A Year of Procrastination: Day 1

A copywriter procrastinates What's my creative project for the year? Simply to document my creative procrastination. (Let's just call it creative crosstraining – sketchnotes, illustrations, photos, and the occasional fold.) As an interactive copywriter, sometimes I do everything but write. So this is a formal documentation of those creative meanderings. But often, I find the answer I am looking for in my doodles rather than within the linear thought patterns of writing.

Can you accomplish a lot in 5 or 15 minutes? Not always. But after 365 days, there's quite a body of work.

The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life. – Jessica Hische

Sketchnotes from Interactive Day San Diego

Well, Interactive Day San Diego keeps growing with over 800 people attending this year. In my continuing exploration of how to blog an event without writing, I did more sketchnotes.

I attended two session on mobile marketing that dovetailed nicely with each other.


Then after lunch it was more creative territory. Yay! ______________________________ ______________________________ ______________________________ ______________________________ Of course, by happy hour I was no longer sketching.

What Luke Skywalker taught me about the big idea.

This spring Star War Episode 1:  The Phantom Menace was back on the silver screen in 3-D. So after watching Phantom Menace, I ended up watching Episode 4: A New Home within the same week. Comparing the plotlines of the two movies got me thinking about the importance of the big idea when telling a story. (Whether you should begin with the prequels or original triology is a whole other blog post.)

The original Star Wars, A New Hope, is a classic story of good vs evil. We follow the quest of young Luke as he grows as a young man.  The end of the movie is an adrenaline rush as we watch Luke and the other pilots make the assault on the Death Star and blow it up.

Contrast this with the ending of Episode 1 The Phantom Menace. Who are we rooting for? Well to start with we have the froggish Jar Jar Binks leading the Gungans into battle against the Trade Federation battle droids.

Then we have Princess Amidala  leading the capture of the palace.

Dames with guns are hot. Espcecially in Episode 2 when they wear ripped white spandex jumpsuits.

Anakin ends up in the sky and blows up the control ship thus disabling all the droids.

And finally, Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-wan Kenobi  battle Darth Maul.

Did you get that? Now imagine if this was a marketing campaign. With A New Hope, you can name who the hero is – Luke Skywalker.

Now quick, who's the hero of the Phantom Menace?

If you stuff too many details in your messaging people end up remembering nothing.

Live long and prosper.

May the Force be with you.

Tools of the trade.

Over the past year, I frequently found myself visiting the site of Duarte Design. (Confession: usually at midnight with a deadline looming, an educational way to procrastinate.) Headed by Nancy Duarte, Duarte Design is in the business of telling stories, usually through visual presentations.

After watching all the great videos and reading all the wonderful blog posts, I finally bought Nancy’s latest book, Resonate.

Let’s just say Resonate resonated with me. Unlike a lot of business communication books, this book really shows what happens behind the wizard’s curtain. Great presentations start with “the way it is.” They then present “how it could” be. My favorite part was where Nancy maps the presentations of master speakers like Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King. She pinpoints where tension and contrast of “the way it is” and “what could be” adds drama and emotional pull to each presentation.

What can I say? It's totally transformed the way I work.

She also reviewed the creative process. While a lot of this part wasn’t new, she reiterated the easy of working with stickie notes. While I have always been a fan of hanging work up and and white boards, I’ve had several long format assignments lately (books and videos) where I could put this to practice. I storyboarded each assignment entirely with pen and paper. While it is easy to type a script on a computer, it’s too linear. Working with stickies, index cards and paper makes it easier to move things around, edit and kill your babies.

Hello index card. Hello sharpie. Hello stickie note.

Analog, I love you. Again.

Wild Bears, Ponies and More: Five kick-ass call-to-actions for an email list.

Yup, an email list is still a great way to communicate with your most raving fans and fanatics. As an interactive copywriter, I'm always intrigued when I see an interesting call-to-action. So please, no boring “subscribe to our email list.” Give your would-be readers a tantalizing glimpse of what they’ll get in their inbox.


