On Gratefulness

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about “emotional wellness.” Partly because I’m so bad at it and because I have to. At work yesterday though, a colleague finally said something that resonated with me: “Be grateful everyday and tell people how thankful you are for them.” It may not be the first time I’ve heard this, but it was the first time I was told to be grateful for everything from a cold turkey sandwich to having a family that loves me.

It’s probably just a unique personality trait of mine that I’m rarely content with my life in the moment. I’m constantly thinking about what I don’t have or what I have left to accomplish. I really got to thinking though and think that the latter at least is a trait most writers have.

I mean who else would be masochistic enough to spend hours on end editing something until perfection, knowing perfection is unattainable? Who else would knowingly spend their time on projects that have high probabilities of never being successes simply due to circumstances? It takes quite the personality to deal with being a writer. That said, I still think it’s important and also liberating to be grateful for everything all the time.

So, here’s what I’m grateful for:

My freedom,
Having forums where I can bitch about the patriarchy,
Being surrounded by individuals who believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself,
Video chat,
And this lovely blog that brings me so, so much joy.

So, I’ve got to ask blogosphere what are you grateful for today?

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.
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#Bookgate: Real Housewives Talk Ghost Writing

I moved to California about five months ago and have since become an avid Real Housewives fan. It started out as research for Southern California and now has expanded into something much greater and very unhealthy. This blog isn’t about self-shaming over low-brow entertainment, though—it’s about life lessons, people.

Part of the success of the Real Housewives franchise is it teaches all of us valuable etiquette: don’t gossip, don’t talk down to others, don’t throw wine glasses at people’s faces, and most of all don’t call yourself a writer if you use a ghost writer.

The latter resulted in a feud between two Real Housewives of New York City in this past season, something Bravo! was shipping as #Bookgate.

In case you weren’t up on the drama, Carole Radziwill recently published her latest book, A Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating. The book received high praise (even from Oprah!) and served as a reminder to viewers that Radziwill actually had a journalism career pre-Housewives. Enter drama from stage right in the form of Aviva Drescher.

Drescher starts the season with a book deal and seeks out fellow reality star, Radziwill for advice on a ghost writer her publisher suggested. Drescher makes the poor (and unconfirmed) assumption that Radziwill must have had a ghost writer because everyone who is pretty and famous and ends up writing a novel / book has a ghost writer (i.e. Snooki and Lauren Conrad). Big mistake.

Radziwill’s proud of being a writer. It’s hard freaking work (as we all know) and it’s her career (she used to work for ABC producing documentaries for Peter Jennings). In essence, it’s like saying to a basketball player, so who’s your stand-in who makes all those shots?

The drama percolates and escalates into a full-blown Real Housewives feud perfect for the reunion episode (it’s all the Bravo producers could have wished for). It escalates because it becomes what makes all great Real Housewives feuds great: jealousy, ego, and “lack of support.”

But the real issue/philosophical conundrum this raises to me is, what categorizes a writer as a writer and who gets to stake claim to our coveted society? Obviously Aviva Drescher wants in (as she puts it in the reunion, “it takes a village” and she wrote the “first draft”) and in the age of reality TV and rise of celebrity culture, she’s not the only one. Many writers take offense to this, even though it is well understood how the book deal world and ghost writing profession work.

In the infamous reunion episode that just aired last night, Carole Radziwill extended an olive branch to all of those who hire ghost writers saying it’s common practice and that, “there’s no shame in it.” But, is that just lip service? Are us writers sympathetic enough to those who just can’t write but have a good story to tell and excuse it when their books fly off the proverbial shelves? Or is it so demoralizing that Lauren Conrad of Laguna Beach fame has “written” bestsellers that we sip our black coffee in the corner and simmer with anger?

I fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. I don’t think being a writer is a closed society and I have a pretty loose definition on who can call themselves a writer and what qualifies you as a writer. I do have a problem though when I see Lauren Conrad has a book and not just a book but a successful book series. Mainly because I see, know and hear of such talented writers who will never see a book deal in their life. This makes me more upset with the publishing world and socioeconomic divides than with Conrad. It’s articles like this that make upset with Lauren Conrad as an author.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ghost writers (if Lauren Conrad or Aviva Drescher had one) or even your take on #bookgate. Because after all, we all know Harper Lee had Truman Capote ghost write To Kill a Mockingbird. #duh

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

In Memorium: Maya Angelou

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

I couldn’t think of anything to write about for this blog post. I actually contemplated filling it with Shannon Beador memes (let’s all be thankful it hasn’t come to that). Then something absolutely terrible happened – the world lost one of it’s greatest writers.

Since this blog was started by a group of amazing, clever lady writers, it’s only right that we pay homage to one of the cleverest lady writers of all time, Ms. Maya Angelou.

