Tag Archives: editing

The Professional/Creative Paradox or Why Writers Are Emotional Disasters

So a few weeks ago, I was up in Portland for meetings and received a text from my fellow writer and partner-in-office crime, Chelsi. She’s a dear friend and holds a mighty pen, and I don’t think she’ll mind me telling you that she’s also completely insane. Text reads as follows:

I’m leaving. Right now. I’m serious I can’t take this bullshit.

Hallway phone intervention. Turns out she was being pressed to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite pieces she had finished months ago, pieces that were finished, done, off of her desk and out in the world. That morning she had hit her limit.

Now from a practical perspective writers often recycle research, finished work, and text scraps for other uses, so the reworking request certainly wasn’t unreasonable, but a repeated request to do so without any end in sight will make a writer want to kick a hole through a door. But we have to do it, we know we have to do it, and we have to do it often… herein lies the tragedy of the desk writer. Writing anything worth reading requires some level of emotional investment, but conversely, professional writing requires a level of detachment. Birth a bouncing baby blob of text, drop it at the doorstep, and walk away. Then come back and look at it again. And then walk away again. Now come back. Now go. Some days it’s just not easy.

In a recent creative workshop, Eric Maisel spoke about the emotional and cognitive output required to create. The math is rough here, but it takes about twelve bazillion neurons to create meaning in any artistic endeavor. That meaning… whatever it is… is like crack to a writer. We write (or do any creative thing, really) to create meaning of some kind and when it’s fucked with we become bitter, emotionally bereft, sometimes even depressed.  I felt for Chelsi—she was about to blow and not completely able to express precisely why, other than she was seriously over it.

Chelsi’s super cute, but make no mistake. She will cut you.


So you might say getting upset over creative differences in the professional space is just taking things too personally, or being too sensitive about your writing and I’d say you’re probably wrong about that. If you love what you do and you’re pretty good at it, chances are you’re somewhat emotionally invested in it and getting pissed off is going to be part of that process. Now people can’t run around kicking holes in doors, but there are a few things writers can do to help things go smoothly when differences occur.

1) Be briefed. It’s tough to get a vague assignment and misinterpret the lack of direction as free reign, only to have the project plan completely change last minute. Sure, changes will happen along the way… agile business and all of that, but there’s a big difference between course correction and a total rebuild. Writers need to ask a ton of questions to be clear on project expectations and version deadlines.

2) Pick battles wisely. Collaboration is always a compromise, so know what you’re willing to change or remove and what you’re willing to fall on the sword for. If you’re going to fight for something, make sure it’s for the good of the project and not an evil match of wills.

3) Step away from the monitor. Gain clarity on your project by doing something completely different for a while. Working for too long on a piece that keeps landing back on your desk only frustrates you, so go do anything but that particular project. When I was in grad school there was a guy who’d literally put his fieldwork notes in the refrigerator to “cool off” before moving onto the next draft of his thesis (I called bullshit on this one because it sounded so lame but I’m told by reliable sources that it’s true). Whatever. Do what you gotta do…

So Chelsi didn’t leave that day, and in the end, she turned out her usual awesomeness that everyone was happy with. I think it’s always interesting when creative process and professional timelines evolve from a raging, amorphous blur into something new and hopefully unexpected. Painful, daunting, and ever so worthwhile.


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Filed under Writers on Writing

Here’s Me

Sarah Fisher, zen film maker and all-around cool woman (bluelotusfilms.net), shot this little hello for me a while back. I met Sarah through Coffee & Power and we hit it off right away. I’ve pimped C&P for a while because it’s just a great idea: buy and sell small jobs from local folks and engage in your community in a new way. Promoting your small business through this space is a great concept that is proving successful, but another great thing about C&P is that you get to meet interesting, creative people.

Popper Creative from Sarah Fisher on Vimeo.

Anyway, so here’s a bit about me beyond two dimensions. Don’t look at the messy apartment.

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Filed under The English Department, Welcome

Punctuation… A Tragic Love Story

Oh Punctuation, how you baffle us! Your vexing ways make us say the silliest things. Sometimes coy, often confusing… you leave us sitting in from of our monitors with knitted brows, wondering what in the hell we did wrong.

Unpopular Punctuation: The Marks You Probably Avoid

Now in creative work, anything goes. Poems, short fiction… do what you like. This poem by J.P. Dancing Bear uses colons in an especially cool way. Punctuation is usually about timing… about when a reader receives an idea. “Not Persephone” uses colons to parse out moments of thought, but show how they all pull out from the first line. The effect is pretty and rather brilliant.

But in business writing the enterprise requires more thought. Proper and consistent use of punctuation affords strong, crisp writing. So for those of us who are not poets: Lisa Kusko has a super-popular blog for business writing. Her tips apply to just about anyone trying to hone their craft, or simply not sound ridiculous. Knowing what to use where and when helps, so check it out!

Unpopular Punctuation: The Marks You Probably Avoid.

