OK, OK, I know it’s a cheap imitation, but too fun not to parody.
For all of you freelancers who toil in your treetop aerie, serenaded by regal raptors, and even for those who might subject their verbs to subjective verbalizations in an old Airstream, you might wonder where your next crust of bread (or better yet, bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve) is coming from. Fret not.
That old series of tubes dubbed the Internet will whisk job listings straight to your screen, so that you can continue to work your magic behind the home keyboard like the great and terrible Oz. You won’t have to go out into society job-hunting, where you might expose those accidental dreadlocks you’ve been cultivating. There are all manner of job sites Netwise, but I’m talking here about listings of writing jobs delivered directly to you—and they have the bonus key lime pie of being wrapped in a writer’s newsletter, full of the newsiness you writerly types are keen on.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Writer’s Weekly – This is the handiwork of Angela Hoy, and it gets around: as stated, “The highest-circulated freelance writing ezine in the world.” Angela sends out a weekly newsletter that has a range of contract job listings for telecommuters of every stripe. The mailing also has her reports about personal travails and triumphs, a lead writing article, warnings on deadbeat publishers and more. On the deadbeat publishers issue, if you contact her about a venue that hasn’t paid you your due, she reports it online in her Whispers and Warnings column, and will write (for free!) a series of letters to the offending party, acting as a liaison between you and the crumbbum who stiffed you. She does get results.
Writing World – Lots of good stuff on the site itself (many helpful articles in the Business of Writing section), and sections on all writing genres—what, no haiku? But I go for the free newsletter, which also has a lead article on the business of writing, a Inquiring Writer column where readers help readers on writing requests and issues, and the Jobs and Opportunities portion, which has freelance work and submissions listings. Delivered twice a month.
Funds for Writers – No, they aren’t just going to dole out dough to you—I already asked. But the free newsletter lists lots of writing grants and retreats, writing contests and job markets. And Hope Clark, the woman who runs the joint, is charming. Her column is personal and always worth the read. Delivered once a week.
I’m also a member of The Writer’s Bridge, a paid site that sends out a daily compendium of job listings from across the U.S., including gleanings from all the major Craig’s Lists. I have gotten a couple of juicy contracts from these listings (though there are some clunkers in there too, as any Craig’s Lister knows). Ten bucks a month, and like I say, every day. Darrell Laurant, the fellow that runs the site, is a long-time journalist, and a good guy.
Sites (and Sights!) Galore
Those are the only sources of writing jobs on the whole Internet. Wait, did I hear you grunt in disdain? OK, true, that isn’t even a quivering bacterium’s ecological cloth grocery bag’s worth (say that ten times, fast) of the job listings for freelancers on the net, but dang, who’s got the time to list them all?
But if you absolutely lust to look at other lists of contract writing work (and associated writing advice and resources), here are a few other job site conglomerates I flip through now and then:
If you see anything there about writing songs for lovelorn squirrels, buzz me—I’m a pro.
I’ve mentioned before how answering HARO (Help A Reporter Out) story queries can result in your blog or business URL getting flapping wings over new waters, and indeed that again was the case for me in answering Lisa Kanarek’s solicitation for hints on stepping away from the home office for her Working Naked blog.
Lisa posted my short answer to her inquiry on her blog yesterday, and I saw this morning, through the magic of Google Analytics, that seven people had traipsed over to my site from hers.
A Lucky Seven
Now you might think that seven people is only a crowded phone booth [Note to self: do people remember what phone booths are?], but I know that even gaining small numbers of folks sifting through the shelves of my site is a good thing, no matter if they are interested in my copywriting services or in seeing if I’ve made a spelling missteak. (And no, I don’t obsess over every traffic footfall in Google Analytics, but it’s an intriguing tool.)
By the way, seeing as how summers in Santa Cruz County, CA are often pretty durn foggy, I never work naked; the heat’s on right now…
I read with interest (and fear and loathing) a CNET review of Nick Carr’s recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I’ll do here exactly what Mr. Carr treats as one of the disquieting subjects of his work: I’ll distill his book in a few sentences. In essence, he posits that the always-on, ever-spilling-over information font of the Internet is actually changing the nature of our brains. His position is that this next-next-next ad infinitum serving of info appetizers is resulting in a attenuation of the contemplative process, a wall to the deeper mulling over subject or sphere (and being able to distinguish which is important and which is simply “now”), and potentially the loss of our ability to reflect at a sustained level.
