3 Reasons Why I Love Freelancing

by Sean on March 22, 2015

Cafe Freelancer

I’ve been a full-time freelance copywriter for three years now, building on three previous years as a staff copywriter in a private post-secondary institution. In a traditional agency environment, those six years may have led me to a senior copywriter position by now. So why don’t I seek out a full-time position somewhere?

1. Focused Productivity
It’s hard for writers to be incredibly productive in office environments. We communicate best through the written word, so face-to-face meetings aren’t always the best forum for expressing our ideas. I also love being able to commit to intense writing sessions where I can start and finish a difficult task without any interruptions. It results in my clients getting better work – and getting it faster.

2. Hunger is Exciting
The thing that prevented me from jumping into freelance life earlier was fear – that I wouldn’t be able to find consistent work or that I’d miss the stability of an office. But I’ve since learned that this is what keeps me hungry. There’s no room for complacency in a freelancer’s life, and I love that sense of responsibility. It keeps me on my toes and ensures that I treat every point of contact with a client as a chance to prove my value to their organization.

3. Stronger Creativity
This is the big one for me. Since I started freelancing full-time, I’ve noticed that my creativity is much freer. I’m producing better ideas in higher frequency because I can sustain my creative thinking over longer periods. I carry my clients’ issues around with me wherever I am during the day, and that provides a ton of opportunities for “eureka” moments.

My freelance client list is constantly growing. Check out this tab for information on what I do and the organizations I work with.

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My Winter Reads

by Sean on February 4, 2015

I’ve been so busy with work this winter that my reading is falling behind. I know this because my teetering stack of unread books is starting to become structurally unsound.

It’s worth noting that the books I’m carrying around with me lately are sometimes literary magazines. After years of buying lit mags (or “supporting” them, as Canadian publications like to say) and then feeling guilty when I haven’t read them, and then reading them and being really bored by the stories selected for publication, I’ve finally settled into a groove of reliable favourites that I really look forward to each quarter: The Paris Review never disappoints; I’m just now getting into The White Review, which is designed beautifully; and Granta is a great source of voices I don’t usually hear from. Penguin’s The Happy Reader magazine, while not strictly a lit mag, is also a welcome addition.

The Books:

The White Album by Joan Didion

JoanI seem to mention Joan Didion in every other blog post. That’s because her writing is insanely good, from how she crafts sentences to her unique word choices to the overall hard-to-put-your-finger-on “meaning” in her essays. I picked up The White Album while visiting family and friends in British Columbia. While there are definitely some great essays contained in this collection, it lacks a bit of the punch that made such an impression on me in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. This book wouldn’t be the first I’d recommend to newcomers to Didion, but there’s still plenty to admire here.

NW by Zadie Smith

ZadieThis is the first book I’ve read from Zadie Smith, despite everyone telling me that I should’ve started with White Teeth (not because they’re narratively connected but because that’s the book that garnered so much well-deserved attention). NW starts out great. I was totally on-board and ready to enjoy myself, but then things shift structurally. Smith introduces a kind of formatting that breaks up the reader’s focus and melts away that immersive quality she established at the beginning. It feels like what she was attempting to do stylistically was successful, but I think it comes at the cost of the reader’s enjoyment.

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

TomI had never read anything by Tom Robbins before Still Life. It’s totally outside the realm of books that I’d usually pick up on my own. Naturally, it came as a recommendation from a close friend. There’s plenty to like here, especially if you consider the time it was published (specifically in regard to the radical environmental politics of the time). The strangest part for me was Robbins’ portrait of an obscure royal family that has relocated to the US. It threw me for a loop tonally because I couldn’t tell what era was being depicted, or whether we were in a fantasy genre. That confusion is grounded by the antagonist/love interest character, though. Still Life with Woodpecker would probably be better enjoyed as a summer read.

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright by Steven Millhauser

StevenThe title pulled me into this book. That and the fact that Steven Millhauser has been recommended to me a couple of times by people whose literary tastes I share. This book, however, fell far short of my expectations. Its high concept gets tiring after the first twenty pages: an articulate young narrator, Jeffrey Cartwright, is the self-appointed biographer of his equally-young friend, Edwin Mullhouse. Jeffrey frames Edwin as a future American literary legend, and because they’re so young it’s kinda cute. For a time. And then it’s just really boring. I skimmed through to see if Millhauser breaks through the narrative constraints he set up here… but nope.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver

RaymondRaymond Carver is a treat no matter how many times you read him. I can’t recommend his work enough – specifically Cathedral, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, or Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?. The intimacy and deceptive, simple approach he takes with each story seems so clearheaded, deliberate, and successful it’s frustrating to witness. I don’t know how many times I’ve read “Feathers” – it’s probably one of the best favourite short stories I’ve ever read because of what it evokes without bluntly stating any specific message. I occasionally find some echoes of his talent in the writers selected for publication in The Paris Review (which, again, I’d recommend you check out if you haven’t before).

Books on deck: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family (the first of his My Struggle series), Harold Brodkey’s Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Leopard, and Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy Snow Bird.

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Changing Direction in 2015

by Sean on December 31, 2014

Train Tracks

2014 was a strange and surprising year, both professionally and personally. A few projects that mean the world to me went in – shall we say – unique directions I hadn’t anticipated. And yet, my career as a freelance copywriter has continued to rise well beyond my initial expectations when I arrived in Toronto in 2012 and began rebuilding my professional network.

