From Pauper to Author; How You Can Become a Writer Too.

 

Lesley

In January 2008, my husband and I consulted a  lawyer.

No, not a divorce lawyer. Our interest was immigration.

As a student my husband visited the USA and was smitten. In my first real job, I was send to the USA to install software. We had visited, together, many times since, and over the years became determined to make the big move from our home in the South of England, to the USA.

Would we have done so if we’d seen the economic crash coming? Somehow, I doubt it, but we didn’t. We applied for a visa, packed up the house, and waited.

After many months we got approval from the US and had to travel to London for an interview at the American Embassy. It seemed strange to see Embassy guards with machine guns on the streets of London, security was tight, understandably so. When they discovered I had a pen (an expensive pen) which included a nail file, I had no choice but to throw it away, or miss our appointment. I’d only had it for a couple of months, and hadn’t realized it was a potential weapon!

All went well and  just about the point where the pound dollar exchange rate took a nose-dive, I arrived in the USA. I’d set out with more than enough money to rent a house, buy furniture etc., but arrived with an economic crisis in full swing, no US credit rating, and significantly less cash. The struggle began.

Twelve months later, our particular American Dream was more like an American nightmare. We spent what little capital we had left on a one day webinar by Chris Malta,  and joined his ecommerce forum. While I was learning the forum ropes, I found that most people (including me) had the same problem.  They all had to write content, whether for their blog, their store or as articles for article marketing. So one day, I offered to help; it was time to become a writer.

This blog is all about what I did, what I learned and what I’m still learning. If you want to read about writing, you’ve come to the right place!

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Writing Seasonal Content

Christmas gifts - seasonal content

Christmas gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So you want to promote a web store or authority blog. You write, and then you write some more, but should you write evergreen articles as most guru’s suggest, or should you write seasonal content?

There are lots of problems to oversome and one of the biggest is finding stuff to write about so that your content is always  unique and interesting.  There are many experts telling you what to write, and their advice is usually to stick to ‘evergreen’ posts and articles, but is that the best content strategy? A couple of years ago I went on a course run by an internet marketer who made more money in a month than most people I knew did in a year. His secret was seasonal content. With everyone trying to be evergreen, there was a lot less competition. So he cleaned up when it came to Halloween.

Articles and blog posts are like a portfolio of investments. You don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket, so when the experts tell you you should write evergreen articles, things of interest at all times of year, I think that’s equivalent to putting all your investment in a single company. You need to balance your ‘portfolio’ of links, you also need to balance your portfolio of content and learn to write content appropriate to the time of year.

Yes, you need evergreen articles, and blog posts which are useful and interesting at all times. But you need seasonal stuff too, because people are seasonal. Remember the most basic blogging advice. Find out what people want to know. Tell them.

At Christmas, people want to know what to get their friends and relatives for Christmas gifts. Is that useful to a store owner, blogger or affiliate marketer? Of course it is. That’s the main buying season for most products.

People also want information on cooking, entertaining, and decorating their homes. It is well worth spending time and energy on writing articles with the ‘gift’ theme, and make them as specific as possible. Publishers love them around the holiday season, so if you submit these articles to directories, they are very likely to be picked up on blogs across the web. What’s more, they are likely to result in sales.

What do I mean by ‘be specific?

If you own a store, think of all the different types of people who would be delighted to receive one of your products as a gift.  If you sell nightgowns for example, think about all the people who would like to get one, you can write ‘Top Ten Gifts for Moms’, ‘Top Ten Gifts for New Brides’ and mention lots of items, of which your product is only one, or you can be even more specific with an article like ‘Buying Nightwear for Christmas: What Teenagers Really Want’ and discuss the different styles of nightwear (romantic, practical, brief etc.) and how you would choose for the teens, or the Moms, or the newly weds, or the kids, or even the pets in your family.

If your product is something like scrapbook supplies you can write ‘Top Ten Gifts for Scrapbookers’ but could you be more specific? How about ‘Top Scrapbooking Gifts for New Moms?’, or ‘Top Scrapbooking Tools for Grandmas’.

If you’re more into affiliate marketing, then  a ‘gift’ article is ideal, no matter what your area of expertise.  If your blog is about cake decorating – you can build great content around ‘The Best Gifts for Newbie Cake Makers’, ‘The Best Gifts for Expert Cakemakers’ , ‘The Best Cake Making Gifts for Moms’, ‘The Best Cake Making Gifts for Newly-weds’,’ The Best Cake Making Gifts for Dads’ (yes, some Dad’s make cakes, don’t be sexist) and of course ‘The Best Cake Making Gifts for Kids or Teens’.

