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Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

Come, learn! My next webinars are May 10,17: blogging, interviewing and more

In behavior, blogging, books, business, education, journalism, work on April 22, 2014 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

For those of you fairly new to Broadside, welcome!

A career journalist, winner of a National Magazine Award, author of two well-reviewed works of non-fiction, each on complex national issues, I now offer webinars a few times a year, designed — after consulting you — to offer the skills you’ve told me are most helpful.

I taught journalism to adults at New York University for five years, and find this individualized approach  fun, and practical. If you need more information on my background and journalism credits and credentials, please visit the about and welcome pages here, or my website, caitlinkelly.com.

Students signed up for my fall webinar series, and individual coaching — thank you! — from Australia, New Zealand, London, Chicago, D.C., California and Connecticut; one student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase as soon as she made the simple change I suggested; more testimonials here.

Even if you enjoy only one webinar a year, ($10.41/month), your sharpened skills can markedly and quickly improve your productivity, audience and satisfaction.

My classes are also friendlier, more affordable and much more personal than sitting in a classroom or the cost and hassle of attending a crowded conference. (I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.)

These are the six 90-minute classes, each priced at $125:

 

BETTER BLOGGING

Better Blogging

May 10, 10:00-11:30 a.m. ET

This practical, lively seminar offers more than 30 steps you can take – right away — to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers; Broadside has more than 10,000 followers now, and grows every single day. To win writing jobs, freelance or full-time, your blog is your best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times and chosen as one of 22 in “culture” by WordPress worth reading. Let’s do it!

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

I’ve freelanced full-time since 2006, this time, for local, regional, national and international clients. You can too! In this super-focused, tips-filled webinar, we’ll discuss how much you really need to earn, negotiating, how to find (and keep!) clients and how to maximize your productivity. My clients include Cosmpolitan, Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times and on-line sites HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

 

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10, 4:00-5:30 pm ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! This class teaches the tips and tricks I’ve gained from working as a staff reporter for three major dailies, including the New York Daily News — and freelancing for The New York Times since 1990. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? Every reporter knows these basics, and if you hope to compete with them — whether you’re blogging, or writing for on-line or print or broadcast or video — this is the stuff you need to know.

 

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview

May 17, 10:00 a.m. to 11;30 a.m. ET

No ambitious non-fiction writer, blogger or journalist succeeds without knowing how to conduct probing and well-controlled interviews. I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure an interview? Should you tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter, author of two-well-reviewed books of nationally reported non-fiction — one of which included 104 original interviews — and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

 

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17, 1:00 p.m – 2:30 p.m. ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl, Aeon and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

 

 

IDEAS

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of potential story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them into salable pitches — is the topic of this helpful webinar. And every non-fiction book begins with an idea; developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and determine who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Feel free to email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here; I won’t be offering these again until fall 2014, possibly in October.

I look forward to working with you!

This week’s webinars: How Reporters Think, Finding and Developing Ideas

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on February 3, 2014 at 1:43 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

How do reporters think?

It seems mysterious to some, but — whether through training, school or experience — we process the world in specific ways. I enjoy journalism because one of its principles is challenging authority and questioning received wisdom.

We ask “Why? a lot.

It also means breaking many of the accepted rules of polite society: interrupting, demanding answers from the powerful, revealing secrets. That alone can be difficult for some writers to get used to.

Anyone who hopes to sell their journalism, non-fiction or books also needs to know how to quickly and efficiently find sources, decide which ones are worth pursuing and understand the underlying principles by which all reporters, and their editors work.

These include a deep and fundamental understanding of ethics, knowing when to push (and when to back off) and how to frame a story.

Having worked as a staff reporter for The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News, and a regular freelance contributor toTHINK LIKE A REPORTER The New York Times, I can help you hit the ground running. To compete effectively with trained veteran reporters, you need to think as they do. We’ll talk about how stories are shaped and edited, and how to balance the need for accuracy, great writing, deep reporting — and hitting your deadlines!

The webinar is 90 minutes, at 2pm EST Saturday February 8.

Details and sign up here.

And anyone who’s blogging, writing and hoping to develop longer narratives for print — or for new digital websites like Longform, the Atavist, TakePart and others — needs to find and develop timely, compelling story ideas.

Ideas surround us every day, sometimes in the same room with us, at work, at the gym, at work, in your community or place of worship, or in conversation with friends, family and neighbors.

How to know which ones are worth pursuing? First you need to recognize them as potential stories, and know when, why and how to develop them into salable material.

