Monday, August 30, 2010

Twittering Away Your Time—Part One

I’ve found Facebook useful, but Twitter has left me baffled—until now. I’ve spent today learning everything I can about Twitter and I have to confess. I’m a definite convert! Twitter has all the community building capabilities of Facebook—in 140 character bursts. I’m going to spend the next few weeks sharing all that I’ve learned and bringing you up to speed on this misunderstood tool.

Twitter 101

Twitter is easy to join. Just visit the Twitter homepage and click on Get Started—Join. Set up your user name and password. Click I Accept then Create My Account.

At this point Twitter will ask you if you want to find friends. Come back to this option later. Instead, I suggest the order I've outlined below.

Settings are VERY important on Twitter!
Click on the Settings Tab to ensure everything is ready for visitors.
  • Enter your full name—only spammers and newbies hide their identities. You’re on Twitter to be found
  • Make sure the Time Zone field is set correctly.
  • Enter your location—again, you’re here to be found.
  • Do NOT check Protect My Updates—this negates the whole point of Tweeting.

Say Cheese!
That’s right—it’s time to upload a photo. Photos are important, spammers are known for having no photo. Personally, if you don’t have a picture and I don’t know you well, I won’t follow you. (This is a common problem for those new to Twitter and can keep you from gaining followers)
  • First click on the picture tab.
  • Browse your files and select a photo.
At this point you can click on the Design tab and do a little customization. We’ll get into advanced custom backgrounds in a later post. But there are several attractive options on Twitter.

Now that you’ve got your homepage set up it’s time to find some people to follow. You can import contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. But I choose not to. I dislike invitations to follow someone and prefer to choose whom I follow.

I recommend you take your time here. Instead of inviting everyone you know, search for some close friends/associates that you’d like to follow. Start with about 20 to get used to the feeds.

A note on etiquette here—if someone follows you, it’s considered common courtesy to follow them back. This etiquette isn’t set in stone. If you’re really not interested, don’t bother. But unless there’s a good reason NOT to follow them you should.

Common Terms
I'll leave you with an introduction to Twitter Terminology.
  • When you post something it’s called Updating Your Status or Tweeting. Michael Hyatt has the best explanation of the Twitter community I’ve ever read. He likens it to sitting in a roomful of people. Updating your status tells everyone in the room something.
  • Replying to an update answers a specific person, but everyone can hear (all your followers can see your update). You do this with the @followed by the person’s name. Example @EdieMelson. This is actually a clickable link so others can click on @EdieMelson to get to her feed.
  • A Direct Message is like whispering in someone’s ear. The message goes to them only.
  • One other term that’s important to know is Retweet. This is when you repost something someone else has tweeted.
This should be more than enough info to get you started. Next week we’ll go more in depth with how to develop communities and follow conversations. There are lots of neat and easy applications that make Twitter a valuable tool for writers.

I invite you to visit my Twitter Homepage—I’d love to become one of your followers!

Don't forget to join the conversation!

(Here's the link to part 2 and part 3 of this series)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thursday Review - The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages
by Noah Lukeman

This is a little book that delivers big results. It was first published in 2000 and actually I’m on my second copy. I’ve worn the first one slap out. One of the reasons I haven’t reviewed it before now is because it’s usually the first book I recommend when a writer asks my opinion on reference books.

Each chapter has lots of examples that make the issue and solution clear. There is also an End-of-Chapter-Exercises section. This gives you the opportunity to put what you’ve read into practice and cement it in your mind.

This book is great to study individually, and even better when tackled with a partner or in a writers group. So run, don’t walk to your local bookstore or laptop and get yourself a copy.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sustainable Writing—Research, Redo & Reuse, Part Three

Check the Calendar
In this final installment of Sustainable Writing I want to talk about Calendar Articles. It’s critically important for us as writers to build a relationship with our readers—it’s even more critical for a magazine or website to do that. One way to accomplish this is by writing about things that are what relevant to them—again that felt need.

Calendars are a great way to do this. Think about Back to School themes in the fall and the theme of Love in February. Go the extra mile though and come up with an original slant to the holidays. Or, if you do write about something fairly common, come up with a sidebar that’s got a slight twist. For example, you might write an article during October titled, Pumpkin Carving with Preschoolers. Make it unique by including a recipe for toasting the pumpkin seeds in a sidebar.

