Sidestepping the boobies and their traps

This entry from Seth Godin’s marketing blog, on dealing with people who expect you to fail or underperform, offers some valuable tactics for writers.

I’ve unwisely spent too much time in organizations in which I was the only writer/editor. Often my work was looked upon by many people as an unnecessary extra step in the process (“doesn’t everybody know how to write?”) or a burdensome expense to the organization. The upper-level managers who valued professional writing and editing capabilities, and who hired me, seemed oblivious of the need to explain the role I was to play, leaving me to justify my own existence. As a result, I usually spent more time politicking to be able to simply accomplish my work than I did writing or editing!

One amusing tactic Godin suggests is to dramatize the difficulty of your work. “Magicians are really good at this,” he notes. “If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.” Such as turning their arcane research into a front page news story, perhaps? Abracadabra, press releaseum!

As a rule, I was much happier in situations where I was part of a team of writers and we were all focused on our writing work. I’m sure my boss, or my boss’ boss, was busy justifying our existence to someone, but I didn’t have to know about it! Now, as an independent contractor, I’m extremely careful to work only for people who value writing and appreciate someone who does it professionally.

Writing fiction?

Many of the professional writers I know in the various branches of non-fiction aspire to write fiction. I certainly do — and I have the completed manuscript of one so-so crime fiction novel to prove it.

Since leaving Apple more than a year ago, I’ve taken a novel-writing seminar. But I haven’t made fiction writing (unlike my personal blogging, professional blogging, and paid writing projects) part of my daily routine. Instead, I took up Trailer Park Yoga — which is another story.

I’ll be giving fiction writing another try in September, I hope. I’ve registered for a semester-long short story writing course.

On the cover

The cover of Wired magazine has a distinctly busy, digital feel. It gives the impression of impending societal chaos averted only by the use of one large, powerful graphic image. By contrast, Martha Stewart Living has a cool, “still life with money” feel. It’s characterized by one large but soothing graphic image — sometimes a decorated dessert, sometimes Martha.

When the August issue of Wired arrived in my mailbox today, and I saw the cover, I thought “Wow!” This has to be one of the cleverest magazine covers ever. It instantly conveys not only a sense of what’s in the issue, but a sense of impact of the wired world now has on the American home.

Very funny

One of the funniest writers around is Canada’s Gordon Kirkland. This essay he wrote for the BookExpo America (actually, the answers he provided to some profile questions that had been sent out to BookExpo’s writers) will give you a taste of his distinctive style.

Gordon was one of the presenters at the Erma Bombeck humor writing workshop I attended last year. He has a wry, unabashedly masculine, slightly warped, and very, well, Canadian, sense of humor. As a former PR person for the Canadian government, Gordon is particularly clever when playing with politically incorrect topics, such as his own physical disability.

Gordon is also a master in the field of syndication of columns and promotion of books. But that’s another story.

Listen to The Writing Show

Back from a long July 4th holiday and ready for a fresh perspective on writing and publishing? You’ll want to check out Paula Berinstein‘s podcast The Writing Show (“Where writing is always the story”).

The show’s archives (audio files and transcripts) span topics from technical writing and screenwriting to horror stories and romance. Listen to interviews with crime fiction diva Val McDermid, Hollywood screenwriter Andrew Findlay, or NaNoWriMo contest founder Chris Baty. If you’re the entrepreneurial type, don’t miss Paula’s biographical multi-part series, “How Not to Run an Online Bookstore.”

And of course there’s lots on getting published, on marketing your writing, and on living the interesting but not-very-lucrative writer’s life. You might recognize the interviewee on the latest podcast “Writing for the Web.” (The podcast should have mentioned the latest version of Crawford Kilian’s indispensable book Writing for the Web. Note that the book comes in two editions, one for writers and one for geeks.)