Commuter Conundrum

trafficThere was a time, about five years ago, when Josh and I had discussed the possibility of moving to Kansas City. We have several friends there, so I would have been okay starting off in a “new” place (I need people to thrive and, despite my extroverted persona, don’t really like trying to make new friends in a sea of people I don’t know at all). We revisited the idea several times, but determined that Springfield is where we’ll stay (especially with so much family here)

And I’m glad of it. As much as I would enjoy living nearer to some of my closest friends (why is it that the best of them have to live hours away!?!?), I would absolutely abhor commuting everywhere. How do I know?

Because I abhor it now.

We currently reside in northern Springfield. I am absolutely in love with our turn-of-the-century, four-square style home. It’s beautiful. It’s eclectic. It has so much character. If I could pick it up and move it, that would be my ideal.

Because every other aspect of our lives currently resides in the southern part of Springfield. Our church, husband’s work, my oldest son’s school, family. And we’ve put our house on the market to relocate to that area of town. You know, because gas prices stink to be commuting so much. And we commute a lot. At least four times a day – twice to get my son to school and pick him up and twice for my husband’s work. Then there are days that we do it even more for church functions, visiting with family, running errands.

I’m one of those folks that believes every single moment I’m awake needs to be productive in some way. So spending at least two hours out of my day just driving sort of makes me a bit stressed. That’s time I could be accomplishing one of the many items on my mile-long to-do list. Heck, time I could be spending with my kids outside a vehicle. Sure, it gives me an opportunity to chat with them, but I still can’t give them my full attention (I don’t know how many times I hear “Mom, look!” and I have to retort “I can’t, I’m driving right now.”).

And don’t even get me started on all the construction that happens to center around everywhere I go daily. I’m all for road improvements, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the process that gets us there. My church is located at Campbell and Plainview; ’nuff said. The construction on Republic Road near Scenic is in route to my son’s school. There’s even road construction in my in-laws’ neighborhood, a place we frequent weekly.

What’s the point to my post? Absolutely nothing other than to vent. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I hate commuting. And, seeing as our house hasn’t sold yet, I’m guessing God is attempting to teach me something here. Spiritual edification hurts sometimes. And other times – like in this circumstance – it’s just plain frustrating.

Seems I still have some things to learn on this one…

This is MY show.

showI am learning to set boundaries in my life.

This, my friends, is no easy task. Not at all. I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I want desperately to make everyone happy with me, proud of me, long to hang around me. I want everyone to see me as fun, interesting, reliable. But everyone has different expectations and desires, which means I have to be many things to many people if I’m to make everyone happy. And those anticipated traits may be very different from one person to the next. There are times when I lose myself in what others want from me.

Even so, whenever I don’t meet those expectations for someone, I tend to have a mild panic attack. I break out in a sweat at the first sign of displeasure. I find it hard to breath. My hands start shaking. I get hives. (This is the reason I was never able to get away with lying while a teenager.) It’s no pleasant sight.

Earlier this year, God set me on a journey. It started with Him ripping (and there is no good way to indicate the severity of the tearing) people out of my life that were taking the largest tole on me. People I had grown accustomed to in my life — depended on (actually, far too much) and was convinced I needed to survive. But I soon learned otherwise. And though the journey has been heartbreaking, I’ve learned so many things from it.

And I think the most important lesson is becoming happy with who I am. Realizing that if someone can’t see my heart and my true intentions, then it is not me that needs to accommodate her (her for the sake of a sentence, not at anyone in particular), but that she has blinders up because of other struggles in her own life. And that I don’t have to fix that, or change myself in order to be seen the way I want to be seen.

This also means telling folks no — and feeling confident in that decision — for what seems like the first time in my life. People ask things of me and I don’t want to let them down, but sometimes I have to for the sake of my own well-being (and that of my family). In both my work and my personal life.

And, man, it’s been hard to do in my work. Because working means contributing to my family (my husband and I are on a journey to get out of debt and we desperately want it to be sooner rather than later), but it also means providing something of value to others. And I want to be valued. That’s why it was so hard for me to temporarily close one of my businesses (where I made little animal lovies for babies). Not only do I enjoy doing it, and seeing these little ones so attached to their special little friends, but so many of my customers bought the lovies as gifts for others and, by closing, I took that option away. But it was stressing me out on top of all of my other tasks. I had to let it go for awhile.

