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What is Engagement, Anyway?

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Are Likes Helpful or Corrosive?

The college where I teach is something of a bride-and-groom factory. This [largely unstated] expectation of finding your soul-mate by the time you graduate lurks in the halls and hovers over tables in the cafeteria.

At least that’s what students tell me.

"You like me. You really like me."

“You like me. You really like me.”

I’m sympathetic: there are few times like college for being surrounded by attractive folks of similar age who are also poised to make big life decisions. And, true, that’s where I ran into the beautiful young woman who a few years later became Mrs Kirkistan (lo these 30 years and counting).

In this particular college social construct, if you ask someone for a date, well, that’s kind of like a proposal. If you actually date, well, you might as well be married. To be fair, I’m not close enough to say if it this is entirely accurate. But my few talks with students make me kind of sad that relationships would be so, well. binary.

So it’s not surprising that these folks have an interesting skew on engagement. These are people who grew up with likes and short texts and public Facebook conversations. The quick word carries a lot of weight. For some, the quickness with which a like comes back speaks volumes to their self-esteem. It seems like engagement is an all or nothing deal and social media has the power to amplify that.

This social construct plays into expectations in my class. What do we expect when we think of engaging with the audiences we pursue? Are likes what we seek? Page views? Actual comments? Someone stopping you in the hallway? How does anyone determine if someone else is interested in what they say? Social media experts have all sorts of answers for this and all sorts of complicated metrics, some of which even make sense.

One thing is certain: grooming your personality and language for likes is dangerous. Just as it always has been. Of course we all do this to some extent. Who doesn’t want to be seen as attractive and groovy?

My hope for my class—and for anyone with courage to create anything—is that they create from an interiority that remains integrated and intact. That is: write and create from what drives your passion. Likes and page views are OK, but they should never substitute for your own sense of chasing the thing you simply must say. Yes, you’ll need to sort out how to get attention, but it is even more important to exercise your creativity along the lines you were made for.

In the end, likes may not be all that helpful.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

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Written by kirkistan

January 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

And then, 2015 years later in the United States…

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Have a very Trump Christmas

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Written by kirkistan

December 21, 2015 at 10:10 am

And Before You Were Born

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What was life like then?AliquippaPA-20151217

Before Instagram. Before Twitter. Before games on screens.

Back where your people came from.

Will you run into anyone who can answer that in the next week?

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 18, 2015 at 10:29 am

4 Ways to Bring Creativity to Work

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Hint: Creativity is not easily contained

I’ve been reworking priorities for the social media marketing and copywriting classes I start teach again in January. If these are like previous classes (I’ve not yet looked at the rosters), there will be quite a few English majors, juniors and seniors, many of which will be excellent writers. I teach the class in a sort of writing-forward way: we use writing as our primary tool for sorting client brand problems and opportunities. But over the last few years, the copywriting class has morphed from a focus on “copywriter” to “idea writer,” which is a book by Teressa Iezzi that I’ve become very attached to. We use The Idea Writers as a text to help grow our understanding of our task.

My syllabus is mostly intact from last time I taught, but this time it I see four areas where additional emphases are needed. These four areas make it difficult for a student to jump from writing papers for an English professor to writing copy in the world of commerce:TellStudentsThis-3-20151216

  • See: this has to do with trying to get out of your own brain-pan and jumping into someone else’s life situation. Read more: How to Go Out of Your Mind
  • Try: social media, in particular, rewards those who jump in and try stuff—all sorts of stuff. Trying stuff is a way of learning what your audience will listen to, and will respond to, along with understanding the limits of their attention. Yes there are some best practices and some favored tools, but social media is in constant motion.
  • Measure: The goal really is to move the needle, that is, to get a response. Hits, page views—so many of these numbers are really only incidental to engagement. Real engagement looks like a comment or a share or some other solid action in the world. This is debatable, of course, and varies by audience and objective. But social media opens a window to see just what effect our words and ideas can have. Which can also be terribly discouraging for a writer with a message to deliver.
  • Passion: This is the surprise for students, that they can channel a passion about a topic or tool or process into a project for a client. Many think passion and inspiration are ingredients only safely stirred into their own poetry or short stories. It turns out the more you run on inspiration, the more you run with inspiration.
"Inspiration" by Richard Bledsoe

“Inspiration” by Richard Bledsoe

Richard Bledsoe’s interpretation of “Inspiration” is completely right: there is often a point where the idea carries the writer forward, eyes bulging, wishing only to stop.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Image credit: “Inspiration” by Richard Bledsoe, used with permission

Macaw Redux–In the Style of Charlie the Doodlewasher–Only Better

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Because of the Kansas City tophat, you see. That’s why “better.”

See Charlie’s quite exceptional original here.

Macaw_0

Written by kirkistan

October 10, 2015 at 5:00 am

Drill or Disperse?

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Teachers Know: Why stop to tell what you are doing?

Researchers just want to research. Inborn curiosity drives that desire, though other incentives likely add to curiosity. The research is the key work and the satisfaction of curiosity is its own reward.

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So why would anyone stop to tell about their research? Why not just keep at it? What reward is there in stopping? And if there is financial reward for research, there is even less reason to stop and talk about it.