Some of the hundreds of ideas I’ve conceived, pitched and sold:

putting my dog to sleep, (The Globe and Mail), the use of carbon fiber in yacht design, a devastating side effect of a popular medication, (Chatelaine magazine),  Google’s meditation classes, women car designers,  (New York Times) and returning to church after decades away. (Chatelaine.)

PERSONAL ESSAY

Finding great stories is like birding — once you know what they look like, you’ll start to see them everywhere!

Here’s a testimonial from Leonard Felson, a career reporter who took this webinar last fall to help him move from selling only to regional or local markets to national ones:

As a coach, Caitlin Kelly is like a doctor sending you on your way with just the right prescription. She read my clips and zeroed in on what I could do to up my game. It was time and money well spent, and well worth the investment in my career.

The webinar is 90 minutes, at 2pm EST Sunday February 9.

Details and sign up here.

Questions or concerns?

Please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

Come learn! May’s webinars: freelancing, interviewing, blogging and more

In blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, Media, news, work on January 7, 2014 at 12:33 am

By Caitlin Kelly

FINGERS ON KEYBOARD

Students signed up for my fall webinar series, and individual coaching — thank you! — from Australia, New Zealand, London, Chicago, D.C., California and Connecticut; one student saw her blog’s page views and followers increase as soon as she made the simple change I suggested.

I also coach individually whenever it suits you — by phone, Skype and/or email.

(All photos on this post are courtesy of my husband, Jose R. Lopez.)

These are the six 90-minute classes, each priced at $125:

BETTER BLOGGING

Better Blogging

May 10, 10:00-11:30 a.m. ET

This practical, lively seminar offers more than 30 steps you can take – right away — to boost your blog’s engagement, views and followers; Broadside has more than 10,000 followers now, and grows every single day. To win writing jobs, freelance or full-time, your blog is your best marketing tool. Broadside has been Freshly Pressed six times and chosen as one of 22 in “culture” by WordPress worth reading. Let’s do it!

BUSINESS OF FREELANCING

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing

May 10, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm ET

I’ve freelanced full-time since 2006, this time, for local, regional, national and international clients. You can too! In this super-focused, tips-filled webinar, we’ll discuss how much you really need to earn, negotiating, how to find (and keep!) clients and how to maximize your productivity. My clients include Cosmpolitan, Ladies Home Journal and The New York Times and on-line sites HGTV.com, Quartz.com, reuters.com and the Harvard Business Review blog.

 

THINK LIKE A REPORTER

Learn to Think Like a Reporter

May 10, 4:00-5:30 pm ET

If your mother says she loves you, check it out! This class teaches the tips and tricks I’ve gained from working as a staff reporter for three major dailies, including the New York Daily News — and freelancing for The New York Times since 1990. What’s a stake-out? A nut graf? A lede and kicker? Every reporter knows these basics, and if you hope to compete with them — whether you’re blogging, or writing for on-line or print or broadcast or video — this is the stuff you need to know.

 

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview

May 17, 10:00 a.m. to 11;30 a.m. ET

No ambitious non-fiction writer, blogger or journalist succeeds without knowing how to conduct probing and well-controlled interviews. I’ve interviewed thousands of sources, from an Admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes, cancer survivors, duck hunters and ballet dancers. How to best structure an interview? Should you tape or take notes? What’s the one question every interview should end with? My 30 years’ experience as an award-winning reporter, author of two-well-reviewed books of nationally reported non-fiction — one of which included 104 original interviews — and frequent New York Times writer will help you ace the toughest interviews.

 

PERSONAL ESSAY

Crafting the Personal Essay

May 17, 1:00 p.m – 2:30 p.m. ET

From The New York Times to Elle and Marie Claire — to Thought Catalog, Salon, the Awl, Aeon and Medium — the marketplace for personal essay continues to thrive. How to sell this challenging genre? How to blend the personal and universal? Every essay, no matter the topic, must answer one key question, which we’ll discuss in detail. Having published my own essays in the Times, Marie Claire, Chatelaine and others — and winner of a Canadian National Magazine award for one — I’ll help you determine what to say and in what voice.

 

 

IDEAS

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

May 17, 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m ET

We’re surrounded every single day by dozens of potential story ideas. Recognizing them — and developing them into salable pitches — is the topic of this helpful webinar. And every non-fiction book begins with an idea; developing it into a 30-page book proposal means “saving string”, collecting the data you’ll need to intelligently argue your points. This webinar will help you better perceive the many stories already swirling in your orbit and determine who’s most likely to pay you (well) for them.

