Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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

Archive for the tag “writing”

Getting the maximum out of minimalism

As I mentioned last week. I continue to be too busy writing…to write! My children’s writing is keeping me busier than I’ve ever been, which is good, although it’s preventing me from being as consistent with my blog as I should be. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you this post from Oct. 2012 which, although it’s two years old, still makes for some interesting reading, I think. (Then again, I’m the one who wrote it, so what do I know??)

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Sometimes, it pays to keep things simple.

I was reminded of this maxim over the weekend, when I recently came across this blog post from artist and designer Christian Jackson at Square Inch Design.  Jackson took classic children’s tales and rendered them as minimalist posters – basically reducing the stories, characters, and plots into very simple designs that are at once striking, yet instantly familiar.

With all the extraneous stuff out of the way, the viewer is left with just the germ of the story, a simple visual cue that – to anyone who knows the particular story – conjures up images and memories of our favourite parts of each story.

This got me thinking about how we, as creatives, often get carried away in our work and sometimes lose sight of our objectives.  Sometimes, being detail-oriented can be a very good thing.

But sometimes…things don’t need to be as complicated as we try to make them.

“Is the guy running away, or coming down the stairs?”

Details can do wonders.  If you’re writing a book, you may need to expound on the layout of a castle or the idiosyncracies of an antagonist.  If you’re producing a radio commercial, simply having two people talking to each other may not be enough; adding footstep sound effects or outdoor ambience can really flesh out a scene.

(And for those unfamiliar with radio production, ‘footstep’ sound effects are not as cut-and-dry as you might suspect; there are ‘footsteps on gravel,’ ‘footsteps on pavement,’ ‘footsteps going upstairs – cement,’ ‘footsteps going downstairs – wood,’ ‘footsteps running away,’ ‘footsteps coming closer,’ and tons of other variations I won’t bore you with right now.  Talk about details.)

However, there are times when the details just get in the way.

“Spare me the details”

A friend of mine has been working for months on a middle-grade chapter book.  An artist by training, when she first began writing her story, she would spend an entire page just describing a room:  how the tables were set, what the chinaware looked like, what the curtains were made of, what flowers were used for the centerpieces.  It was beautiful writing, flourishing imagery, vivid detail…unfortunately, much of it was irrelevant to the actual storyline.

So she ended up cutting some of her story, revising some of it, and also leaving some of it – and her manuscript is much stronger now because the reader doesn’t lose sight of the plot.

Unless you’re Tom Clancy, there’s no need to spend an entire chapter describing a boat.

Personally, I’ve produced hundreds of radio commercials that required significant details vis-a-vis sound effects or multiple voices, but I have also produced many spots that feature nothing but a voice.  It all depends on the message, and whether or not music or sound effects will add to the listener’s experience or detract from it.

Background music in commercials:  Yes or No?

Maybe.

Clients ask me this question all the time.  I explain to them that music should only be used if it helps propel their message.

Music can create drama, evoke a mood, or act as a transition from one scene to another – but it will not, contrary to what some of my fellow radio programmers say, ‘keep things interesting.’  In a commercial, if the script is not written well enough to create a compelling message, no amount of music will keep a listener from turning the channel.  Likewise, if a message is compelling, why muddle it with an electric piano?

Think about your own life and consider how ridiculous it is to think that music will make a message ‘interesting.’  An excited friend comes up to you to tell you some fantastic news – but you say, “Hold on, there, pal.  Let me find something on my iPod to make our conversation interesting.”

The devil’s in the details

This past July, I decided to leave my position as production director for a 5-station radio group and work from home.  It was a scary decision because of all the unknowns ahead of me – will I make enough money, will I find new clients, etc. – but the clincher was an examination of the details of my life.  My wife and I were amazed when we actually broke things down:

I was spending $400+/month just commuting (not total driving, just commuting).  We were also spending $650/month for daycare for my 2-year-old.  When I added just those two expenses, I realized I was spending nearly an entire paycheck for the privelege of working!  After crunching the numbers, it became apparent that my goal of running my own voiceover business and pursuing my children’s writing was never going to have a chance as long as I kept spending almost $1100 and 245 hours each month just driving and working.

The details of my life were killing my dream!