But, with calendar articles, it’s critically important to go beyond the major holidays. I’ve sold articles on Breast Cancer, during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and on Yoga, during September (National Yoga Month) and on vaccinations during August (National Immunization Month). Below are some government websites to help get you started on special calendar days and events.
Now it's your turn. Do you have a favorite place to look for unusual holidays? Share it with us. Let’s also have some fun with Calendar Ideas—what are some unusual or fun holidays we could write about?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Worship - God's Timing is Always Perfect

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes. Ps 37:7 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but waiting patiently isn’t in my top ten of favorite things to do—it’s actually closer to somewhere in the bottom ten. I hate being patient, whatever it is—I want it, and I want it now. I would like to think I’m a product of my times and environment. After all, we live in a world of the instant now. How nice it would be to put the blame somewhere other than my immaturity.

But God has shown me that’s all impatience is, immaturity with a mask. This has been particularly true with my writing life So many times, if God had given me the answer the moment I asked, I would have missed out on so much. I would have missed the sweet prayer time, the fellowship with others who shared in my journey, and the ultimate joy of something anticipated and achieved. I would have also missed out on being used by God to teach and comfort others as they saw Him work in my life.

Most important, God has shown me that had I rushed His timing, I'd have traded an immediate good for an ultimate best. For years I've enjoyed success in my freelance writing, but an idea that led to a published book proved elusive. I watched my contemporaries and even some of those I've mentored land contracts with no success of my own. I cried out to God, asked why and received no satisfactory answer. Then, this very month, the magic happened. I now have joined the ranks of those contracted authors. Even better is the book God chose for my first.

My first book will be a devotional for those with loved ones serving in the military. I wish I could share the gift this book is to me. Our oldest son served in the Marine Corps. He went straight from high school to boot camp to Iraq. I truly believe this book is one of the many ways God is redeeming that time of struggle in our family's life. So yes, I had to wait, but it was worth it!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thursday Review - Valuable Blogs & Websites!

I’ve mentioned several time the importance of attending writing conferences, but I know many of us are limited by our budget, as well as our time. So how do we make connections and learn from instructors if we can’t attend or can only choose one or two a year? The answer—Websites and Blogs.

We live in an amazing time, when we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips through the Internet. Virtually all the instructors you find at a writing conference also have websites and/or blogs. And, a lot of them post on the topics they regularly teach.

There are so many good sites out there, that I’ve had to limit myself on how many I visit regularly. Some of the ones I like best even send their posts directly to my inbox. Here is my list of MUST VISIT writing sites.

I’m certain there are others that are just as wonderful, so I’m hoping you’ll chime in with some of your favorites.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sustainable Writing - Part Two

Go Green

You can also become a sustainable writer by utilizing topics that are always relevant to the reader, there are called evergreen or GREEN articles. Open any magazine and you’ll usually see all of these categories somewhere within the table of contents. Of course there are exceptions, but take a trip to your local bookstore and browse through the magazines, you’ll be surprised what you find. Even niche publications will often include articles about their niche, slanted to include all four categories.

Green Articles fall into 4 major categories

  • Business/Finance
  • Health/Fitness
  • Relationships/Fulfillment
  • Passionate Pastimes
Here are some possible titles within these broad catagories

  • Managing Your Finances in Tough Economic Times (Business/Finance)
  • How to Eat Healthy When Time is at a Premium (Health/Fitness)
  • Re-Learn the Art of Dating by Going Out With Your Mate (Relationships/Fulfillment)
  • Learn to Tithe Your Time (Passionate Pastimes)
The thing that makes these articles so popular is the fact that they answer a felt need for the reader. If you haven’t heard this term before, in writing terms, a felt need is a topic that resonates with the reader. They feel a need to know this information. If you want your writing to connect to the reader you utilize this concept.

Have you utilized green articles when pitching to an editor? Do you think you will in the future? What are some article ideas you can come up with within these catagories? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thursday Review - Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies

I have to confess, I love grammar. To me, it’s fascinating, not frustrating. I know many people don’t share my passion and that’s okay. But as writers, especially if you aren’t a big fan, you should have a good grammar reference in your book collection. And IMHO (in my humble opinion)—this is one of the best out there.

Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies
A Guide to Language for Fun & Spite
by June Casagrande

I’m in love with this title and I think I would have bought the book just to have it on my shelf. And if you think the title’s great, wait until you read the chapter titles. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • The Sexy Mistake—“To Lay” versus “To Lie”
  • Snobbery Up With Which You Should Not Put—Prepositions
  • Is That a Dangler in Your Memo or Are You Just Glad to See Me?
  • R U Uptite?—Shortcuts in the Digital Age and the Meanies Who Hate Them
  • The Silence of the Linguists—Double Possessives and Possessives with Gerunds
And my favorite – the title of her introduction
  • Grammar Snobs Make Good Prison Brides
All kidding aside, this book has it all. And, beyond that, it’s easy to find the answers you need. Ms Casagrande makes grammar understandable and shows us that language is fluid. She helps us understand that no one really knows the answer to some of these questions.

I’d love to know where you go when you need help with grammar. So chime in and let’s learn from each other.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sustainable Writing—Research, Redo and Reuse, Part One

Sustainable Writing is the way I describe writing for a living. Having a regular income as a freelance writer requires multiple streams of income. Managing those streams and keeping them afloat is where the sustainable part happens. Just like the environment, we have to be good stewards of our time and resources as writers and business owners.

As a matter of fact, there is a lot we, as writers, can learn from the environmental awareness movement. If you don't believe me, just substitute the word TIME for the word ENVIRONMENT and you’ll be surprised what becomes applicable.

When we think about sustainable writing, we need to have a recycling mindset. We should never waste anything. Say you’re doing research for an article titled, Remodel Your Kitchen. If you pay attention, you’ll find material to write several dozen articles. How about one called New Trends in Lighting Your Kitchen or Using Kitchen Cabinets in the Bathroom. Once you know where to look, the possibilities are endless.

This works with more than just research, you can repurpose articles—change them by 50 percent—and sell them as a new article to another source. Or, don’t change them at all and sell the reprint rights.

Here are some ways to apply this attitude to your writing.

  • Research - When you research a topic or person for an article or book, keep all your notes. I keep all mine in a single computer file. Within that file it’s important to have a document that lists all the websites you’ve visited to get your information. I’ve gotten in the habit of copying and pasting the web address into this document the first time I determine the importance of the webpage I visit. I also keep a transcript and/or notes from any interviews I conduct on the subject.
  • Rough Drafts - Many times when I’m writing an article it will start off way over the word count I need. I keep a copy of that first draft in my file before I start cutting it and revising it. Often I’ve come back to it and pulled parts out for a new article.
  • Related Subjects - I've also learned to make a list of possible related subjects while I'm working on an article. Frequently, when I’m writing an article, ideas for other articles will come to mind. When that happens I’ve learned to immediately make a note of my thought. If I wait, the idea disappears.
Over the years I've learned a lot about how to keep writing income alive, most of them from other writers. I'll be sharing my tips and I hope you'll share yours. We live in an exciting time for writers, with the advent of the Internet, we've never been more in demand.

So don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Weekend Worship - Tossed by the Waves

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves , and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; Eph 4:14 NASB

As you may have guessed by now, I love spending time at the beach, looking at the gorgeous view, picking up seashells in the sand, and drifting in the ocean with the gentle rise and fall of the waves. It's one of my favorite vacations. One thing I don’t like about the beach—getting from the shore to the deeper part of the water, where it's calmer. The breaking waves, found close to the shore, can often knock me off my feet. It’s hard to gauge when one is coming, how strong it will be, or where to turn to avoid it.

I’ve found that my walk with God is a lot like that. When I walk along the shore and look into the vast ocean of God’s will, it’s beautiful, but daunting. And when I’m afraid to commit myself one way or the other and stand in the rough surf, I’m pounded by waves from every direction, not able to judge my situation accurately. But, when I commit completely and immerse myself in God, I’m gently cushioned and rocked, surrounded by his love and able to see the world from His point of view.

So take a chance, take that plunge through the surf, don’t camp out there. Instead, commit yourself completely to doing things God’s way.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thursday Review, Writing for the Soul

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to my guest blogger and writing buddy, Lynn Blackburn. Well, you're in for a treat. Lynn has agreed to continue to entertain us with her wit and wisdom the first Thursday of every month. Join me in welcoming her to The Write Conversation family!