Feel free to email me with any questions at learntowritebetter@gmail.com or call me in New York at 914-332-6065.

Sign up and further details are here.

These are the only webinars I’m offering until fall of 2014.

I look forward to working with you!

What (other) blogs are you reading? Recommendations, please!

In art, beauty, behavior, blogging, culture, design, education, entertainment, life, US, women on November 17, 2013 at 12:20 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I recently culled my list of blog subscriptions — from a fairly crazy 87 — to a still-unmanageable 46.

I enjoy blogs’ wide variety of voices and experiences. Many of my faves are written by women, some living overseas or in places I fantasize about — like the mountains of Colorado.

Now I’m looking for a few new ones to explore — so please give me some of your recommendations?

Some of the blogs I now read are purely or mostly visual — about art, interiors, design or photography — a refreshing break from words and also creatively inspiring. (I’m not as interested in traditional girly stuff like fashion , food, make-up, beauty or parenting as I am in design, ideas, history, urban life, labor, education, writing, work and relationships.)

The blogs named below are also visually appealing: they’ve chosen an attractive theme, use lots of photos and most of them consistently include useful links, all elements I really appreciate as a reader and have tried to do here for you as well.

They’re clearly written for an audience, and I’m glad they’re there.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located...

The original Stumptown Coffee Roasters located at 45th and Division in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

{frolic}

This daily blog, written by Portland florist-turned-stylist Chelsea Fuss, is a charmer. She recently posted from her travels to Chile. The photos are lovely and she often includes multiple links to food, clothing, stationery and other items.

Small Dog Syndrome

It sounds odd to find and hire someone without ever meeting them, but Cadence Woodland, who writes this witty, worldly blog, became my assistant in January 2013 after I read her blog, loved it and knew she would be a terrific fit. She was then living in Utah and has since moved to London, so her recent posts are full of the joy and fear of looking for work and new friends in a new city. She manages to be both Mormon and feminist, an intriguing combination.

Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe si...

Éléments de costume pour bébé, France, XXIe siècle, présentation dans la devanture d’un magasin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One quality, the finest

As a fellow Francophile Canadian living in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, CT), I really appreciate the spirit behind this lovely and informative blog, written by Patricia Gilbert, who teaches high school French. Every day, she highlights a French word, idiom or aspect of French culture, whether a current show in Paris or a singer or a painter. I have learned beaucoup from her blog. Like me, she also hopes to retire to France.

Looking at Glass

Another daily blog, written by another Patricia. I so enjoy her choices — every possible use of glass: in architecture, furniture, crafts.

Colorado Meadows

Colorado Meadows (Photo credit: QualityFrog)

Gin Getz

She’s currently in Patagonia, but usually lives in the mountains of Colorado. Her photos of the landscape there, often taken on horseback, are elemental, stark and beautiful.

Apartment Therapy

As someone obsessed with design — interior and exterior — I love this popular, super-fun and helpful blog. It’s exhaustive in its coverage, but whatever you’re looking for is likely in there somewhere. Despite the name, it’s not only about apartments, but addresses every issue of domestic life, and is also international. I like its focus on smaller, lower-budget homes, not blingy mega-mansions. It includes many photo renovation stories as well.

Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot

The name alone! Writer Nigel Featherstone lives in a small cottage, with his chickens, in rural Australia. His work has a dreamy quality I always appreciate.

Mindful Stew

High school teacher Paul Barnwell lives in Kentucky, where he writes thoughtfully about a wide range of educational issues.

Fit and Feminist

Another athletic/feminist Caitlin! I really enjoy her take on women, our bodies, exercise, sports, fitness and body image.

Kristen Lamb’s blog

I’ve been reading her blog for a few years, even though it’s largely aimed at fiction writers and those who will likely self-publish. Kristen — who lives in Texas — is a pistol! She’s funny, blunt, personal and calls it as it is. I starred commenting fairly consistently on her posts, and one day (!) this fall my phone rang — and there she was! She invited me, on the basis of my own work and credentials, to teach a non-fiction class at her recent on-line conference, WANACON. I really enjoyed it, got good reviews and may do it again. Her blog, which has a stunning 29,000 followers, is helpful, smart and full of good cheer.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

What do you most enjoy about them?

