The Internet, Anxiety, and Poor Writing Skills

lighted tree

When I began copywriting for websites, I started by searching through some how-to articles for pointers. I was aggravated and disappointed to find everyone recommending simple, direct, and action-packed. Not that I have a problem with engaging content, it’s just that all the classics of literature take the time to establish the setting and characters. The most reputable authors wrote from a totally different perspective than authors today.

Who else can we blame except the expanding media channels? With the advent of information access came the simultaneous dilemma of information overload. An author 200-500 years ago had no television, radio, Internet, or telephone for news and information updates. They had word of mouth, some newspapers, pamphlets, letters, etc. The pace of life was such that the literature produced reflected a life of contemplation, observation, and stillness. There was no sense of frantic suspense or blistering action to be found.

Traveling was so inconvenient that many people only traveled into town once a month. They stocked up on supplies and news and headed back to the family farm. Of course, there were city dwellers who had weekly access to gossip. Still, cultures worldwide knew nothing of the mind boggling pace we endure in the 21st Century.

I blame the Internet and the television for poor writing skills. First, the television sucked up the hours of daily life previously spent on reading and communication with family and friends. Then came the Internet, Instant Messaging, and Text Messaging. With the advent of the Web, we have access to billions of information soaked pages, yet we have to choose a minuscule percentage of information available that we will actually give any attention to. This leaves authors and marketers around the globe scrambling to liven up available content. Competition is fierce (as in the publishing industry), and the selection is so plentiful that people don’t have to spend time on lengthy descriptions and soliloquies. With thousands of voices vying for our attention every day, we give time to those few that are most compelling and immediately accessible.

The art of writing has largely been lost as we fight against the clock to absorb and distribute unprecedented volumes of information. It seems that nothing short of a return to agrarian society could deliver us from our ADD-based writing and reading skills. In other words, either choose to read hyper-focused drivel or remain oblivious to the world today and return to the classics. Or live in the wonderfully frustrating tension of balancing the relevant with the artistic.

5 Steps to Become a Copywriter

Karen, a virtual friend of mine whom I met on MySpace, asked me a while back for some suggestions on how to become a copywriter. I’ve put it off because to answer that question means to actually take more than the usual 5-10 minutes I spend writing each post. I’m not lazy, just busy. In addition to a very busy schedule at my search marketing agency, I also have a pregnant wife to spend time with and a few side projects already in progress. Blogging is usually the first to be sacrificed.

But since I’m rarely asked for tips and advice, my ego demands that I respond (hey, why not be honest?).

Tip #1: Determine within yourself that it will take 2 years to establish yourself, and that you will do what it takes during those first 2 years.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t have job opportunities before then. Obviously, that will vary from person to person. But be willing to work another job while you write part-time or be willing to work full-time for minimal pay. Each year of experience you get raises your dollar value. But the goal is to take 2 years and create quality work that you will be proud to display to future employers during the initial interview.

Tip #2: As long as the company or content doesn’t violate your morals, don’t turn down any opportunities to write.

The obvious exception would be if you managed to have so many opportunities that you would tear your hair out trying to finish every project on time. These first 2 years are your foundational stage, so look everywhere for opportunities. Volunteer at church, professional or charitable organizations, friends’ small businesses, local businesses, guest writing on other people’s blogs (I’ll let you get your feet wet right here), writing your own daily blog, etc. Whether it’s a one page ad, copy for a website, or text for a brochure, pursue and accept every opportunity. If you don’t make a dime for the first six months, don’t worry. Just get some writing under your belt.

Tip #3: Keep your ego in check.

I learned this lesson the hard way. After six months of professional writing experience, I was acting like hot sh*# to every potential client I spoke with. I ended up losing most accounts before I even got started due to my attitude. The truth was, I was so insecure about my ability to produce quality material that I overcompensated by acting like a professional who didn’t need to negotiate at all. I had an overpriced take-it-or-leave-it attitude that got me nowhere. Most people won’t succeed using this tactic because you get the privilege of being picky by first developing a reputation of excellence and credibility. It’s the people in demand for the reputation as a copywriter who get to turn down work or refuse to negotiate pricing. Granted, there will always be clients who treat copywriting like manual labor. To these people, just politely refuse and move on. As I have learned, you never know how the impression you leave today might open or close future doors for you.

Tip #4: Network, Network, Network

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice because it’s simply that important. I hated the thought and the sound of networking from the beginning. As a person with no substantial work history or street cred, I felt like a fake just thinking about talking to people in the industry. I will tell you this secret: the amount of success I have enjoyed is directly proportionate to the amount of networking I have done. In other words, I’m doing fairly well right now, but I could already be making twice what I make now had I been more productive initiating relationships before taking a full-time position.

Wondering how to get started networking? Three pieces of advice: 1) start a blog and write in it every day; 2) get some business cards printed that include your web address (i designed mine easily online); 3) visit and/or join every local metropolitan writing, marketing, artistic organization that meets monthly, meet people, and hand out your cards. My card was simple. It had my name, blog name, address, phone, email and web address on the front and a bulleted list of services on the back. I like the services part because professionals get so many cards that it’s easy to forget why you should keep a card after a few days.

