Sorry not sorry

I should apologize, shouldn't I? I mean I promised a daily blog and I didn't deliver. Even this post is a day late.

I ain't gonna say sorry. Or, well, I'm trying not to say sorry as much as I used to do. Unless I mean it. And even then...

But let's start at the beginning.

I do what I do

First of all, this is my blog. I write these posts because

  • I need to practice writing
  • I have things to say
  • I want to give you guys value

These are not in order of importance - they're equally important. And I want to do all three simultaneously. There's more to it than these three, of course, and they run deeper than a single sentence of intent. But for now let's start with these.

I'm a writer, so obviously I need to write to keep myself sharp and stretch what I can do. Granted, I'd like to write fiction more than I'm writing non-fiction, however my fiction (and poetry) writing process has devolved greatly. And I need the writing habit, the muscle memory of typing on the keyboard (or writing longhand, of which I was alarmed to realize I've fallen out) and communicating a point through text.

I have a lot of things to say, and I want to tell those stories. That said, focus is another skill I'm aiming to build up. Sometimes I have too much to say, and when I don't know where to begin or where to finish I end up not telling any story. At all. That has to change.

When I write I want it to be read. That only happens when there's a value exchange, your attention and time traded for the information you get. I can't stress this point enough. I'm tired of clickbait articles that give no value. I've had enough blog posts stating and then re-stating the obvious.

When you shoot for all three of these, writing becomes harder and harder. Sometimes you shoot and miss, sometimes you hit. Point is I need to keep shooting.

But I don't need to, and in fact absolutely shouldn't, apologize for not taking a shot that clearly doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell to hit.

Respecting myself

Tony Stark Iron Man 2 I think I did okay

Giphy

Constantly apologizing becomes a cancer on our own self-worth. Eating away at it, little by little. It makes us submissive, and gives away the awesome power we should deploy to its fullest potential.

Stop Saying "Sorry" And Say "Thank You" Instead

Unless you're Canadian, you're not doing anyone any favors by saying "sorry" all the time. New York based artist Yao Xiao takes this a step further in her comics, where she suggests that you say "thank you" instead.

I've decided to run this 'experiment' on myself. I'm in a constant battle with depression and anxiety as it is, and it serves me well not to dig myself deeper into a hole.

If I don't or can't respect myself, I'm in no position to expect others to do so. As a freelancer I'm in an even more vulnerable position as I'm constantly in negotiation with new clients who always try asserting themselves in a dominant position. I'm not saying others have it easier, but certainly less frequently or overtly.

That has already led to a number of pretty abusive working relationships. I've never really understood this dynamic - beyond what empathy can afford - until I've realized that constantly saying I'm sorry is actually making me become sorry, which in turn gives away my position as an equal.

It has to stop.

Turning the tables

Tony Stark Iron Man 3 Mark 42 I'm the best

Giphy

So this experiment is both about saying "sorry" less and saying it differently when I am, in fact, apologizing. I don't want to seem like an asshole, though.

It certainly is a challenging thing to do. Just by way of taking a step back and examining just how many times I tend to say sorry and what kind of effect it has on a particular conversation or relationship was an eye-opening and horrifying experience. A lot of times I can't control a lot of factors that may lead to saying sorry.

But I sure as hell can control everything around here.

This is my safe space. I decide what's going on here. The only thing I need to be (and indeed, am) worrying about is the relationship between who I am right now and who I want to be through what I do here.

The easiest way of not having to say sorry is not making promises. Which is what I'm doing right now. (Or not doing right now, depending on how you're looking at it.)

I'll still do my best to post daily, for the reasons explained above. I appreciate if you follow along, and even more so when you leave a comment. (And please do, even - and especially - if you disagree with something. I'm always ready for a discussion, and don't have anything I wouldn't change in face of convincing evidence.)

Have a happy weekend!


Cover image from Giphy.

I'm baaaaaaack!

Phew.

Ok, a quick apology for my absence of late. I'm back, let's rejoice, blablabla. But today is not the day I explain what happened, why I was away, and the rest. (If I ever do. We'll see.)

Because today I have important things to talk about.

xkcd - Duty Calls

xkcd

Meaning: let's talk about the elephantspider in the room. The Iron Spider in the room, as it were.

People are freaking out over the tech in Spidey's suit in 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

Let's put aside for the moment that you shouldn't freak out over a trailer. They're, amongst many other things I'm not going to cover here, freaking out over three core points:

  • "Why does Marvel keep putting Iron Man in all the moviez?!?"
  • "Why does Spidey have to have a high-tech suit made by Tony Stark?!?"
  • "Why doesn't Peter create his suit?!?"