Meeting the other

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, politics, religion, US, women on May 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent blog post by American author and business guru Seth Godin:

It might be someone in a different state, religious, atheist, straight, gay, in a developing country, a lawyer, a politician, struggling to pay the bills, ill, recovered, in recovery, a dedicated athlete, a computer programmer, angry at the system, an insider, an inventor, from a very different political stance, a pilot, unemployed, a millionaire, an inventor, a tax cheat, a gun owner, a rabble rowser oran adult without a driver’s license.

Can you see them? Understand them? Ask them about what it’s like to be them? Would you miss them if they were gone?

I grew up in Toronto, a city known for being diverse multi-culturally. I knew few people beyond my own circle but my life since then has exposed me to many more sorts of people.

Moving to the U.S. and living in three other countries — Mexico, France and England — has put me in situations and around others with some very different behaviors and attitudes, toward government’s role in our lives, toward women, toward the importance of work or education or family.

At 25, I spent eight months living in Paris and traveling across Europe on a journalism fellowship with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to New Zealand to Ireland to Brazil. It was a fascinating year, fraught with cultural misunderstanding. The four Canadians, one Irishwoman, two Britons, one New Zealander and four Americans all had quite different notions of proper spoken and written English!

The man from Togo — who worked for his government, (i.e. not even a journalist in our North American definition), was deeply offended that we did not always shake his hand hello or spend 10 minutes chatting with him. In his culture, this was very rude. In ours, haste = efficiency. Lessons learned, for both of us.

When I moved to Montreal in the mid-1980s, I found that being Anglophone was enough to make some people hate me. That was weird. Instructive, certainly. At press conferences, everything was done in French and only at the very end were Anglo journo’s allowed to ask our questions in English, (which everyone else spoke.)

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-coun...

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-countries (Photo credit: Analectic.org)

I read Seth’s list and thought, yes, I do know people in 21 of his categories — but not a millionaire, inventor or politician.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I enjoy most about being a journalist is how it forces you into meeting people, on almost every assignment, who are very different from you. For me, that’s included Queen Elizabeth, a female admiral, convicted felons, two Prime Ministers, scientists, computer programmers, Olympic athletes, an Inuit village, an Italian construction worker, a French truck driver and a Dutch politician.

If you’re not insatiably curious about the world, and open to hearing other points of view, journalism is not for you! You can’t just cover your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalala.

If you’re not working in journalism, travel helps — especially international — if you actually talk to people beyond the hotel staff and cab drivers and make a point of meeting people there beyond your conference or classrooms.

Volunteer work helps.

Jose and I negotiate multiple differences in our marriage: he’s American and I’m Canadian; he grew up the son of a Baptist minister and my family did not attend church; he is Hispanic and I’m a WASP.

It makes for some interesting moments — but we’re also alike, both workaholic career journalists who love to eat and travel and read and listen to music and laugh. So for all our differences, (which I initially thought made us unworkable as a couple), we share essential values.

As technology and growing income inequality help us tribally sub-divide into ever-narrower niches — only consuming media that echoes our political point of view, for example — we often have no idea how others think and feel, or how essential some issues are to them that we find silly or unimportant. It’s too easy to hang out in echo chambers of people who sound and look just like us.

Then what do we do about it?

Godin points out in that blog post that blogging is a great way to “meet” the other, whether that’s someone much richer or poorer materially, someone whose political views are not your own or simply someone for whom $10 is a day’s — or week’s — wage, not the price of a (cheap!) Manhattan cocktail.

When I traveled the U.S. to write my first book, about American women and guns, I ended up being a guest on NRA radio, (asked to explain those lefty-liberals in the Northeast) and on NPR (asked to explain gun-owners to the horrified lefty liberals.)

A funny position for a non-gun-owning Canadian!

I’d rather hear another viewpoint (politely!) and debate it intelligently from data (not red-faced emotion) than live in unopposed, cocooned silence. That’s easy, and has become comfortingly normal for many of us.

How about you?

Where stories come from

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on January 13, 2013 at 12:26 am
Cover of "The Namesake"

Cover of The Namesake

Unless you’re a journalist — or fairly thoughtful consumer of media — you probably don’t think much about where “the news” comes from. Some of it, like elections, natural disasters and mass shootings, are fairly obvious subjects.

But many of the stories you read or hear or see come about through a fairly wide variety of ways, like multiple tributaries feeding into a river.

Here’s my latest New York Times story, out today, one which I suggested — as I do with about 90 percent of my work. The idea came to me because I was getting weary of hearing the usual tales of woe and misery, that being out of work over the age of 50 means you are essentially utterly screwed.