I’ve let a lot go. And it feels good. I’ve let people down because I’m not doing things exactly the way they want me to. While that’s hard for me to swallow (is my throat swelling up at just the thought of it?), it’s a good thing. It means that I’m setting boundaries (there’s that word again) in my life. I’m taking back the reigns that I’ve willingly handed to every person I encounter so that I can keep this carriage on the path it’s meant to travel. No back roads, no short cuts, no rocky terrains that suddenly find me on a precipice and a barely avoided plunge into the abyss (too dramatic?).

This is my show. Sure, I’ll make mistakes — Lord… I will make mistakes!! But I’ll make them for me. You know? Not for anyone else. Not because that’s the journey someone else wants me to take. But because that’s the journey I chose and learned from on my own. There is so much freedom in that. By setting boundaries with others, the boundaries for my journey are limitless. So, if you want to hang out in the passenger seat (no back seat driving here anymore, folks!), you’re certainly welcome to watch it all unfold. And, if not, well… you’re loss. Because I’m a pretty cool cat, if I do say so myself.

Line of Sight | Discovering Originality in Content Creation

20382768_blogHave you ever had an eye injury? Both of my sons, ages three and six, have had corneal abrasions in the last five months, due in no small part to the fact that they are – simply – boys. In both cases, an eye patch was required for the healing process.

The recovery for my youngest has been a bit difficult. While the abrasion healed, there is a scar remaining on his cornea. He is now quite sensitive to bright light. Glasses may be in his future if it doesn’t rectify with treatment. At least he’ll look adorable in them.

As I observe him navigating the familiar terrain of our home having to adjust to limited vision, I can’t help but relate his predicament to my work. While the bystander would cringe as my son discovers a wall with his tender little nose (okay… well… I cringe too), I notice how he begins to look at the things around him differently.

He makes more calculated observations. He adjusts accordingly. And he begins to zoom around the house once again, regardless of how his eye is functioning on any given day.

The Content Wonkavator

My son doesn’t look at his world the same as he did prior to his eye injury. We shouldn’t continue to look at our world the same either — not if we want to be successful content creators. It doesn’t take Sherlock to know that we are drowning in a sea of redundant content. It’s becoming harder and harder to make the text on our blogs and websites stand out. Nothing is original anymore, as it seems.

And how else can it be when we all continue to look at content the same way; a recurring loop where we’ve grown accustomed to the lay of the land?

We have to change our line of sight.

Now, I’m not saying go whack yourself in the eye with a stick. But I am saying that we have to start approaching content in a way that defies the beaten path. Forget thinking outside the box; it’s time to look at content sideways and slantways and longways and backways and squareways and frontways…

Give it a Try

How about a little exercise to help you see what I mean? Stand in a doorway, facing the door frame. Note the two divisions of a room that you’re taking in simultaneously. Now cover one eye. Suddenly you’re much more keenly aware of one side of the room. Now cover the other eye. What you were oblivious to just seconds ago is now revealed.

Without adjusting your line of sight, however, you’re missing details and elements of your surroundings that would otherwise go unnoticed. Just because you can see everything, doesn’t mean you’re seeing much at all.

We have to suss out the really sticky stuff when we write in order to see a dedicated following from the masses. How?

Now vs. Later

Get beyond how a topic makes you feel in the moment and, instead, quantify how it changes you for a lifetime. If my son spills a glass of milk (hey, I’m a mom of young kids — everything revolves around them), I can write a blog post all about how he’s not careful and I’m tired of cleaning up messes.

Or I can dive deep and the chocolate swirled milk all over the table and floor becomes a metaphor for the mistakes my son may make throughout his lifetime. It could turn rancid if left alone, or make his future nice and sparkly as we clean it up and he learns to be more careful. Yes, I’m probably still frustrated by the clean up, but I’m getting beyond the emotion and looking for something deeper.

Let Go of Preconceptions

Closed-mindedness keeps us from being creative. Preconceived notions limit how much we’re able — or willing — to see or admit when creating content. Take that Wonkavator and shatter the glass ceiling so that you can see the entire world from a new vantage point. Forget everything you ever thought about a topic and approach it anew.

