Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December Blogging Prompts: List Posts

I realize the last thing you have time for is blogging … Between extra holiday commitments and wrapping things up at the end of the year, there’s little time for anything else. But, still, you want to keep your blog active, so your visitors have new posts to read.

An easy type of post is a list post. Choose a topic and then compile a list of items with a best, worst, or unique slant. Write a few lines or a paragraph, add links and/or images, whatever works for you and is in line with your tone, perspective, and area of expertise.

Here are 10 easy lists posts you can write for your blog in December. 

1. Books: fiction, non-fiction, or a mix of both.

2. Tools for writing, productivity, and/or business.

3. Moments of the year in your industry.

4. Food holidays. Food writers, also consider writing a recipe post either under a theme or a list of favorite.

5. Top blogs in a specific industry or all-around favorites.

6. Notable writers, marketers, consultants, or something else, depending on your niche.

7. Most popular (or favorite) posts on your blog.

8. Outstanding customer service (traditional businesses, indys or both)

9. Characters. These can be fictional (from books, film, TV or games) or people you met throughout the year.

10. Non-Traditional holidays. Some of these are kind of ridiculous, but many bring awareness to an issue or are just plain fun.

Although these may seem end-of-year specific, many can be written for any time of year.

The key with list-posts, as with all blog posts, is to infuse your personality and experience into recommendations. There may be similar items covered, but for the most part, lists are like snowflakes: no two are alike.

Happy Holidays!

***


Debra Eckerling is the author of Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages. She's a writer, editor and project manager/goal coach, as well as founder of Guided Goals and Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. She is an editor at Social Media Examiner. Debra is also a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting and social media.




Monday, December 8, 2014

Those Pesky Extras

(This post originally ran Feb, 8, 2012)

I recently learned a new term: Pleonasm. Is it a murder suspect? A graffiti artist? A practical joker?

Turns out, it’s nothing quite so mysterious. A pleonasm is a word or phrase, which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, John walked to the chair and sat down. “Down” is a pleonasm and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Although I was not familiar with the term, I did know them when I saw them. In fact, part of my editing advice revolves around deleting extraneous words. Words such as “that,” “very,” “both,” and “there was.” Others might include “began,” “started,” or “continued.”

Here’s another phrase that nearly everyone is guilty of: “The sky held a myriad of stars.” Myriad means “countless.” So the correct use is “The sky held myriad stars.” (Simply substitute the word countless for myriad.) That eliminates two extraneous words.

And then there is the word “unique.” We are inundated with varying degrees of “uniqueness” every day: “That was a rather unique movie.” “Your story is very unique.” What’s next—uniquely unique? Unique means “the only one of its kind.” Unique is unique. It doesn’t need any modifiers

I also caution to watch use of “ly” words. These words are often used to prop up weak verbs. For example: “She walked quickly” can be stronger if written “She strode” (or bounded or rushed). Likewise with the “to be” verbs (was, were, had been, etc.) especially when used with an “ing” verb. “She was walking” is better as “She walked.”

Some authors like to use taglines (he said, she said) plus an action: “…she said, taking a sip of coffee.” The simple action is sufficient: “She took a sip of coffee.”
You also don’t need to describe two actions at once: She nodded and smiled. He puffed himself up and took a swig...

A writer friend of mine is looking at every sentence in her manuscript and challenging herself to remove at least one word from each. She has cut 14,000 words from a 400-page manuscript.

I challenge you to go one step farther: see if you can delete an entire phrase from a sentence, an entire sentence from a paragraph, a paragraph from a scene.
Hunt down and exterminate those “Pesky Pleonasms.”
----------------------------
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona.
Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, the sequel, Follow the Dream,  won the national WILLA Award, and Dare to Dream rounds out the trilogy. In addition a non-fiction book, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has just been released. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing, edits, and blogs. 




Thursday, December 4, 2014

Never Write an Unnecessary Scene Again

Thank you to longtime writing friend K. M. Weiland for sharing her essay that helps you identify unnnecessary scenes in your fiction. 
By K. M. Wieland

When you think of the important moments in a story, you probably think about the big scenes in which stuff happens. Characters are taking action—or having action taken against them. Somebody’s doing something that matters. There’s conflict; there’s nail-biting; there’s huge stakes on the line.

But what if I told you these are not the most important moments in your story?