Writing for the Soul
by Jerry B. Jenkins

I thought writing a review of Writing for the Soul by Jerry B. Jenkins would be easy.

Until I opened it and found the list of authors who recommended Writing for the Soul. I experienced several days of mind-numbing terror. What can I add? Let’s face it, when Francine Rivers, James Scott Bell and Angela Hunt (along with many others) say you should read the book . . . well, it won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading now to save yourself some time and energy and go buy the book.

But, as you are a glutton for punishment and have continued reading, I’ll tell you that when I picked the book from its spot on my desk (along with my slowly growing collection of writing books) I intended to skim through it to refresh my memory and then whip up a review.

Instead, I read it straight through. And I learned more this time than I did the first two times I read it.

Writing for the Soul was the first “writing” book I read. I found it at my local library a week or so after completing the first draft of my first novel and a day or so after it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to learn something about writing if I was going to be a writer. (Yes, you read that right and yes, I know that I’ve gone about everything as backward as possible.)

After finishing Writing for the Soul, I faced the harsh reality that I knew nothing about writing and that my first draft was riddled with errors that would mark me for the amateur I was.

I was disappointed, but not hopeless because the solutions for many of my mistakes were contained in Writing for the Soul. This book covers a wide-range of topics, from the importance of selecting the right POV to the importance of sitting in the right chair.

Writing for the Soul is funny, the wisdom doled out in manageable slices, and the hard realities sandwiched between entertaining anecdotes from Jerry B. Jenkins’ career. This is a book I’ll read at least once a year. And I’ll pull it off the shelf for years to come anytime I need a quick refresher course or to be reminded that while writing is a sacred calling it’s also hard work—even for Jerry B. Jenkins.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Importance of a Name - Get It Right!

Many of you may assume this post has to do with naming characters, but it doesn’t. Today I want to share about the importance of names in the context of the business end of writing.

So many times writers agonize over naming characters within their manuscripts, but don’t get the name of the editor they’re querying correct. Or they try to network with someone and get his or her name wrong. This is a HUGE mistake. Sure, this person will remember you, but chances are it’ll be in a negative way. Names are critical when you’re interacting with people.

Some of us have difficult and ambiguous names – like mine. When I was the Managing Editor for Centered Magazine I constantly had writers querying me—Mr. Eddie Melson or worse Mr. Eddie Nelson. My first impulse with those queries was to hit the delete button and that’s usually what I did. Why? Because their lack attention made me think if they couldn’t get my name right, they probably had a lot of other mistakes in their writing.

Writing is a highly competitive business. Don’t start out with strikes against you just because you didn’t bother to double check the spelling of someone’s name. When I was first starting out, I remember getting a lead from John Riddle, an instructor at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. As I carefully copied down the information of whom to query he made a comment I’ll never forget. “Be sure you spell the editor’s name correctly. She won’t even open your email if her name is misspelled.” That advice is golden and I’ve never forgotten it!

A lot of this business involves referrals and leads from other writers, so networking is critical. Because of that it’s also important to make certain you get the name correct when you’re posting a comment on someone’s blog or sending them an email. I read a blog last week, written by a blogger named Kathy and the first comment posted was addressed to Katy. Big mistake. It could have been a typo, but it also could mean the person commenting wasn’t paying attention. Either way, it leaves a poor impression—not just to the blogger, but to anyone who reads that blog.

Here are some things I do to help me slow down and make certain I’m getting the name correct.

  • Write it Down – I keep a scratch pad next to my computer and I always write down the name of the person I’m referring to. Writing it in longhand somehow helps engage my brain and acts as a way to double check my accuracy.
  • Check the Gender – so many names can be either masculine or feminine. Most websites and blogs have pictures (Centered Magazine had pictures of everyone on staff making it easy to see that I’m a woman) so I try to check that way. If it’s a blog and there’s no picture, I look at previous comments to see how most people have referred to the person – male or female.
  • Add to My Contacts – if I’m going to make a comment on someone’s blog or query an editor, I add them to my contacts list. This helps me find them again without searching the Internet and it gives me another way to double check their name.
Words are our business—and that includes names—so when we write, we need to be accurate and diligent.

What are some ways you ensure your accuracy? Has anyone ever misspelled your name? How did you feel?

Don't forget to join the conversation!