Do it for You

When you write a blog post, write it for yourself. When you put a webinar together, do it in a way that makes sense to you. If you start creating content focused on every viewer who may ever come across it, you’ll lose focus and originality.

However, if you write it with only yourself and your company in mind, then your true voice will be revealed and the post will be as original as you are. And the honesty of it will resonate with your viewers. That’s not to say you can’t go back and tweak the first draft of your blog post, video or Facebook status for branding purposes, but the foundation that your content is built on will be like no other.

The process for creating truly original content is as complicated as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff (can’t go wrong with a Doctor Who reference). There is no equation you can apply to be certain every approach will work. But changing your line of sight — looking at content as an artist looks at a canvas and seeing the infinite possibilities — is a valid embarkation.

Flappy Bird Flop | Ill-Prepared for Success

IMG_0391Catching on this past November, in a matter of two months, Flappy Bird took momentum and rose to the number one spot in the Apple App Store and Google Play, earning a reported $50K a day through advertisements.

And just as quickly as it rose to the top, it’s gone.

While Flappy Bird creator, Nguyen Ha Dong, didn’t specify exactly why he “cannot take this anymore,” and that he now hates the game, one might surmise that the success got to him.

Not entirely sure how $50K a day gets to you…

Regardless of what aspect of his success led Nguyen Dong to this decision, it’s clear that he wasn’t ready for it. He mentioned in a Twitter post just four days prior to his big announcement that he just wanted peace — that the press was seeking him out regularly. As many people that supported the app, there were just as many that complained on Dong’s Twitter account daily. And all of that got me to thinking…

As entrepreneurs and business owners, do we ever really prepare ourselves for success? We often spend hours a day taking preventative measures for failure and putting plans into place for worst-case scenarios, but what if the opposite occurs? Why do we rarely take the time to prepare for the pressure that comes with our passion actually becoming a successful venture?

The Road Rarely Considered
These questions apply to me, without a doubt. I’m a perpetual optimist in most every aspect of my life. But when it comes to my businesses, I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with the here and now — working my tail-end off to get better results. Very little contemplation has been devoted to the ramifications of a success story.

What if it happens practically overnight like it did for Nguyen Dong? Yeah, the chances of that are pretty slim, but shouldn’t we take the time to examine the possibility?

And beyond considering it, shouldn’t we have a plan in place — as in, written down — in case our wildest dreams come to fruition?

In a TechCrunch article released a week prior to Nguyen Dong’s announcement, he was quoted as telling game fans, “I have no resources to do anything else beside uploading the game.” So, basically, this guy’s seen his dream of creating a successful game come true, and he’s the only person managing that success (he also told TechCrunch that, while his website says “we,” he’s the only person working at GEAR, his gaming company). I would guess that could get overwhelming for sure. That’s a lot to take on alone. Not to mention all of the attention that comes with his success clearly disrupting the solitude he’s accustomed to.

The Optimist’s Blueprint
So, lesson learned. Let’s all take some time to consider what our success story would actually mean for our business(es). When putting together youroptimist blueprint consider the following:

  • How many employees would you need to run your business if you reached your success goals?
  • What areas of the business would you want to remain the point person on?
  • Is there a stopping point — a cap — to your success that you don’t want to exceed? When will you say ‘no’ so that you maintain the priorities that really matter (you know… family and stuff)?
  • Are there things you should be doing now to be ready, such as bringing in a business partner or hiring an assistant?
  • Will working out of your basement be an ideal situation, or would you need office space? What would that look like? What would you need to accommodate your product’s success?
  • Will you need to put a work schedule in place so you don’t need to get overwhelmed (again with the balancing priorities thing)? What would be ideal?

This is just the beginning of all that you… we… need to consider. After all, this is what we’re shooting for, isn’t it? Success? We all want to get there, so it’s probably a good idea to be ready if the unexpected — yet desired — occurs.

Otherwise, we might end up floppy, rather than a happy flappy.

(originally posted on Ink’d Content)

Confessions of a Copy Editor

my badI can’t spell worth a lick. Likely due to the fact that I’m a country girl at heart and we learn to spell phonetically, which works about 90% of the time. The two words I absolutely never spell right on the first try: “occasion” and “dilemma.”