With a weekly feature called the Bitch Slap, Erika Napoletano tells it like it is and writes exactly what she's thinking about business, the web, and life.


Photojojo is a newsletter about "the best photo shiz anywhere." They feature fun photo equipment and fun copywriting, like, every day:  "We solemnly swear: No spam, not ever."

Chris Guillebeau

In the world of hack-your-life gurus, Chris Guillebeau stands out with great design and great writing in his Guide to Non-Conformity blog. Great call-to-action here.


Copylicious is a creative (and business-smart) copywriter. Can you tell?

Sarah J. Bray

Sarah J. Bray is strategic web designer who loves toast.  I love how she gives you the opportunity to sign up for just what you want.

Do you know of any great call-to-actions?

How to free yourself from digital distraction.

For a year or so I’ve been saying, I wish it were easy to turn the Internet off at home or in the office when I need to really focus on the task. Having the Internet just a click away makes it too easy to do everything but work.

Seth Godin suggested one solution to the problem: have one machine for work and one machine for Internet fun. (That’s probably the best incentive ever for getting an iPad.)

But then I found a solution perfect for me, the undisciplined interactive copywriter: Freedom. It’s a software that you download on your machine. You specify how many minutes (come on, go for it – hours) of freedom you want and then Freedom shuts down your Internet access – no Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no IM, no eBay. (Or tumblr, or Apartment Therapy, or Surfline.)

You’re alone with your own thoughts and you finally can get some work done.

Yes, you can access the Internet if you have too, but you’ll have to reboot your machine to do so. And yeah, that’s a pretty good deterrent for me.

Freedom is one of the best ways I’ve found to be more focused and mindful in my work.

How do you deal with digital distraction?

Why I love the Y.

The gathering of the faithful.

Design conferences are kind of like old-fashioned tent revivals that southern churches use to hold. Once a year, you need to re-energize your faith, stand up and say, "Amen, I believe, sistah!" So once a year, I take some time out, turn off the email and drink some of the creative Kool-Aid at the AIGA Y16 Design Conference. As a self-employed creative with well-trained clients that I communicate with via email, it's all too easy to work in a vacuum.  I have to go out of my way to collaborate and reconnect with other creatives. The Y is one of the the best ways I have found to spark my  creativity  and remember the reasons why I got into this business to begin with.

Design by Aaron Draplin for print screening with Sezio.

Makin' shit.

The Pacific Northwest made a strong presence at the Y with Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Company. (Tagline: Midwesting the Northwest.) Aaron charmed everyone with his candidness and ability for telling it like it is. He is a big proponent of doing creative work whether or not you have a budget. “There’s equity in helping people,” he said. He encouraged designers to “be the client and make shit happen.” We were challenged to get out there and get dirty. He closed his talk and set the mood of the conference with these gems:

  1. Work hard and love this shit.
  2. Say yes maybe a little more than you say no.
  3. Do good work for good people.

The shape of design.

Fellow Portlander Frank Chimero took a more cerebral approach to design, asking the questions behind why we do the things we do:

  • How vs. Why.

How is about being capable and taking your tooks and forcing them to your will. Why is about the reasons we do things, and often, this part of the conversation is neglected.

In the relationship between message and format, designers deal with the tone.

  • Message (what you’re saying)
  • Tone (this is the area designers deal in, the bridge between message and format)
  • Format (what is the medium: web, poster, print, ad, brochure)

Frank urged designers to explore beyond the tone and become the client – becoming responsible for content. “If I’m assigned an article and it’s crap, I can’t come up with a good illustration.”

Other speakers were fabulous. Illustrators and design duo Sarah Labieniec and Ryan Meis of Lab Partners were simply delightful in their story of how they work together. (Love my husband but I could never work with him.) Peter Kragh shared details about his job – swimming with great whites while filming IMAX films. (What's his life insurance like?)


