Writing relationships

Cropped screenshot of Vivien Leigh from the tr...

Cropped screenshot of Vivien Leigh from the trailer for the film A Streetcar Named Desire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” ~Tennessee Williams

Writing, blogging in particular, is about creating relationships. Readers don’t read to find out about writers. Readers read to find out about themselves. Sure, the one happens in the course of the other, and who isn’t up for a little prurient curiosity?

But if someone reads past the first sentence, it’s because that sentence resonated with something already embedded or jangling in their heart.

Information and inspiration are routes to relationship. We’ve all known some smarty-pants who tries to create connection through proffering trivia, or a wanna-be guru who waxes pseudo-wise to reach down to their audience as if that were a real relationship. Without actually revealing something about yourself, all the information and inspiration in the world do not relationships make.

Without actually revealing something about your story, however mundane the revelation, barrages of informative factoids or inspirational quotes will never create the dialogue that good writing establishes – either within or between people. Your tribe doesn’t come to your blog for encyclopedic knowledge. We have Wikipedia for that, and folks don’t generally follow writers there or come back to a certain page to see what’s new. People subscribe, come back, email you, comment or give a tinker’s dam because you touched them.

So whether you’re writing your own blog or have hired someone to weave the words for you, stone up and share something about yourself.  You don’t have to. But then, people don’t have to care about your work.

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writing like a junkie

Hair dressers’ kids always have the shabbiest hair, or so my darling Desiree tells me as she whirls about me in her spinning chair. Empathizing, I tell her I haven’t updated my blogsin the manner I exhort my clients to, and I know that’s the cardinal sin. I mean, why would you come back when it’s the same dated, tired post about DlP’s last launch?

Junkie (novel)

Junkie (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, you wouldn’t and you don’t, and neither do I for blogs I like. There’s too much content out there to stalk a writer who doesn’t let you know what’s up. Following is one way to solve – you don’t have to check in like a love-sick teenage boy, but your sweetie shows up seemingly unbidden and like a total surprise in your inbox for you to ignore to click as you will. By all means, do follow. It’s like crack for bloggers when you do.

And it’s not for want of ideas. Seven times a day I feel the glow of the lightbulb in my heart and think “I gotta write about that!” But there are the three copy projects I’m behind on and our darling Samoyed

English: Future pet

English: Future pet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

needs a walk, there’s a project I’m trying to support into independent flight at the ambulance service where I used to medic, there’s the darling hubs and a friend who is moving too many miles away, the other who… well, you get the idea.

 

What will my clients think if they see I’m writing on my own blog, while they anticipate their next dose of sparkling goodness?

And so, I save up inspiration, hoarding it like a dragon on her hoard until some of it begins to smell and the organic-ness of some of it evaporates into the dank dragon cave air. Until.

Until a morning like this, when I’m so far behind I no longer have a plan for catching up (which is actually when I really will) and my own need to write for writing’s sake, out of my own heart and mind and need to express the truths of my life right now build up so mammothly that I become a monolith of focus, hunkered down at our kitchen table (where I don’t do work for clients) writing like I’m a drunk on  a bender. Some of it will show up on blogs, some of it will be scheduled for later, some will go the way of deleted electrons and the rest will go under “journal” in the cloud for future fodder.

And it occurs to me: would I be behind if I did this more often? Would I feel the metallic taste of craving abated as the words spill waterfall-wise out my fingers if I allowed them to seep when they arise?

But would they be as meaningful (at least to me) or as satisfying without the blood iron taste of word-lust sated or the massive buildup of mojo behind them?

But what about that mojo? Why do I dam it behind words unwritten? And is that the source of unfulfilled writing? (Duh-doy)

What if mojo wasn’t mysterious and rare feeling? What if I could live in the mojo and let it be a familiar mystery? What if I could write for my own blogs, heart, words like I do for clients and write for them, too, with less worry and more ease? What if I let myself need this like I need water, coffee, yoga and longing looks from Dear Hubs across the kitchen table in the hubbub of everyday business?

Odd how the very thing you thought you were doing turns out to be what you’ve built walls against. When I began writing for hire, I thought I was feeding this need. And I’m closer than I’ve ever been. But the galling magic and beauty of creative life is that there is always something we are keeping for later, hoarding for ourselves, making other. The fine pointed artistry of knowing when the incubator has done its job and giving independent life to those ideas, having the resource, attention, time and stamina to follow that organic logic – and to kill some ideas before they compete, and recognize what will not die – is always in progress.

I thought about making Sunday my day for writing, but routine is never food for my muse. I thought about writing before I walk each day, but again with the routine. Less prioritizing and more listening, less dictating and more responding, less thinking and more writing. That’s my plan for recovery.