If your authority or niche site isn’t immediately related to a product, this can be an opportunity to create one to sell or give away in exchange for an email address.   Most families find big holidays a strain, and in the UK January is boom time for divorce lawyers, so anyone in the relationship field will find the season ideal for articles about ‘How to Survive Thanksgiving with the Family’ and ‘Your Guide to Stress Free Holidays’, but why stop at posts or articles? write an ebook or a series of tutorials in video and email form.

Weight Loss sites can add articles about wise choices to help prevent the pounds piling up, and even advise on good gifts to give serial dieters.

While it might seem a bleak time for gardeners, they have a whole new year to prepare for.  If your site is about gardening you can write articles about how to prepare for the new growing season, write about the new plants available for the coming year  and you can write about great gifts for gardeners.

In short, there’s a LOT  of potential for content in this seasonal stuff.

OK, you’ve made it so far, but admit it, you think I’m a bit mad. It’s nowhere near Christmas, and you think I’m just a bit too early with this stuff.

Well, yes.

And no.

While Christmas is the major holiday in the UK and  Europe, in the United States there is a tradition of decorating the home in the Autumn; October means Halloween and November means Thanksgiving. I’m writing this at the end of July, in a couple of days it will be August, and we received our first catalogue featuring artificial Christmas Trees two weeks ago. It may seem early to be prepared, but there’s nothing wrong with being ahead of the game.

The thing is, don’t you ever get bored, or just run out of steam with your normal round of posting, commenting and linking?

I know I do.

And one thing I do to ‘break the cycle’ so to speak, is write something completely different. I was completely fed up yesterday, lots to do, it’s just that I didn’t want to do any of it. So I wrote something different, I wrote an article about the things I’d like most for Christmas, and since, as many of your know, I am something of a fool for flowers, I found myself writing about the best gifts you can give someone who loves flowers, and that made be realize I had done this before. When writing blog posts etc for clients, I often stockpile.

The great thing about writing is that you can build ‘stock’.  I create ‘collections’ in Google Docs and just add to them. If they are posts, I add them to WordPress and schedule them for the future. If they are articles, I keep them ready to submit until the month before I want them to have maximum effect.

So, apart from articles and posts about ideal gifts, what sort of seasonal article will you write? Add ideas as comments please!

 

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The Proof Readers Poem

I don’t usually ‘do’ poetry. It’s not really my thing, however a friend posted a poem on my facebook page and I remembered that back in the distant past (2012 I think) I wrote this tongue in cheek set of guidelines for proof readers.

With apologies to serious poets everywhere, I present,

The Proofreader’s Poem 

If you’re the kind whose writing flows

from word to word in perfect prose

don’t think there’s nothing left to do

once words are found and phrases too.

There’s one thing left; you have to check

the grammar, don’t let spelling wreck

your careful words, your charming phrase

don’t leave your reader in a daze.

Move to the end, work in reverse

or read aloud, be bold! Rehearse!

Correct it all before you send

so publication can’t offend.

Check out your use of their and there

apostrophes and all, beware!

Be accurate with homonyms

and passive voice – a writers sin.

Check its and it’s, they’re often wrong;

its name is something which belongs

to it, and every single day

its name is spelled the self same way.

So, when you write, please write with flair

but let your watchword be take care

check before the publication

grammar, spelling, punctuation.

Remember, if you get them right

your business interests will take flight,

the millions that you surely crave

will flood right in, so please be brave.

Be ruthless when you proof read prose;

build links so your web business grows.

For anyone interested, parts of this were inspired by an old public safety announcement which I think appeared on the BBC, all about the need to wear a hard hat on a building site. 

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How to Write With a Co-Author

How to Write With a Co-Author

Authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, wri...

Authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, writing as Michael Stanley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m guessing that quite a lot of those books you see on Amazon –  you know the ones, Dinglesplotchit, by Famous J Author and Unknown Newbie, rely on Famous J Author’s name and Unknown Newbie’s effort. They appear to be co-authored, but are they really? Do they really sit down and thrash out each page together, or does Famous J Author just agree to lend his name to the project as long as it’s not total garbage?

I doubt that I’ll ever know.

