Stress and Delight – the hopes and fears of starting a new contract

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Hello all,

This week has been a good one for me, freelance-wise. Due to an impressive portfolio and a glowing review I managed to land a social media contract with a local HVAC company. I was (and still am) ecstatic about the new opportunity, but I am also absolutely terrified.

See, this is the problem faced by many freelance writers…

I know nothing about the HVAC industry. I know that when I turn on my air conditioning unit my home gets colder and that when the furnace kicks in things heat up. The intricacies of the industry are still a mystery. Needless to say my last few days have been crammed with large amounts of research. I will tell you now it is a lot to take in.

I am not complaining. One of my old professors once told me that the great thing about journalism is that you get to become an authoritative voice in something new every day. It is one of the things that drew me to journalism in the first place – no two days are ever the same. Picking up this contract is no different. Yes, I will be writing about heating and cooling systems regularly but there is no way I will be able to learn everything about an industry that has been around since the industrial revolution in such a short time. I will have to learn continually, do my research and keep up with developments in the trade. I am fortunate (and odd) enough to enjoy research so that is not a big issue for me.

I started by looking at trade magazines to give me an impression of the business, but since I am helping manage the social media aspect of the company I have been using a lot of social media to learn more. I have to figure out what will be effective and what won’t, media-wise. Always learn from those who came before!

The three main resources I have been using are:

Twitter – If your contract holder is using twitter, this is one of the best places to start. Search for similar companies, equipment companies and other groups that hold stock in the industry. See what is being tweeted about, what is being retweeted and what kind of hashtags are being used regularly. Figuring out the best way to tailor your tweets will give you an automatic leg-up.

Blogs – These are a fount of information. They make great links (especially if they’re by notable names or companies that your contract holder is associated with) and can teach you more about your contract holder’s industry. Even competitor’s blogs can give you useful information – just make sure you aren’t linking competitors when you are tweeting or adding Facebook posts.

Pinterest – I was actually floored by how much this site helped me. I typed HVAC into the search bar expecting nothing more than a few infographics to pop up in the results. I was so wrong! I was greeted with links to infographics, blogs, energy companies – you name it, it was there. I am still sifting through the information and probably will be for a long time.

There is endless information out there. This contract is a great opportunity for me and damned if I am going to let something as trivial as lack of knowledge slow me down!

Don’t let it slow you down, either.

AI

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How to create something great – one idea

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“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Steve Jobs, 1996

So what do I mean?

Obviously you cannot truly steal someone’s creative work; beyond being unethical it is also highly illegal. People are getting sued for millions of dollars for creative infringement (and as a young freelancer/ writer, you can ill afford that kind of bill). But there are aspects of another person’s writing that you can borrow for your own – the trick is finding the parts that are worth utilizing.

My suggestion: Read. I know it sounds so simple and even a little cliched, but it’s true. To become a great writer, you must read great writers… and I do not use the term must in a light sense. if you don’t explore what makes other writing great, you will never be able to figure out a way to make your copy shine.

What kind of writing should you read? Everything. Any book someone hands you. Every well-written article. Every effective manual.

I know this is a big order to fill, but trust me, your writing will not suffer; it will only get better.

Case and point – when I started freelancing, I was hired by a company to write copy for a variety of different how-to videos to go along with a new cell phone launch. It was not an easy task, especially since my background was in print – not video – and in either scholarly or journalistic writing – not purely instructional. It really felt like a tall order to fill. I was new, inexperienced and in a position that could make or break my freelancing opportunities with this company. In short, I was terrified.

So what did I do?

I went home with the style guide for the company. I watched all of the previous how-to videos for this company. I watched the how-to videos for other companies that had received high ratings on Youtube to figure out what made them effective. I watched a few crappy ones to see where they fell short… and then I wrote. There is no question that these pieces were not high literature, but it was writing. By stealing the best from the best I was able to write effective copy and garner repeat business.

So back to the point – steal style, concepts and rhetorical devices. Read great literature. Read bad literature. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, fantasy, science, pre-teen novels… anything you can get your hands on. It will make a difference.

One thing I also suggest is to read writing that you dislike as well. Having completed a degree in English Literature I had multiple opportunities to read authors and books that I truly despised (don’t shoot me, but much of that disliked literature was Charles Dickens). I learned what I didn’t like about that literature (again, my biggest teacher was Dickens… and it’s a long, long list) but also that even these writings that I loathed so much still had many positive aspects. For example, my biggest issue with Dickens was how he brought about change in his books – he usually relied on some form of “miracle,” be that a mysterious benefactor or a ghost (or three); I hated his narrative on the working class and his general hopelessness for that group of people barring some spectacular change of circumstance… BUT I did admire his attention to detail and his truly bizarre sense of humour in the naming of his characters.

There is always something to be learned from writers – good or bad, enjoyed or despised; it’s utilizing the information presented and using it in your own work… without getting sued, of course.

