Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “advice”

More opportunities to lose customers (a sequel)

Earlier this year, I shared my thoughts on how a company (or individual) can disappoint customers in two easy steps. Those steps were, in a nutshell, “Don’t care enough about the customer to do anything” and “only care enough to do the bare minimum.” Well today, I’m going to make things even easier for you folks who are trying to find new ways to lose business.

It’s a ONE-STEP process that is so easy, anyone can do it. It’s called…

“Don’t be an idiot”

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Fortunately, this guy was down by the brook, nowhere near the house. You can’t tell from the picture, but he was about 4 inches wide – what I’d call mind-bogglingly-massive.

Shall we begin with an example? Yes, let’s. Last week, I had to search for an extermination business. We live in a 100-year-old house, and although I really don’t mind spiders, we’re getting overrun with them this year. Really, I like spiders; they eat all the bugs I hate. But when you hang up a denim jacket in the laundry room and within a week there’s a spider nest inside – well, that’s a problem.

So I went online to find a local exterminator. I found 3 or 4 who I called and talked with – but one website took me by surprise.  CLICK HERE to see what I found.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t any actual business called “Absolute Exterminator.” At least, not an actual exterminator. This website appears to be designed to list local exterminators, even though the average consumer wouldn’t know that at first glance. The thing that really annoys me about these folks is the way they use web-browsing cookies (I assume) to know where I live, so they cut-and-paste a tailor-made home page for me.

With ridiculous lines like, “New Hampshire insects can damage your Merrimack County home” and “The 3,005 people of Warner know there are some annoying bugs in New Hampshire,” it was pretty obvious to me that the website simply plugged my location information into their premade webpage and hoped I would be impressed enough to learn more.

On the contrary, I was utterly UNimpressed, and had learned enough just reading that one page.

“Don’t be an idiot” – while driving

A second example is something I see  – and you probably see – far too often.

Inconsiderate drivers cut you off. They run stop signs, merge into your lane with no warning, and honk their horns at you because they think they own the road. Happens all the time, right?

Well, if you’re driving a company vehicle, it should NEVER HAPPEN. I used to work for a number of radio stations, and whenever I drove one of the station vans, I always made sure my driving was impeccable. I always used my directional, never cut people off, always drove the speed limit. And if some moron did something stupid, I would never beep at him or make rude gestures…I just sucked it up and kept driving.

Yet, I am amazed at the number of rude, selfish drivers using company vehicles. Nary a week goes by where I don’t find myself being cut off by some dude from Rusty Rim Hole Plumbing, or being angrily honked at by a very impatient driver for Stubby’s Towing Service. What do they think happens when they tick someone like me off?

It certainly won’t be to patronize their business anytime soon. More likely, they’ll get written about in my blog – and NOT in a happy, gumdrops and lollipops kind of way.

Either people like this don’t care what other drivers think, because they’re just employees and don’t have any vested interest in doing what’s right…or they’re simply idiots.

“Don’t be an idiot” – so just don’t open your mouth

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“Pardon me, but are you…?”

A third terrific way to get customers miffed at you is to say insulting things without even realizing it.

My wife and I were at a large department store earlier today (I won’t say which one because I wouldn’t want the store to be ‘targeted’), and as we were going through the checkout one of the employees stopped by and started talking to our very chatty 1-year-old baby girl, Phoebe. All was well and good, until the employee said…

“I see a sweet little girl who loves her grandpa!”

I bit my lip, because I knew that what was about to come out of my mouth was inappropriate in the check-out line. When we left the store, my wife tried to reassure me I really didn’t look that old…but this employee had just ruined my morning.

Seriously, who says that?? Isn’t that one of those things you never say to people? Isn’t that like going up to a woman with a belly and asking how the pregnancy’s going??

Now, I realize that plenty of people my age (47) have young grandkids, so it’s not like I was offended because of that. But the fact is, I was there WITH MY WIFE – who is not only 7 years younger than me, but looks like she’s at least 5 years younger than that. So this employee did one of two things:

She either a) thought my wife was a grandparent, as well (which, if you’ve ever seen my wife, you’d know is highly doubtful), or b) she thought I was there with my daughter and HER daughter! I’m sorry, but at 47, I’m pretty sure I don’t look like the father of a 35-year-old. And it’s not that I’m vain – but I already know that I look older than I am, so this employee underscoring that fact for me was totally unnecessary.

Making the world a happier place

let it go - B&RI try to let things like these examples go, I really do. It does no good to hold onto animosity or negative feelings. (That’s why blogging is so cathartic!)

But sneaky, rude, or stupid behavior is so rampant these days, it’s hard to leave it behind; chances are, something new and insulting will just pop up the next day.

I try to be understanding, though. Human beings are fallible, and we all make mistakes now and then. Often, the person doing the offending doesn’t realize it, or perhaps is having a bad day, or is preoccupied with their workload, or has stressful issues on their mind.

Then again, some people are just idiots.

Please don’t be one.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Matt Forrest, Dream-Killer

Sweet, loveable me…destroying dreams?

Alas, it appears so.

I am often asked how one starts a career doing voiceovers or writing children’s books. As someone who has been doing voice work and audio editing for 25+ years, I’m happy to share advice, tips, and some guidance.

As someone who has yet to accomplish the feat of getting a children’s book published, I can only offer a few suggestions – like practice, networking, and critiquing. I have had numerous adult poems published in collections over the years and will soon have about 6 or 7 children’s poems published in various anthologies within the next year or two…but that’s a far cry from getting a book deal.

Be that as it may, much of the advice I give can be applied to either industry – and many more.  The reaction I get after giving the advice is often the same, as well.