What I do know is that 

I’ve spent the last year working on a writing project – a book and a number of short stories, with my son. It wasn’t easy.   There were times when tempers were fraught. But we got through it, and overall I’d say  I look forward to doing it again.

So, if you find yourself having one of those conversations – ‘great idea – why don’t we work on it together’ here are seven things you need to do to make the project a success and make sure you’re still on speaking terms at the end of it.

  1. Only co-author with someone whose opinion you value.  Many writers are control freaks when it comes to their work, and while most books are collaborative projects, with input from family, friends and sometimes a host of technical advisers, the author always has the right to say ‘no.’ If you’re always going to do it your way, you don’t need a co-author, you need a friend. If you believe that your co-author might even do a better job than you, then your project has a chance of success.    In our case I have the advantage of age and writing experience, but my son is closer to the age of the target demographic, closer to the age of the protagonist and has formal training.  His writing is often better than mine. I could ignore what he says, but I’d be an idiot.
  2. Find a way to divide the work. Our book, “Waterborne” is written from multiple points of view.  We divided the characters between us and the result was that the characters have genuinely different ‘voices’. You both need to write. If you end up with situation where on person writes and the other comments, you’ve a recipe for disaster. It might work for scientific papers, but not for novels.
  3. Try to make your criticisms constructive.  It’s not rocket science. If you want to work with someone, don’t offend them.
  4. Develop a veto policy right at the start.  We agreed that we both had to be happy with the what was written, but you could take things in another direction and allow one writer to take control of a scene or a chapter. Do what works for you, but agree it up front and stick to it.
  5. Work out a detailed outline before you start writing, and then stick to it.  We worked out a rough outline and started there. IT didn’t work. Too many things changed and the whole process took far too long. For our next project we’ve decided to work out a much more detailed outline and make sure it works before we divide up the work and start writing.
  6. Make sure you’re both writing the same book. If you’re writing a piece of young adult fiction, make sure your co-author’s  not working on a literary novel for the over fifties.
  7. When you make decisions, write them up. No – you don’t need to take minutes of your meetings, but do record the decisions.  There will be days when neither of you remember, or you both remember different things.

Have you ever written something with someone else? How did it work out? Would you do it again?

I’d love to learn more from your comments.

 

 

 

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The One Thing You Must Do to Make Your Characters Believable

English: A man trying to reach for a scratch a...

English: A man trying to reach for a scratch at itch sensation on his upper back. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Has this ever happened to you?

You pick up a book. You’ve read the blurb, it sounds good, so you curl up and start reading. To begin with, everything’s fine, but then it starts, like an itch, somewhere deep under your skin, or a sound that you can’t quite hear. There’s something about the book, something that isn’t quite right. You can’t put your finger on it, but you know it’s there.

Sometimes you feel it as you read, sometimes it’s only when the book is done, but sometimes, half way through, you can’t take the itch any more, and you put the book down.

No matter when it hits you, the result is the same. You feel disappointed, betrayed even.  The book has stolen something from you that can never be returned. Time, unlike money, can’t be repaid, so when a book doesn’t live up to its promise, we don’t just feel grumpy, we also feel cheated.

There’s an unspoken contract between author and reader that has nothing to do with money. You give me your imagination, I give you my time.  Three dollars for an ebook? That’s nothing. But an evening of my time? That’s priceless.

What Causes the Itch?

An itch is quite different from a sudden pain, so the itch isn’t caused by gaping flaws in the plot. The itch comes from something far more insidious; your reader loses faith. He or she no longer believes.

Writers spin fantasy.  Readers know that and opt into it when they start reading, but if you insult your reader, make it difficult to keep on believing, then they get the  itch.  You could be cynical. The reader already bought your book, so, does it really matter if they feel cheated? Of course it does. Writers want to be read, and they want their readers to rave, it’s a need all writers have.  Even at the most basic level, readers matter because they post reviews. Loads of cheated readers won’t boost your sales figures. All you need to do is make characters believable

But I’m Writing Fantasy

It doesn’t matter what you’re writing. We’re all writing fantasy, even non-fiction writers choose how to present their material, what to put in, what to leave out and the same thing applies; if it’s not believable, the itch will start, and your readers will feel cheated.  It’s not the enchanted forest that’s the problem. It’s the people who live in it.

The best way to prevent the itch is to make your characters seem real.

There are many ways to develop a character. There are articles on making them likable, giving them depth, adding realism by adding flaws.  Some people like to use characters sheets, to work out details of appearance and background, and they have a lot of fun with the invention. There’s nothing wrong with that, but is it the most efficient approach?

