Jason Braun’s blog of making text, apps, music, and other things. | jason.lee.braun@gmail.com | 314-614-3717

Posts tagged “poetry

Letters to a Young Poet on Creative Content, Part 1

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.


Ah, Did He Just Say Diction?

IMG_4435
In Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Workbook, she writes, “For a poet, and indeed for any writer, diction has several components–the sound of the word; the accuracy of the word; and its connotation–the atmosphere, let us say, that is created by word choice.” It is interesting that she doesn’t call out correctness, as in how grammatically correct the word is inside the line and sentence. But maybe that is hinted at in “accuracy.”
I’ve been working on a manuscript of poems about the Midwest, St. Louis, and Superman for a while now and last night my friend David Rawson gave me some notes. He puts out lots of chapbooks and so has a good eye for this kind of thing. We got into it a little about diction. Here’s a review of his book Fuckhead in The Economy.
I’m thankful that I’ve got good readers and good friends to help me with my projects. Most of the time when I get a clique or suggestion from someone I trust, it is about something that already bothered me. The suggested change is something I secretly thought I could get past a reader.
David was bothered by the use of the “sweat” in the line, “We smoked, kissed, and sweat/ through our clothes.” Though it seemed to me that it was the way people speak and also the right word for the poem. Oliver writes about this impulse of contemporary poetry to be “written in a diction that belies that it was formally composed.” Poetic diction and the people were with me, but the grammarians were not. That’s why I drew this triangle.
  IMG_4435
David teaches public school now and an obsession with correct usage is one of the occupational hazards. But even when we were teaching at SIUE, that cat could diagram some sentences. He won his share of spelling bees as a kid, too. But I think I might have convinced him with “sweat.” Either way we had a pretty good discussion about diction, how people talk, and the ever shifting tides of Standard American English. Consider this, the scholars at Harvard say that many irregular verbs in English (and other languages) are dying.
You can use Google N-Grams to chart the usage of these verbs like so.
Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.23.46 PM
This is not the first time I’ve had to stop and think about this kind of thing. In the poem “Let Me Give You a Tour of the Place” the published version says “swum,” and I can’t even remember if I originally wrote “swam, swum” or whatever. But I remember it was a big deal that took up a lot of time in the workshop. No matter if they are grammatically right or wrong, I want my poems to feel that, as Oliver suggests, “They are not unlike a letter you might have received from a good friend.
Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.23.11 PM

3 New Poems Published at Squalorly

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.

http://www.squalorly.com/poetry/three-poems-jason-braun


Animal Poem

Here’s a I wrote poem about giving smart, strong-willed, beautiful women enough space to coexist, cohabitate, and the other good stuff. It’s easy to do this in a poem. Life, not so much. Here are also hummingbirds, buzzards, and sharks in this poem. You might like it. 
http://animalliterarymagazine.com/2014/02/01/poem-15/


Western Illinois University

Image

 

I’ve moved to Macomb, IL to teach full time as a member of the English faculty at Western Illinois University. If you happen to be in the area on October third, please come by the reading in the University Art Gallery. I’ll have CDs, jokes, and smiles for everybody. And I’ll do my best to keep it from becoming too serious.