BarCon Conversations, Minus the Price of Hotel Scotch

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Balance: Long-Term Creative Careers

Last month I had made up my mind to not accept any new projects for a while. I wanted a break. It had been a rough summer and I was burnt out. I had a few obligations I was wrapping up and then I just wanted to step back and read a book. Then, as happens, I got an offer I could not refuse, so I’m actually now busier than ever. It’s a good thing—a great thing, really, but I realize I still need to re-evaluate stuff. It has me thinking a lot about how to do this creative life thing long term, how to take on a good amount of work while keeping my balance.

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What You Need To Know About Writing Video Games

The Central Clancy Writer for Ubisoft/Red Storm, Richard Dansky  was named one of the Top Twenty Game Writers by Gamasutra in 2009. His game credits include Splinter Cell: Conviction, Outland, and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. He is also the author of five novels, including Booksense pick Firefly Rain, and his short fiction has appeared in anthologies such as The New Hero, Don’t Read This Book, and Dark Faith.

So here’s what you have to know about videogame writing.
Unlike just about any other form of writing, videogame writing is not about the story you’re telling the reader. It’s about the story the player is creating by inhabiting the protagonist. What separates game writing from everything else is agency—the ability of the player to choose what happens next, even if the choices in question are limited to “do I use the big gun or the really big gun?” Comics, fiction, movies, television—the audience receives the narrative as the creator chooses to present it. Videogames, the user takes what the creator has done and builds their own story. Nobody ever says “Master Chief did this cool thing” after a hot and heavy game session. It’s always in the first person— “I did this.”

In other words, you’re writing to help the player build their story, not to tell them yours. Rely too heavily on the player sitting still to hear your brilliance and you’ll lose those same players. They want to be playing, after all, not sitting there receiving your wisdom, or letting NPCs do all the cool stuff, or reading. If they want to do that, there are other media out there they could pick up instead; the point of a game, after all, is that it has a player, and that the player has choices.

That is, after all, the essence of play.

Writing for games also means you need to take gameplay systems into account in your writing and your plot structure. Sign on to write for a game that has a character advancement mechanic and you have to tell a story that reflects the player character’s growth in power. Sign on to write a game that starts with a character who doesn’t build skills and you’re writing an entirely different type of narrative. Level design, AI state changes, level load mechanics, mocap technology—all of these affect the sort of writing that you do, on a deep and fundamental level. It’s not just that the words matter, it’s how the words are delivered, and what systems exist to deliver them, and how those words interact with the systems that comprise the other elements of the player experience.

And if you can’t fit your writing into the data structures, if you can’t recognize that systemic dialog is there to be heard to provide information to the player and thus needs to be brief and to the point and willing to hold up to multiple listenings, then you’re not serving the player, and you’re not serving the game. Most of all, game writing is about writing something fun. Games are meant to be played, after all, and even the ones that carry weighty themes* —Shadow of the Colossus, for example—still must give precedence to the idea that they’re enjoyable to spend time with. If you don’t hold onto that quintessential need for joy, even in the darkest hours when you’re crunching and there are a thousand variants on “arggh he shot me in the face!” to write and a level design just changed so that you need to do a last-minute rewrite, then you’re shortchanging the player of joy as well, and that hurts the game.

So go. Play games. Have fun. And have fun when you write them, so that someone else can have fun, too.

*Obviously, there are games that are not intended to be fun per se, and many of them are remarkable creations. For commercial game writing, however, the vast majority of projects are created with the intention that the game will be fun, so lots of people will enjoy playing it, tell their friends, and get said friends to buy it as well.

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Blogging Through the Doubt

Blogging consistently is hard.

It doesn’t seem hard on the surface. Pick a topic, hammer out some words, spell-check it, call it a day. And to support this thesis, there are tonnes of blogs out there, on every single topic imaginable. Writing, art, money, knitting, the same picture of Dave Coulier every single day. And they seem to constantly have fresh posts daily, sometimes hourly, post after post about new topics, fresh advice, brand new content. Well, except for the Dave Coulier one, I guess.