Tip #5: Develop a specialty

At the beginning, you won’t want to limit yourself by only doing one style of writing. Take notice of what you enjoy doing the most, and always jump at the chance to do more of what you enjoy. Remember, the first 2 years are your foundation. 95% of all copywriters don’t make serious money until they reach 5 years of experience, so you have to know in your head that you are going to have the right attitude and maintain it through your probationary period. The big time head hunters don’t accept any applicants with less than 5 years of experience. But once you’re there, you have the opportunity to break into six figures if you’ve developed a specialty or two.

Right now, I do mostly website copy, press releases, and corporate blogs. I’ve done brochures, the emails, sales sheets, case studies, and several other types of documents I can’t think of right now. Given my choice, I’d probably stick with blogs, given that they’re such a natural method of communication to me. But blogs still have a ways to go before they are valued as highly as they should be in corporate America.

There you have it. My first five tips to becoming a copywriter. If you’d like me to add more specific information, drop me a comment and I’ll take you as deep into this as you want to go. I will add as much or as little information as you need to make it as a copywriter.

Comments are always welcome.

My First Book is in the Works

It’s true… It’s in the works. I announced this to my friends and family a few months ago on MySpace, but I thought I’d go ahead and mention it here. I’ve given myself until January of next year to complete this book, though God knows I’d love to finish early and start shopping it around.

The hardest part of writing a book is not the actual writing. Not even close. The hardest part of writing is narrowing down the topics to one final storyline or topic. There are so many possibilities. Some are only substantial enough to be short stories. Others require more life experience before the subjects are approached.

I’m not going to give away any details just yet. One must properly exercise the art of The Tease in order to woo the public. Or so I’ve heard. After a year and a half blogging here on CultureFeast, it was time to move to the next level. Blogging is nice, and I will continue to post my randomness here. It doesn’t pay the bills, however, because I’m not OCD enough to blog 10 times a day on one topic in order to draw readers to click on my AdSense or other blog ads.

I’m excited about this venture because it is something I’ve talked about and toyed with these past ten years. I’ve even despaired to the point of eternal surrender upon realizing that I’d already lived longer than John Keats without a single shred of literary accomplishment to my name. Then again, I should be grateful for not dying at a young age, so there is that.

thing

show me one
just a glimpse
that which all things stretch
an infinite distance towards
with hungry hopes to apprehend
walk with me
speak of things unnoticed
when last we met under the tree
glance outside
long enough to catch a star
hanging lowly like a branch
above the window
make a wish
or make believe
your star is some other lonely planet
one on which we face each other
eye to eye and breath to breath
think of me often on your gleaming island
your planet of hope
your isolation
and brush the leaves gently
from your soft wool coat as we drift
in and out of consciousness
barely able to complete this dream.

*inspired by the motion picture, Shopgirl

Urbis: Calling All Writers

There are two totally hip communities for writers which have sprung out of MySpace communities: Urbis and WritersCafe. I’m a member of both, but I spend more time on Urbis. Writer’sCafe has done what every good community should do: they created buttons for members to post on their blogs/websites that both advertise the site and link back. Lots of people like to boast or show off their memberships like gold stars.

Visit Urbis.com and you’ll see what I mean. The participation concept is brilliant. You earn credits for every time you write a review of someone else’s writing. You can post your own writings as well, but you can’t view reviews of your work without spending some of your credits. Everyone wants feedback, and this encourages writers to consistently review others in order to earn the feedback they want.

There is still room for improvement on the site. In order to keep visitors longer, the site will have to eventually incorporate additional community features. That’s okay. It’s a relatively new community.

Check it out today. Tell when you post your own writings and I’ll review them for you.

rules for the story

The story always begins with a boy. The boy is always innocent and always lacking confidence. And somehow, the boy must always find a way to save the world. The boy always faces his greatest fear. The boy always approaches final defeat. And somehow, the boy always finds the courage… the strength to face his greatest fear, to mature into a man, and to defeat the great evil which always plagues mankind.

In our story, there is always love. Romantic love is best, for it speaks to most everyone and motivates the same. Occasionally the story will focus upon brotherly love or sacrificial love unrelated to a romantic interest, and it is here that that story most often fails. Not that a person cannot experience those other loves, of course, but because eternity cannot remember a story which does not move its soul. And eternity is shockingly predictable.

What lives in the hearts and souls of men lives on forever or dies in obscurity based upon the merit of their stories. Some stories live forever, but none save a few survive whose lot was not cast upon the fervor of love.

The boy is a type of ourselves. We are young, innocent, lost in an unfamiliar forest and pressed to our wits end to survive the night. Many strangers along the way offer wisdom or deceit, and the words we accept will guide us either to safe passage or to our very doom. Lacking the basic skills of a seasoned adult, we must choose whom to trust based upon very simple and untested instincts.