The most important moments are always those that take place after the big scenes. Yes, you heard right. As crucial as character actions may be, they pale in comparison to the importance of character reactions. This is because character reactions are the measuring stick readers use to determine the true importance of a big scene

Consider this: Let’s say the volcano under Yellowstone erupts. That’s big, gosh darn it. So of course it’s important to your story. ’Nuff said. Especially if, say, your protagonist’s brother is missing in the disaster area. But then, let’s say, your protagonist hears the news and then just goes about his daily life as a mailman. He doesn’t do anything about his missing brother. He doesn’t even seem that concerned beyond his initial, Oh my, that’s horrible. Poor Samson.

Suddenly, readers are confused. Maybe Yellowstone blowing up wasn’t such a big deal after all. Maybe the missing brother isn’t important. Maybe we misread all the signs. Maybe the author just stuck in this seemingly “big” scene for kicks, even though it obviously isn’t going to have any impact on the story.

Every big action in your story needs to garner an equally big reaction from your characters. Otherwise the action, no matter how impressive, simply doesn’t matter.Readers will always look to your characters to gauge the importance of any scene—and if the characters aren’t reacting in appropriate measure, the readers will, at best, count that big scene as inconsequential. At worst, the jarring disharmony between their understanding of events and the characters’ response will frustrate them to the point of abandoning your book. Now just think how you’d react to that!

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Story that Needs to be Told--Patrick Ness

In A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, a monster tells young Conor three stories and then demands that Conor tell him a fourth story--his own story.

The monster's first tale is about a regent (a witch who wants to marry her own step-son to keep herself in power) and the rightful heir (a good ruler who we later discover committed a heinous and unnecessary act to assure himself the throne).

But Conor is confused.

"I don't understand.  Who's the good guy here?"

There is not always a good guy.  Nor is there always a bad one.  Most people are somewhere in between. 
Conor shook his head.  "That's a terrible story.  And a cheat." 
It is a true story, the monster said.  Many things that are true feel like a cheat.  Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers' daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving.  Quite often, actually.  You'd be surprised.
-From A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 
inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

The story is a good one.  It's the one Conor needs to hear, even if he doesn't understand yet.

Sometimes we as writers have to tell the story that demands to be told--even if it doesn't fit the patterns.  Even if it blurs lines and breaks rules.  Even if some people will call it a terrible story and a cheat.  

Because sometimes these are the most powerful.



Melinda Brasher loves visiting alternate worlds through books and exploring this world through travel. Check out her newest article on Go Nomad:  “Hunting Mushrooms in Wallachia.”  For some free short fiction, read “Stalked” on On the Premises or “A Learned Man” on Electric Spec.. Visit her online at melindabrasher.com


Monday, December 1, 2014

Blogging and Google Rankings – Do You Really Want to Use that Content in Your Blog Post?

Blogging is a major marketing tool. Everyone is doing it and for good reason, it’s powerful. But, where do they get their content and is all content acceptable?

Everyone is working to keep their blogs regularly updated with content. Content is a must. It’s all about content, content, content.

Because of this, everyone does whatever they can to post to their websites on a regular basis:

  • People write their own posts
  • People buy content from freelancers or content mills
  • People buy PLRs (Private Label Rights)
  • People accept guest posts
  • People reprint the content of others from article directories
  • People use content curation
  • People use newsjacking
  • So on and so on

But, again, is all content the same? Is all content acceptable?

In other words, whether it’s your own content or you’re accepting a guest post, if the article is NOT useful and quality content, if it’s poorly written, if it’s linking back to a spam site, should you use it?

For example: Maybe you agreed to be a hosting site for a service that provides virtual book tours. The content provided by the service’s authors is poorly written and is primarily promotional. Is it okay to use?

The simple answer is to these questions is NO.

In case you’re wondering what constitutes fluff or ‘poor quality’ content, you need to determine if your content is valuable.

To determine if your content is valuable, you need to answer a few questions:

  • Does the content offer the reader useful information?
  • Is it engaging or thought provoking?
  • Is it controversial (the good kind)?
  • Is it entertaining?
  • Is it shareable?
  • Do you think the content is ‘quality’ enough to appear in the results of a Google search query?

If your content doesn’t hit one of those targets, then it’s most likely fluff or poor quality.