So I quit the job on good terms, finished building my home studio, and now can work on my voiceover and writing careers while being a stay-at-home dad to my 2-year-old son.  By the way, I highly recommend number-crunching.  It may not sound like fun, but it’s worth it:  I discovered that because of the money I could save, I only needed to make a minimum of $150/week to break even.  (Granted, I plan on making more than $150/week – but that’s my minimum)  With numbers like that, why would I NOT want to move forward??

Just like my friend’s book, editing out some of the details of my life has made my life better.

“Keep it simple, stupid”

The Pizza Margherita is a prime example of the beauty of simplicity.  Just three ingredients – crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese – on a pizza crust.  Yes, you can throw in a little extra virgin olive oil, if you want – but you’d better stop there.  No amount of ‘details’ like garlic, onion, peppers, or anything else are going to make this classic pizza taste any better.  It is a perfect blend of minimal ingredients creating maximum flavour.

Whether it’s a pizza or a poem or an aeronautical system, the more complicated it is, the more trouble you’re asking for.  As Lockheed’s famous engineer, Kelly Johnson, once said, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

Remember this the next time you get stuck writing, producing, or creating.  Take a look at your project and ask yourself if the details are needed, if they drive the plot, if they’re important for the goal…or if they are a detraction.  Even if it’s life in general, like mine – examine the details.  You might realize there are some that need to be edited out.

And, like mine, you may be surprised at the details you didn’t even know where there.

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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!

Too busy writing…to write

So, what does a writer do when he or she is too busy writing to find the time to write?

That is the unusual situation I have found myself in lately.

Edgar-Allan-Poe - WWPD

What Would Poe Do? On second thought, let’s not even go there…

As someone who has been working hard for several years to become published in the world of children’s literature, I have been able to balance my personal life (taking care of the house, taking care of the 2 kids, being a hubby to my beautiful wife, and trying to squeeze in some “me” time where I can) with my professional life (writing poetry and picture books while running my voiceover business).

Well, this year has proven to be my busiest year yet – primarily because my children’s writing is finally getting me somewhere!

In addition to having a poem included in Lee Bennett Hopkins’s upcoming board book anthology, Lullaby & Sweet Kisses (Abrams Appleseed, Spring 2015), I will have three children’s poems in Carol-Ann Hoyte’s anthology, Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food & Agriculture Poems, due early next year; another in an upcoming edition of “Highlights” magazine; and yet another one in an upcoming anthology due next fall.

PLUS…I recently submitted several poems for consideration in another anthology, submitted a half-dozen or so to various magazines, and am in the process of writing more poems for submission to two other anthologies. Oh, and I have three picture book manuscripts I’m currently shopping, as well.

I’m pretty sure these are my children.

Did I mention I’m trying to run a voiceover business?

Or that I have a couple of kids and a wife?

(At least, I think I have two kids. I’ve been so busy lately, my wife might’ve given birth for a third time and just not had the opportunity to fill me in.)

I’m writing this now not to make myself appear any more special or important than anyone else…because I’m really not. Plenty of people around this world do far more than me, do far better work than me, or are much more important than me. My wife, in fact, is one of them. But I am sharing this with you just to give you an idea as to why I may or may not post as regularly (on Tuesdays) as I have been.

I have some really exciting, informative posts I plan on sharing at some point, too – a couple of book reviews, some children’s literature news, some voiceover info – but I just can’t get to any of that until I complete the projects I have before me. As I said, I’ve been working towards the goal of becoming published for years, and now that I’m getting busier and busier, that goal is starting to feel like it may, indeed, be within reach.

I want to try to be consistent with this blog – but ultimately, my children’s writing needs to be written before anything else gets written.

And I have to say, even though it’s a difficult position to be in, it’s one I really don’t mind!

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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!

Poetry Friday: “Honeybee”

poetryfridaybutton-fulllI didn’t plan on writing a follow-up poem to last Friday’s “Yellow Jacket.”

Then again, I didn’t plan on getting stung a second time, either.

I also didn’t plan on writing three poems about honeybees – but after I wrote the first one, I realized it had potential for Highlights magazine and decided I shouldn’t share it publicly yet. I figured I’d write a second one that I could post here…unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), the second one I felt was very appropriate for the Cricket group of magazines, so that got nixed from my blog, too!

