What happens when content creators stop creating?

As a content writer, creator, maker, whatever you want to call yourself, your biggest challenge is often consistency. Life gets busy. Clients demand all of your creative energy. You have to make a tough decision about next steps and somehow posting content as an “expert” when you’re feeling lost is inauthentic.

These are real challenges. I would never even imply that the past month hasn’t been anything but an extraordinary test of my values, self-worth, and yes, creative motivation. The decision to leave RedBrick Rooster has left me with a lump in my throat so large sometimes I have to check to make sure I’m still breathing. While vlogging and writing have often acted as therapeutic tools, I denied myself their usefulness. Why? Because I actually stopped creating many months ago and while somewhere in the depths of my soul I knew it was therapeutic, I couldn’t access that part of me that sits down and does it.

I know I am good at my job. I know that I can on a semi-consistent basis create interesting content that connects me to my clients, my friends, and other kindred souls. So why it is so easy to stop writing, vlogging, engaging on your social networks and hide from it all?

Shame is a part of it. A feeling of failure which is easier to hide from with busy work, excuses, and blaming your work for sucking your creativity dry, instead of admitting that it’s the only place where you do not feel dry and so you spend more time than is necessary there. There is no problem with expending so much creative energy on your work. It’s amazing. Addictive. Rewarding. The problem is that even with that there is shame lurking in the shadows. It hides there, constantly reminding you that you could be striving higher, writing more, writing for more people, becoming more recognized. So the longer you stop writing the craftier you get at blaming your work for not reaching that next level of success. Your brain takes this as a cue to start becoming stressed every time your plate is full with client work even though that is exactly what you’ve worked your little buns of trying to achieve.

Now the work stopped. Yes I am doing speaking gigs and workshops more frequently than I ever imagined possible but that work that forces you to stretch out and knead, to poke and prod, and shape a soft gooey dough into something unique is slowing down. Temporarily yes. But still slowing down almost at a full stop now. I am left only with that lump in my throat and shame that cannot be hidden with work anymore.

Here is the useful part of this inhibited period of my “recreational” creative life: it forces me to ask myself why I create.

I create because of my love of the process. Sharing it. Being in it. Reflecting on it at the end of a transformation. I think I genuinely forgot this. I was breaking my neck bringing in new business and that took priority over creating for myself. It also made the process of breaking neck a lot more painful because I had no tool for acknowledging and processing my transformation along the way.

I want to start making things again. I want to stop feeling like being “in process” or “under construction” is not a good enough reason to write. It is the only reason to write. So I ask that you join me in taking a step towards that lack of inhibition we all know and some even love about me. I need you now. Starting today I’m burning the bra. I’m breaking down these damn walls I’ve put around creating for myself. Starting with this admittance of letting that shadowy shame prevent me from doing something that makes me smarter and happier.

Anyone want to join me at the bonfire bra-less?

 

 

 

Is Branding Just BS?

For a number of reasons we are all resistant to the idea of assessing or even creating a brand. As a small business or start-up we think, “Well this isn’t a priority. I haven’t even made money yet. A fancy logo and sales language can wait.”

I posted an article on Facebook a few weeks ago dissecting the notion of brand as a luxury expense but I want to tackle this from a different angle.

I consider myself very lucky so far that in my career as a branding coach I have come across almost no one who didn’t have some idea of why branding is good. Then, just as my comfy couch of perfect clients was starting to form its perfect butt indentation, something or someone jabs me in my left ass cheek. Perhaps its because I’m forced to use words like branding and marketing when even I find them cringe-worthy. I hate having to rely on industry jargon to simplify my ideas around marketing. It makes them feel empty and manipulative.

Coming from an arts background means my education opened up my world vastly. So vastly that it let in a lot of ugly lofty thoughts and judgments about the value of creating. Art school teaches you many valuable things but when it forces you into a competitive environment with yourself and your peers, creates a highly structured grading system, and tells you that you should be “industry ready” by the time your program ends, it does something to your creativity. It eats it up and spits out cookie-cutter thoughts disguised as discerning taste, analytical thinking, and success. It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being inadequate or not living up to that lofty idea of what a true artist is. I still fall into this trap. Most days though, I am reminded of something inherent in all creators – resourcefulness. I am reminded of this because each and every day I work with clients who introduce new levels of scrappiness into my world.

