Award-winning designer and marketing consultant Pamela Wilson — who has helped small businesses and large organizations alike create ”big brands” since 1987 — stopped by to chat about what it’s like to run the blog at Copyblogger.com, and her mission to publish impeccable online content.
As head of the editorial team for Copyblogger Media, she helps guide an abundance of educational content for one of the top online marketing, blogging, and copywriting sites in the world.
Pamela’s unique point-of-view comes from the marriage of design, branding, content, and conversion — something she has coined “Customer Experience Design.”
In this file Pamela Wilson and I discuss:
- How Coming Late to Writing Can Work in Your Favor
- Why Useful Content Creates Priceless Inroads for Writers
- The Difficulty of Designing a Remarkable Online Presence
- How Writing Has Become Her Yoga Practice
- Why You Should Commit to Writing 750 Words a Day
- The Hallmarks of Great Online Writing
- Why Picasso is an Inspiring Model for Writers to Follow
Listen to The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience below ...
The Show Notes
- Pamela’s Author Page on Copyblogger
- Big Brand System Blog
- The Bobby McFerrin Plan for Creating a Remarkable Business
- The Write Way to Answer Your Most Pressing Questions by Pamela Wilson
- Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content by Mark Levy
- Pamela Wilson on Instagram
- Pamela Wilson on Twitter
- Kelton Reid on Twitter
How Pamela Wilson (VP of Educational Content for Copyblogger) Writes
Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.
Kelton Reid: These are The Writer Files, a tour of the habits, habitats, and brains of working writers, from online content creators to fictionists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and beyond.
I’m your host Kelton Reid: writer, podcaster, and mediaphile. Each week, we’ll find out how great writers keep the ink flowing, the cursor moving, and avoid writer’s block.
Award-winning designer and marketing consultant Pamela Wilson, who has helped small businesses and large organizations alike create big brands since 1987, stopped by to chat with me about what it’s like to run the blog at Copyblogger.com and her mission to publish impeccable online content.
As head of the editorial team for Copyblogger Media, she helps guide an abundance of educational content for one of the top online marketing, blogging, and copywriting blogs in the world. Pamela’s unique point of view comes from the marriage of design, branding, content, and conversion — something she’s coined ‘customer experience design.’
In this file, Pamela Wilson and I discuss how coming to writing late can work in your favor, the difficulty of designing a remarkable online presence, why you should commit to writing 750 words a day, the hallmarks of great online writing, and why Picasso is an inspiring model for writers to follow.
If you enjoy The Writer Files podcast, do me a favor and leave a rating or review in iTunes to help other writers find us. Thanks for tuning in.
Pamela Wilson, thank you so very much for joining me on The Writer Files.
Pamela Wilson: I am so happy to be here. You know, I’ve told you like five times. I’m so happy you invited me to The Writer Files.
Kelton Reid: Well, it’s truly a pleasure to have you on, and I can’t wait to pick your brain and get into your file.
Pamela Wilson: Awesome. I’m ready.
Kelton Reid: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit more about you, the author. For listeners who aren’t familiar with your story — I’m sure that many of them already are — who are you, and what is your area of expertise as a writer?
How Coming Late to Writing Can Work in Your Favor
Pamela Wilson: So the funny thing is, I actually think I’m probably the least likely writer to appear on this series because I came to writing really late in my career. I like to think that might be helpful for some people who don’t think of themselves as writers. You may have a different area of expertise, but writing really is something that you can learn. We’ll talk about that a lot today because it’s something I learned. It was an important part of my professional development.
My history is that I was the person who made writers’ words look great. I was working primarily as a designer, but also as a marketing consultant. In that work, part of what I did was people would give me Microsoft Word documents that had very little formatting in them. It was just basically the words on a page. What I would do is make those documents look fantastic, make people want to read them. I’d pull photos to put with them, format them, give them nice-looking fonts and colors, and all of that to draw people in and make them want to read them.
I did that primarily through publication design, magazines, books, newsletters, and things like that. Some online design as well, but primarily print. All my career, that’s who I was. I was the person who made the words look good. I never supplied the words myself. I had this award-winning design business, so I did really well at that part of my career. But no one was asking me to write.
Every once in a while, somebody would give me copy and they would forget to give me a headline, so I might write the headline for their copy. That was about the extent of it. That was the most I ever wrote except for emails to clients. That was about all I ever wrote.
