So I haven’t been at my desk much lately. I’ve been writing, but it’s been in on yellow legal pad and not on a computer. I’ve been outside in the woods, deserts, and mountains for a while. I’ve hiked many miles in far flung places from Alaska to the Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande at the edge of Texas. I’ve lost over 50lbs since I last put up a blog post. Just weeks ago I was out in Arches National Park. I’m back with many stories.
But today I want to champion stories that others have written. Maybe they’ll inspire you to get outside as well. Outside Magazine has a pretty damn good reading list here for anyone looking to learn more about the wilderness. My favorites listed here are Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.
Much of Bryson’s humor comes from the foil of his buddy Katz as Bryson himself plays the straight man. Katz gets lost and when he makes his way back to Bryson, he says: “To tell you the truth, I’ve never been so glad to see another person in my whole life, and that includes some naked women.”
Krakauer’s book is one I just finished yesterday, and I’ll be writing more about that book shortly. But the Christopher McCandless as described in the book was less annoying and more human than the film version led me to believe. And though I’m not positive I’d get along with McCandless if I’d have met him in person, I can relate to the wanderlust he was filled with, according to Krakauer: “The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything.”
Two books not listed that inform my thinking about hiking and spending time in the wilderness are Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Strayed’s book wasn’t published when that list came out. And McCarthy’s is a post apocalyptic novel about a boy and his dad walking and scavenging the wasted gray landscape with all their meager positions in tow, but it still sounds like hiking to me.
Last week a poet, musician, graffiti artist, and recent graduate (bachelors in English) asked me, “What are all these creative content gigs about?”
I thought this might be something that other people are thinking about. So here it is. Thanks for reading.
First, I want to admit that I’m no Tim Ferriss or even Brian Clark (http://www.copyblogger.com/about/). However, I know a little bit about this stuff. In addition to the usual skills and writing experience you’d expect from a dude who teaches college English, I’ve been working with “creative content” for a long time now. I’ve blogged here, at Critical Margins, and even for Jane Friedman (the former publisher of Writer’s Digest). I’ve produced and hosted radio shows and podcasts for KDHX (a station that has over 82,000 listeners per week) and Critical Margins. I’ve created the copy, the products, and the press releases that have landed coverage in as diverse publications as Riverfront Times, ESPN.com, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Now, let’s get back to the poet’s question about creative content. Every large company has somebody writing the words that appear on their website. Some smaller companies and non for profits do this as well.
Q: What’s all this about SEO and copywriting?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a game where you try to load as many key words into an article or the headings and titles of the articles to make that article return at a higher place in users search results. The algorithms that underpin search results apparently attend to the frequency of keywords as one of their variables. The best way to optimize search results is to consistently put up good content. I’m not the first to say this. All the tricks in the world aren’t worth as much as good, honest, thoughtful, and frequent writing that comes from a perspective that feels like a human wrote it.
Q: If I was a producer of online marketing content, what would this actually tangibly look like?
This depends on the company and the contract. Some gigs are for a jack-of-all-trades who can create internal materials (employee newsletters, CEO speeches, training materials for new employees…) and external materials (customer facing web copy, press releases, infographics, podcasts, videos…). Some of these gigs might want you to do just one or two of these things. There are gigs that people do from home and then some gigs where they’d have to go in for. Some of those tasks I mentioned above quickly become other job descriptions (and fields of study) of their own at larger companies: public relations, advertising, instructional design, audio and visual production, and even technical writing.
Like kung fu, all the rhetorical skills you’ve learned as an English major can be used for good as well as evil. Some companies might want you to write them out of a corner or explain away certain mistakes with your exceptional storytelling abilities. Theranos is a health tech company that, according to The Wall Street Journal, lied about their blood tests and then covered up their problems. Wired just wrote a story about how Theranos is looking for a writer to spin this (http://www.wired.com/2016/02/theranos-is-hiring-a-writer-to-solve-its-problems/?mbid=nl_2516).
Q: Content writing seems like a growing field. But what are the long-term career prospects for this (plus the salary/benefit/ full time vs. part time situation)?
Until you craft something big that sets you apart or get experience with top-level clients, you’re competing against an international computer using, English speaking mass of people who aren’t spending US dollars to live. They’re spending rupees, pesos, or duckets. They can afford to work for less than you can and still pay their rent. This is not an argument for or against outsourcing. You want to know about the economics of a situation, that’s all.
Q: Does getting a gig in this field require knowledge of HTML or programming?
Learning a little bit about HTML and CSS is easy. Spending two or three hours at codecademy (www.codecademy.com) will be useful to you know matter what you end up doing (as long as you’re not going off to a mountain to be a yogi or something). If you do creative content marketing HTML will come in handy sometime. Same goes if you become an English professor. HTML is just a mark up language. It isn’t a functional programing language. The functional stuff is more of a challenge. But surely not beyond your big brain.
One night about a year ago after having a beer or two at the Stagger Inn Again in Edwardsville, Megan Hudgins and I walked out to our cars where heard the strangest bird song. It was not of this world. It sounded digitized. I approached the shrubbery with caution. This bush of sorts was located about equal distance between the Napa store and the library. It was not a hoax. Half a dozen of real birds were making those sounds. I know because they tried to attack me. I wrote a poem about the sound of these birds. I thought it was just another sci-fi poem. But apparently it is political, or so says Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.
Oh and if you’re in Edwardsville sometime, stop by Stagger. Tell Tim the literati sent you. That and five bucks will get you a picture of Stag.
Here’s some poems I wrote about not knowing how to explain what Russian ballerinas do, working at an Oklahoma oil refinery, and the songs of sea turtles. Maybe you’ll like them.
It’s strange. Valerie Vogrin pointed out to me that these are such small poems written in response to such large paintings and murals. But I think the people in Rivera’s painting are of few words.
A well-traveled poem of mine about Guatemala, the people you meet in hostels, and avocados just went up at Outside In Magazine.
I wouldn’t be mad or anything if you clicked on the link to check it out.
Here’s a very short and maybe even funny poem that just got published today-