Innovation, creativity, and art are all forms of resourcefulness. It is about using our imagination to stretch beyond the immediate meaning or use of the thing in front of us. When else do we see this? Well, when we play – or more accurately, played. So is our job as creators then not to create the most bad-ass sandbox to play in? Is it not to immerse ourselves in an environment where boundaries are bendy and following rules is failure. This doesn’t sound much like any education system, does it?

Before I digress into one of my most adored ranting topics –education – let’s keep this train on its tracks.

This is how I define branding – being able to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both a literal, symbolic, and visual way. Good branding should be so embedded in who you are at your core so that whether people are looking at your website, hearing you speak, chatting with you over a glass of rouge, or working with you, they know what type of experience they can expect from you. Before you can get to that though – you’re going to need your sandbox. You’re going to have to forcefully inject creative problem solving into your world. Now you try explaining this to someone who has no concept of branding. It’s seriously fucking hard. So you turn to your marketing jargon encyclopedia and begin spouting out buzz words like “social media engagement”, “conversion”, “web traffic”, and “sales”. No doubt these things are all extremely important. But they are not at the core of a brand. YOU are at the core of the brand. YOU are the common factor. Your thinking, your method, and your obstacles. Those other things are – mind you quite amazing – tools to help sell, get people to read your authentic content, and spread your good-hearted message to the world.

Think of your business as that beautiful sand castle you want to build. The things you find in the sandbox are the tools or add-ons for your biz that can help you build it, and make it better. The other kids in there are people who will believe in and work for your vision. So what’s missing in all this? Well kids, the sandbox. Part of what I teach in brand coaching is play. Get back to that core version of yourself. That version of yourself that could build worlds, delegate roles, invent new rules, and solve problems creatively with only sand and discarded, often broken, tools or throwaway toys. That version of yourself that could intuitively spin a tale and have people begging to be a part of the crew, even it is only to scoop and pile dirt.

Branding is not just developing your credibility, reputation, and visual language, it is knowing on an intuitive level who you are, how you do things, and how you solve problems. This is what you want to communicate consistently to your clients or customers. That is how you become a many-pronged market superstar. In a nutshell, be the shit out of yourself and share it with everyone. If you can’t do this – cool. Hire me. I will be that nurse you love/hate who injects play back into your world.

Ps. Warning. This blog is sweary.

 

When Personal is Professional – by Catherine Brunelle

Way(yyyyy) back in the early days of high school, I was 25% keener, 25% nerd, and 50% wall flower. But you know what else I was? A hundred percent hoping to be noticed. Between my highs and lows, all I really wanted was to be seen. So here’s what went through my brain most days: “Put up your hand! Say what you’re thinking!” Quickly followed by: “But what if you offend someone? What if other people know better? Be safe, say nothing!” A gag of nerves stifled my voice.

Then and Now

All this was before social media entered my life. It was also before I did a lot of other things like realize everyone is insecure and to some degree we’re all afraid of screwing up. However, for the sake of this post’s theme around online personas, let’s just stick with the whole ‘social media changed my life’ thesis, because it did. It really did. And I’ll prove it to you with three quick stories: Voice, Social and Career.

 Voice

“I didn’t realize you’re funny,” said my friend after reading my blog. This was itself hilarious since I’d known her literally my entire life and my blog was about having breast cancer. But I took it as a sign of a good thing.

At first Bumpyboobs was a secret from everyone, even my parents who I hadn’t then told about my suspected disease. Because it was secret, the blog was easy to name. If it had been created for the eyes of others, I probably would have called it ‘my super noble journey in conquering breast cancer’ or something like that. But this was for my eyes only, so I named it exactly what made me laugh most. The name was my unfiltered voice, aka, the endearing smart ass. That way of starting things, of doing it for myself and not others, has stayed with me over the years of writing.