They say that to write well you have to read, so most writers I know read a lot, but they read good books. Sometimes you can learn more from the bad ones. What’s

 It may not strike you at first, that’s why I call it the ‘itch’, but it gets you in the end. The character may be detailed, but if he or she isn’t consistent, even though you may not realize it at the time, you begin to lose faith.

Someone said (I wish I knew who) that in real life, things happen one after the other, but in fiction, things happen because of one another.

 and see how many other small facts fall into place from that one.  You’ll create a consistent character and you’ll find some useful plot points to use later on. If your character really is breaking the mold there should be a reason for that behavior. That reason may give you a whole section of your story.

For example – a friend asked me to review a short story she’d written about a character who’d spent her life in foster homes after her mother’s death. The character’s father was a millionaire.  There’s a story right there. Why would a millionaire allow his daughter to be taken into care? Did he know she existed? Was he tricked into it? Was the child taken from him for some reason? Sadly, that wasn’t the story my friend had written. Her character needed money later in her story, so she invented the millionaire father.

After looking at the plot, my friend chose to keep the millionaire father and substitute boarding schools for foster homes. This then gave the character a background which seemed more believable for her profession (running an art gallery) and added a touch of glamour.  From those facts all sorts of other followed, we knew where she would shop, what sort of clothes she would wear, what sort of men she’ date.  And the itch was gone.

So, How Do You Make Characters Believable?

Creating a character isn’t easy, but it is fun. Why not have a go, starting from one simple fact from the list below, and see how far you can get without having to invent anything else.

Invent a character

  • who was born at sea
  • who hates enclosed spaces
  • who hates fish
  • who has a thousand pairs of shoes
  • who has a collection of molds and fungus
  • who has a bet zambopf
  • who has a private jet
  • who lives in a cabin in the North of Scotland
  • who is about to set out on an expedition to the Antarctic
  • who is afraid of flying
  • who wants to be a zombie

Here’s an example:

Born at sea – mother must have been on a ship – possibly – born on a cruise ship – parents wealthier than average, baby premature (since mother would not have been allowed to sail otherwise) Baby may have unusual nationality. Baby has privileged background – maybe named after the ship, private school, good clothes, college degree. Maybe the story takes place on an eighteenth birthday when the protagonist is once again on the ship where they were born.

OR

Born at sea – The baby’s mother and father had chartered a yacht for a short vacation before the baby was born but the baby is premature and the mother dies before the father can  get back to shore. The father and baby are estranged, the baby reminds father of the death of his wife and he blames himself for it.  The baby brought up by grandparents.  As a young adult/adult the baby hates the sea. We know the family can afford a yacht, so they could be quite well off to extremely rich. Perhaps the story involves the protagonist having to over come a fear/hatred of the sea in order to save someone else they care about from a storm, or from drowning.

OR

Born at sea. A couple on holiday are on a ferry between two islands when something causes the ferry to capsize, it could be an earthquake and tidal wave, a hurricane, or a just a sudden bad storm. The weather is bad, the woman is pregnant. In the lifeboat, her waters break and she goes into labor. The rest of the story concerns the efforts of the rest of the occupants of the lifeboat to get her to land or deliver her baby safely.

Either version is valid and consistent, and by growing the character from the one fact, the story has almost written itself.

There’s a lot more you can do.  A character’s voice and actions are important in making them believable, and if you’re a fabulous writer, you can ignore all the rules, and the characters will still come to life as you type, but let’s face it, how many of us are that good?

Make your characters consistent to prevent the ‘itch’ and make sure your readers don’t feel betrayed. You might even find it makes writing easier.

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Tools for Writers

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de eBook Беларуская: Фотаздымак электроннай кнігі Русский: Фотография электронной книги (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last month I’ve learned a useful lesson. Tools are important. I know because in the last couple of weeks several of mine have failed and I’ve had to do without. Even when it was only for a day, it was painful. So I thought I’d write a post about  tools for writers and in particular, the tools I use when I’m writing content and how I use them.  If you’re serious about making money through your writing, whether writing is your business, or you write to promote your business, you need the right tools. Here’s what I use, and why.

