Sunday, June 20, 2010

In a While, Crocodile

May was a whale that swallowed me whole. It was a busy, wonderful month, but I feel like I'm still trying to catch up from it. You know, before July begins.

In the immortal words of Governor Schwarzenegger, "I'll be back."

In the mean time, sleep well and dream of large women. (Name that movie.)

See you on the flip side, peeps.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So You Wanna Be a Copywriter?

I've had a couple of inquiries recently about my job, how I got it, and how to go about finding writing work. Here's my story and my advice. 

I began copywriting in fall 2006. I found my job via I listed my resumé with them and then was notified of an opening at Mrs. Fields Gifts. I had been working full time in an unrelated field and had been looking/hoping for writing work for about 6 months before the job opening popped up. I got an interview, which I thought went really well, although I knew they were worried about my lack of copywriting experience. (In lieu of a copywriting portfolio, I took in several pieces of my creative writing.) But, since we had good chemistry, I was asked to write some sample copy for them.

I took the assignment and gave it my best shot. I turned it into them and then heard nothing. I figured I had lost the chance at that job to someone with more experience. In the mean time, I kept working at my other job, watched for job postings, and tried not to give up hope. Then, out of the blue, and days before I was expecting an offer from another non-writing job that I didn't really want but was prepared to take, I got a phone call from my contact at Mrs. Fields. "Are you ready to start writing for us?" he asked. And then I peed my pants.

All along the way, I asked for advice from my brother John, who started out his career as a copywriter. At his suggestion, I constantly checked craigslist and other local job listings and kept my ears open for opportunities. I also made up business cards and sent them to small businesses that I frequented, knew well as a customer, and was confident that I could represent their brand in copy. I wrote them each a personal letter, telling them that I was a loyal customer and also a copywriter, and would be happy to have their business if they ever had need. Now, to be honest, none of those letters turned into a job, but the exercise was good, I think. It made me put myself "out there" in a confident way (even though I was completely intimidated). Writing lesson #234: Pretending to be confident is almost the same thing as being confident.

All the other jobs I've picked up have come from craigslist or from contacts I've made with other people in the industry. So, get connected; make friends with other writers and people in the creative fields. Bookmark craigslist and check it every day. It allows you to do a very narrow search of your area and posts a wide range of jobs. And finally, make sure all your friends and family know that you're looking for copywriting work. Let them be your eyes and ears as well. 

Now, for my advice. When it comes to beginning a career as a copywriter, I think there are a few questions you should ask yourself to see if it's a good fit:

Do you write every day? Like all jobs, writing is work. Before you choose it as a career, I recommend practicing at it. A lot. If it's something you already choose to do every day and enjoy (even writing an email gives you satisfaction), you're a great candidate in my opinion. If writing is something you only do when the creative mood strikes, you may run into some frustration. There isn't a lot of room for writer's block when you're on the clock. You should be well practiced at your trade. By the way, blogging is a great way to practice your writing. 

Are you going to work freelance? I was completely reluctant to become a freelancer. I was very used to my steady, same-dollar-amount-every-time paycheck that arrived regularly and was accompanied by health benefits and a retirement program. However, after consulting with other copywriters I knew and trusted, I realized that, for me, freelance was the smarter way to go. Here's why: I could work from home, potentially earn more money (hourly vs. salary), and also pick up other work that came around. The downside of freelance is that it sometimes feels like feast or famine in workload (and therefore paycheck). And, speaking of paychecks, they can be hard to track down at times. Paydays become an exercise in the art of guestimation. But, overall, freelancing has worked out great for me and my family.

Do you need to earn a steady income with writing? When you're starting out, the more flexibility you have in this area, the better. When I started writing professionally, I was the primary breadwinner for our family. I had a mortgage, two kids, and a husband who still had a couple more years of grad school. In other words, I had no flexibility in this area. I needed a steady income. I realize that I completely lucked out at getting such a major, steady client. I don't think this happens very often. But I do believe in the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. If you have to earn a certain amount of money (and you don't have a rich uncle to rely on), you'll probably find a way to do so!

Do you need to have employer benefits (health care, dental, etc.)? Thankfully, we get our benefits through my husband's job. They are expensive to purchase on your own as a self-employed freelancer. You'll need to calculate that cost into your budget and freelancing rate. And remember, if you're a freelancer, that means you are responsible to save part of your check for taxes. Meet with an accountant earlier rather than later to calculate your withholdings. 

Do you work well with deadlines? Like I said, there's not a lot of room for writer's block. The copywriter is one of many important cogs in the creative wheel, so you've got to keep up and do your part. You have to become indispensable, as trusty as the family labrador. Especially if you work from home. You have to turn your work in on time; you just have to. 

Are you good at taking direction? Copywriting is about translating a message, idea, or campaign into a specific voice and style that represents a brand. You have to listen and comprehend well. If you're lucky like me, you'll get to work long-term with some of your clients, and you'll get better and better at understanding exactly what they want. If you're unclear, always ask questions and, if it's a shorter piece of copy, give them a few options to work with.