Back in the late 2009, I started to feel antsy. I had been doing this for a long time, and I felt like I’d figured out this system that worked really consistently for all of my clients to help to build a recognizable brand. It was relatively simple. It wasn’t expensive to implement, and it worked really consistently. Without fail, it always worked. I felt like I had figured something out. I wanted to share it, so I decided to write a book. This was the fall of 2009, and I was obsessed with this idea that I wanted to write a book.
Right around that time I found Copyblogger. I don’t know where I had been hiding online. I had not found Copyblogger up until that time, and around that time, I did. Just a few weeks after I found Copyblogger, they launched Teaching Sells. I joined Teaching Sells because I thought, “Maybe this is a way to share my information by teaching it online instead of trying to write a book.”
What happened as a result of taking Teaching Sells is, I put together a blog, Big Brand System, and I started writing for it consistently in January of 2010. Really, that was when I started writing. It’s only been a little over five years.
Kelton Reid: Wow. I saw you speak at Authority Rainmaker Conference, and it was a truly inspiring session you did there. You talked about customer experience design, which I thought was really, really cool. A lot about content and building that warm, personal relationship. You were doing that online as proof of concept I guess?
Why Useful Content Creates Priceless Inroads for Writers
Pamela Wilson: I was. One of the things I talked about in that talk was the fact that it was so disconcerting to have this offline business that had worked really well and that I thought relied on having this personal connection with my clients. Then I went online, and I was like, “Well, how am I supposed to have a personal connection with people I can’t even see?” It was a huge revelation to me that, by crafting really useful and approachable and friendly content, you could make that same kind of connection. You could make that connection with your writing. That was a huge eye opener for me. I hadn’t realized that.
Kelton Reid: Yeah, yeah. I love that. Where can we find more of your writing?
Pamela Wilson: You can find a lot of my writing on BigBrandSystem.com, but nowadays, I’m actually running the day to day Copyblogger blog along with Demian Farnworth and Stefanie Flaxman. I write for Copyblogger a lot more than I write for Big Brand System nowadays, so you can mostly find me there.
What happened with that is I got this inspiration when I was at this concert way back in 2010, so it was right after I had started my own blog. I went to this Bobby McFerrin concert, and I got hit by a bolt of lightning. I was like, “What he’s doing in this concert is what I need to be doing with my online business.” I got home from that concert and I told my family, “Okay, I need to do something in the office.” I closed myself in my office. I wrote this post and submitted it to Copyblogger, and it was published on Copyblogger, which was a huge moment. It was a very exciting moment for me.
Then I started writing for Copyblogger on a regular basis, developed a nice relationship over time, and now, as you know, I’ve been working with Copyblogger as a member of the team. It’s been just a little over a year now. All of that happened because of my writing, because of this thing that I had never done before.
Kelton Reid: Yeah. What projects do you have in the works presently?
The Difficulty of Designing a Remarkable Online Presence
Pamela Wilson: Well, at Copyblogger, the big thing that I’m working on is helping to tell our story in a more cohesive way. As you know, it’s a very complex company that we work for now. The offer is not something that’s easy to sum up in just one sentence. That’s a lot of what I’m working now — how to tell that story in a way that everyone understands the story right away.
The one thing that I’ve kind of zeroed in on is that all of our products — whether it’s StudioPress, the Genesis Framework, or the child themes, or it’s the Rainmaker Platform, Synthesis, or any of our educational products, Authority or anything else that’s really focused on helping to educate people on how to run an online, digital-based business — all of those things are trying to help people to build a remarkable online presence.
That’s the story I’m trying to tell about what we do as a company. I think that one story kind of brings everything together.
Kelton Reid: Absolutely. That’s really cool. Let’s talk a little bit about your productivity. You’re a busy lady with all of the things that you get into on a daily basis. How much time per day would you say you’re reading or doing research?
Pamela Wilson: I’ve listened to a few of these interviews before. You do such a great job, so I enjoy listening to them. They’re very inspiring. I hear people answer this question, and they say like, “Oh I spend two hours researching,” or “I spend four hours reading.” I always think to myself like, “Are those consecutive hours?” Because my day never works like that. I don’t have a chunk of two hours or four hours. It just never seems to work out that way.