AI

iPod inspiration #1 – Counting Stars

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“Everything that Drowns me makes me want to fly” – OneRepublic, Counting Stars

First and foremost, Happy New Year! I am back from my mini vacation from writing and ready to start my musings again! I have set out some resolutions for this and my other blog (www.ashleyidle.com/feelingoodlookingood) to push me to post more regularly. Through some brainstorming, I came up with the idea of posting a series that can be interspersed through the year. This, obviously, is one of those series.

I like to walk, and when I’m walking, I usually have an mp3 player blasting something in my ears. I enjoy a lot of different music and being a word junkie, I am always listening to the lyrics. A lot of songs have some great one-off thoughts that work brilliantly as a jumping-off point for a blog post, so here I am, analysing random song lyrics in hopes of inspiring anyone willing to take the time to read my musings.

So, here we go!

This song came on my iPod while I was having doubts/ stresses about my writing career (or lack thereof). I was thinking of the setbacks I have had over the past year and dwelling on the negative. I was pushing myself down deep into anger and frustration, but I guess I must have found something that I could push off of, figuratively speaking, and I managed to resurface from my negativity.

Has the past year gone as planned?

No.

Have I gained new clients?

Yes.

Is this a sustainable way for me to make a living yet?

No.

Could it be?

Yes.

Is it frustrating?

Maddeningly.

Do I love what I’m doing (writing)?

Absolutely.

Not all of these answers are positive, but they give me a goal to strive for and a reason to make an action plan. For example – I mention that this is not yet lucrative enough for me to quit my “day job,” Well, that means the goal is more paying clients. I can advertise, make cold calls, get in touch with old contacts… all things that are easy enough to accomplish.

Seeing hope in the future makes me want to pull myself up by my bootstraps and start reaching farther. It may not be flying yet, but it’s definitely not drowning, either.

I have seen some serious disappointment in the past couple years of my life, but through those disappointments I have pulled myself up and bettered my situation. For example, I came out of school a big fish in a small pond and was greeted with a very harsh reality that I was not just going to walk into a media career. That realization made me decide to start freelancing, and thanks to dedication and the support of my friends and family I have a devoted (though small) client base that is continually recommending my services to other contractors. It has not been easy, but it’s been worthwhile.

So don’t let things get you down. If you’ve chosen to freelance (or write commercially/ publicly in any way) you are bound to meet with rejection, hardship and frustration. Don’t dwell on the negative; use it to reach for the stars.

AI

Counting Stars – OneRepublic

My Friday the 13th Christmas story

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So about a week back I posted a question on my Facebook and Twitter about possibly writing a Friday the 13th story in honour of the unlucky day. A friend of mine, Ivana, suggested:

a spooky/creepy and Christmassy since this year it falls in December. 🙂 Your take on the Grinch or something about Santa’s evil elves?

Well, I thought it was a brilliant idea! I started a quick story about some Christmas gnomes that was going to be creepy, but as usual with me, something dealing with Christmas and gifts ended up morphing quickly into something cute… so here it is, the first manifestation of my “creepy” Christmas story. This is a first draft, and I would love (LOVE) constructive suggestions!

The Christmas Gnomes

Everyone knows Santa Claus

And all his little elves,

But who knows of the Christmas gnomes

Who hide up on the shelves?

 

These little munchkins do not like

How Santa steals the scene;

It makes them feel like they’re not loved…

It really makes them mean.

 

Many, many years ago

The gnomes were well known chaps

Running ‘round in furry boots

And funny winter caps.

 

They were the kings of Christmas town

Until one fateful day;

When a lonely wanderer

Decided “hey, let’s stay.”

 

This jolly old St. Nicholas

Made the North his home

And turned that pole into a place

Not fit for any gnome.

 

When Santa chose to set up shop  

In the gnome’s old home

He also brought a bunch of elves

Who made this place their own.

 

All the little boys and girls

Decided gnomes weren’t fun;

“Santa gives us toys and presents,

Your time in sun is done!”

 

The gnomes, they all got angry!

They loved those girls and boys!

So as a form of payback,

They decided to mess with their toys!

 

So any time on you have a toy

That breaks on Christmas day,

It’s a reminder that the Christmas gnomes

Are something that’s here to stay.

 

They lie in wait ‘til Santa Claus

Delivers his load of goodies,

Then gnomes come out and play about

To ruin Christmas mornings.

 

So if you’ve ever received a toy

Parts missing or parts broken

Remember it’s the Christmas gnomes

That made this ungrateful token.

 

I’m mad…

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Language is a wonderful thing but it also has a very distinct way of being annoyingly vague. To make any headway as a writer, it is extremely important to have a grasp of language; not only what a word means, but the nuance it carries. It is a huge pet peeve of mine when I read something that could be better described just through a slightly different word choice. Below I have listed five of my least favourite “vague” descriptors:

Mad – Are you angry, frustrated, livid, full of rage, insane or just a little miffed?