Having watched my own income almost double in the past two years, and I’m 55, working freelance in a lousy economy in a dying industry, I thought, “Nah. There’s more to it than that.”

I decided to flip the script and go find people over 50 who had indeed seen their jobs disappear — often several times — or their incomes plummet, but who had figured out a way to survive, even thrive.

I like solutions!

So my idea made the paper because I’ve got a year-old relationship with an editor there who likes my stuff — this is my fourth major business story for the Times, and I’m working on my fifth. And, clearly, my work is accurate and reliable and well-read. My last one, about college-age men and women being paid $50,000 a year not to attend university, was the third most emailed story of the entire Sunday paper.

Newspapers traditionally run on a “beat” system; like a policeman’s beat, the area each reporter is individually expected to understand and explain in depth after creating a broad network of sources and acquiring a deep knowledge of the issues. These include cops, courts, city hall, statehouse, health care policy, environment, medicine, etc. Many stories come from beat reporters who hear good stuff from their sources.

Some stories also result from press releases or aggressive courting of reporters by well-paid flacks, i.e. PR experts. Personally, I find much of that “reporting” pretty lazy. You’d be amazed (or not!) to learn how many front-page stories start this way.

As a full-time freelancer, I survive financially by coming up with a steady stream of stories I can sell quickly for decent prices.

Here are some of the ways I find and develop my ideas for blog posts, articles, essays and books:

Conversation

Bright, knowledgeable sources passionate  about their topic may make time for a long (45-60 minute) conversation, and digressions from the interview-at-hand often lead down interesting paths. I find some great story ideas this way. It’s an investment on my part, (unpaid time, since the story might not sell), and theirs (am I credible? worth their energy? have the contacts I say I do?)

Other print media

I read fairly widely, in print and on-line, but rarely find much there for me to work on. By the time the national press is on it, what’s new to add? So local or regional outlets are good, as are sources within others’ stories who might have only rated a mention or a few quotes. One of the best sources is letters to the editor — often written by experts in their field who know a topic but may not have a national platform for their insights or views.

Broadcast media

I listen to NPR fairly consistently, to political, arts and business programs, all of which offer good stuff. When I have time, BBC World News (an hour) always covers stories that rarely show up in American coverage.  Ditto for Canada.

Films

On of my most fun stories came about because I sit through the very end of almost every film’s closing credits. At the end of “The Namesake,” I noticed that the film was shot in a town near where I live, which made for a great little story for my regional edition of the Times when I visited the house and interviewed the production designer and homeowner.

Pattern recognition

This demands a lot of consistent reading/attention/linking/clipping. Old school journalists call it “saving string”, as we accumulate verything we think useful to future stories on a specific subject. Only when you pay sustained attention to an issue and read/listen widely to sources about it can you begin to see distinct and interesting patters or trends  — often overlooked by other journo’s constrained by their beats and/ or by daily or even hourly deadlines.

Random encounters

You never know where you’ll find a story. Two of my best came to me out of the blue. My story about Google’s class in mindfulness, a heavily-read national exclusive for the Times, was a tip I got in July 2011 from someone teaching those classes, and for which I negotiated for six months to ensure it was mine alone.

As I buckled my seatbelt for the descent into Atlanta on my way to speak at the Decatur Literary Festival, I casually asked my seatmate, a woman my age, what she does does for a living. Cha-ching! Great business story.

Books

Sometimes a well-written book sparks an idea or helps me better understand an issue.

Blogs and websites

I don’t carve out a lot of time to roam around on-line, even if I should.

Newsletters/trade magazines/conferences

I’m spending tomorrow and Tuesday attending The Big Show, the annual trade show of the National Retail Federation. I know there are all sorts of stories there for me to find.

Observation

I sat in a trendy Lower East Side restaurant this week and saw, several hours apart, two young men wearing almost identical outfits — bare-armed (in 40-degree weather!), thick, furry vests and jeans. One more sighting and I have a trend story!

Walk around your neighborhood and look closely at bulletin boards and signs. Watch what people are wearing and eating and buying. Eavesdrop! When you visit your hair stylist/vet/doctor/dentist/accountant/bike repair shop, ask them what’s going on in their world.

Pay close attention and start asking questions. You’ll soon find great stories all around you.

My own life

Too many new writers moan they have “nothing” to write about. When it comes to selling journalism, at least, you likely have plenty! I recently won an award (details to come) from writing about my injured left hip, which became a magazine cover story. I later sold several stories about the injury and surgery as well. Over my writing career, I’ve sold stories and essays about professors having affairs with students (not me!), getting married, getting divorced, my dog’s death, physical therapy, trying to rest in a noisy hospital room, why retail work is better than journalism.