Is your ego a removable part? I don't like this. This is too weak. This is too strong. This isn't the message we're going after. This isn't directive enough. This is confusing. I don't know what this means. I hate this. Not funny. Change this. Delete that. These are the kind of comments you're going to get about your work. You cannot be defensive about your writing. It's not about you. It's about getting it right. Don't let your ego stand in the way of getting it right. Even if you disagree with the direction you're being asked to go, remember the golden rule of business: the customer is always right. Your client is the customer. Make them happy. 

Are you extremely flexible with your time? My job offers me incredible flexibility, and in return, I offer my job incredible flexibility. I'm willing to work early mornings, late nights, late-late nights, weekends and even holidays if that's what it takes to get the job done. I rarely take a vacation without taking some work with me. But honestly, I'm happy to do so. Because in return, I am able to do a lot of things I couldn't do if I were at a 9-5 job. I see it very much as a two-way street.

If you have kids, are they good kids? Working from home is wonderful in most ways, but definitely presents some challenges, especially if you have kids. I've always tried to get most of my work done when the kids are gone to school or asleep, but there are times when I have to work while they are home. Thankfully, my kids are very good at keeping themselves occupied or entertained if I'm working. They only interrupt if there's something urgent I need to see on iCarly. I try to reward them with fun time if I have to require a lot of their patience. For example, "I'm going to work until 2:30, then we'll go to the pool." It gives us all an incentive to work together to git 'er done. My kids are amazing. I could not do this job if they weren't.

Did I miss anything? If you have any more questions, feel free to email me. tiffany(at)wouldbewritersguild(dot)com

Monday, June 14, 2010

4-Layer Burritos, Summer Homes, and Holiday Music

  • Yesterday I wore a red and white striped top with a blue polka-dot skirt.
  • Ryan asked me if I was going to sing the national anthem at church.
  • And then he called me Maria.
  • Because my tan is getting a little out of control.
  • I was not offended because I looked adorable--patriotic and tan.
  • And he knew it.
  • Plus, I love Mexicans.
  • And Mexican food.
  • As evidenced by my diet.
  • My new love at Taco Bell is the 7-layer burrito, fresco style with no rice.
  • If you're into math, it's technically only a 4-layer burrito.
  • But I am not that into math.
  • I am, however, really into that burrito.
  • I have it several times per week.
  • You know what else I'm not that into right now?
  • All the Christmas music playing on my computer.
  • What the?
  • Sometimes my iTunes is so annoying.
  • You know what else is annoying?
  • How much the Real Housewives of New York fought this season.
  • There was a lot of fighting.
  • Fighting was the new backstabbing.
  • Silly housewives.
  • Ryan is very judgmental of my Housewives subscription.
  • Because he is really into high-brow shows like Sports Center.
  • (Aaron Neville is singing the Christmas Song now.)
  • I am still waiting for the Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.
  • It would be a priceless addition to the franchise.
  • Don't you agree?
  • (Another Christmas song.)
  • In other news, it's very warm these days.
  • And I am ecstatic.
  • Except at night when I can't sleep.
  • Because we're too cheap to run our inefficient air conditioner.
  • So, last week we decided to build a summer home.
  • A getaway from the heat and humidity.
  • But, again, we're cheap.
  • So, we built the summer home in our basement.
  • It's not really a "summer home" we built in our basement as much as a "one-room summer cottage."
  • And it's not really a "one-room summer cottage" as much as it is an "unused exercise room."
  • That was already built.
  • But you get the idea.
  • The basement is at least 15 degrees cooler than our bedroom.
  • Which is exactly what we were looking for in a summer home.
  • Sometimes the thing you are searching for is right under your nose.
  • Or your home office.
  • We bought a mattress at a closeout warehouse and stuck it in there.
  • We got a great deal on the mattress, more than 50% off, because it had a stain in the corner.
  • The guy promised that it was a water stain.
  • I said that at more than 50% off, it was my favorite stain in the world.
  • Best looking stain I ever saw, in fact.
  • (Seriously, another Christmas song!)
  • It's time for me to go.
  • May your days be merry and bright.

Father's Day Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Andria, who said:

"My dad, when asking if we could do something for him, always says "couldya" as in one word. We've all started saying it the same way."

Thanks to everyone who shared such funny stories. There are a lot of embarrassing fathers out there, and we sure do love them!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Your Questions, Answered

Oopsie!  I've been ignoring my questions on Formspring lately.

Question: Can you define yourself in 25 words or less?

Answer: No.

Real answer: I am a work-in-progress, glass-half-full, people-pleasing, laugher, eater, mother, wife, writer, sister, penny-in-the-fountain wisher, and lover of hyphenated words. (Is that less than 25?)

Question: Pros and cons to short and long curly hair?

Answer: Oh dear, prepare yourself with some strong caffeine, I'm about to write about my hair. I've spent the last two years growing my curly hair out. I had been sporting short curly hair for more than a decade and decided that at 31 years-old, this was my last window to grow my hair out. I envisioned that I would spend the remainder of my thirties with long, (artificially) golden locks. (And then I will mark my fortieth birthday with a short haircut and the purchase of several pair of mom jeans.) So I started growing it out. For what purpose? Perhaps to be able to answer this question.