Okay, what if the content is fluff, but it has ‘good’ keywords in it? Is it okay to publish it then?

Well, it depends on five things:

  • Are you blogging to sell something?
  • Are you blogging to increase website traffic?
  • Are you blogging to increase your mailing list?
  • Are you blogging to increase your authority in your niche/industry?
  • Are you looking to ‘please’ Google and improve your ranking?

With Google’s latest algorithms, keywords don’t pack the same punch they used to. Search engines spiders can get the gist of the entire content. They base ranking and ‘whether they’ll use that post’s link in the results of a search query’ on the overall content, not just the keywords.

In other words, Google can detect fluff and garbage, even if you have great keywords.

So, back to the title question: Do you really want to publish that content on your website?
If you’re blogging to sell something, increase your mailing list, gain authority, and boost your ranking, then you should definitely AVOID posting fluff or poor quality content to your site.

Poor quality content can easily lower your Google ranking, which will reduce your authority, which will make people think twice about signing up for your mailing list, which in turn will put a damper on your sales.

LIKE THIS POST? PLEASE SHARE IT!

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MORE ON CONTENT MARKETING

Blogging – 5 Popular Blog Post and Article Formats
Book Marketing – Increasing Visibility on Amazon
Blogging - 4 Major Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Blog Posts



Friday, November 28, 2014

Tips from Gail Sheehy's New Memoir, Daring: My Passages

Strike out on your own; Photo by Linda Wilson
Gail Sheehy's memoir, Daring: My Passages, is a delicate blend of personal experience and view, anecdotes illuminating some of the most fascinating people of our time; framed in historic context; and as always with Sheehy's books, a fascinating read. An acclaimed  Literary Lion, one of twenty celebrated authors recognized at the New York Public Library's annual gala in the early '90s, along with such literary luminaries as William Styron and Maya Angelou; this year held on November 3rd celebrating five authors, including Margaret Atwood; Sheehy's own story is told in intimate detail with warmth and honesty. Nestled within is the tender story of the love of her life, Clay Felker, her beloved late husband, the creator of New York magazine, a fearlessly creative editor and mentor to Sheehy and many other gifted writers.

For Gail Sheehy, daring became a way of life. From as early as twelve, she began sneaking on the train to Central Station in New York to watch humanity in all its shapes and variety. She dared to apply for a job at JC Penney from Mr. Penney himself at a time in the pre-feminist '60s when men occupied the jobs. Male reporters at New York's Herald Tribune had to step aside as she strode past them to "pitch my best story to the hottest editor there."

Anyone familiar with Sheehy's bestselling book Passages, named by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books of our times, knows the lengths she will go to unearth truths hidden in life's shadows, bring them to light and by so doing, change lives. As one of the early experimenters with New Journalism in nonfiction, the practice of borrowing the novelist's dramatic techniques-- storytelling, scenes, dialogue--Gail dared to help turn the tide. Soon to grow into a movement, New Journalism developed into methods utilized as a matter of course today.

Daring Destiny
Summer of 1971: Dressed in blue suede hot pants and white vinyl go-go boots, Gail hit the streets of New York with an off-duty cop playing the part of her pimp, to uncover the lengths prostitutes went to "maximize their profits by swindling, mugging, robbing, knifing, and occasionally even murdering their patrons." Result, called "saturation reporting": Cover story for New York magazine, "Redpants and Sugarman." In January 1972, Sheehy recognized that New York City had "the largest number of Irish Americans of any city in the country" and in view of her own Irish ancestry, she wanted to go to Northern Ireland to write about the women and children who had joined the fight after their Catholic husbands and fathers had been  jailed "without charge or trial, as suspected terrorists." Up until arriving in Ireland and watching the peaceful civil rights march with a crowd of thousands in the Bogside area of Derry, she thought everything in her life could be mended. But within minutes she got caught up in the violence of Bloody Sunday. After living through it she wrote that she has relived the scene "maybe thousands of times . . . wrote about it in the opening of Passages . . . described it in lectures and interviews . . . [and yet] it is engraved on [her] brain as if on a gravestone."