>sigh< Why do I keep making more work for myself??

Honeybee - Image

(click to enlarge)

Getting back to my “inspiration” for these poems, the first sting I got was by a yellow jacket on the fleshy part of the inside of my right arm, between the bicep and triceps. He probably flew off, none the worse for wear, while I went running inside for an ice cube (carrying a 1-yr-old baby, who had been outside with me).

This time around, I was walking barefoot on our lawn – something I rarely do – and stepped on something that shot a searing pain into the second toe of my right foot. It wasn’t as bad a pain as the first time, but painful enough I knew I needed another ice cube! And although I didn’t see what I stepped on, my guess is that it was a honeybee, as many of them are zipping in and around all the clover that covers the yard.

Poor thing probably died, between stinging me and me clobbering it. They’re really not aggressive at all, and only sting when threatened – so it wasn’t the bee’s fault that this giant appendage called my foot came crashing down on his buffet table. I felt I had to write a little something in tribute; little did I know I’d write THREE things in tribute.

All this while I’m trying to finish up a new rhyming picture book manuscript…and live-announcing the Hopkinton State Fair all weekend long (in fact, that’s where I am at this very moment, so I won’t be able to visit many blogs this weekend).  I’m not complaining, mind you – just staggering backwards a bit at the enormity of my workload!

By the way, if you’re looking for more Poetry Friday happenings, check out Jone MacCulloch’s blog, Check It Out! And now, for no particular reason other than because it’s in keeping with the theme of today’s post and is infectiously catchy, I present to you three fellows who started a street-corner group while in college, pretending to be 19th-century singing automatons, and have built it into this…

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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!

Poetry Friday: “Baby Girl”

Hard to believe, but my youngest daughter, Phoebe, turns ONE YEAR OLD today! Where have the past 365 days gone??

Phoebe - happy

Phoebe, a pretty darned happy baby at 3 months old. I’m guessing it’s because of the John Deere tractor pajamas.

In celebration, I’m sharing something a little unusual. It’s a poem I wrote for her…but I’m not sure if it’s done. It might be. Can’t tell. I didn’t think it was complete when I  stopped writing it, but perhaps it is. I wanted to write another stanza, perhaps fix the rhymes or make some other changes, but I got stalled and was never able to complete it. Now, after looking at it again, I wonder if these 4 lines are all the poem needs?

Of course, it doesn’t really matter, since I’ll probably continue tinkering with it ’til the day I die – that’s what I do with most of my poems, already, so why should this one be any different?

By the way, in case you’re wondering why I’m not sharing a better or more recent photo of her, it’s because this was the photo that inspired me to start writing the poem. She looked so tiny there, and she was probably at least 10 or 12 pounds! Boy, time doesn’t just fly – it teleports. Oh, and if you’re looking for more poetry, my fellow Poet’s Garage member Heidi Mordhorst is hosting Poetry Friday today at her Juicy Little Universe!

Baby Girl

Enthusiasm boundless,
excitement inexhaustible,
anything is possible
for you, sweet little one.

- © 2014, Matt Forrest Esenwine

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poetryfridaybutton-fulllDid 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!

Interview with poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins

I don’t know how they do it. I have so many writer friends who somehow find the time to not only write stories and poetry, but update their blog every other day, maintain a family, run errands, and do all the other stuff that life requires…and yet for me, it’s always a struggle. I really don’t know how they keep it all together! Myself, I’m taking care of the kids, trying to keep on top of my voiceover business, keeping the house and yard from looking too shabby, trying to be a good hubby, AND find time to get all my writing in. And invariably, every day ends with me wondering where the hours all went.

That said, I’m reposting this interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins today. I’ve been out straight lately with commercial production work and writing children’s poems to submit to a few select publications, and since this interview was first shared in the fall of 2012 (Nov. 13, to be exact), I thought it remained on the shelf long enough and deserved a second posting! I hope you like it…

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Lee Bennett Hopkins’ name is synonymous with children’s literature. He has written and edited numerous award-winning books; he’s worked with a veritable who’s-who of authors, from Dr. Seuss to Madeleine L’Engle; and he has even been an elementary school educator.  In addition to the numerous awards he’s received over the years, he was recognized by Guinness World Records in 2011 as the world’s most prolific anthologist of poetry for children:  at the time, he had edited 113 different titles. and he’s not slowing down.