With this overwhelming volume of words being put online, wave after wave, it might be hard for someone to continue their own blog. It’s easy to ask yourself, “What’s the point? Someone else has probably talked about this. They’ve probably talked about it better. Why should I cover it?” Or perhaps even the more insidious, “Who am I to even blog about this topic? Who on Earth would listen to me?” (I personally deal with this last one quite a bit.)

That first batch of questions, the one where you’re wondering why blog about something someone else has likely blogged about before, has some weight to it. It feels right. Why duplicate information? It’s all already out there.

But the thing is, sometimes it isn’t. Or sometimes it is, but it’s too old, too far back, people have forgotten about it. At the speed the Internet works, something that was new a week ago is already old news. And if it’s a year old? Yeah, go right ahead, that thing needs a refresher. There are very few blog posts that really survive year after year. So go ahead and write about that subject again, with your own personal take.

Furthermore, when it comes to writing about writing, bear in mind: there are new writers coming up every day, who need to hear these things. They haven’t read the blog posts. They haven’t been around long enough to know what the veterans consider obvious. They don’t know, but they want to know. And maybe you can be the one to teach them about the submission process, about editing, about contracts, about whatever a newbie must learn.

But what about that other question? The one that asks who are you to speak on such things?

Creative-types, we all know this voice. This is the voice of self-doubt. It haunts you in all the things you create, asking you who would care about this story you’re working on, who would care to slough through these words. This story has been told before anyway. Nothing new under the sun. Who would bother to read yours?

This is a terrible voice which you have to ignore if you’re going to get work done. Fear and self-doubt are killers of the creative process, and that includes blogging. If you worry about not being an expert on a topic, then do some reading, do some research. Draft your opinions and analyze them critically. Discuss them with others, to get feedback. If you put in the energy into developing a thoughtful opinion on a subject, whether through active effort or through experience, then you are exactly the person who should be discussing that topic.

Don’t be shy about blogging. If you have a subject you feel passionate, disregard the fact that anyone else has done it. Contribute your voice to the conversation, share your own experience. And don’t worry if you’re the right person to discuss the subject. If it’s on your mind, if you have thought-out opinions and clear, researched information, don’t let doubt get in your way.

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Editors, Influence, and You

Originally posted at For information about the ReaderCon incident discussed below, see this collection of links.

SF Signal just posted a podcast dealing with the aftermath of the writer Genevieve Valentine being harrassed at ReaderCon, which included the fall-out from ReaderCon not following its own zero tolerance policy. The panel consisted of Stina Leicht, Mur Lafferty, Jaym Gates, and Carrie Cuinn with Patrick Hester asking the questions. Hester didn’t do the best job in the world this time around, in my opinion, but the input from the interviewees is excellent.

One thing that came up during the podcast discussion was a report from a prior World Fantasy Con about an editor trading off of his influence to hit on women writers, especially up-and-coming writers where the power imbalance is very severe. The suggestion being, put up with this because I can help your career.

I mention this because I think it’s important that every writer, beginning or otherwise, know that this is absolutely, terribly, awfully wrong and no one ever should have to put up with this kind of behavior. Or any lesser variant of it. And also that no one editor out there has enough influence to have a dampening affect on your career if you have to tell them where to go. And that most all editors out there will be horrified and pissed off to hear of such behavior by a colleague and want to punch their teeth through the back of their face.

Another thing that disturbed me in the account Genevieve Valentine gave concerned panels, and in particular one in which she was heavily condescended to by the male moderator. This is also not okay, should never be okay, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of bounds for audience members to address such an issue as it comes up—or other panelists to do so. The other general issue being men talking over women panelists, not listening to them, etc. Also not okay. Which should be obvious. (For my part, I tend to get into manic modes that sometimes coincide with being on a panel, and I will happily shut the fuck up if told to shut the fuck up, should I forget to stop going on and on. Although I also do try my best to self-regulate and be a responsible member of all panels I’m on - a good moderator is always appreciated in this regard, too.)