If I added up all of the little slices, I probably spend two hours total, but it’s divided into a lot of very thin slices. I like to listen to audio books while I exercise. I probably spend 20 to 30 minutes reading throughout the day and probably an hour researching things on websites, but it’s five minutes here and five minutes there.
Kelton Reid: Right.
Pamela Wilson: I don’t have this research hat that I put on and just close out the world and sit there and do my research. I have this alternate universe where I live where I spent all afternoon sitting in a hammock and reading and researching and thinking about what I’m going to do the next day, but I don’t actually live there. That’s not what my day usually looks like.
Kelton Reid: No, no. Mine either, as you can probably guess. Let’s talk about before you kind of get into the writing mode. Do you have any pre-game rituals or kind of warm-up practices?
How Writing Has Become Her Yoga Practice
Pamela Wilson: The weird thing about this question is that I have thought about it. I’ve realized that my pre-game ritual has to do with my body position. This is going to be a weird answer. What I have found is no matter where I am, because I do travel quite a bit, I seem to do my best, fastest, most productive writing sitting in a chair with my legs crossed under me, and my laptop balanced on my knees. I have no idea why this is, but whether I’m here, at home in Nashville, or I’m travelling somewhere, I always seem to sit in that position. That’s how I write.
It’s kind of good to have this body position that works. Then no matter where I am, as soon as I sit down, cross my legs, stick my laptop on my knees, I’m in writing mode. It’s really weird, but it’s very consistent with me.
Kelton Reid: You’re like a writing yogi.
Pamela Wilson: That’s funny. It is like a meditative position. I hadn’t thought about that. My fingers are not meditating while I’m doing that, I have to say.
Kelton Reid: Do you have a most productive time of day or locale?
Pamela Wilson: Well, locale doesn’t seem to matter as long as I’m in position, so that’s the good news because I move around a lot. That has worked out well to recognize that seems to be what works for me. As far as time of day, I would say first thing in the morning after a good night’s sleep and after I’ve had my morning caffeine is probably the best.
Kelton Reid: Oh, yes.
Pamela Wilson: I get the most done.
Kelton Reid: Absolutely. Well, you’re kind of a globetrotter, much like Sonia Simone, so I guess you have to find that perfect locale wherever you may be, be it Barcelona or elsewhere.
Pamela Wilson: Right, I think so. Speaking of that, the other thing that I’ve noticed is I get so much done when I’m locked on a plane. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s because you may have Internet, but it’s usually spotty, so you tend to just have that off. You want something to do to pass the time. You end up writing. I do anyway. I always get so much done on planes.
Kelton Reid: Austin Kleon said the same thing. Maybe I should fly more.
Pamela Wilson: I don’t know what it is. It’s like you’re locked in this metal tube, and you need to do something to pass the time. I was on this flight a few months ago, actually I think it was on the way back from Authority, and I was doing the usual thing. I had my laptop open on the table in front of me, and I’m trying to get all this stuff done.
It’s a little bit awkward because you have this person who’s right on your elbow next to you, and you’re just trusting that they’re not looking over your shoulder. I did all my writing. I got it all done, and then just as the flight is ending, she turns to me and says — this was the first thing that she had said to me the whole flight — “I’ve never seen someone use a track pad so quickly,” and I’m like “Okay.”
Kelton Reid: Compliment or … ?
Pamela Wilson: I know. Hard to know how to take that. “I guess you were watching,” so that told me everything I needed to know.
Kelton Reid: Do you stick on the headphones while you’re writing, or do you prefer silence?
Pamela Wilson: I usually prefer silence. It works better for me to not have anything distracting me. That’s actually something I miss from my design days. When I was working on purely visual things, I used to be able to put music on in the background really loud. I could listen to whatever I wanted, and it would inspire what I was doing visually. I really can’t do that when I write. It’s too distracting. I miss that. I miss my music.
Kelton Reid: How many hours would you say you put in when you do settle in for a session?
Pamela Wilson: I’d say it’s about an hour. Sometimes it ends up being less. I love it when I can put in a full hour. I can get a lot done in an hour. Because I’m writing but I’m doing a lot of other things, it’s usually not much more than that. I wish it was more, but I don’t usually having more than that much time.
Kelton Reid: Are you also of the school of writing every day?