I recently wrapped up an interview with Lee for Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults (PACYA), which we just finished editing and formatting yesterday….you can find the interview HERE.

PACYA is featuring all the recipients of the prestigious National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children; in addition to Lee, you can read biographies and interviews with poets like Karla Kuskin, X.J. Kennedy, Myra Cohn Livingston, Nikki Grimes, and more.  (I had the honour of interviewing U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis a few weeks ago, and that interview will be posted in a couple weeks.)  See the complete list of all the featured poets along with links to their pages HERE.

My thanks to PACYA for helping to promote children’s poetry, and for giving me the opportunity to help them in their efforts!

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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!

 

“I can see clearly now, membrane is gone…”

By the time you’re probably reading this, I’ll be able to read it, too.

Since sometime in early spring, I’ve noticed my ability to focus my left eye has been increasingly difficult. It got to the point while we were on our vacation trip to Maine that I couldn’t even focus on road signs, sailboats, or women in bikinis.

It was very confusing to me why this would be happening, because I had undergone cataract surgery about 4 years ago and had a brand-new lens stuck inside my eyeball. This had given me perfect distance-vision (I still needed reading glasses, though). Because I was still near-sighted (naturally) in my right eye, I lived with monovision: I’d use m y left eye for distance, right eye for reading. For some people, this drives them nuts; for me, I was already nuts, so it worked out fine.

Fast forward to this  past June, after we got back from vacation…

As you can imagine, I couldn’t stand not being able to see properly. Which made it doubly worse is that I have now developed a cataract in my right eye, too – which limits my ability to see anything in focus farther than 4 inches away. I kid you not.

So I made an emergency appointment with the eye doctor, who told me I had a cloudy membrane. It seems there’s this thin, clear little sheet that separates the front and back of your eyeball. Surgeons leave it there to help hold the new lens in place during cataract surgery, and 50% of all patients never have any problems. for the other 50% – of which I’m part – our membranes start to become cloudy, much like our lenses did when we developed the cataracts.

In the words of the doctor, “This membrane should look like Saran Wrap; yours is more like wax paper.”

Great.

Fortunately, I’m told it’s a simple procedure to fix it. They’re going to give me a couple of eye drops, hold my eyelids open, focus a laser beam at that pesky sheet of wax paper, and blast it to smithereens.

And thanks to modern medicine, it’s a 30-second procedure.  Seriously. 30 seconds to blow the membrane apart – after which I’ll probably see some ‘floaters,’ as they call them, which the body will simply absorb over the following week. There’s no recuperation period, I’m told; no restrictions, no side effects, other than a possibility that my eye pressure might increase, although the doctor says that has never happened.

Of course, now that he made that bold claim, I’ll probably be the shlub who breaks the record.

“But wait!” you ask. “If you can’t see out of either eye, how have you been writing and doing voiceover work?”

The simple answer is: I haven’t. Or, if I have, it’s been taking me forever.  I can’t read or write unless I’m 4 inches away from the computer screen – which, I don’t have to tell you, is as challenging as it is unhealthy. Reading glasses and magnifying lenses are useless because they help a person’s eyes to focus – yet in my case, there is no way for me to focus.

So unless I blow up the font size of a script to 24-point, recording audio has been a real trick. And writing just gives me headaches after awhile…which is why I’ll wrap this up now. My appointment for membrane-destruction is Tuesday morning, which is why I hope that by the time you read this, I’ll be reading it, as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing what I wrote.

I’m also eager to go back to the beach.

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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!

 

You Can Learn a Lot From a Boysenberry

This post was originally published nearly two years ago, on Sept. 18, 2012. With summer here and berry-picking in full-swing (well, blueberries and strawberries, anyway), I thought it would be a good time to dust this off and share again, especially for those of you who have recently started following my blog and may not have had a chance to read it the first time.

Hope you’re enjoying your summer!

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Several weeks ago, I was picking berries around my property when it occurred to me that what I was doing could actually be applied to writing and producing – as well as to life in general.  (What can I say – as a writer of poetry, I’ve developed a sort of radar for metaphor!)