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Anthology Publicity

Monica Valentinelli is an author who lurks in the dark. She has over a dozen short stories out in the wild, two novellas, and more on the way. Recent releases include “Don’t Ignore Your Dead,” which debuted in the anthology Don’t Read This Book and Redwing’s Gambit, a science fiction adventure novella.

There are a few ways to shape the promotional plan for an anthology.

1) Editor - No guts, no glory. Editor is in the spotlight for the antho and all PR is shaped around him/her. He/she decides who he/she wants to spotlight.

2) Joint - Make a plan, then ask the authors to volunteer to take part in whatever efforts they wish. Usually best responses come if you can stick to one initiative at a time rather than wow-ing them with PR-ness.

3) Select - Pick your “named” authors who have the biggest audiences and primarily work with them. Yes, people do promote this way and yes, it’s a fine line to walk. I’m of the mind that you never want to treat any author poorly — because they’ll remember you fondly the further they go in their career.

The Technical:

I cannot stress enough how important it is to use a calendar for book promotions. When you plot out when stuff will appear, you will be able to ensure you’re getting the right coverage. Either a) drop the bomb ll at once b) eke it out slowly over time or c) both.

Sample ideas:

* Blog Carnival - This is basically a fancy way of saying on “X” day all of the authors write about something specific (e.g. interview questions, design notes, etc.) on their websites and link to everyone else. So you get 13 (15 if you add Publisher plus Editor) articles that all go live on the same day. It’s content saturation and it has an effect on all boats.

* Interviews - Keep it small and you’ll get a better response. Answer me these questions three usually works really well. See Maggie Slater and what she did for me here: Three Questions: Monica Valentinelli

* Link Bait Contest - So the anthology has the potential to reach outside of the gaming industry because it’s about insomnia. Ask for people to share their experiences with insomnia to win a copy.

* Book Plates / Digital Signings - If you want to go crazy, create book plates for each author and send them twenty or twenty-five. If you want to go REALLY crazy, invite artists to design book plates based on their stories. Otherwise, offer a simple one for everyone that can be mailed around to get the authors’/editor’s/publisher’s signatures on them.

* Online Readings - Set up a Google+ Hangout where the authors read from their stories. They don’t have to read the hole thing and you can stretch this out over several episodes.

* Story of the Week - Feature and promote a different member of the anthology team (Yep, this is how *I* roll!) for fifteen weeks. Many readers appreciate that sort of thing because they view anthologies as ”samples.”

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So You Want to Start a Blog

Amy Sundberg is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and YA. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Redstone Science Fiction and Daily Science Fiction. She blogs regularly at The Practical Free Spirit and is currently working on a book about social media strategy for fiction writers. She lives in California with her husband and a ridiculously cute little dog. You can follow her on twitter @amysundberg.

Maybe your agent (or editor, or writer’s group) has been pressuring you to start a blog, or maybe you’ve seen what other writers are doing with their blogs and become intrigued. Maybe you’re interested in building community or connecting with your readers in a closer way. Or maybe you already have a blog, but it collects dust most of the year or could use a reboot.

Here’s what you need to consider before getting started:

1. Commit. Decide up front on a period of time to really devote energy to getting your blog started. You won’t attract readers overnight, and if you’re revamping your blog, it takes time to feel comfortable with the change. It also can take time for you to find your own unique voice for the blog. I recommend committing to at least six months.

2. Assess your time and energy. Are you willing to devote the time and energy necessary to maintain a blog? Because if you absolutely hate the idea, you might be better off putting the majority of your online time into other social media platforms. Readers can tell if you’re dialing it in on a blog, at which point it might not be worth the time grudgingly invested.