Before the deep-dive into Spidey-lore, the first thing is pretty obvious.

Iron Man is the cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Plain and simple. It started with Iron Man in 2008. Robert Downey Jr. may be too expensive for the studio to make a standalone Iron Man 4, or too tired of playing Tony, or whatever the reason is. We're likely not going to get another Iron Man movie anytime soon. *insert sobbing for another Iron Man movie here*

(As a sidenote, let me just say that a standalone Iron Man movie featuring a storyline where he hands off the reins to Riri Williams would A) make sense; B) only fitting to launch a "soft reboot" of the MCU; B) be awesome. Just sayin', you heard it here first.)

So what can they do? They put him in everything. He's the continuity between movies. (One of the continuities, anyway.) Civil War obviously has to have Iron Man. The Avengers movies have to have Iron Man.

Long story short: get over it.

Moving on.

"Why does Spidey have to have a suit made by Tony Stark?!?"

He has his own suit. Remember "The Onesie"?

Captain America Civil War Spider-Man Onesie

It's only natural for Tony to be the one who creates the tech for S.H.I.E.L.D. (and I suspect S.W.O.R.D. as well, if the TV show goes where I think it goes, and as the Guardians of the Galaxy come into play with Infinity War), the Avengers, and so on.

Captain America Civil War Spider-Man Tony Stark

You're in dire need of an upgrade. Systematic, top to bottom; 100 points restoration. That's why I'm here.

He needed Peter to be fully equipped when engaging Captain America in the confrontation Tony already knew how will end.

(The genius-level intellect of Tony Stark really comes across in expertly subtle ways in all movies.)

What's great about the MCU, and one of the reasons why they became as big a hit as they did, is the plausibility. That's a hard thing to do when you deal with supersoldiers, frail scientists turning into enormous green rage monsters, Nordic demigods, space mercenaries, and the rest.

The MCU has kept all these fantastical elements in check by not mystifying them. The tech, as it pertains to our current discussion, is believable.

Granted, Peter Parker is an established inventor as well. Narratively, however, they couldn't plausibly insert that quality into a cameo, although they did their best.

Captain America Civil War Spider-Man dumpster diver

But to the benefit of those poor souls who don't watch every Marvel movie a thousand times with a magnifying glass and a worn-out pause/rewind button, they gave Peter a StarkTech suit that he will lose (in fact, taken back by Tony himself) at pretty much the beginning of the movie.

Spider-Man Homecoming trailer Tony Stark

Tony: I'm gonna need that suit back.

Peter: But I'm nothing without this!

Tony:: If you're nothing without this suit then you shouldn't have it.

This scene practically screams "end of Act One". We'll see plenty of The Onesie, and I fully expect Peter to create his own "real" suit by the end of the movie. And even if he gets the Stark suit back, he'll have earned it.

More on this later.

It's comic-appropriate, and then some

Tony Stark and Peter Parker have a well-established history in the comics, many of those aspects mirrored in the MCU.

(Heck, even Mary Jane ends up working for Stark Industries, taking over for Pepper as she goes off being Rescue and whatnot.)

But, more relevantly, at the opening of the comics' Civil War storyline, Peter is on Tony's side. He takes off his mask and puts his real name on the Registry. (Later that's reversed, in a very comic book-ish way, but that's beside the point.)

And in return, Tony gives him the Iron Spider armor.

Iron Spider Armor

Iron Spider

From the Spider-Man wikia:

Fabricated with advanced protein-scale nano-technology and exotic materials handling, LEP skin display, impact sensing armor integrated life support ant all-spectrum communications powered by a hybrid opto-electronic computer and using super conducting, high performance plastic throughout, the Iron Spider Armor is truly one of greatest armors Tony Stark has ever created (and Peter's most functional costume).

The suit has many features that won't make it in the MCU (for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the aforementioned plausibility) but there's a lot of it that's hidden or morphed into the movies:

Enhanced Lenses: The Headpiece contains large area holographic lensing to allow for long eye-relief and panoramic real-world/-time viewing. Includes several optical spectrum modes with synthesized information overlay.

It's also a clever, very clever, narrative solution to bring the Spider-sense into the MCU without making it too fantastical. All Peter says is that his senses are dialed to 11, and the suit just lets him filter all that noise out. (In a more sophisticated way than he himself improvised it in The Onesie.)

Light Emitting Plastic Layer: Allows for camouflage (but the darker the surface that spider-man blends to the better the the camouflage) and also allows spider-man to change the colour and style of his suit (e.g. he change it to the symbiote suit's colour as well as the normal red and blue.)