That made me consider how much advice on presenting information on the Net, particularly for copywriters, emphatically states that you must “chunk” information: render it in small, easily digestible paragraphs, preferably those not burdened with compound or complex sentences. Before anyone protests, of course I recognize that making any parallel between a broad—even philosophical—reading of how we now apprehend the world and how copywriters (with their loathsome goals of extolling benefits and persuading buyers) work their words might seem strained.
But it’s a personal issue for me, because I am both a marketing copywriter and a fiction writer, and though I can readily compartmentalize the two, they still share an information DNA: communicating, spreading ideas, making sparks in the head. If Mr. Carr is right (and I’ve only read the review, not the book, so I’m stretching here), the Netheads of this world, a world that’s ever-expanding, will no longer have the hunger for—or even the skill to fully interpret—deep, thoughtful works.
For some reason, reading the Carr piece made me think of Crime and Punishment, how the central character, Raskolnikov, frets, fusses and agonizes over the killing of the pawnbroker, and later, has his psyche roil while undergoing the ferret-like questioning of the investigator Porfiry. Raskolnikov’s unease skirts near madness, and it’s a cumulative state, a long building of narrative tension and revelation. Would today’s readers just want the Cliff Notes: “Poor student goes crazy after killing pawnbroker and goes to prison to rot.”? That chunking summary is a dry cracker in the mouth of a sensuous, wine-mad, multi-course meal of a novel, a thousand spices and ten-story conversations.
There was a fabulous article in the New York Times yesterday titled “Tuna’s End,” an elegiac piece about the survival (dubious) of the “wild ocean” and some of its top-of-the-chain denizens (here, bluefin tuna) though our depredations. It’s a nicely written and sharply compelling piece, but quite long. I found myself skimming, looking for the high points. And going back and forth to my email and the project I was working on in between the skimmings. Even being aware that I was giving short shrift to the article didn’t stop me from being pulled in multiple directions. This is your brain on chunking.
We Did Survive Elvis
I worry that Carr’s right, that our scanning for immediacy, our appetites stimulated to hunger for the new, will result in an ever-more shallow analysis that is self-reinforcing. I worry about distinguishing the important from the trivial, if I can only absorb either in chunks. But then I think I’m carrying the same hoary “The End Is Nigh” sign that my parents carried because of Elvis in the 50s, and that their parents carried because of jitterbugging in the 30s and that Fred and Wilma Flintstone carried because the latest stone wheels had sidewalls.
Ahh, well. I hope richer thought will survive, amidst the ephemera. I was heartened to read Molly Ringle’s recent grand prize winning entry for the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, awarded for the composition of the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels:
“For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss — a lengthy ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s gerbil.”
Molly doesn’t believe in that chunking stuff; had she sallied forth and written the full novel, I’d judge it would be 1,456 pages of delicious prose. Heck, Raskolnikov might have even made it in there too.
PS I know you skimmed this post, but I forgive you. I did too.
Appetizers today—but guaranteed tasty. First off, it would probably be completely impractical for you to go off on a camel-back desert caravan trip. (Not only would it be dusty, but you those animals spit! Accurately!) Much easier, but still authentically atmospheric, would be to download my pal Joel Canfield’s free Arabic trance travel tune. It’s a kickoff for his psychotic, er, I mean exotic adventure he’s going to make with his family. Joel is an ace business consultant, writer, musician, raconteur and camel driver, as you can see by checking out his stuff.
Entreprenette Am I
I’ve extolled the virtues of using HARO for entrepreneurial purposes before. Here’s an example of what I mean: I answered Sarah Shaw’s Entreprenette Gazette’s HARO inquiry about how to manage time as an entrepreneur, and she put my answer (along with those of 128 other desperate climbers) in her latest blog post. Of course, that entrepreneurial answer comes with the answerer’s business/blog URL to boot, so your pretty business face is front and center. (I guess being there makes me an entreprenette too. If it allows me to wear a funny hat, I’m in.)