3. Choose a platform. The two main blogging platforms right now are Wordpress and Blogger. Many writers use because it can be incorporated directly into their author webpage. If you want to try blogging out and don’t already have a blog-enabled webpage, you can start out with and port all that content over to a future website that uses when and if you need something fancier. Blogger is a bit simpler to get started on, if you find the technical aspects of beginning a blog to be intimidating.

4. Decide on a schedule. How often are you going to post? It doesn’t have to be every day, but you need to think of an ideal posting schedule before you get started. Be ready to adapt that schedule if it doesn’t work with the rest of your life, but otherwise, make your best effort to stick with the plan. When starting a new blog, it is often better to post at least once per week; two to three times a week is fabulous. More than once a day can be a bit much for some readers. When you have an already established blog with a loyal audience, you can dial back the frequency.

5. Keep a balance between promotional content and the main focus of your blog. It’s fine if you want to use your blog to promote your work: letting people know about your published stories, upcoming novels, exciting reviews, guest posts elsewhere, and scheduled appearances. However, if you are only ever talking about you, you, you, and buy, buy, buy. that can be a real turn-off to prospective readers. So keep a careful eye on how much time you’re talking about promotion vs. how much time you’re running other content that will interest (and maybe even captivate) your readers.

6. Let people know about your blog. It is okay to promote your blog. Otherwise, how will people know to read it? Make sure you include an easy-to-locate place on your blog where people can sign up to receive your posts via email and via an RSS feed. Let your Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ followers know when you have a new post. You don’t want to be obnoxious about it and post the same link several times, but one time (or two times on Twitter—some people like to tweet their blog post once in the morning and once at night) is perfectly okay.

7. Decide on your content strategy. This is one of the most critical steps in blog creation. Think about who your desired audience is, and then figure out ways in which you can add value to their lives. If you already have an established fan base for your work, your strategy will be different than if you’re a new writer just starting out. You also want to think about how you can make your blog original, the blog that only you could possibly write. For example, many writer blogs out there have very similar and repetitive content about writing. It’s important to either find a niche for yourself within the writing blogs if your desired audience is other writers instead of readers (see Chuck Wendig's or Juliette Wade's blogs) or figure out what you can blog about that is not exclusively writing. (If you're having trouble wrapping your head around this idea, here is a primer to get you started.) Finally you want to consider what you’re comfortable talking about, what you’d prefer to keep private, and what tone you’d like to set in terms of appropriate behavior in the comments section (or if you even want comments).

We’ve only just begun the conversation about blogging, and about content strategy in particular. Blogging does require a certain commitment of time, energy, and willingness to experiment. But at its best, it can be quite a fulfilling and impactful experience.

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Success is Like Lightning

Mercedes M. Yardley wears red lipstick and poisonous flowers in her hair. She has been published in several diverse publications, and her first short story collection will be released this fall. She is a member of the SFWA, the HWA, and is represented by Jason Yarn at Paradigm. Mercedes is the nonfiction editor of Shock Totem magazine. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter as @mercedesmy.

Success Is Like Lightning: Preparing Before It Strikes

The literary world is feast or famine.  Either you’re beating the bushes in order to drum up work, or you’re tied, screaming, to the front of a locomotive as it heads for a cliff.  I have seldom seen an author say, “Why, yes, I am absolutely comfortable with my satisfying, impeccably-balanced work load.”  When success strikes, it’s most likely going to hit fast.  You had better be prepared.

  •   Have your work ready to go.

It may seem fundamental, but you’d be surprised how many writers are still, and forever will be, in the process of writing.  I stumbled across my agent as a fluke, and had to pitch my novel on the spot.  He said, “This story is intriguing. Is it ready to submit?”  Not only was the novel polished and ready to go, but so were the query and synopsis.  It was in his inbox immediately after he requested it. Thank goodness I was prepared, because this gentleman is now my agent.

  • Have a marketing plan ready.

