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Saturday, April 25, 2015

 

What Makes a Good Writer and a GoodEditor?

Words by Elizabeth. Photo | Recite.com
I read a discussion on a forum about whether an editor needs to be a good writer. The conversation then moved into whether a writer needs to be a good editor.

As a writer and an editor and someone who teaches editing (and sometimes teaches writing), I thought about that discussion throughout this week. Even though I thought I'd write a different post, this is what stuck with me.

For the most part, I think that writing and editing are skills that must be practiced. In exercising those muscles, I’m not sure if that makes you good at either. But it does give you fluidity and confidence in those skills. Does the fluidity and confidence make me good? It may.

During times that I am more of an editor than writer, I find myself doubting my writing skills. When that happens, I pull out my journal and focus on writing more. The same is true for my editing. If I’m away from editing for too long, I find myself with a bumpy re-entry patch.

In my teaching, I find the more confident students are with a skill, the better they are with that skill. Although they may be exercising relatively new “muscles,” the more these students practice, the better they become. The better they become, the more confident they are. They become good editors or writers.

And their passions grow from there.

What I don’t see in discussions about whether someone is good at one thing or another is: What are their passions? Because I am a much better writer when I am focused on my writing, then I am more likely to feel that I am a good writer during those times. But I’m passionate about words and I’m passionate about communicating ideas.

When I’m editing, I balance my writer’s feelings and am sensitive to how a writer will accept the changes I am suggesting. When I’m writing, I try to provide clean copy so that the editor down the line will focus on what I’m saying and not mechanics. In these ways, I believe a good writer and good editor can interweave.

I do think that good editors can be sensitive to writers, even without necessarily having a writer’s sensibilities or a good writer. And some writers, who may edit, aren’t always adept to the skills of a trained editor.

I started writing and studied it because I enjoy working with words. When I had an opportunity to learn to edit from one of my mentors, I took it. I love both of them and, hopefully, I’m at least decent (if not good!) at one or the other of them.

I know for a fact that I’m passionate about both.

Elizabeth King Humphrey, editor and writer, lives in coastal North Carolina. She's going to go indulge in her passions for a little while. See you soon!

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Friday, April 24, 2015

 

Friday Speak Out!: Fight Back Against Stalled Brain Syndrome (SBS)

by Terry Cobb

Stalled brain syndrome, or SBS, will kill a writer’s career. SBS occurs when a writer opens a new, blank document on her computer only to find her mind is just as blank as that new document. The harder she tries to think of a subject, a sentence, or even a single word, the more despair she feels. Instead of writing, she checks Facebook or watches YouTube cat videos. An opportunity to write, to publish, is wasted.

I had fallen victim to SBS too many times before I decided to fight back. I bought a dirt-cheap spiral notebook and divided it into two categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction. I wrote a story, article, or blog idea in one of those sections every day for the past year. At the end of 2014, I had created my own remedy for SBS, a notebook with 365 customized story ideas and prompts.

This is not a revolutionary idea. Throughout history, writers such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Wolf have kept notebooks. But why not just Google “daily writing prompts” and find a website to provide inspiration? Although that works for many writers, my brain remains stalled until I find a prompt that is customized to my interests and experiences.

By investing less than two minutes every day to write in my notebook, I created my own muse. My notes weren’t lengthy, just enough to let my imagination fly. For the fiction list, I jotted down snippets of conversation I’d heard in the grocery store, weird news I’d heard on the radio, and old wives’ tales my hair stylist loves to share. Childhood memories, gardening issues, and insights from Bible readings filled my non-fiction section. I soon discovered that my writing prompts didn’t stay locked in their respective sections, they jumped around and even multiplied. Many of the non-fiction prompts that I had planned to write as memoir pieces worked better as flash fiction or as scenes in my novel or both.

Beside many of my entries, I scribbled notations such as “blog” or “devotional” to make them easy to locate later. To an outsider, my notebook looks as messy as my desk (okay, not that messy) but that’s the beauty of it: personalization.

Now that I have over 365 writing ideas, have I stopped? No way. This notebook has provided inspiration for far too many published stories and articles for me to kick the habit. John Steinbeck, another notebook user, said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” I respectfully disagree, Mr. Steinbeck. Pretty soon you’ll have hundreds.

Stalled brain syndrome never stops stalking me. At least now when it threatens, I’m not a victim. I know how to fight back. When my mind goes blank, instead of opening Facebook, I open my notebook and scan its pages for writing ideas customized just for me. No more wasted opportunities to write. No more stalled brain.