Much as we are all special little snowflakes, our lives do tend to follow fairly regular paths — so if it’s happened to you, it’s likely happened to thousands or millions of others as well. Find them, talk to them and write it up!

Related articles

It’s tough to be original

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on October 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm
Our Policy - Originality

Our Policy – Originality (Photo credit: Vintaga Posters)

Interesting piece in The Globe and Mail on this by Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, (a Florida-based organization that helps to improve American journalism):

Originality is elusive today in every place that people write – not just in journalism, but in academia, professional writing, book publishing, speech writing and politics.

In our panic to keep up with a changing world, we’ve failed to identify new methods for originality. We need to look to the writer-editor relationship, to the community of writers and thinkers and to the very process that writers use to go from nothing to something.

We’re mystified by the prospect of building a culture that breeds original thinking and writing in today’s digital world. Yet, we can look to writers who are successfully hitting the mark of originality and imitate their methods.

McBride points out that many writers now feel compelled to read everything already produced on their subject before diving into it themselves:
“There’s so much that’s been written about any given topic because writing now is mostly the continuation of a conversation already in play.”
So the challenge is real. Read (too much?) and risk the very real disaster of even unconscious plagiarism or start out fresh and blind, making it up as you go along.
In the old days, it was pretty clear that producing quality journalism meant GOYA (get off your ass) and leaving the newsroom. Talking to people face to face. Working your beat and your sources to hear something new and unheard of.

I try to find stories people haven’t yet heard and/or to tell them in a way that’s fresh and new. Of course, some stories are bread-and-butter, straightforward assignments that pay my bills, with a very clear brief from my client or editor.

Being original means taking a risk — of looking foolish, of being so far out ahead of everyone that they’re laughing at you, of getting it wrong, of positing a theory no one agrees with. It’s safer to stay tucked into the middle of the pack.
Unless you choose to self-publish, (not a paid option for most serious journalists), you  have to please a pile of editors, who can each shrug, dismiss or deny the value of your ideas.
So “originality” becomes a matter of consensus, a committee effort.
In my efforts to create original work, I try to conceptualize and thereby report differently from others, who often rush the process. For my most recent New York Times story, I spent an hour with almost everyone I interviewed, 12 sources in all. That’s a lot of time, (plus writing and answering editors’ questions) and, arguably, not the most efficient or profitable use of it for a freelancer who gets only one set fee, no matter how much time it takes. Many reporters devote 10 to 20 minutes to an interview and end up with rote, shallow answers.
Which might be why so much of today’s journalism is useless, a regurgitation of the same five ideas.
When I wrote “Malled”, I read ten other books about retail, labor and low-wage labor before finishing my manuscript. I didn’t worry about plagiarizing as I’m careful to attribute and give credit. I needed to broaden and deepen my understanding of these complex issues. An academic would argue that reading only 10 books was hopelessly insufficient.
Given the size of publishing’s current paychecks, it’s a constant battle between being thorough and engaging, making a living or sticking to ramen. I knew few writers who can afford to spend the kind of time we’d ideally prefer on our work.
Being original? It’s hard to find the time, literally, to step off the hamster wheel of production to ponder, read widely, talk to people not part of our day-to-day income streams. It’s necessary though.
It’s also a rare editor, in journalism or publishing, who’s willing or able to defend a story that’s truly off the margins. The easiest way to sell your new book proposal is by comparing it to three best-sellers just like it, which reassures nervous publishers. (Even then, it’s still a crapshoot, they all admit.)
Do you struggle creatively to produce work that’s original?
How do you achieve it?

BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, women, work on August 5, 2012 at 2:02 am
English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conference is over, with its many parties just beginning as I write this.

Three days of full-on intensity, 5,000 bloggers in one midtown Manhattan hotel, about 80 percent of whom — maybe 90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to feel ancient, but this conference was very much a place for 20-year-olds and their eager enthusiasm. I’m not being fair, because I did see a few women my age or a bit younger, some of whom  are well-known in that huge on-line community.

But I quickly wearied of hearing perky 20-somethings tell me they “mommy-blog”, as I searched in vain for people writing on books, or work, or business, or politics. Had I done my homework and really searched the site and reached out to people, I know I could have made those connections.

The 2013 conference will be in Chicago, July 25-27, and registration begins in a few weeks.

