Blogging

Okay, okay. I was wrong. I need a portfolio, and here it is.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

Admissions of error are easier swallowed with a donut.

After writing an entire post about not needing a portfolio, I made one. It’s a bit sparse right now, but it will grow as things get pushed out over the next few months.

There you go, haters. Now I’m off to smell the rain that has gloriously touched down in California today, curl up with a cup of tea, and forget all of you.

(Except those of you who need a writer. I’ll listen to anything you say.)

On another note, I’m currently enamored with this artist. Suits the rain quite well, or a drive at night on a lonely road.

2 ways to be more creative right now

I gave this as a speech recently.

I’m a freelance copywriter and every day, I work on projects that require me to think creatively. Creative thinking is a big theme right now in the world of work, and sometimes we have a hard time finding creative juice when we need it. So today I’ll share a few ideas on how to get unstuck.

Both of these have helped me in a slump:

  1. Messing up my desk.
  2. Wasting time going for a walk.

Let’s start with the first one:

  1.  Messing up my desk.

I’ll confess: my desk is always a mess. (Maybe my entire house actually, but we won’t discuss that.) I wrote this piece on a desk so messy that I had to carve out space for the keyboard. For me, a messy desk makes it easier for me to jump from lily to lily in the creative pond. Ideas don’t hide in boxes, but sit tucked away in jagged corners. A mess on my desk keeps my brain from becoming too comfortable with its surroundings.

And there’s a scientific basis for you logical thinkers out there. In one study, people were given 2 environments to complete a creative project. The first was a messy room–jagged lines, stuff strewn all over–and the second was a neat and tidy room–straight, clean lines, everything in its right place. The two groups sat in these rooms and collected ideas based on a theme.

When all of the ideas were submitted to an independent panel, who do you think had the better ideas?

The ideas from the messy room. They were rated as much more creative and innovative than the ones from the tidy room. That’s because we work more freely in an environment that encourages messy thought. We don’t restrict ourselves.

And a fun fact: Even Einstein seemed to know this trick.

  1. Wasting time going for a walk.

I’ve had some humdingers of delicious problems handed down to me from clients lately. One afternoon I was working through something so intensely that I realized I hadn’t taken the dog out for 8 hours. (Whoops.) To atone for my sin, I took him to the dog park. It takes about 20 minutes to walk there.

To be honest, that kind of break is a big waste of time for me when I’ve got a big push. But something happened to me on that walk: As I walked, I felt my brain relaxing. The structure of the problem in my head began to rearrange itself. Thoughts and ideas started coming faster and faster–so fast that I started talking to myself out loud about what was going on in my head.

(At this point, I put headphones on so I looked like I was on a call. I couldn’t be “that crazy lady” at the park.)

When I got back to my desk, my brain had somehow worked out the problem I had been struggling with for the past three hours. I looked it up and found that my experience is backed up by science:

This year, a Stanford University study found that the simple act of walking can boost your creativity up to 60 percent.

That means if you are working on a specific problem, you are measurably more creative while you are walking and for a short period of time after you finish walking. It doesn’t matter where you walk – people experienced the same effect when they walked around a drab office and when they walked on a green, tree-lined street.

So next time you’re on a desperate deadline, throw a few papers around the room and then waste some time by taking a walk. What happens in your brain might surprise you.

Creativity is a state of mind you can choose. Last year I had another big breakthrough in creativity, and you can read about that one here.

Why I blog about my failures

In my last post, I wrote about a time when I was viewed as a pathetic failure at work. I got an email (or two) telling me I shouldn’t do that. It makes you look inexperienced, they said. You look fallible.

A few days ago I traded emails with an executive coach. He wasn’t always an executive coach–first, he went through a divorce and the loss of both parents and a bankruptcy. All at once. When he got his head out of the water, he found that the experience had changed him. He felt less arrogant and more empathetic toward the struggles of others. Now, he says, his struggles help him to identify with the CEOs that he coaches on a daily basis. He helps them to learn to listen, be vulnerable and open.

Failures change us. If we allow ourselves to learn from them, we become wiser and stronger. The very scary truth for some people to hear is that I am fallible. Admitting that gives me strength: I don’t always have to be perfect. I don’t need to pretend that I am always successful simply because I am good, or paid by people to create cool things. I am still fundamentally human.

More and more in this world, great brands want an authentic voice–a human voice–writing their copy. Voices of failure and growth are real voices, and audiences identify with them. They are part of a universal story in which we learn from our failures and change how we do things. After my failure at my previous job, I made the decision to think long and hard about where I failed. I found at least one of the biggest reasons, and I’m taking steps to grow myself out of it.

The executive coach was interviewed for a magazine. He told them, “Humble leaders invariably are genuine, kind, open and vulnerable. They listen until they understand. Their honesty and optimism help build a team.”

I’m not the selfie-posting viral type whose big stories last for 15 minutes and disappear into the ether; I’m a quiet leader making real connections for brands to their audiences. Failures are part of my story, and that keeps me authentic. I can handle the fallout email.

I was asked to give a speech

I’ve struggled with something my entire life, and last week I told a room full of people about it in my first Toastmasters speech. 

My name is Jena Binderup and I am a copywriter, and I’m here because I have to be. A few months ago, I quit my job.

Let me explain.