It's my explanation on the movie's appropriation of the Iron Spider-concept at the same time it uses the classic Spider-Man suit. It's a pretty neat way of having the classic Spidey suit and eat it too. Of course they have to have the suit that everyone recognizes and loves.

There's also a list of features that have been rolled into the familiar StarkTech package, like monitoring emergency bands and the rest. The flexible metal is shown through the way it's accommodating the body type of whoever wears it.

Spider-Man Homecoming badass

Giphy

Hey, Siri!

The last piece I want to talk about briefly is the AI assistant. That gave a lot of people on Twitter something to lash out against.

Spider-Man Homecoming trailer suit UI

The way I see it, to keep things plausible, they use Tony's AI assistants, whether that's Jarvis or Friday or the one in Peter's suit, to replace the concept of 'mental control' in the comics. While there it's not out of place, in the movies not having some exotic, out-of-this-world-fantastic technology or ability helps.

I mean, having a guy capable of climbing walls, have superhuman strength, and enhanced senses is enough, right?

Spider-Man Homecoming trailer spider drone

Giphy

A different origin story

Many people complain that giving Peter the full package Tony robbed the movie of the joy of 1) showing off Peter's intellect and capability for innovation; 2) the narrative of an origin story.

Spider-Man Homecoming what?

Giphy

I disagree, strongly.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is still an origin story. It's not the origin story of how Peter gets his powers (that has been done way too many times) but how he grows up to become Spider-Man.

What we'll likely see in Homecoming is how Peter, because he's "still a kid", over-doing his good intentions, gets knocked on his ass. And then, probably in the scene after they save the ferry, the movie begins.

We'll see Peter Parker go back to The Onesie, we will see him rely on nothing but his own intellect, skills, and powers, and become the Spider-Man we know.

It's a nice throwback/coda/final stroke in Tony's arc that started with "I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one." in Iron Man 2, and ended with "I'm a changed man. You can take away my house, all my tricks and toys. One thing you can't take away... I am Iron Man." in Iron Man 3. The same character evolution Peter needs to go through.

This is why Homecoming becomes a bona fide origin story.

Giphy

They grow up so fast!

Narratively, this approach will make for a much more interesting movie. Not just as a comic book movie, but as storytelling as a whole.

This transition into a new way of telling stories (that are rooted in the culture of comic books) signals a new era in my opinion.

Logan

Giphy

Many, if not most, people loved Logan because it worked as a movie first. Being a comic book movie only came second. They didn't pander, they didn't explain everything from Adam (or anything, really) - they made a movie that made sense.

Deadpool was a success because its creators grew up to the job instead of dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator.

Deadpool applause

Giphy

I love this evolution of comic book culture, and pop culture in general. I also applaud Marvel for treating their audience with respect. They're the first who don't feel the need to re-tell the same story over and over again, but instead take a leap and assume we all know what happened in the previous movies.

And even further than that, that these character being pop culture phenomena for decades it's perfectly fine to assume that everyone is familiar with at least the defining moments and traits of them.

What a time to be alive!

Spider-Man Homecoming dancing

Giphy

[Chapter 6] ;

”A semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

I really like this idea. I’d use ellipses if I’m being perfectly honest, but that’s just a writer’s knit-picking. :-)

The bigger picture

Living with depression and anxiety isn’t easy. Not only does the internal struggle tear up our lives, it’s also widely looked down on and misunderstood.

What I find interesting (in a way) is the possible reason for mental health issues to be marginalized. Our society has been driven by the disproportionate value placed on physical strength and manual labor for millennia.

This, however, is the age of information. Our world is more
and more propelled forward by the mind, not the body. And so mental health issues are our Black Death, smallpox, measles, and what-have-you.

As a society, we have to pay attention to mental health problems lest we unleash an epidemic that may not register a death toll as high as the ones before — but it certainly will set our evolution back by affecting the best and brightest among us.

New leaders for a new age

Mental health issues affect those who are different the most. Those who think and act differently than the norm are the ones who exact the most change. Often quietly, but nonetheless sending ripples into the flow of our evolution that are amplified into paradigm changing tsunamis.

When mental health issues go unacknowledged, marginalized, or simply misunderstood these ripples never occur. Society stagnates and advancement halts.

True, it’s not as overt as a disease wiping out thousands or millions of people. We may not even notice it until it’s already too late.

So we need to be proactive.