Except right then. Seriously. I got dilemma right that time. Give me a minute while I do the happy dance….

Okay, back to it.

I frequently miss the fact that I typed “you’re” when it’s supposed to be “your” and vice versa.

Or I start to type “write” when I mean “right.” Usually I catch myself on that one. The other… not so much.

I absolutely despise the word “unique.” Truly. And I wasn’t always so biased. But one of my first copy editors when I began my writing career beat it out of my vocabulary and I’m never going back. Thanks, Michael.

I never respond well to constructive criticism of my own writing. At least not on the inside. I’m entirely too insecure.

Which is why I’ve always taken a “teach don’t preach” approach to my own copy editing. I use the words “We should” and “Let’s try” when making revision suggestions. It’s a team effort!

I have heart palpitations when I publish a blog post with spelling and grammatical errors and someone else points them out to me. It really, really sucks.

I hate blog comments. I hate writing them, and I hate reading them. So I rarely do. Except when I have to for “managerial” reasons. Reputation management and all that jazz.

Because I’m both a copy editor and a writer, I sort of get a little grrrrr inside when an editor changes my words around to more reflect his/her voice or writing style. When it doesn’t sound like me, well, then it’s not. I’d like to think I don’t do that to my writers…. But….

Occasionally (yep, spell-check to the rescue there), I post a Facebook status with a typo. Okay, maybe once a day. Some folks leave it and do the asterisk correction in the first comment. But I can’t. Absolutely cannot. Even if people have already liked and commented, it gets deleted and corrected.

I can find all sorts of typographical errors in other people’s work. But I always miss them in my own. It’s the disadvantage of writing and editing basically at the same time. I know what I mean to say when I write something, so I unintentionally gloss over all the oops stuff when I proofread. Never fails.

So, for those of you that haven’t quite gleaned the moral of the story yet…

Yes, I am a human being. I make mistakes. I am not perfect.

GASP.

Nor will I ever claim to be.

Enjoy you’re your day.

(originally posted on Ink’d Content)

The Demise of the Content Mill

sinkingI hate to say we told you so…

but….

…. well.

Yeah. We told you so.

*Content mills are quickly becoming a thing of the past. As evidenced by the unexpected resignation of the founder and CEO of Demand Media (parent company to one of the most well-known content mills on the block, Demand Studios), Richard Rosenblatt. Unexpected is, of course, assumed, simply because they didn’t have someone ready to take his place.

Let’s think on that for a second: he’s the founder of the company, folks. And he bailed.

Sure, maybe there was something else going on here, but if there was some personal family matter or even a new job, there would have been notice given to the company so they could find someone else.

This reeks of a ship taking on water and the captain bailing before it sinks.

Premonitions
Kat and I jumped our own ship two years ago because we knew what was coming. In fact, September marked my second year of resigning my position with a content mill in order to focus my writing solely on Ink’d and trade publications.

And it was the best decision I ever made.

I was one of the first 15 people hired to work with that particular company and I watched it change hands twice and build to over 300 writers in less than two years. By then, I was overworked and under-appreciated. And I didn’t make crap for all the time I put in. I was stressed to the max. The “insider” perspective made it pretty clear what was going on. Namely, I could see right off that the mill mentality crept in without much acknowledgement, and I got out before it got worse.

And this new development in the content mill world, admittedly, puffs me up a bit by confirming that Kat and I were dead on in our premonitions for the future of the content mill industry.

In essence, content mills are dying. There just isn’t room for them anymore.

Where it’s Headed
They’re being pushed out by what one might call “content boutiques.” Companies (like Ink’d, of course), that hire only a few, very talented writers to take on work for a limited number of clients. Limited only because you can’t produce content like a factory assembly line and expect it to be successful, usable and meet ever-changing quality standards set by Google algorithms. It’s just impossible to maintain quality and consistency when your company is cranking out hundreds of articles a day. Who is going to read each and every one to make sure they’re good? No one. Because a content mill won’t pay them enough to do it.

Unless you outsource overseas – and that’s a whole other soapbox (needless to say, outsourcing content to a country where English is not the native language kind of brings the quality meter down even further).

Anyway, back to the boutique thing (sorry, I’m a little passionate about this subject).

