So You Wanna Be a Writer: Where to Start

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There are a ton of resources that can help a writer get started in the craft. Most of them sort of push people who write into submitting and getting their work out there. These websites certainly are inspiring but they also tend to be extended sell pitches for materials. I don’t want to sell you anything but I am often asked about “how to get started” with writing in my personal life. So here’s a quick guide. No courses, no future sells, just practical advice.

This is a first of a series of blogs where I will discuss answers to the common questions I get regarding writing.

Where do I start?

This is the number one question that people ask. You start by writing. It’s important to have one or two portfolio pieces that you can send to perspective clients along with your resume or CV. If you’re just getting started then obviously you don’t have much to put on there or any real samples from clients. That’s fine, all is not lost.

Portfolio Samples

Have you ever done ANY writing? For school, for a local newsletter, and extended Facebook note? If you have something that is a few hundred words that isn’t just about your personal feelings (although those are fine too) then it can be used as a portfolio item. Clean it up, make it shine and save it as a PDF document with your name and information on it.

You’re not likely to catch any big fish with your current random samples, but it’s a start.

What About A CV/Resume?

As for your CV/Resume, don’t turn in the document that you gave to your 9-5 boss. Clients aren’t interested in your typing speed, your ability with MS Office, or your driving record. They want to know what you know about. In this case, this document is a sort of quick stop for your experience. If you’re starting from the bottom, your education and topics that you’re very familiar with should go here.

If you were HR specialist for the last 20 years, that should be included. If you worked in Insurance that should be there. If you happen to work with cars for a number of years, that should be there. If you do have any publications, even if they were done for another job, short stories, newsletters, anything then you should list that here as well. This document isn’t about showcasing skills so much as it is about giving the potential client an idea of your knowledge base.

You’ll need both of these things when starting out as you’ll likely want to apply for gigs that you have a background in. If all you have is a short article that you wrote about the Easter parade for your local neighborhood newsletter, that probably won’t land you a job writing about engine parts. But if you couple that writing sample with a resume that shows you have 20 years working hands on in a garage, it might.

Things You Do Not Have To Do

There’s really only one thing that you do not have to do: Write for free.

A lot of new writers think that when they’re starting they have to write for free to get a portfolio built up. You do not. I would not recommend doing so. Unless it’s something you WANT to do such as a volunteer newsletter, some work for a good friend, etc you do not have to write for anywhere without being paid for it.

Writing for free is a trap that people get stuck in all the time. Don’t waste time with it when there are plenty of people out there that are willing to pay you for your work.

Way back when I started freelancing I used excerpts from papers I had written as samples. My first gigs were with content mills. I took a few of the pieces I had written for them and applied to better jobs. Notice what’s missing? Work done for “exposure”.

Next Friday I’ll be posting how to find and apply for writing work.

Your Intentions Don’t Negate the Outcome

Target has decided to lock up all the hair care products for brown people. Just brown people.

Target has decided to lock up all the hair care products for brown people. Just brown people.

ETA: After receiving criticism from the local community, Target removed the cases although at this point they have not come forward with a reason why they were put up in the first place. I’m ecstatic that the store realized their error and have taken steps to correct it! However, this post is less about Target and more about how similar actions happen in our day to day lives. People say and do racist/xphobic things daily and even if they didn’t mean it that way, it does need to be brought to their attention. 

If someone steps on your foot but they didn’t mean it, does it stop hurting? No. They still owe you an apology. They still hurt you. Even if they were stepping out of the way of another person and had good reason that doesn’t make it OK for them to harm you. If no one ever says “Ow, you’re stepping on my foot!” then no one is ever going to learn to be mindful of where they step. Target’s action caused harm and insult even if that’s not what they meant to do, it’s what happened. They only removed them after people pointed out to them their mistake. Hopefully they’re more mindful in the future. 