Thinkshops were smaller, more intimate workshops. To balance the creative inspiration of the mainstage speakers, I selected more practical Thinkshops. Luke Mysse of Crossgrain led a Thinkshop on how to hire clients and the steps you can take to market yourself to attract the type of clients you want. The insights I gained from this workshop were the most important ones I took home from the conference.

Thomas Marchesello of Nine Multimedia shared how to create killer aps. The secret to good app design he said was “ to think in layers.” Thomas mentioned why you always have to entertain with an app: “Just think about it, what’s on your phone is personal –  it goes in your pocket.”

Hanging with fellow design freaks.

But perhaps the best part of any conference is what happens outside the auditorium. The sharing, the interaction and meeting of fellow design nerds. Who else would agree to try out a new restaurant just because the graphics were so cool?

Why go to the Y? I guess Frank may have said it best, “We come together to get better.”

Words and pictures together.

I've been a big fan of graphic facilitators like Sunni Brown and Image Think who create large scale graphic recordings of sessions. Here are a couple they did this year for various events at sxsw.

As an interactive copywriter, I'm committed to the power of words and the importance of telling story. But frankly, nothing is an intimidating or uninviting as a solid page of text. Yes, subheads and bullet points make copy more scanable, but words + pictures create an even stronger story and involve more senses and create more emotion.

Well thought out visuals just don't add eye candy,  if you're taking notes yourself at a meeting, seminar or conference and add pictures to your words, your retention will increase by up to 30%.

See a whole slew of graphic recordings on Image Think's site here.

Girl, You've Got Cojones: Life Lessons Learned Surfing.

During a surf session out in the big and mushy waves last week, a crusty old fellow gave me the best compliment I could ever receive:

“Girl, you’ve got cojones.”

On my previous wave, I took a late takeoff and went straight down the face for Mr.-Toad’s-Wild-Ride. I barely made it. But sometimes, barely is good enough. That’s one of the valuable lessons I learn over and over surfing. It always amazes me how much the ocean and surfing can teach me:

Live life. Now. Surfing isn’t like tennis or basketball where the courts are always available for a practice session. Wave conditions are a temperamental thing. When there are waves, you surf today. They may not be there tomorrow. The takeaway – don’t live life in the future, waiting for the time until you graduate, get that job, get that promotion, get that house. Life happens right now.

Live on the edge. A wave is a precious commodity. Yet, if you don’t push yourself, you’ll never get better. So when the board is locked in the face, it’s time to cross step and make your way towards the nose. (Guess what my New Year’s resolution is.) What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll fall and waste a perfectly good wave. But there’s always another wave coming.

Let it roll over you. A big holy-mother-of-god mountain of water appears right before you. What do you do? Turtle roll you and your board over and let the wave pass over you. Then you paddle like hell to get out of the way before the next one hits. Things in life don’t always run smooth, but the ability to let things roll by, then try to improve the situation is a nice skill to cultivate.

Sometimes you just have to go for it. If you think too much, you’ll miss out. A moment’s hesitation on the paddle and the wave can pass you by. Yes, it’s advisable to put a little forethought into things like having a kid or starting a business. But if you waited until you were 100% sure, nothing would ever happen.

Don't be afraid to look like an idiot. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned. If I was that self-conscious, I would have aborted at my attempts at surfing years ago. It’s taken me years to become socially mediocre at the sport. And usually, people are encouraging. (Just don’t get in the way of their waves.)

Enjoy the downtime. Sometimes when you’re in between sets, you just have to sit, watch the horizon and wait. This is when the magic occurs. A young inquisitive seal may pop his head out of the water for a closer look or a pod of dolphins may swim by. You never know what might happen.

Savor the bliss. Feeling the wave behind you, carving down a face, it’s 10, 20 or 30 seconds of sheer heaven. After a wonderful morning session, I never feel more alive, more joyous or more blessed. And that’s the attitude I try carry with me throughout the day.