Today in Oh, Jobs!

Craigslist, you are forever an entertaining website. Truly. Look what I found today in the Writing/Editing jobs section of LA’s Craigslist.

If you look past the egregious disrespect for employment laws (recent grad? recent headshot? height, weight, etc?) and delve into the heart of this job posting, it comes down to one thing: You want someone to be an Ivy League grad/write/edit/market/be in good physical condition/shop/prepare meals/travel/research/be your ‘wingman’/be on-set during production/accompany you to tennis and mountain biking/live with you, therefore eschew anything resembling a life outside of you, and all you offer IN RETURN is a half bath? Seriously?

Live In P.A. Executive Assistant

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Art does make you smart.

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If you weren’t sure about art (that’s Picasso’s Starry Night) and the arts and what kind of an impact they have on our brains, I have an article and a study for you, Art Makes You Smart. The study was done at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas; a place where many students, for the first time, encountered art. Glad to see Walmart in a news story that doesn’t involve meth making in one of its stores.

Bottom line is that visiting an art museum improved critical thinking skills. Imagine.

Here’s a posting from Crystal Bridges on Robert Rauschenberg, just because I like his work–a lot. The image below was taken from the following website: FadedandBlurred.com

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Always being connected is deeply disruptive to the creative process.

We are social creatures, there’s no doubt about that. We’re connected to other humans, whether we like it or not. Neighbors, family, friends, we see these people in person, have drinks with them, share the highways with them, want to bang them over the head when they cut us off on the highway–but we see them, in-person, on a daily basis.

Then there’s the sort of connected that the age of Facebook, smartphones, Yik Yak and other forms of hyper-connected connectivity have spawned.

Things have changed dramatically since I first started writing. For one thing, I became a mother. Okay, that shouldn’t be too big a deal you say in terms of just sitting down and writing. But it was, for me, at least. I stopped writing as much as I had before having children, or at least I thought I had.

The next huge thing that happened was the internets. Huge. Love the internets dearly. Then along came social stuff like Facebook and smartphones and Pinterest and tons of other social apps and the 24/7 ability to stay in touch, connected with each other. It offers us the bizarre ability to show the world (or whoever is looking) a selfie du jour any time of day or night. (As a quick side note here, I do wonder when politicians are going to get a full grasp of YouTube–seriously.)

But it’s not real.

It’s not real, face-to-face connectivity with other humans.

It’s disruptive.

I’ve been looking over my work for the past 20 years and you know what? I was more prolific even while watching children than I am now.

So what happened?

We are inundated with messages about how we writers have to constantly stay on top of the new social media trends or else we’re hopelessly lost; not worthy of employment; unable to function in our society and gasp! without a platform. You know, that platform you should be building/worrying about/curating/making appealing/whatever it is you are supposed to be doing–to make sure you have a platform of internet people you can point to.

If you have sent a query letter in the past year, you know some agents want to hear all about your ‘platform.’ Some freelance writing jobs want you to list the number of Twitter/Facebook/Instagram followers you have. Really? What if it’s a pathetic number? (Then you must not be worthy of the job.)

What to be a successful indie author? You have to stay on top of all the trends and get connected to your fans via social media otherwise, the internet sages say, forget getting read. That takes time–the kind you could be using to write. Kind of like I’m doing now.

I believe that falling prey to all this has hurt my creative process. It has made me dull and numb to my inner writing voice. It keeps me distracted in a bad way. Truly, trying to do two things, successfully, at once is very difficult. Writing takes all of my focus and attention and it should takes yours too.

I need to stop and I will. I will be closing down the Twitter feed, the other WordPress site and Tumblr accounts. Although, Tumblr makes me smile. It’s time to regroup and focus on what is important–the writing.

Keep writing fellow crafts people. And yes, you will continue to exist and live a full life even though you haven’t posted a damn thing.

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Stock photo conversations.

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“Admit I look good.”

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“I look better. See? I brought my own box. I mean, you know I take how good I look like really seriously. Hello? Props?”