In Eagle Rock, California, which is a neighborhood located in North East Los Angeles, there is a Target that has made the choice to lock up all the hair care supplies for “naturals + textured” hair. This is short hand for “People of Color’s hair”. The “normal” hair supplies are not locked up. Only the ones that people with more melanin in their skin are likely to buy. Target probably did this for loss prevention reasons but it doesn’t matter why they did it, the end result is extremely racist.

There seems to be this drive to excuse actions if their intent wasn’t to be harmful but the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what your intent was. All that matters is the outcome. Lack of awareness or forethought does not excuse Target or any other company from being called out for their insensitive choices.

Ignorance does not absolve you.

Did Target MEAN to help perpetuate negative stereotypes regarding PoC with this display? No. Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t.

That doesn’t mean that woman who is running in to grab some hair cream and has to wait for an associate to unlock the case and hand her the correct bottle while all around her white women are allowed to pick up what they need unfettered isn’t deeply embarrassed. That doesn’t mean that the white people seeing this aren’t subconsciously or even very consciously using this instance to frame PoC as thieves and other harmful stereotypes.

That wasn’t Target’s intent but that doesn’t mean that it’s not what’s happening.

Right now, Target is the company wearing the bullseye (ha!) but big corporations aren’t the only ones who fall prey to this intent vs outcome issue. Everyday people do this. They say something, a joke, an observation and they don’t mean to be racist/sexist/transphobic/whatever but the end result is.

People need to be called on these. It’s uncomfortable and but it needs to be done.

Do I think Target is a racist company? No, but the choice they made was. Do I think my friend who commented “Just because they make it in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it,” is fatphobic? No, but I think her comment was. And in both cases, they need to be made aware of the ways that their comments and actions are affecting oppressed groups.

Giving these slights a pass is what lets hate filled ideology continue to live in our society. Excusing casual slights just leads to larger issues later. We cannot destroy the larger issues unless we chip away at these minor ones.

Don’t give Target a pass. Don’t give your phobic friends a pass. Their intentions don’t matter when the outcome is harmful.

Brown Girls Need Heroes Too

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Jasin Boland, Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road came out last year and changed the face of action movies forever. The female protagonist made shock waves, not only for the fact that she was a badass with a vagina but also an amputee who was out in the waste showing everyone everywhere that girls can go just as hard as boys. The movie was great and although I enjoyed Furiosa’s character, my level of excitement wasn’t quite as high.

The reason is simple. I don’t get amped for magical white girls. Sorry. Not sorry.

Representation is huge. It’s not enough to just see another female bodied person on the screen and call it fair. There needs to be nonwhite women for all the little girls of color to look up to as well. Which is why, as excited as I was for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was disappointed to see that Lupita’s character was completely CGI.

Rey was GREAT. Very strong, capable female character that ran circles around the boys. Awesome. General Leia was GREAT. Strong, in charge. Awesome. But where was the hero that looked like my daughters? Where was the hero that looked like me?

This is an area that is still really lacking especially in the world of science fiction and fantasy. As we’re getting more and more female heroes (thank you YA lit!) we’re still greatly lacking in representations of color when it comes to women.

Yes, Katniss is out there shooting down the oppressive government. Rey is wielding a lightsaber like it’s nobody’s business. Black Widow is saving Captian America’s butt constantly. Furiosa is using Mad Max to steady her gun and all those things are great but where are all the brown girls doing things?

In the worlds of fantasy and science fiction, we don’t exist as much more than sidekicks. Backup for the main character is not representation. Covering us with CGI and paint is not representation. So yes, it is exciting to see a woman on the big screen doing the things usually reserved for the male hero but that doesn’t mean that overall battle for representation is over. While you’re cheering for her, don’t forget there are little geeky brown girls watching and they need heroes too.

Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Hustle

One of the hardest things to do when you decide to become a Real Life Writer is writing when you don’t really feel like it. More than anything, that is what separates working writers from hobbyists. Hobbyists write when they feel like it. Working writers write even when they don’t.