Answering HARO posts is one of those win-win situations that can drive traffic to your site. (Note: I’m tiring of that limp “win-win” phrase. Maybe it should be “chocolate brownie-chocolate brownie.” Or “shot o’ bourbon-shot o’bourbon.” Well, I’m working on it…)
Scribd Ain’t Just for Misspellers
I blogged previously about using EzineArticles to circulate your promotional publications (you remember, the ones with USEFUL content) around, and here’s another venue: Scribd. Scribd is, according to their breathless About, “The largest social publishing and reading site in the world.” It’s got books, essays, poems, how-tos, how-not-tos and publications of all kinds, for sale or for free. It’s easy to set up an account and upload material. I uploaded the two free writing-related PDFs I offer here, as well as another free how-to writing essay. Again, you can include your contact info, pitch and URL in your pub, so you can spread the good word—and even multiple words—of your work around the ‘electronic universe.
Watch out for those camels.
The image above was part of a pretty elaborate direct-mail piece sent from the NRA to me for a sweepstakes in which the grand-prize winner takes home 24 guns. (The first-prize winner would receive a paltry 10 guns.) I did have one pressing question when I received the piece: What, no grenade launcher?
No, the real pressing question was how the ##$@#!! did the NRA get my address? Granted, I was tempted, because with that arsenal, I could finally control the gophers in the veggie garden, but unless one of those dreadfully liberal entities that I’ve supported in the past, like Greenpeace or the Natural Resources Defense Council were selling their mailing lists to all comers, I wondered if this was just fishing on the part of the NRA.
Which brings me to the two-pronged subject prompted by the 24-gun salute: permission marketing and know your audience. I won’t go deeply into the permission marketing angle so clearly enunciated by Seth Godin, but in essence, its message is: Don’t send crap to people who don’t want it.
The concept I want to look at a little closer is Know Your Audience. Now, I have no objection to legal gun ownership, obtained through licensing and registration. (Though the open-carry Starbucks people have it all wrong: they should have open-carry acetylene torches, to warm up the coffee.) But I am not the NRA’s audience, and they wasted their postage on me. It’s the same sort of concern I have from the proliferation of catalogs (particularly at Christmas time) from companies from which I’ve never ordered anything. Sometimes these catalogs are hundreds of pages long, and obviously expensive to produce. The scattershot-mail effect doesn’t acknowledge the simple adage of knowing your audience, your tribe.
Ask About the Audience
When I am asked to write a tech or operations manual (I am working on one and probably beginning another soon), one of the first questions I ask is, who is the manual for—who is the audience? That tells me what the slant or tone—formal, salesy, explanatory, light, crisp, storytelling—of the piece should be. Obviously, as a writer you’d ask the same if you were writing an ad or a brochure or a sell sheet. I didn’t ask clearly enough about audience for a recent radio ad I wrote, but nailed it on the second round, after getting the elaboration.
I had a brilliant film teacher at college who was irreverent, flippant and profane. She gave me a lousy grade for a paper that was good, but limp. The next one I wrote, filled with snarky comments and casual asides (but still on topic), got a stellar grade. Know your audience.
I used to write manuals for Maxis (SimCity, The Sims) software, and was encouraged to put in a whimsical tone to the “Click here. See that. Click there” instructions, and from later user comments, found out how much our audience appreciated it. About two months ago, some guy who read a manual of mine for a Maxis product from more than 10 years ago emailed me to explain a joke I’d written in the manual. (Yeah, some funny joke—the guy took 10 years and still couldn’t understand it.)
Anyway, I actually dug the NRA sweepstakes offer, because I don’t get the chance to win 24 guns every day. If they include a cannon with the next offer, I’m going for it…
Bonus Book Love
While you’re mulling over the consideration of which of your 24 guns you’d have pointing at the front door, and which at the back, I’ll change tack entirely. Being more of a books than a bullets guy, I saw a HARO request from the Power of Care site soliciting stories of book love. (No, not porno book stuff—what books you love!) I wrote mine on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can see that brief testimony and many others here on the site.
Really, I do have some good mustard recommendations. But I’ll explore the “expert” notion after a few warm-up sentences. Since I don’t hear a lot of horns honking around here, I have been reading articles about increasing traffic to blogs. I really don’t want to peddle porn (though for a dollar I will email you—in a plain, brown message envelope—a photo of me simultaneously holding a pound of bacon and a garter snake while wearing short-shorts), I am implementing some of the methods proposed by bloggers who really do have folks lining up at their screens to read.
One such paragon is Jonathan Fields, author of the sterling Career Renegade, and who blogs craftily on issues of entrepreneurship, social media, marketing and creativity. One post of late was guested by “traffic-generation specialist” Elysia Brooker, on the topic of article marketing.