Her name is legendary itself. I don’t need to write about how much my respect for the written word changed after I read, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” you already know it as the autobiography that changed autobiographies forever. I don’t need to explain how her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is one of my inspirations for feminist thought, you already know her as the Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree.

After reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” in high school I felt as if I had lost my innocence a bit. Here I was, this naive and superficial 15 year old white girl in the burbs. I didn’t have any concerns other than if I could snag a ride to the mall that weekend. After reading that book, I felt enlightened but also as if I had become a part of a club. That was the first time I consciously started thinking about feminism.

Maya Angelou was everything to everyone. Her work and reputation is legendary. Despite her passing, her writing, her work and how it inspired us all will live one. For that, I’ll refrain from classifying myself as a writer at least for today because I have never made anyone feel. Ms. Maya Angelou will always make us feel, even in her absence.

 

My Writing Secret: Bad Ideas Journal

I just started a new job. I moved to a new state. I live in a new city. I’m leasing a new apartment and car. I have a new routine. My life is full of newness right now and it’s freaking scary sometimes.

But what the heck does this have to do with writing?

Everything.

Most times when I’m frustrated (aka writer’s block) or when writing is simply a struggle, I scrap my idea and start anew. Most of the time there’s an instantaneous solution. But what about a month later when you have a different perspective, the creative juices are flowing and you remember that idea that at the time may not have been the greatest, but could be now?

More times than not an idea I deem as bad or not going anywhere is actually a good or great idea the next day, the next week or the next year. That’s why I’m an ideas pack rat.

You’ll never find me brooding in front of a typewriter with a trash can full of scrapped paper. First, because it’s the 21st century and only hipsters and octogenarians use typewriters and second because I keep every idea in a black moleskin idea journal.

A journal full of bad ideas? It’s my secret to writing good. I mean well.

Maybe I should have a bad grammar one too.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

Giving Technical Writing a Reality Check

As you all (read: avid readers of this blog) know by now, us VALCANA ladies pursued Professional Writing (#msupw) for our bachelor’s of arts degree. Without spending this entire blog post worshiping the people, things, and stuffed animals associated with this program, here’s what you need to know:

  • Professional Writing is amazing.
  • Professional Writing will prepare you for a career in technical writing, among other writing professions.
  • If you want to call yourself a writer, you should study Professional Writing at MSU.

–End unpaid endorsement–

It’s the second aforementioned bullet point that really got me thinking, especially as I’m deep in the job hunting trenches at the moment: What exactly is technical writing?

When I go into job interviews or apply for “Technical Writing” positions online what is the potential employer really expecting of my skill-set? With a couple of years of experience under my belt I can confidently say it’s not what I thought when I was studying technical writing. It’s time that I gave my definition of technical writing a reality check.

To understand what an employer’s view of technical writing is today, I needed to understand who the first technical writers they hired were. Growing out of a necessity for clear and understandable documentation to accompany machinery at the turn of the 20th century, employers hired engineers (today known as subject matter experts) who could write better than their peers or copywriters who could liaison well with these engineers. Thus, the stereotype of technical writers as engineers who are the outcasts amongst their colleagues working in corporate office buildings for software companies a la Office Space was born. Despite efforts on behalf of the Society of Technical Communication (Unpaid Endorsement #2: You should join if you’re interested in technical writing because these people are super cool), some of those who are not technical writers still have this perspective.

As a student preparing to enter the workforce, I instead thought of technical writing in terms of its foundational approach that allows someone to be a technical writer regardless of their C++ knowledge.

Technical writing identifies the audience (or user) and designs documentation around their needs.

Sample Infographic

Making infographics can be part of a technical writer’s job.

Expected more? Well, everything else comes from that key concept. Reduction in jargon? Yup, if your end-user requires it (most likely they always will). Appropriate graphical document design? Yup, your documentation better be if you want to make reading and understanding the easiest for your user. Proven and tested? Double yup, because before you bring anything to market you want to make sure it’s effective and when people are your users you’re talking usability.

This is a fantastic way to approach technical writing, but it does have its drawbacks. While this may be how technical writers view their own field, it’s not necessarily how the engineers, human resource representatives, marketing communications teams and CEOs view technical writers. Through my experience they typically define technical writing as:

(Best described in a disengaged adolescent voice) The act of writing user manuals, instructional documents and all of that complicated or boring stuff our MarComms team won’t do, duh.

While not representative of all companies, many of the companies I’ve pursued want subject matter experts (SMEs) instead of writers. Many of the job descriptions circulating out there put greater emphasis on having previous experience with the company’s industry rather than having a true understanding of your audience and communicating appropriately with them. These are the same jobs that require English or Journalism as degrees, but I can say with confidence I’ve lost out on them to those with degrees in Mechanical Engineering.

