Group Blogging? Look Before You Leap

Big crashing waveYou’re in! The group blog you inquired about said “Yes.” And you’re golden.

Or are you?

Joining a group blog as a contributing author can be a great opportunity. It can help sharpen your writing skills, build contacts and camaraderie, expand your audience and interests, extend your reach, and meet some great people. It can also be another Nightmare on Elm Street. Before joining any group blog, do your homework. Here are some questions to ask before you leap:

  • How will joining this blog advance your writing career?
  • Is the writing on the blog in question up to snuff? Are posts thoughtful, witty, engaging and compelling? Is the writing sloppy or careful?
  • Can you wholeheartedly support the blog’s overall mission, theme, views, tone and style?
  • Is there anything on the blog that you wouldn’t want your mother to see?
  • Have you studied the blog thoroughly? Chances are good that you won’t agree with every post by every author. But if you find content that frequently violates your standards or conscience, don’t bite.
  • Does the blog include writer’s guidelines? Are they clear?
  • Have you inquired about expectations related to frequency of posting? Can you meet them?
  • Do you retain copyright/control of your work?
  • Can you expect compensation?
  • Did you check out other authors? Are you comfortable being associated with them? You may not agree with fellow contributors on everything, but adding your name to a group blog may imply tacit approval of its content. If this gives you cause for pause, move on.

A reputable group blog should also offer to post your author’s bio and link back to your site or blog.

Some “speed bumps” are common in a group blog as writers and readers get to know one another and establish rapport. Most can be negotiated gracefully. But if you have an issue or question, be honest. Take it up with the author and/or blog owner/admin. Most will be willing to address your concerns and work with you toward an amicable solution. If not, find another blog – or start one yourself and recruit your own writing team!

Group blogging can open doors and provide opportunities not always available when flying solo. When it comes to group blogging, however, all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Be selective and look before you leap.

Are you part of a group blog? Was your experience positive, negative, or somewhere in between? What mis-steps should be avoided?

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A Writer’s Best Friend

Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it. It’s also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done.”

– Suze Orman, finance editor and author.

Serious time commitment.  Getting the project done.  Talk about a couple of freckle-rattlin’ phrases!

Are there times when those words taste like vinegar to you too?  But they’re true, huh?  I think of it this way: A writer’s best friend isn’t the Internet.  It’s not a short-cut, a quick fix or even a thesaurus.    (This following gem of galatic insight will work a lot better if you can scare up a drum roll in your head.  Ready?  Okay.)  A writer’s best friend is – drum roll, please: Restlessness.

Huh? 

That’s right.  Restlessness.  Let me explain.

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7 Ideas for Jump-Starting Your NEW Writing Year!

banana split

Ah, January! Twelve freshly-scrubbed new months brimming with potential. So writer, what are you going to do with 2016?

Don’t wait till July moseys across the calendar to start getting serious about sharpening your writing skills and exercising those writing muscles. Start now! (As one husband who shall remain nameless has learned, even when yours truly is looking out the window, she is working. )

Here are seven brilliant ideas to help you work smart, make better use of your time, and do more with your writing this year:

  1. Cut back on social media usage. Now, before you have a heart attack or go into social media withdrawals, hear me out. I didn’t say dump social media altogether. Just cut back. Social media has a place for connecting with your readers and marketing your work, et al. But it can also be a huge time waster – and an excuse to delay or avoid doing the work of real writing. I set a timer before jumping on Facebook. When that puppy dings, I bail. Period. Otherwise, social media can gobble truckloads of time and energy away from real writing. And while tweeting has its place, it’s no substitute for sustained, thoughtful, deliberate writing designed to engage. You’re a writer, not a tweeter or a status-up-dater. Savvy?
  2. Set your writing goals. I know, I know. We creative types hate setting goals. They’re just so…. goal-ish. But believe you me, setting a goal(s) and writing it down will help keep your writing life focused and on track. And save time by avoiding The Dreaded Bunny Trails. Example: I plan to write ____ words per day/week. Or, I will finish ___ chapters by ___ (date). How ’bout: This year I’ll crank out ____ blog posts per week?
  3. Make a plan and take consistent action to meet it. Related to #2. Jot down what you want to accomplish this week as a writer. Next month. Next year. Do you want to publish more ebooks? How many? When? On what topics or stories? Do you want to be published in more magazines? Which markets? Sell more books? How? Each person is unique and your plan of action will be, too. The point is, be consistent. Writing down how you plan to move from Point A to Point B will help you crystallize that plan and take concrete steps toward meeting your goal. It’s a way to make good use of limited time, instead of doing the pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by bunny trail thing.
  4. Take small steps. That War and Peace rewrite? Good luck with that puppy. Ditto cracking the New York Times Bestseller List when you have yet to write a single coherent paragraph. Start small and build. Look for classes, contacts, and coursework to help you learn and grow as a writer. This may seem time-consuming at first, but it’ll pay off later as you learn what to dive in to and how. Ditto what time-wasting pitfalls to avoid.
  5. Rest. Yep. You read that right. Rest. Overwork or a stressed-out mind often manifests itself in The Dreaded Writer’s Block. So listen up. Hitting the block wall may be your mind’s way of saying, “Give it a rest already. Take a break. Recharge. Disconnect. Let the creative juices have a chance to rejuvenate.” They will return if you resist the urge to run them ragged. Promise. Adjust #3 as needed.
  6. Be consistent, but don’t be a slave. There’s a difference.
  7. Most important: Have fun. This may seem self-evident. But it’s easy to forget. If you’re not having fun in your writing, what’s the point? (Tip: Banana split with extra hot fudge. If you’re weight-conscious, hold the banana. Just sayin’.)

Bottom line: You got this. Now. What are you going to do to jump-start your writing this year?

GUEST AUTHOR: 9 Ways to Jumpstart Your Writing During the Holidays

By Terry Whalin

Used by permission

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You can almost feel the shift in the publishing world when the calendar gets close to the holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  I’m receiving fewer emails. My phone calls and emails are not as quickly returned.  The culture is shifting into holiday mode where activities outside of publishing fill our schedule and less is happening.

While the schedule for others fills with holiday activities, your writing does not have to go on hold. In fact, from my experience, the holidays are a perfect time to jumpstart your writing life.  Here’s nine action steps you can take during the holidays:

1. Increase Your Writing. Now is the time to lean into your novel or your nonfiction book and complete it.  No book manuscript is created overnight. It takes day after day effort to write your story and finish the manuscript. Make a plan for your writing then stick with it.

2. Create A New Product or Book. Do you have a new product or book idea? Take this time to lean into it and create. I encourage you to download The 24–Hour Product Creation Cheat Sheet from Jimmy D. Brown. I have several of these types of projects which have been on hold because of other work. I’ve started scheduling regular time into my work day to begin to move these projects forward and get them into the marketplace.

3. Write A Book Proposal. Maybe you have several book ideas and the place for you to dig in during the holidays is creating a new book proposal. If you don’t know how to create a proposal, take my Write A Book Proposal membership course or use my free Book Proposal Checklist or take my free proposal teleseminar. Then take action and create your proposal.

4. Reach out to Editors and Agents. The holidays are often a great time to touch base with these publishing professionals. Send them a card or email and reconnect with them. Tell them some detail you appreciated about them and see how you can help them. Those simple statements may go a long way with that person.

5. Read and Review books of others. I’ve written about this important habit but if you’ve never started it or forgotten about it. Now is a good time to read these books and review them. You will be practicing your craft of writing but also building good will among other writers as you read these books and write book reviews.

6. Begin a new program or tool. Do you want to learn how to make money with your blog or increase your social media presence? The key is to develope an easy system for you or to learn from someone else. I have a risk-free, detailed 31–Day Guide to Blogging for Bucks. Or listen to my free teleseminar on blogging or follow my detailed information on social media. Take committed time to work on developing a new skill or tool.

7. Get Organized. As a writer, I have piles of paper that isn’t in a file folder (where I’m much more organized). I took some time this weekend to sort through the papers, put them into folders and get more organized. If I haven’t used or read something,  I threw it away rather than lurking in a pile. As you get organized, you can be much more effective as a writer.

8. Pitch and Write Magazine Articles. Think about the publications you read and send ideas to the editor. If you have written for a magazine in the past, what can you write that they need? Approach the editor and see if they have a theme list online or one you can get from the editor. Then pitch appropriate ideas.

