In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.
We’re very proud to feature Constance Semler (crowdSPRING username: Faustie) today. Constance lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
1. Please tell us about yourself.
I’m American, Canadian, and married to an Englishman. We live in the heart of Toronto, Ontario, on a quiet tree- lined street. We moved here from Montréal last year. Until November 2008, I spent most of my professional life in corporate marketing roles and met wonderful people as I traveled around the world in fairly short order. These days, in addition to writing, I’m helping out with an internet start-up. Sometimes I work with my husband on post production of UK and US film and TV productions.
2. How did you become interested in writing?
In some ways, writing became interested in me. I remember having college essays returned to me with terse remarks like, “See me”, after which the professor would try to persuade me to major in a subject. In graduate school and throughout my career, I recall about a dozen striking moments in which someone pulled me aside to say something like, “Listen, you can really write!” Those lightning bolts had little effect on me. I assumed that writing is part of the package of work and most educated people write well. Why I persisted with this false assumption, I don’t know.
3. Who/what are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
I was an English major, so even though I don’t write like some of my favorite writers, they influenced me. I love the elaborate finely-crafted sentences of Henry James. At the same time, I admire the immediacy of Hemingway’s prose. Though I don’t always agree with him, Christopher Hitchens is a great writer and thinker – and hilarious to boot. I don’t think I could or would want to write with such acid wit. Taming the tongue (and the pen or keyboard) is an important discipline. Hitchens isn’t afraid to write complex sentences. Writing for the Web, we writers get used to creating babyfied bite-sized sentences. It’s effective. It’s absolutely necessary. But it leaves me needing a fix from writers like Hitchens.
My father and my Uncle Herb encouraged me to be interested in words by playing word games with me as a child. It is so important to stimulate young minds in this way. That’s one reason I’m writing a wordplay book for kids. David Meerman Scott’s list of widely-used “gobbledygook” terms is fantastic and shocking. I must mention Professor Sandra Berwind at Bryn Mawr College. She chopped my writing to bits with her critiques, and I’m glad she did. Everyone should have a professor with that degree of interest in their writing.
4. Please tell us about your favorite projects.
There are two kinds I enjoy: one is highly creative, like coming up with a great company name or product name. I enjoy helping other people be creative and say what they mean. Collaboration is very exciting for me. The other kind of project, and one that lets me shine, requires me to learn new things, dig deep into a subject, and help the client expand on a creative brief. These are often projects in which I bring my years of marketing and business experience to the table. I don’t like to call myself “copywriter” because that term is sometimes limiting. Some people think you’re a “wordsmith”, as though writing is a last-minute add-on. No way. Good writing is good thinking. If the marketing or business strategy is off target, no amount of great “copy” is going to save it. The guys that created Ruby On Rails take that point even further in their recent book, REWORK. They say, if you’ve got a limited budget and can only hire one person, hire the best writer.
5. What types of writing interest you the most?
I like to write white papers, brochures, Web content, tag lines, etc. My husband has recorded dialogue with hundreds of award-winning actors, and it was so much fun to work with him on a voice-over and write a script. I write essays on business and social commentary, but I haven’t sought publication yet. Now I’m starting to write highly creative pieces for business. I like the learning curve, so I will always try new things.
6. You love to write. Love it love it love it. Why?
I realized recently that I’d better stop doing things I like and focus on doing things I love. Writing never gets old. Writing brings variety, and it can never be fully mastered. I love starting with a blank page and creating something that has a life of its own apart from me. I love helping clients, which often boils down to helping them answer razor-sharp questions about their businesses. I love words. I’m a bit of a design nut, but I can’t focus exclusively on the visual. Words are too important to me, and to everyone whether they realize it or not.
7. What kind of on-line resources do you use?
In marketing, it’s easy to become stale or turn into a dinosaur. I like sites that curate well. Two of my favorites are econsultancy in the UK, and marketingprofs in the US. I also subscribe to the Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus. For staying on top of news, I like BBC News, the New York Times, and Financial Times. I’ve been fiddling with ProofHQ, Zoho Writer, Writeboard, and Huddle to find the right online collaboration tools. Mozy Backup is essential. What I haven’t found yet is a good desktop publishing solution. I’m looking at Scribus.
8. How do you promote your work?
My writing business is fairly new, and I’m in the process of creating my brand. All those brand exercises I’ve done for other people’s companies and products, I’m now doing for myself! Meanwhile, I use personal networks, referrals, and crowdSPRING to find new work and clients.
9. Please describe your typical work day.
I’ve had to create structure to ensure that working at home doesn’t become too comfortable or too demanding. When I have writing projects, I work from about 9 am to lunch time, taking a tea break or two (tea breaks are an essential part of an English marriage). After lunch I will work all afternoon. I like to end the day at a reasonable hour because there have got to be boundaries on work to protect our relationship and our health. Believe it or not, it has to be a conscious decision because we both tend to be workaholics.
10. What is your favorite book?
There is no such thing. I love books and lots of them! As a child my favorite books were The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Le Petit Prince. Now, I keep reading things by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. I’m also reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard and Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. I recently finished Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson, and a book on kumihimo, the art of Japanese braiding. It’s always a crazy mix like that.
11. If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
About 100 things, and that’s my challenge. Fortunately, writing gives me variety and focus. I have a keen interest in technology start-ups and entrepreneurship. Also, I’d like to design furniture, housewares, and clothing accessories. I envision a cottage industry in which I prototype beautiful things to be replicated by artisans, building on my experience in textile printing and dyeing, bead-making, passementerie, Japanese box-making and bookbinding. My mother is a retired interior designer, and I grew up surrounded by beauty, antiques and modern things. My uncle was an illustrator and cartoonist for The New Yorker. My father was a bank executive. Business and creativity combine in me almost by osmosis.
12. What do you do with your free time?
I love to dance flamenco. My crowdSPRING avatar shows me in a café in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. We’re becoming increasingly involved in our new church. I like to explore the city and discover quirky little restaurants. I have one of the most ridiculously well-stocked kitchens and cook elaborate dishes. I’ve got to feed my husband because when he’s working, he forgets to eat. I never forget.
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