You really should read the original post (but don’t leave me here alone and teary eyed), but in essence it discusses the uses of posting articles (including blog posts) to article directories to generate traffic back to your site. The article directories are used by a lot of publications and other sites as a content and syndication source, so you are giving away your material in exchange for your embedding of your blog/site links in the articles. The directories themselves are probed by search engines as well, so anyone stabbed by your sharp wit in an article might very well seek further swordplay on your site.
Ezine Articles Paddle Through Cyberspace
Taking the post to heart, I plunked down an article of mine at Ezine Articles, one of the directory mainstays, and one recommended by Elysia. One of the keys here (for me, at least) is that this was a “How to Write a First-Person Essay” article of mine published a while back in Writer’s Digest, for which I own the reprint rights. It was just listlessly sitting around in a back pocket of my computer, so why not put it to use again and see if it brings any baying of writing bloodhounds to my site?
At Ezine, it’s a simple matter to register and submit (you can put in bio info as well as a link in your post), and then the article is vetted, and in a few days, they tell you if it’s approved and that it went live. Here’s the best part: they told me I earned “Expert Author” status with the posting, which includes them sending out an RSS notice about the article to their list. Finally, I am an expert. (I recommend wasabi mustard with all your sandwiches; I recommend it on cereal too.)
It will be interesting to track any traffic changes as a result of that article posting, but as recommended by Elysia, post frequently. Obviously, your content has to be good (or scandalous), but you can repurpose many pieces if you have a lot of existing content, including blog posts as well. Article topics cover most of the subjects in the known universe. There’s a lot of elaboration from Elysia on directories and traffic-building techniques in the comments section on Jonathan’s site.
Not So Harrowing
One other traffic-building tip, convincingly given me by writer extraordinaire Becky Blanton, is to register to receive the twice-daily HARO (Help a Reporter Out) quote/pitch solicitations. The emails are full of inquiries from writers and reporters working on stories for which they need a quote or an expert angle or an opinion; Becky has had success in answering queries and getting her responses (and her URL) published in various articles. The article subjects range across the board, and the writers can be from publications like Turnip Quarterly up to Atlantic Monthly. If the reporters pick up your statement, they will often post your site link in their articles, which can lead to greater things. Now that I am an expert, I’ll be spouting off frequently.
And a sad goodbye to John Wooden, a genius, a gentleman, a man of strong words and a man of his word. At 99, for my money, he didn’t live long enough, but he changed lives, and not just in the sports world.
The image here is a photo of one of my favorite shirts. If it’s not clear to you, it’s Colonel Sanders with a maniacal look, with the unsubtle graphical suggestion that the good Colonel has had a snootful of LSD. That amuses me on several levels, but the one that’s instructive here is based on a two-step of moving from familiar to farcical. You can employ this comedic trip of incongruity in your writing (though never in your cooking).
Of course, the expression and interpretation of humor is as subjective as declaring that the piccolo is king of wind instruments, hands-down. (Never forget the pan pipe!) What some folks think is funny is just whistling wind to others: Some jokes might have your entire Mongol horde spitting out their teeth, while another of the same caliber might only make your cat laugh. For some it’s poop jokes, for some it’s palindromes, and never the twain shall meet. (Except for this instance, since “poop” is a palindrome.)
So, neatly sidestepping the sheer subjectivity (and the poop) of our subject, I’ll concentrate on a single comedic element that works for me as a writer, and as a consumer of comedy: incongruity. It’s as broad as the princess with the corn stuck in her teeth, or as peculiar as a man in a business suit with briefcase, walking a crocodile, or as off-balance as a garden gnome giving a speech on metaphysics to an assemblage of frogs.
Dave Barry is a master of the incongruous in his writing, and a lot of the funny in what he does is structured on a one-two-three of situations or circumstances, where the one and the two are prosaic, but the three is preposterous—but the preposterousness only works because the one and the two are banal enough to lull the reader, and the three puts a moustache on the coffee cup. What’s THAT doing there?
Here’s a Barry quote from an interview that asked him what book changed his life. (Note, Barry has said or written much funnier stuff than this, but this is a good example of the structure of what I’m talking about).
Barry’s reply: “The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky. I was supposed to read it my freshman year in college, but it’s 18 million pages long and I could never get past the first 43. Nevertheless I wrote a paper about it, and I got an OK grade, which taught me that I could write convincingly about things I did not remotely understand. This paved the way for my career in journalism.”