  1. Pens. Yes, I know this is the internet age, but every writer needs to keep track of ideas, and these don’t always turn up when you’re in front of your computer. I use fountain pens because I like the way they write, and since I also lose them regularly, I use disposables. One large pack lasts for ages, makes me feel good when I use them and I get to use lots of different colors of ink. Yes, you can buy single color packs, but that’s boring. Keep a pen everywhere.
  1. Notebooks. Every writer needs a notebook and the shops are full of beauties with beautiful covers. A pity they don’t give the same amount of attention to the paper. I like a notebook with a hard back because then I can use it anywhere, I don’t need a surface to lean on. I also like one I can open all the way up, and one where, if I need to, I can remove a page easily. I use black and red notebooks in the 8 by 5 size because these fit easily into a handbag and drawer. The paper quality is excellent. I’m not sure why that matters, but I do know that given any other type of notebook, my notes are scrappy. I actually enjoy the sensation of writing in the black and red books and for each new project I start, I buy one, label it up and use it. If, like me,  you tend to lose pens, get some sticky velcro and stick one side to your notebook, the other to your pen. Keep a general notebook and pen combination beside your bed for all the ideas you come up with in the middle of the night.
  1. Avery Index markers. These are the tools I use to index my black and red books. I write a tab and add it anywhere in the book. Its effective, helps me find stuff quickly and its easy to use. Also inexpensive.
  1. Writers do not really need gadgets, more’s the pity, because I do like gadegts, but one I find invaluable is my Kindle. Yes, I have a real Kindle, not Kindle for Ipad. Kindles have some major advantages over tablets like the Ipad, one is battery life, the other is that they work anywhere at no extra cost. I can download a book instantly, no matter where I am, and I don’t need to pay for a wireless contract to do it. Kindle battery life is superb and unless I’m planning to be away from home for a month, I don’t need to carry the charger with me. Since I do spend a lot of time reading, often for research purposes, I can also say for certain that the screen is much easier on the eyes and it works just like they say in the ads, even in bright sun. I live in Florida, so I know bright sunshine when I see it.
  1. Porthos. Porthos is the name of my trusty netbook computer. He is an Asus Aspire 11.6 inch netbook and allows me to write pretty much anywhere. Again, if you’re wondering why I have anything as antiquated as a netbook instead of a tablet, there are two reasons. One is usability. If you write a lot, and I do, you need something with a good comfortable keyboard. That means buying a keyboard add on for the ipad. Even with the keyboard, you need to find something to lean the device on when you type,  I confess that at weekends I often write sitting up in bed or on a lounger.  It’s difficult to use an ipad with keyboard if you work that way.  With the Asus I can and do write pretty well anywhere. The second factor is price. The Asus costs about half as much as an ipad plus keyboard. Note: This is an 11.6 inch netbook with a screen resolution of 1366 by 768. I tried a 10 inch netbook with lower resolution. It was OK for writing and had a nice keyboard, but the low resolution was a constant problem since I had to keep scrolling to see the full width of most screens.  The high resolution screen on the Asus makes a  huge difference and has boosted my productivity. In case you’re wondering I named the Asus Porthos for two reasons. The first is that he was my favorite of the three musketeers, the second is that our household is deeply attached to Star Trek. My desktop computer is named after Captain Archer, so it made sense to call the portable version after his dog.
  1. Keurig Coffee maker. I cannot write at all without a reasonable supply of tea or coffee, or hot chocolate, mocha, chai tea or whatever I’m in the mood for. Basically, Starbucks is the best place for me to write, but much as I love them, I could easily part with all my writing income, so my Mom bought me a Keurig. At first I thought the whole one cup at a time thing was a bit daft, and it took a little while to build a stock of the different k-cups, but now I really enjoy the variety and being without my Keurig is very painful indeed.
  1. A Milk frother. Well, as I said, I like coffee. And sometimes, OK every day, I like frothy coffee. I tried a capuccino maker once and hated it, but my little frother is perfect. I add milk to the jug and switch it on, put my coffee k-cup into tjhe Keurig and then pour the froth into a large cup and activate the Keurig to pour the coffee on top. On bad days I add chocolate syrup. On really bad days I add lots.
  1. Books. I don’t use many books when I’m working. I have a hard copy dictionary and thesaurus, I also have hard copy books of quotations, but to be truthful, I don’t use them very often because I can often find the information faster online, courtesy of Google. One reference book I do use is A Dash of Style, the Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman. Punctuation is one of the major tools a writer has, and it can make a big difference. I have this book in Kindle and well as hardback versions, and I read some if it almost every week, because its not just informative, it’s entertaining and well written. What more can you ask for? If you write at all, and you don’t have this book, buy it or put it on your Christmas list.
  1. Structure is important to writers, even when writing something short, or maybe that should be especially when writing something short! The best way to create a logical structure is by planning, I do this with a mind mapping tool called Inspiration. I actually bought this software because it was recommended by my daughters school, and she has made good use of it, I use it for brainstorming in mind map form – the software will then turn the mindmap into an outline I can use to get started.
  1. Last, but my no means least, is my favorite piece of software, Dragon Naturally Speaking. This software was a huge surprise to me; I didn’t expect it to work, and I certainly didn’t expect it to work as well as it does. I still need to edit what I dictate, but not very much, I’m not a bad typist, but I’m pretty sure Dragon doesn’t make as many mistakes as I do. Why should you use it? Many people find blogging and article writing difficult, but if you use voice recognition software you just have to talk. Close your eyes, imagine you’re talking to a friend and just let things flow.
  2. UPDATE.  It’s just over two years since the original article was written. My tools are still, largely the same with one major exception. I’ve been writing longer and longer items, both fact and fiction, in fact I’ve just finished my first fiction book and I used a really good piece of software to do it. It;s called Scrivener and it’s very well designed. Scrivener allows you to keep multiple drafts of what you’ve written, to organize the text in different ways, to keep things together, but complete separate. If you intend to wrote anything longer than an article, I suggest you take a look.