9. Write to Look for New Opportunities.  Maybe you want to do more speaking in the new year or have a greater visibility at a particular conference. Work on expanding those possibilities during this season.

I include more than a dozen ways to jumpstart your publishing life in my book, Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. The key is to take action during the holidays and move forward with your writing.

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About The Author:

Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books plus been published in
more than 50 magazines. For five years, he was an acquisitions editor at two book publishers and he’s a former literary agent. Now Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, a NY based traditional publisher. Terry encourages writers of any level (from beginners to professionals) at Right-Writing.com.

To help people pursue their own dreams of a published book, Terry has written Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success.

 

Find out more about Terry Whalin here.

Hemingway and Raison D’Etre

AspenResearching what others had to say about “reasons to write” recently, I came across these tidbits (in descending order)

3) People want to read what I have to say

2) Give yourself a feeling of accomplishment

1) To be able to tell everyone you’re a writer!

Really? The #1 reason a writer writes is so s/he can hang out a shingle and crow from the rooftops, “Hey everyone! I’m a writer!”

I’m not too sure about “give yourself a feeling of accomplishment” or “people want to read what I have to say.” I get that, but are reasons #2 or #3 what really drive you to write, deep down? Is your drive to write a combination of two or more of the above?

Here’s another: “A writer’s sense of self-esteem is wrapped up in writing. When we don’t write we feel unfulfilled. When we make progress with our writing projects, the world feels right again.”

I get the “world feels right again” part. But self-esteem wrapped up in writing? If that’s true, then some uber talented writers must have had “self-esteem” in the basement. Consider the following excerpts from actual rejections received by established authors:

  1. Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
  2. Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
  3. J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
  4. Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
  5. Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.

So let me ask: Why do YOU write?

Cause for Commitment?

Most writers I know who are committed to the craft write for one over-arching reason: they write because they can’t not write. And make no mistake, if you’re a serious writer, writing is a commitment. It’s not something you dabble in or play it. It’s work. Rewarding and fulfilling, yes. Sometimes the words come easy. Sometimes not. But a real writer is into words and stringing them together to communicate like Hershey’s is after chocolate.

Think of it this way: If a writer’s vein is cut, ink flows out. Or as Ernest Hemingway* said,

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Some have criticized this observation, equating writing with torture. Maybe. But I think they miss the point. I think what Hemingway is trying to convey is that for a serious writer, writing is who you are, heart and soul. Your essence.  Your life blood.

What say you?

Misty lake, pineFor a serious writer,  ‘reasons to write’ includes – but goes far beyond – “I have something I want to say” or generating a feeling of accomplishment.

Writing isn’t just something you do. It’s  your blue sky. Your open meadow or misted lake awaiting the spring sun. 

Writing is your raison d’etre.

Writing is what makes you tick. Gets you up in the morning. Keeps you going through writer’s block, clogged plumbing, rejection letters, and unmade beds. Computer crashes and a raid on your private Hershey’s stash. You write because you can’t not write.

Isn’t that what motivates you to keep at it, deep-down?

What do you think about Hemingway’s quote? What are YOUR reasons for writing?

* A variation on this quote is attributed to sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.

Chair-Falling 101: Nine Tips for Building Your Blog

Fall trees and sky

I about fell out of my chair.  Good thing my tumble was cushioned by a wide swath of bare linoleum, or I might have hurt myself.

Really.  Last time I checked my follower stats – which I do about every time Hailey’s Comet appears – I had a couple hundred followers.  As in, bigger than a bread box but not by much.

Well, another comet just passed, so I checked the stats and found I’m well into 4 digits. And counting.  Hence the chair-falling thing.

What did I do to increase my followers?   Did I buy or import any lists?  Offer new subscribers some smoke and mirrors, a fancy floor show or round-trip tickets to Hawaii?  Did I bribe friends, relatives, Romans or fellow country men to sign up?

Naw.

Truthfully, I didn’t “do” anything.  I just tried to post content that might be interesting, useful, helpful, entertaining, or otherwise brilliant. So no one’s more surprised at the follower “bump” than I am.