Why You Should Commit to Writing 750 Words a Day
Pamela Wilson: Oh yes. I’m a huge believer in that. Actually, I have a post going up on Copyblogger, I think it’s actually this week that we’re talking about what I do to write every day, which is I use this site called 750words.com. It’s a very cool site. You basically sign up for it. There’s a small fee. I think it’s $5 a month or something. Then you commit to writing 750 words every day.
This is a great length in my opinion because 750 words is long enough to be a blog post, so if you’re a content creator, it’s a way for you to get a blog post written. Oftentimes, I don’t use it for that. I just use it to physically write. To sit in front of a keyboard, put my fingers on the keys, make the move, and make words come out. I find the act of physically doing the writing is what makes the ideas flow.
That’s what my post is about actually. That has ended up being a very surprising side benefit, to me anyway. That the act of sitting down and writing every day has actually helped me to come up with some amazing ideas and to solve problems that I could not figure out when I just thought about them. There is something about writing about them that — it sounds strange — but it’s like it allows you to tap into this part of yourself that’s really wise, that already knows what to do, and somehow you make that connection. By writing, those ideas can come out.
I wrote about it in this post because it was a surprising side benefit that I was not expecting. It works so consistently now for me that, if I have something that I’m puzzling over and I can’t figure it out, I just kind of say, “Well, I look forward to writing about it,” because I have a feeling as soon as I write about it, I’ll know what to do.
Kelton Reid: I like that a lot. We’ll link to the post and to the website that you mentioned as well.
Pamela Wilson: Great.
Kelton Reid: Do you believe in writer’s block?
Pamela Wilson: I don’t. I don’t, because for me, the physical act of actually typing words on your keyboard is all you really have to do. I read this book a while back — and I’m sure someone else has mentioned this at this point in your series — there’s a book called the Accidental Genius by Mark Levy. It’s really about the act of writing and being completely unattached to the end product that you get.
That made a huge difference for me when I was getting into the rhythm of writing on a consistent basis. It just made me realize that whatever I wrote didn’t have to be great. It’s more about the practice of writing that counts. A site like 750words.com is a huge help as well. They send you these email prompts. The email prompts basically say, “Look, you don’t have to write a masterpiece. Just write. That’s all that matters.”
What I find is, when I write consistently like that, it’s almost like you nurture that connection between your brain and your fingertips. You leave that channel open, and you make a strong connection. It’s just easier to tap into your thoughts and easier to write overall. Writer’s block is just not a problem for me. I have that connection reinforced because of my daily habits and my leg crossing and all that crazy stuff. It just seems to work pretty well.
Kelton Reid: Nice. We’ll link to Accidental Genius as well. I’m blanking on who else mentioned it, but it has been brought up before. Now I’m going to find it myself.
Let’s talk about workflow a little bit. What hardware or typewriter model are you using? I know you’re not using a typewriter because you can’t balance that on your knees while you’re doing yoga.
Pamela Wilson: Yes, writer’s yoga. It’s a little tougher with a typewriter. I had a 15-inch Mac Book Pro, and I just recently switched to a 13-inch because of the travel. It’s a little bit lighter.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I know a lot of people at Copyblogger use the Mac Book Airs, but I work enough with images and audio and video that I really needed a little bit more power. I do have a Mac Book Pro just for the processing power. Even just moving from a 15 inch to a 13 inch was a huge relief as far as just walking through airports with the laptop on your shoulder because it’s so much lighter.
Kelton Reid: Yeah. Do you have some favorite software that you use most for writing and your general workflow?
Pamela Wilson: I do. One of the things I discovered a few years ago was how easy mind mapping software made my writing. What I will typically do is — and not for every post, but a lot of them — if I have some ideas, kind of disparate, random concepts for a post, I’ll open up a mind map and start dropping those onto the mind map. Any connection I make to any of the original ideas, I just build a branch and add that connection.
My thoughts don’t tend to be organized when they come in. They just come in, and they’re not in any logical order. They’re not presented to me on a silver platter all organized. They come in randomly. So what I’ve found is, if I can put them on to a mind map, that gives me a place to register everything and then move it around and reorder it until it starts making sense.
Typically, what I do is take what’s in the mind map, and then I just paste it into a text document and start fleshing out each section. Most of the posts I write start like that.