Pretty – Is it (he/she) stunning, handsome, striking, elegant, beautiful or maybe gorgeous?

Good – Why not try something like excellent, extraordinary, alright… or when talking about character traits, why not kind, saintly, or loving? Big-hearted?

Fun – Is it a person? Are they funny? Hilarious? What makes them fun? A situation can be extreme, intense, enjoyable or maybe even entertaining?

Smart – There are so many different types of “smart.” There’s intelligence, street-smart, book-smart, scholarly, or learned. Smart can also be used as slang for pain. Describe the pain. if it smarted, was it a pinch, a twinge, a bump, an ache, or something else?

These are some of the simplest examples that I could come up with off the top of my head (Thank you to my lovely fiancé for helping me with some synonyms), but the message stays true. Just like with tattoos, think before you ink. When you revise your drafts, ask yourself whether you have used the best descriptor. As someone who has written hundreds of second, third, fourth and even fifth drafts, I can tell you that my first work is never, EVER my best work. Most likely, yours isn’t either. First drafts are for getting ideas onto a page. Revisions are where you turn those words into things of beauty. Plus, with the advent of computers, you have infinite opportunities to arrange and rearrange your words into their ideal form.

One final example:

The pretty woman was mad that someone interrupted what should have been a very fun evening.

OR

The stunning woman was livid that someone interrupted what should have been a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Each sentence includes 16 words. Which describes the situation better? Which one paints a better picture? Which one evokes more emotion?

Words sell. Always remember to write, rewrite, ask for outside opinions and write some more. Putting in the time to find perfect descriptors pays off in great dividends.

AI

Why you shouldn’t do something for nothing (pulled from ashleyidle.com)

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I pulled this post over from www.ashleyidle.com because I feel it follows the theme I would like to set for this blog. For those new to the blog, enjoy. For those that follow Feelin’ good, Lookin’ good, enjoy again!

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Would you ask an engineer to build a bridge for free, just so that he/ she could get “exposure?”

I hear you scoff, but people are asked to use their skills every day with no remuneration, just the promise of exposure or public recognition. It seems to be the huge arts/ science divide that brings this to light, too. Artists are expected to struggle, and because of that, people ask them to provide their services with no compensation offered other than the opportunity that someone, somewhere might see their work and they will be “discovered.”

A bigger problem yet is that these opportunities (if you can call them that) get snatched up almost as quickly as paying gigs. Young artists (writers and journalists included) are so desperate to get their name out there that they are willing to take any and all opportunities that come along, paid or not. I see this as a huge issue. While people are willing to give something for nothing, we all lose out on paid opportunities. Who will pay for something when they don’t have to?

The only way to make this exploitation of writers (and all other artists) change is for the majority to stop taking these unpaid “opportunities.” If the free talent pool dries up, many will be forced to pay and the problem will be, if not fixed, much better. Unfortunately, j-school teaches new writers  (not incorrectly) that they are going to have to give themselves, their creative selves, away for nothing to even have a chance at gaining employment in their field.

I see this as an unforgiveable situation in the arts world but also as one that isn’t going to change. As long as young journalists are told they have to give themselves away and greedy people are willing to exploit young writers the cycle will continue.

There are some situations where pro bono is not the worst thing in the world (small start-ups and certain independent/non profit works) but when larger groups, especially larger corporations get into the mix of taking something for nothing it really bothers me.

I know this isn’t my normal post, but I think it needed to be said. As a young writer, this is something that I have dealt with since graduating.

AI

www.ashleyidle.com

G’day

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G’day.

I understand that it’s a little ironic that a writer would choose slang as the first word ever published on her blog, but that is the beauty of language. Whether the words are listed in the OED or we choose to speak in well-scripted gibberish (see: Lewis Carroll, “The Jabberwocky“), the English language and its colloquial derivatives can do so much more than express a simple action such as saying hello. A single, well-chosen word can express warmth, depth, nuance and create a friendly, approachable demeanour or infer exactly the opposite.

To me, g’day suggests:

  • familiarity
  • friendliness
  • warmth
  • It suggests the Australian people, who are generally known for their outgoing, kind nature.
  • It’s informal

The informal friendliness and familiarity of the greeting is disarming and will more likely bring a response with the same openness and warmth, allowing me to better get my point across (once I decide to make it).

That is the true beauty of language. One well-chosen word can speak volumes.

That is also why skilled, trained writers are so important, whether it be the language used in a book or what we hear on the evening news. Our expectations can be raised, dashed or completely misguided by the type of language an individual decides to use.

Writers are more than just people who blather and throw around words hoping to get noticed. We are wordsmiths. We labour over a sentence to have it convey exactly what we hope. We sell our souls as piece-work and pray to be appreciated for the skill we use to craft our art.

I have been a freelance copywriter and journalist for two and a half years. This blog is where I plan to share my ruminations about writing, freelancing and the state of the job market for those in my field.

Please share this journey with me.

AI

www.ashleyidle.com