* * *
Terry Cobb resides with her husband on a farm in north central Missouri where she writes short stories, devotionals, and novels. She also blogs about gardening, her other love and challenge, at www.whatsinyourgarden.wordpress.com.


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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

 

How My Life Improved After 14 Days of Saying “No”

By M. Shannon Hernandez

I had always been a “yes” woman. You know, that woman who wants to make everyone happy, not ruffle any feathers, and above all, lend a helping hand.

You must be able to relate?

Well, at the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to become a “no” woman...unless the things or opportunities being asked of me were a “hell yes.” That means that I had to almost jump up and down with excitement in order for someone to get a “yes” from me.

There were a few events that prompted me to change my mind from being a “yes” woman to a “hell yes”...or in other words, a mostly “no” woman.

First, I realized that my time is the most precious asset I have going for me. And with that realization came the insight that I wanted to start protecting my time for things I truly loved, rather than give it away to people and things that made me feel “lukewarm.”

Second, I realized that I was spending waaaayyyy more time with other people...great people like my friends and business colleagues, and not-so-much time with the most important person in my life: my husband.

Third, I wanted to ensure that I had time in my schedule to work on hobbies and crafts that I truly enjoy—like scrapbooking, calligraphy, reading, etc. Because of all the “yeses” I had been dishing out over the years, I didn’t have time in my schedule for the activities that fueled my spirit.

Now, there was just one problem with becoming a “no” woman, after a lifetime of being a “yes” woman: I had to get over the feeling of letting others down and/or feeling guilty. This took courage! I actually set out to say “no” 14 days in a row to things that I didn’t feel deserved my time.

I kept a log to help me stay accountable to myself:

Day 1: “No” to working on Fridays. In fact, I have declared 3 out of 4 of the Fridays each month as FunFridays. These are days that I go out exploring, get a massage, or just lay low and do things I love to do.

Day 2: When my husband complained about not having any laundry today, I lost it. You see, he had been stepping over the pile for 3 days—this is the part that made me upset. Today I told him that not only was I not doing that pile of laundry, as I was swamped with work and deadlines, but that he was now responsible for the laundry. The best news? The laundry is now dropped off at a laundry service where it is washed, dried, and folded. Bliss!

Day 3: I was asked today to be a guest on somebody’s podcast show. Now, this happens often, and most times it is a “hell yes” but this particular individual hasn’t produced an episode if over 2 years. This means there is no audience even listening anymore, and she wanted to “use me to bring her podcast back to life.” Nope, that’s a big fat no—my time is more valuable than that. I politely declined and told her to be in touch once she rebranded it and released a few new episodes.

Day 4: Today I fired a client. Now, this may sound funny to some of you, but when you work for yourself, you have to do this from time to time. It is never fun, nor easy. But this particular client was sucking the life out of me. She wasn’t holding up her end of the deal in the writing coaching, and then was blaming me for lack of progress. I ain’t got time nor energy for that!

Day 5: I had to say “no” to the 4th chocolate chip peanut butter cookie I wanted to stuff in my mouth today!

Day 6: An email arrived in my inbox today. Someone wanted me to free up space on my calendar to speak with her. The problem? She had stood me up two times prior. Saying no this time meant that I could protect my time in the future.

Day 7: I resigned today from a dysfunctional board I was sitting on today. When the volunteer commitments are more drama than fun, it’s time for a change.

Day 8: I had to remind a client today that I don’t work on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday on client work. This infuriated her—namely because she had waited until the last minute to submit work for my review. I politely reminded her of my standards and processes.

Day 9: I’m taking a break from social media today. I’m on overload mode.

Day 10: A new client was upset because I didn’t take checks via mail for payment. I politely offered 3 alternative ways to pay me, all online. I thought for sure I had lost that sale, but taking checks is risky, and not how I operate! In the end, she figured out PayPal and made the payment!

Day 11: Today someone tried to “bargain-down” my copywriting prices. I told her that the prices on the site were non-negotiable. I have a business to run here! I lost that sale, but 2 more came in with people willing to pay the fair price.

Day 12: As a college professor, sometimes I have to dish out tough love. Tonight was one of those nights. I told my students that if they arrived to class late, they would be penalized. Well, tonight I had to stick to my words. When one student asked if I would reconsider, I politely said “no” and went on about class. (He didn’t have a valid excuse, I checked.)