Notice I called it an industry

Voiceover work and writing children’s books and poetry are similar in that they are both creative pursuits; however, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that they are, in fact, industries. Businesses. Professional careers that require all the time, effort, and skill that most other professional careers require.

ID-100232154 (water pipe)

Other than turning off the water, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do next.

You wouldn’t decide to become an astronaut on a whim. You wouldn’t think that by buying a socket wrench you can pass yourself off as a car mechanic.

You wouldn’t decide to open a plumbing business simply because you once unclogged a drain in the upstairs bathroom and it seemed like easy money.

Unfortunately, there is something about creative media that makes people think anyone can do it. And to be honest, many people can do it – but don’t really want to.

Or rather, they don’t want to hear about the reality of it.

This is where the dream-killing begins…

The first thing I tell folks who ask me how to get into voiceovers or break into children’s publishing is this: learn about the industry. Read blog posts, seek out professional web pages, and get a feel for what is truly involved. There is more to voiceovers than speaking into a microphone, and there’s more to writing children’s stories than “See Spot Run.”

When I tell these well-meaning people that the industry (either one!) is difficult to break into, they first look at me as if I’m trying to keep them out of a secret club or something. Then when I tell them a few of the things they are actually going to need to do, I get the feeling they think I’m trying to scare them away.

I have to implore them not to misunderstand me – that I’m just trying to be honest and blunt with them.

Blunt honesty, it appears, is not popular.

The frightening facts

Some of the nuggets of advice I offer – while not particularly unique or even insightful – are certainly solid for either industry:

- It may be fun, but it’s work, and you need to treat it as such.
– It’s also enormously competitive. The good news is that most of the other folks in the industry are surprisingly supportive!

- If you want to be a professional, understand what that means and what is expected of you.
- It doesn’t matter if you have a “great voice”; what matters is if you can read well and bring a script to life.
- It doesn’t matter if you love kids; what matters is your ability to write and your willingness to revise, over and over.
- Understand that not everyone can do what you are attempting to do. If it was so easy anyone could do it, everyone would.
- Understand that this is a skill requiring training, perseverance, and talent (not necessarily in that order).
- Understand that rejection is a way of life. There is a very, very high likelihood that you will fail multiple times before you even begin to succeed. You might get passed over dozens of auditions before getting that first gig, and you might send out a hundred manuscripts before an agent or editor thinks you’ve got what it takes.
- Tenacity, perseverance, skill, communication abilities, a thick skin, and a sense of humor are your best friends.
- Egos will get you nowhere.

There are plenty of other industry-specific things I might share when chatting with folks about voiceovers or children’s publishing, but I usually lose them at “enormously competitive.”

I’m really not trying to kill dreams…it just sort of happens

Honestly, I’m not sure how many dreams I’ve killed. I know that many of the folks who have emailed me or spoken to me in person over the last few years are not currently pursuing the vocation they had asked me about in the first place.

SCBWII can only make some broad assumptions.

Either they a) got scared and decided to stick with what they were doing; b) thought I was trying to scare them and decided to do it their own way and failed; or c) are still trying to find the time to be able to engage in an industry as competitive as voiceovers (or children’s writing).

These days, I refer voiceover questions to fellow voice artists like Paul Strikwerda, whose book, Making Money in Your PJs, provides as much insight, advice, and blunt honesty as one can handle, or Dave Courvoisier, author of More Than Just a Voice, a book that details the nuts-and-bolts of the industry like marketing, coaching, and equipment. The professional organization World Voices is good place to learn what being a professional voice talent is all about.

For questions about children’s book publishing, writers like Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund, Tara Lazar, Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt, and many, many more are all willing to help teach, guide, and inspire. And of course, there’s always the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), which is a great resource.

So if you happen to be wondering what it takes to get into these industries – or any of the creative arts – don’t let hard work and the fear of rejection stop you from realizing your dreams. Just do the work necessary and plan to stick with it for the long haul.

I’m not really a “Dream-Killer,” after all…just more of a reality-checker.

But hey, if Abe Lincoln can be a Vampire Hunter, why can’t I have an ominous-sounding moniker, as well?

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Creating creativity: what to do when you lose the muse

"What if...Matt really DID know what he was talking about?"?"Writers deal with it all the time. So do artists, artisans, poets, and all sorts of creative types.

What to do when the inspiration won’t come.

I used to wonder this myself, when I was still learning about writing children’s poetry and picture books. When I was younger, I would write about whatever hit me at the moment, and not write anything else until I was inspired again. And it worked fairly well, except for the fact that if one is going to be a professional writer, one usually doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait around for his or her muse to offer up an idea.

If you’re going to write, you need to write. NOW. You need to find the ideas, work with the words, and get something on paper or on the computer screen whether your muse is available or not. While there are plenty of ways to jumpstart your writing, today I’m sharing five practices that help me.

1) Expose yourself

That is, expose yourself to news and information you wouldn’t normally find interesting. (Although if you really do expose yourself, that probably would open a vast array of new experiences, as well) Next time you’re at the doctor’s office and see a copy of “Popular Phlebotomy” magazine, pick it up and peruse the pages. Who knows what you may learn or be inspired by? If you come across a political website or Facebook page that might promote views opposite to those you hold, read through it and try to see things from another perspective. You might discover a new way of approaching a subject.

You see, these types of things afford us writers a glimpse into lives, worlds, and realities with which we are unfamiliar. Never let an unexpected point of view go to waste!

