, she’ll probably consider me. And if she never needs me, that’s also cool, because now I have a new friend who’s also struggling with entrepreneurship, and we can bitch and moan to each other about it.

Be not afraid, denizens. Come talk with me. I just updated my ‘About‘ section to include links to the website, my IM addresses, my Twitter feed, and my email, so you’ve got no excuse whatsoever. Tell me about you, tell me about your business, even if you don’t need a copywriter right now and just want to shoot the shit.

I love shooting the shit. It’s way more fun than shooting anything else. Or so I’m told.

Subscribe. Fear not the Rogue, for she has nothing but love for you.

October 1, 2008

Houston, We Shall Have Relaunch.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:23 am

I believe I have figured out the problem.

Rogue Ink has been an awesome way to get me going in the freelance world, and it’s been a delightful introduction to having a web presence at all. I met some awesome people, built up a fantastic little community, and have generally been privileged to host you regularly at the pub.

The thing is, it started to seem all futile. I wasn’t using the blog to find clients or build networking relationships, I was just using it to rant about copywriting and entrepreneurship. It wasn’t getting any bigger, it wasn’t getting any more effective, and when I wrote, I started to not want to work that hard on it. I’d have a great idea for a post and think, I should save that for when I have time to do it right. I started to get all depressed about blogging.

This reads like a suicide note. Sorry about that. DON’T PANIC!!! (In big, friendly letters.) I am not leaving blogging. In fact, I am doing the opposite. I am relaunching Rogue Ink. Here’s why, and what, and wherefore (which is the same as ‘why’ I realize, but I needed alliteration and ‘when’ is just a tad ambitious for me.

Rogue Ink Needs Its Own Platform

I was talking to another co-blogger and they inform me that the reason my subscriber base is kind of low (aside from my two-month disappearance) is that I host on a free wordpress platform, and most people see that as kind of amateur. Which is prejudice, I say! but since I’m busy being a woman in a male-dominated business world, I shall pick and choose my battles. Plus, this means I get to dictate my own web design, which is pretty dope.

So I’ll be doing that shortly. I’ll be announcing the new platform here and shooing you all over to the new one.

Rogue Ink Needs a Marketing Strategy

It didn’t have one when I started, it didn’t have one when I did the do-over, and it doesn’t have one now. But it will. Oh, it will. As assuredly as Nathan Fillion holds my heart in his calloused hand, it will.

I have no bloody idea what it will be, but I am certain it will be genius, because I shall probably be consulting Naomi, as per usual. Or just spying on other people and stealing their tricks. I’ll try to blog about that when I do, so that all of you can steal the same tricks, and we’ll use them at the same time, and none of them will be effective. This may seem counterintuitive, but you see then I’ll get to use the phrase ‘hoisted on my own petard’, and I cannot explain to you how much I love that phrase.

Rogue Ink Needs a Better Design

Admit it. It’s hard to find shit around here. I know that. I just don’t know how to fix it. My intent is to hire some smart web guy to figure that out for me. It is a crafty plan, and it just might work. Mostly because I have his puppy hostage. Don’t worry, I’m feeding it.

Rogue Ink Needs More Specific Topics

I’m coming up with categories right now, and I hereby beg all of you to come and tell me what you would like to see on the blog, because I shall take your suggestions seriously. I think, by and large, that I will probably be narrowing the topics to writing and entrepreneurship, but ‘writing’ includes copywriting, journalism, proper use of grammar and spelling (WAR!), and magazine articles. Likewise, ‘entrepreneurship’ includes marketing (there it is again. It’s like it’s necessary or something), money issues (I want to take another crack at the Money Talks, because I was fond of them), networking, and other stuff.

Tell me about the other stuff. What other stuff do you want to see?

Rogue Ink Needs Some Schwag

I want to start offering you guys things. I want to give you Lusty Weevil T-shirts and War on English coffee mugs and I really, really want to write you some ebooks.

I can’t offer any of that stuff now because I don’t know how to incorporate it into this free platform, so I just sit and dream and dunk marshmallows into my cocoa, thinking about my happy place, which, if you’re interested, is a small town in Italy called Orvieto which, I’m told, you can actually buy entire, since the whole town is perched atop what used to be a fortress. See, a town would be great schwag, but I’m not going to offer that.

What kinds of schwag would you like?

Rogue Ink Needs to Become a Guest Poster

There are a bunch of people who have been sweet enough to offer me guest spots on their extremely popular blogs. And that’s so awesome I could spit in a flowerpot, but I feel all ashamed giving my byline to them and having readers come back to my sad little free WordPress platform. I really want to guest post for these folks and I will be asking them if they’ll still have me once Rogue Ink relaunches, and then you’ll see me all over the freakin’ blogosphere, and the world will be my lightly buttered beignet.

Rogue Ink Needs YOU, Denizens

I love you guys. You’ve been loyal and sweet and supportive and have not once used the word ‘loser’ while I’ve been disappeared for six weeks. Tell me what you want to see in the new Rogue Ink. You are the first, the loyal, and the very tiny faction that fits into the pub on a regular basis to have a pint, and I really want to know what you think.

What do you want me to talk about in the new Rogue Ink? (Any stuff you want rehashed or done over in a better, more roguey way? Tell me about it, I won’t take offense. If you think there should be another post on non-profit copywriting that’s better than the other one, tell me so and it shall be yours.)

What kinds of schwag would you like? Suggestions, please. I will offer Rogue Ink condoms if you are so inclined. Actually I might offer those anyway. Those sound fantastic.

What would you like an ebook about? Don’t be shy. I have some ideas already, but your feedback might help me decide. It can be really vague, too, by the way. It can be ‘what do you do when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing?’ That one is on the list already.

What do you wish I’d thought of already? I know I missed something. Tell me what it is.

Thank you again.

It’s going to be a brave new world, denizens. I’ll be trying to update as often as possible on the relaunch and thoughts I’m having, so you have something to play with while I figure out the new site, but we’ll probably be saving the real helpful posting for the new site, so if you want to wait until I send the email around that says ‘Baby I’m back!’ feel free. I’m so glad you stuck it out with me. Thanks for that.

And hell, subscribe. Then you’ll know when the relaunch happens.

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