That’s a hard shift to make. When your job depends on your creativity, not feeling like it can turn a piece into complete trash if you let it. You don’t have to let it but you can’t just skip it either. This job means writing even when you feel like your muse is taking a smoke break.

There are going to be some days when you don’t feel like it. That’s OK. Everyone needs a day off now and then but you can’t wait until you feel like it to start again. You have to show up even if putting the words on the page are like pulling teeth. Take a day off, that’s fine, but don’t take off for an undetermined amount of time that’s controlled by your mood.

Every piece you write isn’t going to be a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s going to just be passable. If you’re not running up against a deadline (side note, be better about not procrastinating) then just call it a draft and look at it again tomorrow when you do feel like it. You might find some hidden gems in the prose that you missed when you just didn’t feel like it.

See, the trick is, you can always fix a bad page. If you don’t write anything at all though, there’s nothing to start with and even if you have to scrap the whole thing, at least you know what not to do next time.

Write even when you don’t feel like it. Show up, put the words down. Edit them when you feel better. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

Your Weight Loss Talk is Classist and Abelist

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It’s that time of year again. That wonderful time when gyms and industries geared to making us feel bad about ourselves get a slew of new memberships because it’s a new year and it’s a new you! If you want to spend your time and money chasing the magical weight loss solution that will somehow solve all of your health/self-esteem issues, that’s fine (it’s not but that’s not what we’re talking about today). You can do what you want but think twice about how you talk about it because conversations based in weight loss are extremely abelist and classist.

Chances are the person speaking about their goals doesn’t mean to be abelist. They don’t think they’re being classist but the fact of the matter is that the weight loss industry is skewed strongly in the favor of able bodied people who are likely working at a level above poverty.

When we talk about weight loss there is often a component of working out and there are a ton of suggestions for how to work out with or without a gym, low impact, high impact, whatever. With all the options out there, one can question how can it be abelist? But the fact of the matter is that there are many people for whom even the most low impact of work outs is too much or very, very difficult.

Also, if you feel the need to mention some internet story you say with some disabled person who was ripped like Jesus even though they are missing a leg or something, just stop. Not here for the inspiration porn either.

Disability isn’t always obvious. Many people live with chronic, invisible illnesses and casually recommending water aerobics to someone ignores the very real health struggles they may have. Simply insisting that someone just needs to “try” ignores the struggles of people who have other health issues above and beyond their love handles and muffin top.

Some people have gained weight due to medication. Telling a person that they’ll feel better if they take the weight off is a slap in the face to a person who picked up extra pounds due to taking medication that keeps them alive and able to function.

Then there is the matter of telling someone to just “eat better” which is so problematic. Unfortunately “good” food (defined here as foods that are rich in nutrients for the purposes of this blog. In reality there is no such thing as good or bad food) is very expensive and many people live in food deserts adding an extra expense to going to get the food.

This is where the classism comes in with the added bonus of intersectionality because sadly, many disabled people live at or below the poverty line. Simply saying eat better ignores the fact that food is a commodity that many people do not have solid access too.

Then there are the invisible costs to food which include full kitchens to prepare and store as well as time to plan and cook. These are things that many people do not have in abundance and talking about food as if it falls from the sky ready to eat like we live in the world of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs stinks of privilege.

When we talk about weight loss, we talk about it as if it will be easy and all you need is willpower. This is what the diet industry wants you to believe. The fact of the matter is that a lot goes into losing weight or why weight was gained to begin with. Having the health and resources to lose weight is not something that everyone has access to and if you’re talking about it, then you should be mindful of that.

The circumstances that allow people to focus on exercise and diet are a privilege. Having access to grocery stores, gyms, and safe walking areas are privileges. Having the space to store food and the time to prepare it are privileges. Having a body strong and healthy enough to engage in physical activity is a huge privilege. Be mindful that not everyone has these.