Emily Dickinson, Notable Joker
It’s the old ba-da-bing, done twice here by Dave. Straight answer, a bit of elaboration, and then a kicker; rinse and repeat. The incongruity I’m talking about is often a matter of rhythm: you set up the reader by offering some conventional understanding, and then you goose that understanding with a cheeky thrust. Though it’s not always going for the belly laugh; sometimes it’s more a “Huh? Ah, you’re nuts.” But nuts in a winning way. It’s a variant of ol’ Emily Dickinson’s “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
So exactly HOW do you do this? Sheesh, I’m no Svengali; when you try to write funny, it often comes out a miserable hairball-like thing, shaggy and sad. It’s more of an attitude or perspective. Check out this article I wrote on the travails of travel a bit back; it has some of what I mean. Sometimes it’s as “simple” as that Jack Benny stare and shrug that coming from another man would only produce indifference, but from Benny it was hysterical. And sometimes you have to go out on a limb: you have to give an avuncular icon dangerous drugs. It’s the Colonel that gets fried, not that chicken of his.
Bonus Colonel Sanders Sighting!
One reason why I probably find the Colonel reeling on chemicals comic is that when I was 11 or 12, I was selling candy bars outside the local liquor store (it had lots of traffic) in my hometown, fundraising for my Catholic grammar school. I was with my best friend, who can verify: we sold a candy bar to Colonel Sanders. I’m not talking about a guy dressed up like Colonel Sanders: this WAS the Colonel, with the white suit and string tie, the man himself. He was alone, and we gawked at him, and I mumbled my “Wanna buy a school candy bar?” pitch to him as he passed into the store, to no effect.
But when he came out, he stopped and chatted for a moment, and he bought a bar, paying five times as much as it cost (and, like most fundraising candy, it cost five times as much as it should to begin with). The Colonel popped it into his bag (which probably held some of the distilled elements of his secret herbs and spices recipe), and went on his merry way. As a kid, it was a crowning moment for me. I now like to think of the Colonel in chicken heaven, dropping acid every day, and musing over his chance encounters with youths in front of liquor stores. Incongruous, but funny. At least to me.
It’s a potpourri today, though all the spicy petals and heady scents promise more than the supply of mere atmospherics: they encourage you to seek and exchange the currency of real communication, and to write worthily.
First up, a bit of congratulatory squawking for Pat Ferdinandi, who is a bridge between worlds: Pat is able to oil the dried-up gears between non-communicative nerds and tech-terrified businesspeople so that the machine of commerce (and better yet, the connectivity of communication) can move freely. In her new book, Parrotology, she shows how geek-speak and spreadsheet speak can meet, work together and enjoy each other’s company in the process.
Marketing magician Jodi Kaplan reviews Pat’s work with some flair here; you can download Pat’s free technologist’s assessment guide here: Bonus: You’ll meet her fine-feathered friend, Scarlet. As a muse, Scarlet is no bird-brain.
Writing to Change the World
More writing-world congratulations are in order: Pace and Kyeli, Chief Freaks at Freak Revolution, know that writing for writing’s sake isn’t enough. Writing can sear souls, give gravity-bound ideas wings, and literally save lives. They’re spelling it out for you with all the letters on your keyboard (and some magic ones you didn’t know about) at their World-Changing Writer’s workshop, that gathers a few of heavy hitters, like Chris Guillebeau, Jonathan Fields, Danielle Laporte and more. Check out their free special report, The Five Keys to World-Changing Writing. Write well, but write to change the world. (Note: this world-changing doesn’t have to be done before lunch, but before tea-time would be nice.)
Lastly, I wrote a bit about my own word delirium in this post, but I want to extend that a bit: the Shelf Awareness daily compendium of bookish (but never boorish) news had this statement from author Rick Riordan the other day about something he learned in his Egypt-themed novel research:
I did quite a bit of research, and had shelves of books on hieroglyphs and how magic pertained. The ancient Egyptians considered all writing magic. They had to be careful: if they created the word “cat,” they had to deface it slightly, because they believed they could create a cat. The idea was that the ultimate form of magic was to speak and the world began. You see that influence in the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word.” All these ancient cultures dovetail, and they were all forming and evolving at the same time.
Behold the power of words! (Note: I spent all day writing variants of “Porsche” yesterday, but no car appeared. I did see an old cat move haltingly through the yard, however…)