I’m sure there are other tools I use, but these are the ones that I use on a more or less constant basis. If you write a lot, you should find them useful.

If you don’t, but you know someone who does, now you know what to get them for Christmas.

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How to Write Every day

English: penulis = writer

English: penulis = writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posting to your blog every single day can feel like a chore, but more often it just feels impossible.

Yes, writing a book is hard, but with a book you have a plot or central idea you’ve already worked out. With a blog each new post requires a new idea, and that’s hard. And it’s not just a problem for bloggers, Fiction writers also have blogs these days in order to promote their books, so do non fiction writers,  freelancers, publicists and small business owners with stores on the net.

Certainly there are some days when you have something to say, some great piece of knowledge to impart (which reminds me, we must talk about the ‘design’ when writing fiction sometime) or just something to grump about.

But some days it’s just not easy to find a subject at all, so here are some hints and tips about how to keep writing every day, so even if you’re not being employed to write, you can keep your blog updated.

First of all, take a look at this post, and you’ll learn all about creating a content plan. If you don’t have one, you need one. But suppose your content plan says that today you’re going to write about the three best ways to promote your blog, and you don’t have the time to research it, what do you do then?

Move the topic to another day and write about something else. You can find things easily enough by going to google news and typing in a couple of keywords. You’ll find out what’s in the news today. Your post should comment on it.

Easy really. And it doesn’t take long.

Why should you update your blog regularly? Well, because your readers want to see new stuff each time they visit, AND becuase the more often you update your site, the more often Google will visit, and your articles will be indexed faster. The can’t rank until they’re in the index, so the faster that happens, the better it is.

So, what’s in the news this week? There’s quite a fun post on the New Yorker, about their new literary blog, Page-Turner, which promises us  ‘criticim, contention and conversation about the most important books of the moment.’ I’ll wait and see whether it’s useful, personally I’d be more likely to read criticism, contention and conversation about the most popular books of the moment.  Since I’m taking my first steps into writing fiction, I’d like to know what it is that makes popular books sell and why, so I can do the same thing.

I know they say you should never start out writing a book with the intention of writing for money, but seriously, isn’t a book with no readers a very sad thing?

What do you think? Should writers set out to write the best they can, or is it OK to head straight for popular fiction? Leave a comment.

Also, if you are a writer for hire, a regular update schedule gives prospective customers confidence.

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Passive and Active Voice: Why Most People Suck at Writing Articles

 

AC.Byrd.E.001 Richard E. Byrd

AC.Byrd.E.001 Richard E. Byrd (Photo credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

And how to fix it!

OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean. Some people can put sentences together. Other people can write. It’s not the same thing. Grammar has rules, but writing is so much more. Writing is about rhyme and rhythm, it’s an art, and like all art, it’s about the effect it has on the consumer.

Most people recognize good writing when they read it, but because they assume writing is all about the rules of grammar and spelling, they think they should be able to do the same thing. The rules are easy. All you have to do is follow them.