When a content company takes the time to adequately appreciate its writers, then those writers will produce quality content. That means:

  • Appropriate, if not stellar, compensation
  • A reasonable time frame to complete articles (i.e., not 100 at $1 each in one week)
  • Copy editors that give both positive and constructive feedback, and work to teach writers to become better at what they do, rather than just meeting their editor deadlines
  • A communication system where everyone feels heard and doesn’t fear losing work if they express concern
  • A company that will stand behind its writers, even if that means losing a client

Because, when you make the writers feel appreciated and wanted, and they produce quality content, then you have happy clients. It’s a cooperative circle of success, as I say.

Cheesy? Yes. Accurate? Absolutely.

So Demand Studios’ stocks haven’t done well since they were opened to the public a couple of years ago and Rosenblatt resigned last week. The logical conclusion is that DS is headed out the door. And if the lead ship is capsizing, you can surmise that the whole of the content mill industry is on the verge of drowning.

Fine by me. Just means more room for Ink’d, and others like us, to shimmy our way into the ranks and establish the appropriate reputation for the content industry as a whole…

Successful. Consistent. Quality.

You know – the way it’s supposed to be.

So, what are your thoughts here? Where is the industry headed? Are content mills on their way out to make room for more specialized content marketing firms? Are you a freelancer – if so, how do these changes affect you?

________________________________________________

(originally posted on Ink’d Content)

*A “content mill” (also, “content farm”) is a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to produce mass amounts of content in a short amount of time. The pay given to freelancers is often compared to “sweatshop” rates – many writers produce hundreds of articles in a week in order to make ends meet. This often results in low quality content that only meets minimal standards in order to optimize search results and, thus, maximizes profit for the company.

Why You Should NOT Steal Content

thiefI came across a blog post the other day titled Why You Should Steal Content, and, I must admit, as a content provider I found that a little insulting.

Ain’t nobody gonna take my original work!?!?

Alright, yes, I see that he’s going is more of a get inspiration for your content from other people’s ideas direction. But even that doesn’t really work for me. Especially when he compares it to a seven-year-old copying a superhero during playtime and not worrying about plagiarism. Uh, that’s not the same.

Because, frankly, your stuff won’t get read if you’re just recycling what someone else already published. Picasso may have said “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” but that doesn’t mean he was right. Someone can copy Picasso’s style but she’s not Picasso – she will never have the same recognition or following as Picasso. She’ll never be considered an expert because she’s a copy. No one wants to be second rate.

And nobody wants to read the same old stuff over and over again. In a world where content is on the verge of becoming supreme ruler of the universe (king-sming), saturating the Internet with duplication is not the answer. Being an original is key to being read, plain and simple.

So, then, how do you penetrate that sticky film of the been-there-read-that variety?

Life Application
Take from your own experiences and tell the world what you learned; no one knows better than you. It can be something as simple as finding a new stimulant to stay on task when coffee stopped working, to finding new inspiration in a tech-less world, or sharing how you managed to startproducing work like a super computer. Or, like me, read a blog post by somewhere else, disagree with it, and put your thoughts down for everyone else to read and disagree with.

Forget the Box
Copying someone else’s work is, essentially, staying inside the safety of the box. Then there’s the whole “think outside the box” approach. Well, I sayforget the box entirely! Stop confining yourself at all, because even going outside the box is still staying on a straight line. Be crooked. Look at things sideways and upside down.

All that gobbledygook simply means, be innovative. Be new. One of the best ways to do that is to answer the questions no one else is answering. Great, 20 people wrote about how to make a PB&J. So you go out there and write about how to forge the knife that spreads on the peanut butter!

Find Your Muse(s)
Get inspired. And you know what, that often means looking at the work of someone you admire. So, go find your Picasso and study his work for pleasure, not for gain. Read a great novel that takes you far away from reality for awhile. Sway to the tunes that get your heart pumping and set your mind at ease. Or go skydiving. Whatever it takes for you to check-out for a little while. Bask in some beauty – whatever that is to you – and you’ll find yourself cranking out your own original masterpieces.

Whatever you do, make it yours. Don’t steal content. This isn’t about intellectual property or morality (that’s a whole other soapbox of its own); this is about standing out in a world saturated with soggy, overused and outdated words. Create something crisp, fresh and new that is totally and completelyyou (and way less cheesy than my cute little rhyme).