Day 13: My friend called today and asked if I wanted to go grab a drink at the beer garden. I wasn’t in a position to get up and go at the moment, and she was already there. I said “no” and felt strong for not feeling guilty about it!

Day 14: I submitted a talk for an education conference in Chicago. I got the word that it had been approved, but the organizers could only fit me in during lunch time. This meant that people would be walking in and out, because lunch wasn’t provided, and they would be not fully engaged with the topic. I gave a response of “no” to the invitation, knowing that those 3 days spent in Brooklyn with my husband and cat, rather than in Chicago, would be more rewarding.

After 14 days of saying “no,” I learned some key things about myself and others:

• Most people are perfectly fine with the “no.” I was the one who had to get over the feelings of guilt and letting others down.

• Saying “no” allowed me more time for myself, my husband, and spontaneous things that popped up along the way!

• I became a happier person, because I wasn’t stressed out and “booked to the max.” I also wasn’t trying to make everyone else happy, which in turn, made me a happier individual.

• I made more money in my business by saying “no” to clients who weren’t a good fit, didn’t see my value, or wouldn’t follow my processes. This was a huge breakthrough for me!

• Every time I said “no,” it got easier the next time. I wish I would have started this initiative a long time ago.

If you are feeling stressed, overcommitted, and worn down, I am going to encourage you to take a look at your schedule and, more importantly, how often you are saying “yes” to things out of obligation, guilt, or fear. Life is short, our time is precious, and I believe we should spend every moment doing things that light us up with passion, creativity, and love. Won’t you join me on the journey from “no” to ‘hell yes”?

***

Learn more about maintaining a healthy work/life balance, increasing your productivity, and making more money in M. Shannon Hernandez's upcoming course, Copywriting with Heart: Learn How to Jumpstart Your Copywriting Career, Write Authentic Marketing Messages, Craft Powerful Sales Pages…and More! starting April 30.

M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015. As a content strategist and copywriter, Shannon continues to educate and inspire others through her blog, guest blogs, and podcast appearances. In addition to business writing, Shannon writes passionately about heart-centered education reform, and is a regular contributor to the The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 

Don't Be a Starving Writer

As a freelancer, you've probably experienced the "feast-or-famine cycle." It's when one month you have plenty of work and are eating [insert your favorite, most-expensive meal here], while the next you're watching the dust settle on your computer and using your credit card to buy ramen noodles. (And while ramen noodles taste pretty good, they are extremely bad for you!)

So what do you do if your income is all over the place?

That's what I'm talking about today over at Mint.com in my article, How Freelancers Can Budget with a Feast-or-Famine Income. Check it out and cycle back!

To further expand on that idea, I'd like to share a sample budget that wasn't included in the article because I was way over word count.

Example Budget for a Fluctuating Income

Have you heard of the 50/20/30 rule? Well, this is a slight variation we'll call the 50/30/20 budget. The emphasis of this budget is paying down debt and putting money into your emergency and retirement funds.

Let's say in the past year you made: $5400, $300, $1700, $900, $3600, $6800, $300, $4100, $8000, $500, $3600, and $5900. Average all those numbers out to create a monthly budget of $3425, and remember to subtract taxes. In this case, the tax bracket would be 25%, so you'd subtract $856 each month, which comes to a monthly budget of $2569 per month.

So with the 50/30/20 budget, your budget of $2569 per month might look like:

Fixed Costs:
Rent: $700
Utilities: $45
Health insurance: $150
Internet, Cable, Phone bundle: $90
Cell Phone: $90
Car insurance: $40
Gas: $150
Subscriptions: $20
Total: $1285, which is around 50% of your net pay.

Financial Goals:
Debt: $170
Emergency fund: $400
Roth IRA: $200
Total: $770, which is around 30% of your net pay.

Flexible Spending:
Groceries: $350
Shopping: $100
Day spa: $64
Total: $514, which is around 20% of your net pay.

Of course, your budget would vary. And yes, this budget is tighter than a frog's you-know-what, but the idea is to create enough of a cushion in your emergency fund to provide you with three to six months of income.

The rest of the article at Mint talks about streamlining your expenses and changing your business model, because the budget above is almost impossible to live on unless you have a roommate or significant other. I don't know about you, but where I live in Southern California, you can't find a rental for $700!

Okay, your turn. If you have any budgeting ideas for a feast-or-famine income, we'd love to hear them!