2) Brainstorm

Yes, I know, you’ve heard this one before, but it really does work – especially if you brainstorm the way I do. Most folks will tell you to pick a subject and write down all the words or phrases you associate with that subject. I’ll do that sometimes, but I prefer going a step beyond.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.netI’ll pick a subject, then try to come up with as many phrases, ideas, or words that I don’t think have ever been associated with it. Why? Because I want to find unique associations – connections no one has considered before. This is especially useful in writing poetry for adults (as opposed to children’s poetry), where associative leaps are almost de rigueur, an expected element of the poem.

3) Don’t settle

Don’t settle for the first idea that pops in your head. Or the second or third. I’ve written at length about this before, but a big trick to writing creatively and uniquely is by being aware that what you’re writing probably isn’t creative or unique. Chances are, when given the opportunity to write about a subject (whether it’s a story, poem, commercial script, or Facebook comment) the first idea that popped into your head is probably the same first idea that popped into nearly everyone else’s heads.

Never going with your first instinct is a golden rule of comedy writing; it should be one of your rules, as well.

4) Ask yourself, “What if?”

I’ve written at length about this topic, as well, and it bears repeating here because of the power those two words wield. Next time you’re stumped for ideas, consider a variety of “what if” questions:

“What if…peas tasted like chocolate?”

“What if…chocolate tasted like Brussels sprouts?”

“What if…humans are actually domesticated farm animals for aliens?”

“What if…Jesus had children and one of them became president?”

5) Don’t be afraid!

Of what? To create something terrible. To try something different. To walk away. If you end up creating something you dislike, you’ll learn from it; at least it was good practice, right? If you try something different, you’re stretching yourself. And I can’t tell you the power that comes from stepping away from a project for awhile.

I’ve written some of my best poems during the course of a week when I’ve had millions of things to do. I’d write a couple lines, get stuck, and then go have to change a baby or record a commercial. Then I’d go back to it, contemplate some more, and have to step away to do something else. Understand, I’m not implying that you should not be disciplined and focus on your work. I’m a firm believer in the “BIC” Rule (“Butt In Chair,” aka “Do the work!”), espoused by great writers such as Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis.

Rather, taking a break from what you’re writing can allow you to distance yourself from it and come back with a new set of eyes, a new perspective. In fact, I went through at least 4 titles for this blog post (like, “When the muse is out of town,” “When the muse is AWOL,” and a few others) before I settled on the internal rhyme-riddled one you see at the top of this page. Getting unstuck from your writer’s block might take a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few years – but it’ll be well worth it.

There’s more where that came from

There are plenty of other ways to kick start some ideas and get the creativity flowing. These are just the five that seem, to me, to be the most effective. What do you do? Are there any tips you employ to help get you started, or get yourself out of a mental rut? I’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll share them in a separate blog post all their own at a future date – with proper attribution and due credit, of course!

Happy writing!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

In copy writing, it’s all about the details

Last week, I wrote and produced a short video commercial for my wife’s business.

There are two problems with that statement.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Advertising: These folks know how to do it right.

First, I’ve never produced a video commercial before, ever. I’ve written hundreds of commercials – and produced thousands of radio commercials – but never produced a video commercial. Second, if you have no experience doing something like that and it’s going to have a big impact on the impression people get about your business, I always say it’s best to have a professional do it.

If you’ve never patched a roof before, you’re going to call a roofer. If you need your car repaired and you don’t know the difference between a carburetor and carbon dating, you’re going to bring it to a mechanic. So if you need a commercial or corporate video produced, seek out someone who has more experience than you do. It’s your livelihood, and it should be important enough for you to have it professionally handled.

As I said above, I didn’t do that. I did have some good reasons, though…

Understanding what I wanted to accomplish

Unlike many folks who have never written commercials before, yet decide they need to be the ones to write, produce and/or voice the things themselves, I knew before I even began how the commercial was going to be used and what I wanted to accomplish. This was not going to run on television – it was to be used via the internet (social media, etc.) only, and it was to garner the attention of a specific group of people who were unfamiliar with the specific benefits of the products my wife sells.

I also had 25 years of copy writing and multi-track audio production knowledge behind me (along with some basic video editing experience), so even though it probably wouldn’t be perfect, I suspected it would be suitable for her purposes. And trust me, I’m my own worst critic, so if it was even slightly subpar, I would’ve scrapped it and gone a different route.

Oh, and due to my ACL reconstruction surgery back in March, a major car accident in late winter, and a leaking roof (see above!), I had a zero budget.  So a one-man DIY project was born.

It all starts with the script

Like a novel or short story, there are several things a good commercial script needs to do. In chronological order, they are:

  1. Attract the listener’s or viewer’s attention
  2. Connect on some emotional level
  3. Develop interest
  4. Create desire
  5. Compel action

A commercial should also showcase the product’s or service’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the feature or benefit that makes the product or service stand out from all the others. And in the case of a television commercial, it should be able to get its point across even if there’s no audio. Doctor’s offices might have the sound turned down and sports bars are often so noisy one can’t even hear the person they’re with, much less the TV – so visuals are extremely important.

Knowing the benefits and USP of my wife’s products, I put the script together and realized I wasn’t going to need to provide a voiceover. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a voice guy produces a video commercial he doesn’t even get to voice?) But it didn’t need it, so I didn’t do it.

The commercial and the breakdown

First, let me show you the commercial and then I’ll break down some of the details I was particular about…

As I mentioned before, I knew the specific audience I was after: health-conscious folks who are not opposed to the vegan lifestyle. Of course, one does not need to be a vegan to appreciate botanically-based products that don’t test on animals, but the word “vegan” is so well-known these days that if you hear or see the word, you immediately understand its connotations.