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“Yes, you do, but props are just that, a way of propping up something, a support, an artifice where, in your case, none is needed. You had me with that hip, jutting out ever so provocatively, the look of indifference, reckless abandon and devil-may-care attitude all underscored by your beautiful, crimson lips.”

 
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“I still brought my own box.”

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Meta, an altogether confusing word. What’s it mean?

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Image taken from http://humanitycanwait.com/2014/04/03/arab-hipster/

You’ve got your meta data, meta description, meta key (on the Space-cadet keyboard), meta tag, metamorphosis, metatarsal and metaphysics–that’s a good one–you’ll see. It’s the name of a river, Meta–but you say that Mee-tuh; a major tributary of the Orinoco. You know, the Enya song about the Orinoco flowing. How many of you really knew the Meta was a tributary to anything, major or not?

And speaking of the Orinoco Flow, everyone wanted Enya’s songs in their weddings back in the 90s. Everyone.

Not sure if that Enya tidbit is a meta cognitive experience or not because meta has too many meanings and lately, everyone uses it whether they know what they’re saying or not. Like I just did. But I did kind of sound smart doing it, didn’t I?

What does meta mean? It’s kind of new in that it pops up everywhere when you are diddling around with your website and SEO stuff. Just Google SEO + meta and a torrent of meta information comes your way. But in reality, it’s a really old word.  Nowadays, you have to know what it means or you aren’t in-the-know; think outcast.

If you are going to use it, pretend to have a firm grasp on its varied meanings and by all means use it sparingly.

Hashtag it with the word marathon and you get metamarathon. Still not sure what that is yet. But keep reading.

Meta. From the Greek for beside, after. First definition in my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary is change: transformation, and number two is situated behind.

Want your mind played with? Okay how about his meaning from Dictionary.com:

2. a prefix added to the name of a subject and designating another subject that analyzes the original one but at a more abstract, higher level:

metaphilosophy; metalinguistics.

Is that what a metamarathon is, another subject, that I should just know contextually, that analyzes the original subject, marathon–but at an abstract level? And how does adding meta as a prefix of a subject automatically designate another subject that analyzes the original? This is mind-numbingly vague. Like reading Kant. He was big into writing about metaphysics, so maybe you are sharing my frustration here with the whole meta thing.

Or is a metamarathon an ‘after marathon’ like an after-party, a party after another party? Or is it a transformative marathon? One-hundred-forty-four  laps around the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam could be considering a life-changing event I suppose.

But then look at the definition of metaphysics: the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality and the relationship between mind and matter. Transformative or post-physics? Both?

Then we come to this meaning just below the one above:

3. a prefix added to the name of something that consciously references or comments upon its own subject or features:

a meta-painting of an artist painting a canvas.

Consciously referencing its own subject is really metadata. Data about data. But isn’t definition number two above really the same thing as number three, just trickier wording? So is a metamarathon like metadata, a marathon about a marathon then? Just typing the words ‘consciously referencing itself and commenting upon its own subject’ does sound performance artsy.

I decided to consult The Masters–as in the Oxford English Dictionary–to see if I could gain any clarity. Ah, the sentence examples were marvelous.

Have we been, again, duped by the dripping irony that infects the post / meta genre, rendering it all but useless?

It’s really easy to criticize a bad record, but impossible to do great music justice in ink (or meta ink for that matter).

It’s a song about several songs, and this meta aspect never sounds forced or calculated – instead, it seems artful and intuitive.

That second sentence still has me scratching my head as to what meta ink is, but I’ll have my Eureka! moment eventually. But back to metaphysics and here’s where Wikipedia gave me a sigh of relief, thank you very much. Ready?

About or beyond X but they do not themselves constitute an X. No doubled conceptual structure. Whew, I feel much better. Oh, and there’s a very clear meaning of the word in chemistry as well–in case you too needed some concrete meaning and lack of vagueness in your definitions. You’re welcome.

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If you think one of your characters is over the top, think again.