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Filed under The English Department, Writers on Writing

top five cliches that drive me insane

Overused expressions make me feral-cat crazy. They represent muddled, default thinking, and really don’t say anything important. When I read a cliche, my attention span automatically shuts down on that writer. If she doesn’t care enough to write something in an specific, clear, or original way, why should I care about the message? Perhaps at one time these phrases meant something, but in the interest of inspired communication, I hereby request that these blurbs be strip mined from the English-speaking world, stuffed into a biohazard barrel, and buried somewhere out in the Nevada desert.

1) “nip it in the bud”

I don’t like the word nip…  who nips? Unless you’re a 19th century dandy boy holding a brandy snifter this phrase should be prohibited.

2) “on the same page”

As Twitter artist Kelly Oxford points out, you never want to be on the same page as someone who says “we’re on the same page.” Over-assuming and annoying.

3) “fell through the cracks”

Screams either lack of accountability or a laziness to describe what actually happened. Why not just shrug and stare at the floor instead?

4) “spinning your wheels”

Tired, and for some reason reminds me of the Flintstones. 

5) “pushing the envelope”

I never understood this one so I looked it up. Turns out it has nothing to do with stationery, but is a math allusion. Math! How many times have you heard this and knew, albeit vaguely, what the person meant, even though the expression itself made no sense to you?

Dammit. Math has no place in writing. Everyone knows that…


Filed under The English Department, Writers on Writing

Five Revision Tips for the Non-Writer

So you need to write better copy, right this minute? Here are five writer basics to pretty up your business writing today.

1) Just Say It

You don’t have to get fancy with diction to sound smart. A reader becomes suspicious of an idea or message if the word choice seems out of context, especially in product descriptions or sales correspondence. Use words you know. If it makes sense to up the lexical ante, let an editor or at least another set of eyes take a pass at it.

2) Stop Clearing Your Throat

Writing means rewriting. It means cutting out redundant sentences, excess phrases,and wordy descriptions. Industry letters don’t need to begin with “from the dawn of civilization” introductions. If your audience speaks your lingo, these kinds of openings will fatigue your reader. It’s okay (and welcome!) to just get to your point. Do you really need to say “due to the fact that” when “that” or “because” usually mean the same thing? And in most cases, double descriptors are usually unnecessary: people understand that ice is cold, night is dark, and clowns are scary.

Make no mistake... Bobo will cut you.

3) Less is Still More

Getting your message out is the easy part; social media outlets mean you can tweet, post, blog, and e-blast everyone, all the time, telling all how great your product is and why they must have it. Don’t.

Users fatigue quickly, and if the message even whiffs of self-serving, sales-y woo ha, you’ll lose credibility faster than you can say “woo ha”. Keep your message subdued, talk about the other benefits your company offers (charities, global partnerships, your employees’ stories, your vendors’ missions) to engage your readership in an oblique way. Bludgeoning people with offers and urgency is not marketing, it’s spamming.

4) Cross and Dot

Grammar and punctuation matter—there’s no getting around it. Readers will trip over Fake Proper Nouns You’ve Made Up & ampersands when you should use the word “and” instead. Tripping means readers lose interest and you lose credibility. Also: spell-check doesn’t catch everything; “too bee ore knot two bee” is perfectly spelled and completely nonsensical. If you’re sending an important piece of news out to press or to the masses online, have a proofreader take a gander.

5) George is Right

Number six on George Orwell’s “Five Rules for Effective Writing” reads: “Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.” Kind of a non-rule rule (probably why it’s named number six out of five), but you get the point. If it sounds ridiculous then don’t write it. Despite what old-school grammar guides say, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition. I’d never say “Please hand me something with which to write,” but “Please give me a pen to write with.” Really… it’s cool. So are contractions.

Bottom line: reading is about the reader, not the writer. Keeping audience comfort at the forefront of your message will always produce better writing.

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Filed under The English Department, Writers on Writing

Free Me, Courtesy of Coffee & Power

No not free me as in “Free Winona” free me, but actually my services are free to you. Silly.

One of my favorite new social products (and yes… a stellar client of mine, I’m not going to lie), Coffee & Power is making you an offer you can’t refuse. (Sorry, I’ve had the Godfather on my mind all week for some reason. Just go with it.)

For those not in the know, Coffee & Power is this very cool work/exchange site where you can buy and sell services, (called Missions). You need cupcakes delivered for an office party? Coffee & Power has someone. Someone to build software? They have someone. Organization help? You get the idea.

Coffee & Power has started a program where certain members have Gift Missions. And guess who has two…count’em… two Gift Missions? That means you can get an hour of my services and Coffee & Power will pick up the tab.

Here’s what you do:

Send yours truly a note with your email. (Don’t worry I’m friendly. Hi! ).

I then send you a gift credit. Register at C&P (takes two seconds) and you’re good to go.

Besides my Missions, there’s a bunch of cool stuff up, so go on and check out their offerings. They change daily and there’s always something. Oh! And put your own Missions up too, so you can earn some moola.

Coffee, Power, and Free Stuff,


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Filed under Fun Stuff, Stellar Clients

I Heart Grammar Fails

Grammar fails are a glorious melange of copy writing done by people who, I dunno, maybe aren’t professional writers. I’m just guessing.Here are a few of my favorites… Please send me yours so that I can horde them.


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Filed under Fun Stuff, The English Department