So after attracting the attention of people who can appreciate veganism, I list other facets of Arbonne’s product’s USP: they are gluten-free, kosher, botanically-based. Then, rather than telling the viewer they need to buy something or they need to improve their lives or they need to do something else, I ask a simple question. Having just seen the benefits of the products – without me telling the viewer these are the benefits – the viewer can now make that connection on their own.

And when you can encourage a viewer or listener to draw their own conclusion and subconsciously take part in your commercial…it’s much more powerful than you telling them this and telling them that and hoping they believe you.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

No need for a voiceover; the sounds of nature worked quite well on their own.

Just like most commercials, I show a problem (your health & wellness products are not vegan/gluten-free/etc. even though you are) and I offer a solution (try Arbonne) – but I do it subtly. The call to action is subtle, as well – I don’t command the viewer to buy now, save now, limited time, blah blah…I simply suggest they learn more.

I wanted this video to be almost like a conversation, and being too heavy-handed with my approach would have been counterproductive. That’s why I opted to use some light sound effects of a natural setting rather than a voiceover; I didn’t want the commercial to feel like a commercial.

Three more details you didn’t even notice

One comes immediately after the words “botanically-based.” From the moment the commercial begins, there is a rhythm to each of the words that flashes on the screen…but then there’s a pause before I ask my question. I deliberately did this to allow the viewer to consider what these words have to do with each other and where I’m leading them. If I posed the question too quickly, the USP – those benefits I listed – would not have had a chance to sink in quite enough.

Remember, it’s a conversation – and I didn’t want it to appear the commercial was doing all the talking. As I said previously, I wanted to allow the viewer some time to process the information and become a “part” of the commercial, and “part” of this conversation.

Another detail is that I did not mention the product name until slightly more than halfway through the spot. Some folks will tell you the name has to be front-and-center right from the get-go – but those are the folks who feel advertising is done best when it’s a one-way conversation. The way I look at it, if I’ve been able to keep you compelled long enough to view the commercial, you’ll stick around for the payoff.

The third detail is the little child and mother at the end, which I didn’t include just because it’s my son and wife. The Arbonne company sells its products via independent consultants who are often moms and daughters – and even dads. I wanted to evoke a familial feeling to the spot to underscore not only the Pure-Safe-Beneficial tagline, but the fact that families are buying, selling, and using these products to make their lives better…and a little child with a mom is about the best representation there is of that!

Pay attention to the details

So when you’re writing – whether it’s a commercial, short story, whatever – don’t lose sight of the details. Some might be superfluous (I could have included another word at the beginning and crammed too much info), some might not be on target (I could have listed products, but that wasn’t the point of the spot), and some might just be too wordy.

Know when to leave those out.

But other details – like knowing who you’re writing to, understanding what you want to say, and spending some time determining the best way to connect with the viewer/listener/reader – are imperatives.

If you write a picture book, short story, or commercial in less than one day, you’re either really lucky or you’re doing it wrong.Please don’t do it wrong.

If you don’t know how to do it, hire a professional. Your commercial and your roof will be better for it.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

Someone spent a lot of money promoting their competition

I think I’m a fairly low-key, easy-going guy. I tend to take things in stride, but every now and then something will get me all worked up to the point where I’m jumping around, hollering like an idiot.

It’s usually due to moron drivers and bad commercials.

In this case, I felt compelled to share my discontent because we’re dealing with a bad commercial featuring people driving! And really, it’s not that bad a commercial…it’s just advertising the wrong business. (Which I guess makes it a pretty bad commercial, after all.)

Check out this commercial for Fiat:
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Oh, wait – that wasn’t a commercial for Fiat. That was for Lexus! Oh, stupid me…my bad. You see, I just spent 60 seconds looking at fine sports cars and seeing the sleek “F” logo popping up in my face. Can you blame for mistaking this for a Fiat commercial?

Seriously, Lexus: the viewer only gets a few quick glances at the Lexus “L” logo on the cars…and unless the viewer’s attention is completely focused on the commercial, he/she will never realize those are all Lexuses (Lexi? What, exactly, is the plural?).

Here’s how I presume it all went down:

- Someone at the Lexus corporation said, “Let’s call our new model the same letter that our competition’s name starts with.”
– Someone at the ad agency said, “Let’s flash the first letter of the competition’s name throughout the entire commercial – and be sure not to show anyone the Lexus name or logo until after they have determined it’s an ad for the competition.”
– A whole bunch of executives said, “We agree! That’s a great idea!”

I’ve written before about what happens when a good story goes bad, and this is one of those times. And as always, I critique these spots not out of displeasure with or dislike of ad agencies – heck, I’m a voiceover guy, I LOVE ad agencies! – but out of love. Tough love,

So now that I’ve had my rant, I’m going to go take a rest. But be forewarned – if Ford Trucks comes out with a TV commercial featuring a male sheep, I might need to write another blog post.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

I’ve never really done this sort of thing before…

Lots of people I know have done it. Many do it all the time…while others only do it now and then.

Some have never done it at all.

I am one of the latter.

My admission:

Oh sure, I’ve taken days off from work. I’ve had a week or more vacation time and usually spent it hanging around the house, going on day trips,. and generally doing everything I can to not work. (And really, it’s not that hard.)

But the one thing I’ve never done is plan out my vacation time – schedule my days so I know what I’ll be doing and when. And although to some folks that may seem a bit too…oh, I don’t know – “Type-A”…it’s not really going to be that hard or cumbersome.

Because my daily plans are all part of one giant, week-long plan:

The beach!