If somebody picks up your novel, you won’t have time to breathe, let alone plan a marketing campaign from scratch.  You’ll be hitting deadlines like a beast, so it would behoove you to already have your grunt work done.  Will you do book signings? Blog tours? Is travel a feasible option? Do you have any marketing contacts? This can all be roughly planned ahead of time so you can avoid your deer-in-the-headlights moment when life is at its busiest.

  • Collect ideas for your book launch.

When your editor shrieks out, “Go, kid, go!” you’re going to hit the ground running.  Having an idea of what you’d like to do for a book launch will save you time.  Not to mention that when you’re trying to make five million decisions in two days, you’re not going to be doing your best thinking.  Serving smelly fish sticks with paper mermaid tails at your launch probably isn’t your best idea, no matter how brilliant it seems at 2:00 am.

  •   Scout out other opportunities in advance.

Would you like to have your work considered for awards?  Are there grants or contests that you have in mind?  There are many small awards that have very specific criteria.  If you’re a Nebraskan writer of color coming out with a second book of poetry, for example, there may be a monetary award for you.  But will you have time to search this out when you’re coordinating your book launch?  No. This is the sort of thing that you find in advance and tuck away for later. Mark the application submission dates on your calendar so you can submit on time.  Even better, have your application mostly filled out in advance so you can just add the additional info. You’ll have enough on your plate during your feasting times, but it would be a shame to let these delightful opportunities pass you by. Work on them during your famine.

  • Remember you’re doing what you love.

When you’re down to the wire, the stress can get completely overwhelming.  It seems the things that normally mean the most to you and bring the most joy (your family, your book, and the things that you’re doing to get your work out there) become so heavy that they’re unbearable.  Don’t forget to take days off.  Don’t let the responsibility suck the beauty out of what is ultimately your moment.  Everything is a choice and you’re choosing to invest time in something you believe in, and something that will bring you happiness and fulfillment.

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The History of Writing Mystery: Advice from the Greats

Deborah Lacy likes to collect handbags inspired by books and frequents speakeasies. She blogs at Mystery Playground and Criminal Element.

Writing excellent fiction is hard. This is an obvious fact to anyone who has attempted it.  Never fear because help is on the way. Many of the best crime fiction storytellers have left you clues to assist and inspire, if you know where to look. Here are a suggestions from greats in the genre.

“If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.” — Dashiell Hammett

The king of the hard-boiled school of fiction, Hammett is best known for The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.  His Sam Spade character brought grit and the tough guy back into storytelling in a way that is still imitated today.  His stories didn’t shy away from tough subjects.

“There always has to be a lapse of time after the accomplishment of a piece of creative work before you can in any way evaluate it.” — Agatha Christie

Christie is not only known for her enduring characters, such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, but also for her intricate plots. Who can forget the precision of And Then There Were None where ten criminals are brought together on an island to be murdered one at a time matching a nursery rhyme? Or the serial killer in the A.B.C. Murders who sends a clue to Poirot before each killing?  If distance helped Christie hone this work, it could easily work for you.

More of Christie’s writing advice as well as details from her life can be found in her uncreatively titled autobiography, An Autobiography.

"Stories are nothing but mystery boxes" — J.J. Abrahms

A few years ago the king of the boffo premise, J.J. Abrahms — creator of Lost, Alias and the latest Star Trek movies — gave a great talk at the TED Conference where he compared storytelling to an unopened box (You can see the entire talk here). Abrahms talked about how once the box is open, the mystery ends and so does the suspense. He keeps an unopened box on his desk as a reminder. This is another way of saying – as you write, ask dramatic questions instead of answering them. Of course, in a traditional mystery readers will want to know the answers in the end.

"One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” — Lawrence Block

A Grand Master of Mystery Writes of American, Block is known for his two series: one featuring recovering alcoholic Matthew Scudder series and the other featuring gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr. He’s won multiple Edgar, Anthony and Shamus awards and has published more than 50 novels and 100 short stories. He’s written five books for writers including Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Block’s permission to let himself write badly gives way to him writing well and being prolific and has stopped writer’s block from stalling his writing career.