Kelton Reid: Let’s get into maybe some best practices for staying organized. Do you have any tips, tricks, or hacks for us?
Pamela’s Hack: Why Less Is More
Pamela Wilson: The biggest hack that I have is something that I discovered a few years ago. I try not to give myself such a long to-do list to do every day. It sounds kind of counter-intuitive that you would actually get more done when your to-do list is shorter. What I’ve found is, when I had a to-do list that has seven or eight or 10 things on it, I didn’t tend to get to everything. I tended to only get to a few things. I always way underestimated how long things would take to do.
You write your to-do list, and you think you’re superhuman. Somehow time is going to warp for you. You’re going to be able to achieve all this stuff. You forget about all the interruptions that you know you’re going to have, so you write this super ambitious to-do list. Then, at the end of the day, when you only have a few things checked off, what ends up happening is you feel terribly guilty.
I do anyway. I look at all the things I didn’t get to, and I feel terrible at the end of the day. What I ended up doing a few years ago is I switched that around. I try to just have three projects to focus on every day.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: Now that doesn’t count things like, of course, I have to deal with email. You and I both end up having to deal with people contacting you on HipChat, for example. At Copyblogger, we use Hipchat to communicate. There are all those things that take time out of your day.
But what I’ve found is, counting all those things, I can usually get three other projects done. I try to make a to-do list that’s very realistic and has those three things on it.
What ends up happening is, every once in a while, I get to three o’clock and I’m done with all three things. It’s a completely different feeling. You have this list of eight things and you only got three done, so then you felt guilty about the five that you didn’t get to. But when you have a list of only three things and you get them all done, it’s like, “Wow, what am I going to do with this extra time? Maybe I can do something from tomorrow’s list.” You know?
Kelton Reid: Totally.
Pamela Wilson: That has been a huge attitude shift toward my to-do list. I’ve tried to basically take on less and be very realistic.
Kelton Reid: Do you have any best practices for beating procrastination?
Pamela Wilson: Deadlines.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: Just deadlines, really. Everything I did when I was working as a designer was deadline oriented. I was doing a lot of print design work, and the designer is only one person in a long process. The client gives you the information. Typically, the client needs to get approvals on whatever you submit. Then it has to be finalized and sent to a printer. A printer actually prints the job. The job has to be delivered. Everything in that process has a deadline, and I got very used to having to hit deadlines. If my business was going to make it, I had to hit my deadlines. That was just a thing I had to do.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: In order to succeed in business, I had to learn to do that and structure my time so that I would be able to hit the deadlines as promised. Then, the other thing is just not wanting to disappoint people.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: You have coworkers or customers, or you have followers. I still write for Big Brand System, and there’s a post that goes up every other Wednesday at 6 am Eastern. Come hell or high water, that post has to go up. I’m sure nobody is sitting there with a stopwatch watching it, but I feel like I don’t want to disappoint anyone. That self-imposed deadline seems to work really well for me.
Kelton Reid: Nice. How does Pamela Wilson unplug at the end of a hard day?
Pamela Wilson: I work at home, which is always a struggle. You have this siren song of your laptop that’s glowing over there in the corner, and at the end of a long day, a lot of times you end up being drawn back to it. What I do to get away from that is I try to just change location — even if it’s just in my house.
I moved to Nashville about a year ago, and we have a house that has a basement. There is actually a space down in the basement that used to be a kids playroom, but now it’s Pamela’s playroom. I have all my art supplies down there. That’s actually a place that I enjoy going, cranking the music, and making artwork and doing stuff with my hands. That’s a huge help — to just go to a different location and do something different than what I’ve done all day long.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I feel the same way about cooking at the end of the day, honestly. After spending all day in front of a screen tapping on a keyboard or working with a stylus pen, it’s great to go into the kitchen, get your hands dirty, and chop things. I enjoy that as well. We have woods behind our house. There’s a little path through the woods, so I like walking through the woods and reading, all the usual stuff. Then I do watch TV. There’s good TV on nowadays. I do watch it occasionally, but it’s usually my last choice of things to do.
Kelton Reid: Sure.
Pamela Wilson: It usually puts me right to sleep, so it might take me three days to watch a show that’s an hour long. I watch 20 minutes, and then I’m like zonked. I’m not a very devoted TV watcher unfortunately.