Now, the family and I  live just a little over an hour from the coast, so I usually try to spend several days – scattered throughout the summer – at the beach. But this year, I’ll be ocean side every day of the week!  One day we’ll spend with the kids along the shore…one day we plan on taking the kids to see some of the local sights near the ocean…the next day we’ll be back in the water and then get dinner out.

It’ll be just like a trip to the Bahamas but without the airsickness.

My premonition:

Sea Glass coverI have a sneaking suspicion that just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean my blog will be on hiatus. I have too much planned!

In keeping with the ocean theme of next week, I’m looking forward to sharing a review of Richard Michelson’s new children’s book, S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press, 2014) on Tuesday as well as one of my own beach-themed children’s poems for Poetry Friday.

Since these posts are being written and scheduled this week, I probably won’t be able to respond to any comments next week (I’m on vacation, after all!), but please know I’ll be looking forward to reading any and all that might get posted.

Why can’t I be bothered to respond to comments, you ask? It’s certainly not because I don’t value feedback or the time folks take to share their thoughts. I do!

My reason is fairly simple…

My admonition:

Even if you don’t plan every detail of your week or so off…try to let work go.

Vacation isn’t really vacation if you still feel the need to audition for gigs, answer emails, and carry on business conversations on your cellphone while halfway up the stairwell to the “Eye of the Storm” waterslide. I realize big gigs come along and you’d hate to miss out – but you’re missing  out on your vacation time! And if yo don’t get the gig…what do you have to show?

They call it “R&R” because it stands for rest and relaxation – not ‘replies’ and ‘retweets.”

I prefer the “Triple-Ds.” We all need to de-stress, decompress, and give those old brains of ours a little diversion. I’ll be the first to admit my work is fun, but so is playing in waves and building sand castles with your son while you try to keep the 10-month-old from eating sand. There’s plenty of pleasure in life if you’re able and willing to stop for a minute and indulge in it.

Fortunately for me, my work includes creative writing – which is also an immensely pleasurable pursuit perfect for vacationing along beaches.

If you need me, I’ll be in my office…

York beach

photo courtesy of exploremainetoday.com

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

How to disappoint customers in two easy steps

Have you ever had a problem with a product or service, brought it to someone’s attention, and had the issue resolved?

How did you feel afterward? Pleased, satisfied, impressed?

Or did you still feel pangs of disappointment?

If, after the problem had been resolved, you continued to be annoyed or irritated at everything that had transpired, well congratulations…you just learned how not to treat your own customers.

Disappointment: anyone can do it!

agreements,business concepts,collaborations,collages,commerce,communications,concepts,data,exchanges,Fotolia,ideas,information,internet,laptop computers,meetings,networking,technologiesLetting down a customer or client really is so easy, one can do it without even realizing it. After all, it’s simple to be presented with a problem, take the path of least resistance and correct it, and expect the customer to be happy. This is what young folks new to the workforce seem to get taught.

“If a customer is unhappy, say ‘Sorry about that.’ If they’re a pain about it, give them a refund and send them on their way.”

Seriously, that’s what it feels like teens are instructed to do these days, isn’t it?  But fixing problems (ie, keeping your customers happy) is not that simple. Sometimes, fixing a problem is not enough. Sometimes – in fact, oftentimes – you need to fix the problems created by the first problem.

And unless you actually have genuine concern for the person you’re dealing with, you won’t be able to properly deal with a problem and make amends the way they should be made.

What am I talking about?

Example #1:

Last month, I planned a surprise birthday dinner get-together for my wife at a local restaurant. Started decades ago by a few Greek business partners, this place has become a landmark in the area for good food and casual dining. Having been their innumerable times since I was a kid, I knew the menu would have something for everyone’s tastes. I also knew they didn’t take reservations.

If you get there on a Saturday night, chances are you’ll have an hour wait, minimum, so I called about a month beforehand and asked how they handled large dinner parties. “Oh, we can take reservations before 4pm,” the nice lady on the other end told me. I told her how many people there would be and that we’d like tom plan for 3pm, and she said they’d set aside an area large enough for the whole group.

Great!

Imagine my surprise, then, when we didn’t get seated until nearly an hour later.

Apparently, they don’t take reservations – they have something called ‘priority seating,’ so that once a table or area becomes available, it can be used by the party who “reserved” it. Consequently, some of our guests, who had travelled from out of state, had been standing around waiting in the foyer for nearly an hour and a half before we were seated.

When I called a couple of days later to express to the manager my absolute disbelief and disappointment, I was given a refresher course in priority seating and was told that he was very sorry for the confusion. He would definitely make sure the staff know not to refer to priority seating as reservations.

And then we hung up.

* First step: Do nothing!

It’s one thing for a regular employee with little to no training to basically say, “Sorry we ruined your wife’s birthday party – hope you come back again!” It’s another thing for a manager who’s supposed to understand customer service to say that.

I doubt we’ll ever be back, thanks.

Example #2:

tomato pasteA couple of weeks ago, I was making spaghetti sauce using a recipe. (I NEVER use a recipe, but in this case, I needed to – long story).  Anyway, I opened up a can of tomato paste and discovered that half of it was missing! The way it had been poured into the can had left the center completely hollow, so I ended up with only half the tomato paste I needed.

Being a fairly proficient cook, I made the sauce with no issues; however, I did make a point to call the customer service number on the can. You might think missing half of a 69-cent can of tomato paste is irrelevant and not worth your time, but the Yankee in me knew that I had not fully received that for which I had paid. Granted, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t even annoyed…but I did feel I deserved a full can, since that’s what I had paid for.

