If you’ve been following this blog (to which I would respond: Really? Oh, wow, thanks!), then you probably know that I’ve chosen to take a hiatus from updating it in favor of my job.
In retrospect, it may not have been a good move for me. Stopping THIS particular writing ritual made all my other personal writing habits go to shit. And while I can’t regret going on hiatus (trying to sustain this while keeping up with the schedule I’d imposed upon myself to get work stuff done would have been nuts), I’d have to admit that it had a very negative effect.
With this personal ritual gone, I found myself clinging to my weekday work cycle ritual:
Wake up at 3 am to check/respond to emails and work out to-do lists for about an hour
Prepare for the office
Leave for the office around 5:30 am; get to there on or before 6 (despair for about 10 minutes if I arrive later later)
Review other people’s work (if any) or respond to more correspondences at work
Try to divine how the hell I’m supposed to do crap with cryptic/changing instructions and scope creep
Go straight home (if I don’t have to do overtime or any chores to deal with)
Get cleaned up and take a 2-hour nap with the help of ASMR videos
Get up for dinner
Go back to sleep
Repeat on every weekday
Of course, this was not good for me; this was especially since our company’s undergoing massive changes and one change in particular had, diplomatically speaking, put me in situations of conflict.
And call my kum-ba-yah preferences stupid, but I HATE being in conflict and having confrontations.
So essentially, I chose to put all my effort into the wrong sort of ritual and gave up a ritual that actually energized me. I’d give myself some sarcastic applause if it didn’t depress me so much.
To be clear: this is not exactly anyone’s fault.
Things are what they are.
I am who I am.
And, sadly, after all these years, who I am and what I do for a living have stopped working in harmony.
Whether or not having continued my personal writing would have helped me through the challenges I went through over the last few months is moot. Sometimes, the act of writing is cathartic enough to allow me to set fire to my frustrations, helping me let go. Other times, all it does is reinforce my ash-grey thoughts. It’s a motherfucking crapshoot.
But what I have realized over the last month or so is that there are rituals you have for other people and there are rituals you have for yourself.
The right kind of ritual is whatever helps you become who you need to be for the world.
I think it’s about time I get back to that second kind of ritual. So I guess you guys will be seeing me around a little more often.
Weekends are typically geekfest-type affairs for me, because they often involve hanging out at my father’s place watching movies, talking about geek news, and herding perpetually-hungry cats. Generally, they don’t lead to anything that can be mistaken for “shop talk”.
Last weekend, however, we kind of just wandered into it. While talking about the books we like reading (at the moment, it happens to be The Dresden Files – because I’m in the middle of a series re-read and Dad is on the verge of finishing the latest installment, “Skin Game”), I noted that my father had always been an author loyalist rather than a series loyalist. That is to say, he tended to choose books, TV shows, and comic books based on WHO wrote them rather than what or who the story was about. For example, my Dad collected the Alan Moore run of The Swamp Thing and, as far as I could tell, it was the only run of that comic he actually completed. Another thing: while Dad’s mostly a DC fan, he has no problems getting into Marvel when his favorite DC storytellers move on to work with them – Paul Dini comes to mind. And it really doesn’t matter what genre or form he writes in; Dad will read Neil Gaiman’s work.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind. In fact, I love that I practically inherited that from him. But it did make me wonder why he’s so author-oriented.
Dad’s simple answer? “It’s because working in advertising made me care more about the BRAND instead of just the product.”
Brand vs. Product
For those of you who haven’t grown up with the lexicon, it may be easier to think of it this way:
a brand is how you PERCEIVE and IDENTIFY with a company
a company’s products are the items they actually produce
Many different companies can have the same product, but the branding attracts a different audience for each of them. Pepsi and Coca Cola may both produce refreshing drinks, but Pepsi resonates more with the “bleeding edge cool” identity while Coca Cola resonates with “family- and friendship-focused” identities.
Never thought of myself as cool, so that’s probably why I’m pretty attached to Coke.