Here are some career highlights from 2014:

> My weekly contributions to Format‘s online magazine, ExploreCreateRepeat.com, continued throughout the whole year. Some of my favourites include: “Rebounding From the Kibosh”, “Keeping Your Inner Critic in Check”, and “The Cutting Edge Hurts: Why Creative Discovery is Hard”.

> I worked on a variety of projects through my client geekspeak, the most recent of which has put me in a Senior Editor/Copywriter role on a nationwide initiative for YellowPages.ca.

> Throughout 2014, I also continued my professional relationship with Vancouver Film School. It’s a post-secondary entertainment arts institution in British Columbia that I know inside and out, since I used to be a student, then worked inside one of the programs, then became a full-time staff copywriter, and now I’m a freelance copywriter. Some projects included rewriting web content for their 13 programs, creating and contributing to advertising campaigns, and a variety of ongoing writing and editing tasks.

> The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) contracted me to write their 2014-15 Education Catalogue. It’s a valuable way for educators across the country to engage with the NFB’s resources to encourage media literacy in the classroom. You can see the full document here: http://films.nfb.ca/education-catalogues/NFBEducation_Catalogue_2014-2015.pdf (PDF file).

> Right at the end of the year, I was contracted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to copyedit their signature corporate document – a large task that required a quick turnaround. This involved editing content from various departments across the TDSB to ensure clarity and consistency.

For 2015, I’m planning on taking a new tack in the creative writing side of my career, one that will focus primarily on pulling things back from a production-centric mindset and rededicating my energy to projects that better reflect the reasons I started my career as a writer. As a result, my work for film and theatre will take a temporary backseat while I reconsider what I wish to accomplish in those areas.

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John Oliver - HBO Last Week Tonight with John OliverThere’s been some debate about John Oliver’s somewhat-dubious claims that he and others, like Jon Stewart, are not journalists. He stresses that they’re comedians and everything they do on their shows is in the service of comedy.

Here’s a quote from Oliver that appeared in a recent New York Times piece:

“We are making jokes about the news and sometimes we need to research things deeply to understand them, but it’s always in service of a joke. If you make jokes about animals, that does not make you a zoologist. We certainly hold ourselves to a high standard and fact-check everything, but the correct term for what we do is ‘comedy.’ ”

I think that’s a total cop-out. In my opinion, Oliver and Stewart aren’t just making comedy shows, they’re filling a massive void in mainstream media by providing in-depth analysis of complex issues… which happens to be funny. Oliver, specifically, is employing magazine-style journalism by devoting long chunks of time (“long” as defined by the internet age) to relevant but little-discussed problems affecting his viewer’s lives. And then, yes, he sometimes spends that same amount of time on sex-hungry space geckos.

Just because he’s funny and focuses more on the joke than, say, an old-school journalist would doesn’t preclude him from practicing journalism. If he’s involved in writing, researching, editing, or providing direction on where to look for truth where little is known, then he’s a journalist. That’s how it works. The only way I can argue on behalf of his claim is if he said he’s just a gifted performer who reads from a teleprompter during every show, but we know that’s not the case.

I never appreciated the cowardly way (yes, I said it) Jon Stewart would criticize incompetent or intentionally misleading broadcasters, and then cloak himself with a veil of “I don’t have to live by the high standards I preach because I’m just a comedian”. That’s bull. He and Oliver work by a professional journalistic code, so why wouldn’t they take on the title that comes with the territory?

Be proud of what you do, John Oliver. You’re really good at it.

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Dumping Money on the Didion Doc Kickstarter

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Readers of my blog probably how much I love Joan Didion– I’m sorry, what? You don’t? Dude, come on. Okay, so now that we all know how much I admire her writing, then you’ll understand why I had to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign (embedded below) that seeks to produce a documentary about her life. At the […]

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The Story Behind My Icon

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Most of the people I know primarily through online communication – including many of my freelance clients – identify me by my icon (pictured here). Of course I am much more than a peachy, red-bearded, plaid-wearing dude, but those elements are undeniably true to my physical character. This image appears everywhere from this website to my profiles on Twitter […]

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Your Move, Chief (RIP Robin Williams)

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This one hurts a little. Robin Williams wasn’t just some celebrity comedian whose name everyone seemed to know. His natural gifts as a performer and well-demonstrated desire to try new things made him an artist worth watching. A kind of chaotic spirit who possessed deceptive quantities of discipline to produce more moments of brilliance than […]

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My Latest Articles for Creative Professionals

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As part of my life as a freelance copywriter, I collaborate with Format.com‘s team to create weekly online articles over at ExploreCreateRepeat.com that speak to the joys and challenges of creatives – meaning: people engaged with professional creative work like design, photography, web development, and yes, copywriting too. It’s a pleasant surprise every week to mine […]

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My Summer 2014 Reading and Viewing Picks

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I’ve been reading a lot of books and seeing some great films lately. Not every one of them is worth recommending, but here are a few of the favourites I’ve come across so far this summer. Stoner by John Williams (1965) has exploded in popularity over the past year, having been branded as a forgotten gem of American […]

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Collecting Sentences and Releasing Them Into the Wild

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Tumblr just told me I’ve been with them for three years, which is odd because I always forget I have a tumblr. Almost always. I (infrequently) post my favourite sentences written by authors I love on worldentire.tumblr.com. Sometimes when I’m reading a book, a single line will leap out at me because of some unique feature. Maybe it’s alarmingly long […]

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