The customer service rep was polite and friendly, apologized, took my information, and said he would make sure I received something for my trouble.

He was right, too. I received a coupon for a free 69-cent can.

Ironically, that made me more annoyed than I was to begin with! Why?

* Second step: Do something – but only the bare minimum!

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not the type who thinks he deserves the moon and stars just because of a tiny issue with a 69-cent can of tomato paste. But why only compensate a customer for the monetary value of the product, when the problem created more issues for the consumer? I had to use up another can of tomato paste, which I  had to find in the pantry, which made me take longer to cook the sauce, and then I had to take the time to call the company and explain the problem…all for them to compensate me 69 cents?

Again, I’m not saying this because I want all kinds of free stuff – but providing a bare minimum of compensation (especially when it’s a mere 69 cents) makes it seem like a company is placating a customer rather than helping them.

Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

Back in 1998, business trainer and author Jeffrey Gitomer wrote a book titled, Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998, Bard Press).  The title is based on Gitomer’s belief that “satisfaction” is the lowest level of quality a business can provide before heading into negative territory.

And he’s right! If a customer is less-than-satisfied, you have a problem! So why aim for the low rung on the ladder of customer happiness? The thrust of the book is that one shouldn’t aim for mere ‘satisfaction’ – one should do anything and everything possible to ensure that customer remains loyal. Show genuine sincerity and concern…go above and beyond what the customer expects you to do…rectify the problem and make the customer want to tell people what happened!

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have a happy customer tell people how I fixed their problem, than have an unhappy customer tell people they’ll never patronize my business again.

Do you want someone providing you bare minimum assistance? Do you want to deal with a company that appears more interested in doing what is ‘expected’ rather than doing what’s right? Do you want to work with someone who expects the empty phrase, “Sorry about that,” to be their go-to response?

Then don’t be that company! If you have a customer who has a problem, look at it from their perspective and don’t just fix the problem. Make them happy.

Make them loyal!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

 

Two magic words that can change EVERYTHING

Memorial Day commercial production. Voiceover business marketing. Children’s book manuscript submissions. Poetry anthology submissions. Church council meetings. And the responsibilities that come with being a stay-at-home dad to a 4-year-old and a 9-month old. A guy can only do so much and still have time to perform 18 physical therapy exercises each day to rehabilitate his knee following arthroscopic ACL surgery.

(And still be a loving and supportive hubby, too!)

Life continues to fly along at lightning speed – and for someone who’s still only moving at half his normal speed, I find myself falling behind quite a bit. So today, I’m dusting off a little something I shared in my early blogging days. This post originally appeared on August 20, 2012. It was one of my first blog posts, having just created the blog a couple of weeks prior, and I thought it was worth bringing back, for all the folks who’ve joined my blog community over the past year. I hope you enjoy it!

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It’s a question author/futurist Arthur C. Clarke, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs probably asked themselves all the time.

It’s a question we often ask ourselves when learning something new, like a computer program or video game.

And it’s a question subconsciously uttered in the mind of a 2-year-old, discovering how his or her world works.

Two words…that not only help us in our day-to-day lives, but can help us create anything from a groundbreaking piece of technology to a children’s poem.  Two words that might steel our resolve – or completely change our perspective.

What if?”

How many times have you tried to get your smartphone to do what you want, or couldn’t figure out why your spouse’s laptop keeps doing that annoying ‘thing?’  You experiment, you troubleshoot.  You think to yourself, “What if…I press Shift-Alt-Ctrl-Tab-Insert?”  And when that doesn’t work, you think, “What if…I just walk away and act like this never happened?”  We’re constantly debating choices day in and day out.

“What if Obama loses?”

“What if I take the ‘A’ train instead of the ‘B’ train?”

“What if we run out of hamburger buns?”

We ask ourselves this question all the time, so I’m really not telling you anything you don’t already know.  But ask yourself another question:  when was the last time you used these two words to help you create?

What if…you changed your story?

Certainly, the concept of asking this question can be used in any environment, whether you are an inventor, politician, or salesperson.  Where it gets really cool – at least from my vantage point – is in the realm of creation; specifically, creative writing.

Asking this question, especially when you get stuck on a character, a rhyme or a plot detail, opens up worlds (notice the plural!) of possibilities…

“What if…my main character was the opposite sex?”

“What if…this story was set in another time?”

“What if…I juxtaposed these two lines/stanzas/paragraphs?”

“What if…I could see things from a different viewpoint?”

Ask yourself all kinds of ‘what if” questions, and don’t just think about the answers…write them down!  It doesn’t matter whether you plan to use your ‘what if’ scenario or not; writing down a few lines or even a few paragraphs can help you see things from a different persepective, and that’s what you want.  How many times has a person reading your material suggested to you an idea you never thought of?  Quite often?  That’s because it’s being viewed in a different light; this ‘what if’ exercise can help you critique, inspire, or edit yourself.

Even if you have no intention of turning Lucinda, your novel’s half-human, half-lizard bisexual alien heroine, into a half-human, half-nematode bisexual alien heroine, go ahead and get those thoughts on paper; play it out and see where it goes!  Odds are, it’ll go nowhere – but there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something about your character, his/her situation, or how to develop them.

Perhaps you’ll come up with another plot.

Perhaps you’ll come up with an idea for an entirely different project!

But without questioning yourself on these things, you’ll never know.  Heck, Marvel Comics even created an entire series based on this premise!

WARNING:  Moralizing tone ahead!