In short, branding creates uniqueness for a product that would otherwise be considered run-of-the-mill. Branding is the story that people buy into, that help them emotionally connect with the products they buy. Why do you think there are so many Apple loyalists out there? It’s because its brand story is one of creative innovation, which people have come to admire – and its dearly-departed evangelist Steve Jobs told that story well.
It’s no wonder, then, that the way my dad – a veteran copywriter – sees it, branding is always best attributed to the storyteller that supports it. In fact, I’m inclined to agree that without the proper “author”, a brand won’t be able to take off.
Author vs. Work
There are two things I’ve learned over the course of my love affair with reading and writing:
an author’s voice is not limited to style; it also includes themes the author authentically connects with
the author can produce work for different genres or in different forms and still retain their voice
Authors are often encouraged to create a particular “voice”, an approach to storytelling, that can be associated with them. That’s why you can easily distinguish the humor of Carl Hiaasen from the humor of Christopher Moore, even with their fairly similar affection for somewhat absurd situations (though Moore’s absurdity is clearly more fantastical in nature, with his vampires and angels). Essentially, you can say that authors are predisposed towards branding in their writing; no matter what work they produce, they always “sound” like themselves and create a sense of familiarity and relatability for the audience they attract.
In other words, authors were brands long before the Internet made personal branding a thing.
For most writers, the branding thing requires them to adopt nom de plumes that allowed them to switch genres; look at Nora Roberts, who was known to have written as JD Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty. Each pseudonym she used is a sub-brand that represents the PRODUCT that readers can expect to get out of them – that said, Robert’s penchant for strong character development and romance STILL shines through most of the stuff she’s written.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We can all quibble over whether or not Spike Lee is worth the praise piled on him; but we can’t deny that, as a storyteller, he has a very unique and recognizable voice despite having covered various genres in his work. And, as we all know, my hero Neil Gaiman regularly switches from writing articles to adult fiction to children’s fiction to poetry to comics without losing his identity as a writer.
That’s why people like my dad get invested in authors rather than plots; no matter how cool the product is on paper, it’s always the brand that they connect with – and storytellers make the brand come alive.
Personal Thoughts: Companies Can Lose Customer Loyalty When They Forget Branding and Get Their “Authors” Wrong
When I was growing up, DC stories felt like they were all about near-epic heroism from very different characters (which serve as “sub-brands” to its “epic heroism brand”). Sure, Batman’s awesome; but in their own way, so are Superman and Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and The Flash. Each character had a fan base that was attracted to its “brand”. I admit it got cheesy sometimes, but I’d like to think that they mostly stayed true to branding.
When it became clear that DC and its partners wanted to capitalize on Batman’s ever-increasing popularity by rebooting every other character to have a Batman-ish element, I basically lost faith in the company and its partners. Don’t get me started on the WB decision to hire Snyder and Goyer, who have unintentionally loogied on a character brand by virtue of being the wrong “authors” to hire for a Superman story. Nor am I going to go on and on about how they decided to align animated stories with the grittier comics instead of applying the superior storytelling of the animated stuff to influence their comics (I may be biased because Young Justice should not have died).
I’m not saying that every DC thing right now is bad. I’m just saying that they occasionally forget that their brand is MORE than Batman. I’m saying that this publisher should remember that each character is a brand within their brand (a brand identity they keep forgetting) and each have stories that are appropriate and not appropriate for them. And I’m saying they should understand that they should be mindful of the storytellers they choose for each story.
I’ll still give some of their stories the benefit of the doubt. But now I’m cheating on them with other comic companies – especially if the storytellers I love moved to the competitors.
Quick question – what are your favorite brands/authors, and why are they your favorites? Did you have a favorite brand/author that stopped being your favorite? If so, why? Do feel free to comment!
I honestly tried, guys. I really tried to think of something to write while I’m still tinkering with my review of “The Conjuring”
But it looks like I got nothing today. It probably doesn’t help that I’m preparing for yet another very early morning shift thanks to a meeting that I’m supposed to attend every other week. Right now, all I can think is that I need to get some rest because I need to leave home by midnight tonight.