Kelton Reid: That’s funny because I have that same malady.
Pamela Wilson: I think it’s great to put you to sleep. You just turn it on really low, and it’s kind of glowing over there in the corner. It works every time for me. I think my husband gets frustrated because he’s like, “Oh man, this is going to take forever to get this show watched.” He’s very patient about it.
Kelton Reid: Significant others do love when you fall asleep during an important scene, without fail.
Pamela Wilson: I know. Every once in a while, I’ll say to him, “Just keep watching. It’s okay. Just tell me what happens tomorrow. I’m really sleepy.” It’s like you give them permission to keep going.
Kelton Reid: Just a quick pause to mention that The Writer Files is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.
Let’s talk about creativity since that seems to be such a big part of your life and work. How do you define creativity?
Why Creativity Happens Through Action
Pamela Wilson: I love this question. I think each person really is going to have their own creative answer. It’s going to be a little bit different. This is very much a designer’s way of seeing creativity. It’s very much about combining things that aren’t normally combined. Combining things in a surprising way or looking at things from a slightly different angle., I’m kind of touching on this theme over and over, but I really believe that creativity happens through action.
We have this image of this creative person who’s sitting still under a tree, and this bolt of lightning hits them when they’re sitting there. I don’t think that actually happens. I don’t think we just sit there and suddenly we feel creative. I think creativity happens when we are in motion doing something, like typing on your keyboard, creating some kind of artwork, doing something with your hands, or walking through the woods. I just feel like action is what makes creativity happen.
Kelton Reid: Do you have a creative muse?
Pamela Wilson: I don’t really have one creative muse I would have to say. I’ve kind of built my whole career out of the ability to tap into creativity all day long. It’s not something that I have to feel inspired about. It’s just a part of what I do. I don’t know if that’s a good answer, but that’s kind of how it works for me for some reason.
Kelton Reid: Sure. When do you feel the most creative, personally?
Pamela Wilson: That’s the thing, Kelton. I don’t see it that way. I honestly feel like I can be creative all day long. It’s a little bit of an energy thing. Last night, for example, it was getting toward the end of the day. I was finishing up some slides for a webinar that I had to do, and it was going slowly. I walked away, cooked something, had a glass of wine. I relaxed and got away from it. Then I came back to it this morning, and it came right out. It just came together very quickly.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: It’s a little bit of you run out of energy, but as far as actually tapping into the creativity, I feel like it’s always there. The whole muse idea, I just don’t see it that way. It doesn’t work that way for me for some reason.
Kelton Reid: Let me ask you, what makes a writer great?
The Hallmarks of Great Online Writing
Pamela Wilson: This is such a great question. It’s something that I’m thinking about all the time now that I’m helping to run the Copyblogger blog. What we are trying to do at Copyblogger is to become the premier resource for content marketing professionals. We want our posts and everything we put together — so our infographics, our ebooks, everything we put together — we want it to be the most clear and helpful resource out there for content marketers. It’s a big goal.
When we’re looking at posts, whether they’re our own posts or posts that we bring in from other writers who we’re working with, I’m always looking for clarity. That’s the big thing. I’m not impressed with people who use a lot of big words or people who string together these very complex sentences. In the end, everyone is busy. If your writing is easy to follow, then it’s better.
I always think people need to just get to the point. Spit it out. Don’t stumble. Say it as clearly as you can. Try to make a connection with the reader. That’s what’s going to make you a great writer. Don’t try to impress people with complex sentences and long, obscure words. Instead of impressing them, you’ll just end up losing them.
Kelton Reid: Yeah. Do you have a few favorite authors at the moment?
Pamela Wilson: Well, Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius. It really changed my approach to writing, so he’s a definite favorite. It’s kind of boring because I read a lot of nonfiction. I’m not reading a lot of fiction lately. I’m not sure why. It’s been a long time since I’ve read fiction. I just tend to read nonfiction. There are so many different things I want to learn.
One of the things that I’m reading a lot of lately is books on management. In this position at Copyblogger, it’s really a management position. Even though I had my own business before and I had freelance employees, it wasn’t really a management situation. It was my business, and I was the CEO of the business, passing along information to them. It wasn’t the same situation. Now, I feel like I’m in more of a management position, and of course, I want to rock at it. I want to be really, really good.