Activist Advertising: Monetizing Outrage in the Internet Age

 

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Hasbro announced that they would be releasing Rey figures for their Star Wars line after much hullabaloo was raised when the main character was missing from a variety of toy lines. Rightfully fans pointed out that it was insane that the main character from the biggest film of all time was missing from the merchandise. The company apologized for their “oversight” much to fans delight. But I imagine that the company is even more delighted. They will profit from the outrage that was generated. The internet culture of outrage has been successfully monetized.

This isn’t to say that the company shouldn’t have been questioned as to the lack of representation in their toys and merchandise. That is a HUGE problem in the world of geek which despite having been proved to have a dearth of female consumers still panders to the cis White male audience and the trappings of Western society’s gender beliefs. This is something that needs to be called out and pushed back against.

Still, that doesn’t mean that those same companies haven’t found a way to profit off of that pushback. There’s a saying that all press is good press and that’s not true in every situation but in a situation where the damaging effects can be mitigated? Free publicity.

For those issues that cannot be corrected, think Pan, the movie that bombed months before it was released due in large part to the issues it had with it’s terrible casting choices, obviously, the press it received killed the film. There was no way to recover. But for other situations where a shirt could be removed or a few toys added, how much are all of those thought pieces worth?

This fiasco with the Star Wars franchise is just one example in a long list of times that activist have spoken out against companies and although they at times had offensive clothing removed, websites re-branded, etc, they also have driven a ton of traffic to those businesses.

The reverse works too. When people petitioned to (rightfully) have the confederate flag removed from government buildings, There was a huge spike in sales of confederate merchandise. Although no one group (unless you count Amazon) really profited from that, it’s clear that the new found buying power of the symbol came in part due to the storm of internet outrage that surrounded the event.

When we vocally complain about something, it creates a lot of buzz around the product. It causes people to write think pieces, news outlets to pick up the story, conversation. It puts the issue on people’s minds. This is good, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It also creates free advertisements as people double check, follow links and the like. Which large companies want.

This shouldn’t stop people from calling out issues when they find them. What should happen is critically looking at the companies and to determine whether or not they are truly in the wrong or if they are using activism as a way to generate free advertisement.

This may be an unavoidable side effect of operating on an internet platform where all of our thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints are in the public eye freely shared far and wide. However, being aware of a system doesn’t mean you have to be completely complacent in it. Certainly, question practices that continue to exclude women and people of color from pop culture but also question whether or not you’re unwittingly part of a profit building venture.

Novels Aren’t The Only Fruit: A Friday Pep Talk For Writers

You're ok.

You’re ok.

Not every writer is a novelist, although many of us who get into the profession hope to be one. This doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of people out there making money with the written word who do not have books out. Even if you dream of writing a book someday, you’re not failing at this whole writing thing if all you have are articles published on the internet.

When I tell people that I’m a writer and then respond to their question as to where they can find my books, they often lose interest when I tell them I write articles. Even though people consume a great deal of writing in today’s content heavy atmosphere, there’s a sort of disconnect between the articles that we read and share on social media and the novels we read for pleasure. In many minds, a novel makes you a writer. Anything “less”, well, not so much.

I don’t know what people consider the media they read online or in magazines to be but the people who write those things are no less successful or noteworthy than people whose fiction adorn the virtual shelves of Amazon.

In fact, there’s a greater chance that the person whose work appeared on some online journal or even in a throwaway article created to pick up Google spiders made more money doing what they loved than the person with a book on Amazon. This isn’t a jab at self-publishers, it’s hard in that market, this is a statement that some people’s purpose for writing is to be paid rather than to share a story.

Even if you’re writing to turn a buck, you’re still a writer. Maybe not a sexy one, but you’re still doing the job. And that is commendable because it doesn’t matter if you write for magazines, craft novels, churn out content articles, or blog like it’s going out of style, this is a hard gig to be in. Keep at it. You’re doing great.