Every smile could hide a grimace. Every handshake a sword. Every meal could be poisoned. Every moment a trap. We live with the uncertainty that comes from being thrust into a story without the narrative. We are characters waiting for someone to map out our inner character, our purpose, and our destination. The lack of response is nothing short of disheartening, yet the story must continue. The story does not stop for uncertainty or ill will.

The story is always all-consuming. It does not yield its permanence for the weak of heart. Those tested like our boy must choose whether to cower and be consumed or to stand, stretch, face the darkness, and consume the dark itself with light.

Â

what is in a song?

What is in a song?

The words we write

and sounds we bleed

like torrents of sleet

cutting paths down soft

and unsuspecting cheeks.

The paths we create

with emotions unchecked.

With highs that scrape heaven’s floor

and lows that burrow Earth’s core,

we blaze on

in inconsistent shadows of meaning

and brightness

and song.

Writing the First Family Christmas Letter

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That is what they say, right? Yesterday, the Christmas cards started piling in. It’s a shame, really, that we all don’t find excuses to communicate more often. Still, it’s heartwarming to receive them, and probably more so because of the Christmas season.

A few couples including my grandparents (Howard and Judy Dessinger), David and Caroline Shorter, and Russ and Christy Hemati have gone a step further by writing a Christmas letter. I love the Christmas letter. A year-end summary tells me what I’ve missed, and reminds me why even great distances cannot keep me from caring.

In light of the heartwarming effect Christmas letters have on me, I am inspired to write my own. Most of our friends and family don’t spend much time on the Internet, much less reading blogs like this. In order to keep in touch with most of the people we love, emails and/or conventional letters are still more successful.

So this year, we will send out our first family Christmas letter. It’s exciting to begin traditions, especially if you can recognize them as such from the beginning. It is a husband’s privilege to feel he has contributed to the formation of traditions within his family.

I am grateful, and pleased to know that many years from now, we will have a tradition in place which will be treasured for years to come by friends, family, and our children.

To Write or Not to Write

Once upon a time, I thought, If only I could just have the time to write, I would start a book and complete it in my spare time. Of course, that book remains unwritten. The spare time remains unused. Something always manages to fill the gaps of time. Next, I thought, If only I could get a job as a junior writer somewhere I could work my way up to the big leagues. That was before I realized there are no big leagues.

Sure, there are lots of people making great money and getting great exposure, but most of them did so by writing on topics I have no interest in. People writing advertisements for IBM, Apple, Frito Lay, Microsoft, General Motors, Toshiba, and Dr. Pepper (my personal favorite). People writing legal suspense, murder mystery, romance, and horror novels. People writing academic texts which challenge the current state of belief and understanding. People writing self-help books which, oddly, should remain very few and far between if they indeed were such a great self-help tool. People writing Christian Inspirational literature, who, pardon my saying so, are either severely deceived into believing that this is what Christians need or are the bottom feeders of the industry. There are news reporters and editorial writers. Apples and oranges, man… apples and oranges.

There are so many different things a person could write about. So many ideas floating about in space, awaiting someone to capture them and flesh them out on paper. So many jobs for so many writers in so many industries. How is a writer to know where to tread and where not? At the heart of it all lies a question. It is the same question each person must answer, regardless of profession, but I shall put it into terms a writer will understand.

The question is: What is inside of me that demands release? How do I express it? Do I dedicate my life to locating, clarifying, and expressing this one thing, or do I use my talent for other purposes along the way? Would I be soiling the gift which God gave me, or would I be praised as a good steward for developing the gift? Okay, perhaps a few questions must be answered. But they all revolve around a central question: What is my purpose?

Answering that question leads to the next question: How do I fulfill my purpose? Answering those two questions may take an entire lifetime. They are questions worth asking. They are questions worth answering. Too often, we rush off into the world and bump into each decision accidentally. We have somehow decided life consist of a series of coincidences and accidents, when really we have simply missed the opportunity to ask the right questions and wait for the answers. Some people live their whole lives refusing to even ask the first question. Something deep down tells them that open that can of worms would only mean a lifetime of misery and disappointment. I am a writer. I write. Again and again, I ask these questions, and I must have my answers.

thoughts on the brink

my mind is like a canyon somehow hidden from the sun. my thoughts like buried treasure far away from everyone. sometimes i think i’m falling. rushing forward toward the sky. emptyhanded. falling upward. never landing til i die.

sometimes i sit in darkness on the edge, the very brink of chasing out the strain with something very cold to drink. i sit and gape and wonder where this train of thought will lead. will i act as though a soldier. somehow manage a brave deed. will i face unspoken horrors. will i stand until the end. will i fall and fail the way i always knew it all would end.

sometimes i think it’s not so different. i could still go out today. i could take a chance and touch the sun and take the risk today. i could step beyond the shadows. standing under burning sun. let the light play on my shoulders. as i stare a little stunned. i could race through crackling leaves and touch the bark of some old tree. i could meet the earth with something more than thoughts and poetry.