I’m reading a book right now by a Navy captain named L. David Marquette, and he wrote a book called Turn This Ship Around! with an exclamation point. It’s about how he applied these management techniques within the context of the Navy, which is very much a top-down management structure. His technique is basically putting the power back at the bottom of the structure and sending it upwards. It’s a different approach to management. I love it because it kind of empowers the people who know best what your organization should be doing.
Then I’m also reading this book called Reinventing Organizations. That is by Frederic Laloux. I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce his name, but it looks like that’s how you pronounce his name. I have this really bad habit of reading two books at once. In the case of these two, they’re both about management. They’re kind of complementary, so I’m not managing to confuse myself, but I have a bad habit of picking up several at once and starting them. Those are the two that are on my night table right now.
Kelton Reid: Cool. Yeah, I’m the same way. I will pick up multiple volumes and really just rotate through and have no idea where I am at any one given time in any tome. Do you have a best-loved quote?
Pamela Wilson: This is actually a tough question to answer because I collect quotes. I’ve been collecting quotes for years. There’s something about a really well-formed quote that I just love. It’s that clarity thing. It says so much in so few words. Actually, my last set of business cards from my design business, I got them custom printed with 16 different quotes.
Kelton Reid: Oh cool.
Pamela Wilson: I used to tell my clients, “Oh it’s like a playing card. Let’s see which one you got.” It could be one of 16 quotes. I couldn’t choose between the 16, so I got 16. One of my favorites — and this is like the story of my life because I’ve had so many new beginnings in my life — there’s a quote that just struck me. It says, “The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.” It’s by George Baker.
Kelton Reid: That’s a good one.
Pamela Wilson: I love that one.
Kelton Reid: Let’s do a couple fun ones. Do you have a favorite literary character?
Pamela Wilson: Well, as I told you, I read a lot of nonfiction, so there aren’t a lot of characters in that. I think to answer this one I have to go way back in time. One of the first characters that I really related to and I connected to was a character in a book by Beverly Cleary. I think I read it in third grade, Ramona the Pest. I loved that book because she was always getting into trouble. She always managed to get herself out of it, but she was always getting herself into trouble. She had all sorts of spats with her family and her friends. She just seemed very real. I loved that character. It goes way back in my life, but that was the first one that I felt like I really connected to.
Kelton Reid: If you could choose one author, living or dead, for an all-expense paid dinner to your favorite restaurant, who would you choose, and where would you go?
Why Picasso Is an Inspiring Model for Writers to Follow
Pamela Wilson: I have to tell you, Kelton, this is the question I have most been looking forward to answering. I heard your interview with Austin Kleon, and Austin said something like he’d never want to take Picasso to dinner. The first thing I thought when I heard that was, “That is totally who I want to take to dinner.”
Kelton Reid: Nice.
Pamela Wilson: Picasso wrote books. We know him for his artwork, but he wrote books. He qualifies as an author that you could take to dinner, right?
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: I would totally take him to dinner because, as a creative person, he is someone I admire so much. I actually wrote a post for Copyblogger years ago about Picasso and about his work ethic. In the process of putting this post together, I did some research. I saw that, in his lifetime, he produced 50,000 unique pieces of art. If you look at his career, if you kind of divide it up over his lifetime, that’s 632 pieces for every year that he was working as an artist. That’s more than a couple of pieces most days, right?
Kelton Reid: Amazing.
Pamela Wilson: That so inspires me. When you think about the great artists of the world, Picasso is always on that list. If you’ve seen his work in museums, it’s very impressive. But what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of pieces that we will probably never see.
What I realized when I saw those numbers and when I saw his artwork is that it goes back to this idea that creativity is really about taking action. It’s not about the end product. It’s about actually doing the thing. I’ve always been interested in his work and in his life, I tend to kind of gravitate to his pieces if I’m in a museum.
I’ve seen a lot of Picasso pieces, and most of them are amazing. When you see them in person, they’re bigger than you expect many times. The colors are more vibrant. You can almost see his movements in the brush strokes. It’s really impressive to see it in person, but the other thing that I notice is it’s not all good.
Kelton Reid: Right.
Pamela Wilson: Not everything he did was a masterpiece. There’s something that’s weirdly comforting in that for me. You just realize, “Wow, if I produce enough, if I just churn out enough creative work, some of it is going to be amazing.” If you think about it, 50,000 pieces, even if only 1 percent is amazing, that’s still 500 pieces of artwork that you’ve created that are masterpieces, right?