"A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled." — Raymond Chandler

Chandler’s masterpiece character, Philip Marlowe was carefully developed in novelettes for the BLACK MASK pulp magazine until he was ready to write his first novel, The Big Sleep.  All of those stories helped Chandler learn how to refine and reduce his work in a way that is still admired today.

(Best selling author of the Lincoln Lawyer and Blood Work, Michael Connolly agrees with this advice on revising.)

Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe character was strongly influenced by Hammett’s Sam Spade, and both have been often imitated. Even the late great Robert B. Parker said he modeled his most popular character, Spenser, after Marlowe. But as Spenser may have sprung from Marlowe, he quickly became his own man as Marlowe was his own.  It’s important as we take lessons from the greats that we use these ideas as a starting point for something new, rather than just copying what has succeeded in the past.

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You Can Earn a Living as a Writer

I’m a writer. I’ve been at it for as long as I can remember. Although you probably don’t know me, I’ll bet that you’ve read some of my stuff.

Growing up in the suburban wastes of Kansas City in the 1970s, most kids I knew spent their free time playing softball on the schoolyard lot off Mission Road. Others went fishing down at the lakes between Manor Road and Meadow Lane. Me? That wasn’t my thing. On a hot summer day, I loved nothing more than to stretch out on the carpet of my living room floor near the air conditioning vent and scribble all over the pages of a Big Chief tablet with a Flair pen until my fingers went stiff. I wrote all kinds of junk. The earliest piece I can remember writing was a fake brochure for some kind of rocket ship / Chevy van hybrid. I was eight years old at the time. It was a bi-fold brochure with color illustrations. I was pretty proud of myself then. Still am.

Although much has changed over the decades – my writing skills have improved, I think – I still write commercial copy. During the daylight hours, I write about lawn mowers and deburring machines and satellite TV. As I said before, you’ve probably read some of my stuff. Planned a trip to Louisiana for Mardi Gras recently? You’ve read my work. Frequent a popular dating website? That’s me too. Spend any amount of time online researching orthodontists, equestrian supplies, building materials, self-storage facilities, or high fashion? I wrote some of that stuff.  I run my own little “content development” company. We’re writers and bloggers for hire. After hours, I write supernatural horror and science fiction. The commercial copy pays the bills, and that’s what this article is really all about.

Since I subscribe to a number of writer’s magazines, I get a lot of junk e-mail about books, DVDs, and seminars where you can quickly learn “how to make a six-figure income writing advertising copy.” Let me say – right here and now – that someof you can. Most cannot. Sure, if you can string together words and phrases and clauses with a fair grasp of sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar, you have a talent that can command a fair income – if you know what you’re doing.

In this age where text-speak has spread like Ebola from cell phones to term papers to casual conversation, many under the age of twenty-five appear to be incapable of putting a convincing argument for one thing over another to pen and paper (my personal opinion, not that of anyone else here at BookLifeNow). And since most marketing – whether in print or online – is driven by written content, there’s a great need for those who can write well. But you have to know the rules – those rules above words and phrases and clauses. Marketing copy is not written like fiction or journalistic articles. I won’t go into deep detail here, simply because there isn’t enough room to spell it all out in a single blog article.

But I’ll give you a peek. Here we go.

1. If you’re writing copy that sells window treatments, roofing supplies, invisible braces, air handling units, bug and tar remover, party supplies, liquid face lifts, or financial products, you have to first identify your audience. Ask yourself: WHO would want this? If you can come up with an answer, you’re well on your way to some compelling copy.

2. Always write to the business purposes at hand. Your client wants to convince the market that they need to pick up the phone or fill out a form or set up an appointment. What you write must gently nudge the readers toward acting on this suggestion.

3. Keep it interesting, engaging, and brief. Most people can read about 350 words (a single page from a paperback novel) in about a minute. They read whole pages because they’re invested in the characters and story. As a writer of commercial copy, you have none of that to your advantage. The average time a reader will spend on any page of content on a website is a whopping 33 seconds. Interesting, engaging, and brief, yeah?