Lessons Learned

Casper

Casper (Photo credit: Jessicamulley)

Today we’re not necessarily talking about blogs. Many of you, though, are freelancers and as a freelancer I’ve recently had an interesting experience. The assignment wasn’t for a blog, but for an article. When I was invited to look at the job (on Elance), I was so excited! It looked interesting, fun, right up my alley and the proceeds were coming at just the right time to fund a little upgrade I’ve been contemplating, and then some. I was so excited I overlooked the most important fact: the timeline was insane and would require completely re-arranging my home AND work schedules for the next week. The lessons I learned (and some were from previous experiences and road tested well) apply to life as a writer, no matter what you’re format.

  1. Don’t go changing your plan and re-arranging your perfectly awesome life (or blog) just for something shiny.
  2. If someone seems like they’re lying, they are.
  3. Ghost writing should be more like Casper and less like a character in a Stephen King novel.
  4. Freelancing is a lot about taking chances and having boundaries.

If you execute perfectly on that  last one, you won’t do the first one. But balancing intelligent chance taking with boundaries requires a lot of experience, zero flexibility in a few right places and tremendous flexibility in all the others. (Much like yoga – you can read about that here, at my yoga blog. Back to the writing thing.)

As a freelancer you become used to odd, last-minute requests and persnickety clients. Par for the course. You learn to set boundaries. You learn to say “No,” compassionately, but clearly. (Or you don’t last very long). Sometimes a job comes in that is so intriguing you forget the first rule about not re-arranging your perfectly spectacular life. This can go really well – really, really well. However, One reason to avoid it is that it doesn’t allow time for the usual back and forth that’s part of vetting your clients. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes… well, let’s just say there are some crazy people out there. And they don’t come with tags.

So when you break one of the rules, or flex where in retrospect you should have stood ground, or become rigid when you wish had flexed, you lose time. You put yourself behind perhaps. You lose money. These are all reasons to have reserve, even a little, in both time and money. Give yourself the ability to come to screeching halt when the investigative nose you were hired for ends up tracking the stinky smell in your client’s er… direction.

When possible, and especially with new clients, go through a reputable third party. I like Elance. They hold payment in escrow, so you know it’s there and you won’t get a runaround. They can mediate if there are problems. They’re like the nosey neighbor who you wish would stop watching your house, but you’re incredibly thankful for when some creep follows you home and you need a witness.

Don’t take payment up front, and don’t work hourly. There are a ton of good reasons not to work hourly . By fronting any supply fees and arranging for payment after client satisfaction you are essentially guaranteeing the client their money back if they’re not satisfied or if the arrangement falls through. This is good, clean boundaries. You’re working for yourself until you turn in the copy drizzled with awesome-sauce that only you can create.

Ghost writing is writing in someone else’s voice for pay, either because they don’t have the confidence, access, talent or time. It isn’t a creepy, sneaky relationship. If it ever starts to feel like that, that’s one of those signals to stop cold. Put the pen down and the notes in the “experience bin.” It’s not trash… it’s a really good lesson. Be a fast learner.

8 things no one tells you about freelancing

Harry Worth

Image via Wikipedia

By a Word Harlot and Writer for Hire

  1. You will underbid every project for a month: this will have the effect of filling your calendar and making you feel quite professional (see no. 6) at the same time it tempts you to put out work before a final read through because you’re just so darned busy.
  2. You will run through all your acceptable addictions like plague through a rat colony: your house will be clean, the dogs walked, your schedule will be filled in, and all your blogs sparklingly well maintained. Oh,  and you’ll renew your gym membership. Remember how you loved the steam room?
  3. You will find that you don’t know as much as you thought you did: reference no. 1. At least one of those projects you reeled in by charging as if you were a lemonade stand will be on a topic you research like you were a graduate student. Didn’t you say you’d never slave like that for someone else’s research again?
  4. You will undertake more internet research than you need to: see no 3. Turns out, you didn’t need to know that much anyhow, but have a deep-seated need to feel mastery before turning in your writing. Don’t worry, this will wane.
  5. You will become a slave, a harlot, to lining up the jobs: Why? Because this is the easy part and wards off two things: real work and finishing a job without another lined up. When that does happen…
  6. You will discover the root of all your self-worth…. and judge it vapid: Your entire identity as a writer, freelancer, person of worth and merit, worthy of sucking oxygen so arduously generated by trees is contingent upon the streams of text that show up when you move your fingers in concert with your mind. When this stops, you choke. Corollary:
  7. You will measure your self-worth by responses to your bids: how dare they turn you down saying your bid was too high?! Oh, gosh, was it??? You knew you shouldn’t have… oh, wait, here comes another response… see! Someone knows your worth!
  8. The things you thought were fascinating, oddly not after you’ve done them three thousand times. And here is where we discover that even though you can show up at work before brushing your teeth and in your flannels, you can pet your dogs when the words won’t come and have lunch in your own kitchen every day, some things are always the same. Work is work, and we love what we love despite the repetition and familiarity. Or is it because?