The next time you are questioning whether your characters are too audacious, reckless, narcissistic, abysmally greedy, what-have-you, just remember these guys because they make for really good, deliciously evil stories.

I present to you one incredibly too-good-to-be-true cast of characters, thanks to the government bailout of AIG. If any of you don’t know who AIG is and what kind of bailout they got from the U.S. government, here it is from Forbes:

AIG:Bailout in Brief

The U.S. taypayers bailed out AIG to the tune of $182 billion (that billion with a b), basically for being really bad at their jobs. They got bonuses too, because you know, global financial meltdown.

Where does our cast of characters come in? With a lawsuit, of course, the one they are bringing against Joe and Jane Taxpayer, the ones who bailed them out in the first place.

The lawsuit, which seeks more than $40 billion from the government, does not dispute that A.I.G. needed a $182 billion lifeline to survive the financial crisis. Instead, it challenges the nature of the rescue, which the suit says cheated A.I.G. shareholders and violated the Fifth Amendment.

They got cheated to the tune of $182 billion? Oof, I don’t think Dickens could have come up with such characters and he came close with Ebenezer Scrooge.

Point is, storytellers, you can never be too over-the-top when it comes to crafting your antagonists. The nervier they are, the better your story. Keep writing.

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Five ways to capture your corporate audience with your speech.

The video of Ricky Gervais (brilliant by the way) is an example of what not to do when presenting a speech in the workplace.

As someone who has written and directed plays and scenes (which I’m getting back into again) I find no greater joy than in seeing and hearing my written words performed by actors. It’s so much more rewarding than receiving written feedback and reviews on a short story or book because the impact you have on the audience is immediate. You get to read the audience’s facial expressions, see their emotional response, hear their laughter or gasps–it’s all so positively wonderful–intoxicating even.

The same goes for a speech–corporate or not–you’re up in front of a group of people.

At the heart of a successful speech is your immediate and profound impact on that group and it doesn’t matter if it’s a few words at a corporate team building event or leading a Monday Morning Meeting, it’s a very personal interaction. You know what your audience is going to think of you as soon as you start speaking–unless you are the sublimely oblivious David Brent from The Office.

Your speech, then, can go one of two ways:

  • You will have bored people to death with an ill-prepared speech, chock-full of run-on sentences, hard-to-understand business lingo, ill thought out-concepts and overall badness or,
  • You grabbed your entire audience with a concise, well-researched, written and rehearsed presentation; one where your engagement as a speaker was oozing out of every pore of your body.

You have to treat the speech like a theatrical production. Speeches, like theater, are meant to capture, spark, inform, motivate, entertain and usually unite your group. Based on my fill of listening to bad corporate speeches (it was a few years), directing my husband’s very excellent work speeches and presentations and my work in live theater, here are some tips for your next speech:

1. Rehearse. An actor doesn’t just show up with her/his lines written on some cards or iPad or laptop and hope it all goes well. No. Who would want to see that? The actor plans, practices and practices some more until the words flow. The speech (whether you like it or not) is part of your job, you wouldn’t slack off on a progress report to your superiors, so put some energy into rehearsing.

2. Actors will sometimes practice on their friends–okay, they practice on their friends a lot. It’s a fast and painless (at least for you) way to judge your delivery, so try your speech out on your friends and/or family. Yes, this is part of rehearsing but it’s in front of people who won’t judge you. Don’t ask what they think, look to see how they are reacting. Their faces will tell you everything.

3. Most actors aren’t writers and there’s a reason for that–they’re focused on one craft. If writing isn’t your passion–if you don’t get out of bed every morning pondering your day’s writing schedule, don’t write the speech yourself. Even if you think you are a bit of a writer, it’s usually best to allow someone with experience to forge the first draft for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they have to know the material the way you do, it’s not about that, it’s about the way it’s being presented. Technical facts can be dispersed in later, but it makes for a far more dynamic speech if you allow another voice (writer) to disseminate the information for you.