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Book Review of Judith Oritz Cofer's The Cruel Country

Five Star Review by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto:

The Cruel Country is a beautifully written memoir about the illness and death of the author's mother. Author, Judith Ortiz Cofer writes even the most painful scenes with such eloquence you can't help but be drawn in. I am all too familiar with the loss of a parent, and I can say that Cofer does a fabulous job working through the many stages of grief as she helps the reader understand. What makes The Cruel Country unique is not only Cofer's perspective but in the way she ties in psychology, history, and poetry as well. I learned quite a bit while reading this well written memoir. Thank you to Cofer for braving her way into the land of bereavement and allowing readers to join her in such a personal journey. The Cruel Country is well written, well edited, and is a book I can definitely give five stars!

I’ve learned a lot about Puerto Rico, the culture, and the language. Cofer is a brilliant writer and teacher. I was somewhat fearful about becoming too submerged in Cofer’s grief. I didn’t want to finish reading Cruel Country and feel overwhelmingly sad. Thanks to Cofer’s compelling writing, I closed the book feeling an overwhelming amount of gratitude. Cofer’s bravery in sharing her journey can help those with similar experiences feel less isolated and lonely. Instead of feeling sad, I felt kindred and peaceful as I closed the cover on this lovely memoir.

Book Summary:

“I am learning the alchemy of grief—how it must be carefully measured and doled out, inflicted—but I have not yet mastered this art,” writes Judith Ortiz Cofer in The Cruel Country. This richly textured, deeply moving, lyrical memoir centers on Cofer’s return to her native Puerto Rico after her mother has been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.

Cofer’s work has always drawn strength from her life’s contradictions and dualities, such as the necessities and demands of both English and Spanish, her travels between and within various mainland and island subcultures, and the challenges of being a Latina living in the U.S. South. Interlaced with these far-from-common tensions are dualities we all share: our lives as both sacred and profane, our negotiation of both child and adult roles, our desires to be the person who belongs and also the person who is different.

What we discover in The Cruel Country is how much Cofer has heretofore held back in her vivid and compelling writing. This journey to her mother’s deathbed has released her to tell the truth within the truth. She arrives at her mother’s bedside as a daughter overcome by grief, but she navigates this cruel country as a writer—an acute observer of detail, a relentless and insistent questioner.

Author Biography:

Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, a small town in Puerto Rico. When she was a young child her father’s military career took the family to Paterson, New Jersey, but she often spent her childhood traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the U.S. At 15, her family moved again, this time to Augusta, Georgia, where she eventually earned a BA in English from Augusta College. She later earned an MA in English from Florida Atlantic University and did graduate work at Oxford University.

Although Ortiz Cofer is best known for her works of creative nonfiction, she began her writing career with poetry, which she feels “contains the essence of language.” Her early chapbook Peregrina (1986) won the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition, and she has published various other collections of poetry since, including Terms of Survival (1987), Reaching for the Mainland (1995), and A Love Story Beginning in Spanish (2005).

Ortiz Cofer’s work explores the rifts and gaps that arise between her split cultural heritages. Her early immersion in both Puerto Rican and American culture has shaped her multi-genre approach, which includes works of fiction, prose, poetry, and sometimes a combination of the three. Her work The Latin Deli, which was nominated for a Pulitzer-Prize, explores various genres, combining poetry, short fiction, and personal narrative. She is also an author of children’s books.

In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Her awards include grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Georgia Council for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council.

Ortiz Cofer teaches at the University of Georgia as the Regents' and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing.



Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 8, Andre 6, Breccan 19 months, and Delphine 7 weeks), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

 

Top 4 Power Tips for Blogging Success


By Karen Cioffi

Blogging is a competitive arena. According to VP Virtuoso, in November 2013, there were 152,000,000 blogs. And, a new blog was published every half a second.

Blogging isn’t an arena you can enter into lightly, hoping for the best. If you’re blogging to be successful in your niche, it takes work. It takes dedication. It takes a plan.

Here are 4 power tips to help you move ahead of the crowd.

1. Know your audience and what they need.

Every niche has something the audience desires, needs, or wants. It’s up to you to determine what that is and give it to them.

One strategy to find out what your audience needs is to ask them in a survey or poll. You can also monitor your blog posts to see get the most views and clicks. It’s those topics that your audience is interested in.

2. Know what your focus is.

One important aspect of this tip is to keep your website and content focused on a particular niche.