The Pointless Story: Direct Your Tale

 

Standard left hand draft course

Image via Wikipedia

 

Is any story ever pointless? Yes, and no. Every story has at least one point, but too often we include stories in our writing that leave the reader wondering which point we were actually trying to make and if we couldn’t have just told them more simply.

You don’t want your reader wondering why you included  your story, or whether you were illustrating your motivation or your opponent’s misfortune. There are two basic ways to direct your tale: either tell your reader up front what you’re illustrating, or create a tale with a structure that directs your readers’ attention to the point you want them to find. Ideally, do both.

For most of us, we’re making a specific point, or maybe two, with a given story. Maybe the story is the entire piece, or perhaps the story is part of an essay, supporting one of the premises. Either way, which details remain and what order and language they wear is determined by the point the writer means to create.

In order to direct a seemingly meandering, rambling or otherwise point-seeking story, write it however it comes out at first. Often, the first telling is chronological. That’s fine, however it comes out. When you return a few days, or even hours, later, underline possible themes, important words, images and feelings. Then, practice pruning: delete anything not related to the major theme you picked. It’s okay if it becomes smaller and smaller, the material you’re editing out isn’t disappearing into some inescapable void. This part is just to find the center of your story, the fine nub you’ll then embellish with selected details.

The crux of this method is choice. The first draft allows you to get all the moving parts out onto the table. The next step is to put aside the gear that’s the exact perfect size to turn all the other cogs, and then add the cogs back in sparingly and artfully, in a way that illuminates the working of the tale.

Next time: Structure and Function – How to Create Maximum Impact with the Fewest Moving Parts

What I… What I really… What I really Mean!

Desire - 08Feb05, New Orleans, LA (USA)

Image by philippe leroyer via Flickr

Instead of focusing on your meaning – because that will arise organically when your structure supports your content – focus on what you really want. Desire drives intent drives meaning.

The magic of writing is that by doing it you find out more about yourself and your message as you actually do it. The paradox that seems to be created is this: If I sit down to write something in particular, I already have a point to make – a meaning – before I start. How, then, can the process reveal new things?

When you sit down, you have a desire: to communicate, to land a job, to reveal something, to land a place in a program, to reveal your heart, to remember something lovely or poignant – there are myriad underlying goals, but what they have in common is desire.

If you connect to what your deepest driving desire is, you won’t stop until you’ve explored it sufficiently for your task, and you won’t be deterred by playing small. Remember that until you get to a late editing stage, this is truly yours and will be best served by you getting it all out an onto paper.

Let the meaning reveal itself. You focus on revealing yours.

 

Squeeze out the last drop, throw most of it away & end up with more of what you really want

 

Freewriting. grapes, pen, notebook, progress....

Image by juliejordanscott via Flickr

 

[N+1] + [N-1] = >N
Only in a writing blog, right? Consider:

N+1 signifies  “pure optimism sprinkled with tenacity” manifest when we find that one last bit of strength after we think we’re completely washed up, according to Fred Wilson. Seth Godin’s N-1 suggests that among the weeds growing in our calendars, on our desks, agendas and even in our minds, we let a few die from inattention. Godin asks “What if you repeated N-1 thinking until you found a breakthrough?”

And I ask, What if you wrote and wrote and wrote until you thought there wasn’t any more to say, and then wrote that “one more” thing? And then, What if you dropped a word here, a paragraph there, a clause later on, “until you found a breakthrough?” What if your lead was in your fifth page, and your conclusion the first sentence you wrote? What if your seven pages made three powerful paragraphs after the application of [N-1]?

Then the process of [N+1] together with the process of [N-1] would produce something more than the original “N.” When people are unused to writing, and sometimes when we are over-used to it, we get attached to those pages and those words on the page because they refer to not only the experiences they describe, but the experience of remembering and processing those events. First of all, the important part is the processing, and that’s not in the words. Secondly, your reader doesn’t care unless it relates directly to your art.

[N+1] is your first draft, and you do it for yourself. [N-1] is one way of looking at the revision process, and you do it for your art and your reader.

Do you write like you speak?

