Edward Hopper "Summer Interior"

Full Stop recently published my essay on grief-themed books from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Paul Auster, and Joan Didion.

“Why did you want to write about such a heavy subject?” you may ask. Well, I’m not altogether sure what compelled me to write this piece. The idea hit me the moment I looked over at a stack of books sitting in front of my (poorly undermatched) bookcase: Knausgaard’s first volume of My Struggle, Auster’s Invention of Solitude, and Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking were bunched together at the top.

It struck me as odd that they shared such an intimate topic and I found myself thinking about exploring it further. After a bit of brainstorming, I pitched a feature essay to Full Stop and got the green light – which led to a lot more brainstorming, writing, and rewriting.

I’m pretty satisfied with the result. Let me know what you think!


Just before spring arrived this year, The New York Times quietly changed its movie review policy. Instead of reviewing everything that got a proper release in a theatre (in Manhattan) for a certain amount of days (at least a week), they decided to branch out and include films that are finding new ways to reach viewers through video-on-demand platforms or direct-to-video releases.

However, in incorporating a whole new subset of cinema, they’ll be going against the tradition of reviewing everything from big distributors. The message here is that instead of reviewing a film because it’s being shared with people via the traditional theatrical release model, The New York Times will now review what they deem to be reviewable in its pages.

It’s a bold move away from big money, so that’s somewhat reassuring—distributors can’t buy their way into the pages of one of the biggest newspapers on the planet anymore. It’s also bold because it puts a lot more onus on the critics to be tastemakers. They’re not just critiquing the whole funnel of movie releases (again, in Manhattan), but siphoning out the specific “releases”—the jury’s out on what constitutes a release now—and offering their take on it.

Here’s how A.O. Scott, the lead film critic for The Times and the dude in the above photo, explained the new approach in a recent interview:

“We always try to err on the side of [giving] a movie attention. It’s better to risk running a review of something worthless than to risk overlooking something worthwhile. That’s ultimately a subjective judgment, of course, but we do our best.”

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody offered an eloquent take, wherein he waxed poetic about the nature of cinema and how The Times‘ new policy is a move in the right direction.

“With coverage expanding to on-demand and online releases, the clutter—and the demands on a movie critic’s attention—will only increase. The changes in critical coverage make critical judgment all the more crucial.”

I’m excited to see what qualifies as a title worthy of review now, as The New York Times has long been a home for great writing and critical discussion (even if I disagree with their take on some films from time to time).

3 Reasons Why I Love Freelancing

by Sean on March 22, 2015

in Copywriting

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.

My Winter Reads

by Sean on February 4, 2015

in Reading

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.

Changing Direction in 2015

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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 […]

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There’s No Denying John Oliver is a Journalist

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There’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 […]

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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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