Kelton Reid: Right.
Pamela Wilson: Nobody’s going to talk about the others, but it’s the act of creating that much work that helps you to create that 1 percent that really, really sticks out.
Kelton Reid: To circle back, where would you take Picasso to dinner?
Pamela Wilson: Well, I speak Spanish, so this is something that not everyone knows about me. I was an exchange student in between high school and college. I lived in Columbia, South America, and I learned to speak Spanish fluently. I would definitely take him out to dinner, probably in Barcelona.
Kelton Reid: Yeah.
Pamela Wilson: We could go out for paella. We’d make a reservation for 10:30 because you don’t start eating until really late. It would be somewhere where he felt like he was comfortable and in his own territory, and we would speak in Spanish. It would be awesome.
Kelton Reid: That’s cool. Do you have a writer’s fetish?
Pamela Wilson: Would an iPhone count?
Kelton Reid: Sure.
Pamela Wilson: Okay. It’s the only thing I could name it. So I got a new phone last year and I got one of those big ones, one of those 6 Pluses. It’s the most expensive small piece of technology I’ve ever had in my life.
Kelton Reid: Sure.
Pamela Wilson: Now that I have it, it’s like my favorite way to read books. Because either I can read them on Kindle or on iBooks, and it’s big enough that it feels like you’re reading a small paperback. I used to travel around with my tablet, and I don’t take it anymore because I just use my phone. Then I have Audible, so I listen to books on audio as well. I would say that’s probably it. I don’t know if that counts as a fetish item, but I think that’s the closest I can come.
Kelton Reid: Well, you’ve dropped a lot of great knowledge for writers already in this session. Can you offer any additional advice to fellow writers on how to keep the ink flowing and the cursor moving?
Pamela Wilson: Stop thinking about it, and just start doing it. Thinking about it is probably your worst enemy. What you really need to do is put your fingers on your keyboard and move your fingers. If you do that, if you do what I was saying earlier — you kind of assume the writing position — it won’t take long for your brain to kick in and start flowing down into your fingertips and giving you ideas about what to write about — but you have to assume the position first. You have to be in position to receive those ideas. Doing that on a regular basis will help you to keep that connection so that you can keep the ideas flowing.
Kelton Reid: For sure. So where can fellow scribes connect with you out there or online?
Pamela Wilson: Well, I still want to write that book, so at some point, I will write a book. Maybe I’ll bug you so you have me back on here.
Kelton Reid: Absolutely.
Pamela Wilson: But for now, the best place to find me is on the Copyblogger blog. That’s where I’m writing more than any place else these days. They could also find me on Big Brand System. I’m pretty active on Instagram and Twitter, so I’ll give you both of those accounts. That’s a good place to connect as well.
Kelton Reid: Great.
Pamela Wilson: I would love to connect with people who’ve heard this and keep talking about creativity. It’s one of my favorite topics.
Kelton Reid: Absolutely. Pamela, thank you so much for stopping by The Writer Files and sharing some stories with us. It’s been really, really a pleasure.
Pamela Wilson: Thank you, Kelton. I appreciate it.
Kelton Reid: Cheers.
Thank you for tuning in to The Writer Files. Now go write your 750 words. I’m about to do mine.
For more episodes of The Writer Files and all the show notes, or to leave us a comment or a question, drop by WriterFiles.FM. You can always chat with me on Twitter @KeltonReid.
Cheers. See you out there.
Amy Harrison says
Such a great interview. I love Pamela’s attitude towards productivity and the discipline to write every day. There’s a lot to be said for just sitting down and writing, go and chase the muse rather than wait for it to show up. 🙂
Kelton Reid says
Thanks for listening Amy, I’m also very much enjoying your take on “Hit Publish.” I couldn’t agree more that Pamela’s discipline is inspiring. Apologies for the long delay in responding to this 😉
So much great stuff here – thank you. And Ramona Quimby age 8 and a half is still a favourite.. Especially the bit where she cracks what she thinks is a hard-boiled egg on her head. Classic.
Creativity is action. Onwards!
Kelton Reid says
Thank you for tuning in Katherine! Beezus and Ramona is a true classic.