4. The actor knows s/he gets one shot at captivating the audience so they make them pay attention with body language. Same with your speech–you need to demand the attention you deserve. Stand up straight at the podium, be a presence. Channel Darth Vadar if you have too, look commanding. Wait for people to stop chattering, if they don’t, ask them to please do so with a smile (works better than a frown), look your audience squarely in their eyes and speak in a clear voice. It’s your one shot so run with it.

5. Shake off the nerves. Be comfortable with what you are doing. Speaking in front of people can be intimidating, but remember, they’re human like you. Someone visibly at ease will be able to convey their message more readily than someone thinking how fast they can run away from the podium. Some actors do body movement exercises before they go on stage. You don’t have to go in that specific direction, but concentrating on your breathing or a few simple stretches will help with nerves a whole lot.

Before your next speaking engagement, just ask yourself who would you want to see give the speech you have in your hands, and then own that stage.

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Does everyone have a bestselling novel in them?

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Short answer: no.

Do we all have that bestseller lurking inside us waiting to get out? (We’d like to think so.) Have you been playing with the plot in your mind for years now–itching to get it down on paper? (If you haven’t written down anything ever, then it ain’t itching to get out.)

Thing is we all may have an idea, a great idea at that, but not everyone can translate that idea into a full length piece of highly readable fiction. And that’s what makes a bestseller. Although, I must qualify highly readable because what’s highly readable to you may not be highly readable to me. James Patterson for instance, I just can’t get through anything he’s written, yet he’s a bestselling author. But still, highly readable to a majority of the book buying public, so what do I know.

Okay, but looking at this logically and systematically, what does it take to get that idea out of you and onto paper? I can answer that because I studied this a lot and (still a student of the craft) I often sit down and put thoughts onto paper.

1. Discipline. You have to sit down and actually write. Doesn’t matter how bad it is at first, you just have to make yourself put words to paper. And you have to make yourself write so many words per day. Otherwise, that idea in your head will just stay there.

2. Admitting your idea may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. This comes after you’ve put things down onto paper (or computer) and you start to see the flaw(s) in your work. That’s okay. In fact, if you don’t see any flaws and you are a first-timer, then you are deluding yourself. You are going to make mistakes. Love them, embrace them and then change them.

3. Read. I cannot emphasize this enough. Read every single day. Read what you aspire to write to or what you love–it doesn’t matter if it’s Proust or Marvel comics, just read.

4. Stick to conventions. Good grammar, form and spelling go a long way into getting your work recognized on that road to bestseller. Unless you are James Joyce don’t try experimental your first time out and expect everyone to fall over themselves because of your self-perceived brilliance. It takes years to perfect a writing voice.

5. Write what people like to read. You want a bestseller? Then write what sells. Think of it like opening a restaurant. Do you open an eatery in a very middle class, suburban area that sells an ethnic cuisine no one is familiar with or do you open Happy’s Burgers knowing everyone will know what that is and give it a try?

6. Make your characters familiar. Why does Stephen King sell so many books? Because he takes bizarre, other-worldly situations (what catches your eye) then creates very relatable characters who you form sympathetic, intimate relationships with as you read. We like to relate to and see ourselves in what we read and when that happens, more people will enjoy and recommend your book.

Get writing.

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How to make a reader?

Give them books. Great article over at The Atlantic about how publishers gave away over 100,000,000 books during WWII. Did they go bankrupt in the process? No. They created a nation of readers. A nation of men and women who took us to the moon, invented video games and created the Space Lab.

“Some of the publishers think that their business is going to be ruined,” the prominent broadcaster H. V. Kaltenborn told his audience in 1944. “But I make this prediction. America’s publishers have cooperated in an experiment that will for the first time make us a nation of book readers.” He was absolutely right. From small Pacific islands to sprawling European depots, soldiers discovered the addictive delights of good books. By giving away the best it had to offer, the publishing industry created a vastly larger market for its wares. More importantly, it also democratized the pleasures of reading, making literature, poetry, and history available to all.

And you writers out there–want to be a better writer? Read.

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