 

New Orleans: Sign on tire shop on St. Claude A...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Unless you’re delivering prepared remarks, your spoken communication is best off the cuff and a little informal. The intimate quality created by your small pauses, changes in direction or slang can cement the relationship and deepen the communication.

Aside: unless you’re using slang words like “pimpin’,” “gansta,” and “beatch.” None of these are appropriate unless you’re very familiar, or actually are a pimp, gangter or looking for a beatch. I’m not judging, but this will limit your audience and appeal.

Do pay attention, though, because if you’re like 75% of the people’s whose written communication I read, you’ll write just like you talk. The most unfortunate part of this is that over and above the pauses, slang and mid-sentence revisions which add value to in person communication, conversational speech often rambles. And even pimps, gangsters and beatches know that rambling cuts down on business.

Rambling is a sign of either disrespect or lack of expertise. Either you’re taking a circuitous route because you haven’t thought  it through yet, or because you really don’t think your reader will notice and you’re stringing them along.

Rambling as a result of unpreparedness is easy to fix: it’s called a first draft. One reason you might want a Writing Coach is to have someone read your first draft and give you ideas on what you really meant. If you have infinite time at your disposal, you won’t need someone with professional experience at sighting and unearthing your point and the best way to show it off, because the draft and sit process will work in your favor. You’ll come back two weeks later with an epiphany, and give it another go.

However, if you’re like most people, you’re writing with a purpose and perhaps even a deadline. And even if it’s just for yourself, cutting through our own shenanigans can be challenging for the most self-aware.

Rambling as a result of disrespect is both more difficult to fix, and really just a complicated form of unpreparedness – which is why you should want to fix it. The reason it’s difficult to fix is the conviction that leading the reader on is an effective sales technique. The problem with this conviction is that by underestimating your reader, you’re short selling your self or your product. If you have something of value get to it without repeating scintillating phrases. Your reader will see the value with clearer eyes, more grateful for the straightforward delivery.

Rambling takes three forms: the pointless story, the repeated lead, and the disconnected dots. Stay tuned in next week’s blogs for specifics on how to take your writing to the next level, when one of these is your obstacle.

Re-vision

A worker mixing the pulp at the Florida Pulp a...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Write it down, get it out, get it all on paper. Cough, spew, gush. Cross out, ramble and blather.

First drafts are all about finding out what you really think and know, where you need to learn more, and what it all means. First drafts are nothing like blueprints. First drafts are the gathering of the available raw materials so you can consider what kind of a structure to build. Why plan for a log cabin in the desert? If you want a log cabin after gathering materials devoid of wood, you have two options: find new materials (research) or move locations (choose another project).

For instance, most people have to tell a story chronologically the first time. After that, you have the opportunity – though too few people take it – to make it about something other than  yourself. In most chronological tellings, the story is about the author. If your intent is to make a larger point or reveal something important about yourself, you must look at the chronological telling and find themes around which to organize your report. Then you have a story instead of a monologue.

One & the same set of facts can have myriad applications. Getting it all out on paper is your first step, and allows you to sort out the various moving parts so you can choose to relate them to a central point.When the bag of legos has been upended on the table, you can allow your vision to be emerge organically.

Hidden emotion may be underneath, or all over, your first telling. Emotion can begin as creepy undertone, but is really just one more moving part, one you may choose to highlight or remove in service of your theme. Being overt in your intent clarifies hidden emotion.

Whether you begin with a clear vision or a murky need, use your first draft to identify the moving parts. As the natural connections emerge, allow the structure to emerge organically. Your log cabin may end up an adobe with a courtyard – all the sturdier and easier to live in for the change.

Whoa, whoa, whoa Feelings…. Really: Whoa!

Can You Feel It

Image via Wikipedia

I feel that saying you feel that something is true is redundant.

More importantly, it covers something up. Why tell your reader you feel that the Party In Power is wrong? Why say you feel that the sky is blue? Or that you feel that people shouldn’t do such and such things?

Because we’ve learned that when you use the word “feel” what comes next is supposed to be unassailable. Guess what? It’s assailable… and you want it to be. What you offer is meaningless in the public commons, or most discourse, unless it’s possible that you’re wrong. It’s possible that you are wrong – nearly always, and every time you’re saying or doing anything interesting.

So provide your reader with clarity about what you mean, and give the reader some reasons to care, maybe to believe. Caring is more important, because then you’ve engaged and communicated.

When you look over something and see you’ve introduced a sentence by saying “I feel that…” first just drop those three words. Next look for the deeper truth you were covering up by using them. Then write that truth, and consider the relation between those two sentences. Now you have a structure.

That’s the way to revise your work. I don’t feel it’s true. It just is.