How do you approach working on a project for a client and what is your process?
I typically like to meet with the client and get as many relevant materials as possible - style guides, any materials I'll be working on, and, ideally, access to stuff I won't be working on, maybe things that they feel don't need any work. Then, I try to absorb all that material. There's a lot of shower thinking involved - read everything, go do something else for a while, take a walk and let it percolate. I may do that several times. Eventually, something will click and I'll start to understand what I can offer. When it comes to instructional/technical writing, I learn a lot from the stuff they don't want to change - the structure of that information tells me a lot about how they think and approach the material. That may guide my approach to my project or it may be a conversation starter to rethink the client's broader approach.
What was the first project you worked on professionally, and how did you land it?
My first big project was to re-write all of the employee training documents for a kitchen equipment store. I wanted to move into writing but I didn't have much of a portfolio and my degree in theater - though I think actually very relevant - wasn't what most agencies and creative staffing companies were looking for. In the meantime, I started working at the kitchen shop because I had restaurant and specialty coffee experience. Their employee training was extensive. It was a huge store with literally hundreds of thousands of products.
Each department (cookware, bakeware, bar, etc.) had its own training module and knowledge test. I could tell from the training materials that they were a sort of patchwork of different writers over the years. There were different styles, different ideas about what was important. The information was good but the presentation was terrible. So I told the owner of the store "you know, I'm taking these trainings and I can see that they're not cohesive. Maybe I could re-write them as a side project." He agreed and I moved to part-time in the store and spent about six months or so interviewing him and the training manager about their approach and doing my re-write. I also started writing all the decriptions of their cooking classes, so I had ongoing writing work. After that, I had a lot of material I could show other clients and start to sell myself a bit better.
What is your ritual as a Creative – from ideation to final result?
My formal creative training is actually in devised theater, so I tend to approach things a bit improvisationally. I take an idea and I just start working. I try not to edit too much - or at all - in the beginning. Then, when I've got some material, I go back and look for what's working. I strengthen that and make cuts based on what doesn't contribute to the thing that's working.
Every Creative has their style but it can be difficult to bring that style to different projects with different clients, all with their own styles. How do you bring the two together?
To a certain degree, I think I thrive on that. I like constraints - I can feel overwhelmed if the prompt is "anything you want." So I love working with people who have different styles. I may not always agree or share their taste, but even having something to push back against - gently and politely - is a useful input. I always try to look at the other's style as an initial set of constraints to get me started. Once we have a working relationship - maybe I've done something they like really in their style - I have a little more freedom to comfortably say "what if we tried it this other way?" and be met with openness.
What was it like to work with Progressive?
That was a cool project for a couple of reasons. First, they were very precise in what they wanted, which made it easy to dive in. Second, it was a long-term gig. I was writing blog posts and other things for them almost full-time for more than a year. As a freelancer, you don't always get that kind of depth or longevity on a project. But it gave me a really broad view of what was possible. I might write an article or blog post today and tie it into something I wrote six months or a year ago. It was very satisfying to be able to make those connections and offer something extra because I had such depth on the project.
Is there anything unique that you do that can set your work apart from other Proofreaders?
Honestly, proofreading isn't a huge part of what I do anymore, though I take the occasional gig if it's interesting. I'm more on editorial and creative angles these days. That said, I tend to remember things I've seen/worked on before, so I'm good about ensuring consistency across materials. I may see a particular topic and recognize that it has something in common with something else I've seen before - even months before. That helps me point out ways that we can improve consistency across materials even when there isn't a clear guideline already established.
Can you discuss your experience working with a team, and how you collaborate with other disciplines?
I really try not to prompt other creatives too specifically. If I have an idea about, say, the visual component of promotional material I'm writing for, I try not to say exactly how I imagine it. Instead, I describe what I want it to feel like or accomplish. A professional designer or illustrator will probably have better ideas about how to accomplish that than I will. They often have ideas I wouldn't even know were possibilities. Those ideays may give me a new angle on the writing, too. So I try not to box anyone in when collaborating. I'm more interested in aligning on a broad idea and then letting everyone work. Afterwards, we can talk about what works and what doesn't or suggest revisions to each other but the first step should always be to let each person do what they do best.
Which popular comic character represents your artistic self the best?
Maybe Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes? He goes along for the ride - he's always a collaborator or an accomplice - but he's often stepping back to analyze and perhaps question the choices they've made together.
As a Creative, which project of your professional career, so far, reflects you the most?
In terms of pure creative expression, two things come to mind:
- A Timeline of Italian Food in Minnesota, which was a long-form, heavily researched article that was entirely the product of my own curiosity. https://heavytable.com/timeline-italian-food-minnesota/
- A children's book I've written but not yet published (hit me up if you have publishing connections!) In terms of projects that are most representative of the work I do that pays the bills, probably an interview series I did for Wallboard about women in the trades. I had a lot of creative freedom there and it was work I believed in: practical, feminist, and focused on people and their stories.
How do you think quality, storytelling, and great teamwork come together on a project?
I think quality is the result of storytelling and great teamwork. Very few people are good at *all* creative pursuits. So unless you're Leonardo da Vinci or Terry Crews or something, a project of any scope is going to be best served by having a team of people with different expertise. Clear storytelling guides all those people to reach a shared goal. Without storytelling and collaborative expertise, quality is very hard to achieve.