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.
It’s my birthday and Flyover Country decided to say some nice things about the hip hop and the poetry. Good press! That’s all I ever wanted for my birthday.
Mark Oprea asks some great questions about poems, lyrics, music, themes, public perceptions and more in this. We discussed Jay Z’s Decoded, compare Dante’s Inferno to every thing DMX ever wrote, and put 50 Cent in a room with Joseph Campbell to see who dies and who is resurrected first. Shakespeare, Roethke, and Eminem are also put on notice.
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.
I just wrote a post for Critical Margins about three apps that can make you a better, faster, and stronger writer. If you’re interest, you know what to do.
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.
I’m not E. L. James, J.K. Rowling, or even Stephen King. Sorry. I haven’t yet signed a contract for my debut book of poetry “Songs to Sing in a Getaway Car.” But I have published 50 poems, numerous essays and blog posts, albums, a comic book with Matt Kindt, and a few apps with Dan McKenzie in the past couple of years, not to mention the dozens of press releases that turned into stories about. So I have been up to something. After this interview at Squalorly (http://www.squalorly.com/interview/discussion-jason-braun) people have started asking me about how to get published. Here is the short answer: Read deeply in the subject you want to write, write a lot, then submit a lot.
If you are convinced, then go do it now! If you are angry or bored I hope you have a great day anyway. If you’d like an explanation, then we’ll keep going.
As some of you know I have dyslexia and ADD. Spelling doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet editors, publishers, and readers like to read words spelled correctly. This is one of the reasons I created homophonecheck.com with Dan McKenzie’s help. When I’m writing poems I tune into the sounds of words so much so that spelling goes out the window.
Homophones can make a poem more interesting, yet when it is written down as opposed to being recited, the poet has to choose which word he or she wants to use primarily. The point is: check your spelling. Most of what I’ve published has been looked over by someone else. Sometimes the editors at the magazines catch an error and like the poem enough to correct it. I’ve got a few publishing credits though. They probably wouldn’t read something all the way through if I was just starting out and had jacked up spelling. This is the small stuff. If you need an editor check out one of these two guys, I vouch for them:
Kevin Eagan at http://kevinthomaseagan.com/
Andrew Doty at http://www.editwright.com/
The real key is to submit a massive of work! I’m talking about the power of large numbers. In the past two year’s I’ve submitted over a hundred packets of poems to various places. Submitting a massive amount of work is easier when you have a lot of poems. I’ve been writing a poem a day for over two years now.
You might say, well it is easy to submit a lot of poems if you have a lot of them. What’s stopping you from doing this? Who among us can’t fit time in their day to write a haiku?
Some days all I write is a haiku. I’m not looking down on the haiku. A lot of times it ends up a better poem than one I labor over for hours. Every day I’m checking in. Everyday I’m reminding myself that yes, I am a writer. Today I have over 822 poems totaling (72,727 words) that aren’t in my manuscript or published individually. I haven’t sent many of these ones out yet. But this starts with writing just one.
I thought I’d need to do more smoozing and handshaking. But I’ve published very little through that method. Not that it couldn’t work. To be honest, the fact that I am (or was) an Editor at Sou’wester (http://souwester.org/) helped tremendously. For one, it gave me a little credibility. Also I read a hell of a lot of unpublished poems about barns, penises, Thor, and even hate-filled Nazi collage pieces. I have an idea what an editor might look for. But I get a lot of rejections.
If you still want to know more about publishing check out my friend Jane Friedman’s blog. http://janefriedman.com/blog/