The Good

– The agenda offered a lot of choices, whether super-technical information or tips on writing.

– Running into five or six very good friends, a lovely surprise and pleasure with so many attending, like Heather Greenwood-Davis, a Toronto-based travel writer who just finished an around-the-world odyssey with her husband and two young sons.

– We were told that 85 percent of speakers are new each year, so you’re not hearing the same Cool Kids at every conference.

– Katie Couric, a television legend in the U.S., and Martha Stewart, another American media titan, were interviewed live on stage. That was fun and gave us a glimpse of these famous women being a little more spontaneous and human. I enjoyed that.

– There was lots of good food and drink, so we weren’t subjected to the usual conference horrors of overpriced, lousy food and $15 glasses of wine. (They actually gave us a fistful of drink tickets. Score!)

– I loved hearing 19 bloggers, including a man, read their work from the stage. Several were deeply moving and beautiful, like Susan Goldberg, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario (way north) with her partner and sons.

– I liked seeing women of every size, shape and color. One panelist, Cecily Kellogg, sported fuchsia hair and was wickedly smart and helpful.

The Not-So-Good

— Way too many people! Many told me they were frustrated and really annoyed at being, literally, shut out of sessions they had paid real money to listen to, some of them flying across the country to do so.  There were simply too many bodies for the venue.

— Way too noisy. I came home shaky, headachey and exhausted from the sheer volume of too many people in too small a space. If you’re standing a foot from someone and having to shout, we have a problem.

– Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) to just sit quietly and think, read, chill, chat with someone. No one should ever have to sit on the floor!

— No way to quickly, easily and efficiently, every day, find fellow bloggers with your interests. It would be simple, easy and helpful to simply affix a colored ribbon to everyone’s badge showing what they specialize in.

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, stamina or patience to be all perky for hours (to be polite and friendly, which is what you do at conferences) with dozens of people with whom I have zero shared intellectual interests.

My larger question, which may be rhetorical, is if there is any useful and mutually respectful dialogue to be had — which I saw no evidence of (and may have been happening) — between old media (i.e. print/broadcast) and this new world of social media.

Old media, as you know, is focused on fact, ideas, provable assertions, reliable (one hopes) sources. Biased, yes, but evidence-based.

I am still uncomfortable in an insular, ego-driven world of all-opinion-all-the-time. I’m not persuaded that it, alone, offers lasting value without some underpinning of a more objective reality.

I also have deep reservations about women toting huge bags of “swag” they got from dozens of exhibitors, all eager for attention from this demographic — women who buy stuff.

Swag. i.e. free shit, included (no kidding), vibrators (bright pink, the size of my thumb), cooked sausage, toothpaste, feminine pads for women in menopause (who are no longer menstruating?!) and soy-milk ice cream bars.

One exhibitor told me many women swaggered up demanding to be paid to mention her products, or to be given free samples. Her company makes sinks, bathtubs and faucets.

You want a fucking free bathtub?

And — what has any of this gimmegimmeegimeeeeeeeee to do with great writing?

Nothing.

Long before you focus on your blog’s financial ROI, we should be focused on writing amazing work that people might, if we are really, really lucky, even remember years from now.

Or even a few days from now.

What do you think?

Were you at BlogHer 2012?

Do you think you’ll attend in 2013?

The terror/joy of a new project

In behavior, books, business, culture, design, journalism, life, Media, work on July 20, 2012 at 12:06 am
Русский: Изображение использования душа Шарко

Русский: Изображение использования душа Шарко (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Maybe a jet of freezing cold water against your kidneys would do it?

For the past year, I’ve put off finishing the proposal for what I hope will become my third, commercially published non-fiction book.

I had a gazillion quite legitimate reasons excuses:

– I’m getting my hip replaced (which crippled my hands?)

— I’m recovering from hip surgery (and too busy playing Ipad Scrabble)

— I have to go to physical therapy three times a week (which of course consumes 24 hours of the day)

– I need to make money first (actually true)

But the deeper, tougher, sighing truth is…

I’m scared.

Every creative venture for which you seek external interest, validation or sales — your Etsy site, your play, your poetry, your drawings or music or pottery or stained glass — must find its audience at some point.

If you need people to pay for it, let alone pay you well and buy more and more of it, maybe to pay for your food and shelter and your kids’ new shoes, the stakes are even higher. No pressure.

Like anyone with a creative idea, I want it to find favor. I also want, and need, for my ideas to sell for some serious money, for once. To finally get the editors with very deep pockets to call me for a change.