Seriously, though, I started thinking about it and came up with five life lessons I’ve learned from berry picking. Consider these:

Patience

Just because a boysenberry looks ripe, doesn’t mean it is.  The pericarp, or outer wall of the seed, may be nice and indigo-black, but leave it on the branch for another couple of days, and it’ll be practically bursting – plus, there will almost no seed left.  If you can’t wait, go ahead and pick ‘em when they’re ready…you’ll definitely enjoy them.  However, in berry-picking, as in life, those of us with a little patience will be rewarded greatly!

Group Effort

Speaking of seeds, have you ever tasted one boysenberry or raspberry seed by itself?  Even if you did, you’d barely be able to tell, because they’re so tiny.  Individually, the flavour is difficult to discern – but when you have en entire berry of bulbous seeds, that’s when you can really taste their true deliciousness.  Although each one might be ripe, full, and perfectly developed, by themselves they would barely be noticed.  But put them all together, and you’re talkin’ some good eating!  A boysenberry truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

Tenacity

Don’t judge a bush by its branches.  The berries you see hanging are likely not the only berries on the bush.  Lift a few leaves, and SURPRISE!  There may very well be a plethora of sweetness waiting for you underneath.

Then again, you might have to just keep looking.  I love the bushes that have big, juicy berries dangling from every branch, but sometimes there just aren’t any.  Sometimes you need to not only lift the leaves and poke around, but go in search of other bushes you may not even know exist.  I’ve discovered plenty of good, healthy boysenberry bushes because I had to.  When what you want can’t be found, it doesn’t mean it’s not there…it just means it hasn’t been found.  Keep looking.

Diversity

When you think of ‘berries,’ what comes to mind?  Raspberries? Blueberries?  Strawberries?  Even if you’re into the more exotic varieties like wolfberries (also known as goji berries) or acai berries, we all tend to think of berries as having a particular ‘look.’  Most people don’t realize how diverse the berry family actually is.

Case in point:  which of the following is, botanically speaking, a berry?

- grape
– persimmon
– tomato
– banana
– pumpkin
– pineapple
– avocado
– watermelon

If you guessed “all of them,” well, congratulations – you obviously studied hard on your Botany 301 exam while your drunk college roomates were having that wet t-shirt contest the night before finals.  Yes, every single one of these is, indeed, a true berry.  I’ll save you the details on why; suffice it to say that it has to do with how they grow and develop.  And you know what?  Boysenberries, raspberries, and strawberries aren’t true berries.

Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Rebirth/Renewal

This final point is not as metaphysical as it sounds; it’s actually a fact of nature.  Boysenberry bushes grow on a two-year cycle – one year, they will produce tons of berries, the next year, hardly anything.  Then the following year, the berries are back!  So in order to try to guarantee berries every year, the bushes need to get cut down to only about a foot high at the end of the season.  Pruning puts the bushes in ‘regrowth’ mode, so to speak, so that the following year will be berry-ful.

Likewise, in writing, audio production, or even life, sometimes it helps to just stop what we’re doing and start over from where we started having problems, if not from the beginning.  Is there a friend or family member who is constantly causing you grief?  If they are a drain on your emotions, perhaps it’s time to simpy end the relationship and move on.  Are you having trouble reconciling a plot point or fleshing out a character?  Perhaps you need to consider revising your plot – or eliminating or significantly changing the character.  Can’t get the right sound you’re looking for in your audio production?  Yes, you might just need to keep working on it…or it could be that you need to rethink your entire approach.  Quitting and starting over can often be a wonderful thing, if you’re willing to try it.

Love and other metaphors…

Did you know that boysenberries, rasperries, and strawberries are part of the rose family?  For someone like me, who loves berries (even if they’re not true berries!), it makes perfect sense.  Roses have, for centuries, symbolized love or friendship, and being a guy, I’m not much into receiving flowers as a gift; but give me a slice of warm blueberry pie, a chocolate-covered strawberry, or even quart of fresh black raspberries, and I’m in Heaven.

Ah, yes…love is, indeed, a many-splendoured thing, and comes in a variety of shapes, colours, and flavours. And usually pint- and quart-sized containers.

Think I’ll go out to the garden and see how the tomatoes are doing.

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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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