Well, ok, hopefully it won’t be too moralizing – that’s not my intention – but it just occurred to me how many of the problems we face in this country (and this world, for that matter) could be solved or at least be addressed in a meaningful way if we all asked that two-word question more often:

“What if…that person has a legitimate medical condition?”

“What if…one of the people in this checkout line suddenly needed me?

“What if…that guy who cut me off just lost his father?”

Did one of those questions catch you off-guard?  Would you be able to ask yourself a question like one of these if the situation presented itself?  Asking “What if” not only opens up that wide world of a different perspective, but can help stop us from jumping into defense mode as soon as something we don’t like pops up.  It’s all about thinking outside of yourself.  By considering the feelings, circumstances, and history of others, we’re slower to anger and quicker to understanding.

Final question:

“What if…I gave everyone a second chance?”

I’ll let you think about that one on your own.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

No time like the present. Seriously!

It’s been a beautiful weekend, and today is just as nice as yesterday. As I am writing this, the sun is shining and a light breeze is helping to keep the 83-degree temperature from feeling too sweltering.

DaffodilsHere in the northeast, it’s not uncommon to have an overnight frost as late as Memorial Day, so the fact that this summery weather exists at all is a true blessing.  And for someone like me, who spent most of the long, sun-deficient winter indoors due to my ACL injury, this early summer is more than a welcome sight; it’s therapy!

So why am I here in the studio, writing a blog post?

First things first

First of all, I feel I have a responsibility to myself as well as my readers to be consistent with my posts. That’s not to say I’m going to write something quickly and haphazardly just to post something, but maintaining a habit of writing with regularity is good not only for my own purposes – keeping my writing skills honed, marketing my services, etc. – but for the good folks who have decided to follow my blog because they feel I have something worthwhile to offer.

Believe me, no one appreciates the fact that you’re taking time out of your day to read a blog post more than me.

Second, I’m writing this post because I genuinely want to share my thoughts on why I’m writing this post. Yes, that sounds like circular logic, but honestly, I wanted you to know what the weather was like and how beautiful the day is, to understand why I’m foregoing all of it right now to write this.

It’s because this sort of thing pops up all the time in our lives: you want to do one thing, but you feel compelled to do something else.

Time is not on your side. Or mine…

Mick Jagger’s declaration about time being on his side notwithstanding, the fact is, it’s not on anyone’s side. You may feel like you’ve got all the time in the world, but believe me, it goes by quicker than you think.

It feels like yesterday that I was struggling to find work after college, or helping my daughters with their homework, or moving into our first house. But I’ve been doing radio voice work and production for 25 years now, my daughters have graduated high school, and I’ve remarried and am living with my current wife and two young kids of our own.

If anyone can tell me where all the years went, please let me know!

Now I’m in the process of trying to become a published children’s writer…and I wonder how much time I’m going to have to accomplish that. When I was trying to rehabilitate my right knee following my accident, I was unable to walk very well or take care of the kids easily, so much of my writing (and my voice work) took a backseat. People would tell me not to worry, because I’d have plenty of time to resume my work once I was feeling better – even if it wasn’t until the knee was fully healed, which will be early next year.

But how do I know if I’ll have that much time?

“Hold on, Matt, this is getting depressing”

OK, sorry – that’s not my intention, really. I’m actually trying to be positive. I can’t assume I have another 10, 20, 30 or more years left to develop my writing and keeping sending out manuscripts in the hopes that someone decides to buy one and publish it. I don’t know if I’ll have one more day – none of us do. Being young and healthy doesn’t mean anything – a serious accident or unexpected health issue could put a quick stop to all of your plans.

Nothing screws up plans more than something you didn’t plan on.

So take advantage of any and all opportunities that come your way! Have a chance to go hiking for the first time in your life? Do it. Thinking of taking classes abroad? Go for it. Never eaten a raw oyster? I can’t say you’ll enjoy it – I’ve done it once in my life and would rather go bungee-jumping without the bungee – but do it anyway, so you can say you’ve done it!

Debating over whether you should clean the house or go outside and play with the kids? Face it, once you clean the house, it’ll be dirty again in a few days. (If you have young kids, that timeframe is drastically reduced) But playing with the kids…that’s something you can never know how much time you’ll have to do. I’m not saying to completely neglect your duties or shirk responsibilities; just take a moment to prioritize.

Or perhaps “re-prioritize” what you thought you had prioritized.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a blue sky calling my name.

chair

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

National Poetry Month: Thinking Like a Poet

I get asked many questions many times by many folks…all about the same subject:

NPM-2005-White“Isn’t poetry hard to write?”

“When did you start writing poetry?”

“Why do you write poetry?”

…and so forth. The answers, while simple, could be more elaborate if I wanted to take the time: Yes; almost forever ago; and because I have no other choice.

It’s not that I don’t want to take the time to offer more detailed responses; it’s just that most people aren’t really looking for that. It’s like when the cashier at the grocery store asks, “How are you?” She’s expecting a nice, short, “Good” so she can continue on about her duties. If you respond with, “Well, my dog died, I lost my job, and I just found out my wife is cheating on me with someone from the NSA…want to hear about it?” chances are, she’ll drop the eggs on the floor and not know what to do.

Better to keep the answers safe and simple, and not throw any curveballs.

But since this is my final blog post for National Poetry Month, I thought perhaps I could expand on some of my answers and try to explain – especially to non-poetry types – why poetry is not some sort of worthless academic pursuit and can actually be beneficial in your life.

Thinking like a poet: how?