4. Sell! If you’ve never sold anything in your life (cars, computer software, shoes, whatever) you may not have the experience needed to craft compelling sales copy. Selling is more than listing features, advantages, and benefits. It’s about creating an emotional connection between your reader and the product. In sales, we talk a lot about building commonalities, discovering needs, leveraging pain points, and overcoming objections. And it all works beautifully – with practice. Lots of practice.

5. And you must sell without selling. If this sounds like some twisted Kung Fu technique, you’re right. You must strike without being seen. Truly compelling copy leads the reader to believe that their needs are in direct alignment with product features, advantages, and benefits. You can almost see them nodding their heads in agreement as they ponder the words on the page.

6. Learn to write for robots. Pick up a book on the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Online, everything is driven by search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!). Every piece you write for a website is going to be seeded with keywords and phrases and links. Why? Every search engine employs search bot software to scan every web page for its content and then adds that data to a searchable index. This is how the web works. If you’re writing a page about chocolate chip cookies, you’d better mention “chocolate chip cookies” a few times in the copy.

You can earn a living as a writer. Like many, I’ve had a number of cube farm jobs. Long ago, I decided that I was unsatisfied with corporate life and made a decision to bail. I spent years building a book of business for my content development company. I’m a full-time writer now. It’s a sweet gig but it has its drawbacks. When 5pm rolls around and you’ve been killing yourself to crank out 10,000 words for a plastic surgeon, it isn’t easy to switch gears and be creative. Somebody once said that the worst day job for a writer is as a writer. Some days, I fully agree.


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Past Endurance

I have been medicated for over a year now, to treat mental illness. I’ve been medicated in the past, but I said I was stronger than medication. I was better than that.  I was trying to write while enduring panic attacks, suicidal depression, generalized anxiety, manic highs and disorganized thoughts. Terrifying hallucinations.

I was coaching myself through a panic attack in a bathroom stall at the newspaper I was working at, when I decided I wanted to be able to actually eat lunch on my lunch break. Not hide in a bathroom stall having a panic attack. I had started to take honest, successful steps with my career. People were starting to hear my name. And I had fallen in love.

The way I saw it, my choices were to try treatment again, or keep losing the battle. If treatment was successful, I’d hold onto words, the love of my life, and actually start living. If I didn’t get treatment, I was going to drown. I didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to keep going.  And you can only hide in a bathroom stall for so long.

That was in 2010. I’ve written through tapering off the pills that didn’t work, through starting new medications, and the awful adjustment periods. There are entire phases of projects that are just a coloured smear of memory. They got done, but goodness knows some bits are fuzzy. If you’re just starting medication, I can tell you that yeah, it’s not easy, but it’ll get easier.

Many of my peers, who are also your peers, are on medication. Slowly, some of them have started to be public about it. About being suicidally depressed. The blown deadlines. The litany of agony and self-medication many of us experienced for years. People I love and respect are medicated. They still struggle, but they use whatever resources they have to stay some measure of sane. And now that I have some small measure of success, and things I love and never want to lose…I emulate that. I do what it takes to stay healthy and sane. I am far from perfect or normal, but I don’t spend every single day panicked, and every morning regretting that I didn’t die in my sleep.

Sometimes success, even the start of it, crushes writers. I’ve lost friends to that moment, when their resources surpassed their ability to hold on.I nearly lost myself to that.  I was lucky enough to get treatment I needed before I could try a second time. The path back from that has not been easy.  I don’t think it is easy, for anyone. I still struggle, often daily, to write around the remnants of an illness the pills cannot cure, to keep fighting through what they call incomplete recovery from my mental illness. But every day I sit down to my laptop, pop the cap on the bottle next to it, and take the pills.

I don’t regret going back on medication. You couldn’t pay me to give up my life, or the things I’ve written, since clearing that hellish fog.

Filed under tumblrize mental health writing writing life