No stigma

The first step of solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

After a period of unconscious denial — mostly manifesting in acting the opposite, while retreating into passivity in reality — I came to acknowledge that I suffer from depression.

Whether I’ve hit rock bottom is irrelevant at this point. I certainly am at one of the lowest I’ve ever been, both financially, creatively, existentially, and in any other way imaginable.

And given that the only choice I have is either the way up or the way out. In any case, the current predicament is no longer endurable or tolerable.

So I decided to start a hopefully healing process by hereby owning up to the situation, and proceed to deal with it, the only way I know how: retreating to my own imaginary places, and channeling my anxiety, doubt, fear, anger, and all other forces (that seem to have been washing over me in the past weeks and months at their whim) into creation.

I wrote this on Facebook in April 2016. I’ve been suffering from depression since my mother passed away in 2009 — I don’t think I’ve ever come out of that experience.

Spending 8 years (and counting) with this disease trying to manage it and overcome it taught me a lot of things.

Interestingly enough, most of those are very positive. But the biggest of all is becoming empathetic to the phenomenon.

Being aware of what I was writing above, of why mental health problems are important, is the most fundamentally missing piece from the solution.

And that starts with removing the stigma of mental health problems. Because when that’s gone, more people will be able to face their demons.

Depression is like alcoholism

I like the storylines of Tony Stark’s depression not just because I’m an obsessed Iron Man-fan, but also because it parallels Tony’s alcoholism. In fact, him being an alcoholic is a more overt representation of his depression.

The two are very much alike. My specific point here is that you’re never really “cured”. Best you can hope for is putting those whispering voices of depression into exile in the back of your mind.

I’ve spent most of the last decade trying to overcome those voices. Depression can manifest in a lot of ways, mine did in a passively self-harming fashion. Meaning that I stood idly by and made bad decisions that left me in worse and worse situations.

Leaning toward self-harm doesn’t have to mean being straightforward suicidal. In fact, often times that slowness, that creeping, almost unnoticeable progress of wasting away is much more dangerous and devastating. It’s what leads to family and friends standing confused after the fact, when it’s too late, asking themselves “how did this happen?”

res;l;ent

resilient During/after a particularly dark period of battling my depression, I’ve got the above bracelet made in Bangkok, marking the resolve to keep fighting my demons. I haven’t taken it off since. I’ve turned my entire “personal brand” into this singular theme.

Of course, it has the Iron Man red-and-gold colors, and I took the word and concept from the comics. There’s so much from that character’s story arcs that I identify with, but this is perhaps the most important.

I vowed to never stop fighting. Not just for myself, but — like Tony has set out to open up his technology to provide free, unlimited sustainable energy and technology for the entire planet — for everyone.

I support great organizations that battle the different aspects of mental health in a digital world. Here and now I’d like to single out two: Project Semicolon and the Cybersmile Foundation.

Making sure those who battle with mental health problems are heard, understood, and supported is possibly the most important thing I’ll ever do in — and with — my life. I’ll likely never write the Great American Novel (especially since I’m not American :-P ) or invent the definitive world-changing technology.

(Not that I don’t want to. I’m just being realistic about where my talents are. I’m a writer partially because I do want to be a lot of things, from lawyer to politician to space explorer, and I become those things safely and inexpensively through my writing. :-) )

If you ever want to talk, about depression or whatever else, please get in touch.

[Chapter 5] Copywriting. *sigh*

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Well, I try anyway. It’s a process, remembering to put on something other than music in the morning as I walk to work.

Most of the podcasts I’m subscribed to are about writing. Of those one of my favorites is Writing Excuses — it’s short (so I can listen to an entire episode by the time I get to the restaurant from which I work currently) and it’s incredibly useful. Not only do they talk theory, they actually put it in real-life context and give actionable advice. And even homework.

12.15: Pacing With Chapters

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Mary Anne, and Wesley What makes a chapter? WHY is a chapter? How do we chapter, and do we always chapter the same way? Should our chapters be this many parts of speech? This episode will answer these questions and more, except for that last question, to which the answer is "probably not."

The April 10th episode, which I listened to yesterday, continued their dissection of the topic of pacing, this time with chapters. And it got me thinking about using these techniques, and others from fiction writing, in copywriting.

If it ain’t broke?

Disclaimer: I’m guilty of most, if not all, the things I complain about here. It’s a simple case of the copywriter’s reality, which is that you’re writing for a client. I cherish opportunities where I can get a larger degree of creative freedom, or get to write in an arc. But those opportunities are rare.

Do this: go to any random business blog. You’ll quickly discover a set structure to most of them. They’re almost always self-contained and identically structured. You can scan them and still get the point.

