One of the things I love about social media is the random way you meet interesting people. I’m not quite sure of the breadcrumb trails that led me to connect on Twitter with Brad Marley, CEO of Yelram Media, but we share an aim to help companies tell their stories better.
Every Sunday morning, Brad’s newsletter gives his take on the state of storytelling in business. He also asks six questions (“five and one”) of different storytellers, including their recommendation for a book. This week, I was honoured to be in the spotlight in issue 122. (Also read his thoughts on “scope creep” in the same issue.)
Here’s the interview, with Brad’s permission:
You make a living as a freelance writer. How did you get your start?
I’ve had my own writing business twice. The first time, I kind of fell into it. I had relocated to Toronto from Montreal, and while looking for a full-time communications job, started making cold calls to land writing work to keep me from climbing the walls. By the time I had a job offer 11 months later, my unnamed writing business was promising enough that I hesitated…but the “security” of that corporate offer won me over.
I launched Get It Write after leaving that same full-time corporate job, in part because I had proved to myself that going out on my own was possible. By then, I had two small boys, a painfully long commute and a husband who travelled a lot. Work/life balance; what’s that? I loved the job, but had little time to write, the piece I liked best. Even so, I thought about quitting for a year before getting up the nerve to do it.
At first, I imagined going back to the corporate world when the boys got older, but it was soon obvious being solo was my happy place. Much of my time since then has been writing for people who were in the same situation I was in – small department, pressed for time and often unable to get to the writing.
Your blog, The Red Jacket Diaries, is updated on a regular basis. How important of a role does the blog play in your day-to-day work when it comes to staying sharp and attracting new clients?
I aim to blog weeklyish, as I call it. Blogging, a monthly newsletter, being active on social media and volunteering are all ways I keep myself visible and show how I think and write. It certainly builds a wider network and that often leads to paying work.
As of this writing, your newsletter is nearing 100 issues. That’s a huge accomplishment. I know you are a fan of newsletters. Why are they so attractive at this specific moment in time?
I’m pretty amazed myself at that approaching milestone! [Also, I didn’t say this in the interview, but his own 122 *weekly* newsletters is even more amazing!]
You’re right, I’m a long-time fan of newsletters. Especially during these shaky times, they are a way of building connection, something this pandemic is showing we all crave more than ever. And a newsletter is less formal, more conversational, more personal than a lot of other methods of communicating. As Ann Handley describes it, “Ultimately, it’s a letter from someone to someone. From you to me.”
For companies, internal newsletters can tell the important stories and make them interesting, help employees understand strategy, make sure vital messages are read and complement all the other channels used to get information out. For small businesses like yours and mine, newsletters help build familiarity and trust.
How has your work and life changed because of the pandemic? Being in Canada, it seems like you are not being hit as hard as your neighbor to the south, but everyone has been impacted. Tell us how you are handling this.
We’re all being affected by this pandemic, that’s for sure. I feel for people trying to get work done while juggling homeschooling and childcare and elder care and more. My own sons are grown and I’ve been in a home office for years, so in theory, my work life isn’t too different. However, I’ve lost a few clients, some projects are on hold and business is definitely down. Lockdown also showed me how much I used to get out and meet with people in person, both professionally and personally. Isn’t that a distant memory now? Zoom calls just aren’t the same, although they help.
How do you feel about the future of your profession? Are we going to eventually stop needing long-form content as it exists right now? Or do you remain optimistic?
I’m a total optimist. Oh, people are impatient. The average length of a TikTok video is 16 seconds. Tweets can be 280 characters, but supposedly you get greater engagement with 71-100. People don’t read online, we scan, and can barely wait seconds for a web page to load.
And yet. If you find something well-written about a topic that interests you, it doesn’t matter how long it is. I’ve read some fascinating long-form stories posted by NiemanStoryboard.org [see an example here], which does story annotations on them where writers talk about why they chose certain details or how they approached the story. And Orbit Media’s recent research with bloggers shows that some of the most successful ones publish posts of 3,000+ words.
But I don’t think writers should get caught up in numbers, unless of course you’re writing to a specific wordcount. Better to focus on the content, and take as long as it takes to write something meaningful or helpful or heartfelt. It might be long or short. Either way, I think good writers will always have a role.
Finally, the question I ask everyone – what is the best book, fiction or non-fiction, you have read recently?
The book itself is from 1998 but I only recently read and loved Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about attempting to walk the Appalachian Trail. It was funny, interesting, so well researched and best of all, had wonderful analogies. Here’s one: “The continents didn’t just move in and out from each other in some kind of grand slow-motion square dance but spun in lazy circles, changed their orientation, went on cruises to the tropics and poles, made friends with smaller landmasses and brought them home.” Isn’t that fantastic?
Thanks again, Brad! I appreciate you inviting me to chat.
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