While every employer is different and every business unit within large companies can be different, this hiring practice is so much more common than I expected two years ago when I entered the job market.

So I may have a different view than the employer, but I still want to get a job! What do I do?

Taking some valuable advice from Chelsea’s post on why she loves her job: it all comes down to people. If the employer does not value your perspective as a technical writer, you’re wasting your time with them. Focus on applying with the companies that want you for you! Below are a few things I’ve had to change when it comes to my job search:

I become picky.

If the job description requires a lot of experience with specific languages or technologies, I don’t apply because I can tell they want an SME, not a technical writer no matter how the job title may read.

I re-brand myself.

I’m not just a technical writer, I’m a communicator who approaches tasks from a technical writer’s perspective. I can create a brochure for an event just as well as I can produce a user manual for a new software program.

I don’t let HR rule my career.

This is something that doesn’t always have a positive outcome and is more something I do in theory. HR doesn’t understand me as a professional and they may never understand me as a professional because I’m a new kind of employee. I don’t fit a 20th century cookie-cutter career. It may mean they don’t hire me, but I feel that if I can meet with the team I’ll be working with daily and we see how we can best work with and learn from each other, then it will be the right hire for both parties.

I structure my language for the job.

Ok, so I do let HR “gently guide me.” Most likely we’ll be referring to the same thing but HR will categorize it as something different (i.e. Develop standard product lines = Make templates that are user-friendly and standardized).

So, there you go technical writing, you have officially been checked.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

A Rosy New Year’s Day

Today is the first day of 2014 and I’m smelling roses. Both figuratively and literally.

For the past two decades I’ve spent this day more or less the same way. Probably my most continuous New Year’s Day tradition is watching the Rose Parade with my mom early in the morning, bemoaning that we’re stuck inside our home in snowy Michigan rather than outside in the beautiful California sunshine “ooo-ing” and “ahhh-ing” at the floats in person. We whine, complain and say, “next year, we’ll be there. Michigan State will play better. We’ll save more money. We’ll do this. We’ll do that. We’ll have all of those things we don’t have now.”

Well believe it or not, two decades later I’m at that Rose Parade – my first trip ever west of Chicago.

This trip is a big deal.

I don’t travel much. I don’t have a lot of cash. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a lot of things. But I am at the 100th Tournament of Roses – something that last year, although I may have resolved with my mom that we would go, I thought would be another unmet resolution.

Each year I reflect on what I want to change about my life – what’s left me restless or disappointed. I spend all of this energy focusing on how to improve the bad but I very rarely ever make it a reality. This year if my trip to the Rose Bowl will have taught me anything it’s that I’m better off focusing on the “making” part. Rather than reflecting, which I think us writers too often have a propensity to do, I’m going to take action this year.

I’m going to go out and get that job. I’m going to write that novel. I’m going to travel. I’m going to do all of these things rather than think about doing all of these things. And then I’m going to write about them.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

Going Home + Gaining Perspective

Three weeks ago today I was celebrating the epic Michigan State football win. I had dropped a little more than I should have at Target, but it was OK. Michigan State had just beat our much hated rivals and I was loving my new responsibilities at work. Things were good.

Flash forward to today: My job is expiring in a month and I just returned from home after an unfortunate family health scare. This blog post is the first time I’m letting it all sink in (and beginning to regret those Target purchases).

Oh, how much life can change in such little time!

But when these major changes happen, it’s one of the times when my writing flows most freely and I become most inspired.

I began this post last week when I was home helping take care of my sister and had begun writing about how easy it was to write when I was home. I spent a lot of time in my childhood bedroom, sifting through old journals, swapping old tales with family members, and waiting at the hospital.

I would have thought for sure that the jam packed week (oh yeah, I was trying to put in a full 40 hour work week remotely too) would have stunted the creative juices, but amidst all of the stress and activities, when I’m surrounded by comforting things, food, and family I’m the most uninhibited in my writing.

In Milwaukee and Ann Arbor where I’ve been living for the most part over the past year, I was couch hopping and wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even think about writing. Every time I sat down in front of my computer to blog or write creatively I froze. This wasn’t my couch, my apartment, my coffee shop. I wasn’t home.

I was devastated earlier this week when I found out I would be leaving my job at the end of 2013. But then I realized I would most likely be heading home unless a job materializes in Milwaukee in the next three weeks. I’ll be surrounded by my father’s cooking, my mother’s big bear hugs, dinners with my grandparents, my favorite stuffed animals and the love and comfort of home.

So while three weeks ago I was blissfully happy and yet unable to write much of anything in my free time, today I find myself a little sad and yet overcome with the desire to write.

And my Spartans are winning. Things are on their way to being good.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in internal communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.