What if it were a game-changer? (What if it’s a total failure and no one wants it?)

(Which likely explains the voyeuristic pleasure of watching all those reality TV shows where people have to be reallycreativereallyfast, like Design on A Dime or Cake Wars or my favorite [yes] Project Runway. “Make it work” is a great motto for life!)

I’m also ambivalent:

I love writing books.

I hate the endless time-suck and income-drain (paying for assistants and PR help and finding every possible way to get people to read/review/love the damn thing) that comes with its eventual publication.

I love the thrill of an agent, then an editor saying “Yes! We’re in.”

I hate the crazy-making and ever-tougher contracts they send later.

I love getting enthusiastic emails from readers.

I hate getting shredded by anonymous trolls on amazon.com.

I went away for the month of June, spending two weeks alone with no television or company to distract me, telling everyone (hah!) I’d be working on my book proposal. I took all the notes I’d made, and the latest draft and my sources…and didn’t even take them out of my suitcase.

Nice.

But I started working on it in earnest last week — (which suggests the vacation had the desired effect) –  and, reading through my source material, found some things I’d forgotten. I started getting excited about this again and stopped doing everything else but that. Hours flew by and I kept cranking.

Then I cold-called a source whose resume and background, (being appointed to various committees by a few Presidents), were terrifyingly august, which I began the conversation by telling him.

I know that one of the best ways to up your game, when possible, is to get some Big Names on-side, people whose opinion carries weight and whose interest in a project can help you discern what larger interest exists in your iteration. It’s also really intimidating!

(The bad news is that it makes your stomach hurt with anxiety. The good news, if you’re smart, genuine and persuasive, you’ll find a few allies. Hey, all they can do is say “No.”)

But he took my call, and immediately got the idea. He’s as passionate about the subject as I am and knows this stuff inside out. So I asked (gulp) if he’d read the proposal. And he agreed.

I asked another wise source, and she promised to read it it this weekend. While it’s scary to show an idea-in-progress to people who know about 10,000 times more about the issues than I do, I’m also really grateful for fresh eyes and smart input.

Much as I fear criticism, knowing I’m on the right track will also help me pitch it with greater passion and conviction. (I realize as I write this, that within academia, for better or worse, you have a thesis advisor; I never went beyond my B.A., so I have to scout out these mentors when and where I can find them.)

After re-working the same material for months — probably like many of you — I need fresh eyes. I lose all perspective on it.

Do you find yourself dicking around and postponing work on your creative projects?

Do you find others to help you with them?

What successfully gets you — and keeps you — moving ahead on them?

Disagree With Me — Please!

In behavior, blogging, books, family, Media on December 21, 2011 at 3:19 am
Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah in a heated conversa...

Image via Wikipedia

Seriously.

If there’s a trend in the larger culture that dismays me it’s the dicing of discourse into niches of head-nodding agreement — “where never is heard a discouraging word.”

Or screaming, red-faced, poster-waving, tear-gassed rage from the OWS crowd or online insanity where anonymity, as The Guardian recently put it, has released the handbrake of civility.

This is nuts.

The whole point of living in a larger society is interacting with others, even (especially!) people whose economic and political values horrify us — whether that means we support a woman’s right to abortion, to name only one example, or remain fiercely opposed to it. Without the back-and-forth, give-and-take of argumentation and debate, what can we possibly learn about how others think?

Or alter their beliefs? Or they ours?

I don’t mean childish and self-indulgent name-calling, insults or ad hominem attacks, which, here in Washington has so eroded our respect for elected officials that Congress’ approval rating is now at an impossible low — of 9 percent.

I grew up in a family of table-thumpers. Raised voices were the norm. We live for a ferocious intellectual argument, and take this style so for granted that it takes fresh eyes and ears to point out how frightening and odd it can appear to others; at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding in September we were talking about…who knows what?

It sure wasn’t what some might have expected, an evening of romantic and loving memories, just the usual blablabla of firmly-held opinions being lobbed across the tablecloth like conversational grenades. It takes a tough hide and strong ego to withstand most of what passes for dinner-table conversation in my family of origin.

Which also leaves me really impatient with people who utterly refuse to hear — even acknowledge — the ideas of those they disagree with. I still subscribe to the New York Post, (right-wing) because even when I don’t like what they’re saying,  they’re also speaking for many others who feel the same way.

The whole point of my work, this blog, my articles and my books, is to stimulate discussion.

Not just polite agreement.

The floor’s open!

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