As an example, my niche is inbound marketing, which includes website optimization, content marketing, social media marketing, and email marketing. All my articles, freebies, and ebooks are highly focused on that niche.

If I posted an article on baking a cake, I’d confuse my audience and diminish my authority.

3. Take action steps to blog smart.

The first step here is to set up a blogging schedule that will work for you. In other words, a schedule that you’ll be able to keep up with. Consistency matters.

Along with your schedule, you’ll need to include all the needed elements to create an informative, engaging, and shareable article. Your posts may include:

• Text
• Images
• Video
• Podcasts
• And, so on

You don’t need to include every element within one post, but you should vary your posts. And, be sure your article is packed with quality information that has at least one ‘actionable’ tip.

Power tip: It’s about quality, not quantity.

4. Engage with your readers.

Engagement is a key marketing factor. You want to create content valuable enough that readers will want to share it. This boosts your authority.

Making this factor more important, the search engines pay attention to who’s paying attention to your content. Your content’s shareability will affect your search ranking.

While there are other power tips, these are the top four that you should include in your blogging strategy.

***

Karen Cioffi is a former accountant who is now a multi-award-winning author, ghostwriter, freelance writer, editor, and author-writer online platform marketing instructor. She founded and manages Writers on the Move (a marketing group), and presents online writing and marketing workshops and webinars.

Karen has published 12 writing and marketing eBooks, the most recent, Article Marketing: Increase Website Traffic with Properly Formatted and Search Engine Optimized Content.

In addition to this, Karen’s website, Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing, was named Writer’s Digest Website of the Week, June 25, 2012.

Join Karen Cioffi's upcoming online class, GET TRAFFIC TO YOUR WEBSITE WITH INBOUND MARKETING: Website Optimization, Blogging Smart, Email Marketing, and Social Media Marketing. Visit our classroom page for details and enrollment.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

 

Getting Out of a Writing Funk

A couple weekends ago, I attended a leadership and strategic planning meeting for the Missouri Writers Guild, in honor of its 100-year anniversary. If you are unfamiliar with the MWG, it was founded in 1915 by Walter Williams who was the dean of the Journalism School at the University of Missouri Columbia at that time. Over the years, the organization has encompassed writers of fiction and nonfiction who are professional writers, however you want to define the term "professional."

One hundred years is a long time for any organization, which will surely have its ups and downs during its history, and MWG has had some of those. It seems in recent years, volunteers were few, and the work was plenty. Besides this, with all the changes in the publishing industry and the need for writers to connect with one another and improve their craft, the MWG has to realign its goals to the needs of its members and create a sense of passion and enthusiasm for writing, too.

But what does any of this have to do with you if you don't live in the Midwest? (which by the way ANYONE can be a member of the MWG) I started thinking of my own career of 15 years, which isn't as long as 100 obviously, but it also has had its ups and downs, and I'm currently in some sort of a writing funk. So what can I learn from my weekend of planning with the MWG? Here are a few things:

1. People do still care about books and writing! When the market becomes saturated with authors and new books, it's hard to remember that each writer and each book makes a difference to someone. Even if you are not on the bestsellers list or receiving a movie contract, your book can still touch the lives of your readers. If you have a story in you, write it--no matter what happens with it. Big success is great, but so are the little ones!

2. It's important to take some time to look at what works and what doesn't for me. Just because my writing buddy can sit at the computer on a Sunday and churn out 5000 words doesn't mean I can. I have a beautiful four-year-old daughter and freelance work, so I have to fit in creative writing when I can. I shouldn't get down on myself because I have a self-publishing idea with a friend, but we haven't written a word of it yet. I am making goals and seeing what works for me, and what I need to change, so I shouldn't compare myself with anyone but myself. 

3. Whatever makes me feel enthusiastic, stay with it! What project is calling to me at this time? The self-publishing one and another Maggie Mae picture book. I tried to force myself to work on a novel, which I do like, but it just wasn't flowing. It will eventually, and in the mean time, I need to stick with what is working.

Although the MWG conference wasn't a usual one with editors, agents, and workshops, it was still motivating--it was a group of writers, brainstorming together to make a strong, professional, and helpful organization for its members. And it showed me that I can do the same for my own career!

Margo L. Dill is the author of the picture book, Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies, to which she wants to write a sequel soon. To check out more about Margo and her two novels, please see her website at http://www.margodill.com or the novel writing classes she teaches for WOW! at http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/WOWclasses.html.

keyboard photo by orangeacid on Flickr.com





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