five great things someone else said, vol. 37

Years ago, I was in the midst of rewrites on a script and found myself a bit lost. Sometimes when you take a story apart and put it back together so many times it begins to look foreign. Sort of like writing the same word over and over until suddenly the letters don’t seem quite right. I thought my story didn’t seem very clever anymore. I was starting to think it wasn’t very good. That maybe I wasn’t much good. And I received some advice that has stayed with me ever since.

Critique your work, yes. Be honest with yourself, absolutely. But don’t question your worth.

As I walk the balance beam (I’m all for the dramatic, but it’s more accurate that a tight rope) between work in print and social media, one of the strangest things is the way in which you’re respected for online work. It’s so easy to devalue yourself.

The other day I wrote about the importance of placing Terms on your site to spell out how your content can be used, and how I’d adapted my own TOU more than once with the fear I sounded fussy. Concerned that my desire to declare when and where my work was used would make me seem antiquated. Because in the future everything belongs to everyone else, or so I’ve been told.

The future is not a world of flying cars and Jetson-esque meal capsules.

The future hasn’t brought an end to disease and war.

The future looks a lot like the past.

So, let’s please, please stop with this notion that respecting one’s work is outdated. The moment you begin thinking yourself too fussy for caring is the moment you begin to see the quality of your work chip away.

Often the work I do offline is for free, at least to begin with. I write on spec and research articles to pitch. I take photos to expand my portfolio. I put work out there, and I hope it will lead to something that will pay. And then, whether online or in print, I have the right to decide who can use my words and images. And to be frank, I don’t care how fussy that sounds.

My words and images are not property of the world wide web just by the virtue of being there. Neither are yours. Whether you write for a living or for the love of it – or both.

Riddle me this: why is writing or photography (or any art form) valued more on paper than online?

Placing your work online has the potential for exposure, sure, but it comes with potential risks. Like having your family pictures end up on a supermarket advertisement in the Czech Republic.

OK, I know I’ve referenced that story here, here and here, but it’s the epitome of how much the internet needs to learn how to use the internet. Would anyone ever pick up a printed photograph of strangers and say, Hey, I’m going to go have this blown up to billboard size and use it in my advertisement. Probably not. Because they know it’s wrong. The person who swipes your content online has some concept that what they’re doing might-possibly-maybe-perhaps-need some sort of permission, but who will know, right? Unless you place “you must ask permission” where they can see it.

So go ahead, place those endearing Terms on your site. Create incredible things. Be courageous. Be fussy. This is the future. xo a.

And now, five great things someone else said about the standards we set:

Raise your quality standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this, because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward. – Edsger W. Dijkstra

Aim higher in case you fall short. – Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it. – W. Somerset Maugham

It is important that people know what you stand for. It’s equally important that they know what you won’t stand for. – Mary Waldrip

We must overcome the notion that we must be regular…it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre. – Uta Hagen

(And yes, I quoted Uta Hagen, Maugham and a book from The Hunger Games trilogy in the same post.)


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