Number one personal rule for blogging: If it’s my blog, it’s my story. As someone writing about breast cancer, after the blog went public I was quickly labelled a cancer blogger – people would email me asking to review their health products or just expect me to write about cancer all the time. But it’s my blog and I associate it with my identity both offline and online. Adhering to an imposed label, even one that gets attention, was just another form of self-censoring and I didn’t need that. I’m a whole lot of things and that is reflected in the posts. Those readers who dig it, dig me. It’s that simple.

My website has since changed to CatherineBrunelle.com to shake off expectations. But I have to say, it was always a secret thrill at executive networking events to direct politicians, CEOs and government officials to my website: “Bumpyboobs.com.”

Social

Once upon a time, someone I know complained about a person on their Facebook. He didn’t understand why they kept posting so many updates about their day. Who cared? Not him, that’s for sure.

These words stuck with me for a while and I had to chew them over. Why bother saying anything online? Who was I to share a stupid reflection, or picture, or anything? But then I realized, these thoughts felt like high school all over again. I don’t want to put that gag back on. And so I thought about it, and came to realize something important: different platforms, different expressions.

It’s absolutely okay to tweet a stream of observations while riding the bus in Ottawa. But if I did that on Facebook non-stop, it would flood timelines. It’s important to know your platform, regardless of whether you’re talking personal or professional. A while back I did a photo shoot of two dolls in love, which were definitely best shared on Tumblr. Any and all food pics go on Instagram. Business and life articles on Linkedin. Articles and vacation pictures go on Facebook. But best of all is Twitter, because it’s my catchall.

Be respectful, have fun, and know your platforms. If social media is a voice box for things you find interesting, weird creative experiments, and brave introductions to awesome people – then I say just go for it. Who cares about “Who cares?”

 Career

Here’s the thing. I say all this about voice and expression, but I also realize that the first thing many employers or clients do before working with you is check your social media. What we do socially reflects upon us professionally. This is a GOOD thing.

I wanted to write, so I started a blog. Suddenly I was a writer. I wanted to talk about writing, so I co-founded a podcast, suddenly I was a presenter. I wanted to become an author so I crowd funded online, and suddenly I had a novel. I was sick of being a cancer blogger, so I redesigned my website to cast off the pink ribbon vibe and suddenly I felt better. When it comes to the internet, you create the impression. There are no grades or degrees to be won – we gain our cred by taking action, and there’s no limitation on the actions we can take.

This might sound naïve, but it actually does work. I landed my first writing gig by attending a networking event and simply telling everyone there that I was a writer. All I had was my blogging and guest posts to back up that claim, but it was enough to secure steady work. It was an incredible feeling, and no one at any point said, ‘you can’t do that’; instead they said, ‘can you do that for me?’ Since then, I’ve literally created opportunities and expertise through experiments online. Today I get to work an incredible marketing job in a position that resonates deeply with my interests and values. It’s awesome.

(And even if I’m making it up as I go, at least I’m going!)

So there you have it. Three very quick stories about creating an online persona helped me find my voice. Thanks to Red Brick Rooster for this opportunity to share a piece of my story!


Catherine Brunelle is a content creator, marketer and author of the perfect book club novel, Claire Never Ending. Visit her website at CatherineBrunelle.com and do be sure to say hello over on Twitter.

An Office of One’s Own…and One Own’s Dog

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Boris (my Great Dane) and I spent most mornings the same way these days. My husband gets up to start his job in carpentry bright and early. Boris and I make lazy attempts at getting rubs and cuddles from him, but soon enough Boris plops onto the warm space where my husband was sleeping and the two of us drift off for another hour.