The pros of long, curly hair are that when the stars align and the Hair Gods are pleased with the sacrifices made, a mane of long curly hair can be kind of spectacular and lovely. (Think Felicity and Carrie Bradshaw.) However, the reality is that the Hair Gods are extremely fickle and harder to please than a Jewish mother-in-law, which brings me to the cons of curly hair: most days my hair looks a little meh. (Think various, un-named muppets.) Plus, long hair (curly or straight) is hot in the summer. Most days I am sporting the loose, french twist with a spray of curls at the top, which sounds way more attractive than it actually is.

Now, for short curly hair. The pros are that you get a lot more good hair days, it is easier to straighten, and it's ever so sassy. Plus, you use a lot less product. The cons? Hmmmm. Crap, I can't think of any. This explains my secret desire to whack my hair off again.

Alright, I'm done writing about my hair. If you are still reading this, pat yourself on the back because you deserve it, Champ.

Question: Do you get depressed?

Answer: No and yes. I have definitely felt depressed at times in my life, but I don't think I have ever suffered clinical, long-term depression. My lowest lows were during times of great stress and also postpartum. I have been through some tough crap, trust me. I'm remembering one time in my life in particular right now. Christian was a baby, Ryan was in graduate school, and I had taken a second job on top of my full time job to keep us afloat. I was a mess inside and out. I felt like I was failing in every single area of my life and also felt guilty for bringing a baby into the world, only to spend most of my days away from him. I was definitely on the roller coaster of postpartum hormones and first-time-mother insecurities. I had occasional? frequent? thoughts that my family would be better off without me.

Another unfortunate thing going on in my head was a fear of leaning on Ryan. He had suffered from depression in the past and I was fearful that if I leaned on him, we might both topple over. It was faulty thinking, and I regret it.

Here's another thing about me: I have a hard time recognizing that I need help, and an even harder time asking for it. I don't remember the exact circumstances, but one day I was taking a drive with my dear friend Angie, and I opened up to her. Sort of an emotional vomit all over the front seat of her little white Honda. That was a big moment for me. And she responded with kindness and concern. She was willing to help me get help if I needed it, or give me a shoulder to cry on it if that would fit the bill. I felt immediate relief. (Did I ever thank you properly, Angie? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) Everything was going to be alright, she told me. My unhappiness was temporary, she assured me. It was everything she said that made me feel better, but it was also the sweet relief of having someone shoulder my burden. And it meant the world to me.

If you need help, it's okay to ask for it. That's a message for all of us, myself included.

Question: Did (or do) you hope to have a third child?

Answer: Sometimes I have, and sometimes I haven't. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. That's the truth. Ryan tells me that one of the most grownup things we can do in life is accept our ambivalence about things. Look at me, all grownup.

Alright, that's enough for now, isn't it? Thanks for asking your questions.  I'll be posting soon about another question that's popped up a couple of times in my inbox about how I got my job and how to go about finding freelance writing work.

Until then, happy weekend!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Me: Remember a few days ago when I said that I was going to try and lose five pounds before our vacation?

Ryan: Yep.

Me: Well, what I actually meant to say is that I'm going to try and gain five pounds before our vacation. And, so far I am right on track. It's really looking like I'm going to make it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Scenes From the Beach

We spent a perfect day on the beach last week when my mom and sisters were visiting. The only thing I love more than my family and the beach is sitting at the beach with my family.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Regarding My Recent Absences

Dear Blogging Attendance Office,

Please excuse my recent absence. I was busy attending to some very important activities with some very important people.

It was like chicken soup for me and my soul sisters, who happen to be my real sisters (and mom). I will return to regular blog posting as soon as I stop staring at this beloved photo.

Most sincerely,

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Embarrass Your Dad for Free Cookies

Summer has unofficially started, the fireflies have started to appear, and I have the beginnings of a tan. In other words, I'm in the mood to celebrate. Let's have a giveaway, shall we? Mrs. Fields Gifts wants to giveaway a Father's Day gift to you. I tried to convince them to give it to me, but they insisted that it go to you. Oh well. I tried.

This gift is called Dad's Trio Tray. Three boxes, chock full of bakery fresh goodies, spell out DAD. Or, if you're a smart aleck (like everyone in my family), you might spell out ADD or DDA. It's really up to you.

How do you enter to win? Leave a comment. Tell me something silly about your dad. 

For example, if I were entering this giveaway, I would tell the story about how my dad, a good religious man, recently left a message on my sister-in-law's voicemail that began as a congratulations on her and my brother's anniversary. He was driving and talking and somehow got a little distracted and his well-wishing started transforming into one of his daily prayers, and he began to close his thoughts in the Lord's name, amen. On his daughter-in-law's voicemail. He caught himself as the words rolled off his tongue and than abruptly, awkwardly ended the call. It was hilarious and priceless and made me love my dad that much more.

Too bad I can't enter the giveaway, because I love that story. It deserves to win something.

You can also enter another Father's Day giveaway going on at Mrs. Fields Secrets blog.

Comments will be accepted until midnight, June 13. A winner will be chosen randomly.
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