This is partially good, of course. There’s an incredible amount of information out there and there’s only so much time to consume them. Wasting your reader’s time is disrespectful. I fully get that.

On the other hand, when does making things easier become the very thing that makes simpler things required?

”I’m on a mission to civilize!”

When Scott and Alison did their recent UnWebinar I managed to get a question in. Well, two, but beard oil secrets are not the topic of this post. :-)

Emma + Unmarketing | A Marketing Webinar

Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer share real-life examples of what to do (and what not to do) to succeed in the business world today. These guys are refreshingly authentic and full of expert advice that will completely transform how you think about marketing.

My question was: as a copywriter, how do I handle requests to “dumb down” content because the assumption is that the audience will not understand anything written above a 7th grade reading level? (Or something to that effect.)

I often feel that there’s a grave disconnect between content creators and consumers. Companies too often mistake the audience’s need for efficiency as stupidity.

Then there’s SEO. SEO became the bane of my writing life because I increasingly feel I have to write for machines instead of people. It breaks my heart every single time I have to do it.

I say this while being a strong proponent of challenges put on creative work. When you have boundaries you’re more likely to innovate in order to get around them. I know for a fact that if I could write anything I wouldn’t write a single word. The lack of constraints creates an overload of opportunities and if there are no rules the game becomes boring.

That said, when those constraints benefit a bunch of algorithms or perceived, not real requirements it all goes to hell.

Respectfully, fuck your focus keyword

Focus keywords make me mad. We’ve gotten to the point where we treat educated human beings as incapable of recognizing the same thing just because I used a gasp synonym or slight variant of the damned focus keyword.

When clients give feedback on my work, citing a Wordpress plugin’s checklist makes my blood pressure to eject into the stratosphere.

I mean seriously…

Hey, I get it: your blog needs to come up on Google when people search for a certain thing. Guess what, though: when people do click on your link and get treated like stupid, they’ll never come back.

People ain’t stupid. Speaking of.

We wouldn’t have to simplify if we didn’t think people are inherently idiots

Once again, it’s not a one-sided issue. As mentioned earlier, efficiency in writing benefits the reader. Not having to wade through the fluff saves their time. There are a number of techniques we (copy)writers can use for that effect.

But when we start treating our audience as stupid, we not only alienate those who in fact aren’t — and take offense, rightfully so, in the patronizing manner — but also remove the challenges that’d help them grow and learn.
It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Which can be solved by simply exiting this vicious cycle.

More than 20 words in a sentence is long?!? The f*ck outta here…

I get why long paragraphs are tiring, and how concise sentences improve readability. What I don’t get is why it is hard to understand that a longer sentence or complex paragraph is actually a mental challenge the reader sometimes needs.

We all learn by conquering these challenges.

Lowest common denominators. They suck.

All too often businesses work from the lowest common denominator of an audience in order to get their reach as wide as possible. It’s almost always a mistake.

For one thing, a smaller but more engaged audience has a lot higher return on their investment than a larger but comparatively inactive. We need to forget vanity metrics already. (But that’s a discussion for another day.)

But if for no other reason we should expect more from our audience if we expect them to succeed. For example, when writing for entrepreneurs, the worst thing you can do is remove the mental challenges.

If we can’t expect them to understand topics in anything other than the simplest terms, how are we going to expect them to innovate and make a difference in the world?

And, my last refuge of reasoning, is that sometimes things are complex. Brevity and clarity are valuable, but not at the expense of helping understand the topic in question. Sure, you can — or, rather, you can try — explain quantum physics, business theory, or what-have-you on a 4th-5th-6th-grade reading level…

… but when you eventually end up going only skin-deep, it’s no surprise people will only have a shallow understanding of it. And from shallow understanding comes failure.

The things copywriters can learn from fiction writers

One idea, in my opinion, would be doing more blog series instead of one-off posts. Writing in arcs brings up issues like pacing, knowledge retention, and the ability to tell a story instead of passing information.

There’s little to no SEO that carries over a series. So we can do away with that pile of nonsense, and focus on writing for the reader. We can’t cheat with a good SEO score, clickbait headline, or tweetable fact-nugget, we have to actually know our audience.

That’s the time where the two fields of copywriting and fiction writing can come together and learn from each other. I do think fiction writers can learn a lot about brevity and clarity from copywriters (and screenwriters, for that matter) while copywriters can — and indeed should — learn all they can about how to write for the reader.

Because, in the end, good SEO and other hacks will make you top of Google. Good writing will make people go to your site without using Google.