The only problem is, it isn’t true, but we’ll get back to that.

My point is that a lot of people are dissatisfied with the standard of their own writing, but they needn’t be. There are three basic problems with the way most people approach writing, and all are easy to fix.

  1. Their writing is correct in every way, but stilted in style.
  2. Their subject is boring
  3. They expect too much.

An article isn’t a lecture and it’s not an academic paper. It’s a promotional tool. It won’t win a Pullitzer no matter how many weeks, days or hours your spend on it. A lot of people start writing in a formal style and the result is something that sounds stilted, just like an academic paper, but this isn’t a conference, this is the web.  What you need is something  informative, easy to read and friendly. Formal is right out.

The major difference between formal and informal writing is the use of passive language. If you spend any time reading about how to write for the web you’ll know that the best advice is to use something called the active voice—but what does that mean?
The bottom line is that if you write in what’s called the active voice you’ll sound more friendly and a lot less pompous. Writing which uses passive forms always sounds more formal because the sentences are put together in a way which is quite different to the way we would say them.

Warning – you may want to slip this bit ‘cos I’m going to talk about subjects, objects and verbs and stuff. Just skip down to the next bit of highlighted text.

Here’s a sample:

Admiral Byrd flew over the South Pole

is the normal way to tell someone about Admiral Byrd’s exploits back in 1934. It’s a nice simple sentence. Subject?  Admiral Byrd. Verb? To fly. Object? The South Pole.

But if, rather than speaking, you were writing about Admiral Byrd in an Academic paper, you might say 

‘The flight over the South Pole was carried out by Admiral Byrd’

Subject? The flight over the South Pole. Verb? To carry out. Object? Admiral Byrd.

A nice dynamic verb like ‘flew’ is downgraded to  ‘carried out.’  and all the excitement of the event disappears. Of course the first version is factual nonsense, unless Admiral Byrd suddenly grew wings, but factual or not, it is what you would say, and for the web, that’s more appropriate. If your writing is boring (and you don’t think it should be) take a look at the verbs.  You can do a lot with verbs. Honest.

In passive sentences it is the thing which is receiving the action which is the subject of the sentence.

The children were educated by a tutor. Subject – the children
A tutor educated the children. Subject?  A tutor.
The second is the active form.

But you don’t want to know that. What’s important, is how you fix the problem, and the good news is that it’s easy.

Welcome back 🙂

Write what you think you would say. Use contractions.  And start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’. Break the rules you were taught in school and your writing will be more natural and contain more of your personality.

But don’t go too far. Sentences with, like, too many, like, ‘likes’ in, might be less than clear, man!

Practice speaking your articles (you could even use text to speech software) or just imagine, as you write, that you’re talking to a good friend; what you write will be more natural, more you and much easier to read.

Think also about what you’re saying. If you approach the exercise from the customer/reader point of view, trying to provide information the customer or reader wants to have, the result will be better. If you’re an expert at what you do you probably know what your reader needs to know, but does your reader? There are always a lot more people who dabble in a subject, think about getting started, try it out for a while, and never ever go into depth, than become informed. There are a lot more people looking for basic information about any subject, than there are looking for detailed, expert help.

You may know how to overcome the difficulties of underwater basket weaving, but your reader doesn’t want to know that, they want to know the simple things; what is it, what tools do I need, is it expensive, does it take long, is it fun, can I make money with it.  By all means publish articles for those who need in depth knowledge, but remember that most of your readers probably don’t.

Accept that you are not perfect. Proof reading is something you must do, but it need not go on for days. One good way to check for typos  is to start at the end of your article and work backwards. Because the sentences don’t make sense that way round it’s easier for your brain to spot misspelled words. When reading forwards you’ll often read what you expect to see rather than what is actually there. And if you publish an article with a typographical error? Too many and the article may be rejected by a directory, so you revise it and submit again. The sky does not fall. Perfection is not required.

If you find yourself agonizing over the precise construction of one particular sentence, get rid of it and move on. Practice is important, so get the articles out there and invite feedback. You learn by doing.

So what’s the main reason people suck at writing articles? Well, to go back to what I was saying right at the beginning, sometimes the problem  is practice. You won’t get better by theorizing. You’re not a writer until you write.

So what ever your problem is, don’t let it hold you back. Get it written, get it out there. Take a good hard look, and do better next time. Procrastination is not just the thief of time, it’s a death sentence for success.

Never procrastinate today, always put it off until tomorrow.

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