I’m a writer. Sometimes people ask me how I became a writer, and it’s a very hard question to answer. I was born this way, Lady-Gaga style. I always kept a diary, I frequently got in trouble for writing too much, in fourth grade I wrote 5 chapters of a novel. Writing isn’t what I do; it’s who I am. I’m lucky because I’m good enough to get paid for my writing. I’ve won awards and been asked to speak places because of it.

But that’s not why I’m here.

This time last year, I was working as a copywriter in a corporate office. A woman—another writer, actually–began working in my department. She wasn’t a great writer, but she had fantastical skills in pitching herself and getting company leaders to love her. She was so good that I noticed something after a few months: she got credit for all of my ideas. How did she do that?

I thought about this for a long time. It worked like this:

I’d have an idea or a solution for a strategy, new project, or marketing piece. I’d bring it to her or my manager and it would get shot down immediately–then re-introduced by her a week or so later, to great applause. Meanwhile, every time something went wrong in the department, the woman found a way to blame it on me. She got promoted in six months because she sold herself constantly as an expert. But for me, it got to the point where my manager thought I was incompetent. After all, I never had any great ideas and I always made mistakes. I began to believe that I was on the verge of getting fired.

All the while, I was working as a freelancer on the side. One day, I got a big job from one of my freelance clients. It was big enough that it would take me a whole month to finish and it was going to pay me twice what I was making at my full time job. I called in sick the next day to work. I went to the park and stewed on what to do. The next day I walked into work and quit my job, effective immediately. My manager was angry, and it was the only time I’ve left a job on bad terms where they wouldn’t rehire me. But I don’t regret it.

Since then, my freelance career has taken off. My current clients love my work. However… while that was a toxic office environment, I still have the same problem. I see bad writing on billboards, marketing materials, pretty much everywhere. I know that I can do better. But when I pitch myself or my ideas to a client–especially one I really want–I talk too fast and too much, talk too little, minimize my successes, or say straight-up strange things. When I think back, I remember a few times when I actually apologized to people for my ideas. In doing all that, I have talked myself out of jobs. It’s a miracle that I am so busy.

A few months ago I told a friend of mine about my problem. “Why don’t you try Toastmasters?” she said.

“What’s that?” I said. “Some kind of California cult?”

She laughed. “No, look it up.”

I did. I came to a meeting and realized within the first ten minutes that I needed to stick around. I love public speaking, actually, and I’m good at it–a prepared speech with prepared materials, entertaining or instructing or involving the audience in an activity, is a strength. I love it, and I’ve been told that audiences connect with me. Selling myself is where I fall flat. So most of my speeches will be, in some way, me pitching myself, my work, or my ideas. I may ask people to interrupt me so that I am forced to think on my feet. I may bring my resume in here and ask people to quiz me on my qualifications. After all, like I said—I’m here because I have to improve to be as successful as I want to be.

Let the writing continue, because it will. But let the pitching begin.

Why I don’t have a portfolio website

You’re skeptical because you’re visiting the website on my business card and you don’t see a portfolio. I’ll make it even worse: A few months ago, I made the decision to quit my stable full-time job. I didn’t have another job lined up, and I wasn’t even looking. And I didn’t care.

What a nutcase, you’re thinking.

Yeah, it was a crazy move–the best crazy move I ever made. Because I don’t have a job to go to–I make my job. Every day that I wake up, I have to create a reason why someone would want to give me a paycheck. And people do. This life has given my heart a new pitter patter, because it means I’m always creating. Creating keeps me alive.

I’m getting to the point, so stay with me.

The past 4 months have been some of the busiest and the most stressful that I’ve had. I started a business, quit my job, got married, moved, spent 3 weeks in India, and found myself without 2 strong (or at least I had thought strong) friendships that I had expected to last for a small lifetime. Along with a few other things too. I didn’t have time to create a website, and I was starting to kick myself. But when I finally got some time I realized that I don’t need a full-blown website, at least not yet. I’m busy enough.

How can I be so busy? I don’t have an online portfolio. There’s no way people are hiring me.

Way.

The thing is, a lot of the work I’ve done is confidential. Increasingly now, I work with clients who prefer to remain confidential, or who only have confidential projects for me. I can’t display any of that work, so a portfolio would look empty and odd. But I’m busy enough, with room for more.

There’s an upside to keeping a low profile, it seems. And because it’s fun, I’m continuing to “blog,” which seems to have become a verb from the last time I tweeted. When I have enough public work, I may start a website.

Till then, you can always email me and find out more about how my writing can help you, your company, or your amazing cause that I would totally fall in love with, and work for free on. (Yep, I said work for free. But you have to be really amazing.)

Hope to see you on the inside of creative.

If you’ve Googled me and found this blog, you should know this.

If you’re finding this blog from a Google search or one of my business cards, know that:

  • I’m a solid writer and a natural storyteller who will give you excellent work that you, your readers, and your customers will love.
  • I’m working on a website and I’m aiming to have it up by the end of this year. But so far, I haven’t needed one to get work. I’m not exactly in a rush.
  • You can ask for samples of work from me directly. I don’t bite. (Well…)
  • I’m currently taking a hiatus from blogging to focus on paid client work… and a 2.5 week trip to India that includes a wedding in a castle in Rajasthan.

If you have a project that you think I might be interested in, get in touch.

Every writer’s life story, in one image

I imagine this is what books do when we aren’t looking. This is “Literature” by James Koehnline.