I’m working on a few thought pieces with a client: small, pointed communication tools that paint a picture of a particular bit of knowledge they are expanding. These smart people have a particular niche and they want to let others know so they can move faster into collaboration with their customers and partners. But the people with the detailed smarts don’t want to stop to communicate because they are busy inventing and satisfying their curiosity. Plus, they are likely paid to invent, not to talk about their inventing.

In a smaller, less acute way, I feel the inventor’s pain. Writing ListenTalk opened new ground for me and answered questions I did not know enough to ask, even as it unearthed entirely new categories of questions. I’m not alone in this: writer friends and artist friends (and wood-working friends and welding friends and mechanic friends) just want to push forward with their projects. Why talk about it when you can do it? You may face this dilemma too: you don’t want to explain what you are doing. You just want to keep at it.DrillOrDisperse-10082015

I get that.

But do we push forward in a slightly new way as we stop to tell others? I wonder. Teachers and professors understand this—especially those teachers and professors who are also practitioners of their art and craft. In stopping to explain, we suddenly realize some brand new thing. We realize something we would never have come up with on our own, sitting at our keyboard/bench/laboratory. It’s the interaction with another that stimulates that.

John Stepper gets this in his notion of Working Out Loud. Social media offers an opportunity for this. It turns out that customers and communities and friends and colleagues and collaborators—even academics—respond to sharing of insights.

What would happen today if you shared an insight or two with someone tuned in to that question? Not present. Not monologue. Not preach–just share it.

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Image & Dumb Sketch credit: Kirk Livingston

7 Questions that Shape Your Art/Work Life

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Please Write this Book: The Freelancer’s Attitude Kit

I’m working out new ways to present the freelance life to college writing students. They are interested in this independent life but not clear about all it entails. They wonder: is there more to it than sitting around in your underwear all day?

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I’d like to present them with a textbook that answers these seven questions. Because these are seven questions that freelancers and other independents continually ask and occasionally even answer. These questions are useful for anyone trying to figure out the relationships between work, craft, art and employment.

  1. How do I balance art, craft and economics? Is it even possible? Because there is stuff I want to do that has no audience. There is stuff I’m less interested in that has a larger audience. And there is stuff I can do to pay the bills, which frankly doesn’t engage me much. I feel less fulfilled when I do that third category of stuff. Then again, I feel pretty fulfilled when I cash the check from that third category. Part of the answer has to do with what your time in life allows. Part of the answer has to do with the economic choices you make.
  2. Is it me or is it you? What does it mean to care for others with my work? Is it possible to use my art or craft or skill to truly look after the needs of another—or perhaps to look after the needs of an organization? One point I’ve made repeatedly to students is that while introspection is one way to sort out who you are—and our creative lore pegs introspection as the main work of writers and artists—there is another way. And that way is finding places and people to work alongside and, well, serve. Sometimes we begin to sort out who we are as we seek to help others. Sometimes our collaborator and our collaborative processes reveal more than we could ever sort when isolated at our desk or easel.WhatIsArt-04302015
  3. What unseen forces are at work? I am a copywriter who also believes that God answers prayer. I am a copywriter who is also comfortable with artists who say the universe provides. My point is that the independent person has a better perspective when convinced there is more going on than what they can muster on their own. For example: every client I called last week said “No.” But then two new calls came in from completely unexpected sources. And these calls said “Yes.” Coincidence? Faith of one kind or another plays a role in this life—especially if a spouse/children/mortgage are part of the picture.
  4. Where does my ladder lean? Aiming for the approval of your boss is not bad, just limited. Bosses change—and sometimes very quickly. Better to climb toward a larger goal. In corporate life, we climb toward this position or that responsibility. In freelance, we climb toward this kind of project or that kind of project. Freelance does not have titles and offices that automatically designate how important you are. Are you ready for that? Freelance depends on intrinsic motivation—the stuff that bubbles out from inside. In fact—it turns out—that corporate life does too. The intrinsically-motivated colleagues are far and away the happiest, because they do the work out of willingness and mission. Just like freelancers.
  5. What do I look like, an entrepreneur? In fact you do, if you are someone who sees a need and starts to figure ways to meet that need. One textbook defines entrepreneur this way:

Entrepreneurship is the process of identifying opportunities for which marketable needs exist and assuming the risk of creating an organization to satisfy them.

–Hatten, Timothy S. Small Business Management, Entrepreneurship and Beyond (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)

There is risk with the approach: you might fail. It might take a long, long time. This approach requires turning that intrinsic motivation into an engine that chugs along every single day. That can be exhausting, especially when met with a daily chorus of “No.”

  1. What’s sharing go to do with it? Today artists and writers and crafters and tribe members find each other online. Not exclusively, but frequently. Part of the independent life has to do with finding generous ways to talk about your passion. This is not shilling for work, this is giving away good stuff. Good stuff that people can use. It turns out that clients just might find you this way as well
  2. What if people knew how weird I was? That’s right, you are strange. Really strange. But everyone is. Freelance capitalizes on weird by you doing what you do in the way you do it. Freelance is the opposite of cookie-cutter. It is niche-building with much of your weirdness intact (not all, people will run from you).

That’s the book I want to use as a text. Some books I’ve read come close.

What questions shape your work life? Tell me if you’ve read this book.

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Image and dumb sketch credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

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