Once Boris has been for his morning walk and I’ve made my cup of coffee tea (I’m trying) I go back upstairs, where on the other side of the bedroom I have set-up a cozy little workspace. I will usually start building my weekly schedule on Monday mornings. Now don’t get me wrong, Mondays are not my favourite part of the week, but I love this part of it because I do exactly what I did in all my years at a Montessori elementary/middle school.
Let me first tell you a little about my time there.
We used to get all our work for the week assigned on a Monday and then it was up to us how we wished to complete it. During the week we’d have lectures, art classes, music classes, and other once-off activities as well. We were many grades in one class so we all had the benefit of listening to the same “lectures” – we just had different projects to complete at the end of it.  We were even allowed to try an older grades project if we wanted a challenge. But before I gush my way to a novel-sized memoir of my Montessori days, let’s get back to scheduling.
As boring as it sounds (it’s not!), this entire post is will probably end up being about scheduling.

“I am my own boss” means I make my own week.  On Mondays I sit with about 15 little sticky notes on my fingers and rearrange them on the side of my bookcase under titles that indicate the day of the week. Stickies include: research and development for workshops; video editing; bookkeeping; current clients; new clients; and my favourite – blogging. Now, as good as Montessori was at teaching me how to schedule, I found these lessons quickly evaporating in a conventional work environment. When I started my own business I found myself wanting to adhere to those conventional rules and frankly it was a completely demotivating exercise.  For a while I didn’t understand that I was doing this. I actually thought I was living by my own rules. Then I stumbled upon Braid Creative.

A creativity consulting and design company, they wield strong weapons against falling into traps of being anything except yourself. So naturally when I saw that they offered an e-course in “Personal Branding” I jumped – hard. One of the exercises I completed was to map out all the traditional rules or norms associated with being a professional. I thought back to my jobs in corporate marketing and started to uncover the expectations – what they refer to as “the optics” – of what a professional is. These were things like: work hours; when to take lunch; how to dress; how not to dress; what language to use; when to take personal leave; what an appropriate stress level. Ironically, if your answer to elevator small talk didn’t at least reference being stressed or “over-capacity”, the general assumption was that you weren’t serious enough about your job. It took writing out these “rules” to realize just how this had impacted my perception of a ‘professional’.
As I was taking stock of my workweek, I started rewriting these rules. In doing so, my definition of a professional began to shift.

I love Fridays. I’m energized and stimulated from the week and full of restless energy. I love the energy of the 9-5ers downtown as they ramp up for the weekend by taking a slightly longer lunch to grab a beer with a pal, or walk in the denims they only get to wear on Fridays. It feels like everyone is giggling at the same joke on the inside. So a little while ago I decided – no work on Fridays. By Sunday I’ve usually had my fill of domestic chores and family BBQs so I like jumping into some of the more free-flowing creative work on a Sunday afternoon. This means that when I wake up on Mondays I’ve already started, though I still hate Mondays.
But now, I love Sundays.
They are not that bitter reminder of a Monday.
They are their own special day where work blends with BBQ and white wine. Fridays are my very own day. Most of the time I’m out and about in one of my favourite Ottawa hoods – Hintonburg. When I’m there you’re likely to find me perusing the sales items at St. Vincent De Paul, then going next door to Flock to longingly stare at each and every beautiful creation in there. Then I walk to The Hintonburg Public House where I treat myself to a glass of wine and something to eat. Dessert is ALWAYS Suzy Q donuts and I ALWAYS buy half a dozen. They make a lovely snack later when husband and I are watching Netflix.

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Now before you think  – well of course YOU can do that, YOU work from home. Let me just say that you are completely right. I chose to build my life in a way where my personal life and work life, my personal self and work self all blend together. In order to help people tell stories, I have to have stories of my own. In order to help local businesses brand and create unique content, I have to understand the Ottawa appeal. It is my job to love my work as much as it is to do my work. And – if I have to be honest – I think we all need to change our thinking to be a little more in line with that. You will be better at your job if you love it – even if what you love about it is that it gives you time or money for something great in your personal life. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Work to live. Don’t live to work.

Any other “dad style” advice-sayings you can all throw at me?

I’m lovin’ it. So should you.