First of all, it helps to think like a poet. Understanding poetry means understanding that there is always much more to life than just…life. By that, I mean, everything you see, touch, or experience is much more than what it appears to be.

coffee-mate_creamerA nonfiction writer friend once asked me to help her think like a poet. She wanted her writing to be less dry and a bit more creative and lyrical. So as an exercise, I placed a small, empty, white plastic coffee creamer cup on the table and asked her to make a list of everything that came to mind. Not just adjectives describing the cup, but every word, phrase, or vision that popped in her head – even if it didn’t make sense. I did the same, and timed us both for 2 minutes.

When we were done, we compared lists. She had words like ‘white,’ ‘drink,’ ’round,’ ‘striated,’ etc. Although we shared some of these obvious descriptors, mine were generally a bit more…imaginative:

‘Upside-down top hat.’

‘Cup runneth over.’

‘A White Hole. ‘ (Instead of a Black Hole.)

The exercise demonstrated that while she saw things as they were, I saw things as they could be. Just that one lesson opened her eyes as to how a creative type such as a poet views the world: with imagination, curiosity, and an open-mindedness that allows us to believe anything can be more than it seems. Indeed, there is more to nearly everything than meets the eye – and if you are willing to take the time to observe long enough, you can begin to view life through a poet’s eyes.

Thinking like a poet: why?

This is where things can get really interesting. I’ve found, over the years, that having a poet’s thought process allows me to conceive ideas from angles that others may not see.

This has been especially useful in radio copy writing, believe it or not. On more than one occasion, I have had to come up with commercial scripts that are unique, attention-getting, and most importantly – relatable to the listener. While different copy writers use different means to find an emotional connection with the listener for the product or service about which they are writing, I find that thinking like a poet (e.g., trying to find connections and imagery others might not see) has served me well.

Not that thinking like a poet means you have to rhyme – I’m primarily talking about thinking more creatively and making unusual connections – but let me share an example of how poetry really did work in my favour. A local restaurant needed to let people know they existed – their location, while prime, was at a 4-way intersection and easy to miss. But it was a small, family-style restaurant that, at first blush, did not appear to offer anything out of the ordinary.

What to do?

Now, normally I absolutely detest rhyming commercials. You know the ones…they always sound amateurish and dumb, and are a total tune-out. But I knew I could write a good one – and if I did it right, it would be ear-catching, memorable, and successful at getting its message across to listeners. The following commercial was written out of a need for listeners to know who the client was, where they were located, and what they offered:

.
Note two important things about why this commercial worked and most rhyming commercials don’t: One, I kept the lines metrical. I was very careful about keeping the script flowing and fun – too many words per line (or the wrong words) and the commercial would just collapse under its own weight. The other thing I did was refrain from using “easy” rhymes. I could have written a line that ended with “toast” and rhymed it with “most,” or used “steak” and “bake.” but that would have made the commercial sound cheesy and predictable – which I definitely did not want.

The unusual rhymes and bouncy cadence of the verse is what made the commercial work, in my opinion – and although any person could write a rhyming commercial, without the skill of writing metrically and knowing how to rhyme effectively, the commercial would not have been as humourous or, more importantly, as effective.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking like a poet: when?

All the time! The more you start to actively think about the things around you – from your home and family to things as simple as the car you drive, the road you travel on, or the food you eat – the more you’ll start becoming aware of all the possibilities for inspiration there are out there.

Think about possibilities, think about similarities and differences, think about “what if!”

“What would a picture of my kids look like, if I couldn’t include their faces?”

“A home with no windows or doors is like a _____.”

“If I could take this elevator anywhere, where would I go?”

“Why might a pencil be considered a religious talisman?”

“What if crows were a different colour?”

Yes, these are pretty random questions – but they can be examples of ways of thinking beyond what is comfortable and concrete. Question why an apple is red, but not because of any botanical reason. Imagine what love would look like if it could be held in your hand.

Wonder to yourself how to describe music to a deaf person or a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth.

Think about that little coffee creamer cup, and see what you can create out of it in two minutes. You might surprise yourself!

Poetry = Life

For me, I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm and rhyme of words and the imagery a writer can create – whether it is via a poem, short story, or other form of writing. Poetry, though, is a perfect vehicle for showcasing compact vignettes of emotion, enlightenment, pain, and all sorts of fascinating aspects of humanity. The poet takes a scene, feeling, or object and distills it down to it’s essence – and sometimes goes even beyond that, to create new associations with other scenes and feelings the reader had never before connected

I started reading picture books of poetry as a child, and began writing poetry in earnest in high school. Since then, I’ve written poetry and songs throughout my life because I have a compulsion to do so. Most writers will tell you the same thing, too – that they write because they have this urge inside, this burning desire to get something in their head out on paper.

Poetry can be quite hard to write, but also immensely fulfilling. Even short, 3-line haiku poems, which might seem simple, are much more complex than they may seem. Sort of like humans.

And come to think of it, that observation might make a good poem.

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2014kidlit_progpoemOnly TWO DAYS remain to poet Irene Latham’s 2014 Progressive Poem! Each day throughout the month of April, a different poet has added a line to the poem, and we are very close to completing our journey!

Today it heads over to Ruth at There is No Such Thing As a God-Forsaken Town, but here is the complete list of contributors:

1 Charles at Poetry Time
2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Donna at Mainely Write
4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!
5 Carrie at Story Patch
6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
7 Pat at Writer on a Horse
8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
9 Diane at Random Noodling
10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
11 Linda at Write Time
12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
13 Janet at Live Your Poem
14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell
15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Julie at The Drift Record
20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
21 Renee at No Water River
22 Laura at Author Amok
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books
27 Kate at Live Your Poem
28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose
29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
30 Tara at A Teaching Life

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

 

 

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