I don’t even have any reading suggestions for you today. I’ve been too busy at work; I only had enough time to eat something and relax my brain before I got buried in urgent tasks. Ah, the life of a QA proofreader who can’t get shit right the first time so she’s doomed to double-check every damn thing she checks WHILE DEADLINES CROWD AROUND HER, chanting “hurry up, hurry up, hurry up” and causing her to make even more mistakes.
I think I need a proper vacation, but NOPE I CAN’T because who would do my job?
*cough* Yeah, in conclusion, I got nothing for you today.
In honor of my return to work after a long weekend, I’m doing a post related to my job.
Dear Writer Gig Applicants,
Occasionally, I’m asked to evaluate the sample articles that you submit to us. It’s not a particularly difficult task; but sometimes it can be really frustrating. Why? It’s because some of you out there try out for writing jobs without actually respecting what it entails.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come across some really good writers in my evaluations. But it feels like a lot of you think that writing sentences, paragraphs, and articles is simply a matter of putting words right next to each other – grammar and logic be damned. It’s not that easy, guys. Writing content for the web is all about communication. If you can’t get your message across properly, then that means you aren’t really a writer – at least, not the kind of writer that deserves to get paid more than $5 for his or her work.
If you want to actually get decent money for writing articles, you need to stop doing the stuff below:
Assuming that this is a piece of cake
It’s not. You have to think about what you’re writing. You have to know about what you’re writing. At the very least, you have to be very conscientious with your grammar and spelling. If your plan is to just type whatever pops into your head, then you can’t expect to be hired by an employer that takes its content extremely seriously. And believe me, EVERYONE IS STARTING TO TAKE THEIR CONTENT SERIOUSLY THESE DAYS.
A small mistake like using “they’re” instead of “their” can ruin a company’s reputation, so they’re less likely to tolerate stuff like that from people they might hire. Jumping from one topic to another mid-way through the sentence is also a no-go – it devalues the article, which makes Google and the like consider it as inferior. Believe me when I tell you that clients won’t like that either. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) still counts for something these days, and, given how important good content has become for search engines, articles that look like absolutely no work had been put into them are likely to be ignored.
Assuming that big words count for a lot
Remember back in school, when we used to stuff our essays and papers with jargon and highfalutin words so we’ll sound smart and stuff even if we don’t necessarily understand what those words mean? Yeah, that won’t work in this case. Again, the point of writing for the web is to communicate information as clearly as possible. This isn’t about trying to impress someone with your knowledge (not even understanding) of certain words; it’s about trying to impress someone with your ability to EXPLAIN stuff.
I’m not saying that you should use small words all the time; I’m just saying that people don’t have patience for people who use big words without helping the readers understand what the word actually means. You think it makes you look smart? Wrong. It makes you look like a pretentious jerk. Especially if you used the word wrong.
Which, by the way, you often do.
Assuming that everyone should hire you
Of course, it’s perfectly possible that you think that you’re the best writer in the whole wide world. You won awards for scholastic journalism and stuff. Your school paper published a couple of your poems back in high school. You’re an artist, and how dare I tell you that your work is not up to my company’s standards!
Listen. Writing poetry and articles for your school magazine is very different from writing stuff for a company’s blog or website. Those have completely different standards. The academic publications may value long, rambling sentences, but web writing requires you to be more straightforward. When people like me tell you that your writing style isn’t up to the company’s standards, it’s not because we’re bitchy. It’s because IT’S REALLY NOT WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR. I’m not bullying you. I’m telling you the truth. It’s not about you or me. It’s about what the company wants or needs, and you’re not it. There’s no place for ego in this case.
I hope that, if you’re really gunning for a career in writing, this does not put you off. My real purpose for writing this is to let you know what it takes to have a potentially long-lasting career in web content creation – hard work, clarity, and humility. You can’t go wrong with these things. God willing, this means that we can find ourselves working together someday.
Elea (Your Friendly Neighborhood Web Content Writer)