When Passages shot to #1 on the New York Times Book Review, Sheehy was "dumbstruck: I had expected Passages to sink with little trace." Sheehy points out that the book's concept, that stages of development don't end with childhood, had earlier been sketched out by Erik Erikson. His idea was that there were three stages during adulthood. Sheehy expanded on that through her research, which began with reading the entire works of Freud, and "the antidote, Carl Jung." She interviewed men and women of all ages, and began to see common themes. "None of my subjects had actually experienced a life-threatening event . . . like Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland. Yet I found evidence in every one of them of discontent." Her theory became clear one night while watching a tank full of lobsters at a seafood shack. "Lobsters grow . . . by developing and shedding a series of hard, protective shells . . . until the lobster is left exposed and embryonic again, until it grows stronger and develops a new shell to replace the old. In that tank was a perfect analogy! We, too, shed an old self as we grow." From these early explorations, Sheehy came up with the idea that adults continue to grow in multiple, common stages of development.

The rest, as we say, is history.

Daring Writing Tips
Though Daring is not a how-to primer on writing, a writer can come away with good solid advice or for the more experienced, reminders. The following is a sampling.

A la Clay:
  • What are you trying to say? Force yourself to find out.
  • Have a point of view.
 Ask yourself several key questions:
  •     Why are things the way they are? (Sniff out the latest trend.)
  •     What led up to this? (Give us the historical background.)
  •     How do things work? (Who is pulling the strings or making the magic or making fools of      us?)
  •     How is the power game played in your story?
  •    "Don't be so careful."  
  •    Clay told writers: "Take me inside the world you know, where readers don't have any access,  and tell me a great story."
  •  Clay didn't want a lead paragraph that sums up what the story is about. He wanted to "tantalize the reader with a compelling opening scene--but don't give the story away."
Gail's Book Tour Advice:
  •  Approach your role like an actress opening out of town.
  •  Take two great costume changes and a spiral notebook filled with your best anecdotes.
 Speech coach Dorothy Sarnoff gave Gail this advice:
  •      Stand on both feet--don't shift weight
  •      90% is eye contact--lock on eyes--talk to an imagined audience of one--engage her,  persuade her, make her laugh and think
  •      Smile nicely, but don't overuse
  •      Give the vibe of authority
  •      Record yourself--lose the "ums," ahs," and "you knows"
  •      "The secret is all in one's imagination
Dare Yourself
Daring is how Gail conquered her fears. "When I feel fear . . . I dare. Fear immobilizes. Daring is action. It changes the conditions. It startles people into different reactions . . . it can be the catalyst to empowering oneself."

More Works by Gail Sheehy
  • Biographies and character studies of Hillary Clinton, both Presidents Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Passages; New Passages: Mapping your Life across Time; The Silent Passage: Menopause; Understanding Men's Passages; Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life; Passages in Caregiving
    
L
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is currently developing several works for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

 

  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude: it helps you to be a better writer

Photo credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans / Foter / CC BY-SA

Is gratitude scheduled into your calendar?

University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons says:
"Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive   value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress."
Deadlines, rejection letters, revising, and writer's block makes writing a stressful undertaking. We may have learned to develop a positive outlook through prayer, meditation, diet and exercise. But there is something more we can do. We can develop a routine of gratitude.

Quotes to inspire you:

  • No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude. - Alfred North Whitehead
  • Rest and be thankful. - William Wordsworth
  • The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.- H. U. Westermayer
  • God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?"-William A. Ward
  • He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. - Epictetus
Scheduling to guide you: 
  • Keep a journal. Research has shown that people who kept a journal of what they were grateful for were optimistic about the future. 
  • Design a mood board. A collage of images you are grateful for is a great visual to boost a healthy outlook. Hang it up by your desk.
  • Designate a time each day. I know someone who set their timer to go off each day to stop what she was doing and be thankful for something. She soon got into a routine.
  • Write a note. Imagine getting an email, a note in the mail, or a text with a few words of gratitude? It would make your day. Why not take a minute to send words of gratitude to someone and make their day?
The great thing about gratitude is when you show gratitude toward someone else, you feel better yourself. Matt Richardson, co-founder of Gramr Gratitude says:
"You can actually be happier than you've ever been if you practice gratitude. It just keeps building you up."
That sounds like a plan!

Thank-you, Karen, for the opportunity to be a part of Writer's On The Move. And thank-you to all the fellow contributors here who I've gotten to know. I have learned so much from everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

                                                                        ~~~

 

 After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts http://kathleenmoulton.com


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