My point: If I can do it, so can you.  Here a few suggestions for building your blog:

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It’s Not About You

Fall sky off Riverside Bridge

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

– E.L. Doctorow

Writers are a rare breed.  As I’ve said before, a real writer is more of a writing “addict” than a hobbyist.  He or she writes because s/he can’t not write.  A real writer feels compelled to write, is bursting with ideas, stories, plots, metaphors, characters, a clever turn of the phrase.  One way to spot an amateur is someone who, when asked why they write, responds with something like, “Because I want to be famous” “I’m expressing myself;” or the omnipresent, “I have something to say.”  When you hear that, you’re not hearing from a real writer, but a writer wannabee.  As master editor Sol Stein explains:

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Write Away 5: What Pennzoil is to NASCAR

“If you’re a writer, you’re never retired by someone else.  You not only keep going, but the very art of writing helps keep you alive.”

– Sol Stein

Some select traits of a writer include:

  • Keen observation of events, people, conversations, and circumstances and color.
  • Do you find yourself mentally composing a narrative about your last fishing trip, hike in the hills, an historical landmark, family event, trip to the library, or holiday that will provide your readers with an “aha!” moment of recognition or connection?
  • Do you carry pen and paper or another recording device with you everywhere to jot down that fleeting thought or inspiration before it vanishes for all eternity?
  • Do you devour books and revel in good writing like a starving man in a five-star all-you-can-eat buffet?
  • Do you have an “ear” for fine writing?  I’m not talking dime store stuff or trashy “romances.”  I’m not even talking “bestseller’ status, but fine literature that’s stood the test of time: Dickens, Elliot, Dinesen, Twain, Dostoevsky,etc.?
  • Do you understand what makes “great literature” great, how it works and why?
  • Do you have an insatiable curiosity?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways to learn and grow as a writer?
  • Most real writers are also voracious readers.  If  “what are you reading these days?” elicits a shoulder shrug or a deer-in-the-headlights-looks from your “writer” friend, chances are you’re talking to a dabbler or a pretender, not the Real Deal.

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” – Eric Liddell

Born to Write?

Ability and skill can be learned, developed, and practiced.  These are all well and good and appropriate. But IMHO, what sets a Real Writer apart  from a Writer Wannabee is attitude.  In other words: were you born to be a writer?

Writing is a gift to be treasured, honed, polished, and yes, shared.  It’s what keeps you banging away at the keyboard when everyone else is watching the play-offs.  It’s what awakens you at two in the morning with an aha! inspiration.  Writing is to a writer what a crate of PennZoil is to NASCAR, what air is to land mammals.

Who Are You?

Let me ask: Were you born to be a writer?

One way to find out is to look at your approach to writing.  Do you have a “take it or leave it” attitude, or is writing your reason to get up in the morning?  Is writing something you fall into when you don’t have anything better to do?  A way to kill time or fill up your calendar?  An amusement or hobby?  Or is writing something you crave like that extra slice of raspberry white chocolate cheesecake?  Do you carve time out of your busy schedule to write on a regular basis?  Is writing part and parcel of your creative DNA?  Your personality?  Artistic fingerprint?  Are you incomplete without it?  In other words, is writing who you are?

Being a real writer is a lifelong calling.  It has you preoccupied and passionate, cantankerous and content, frustrated and fulfilled.  It’s a wild and wonderful ride that can only be fully understood by another writer.

You know who you are.

 

Four Tips (and one secret) for Finding Your Writing Voice

If you’ve been around the writing world for any length of time, you’ve probably heard endless minions talk about “finding your writing voice.”  Maybe you’ve wondered what that means.  Or how to go about it.  Here are some tips:

First off, your writing voice is yours.  This may seem self-evident, but it’s amazing how many “writers” try to mimic someone else rather than work at developing their own style or “voice.”  Don’t be one of them.

Secondly, think of your writing “voice” as you would your spoken voice.  How do you sound aloud?  What kind of tone, accents, or intonations do you use?  Do you declare, express, state, proclaim, utter, whisper, echo, articulate or assert?  How do you express yourself verbally?  Is your voice strong, sweet, gentle, smooth, raspy, high-pitched or low?  Evaluate your writing “voice” in the same terms.  Whatever you do, be genuine.

Thirdly, realize that “finding your writing  voice” isn’t like searching for the lost city of Atlantis.  It’s not all that mysterious.  Jettison the cagey cloak-and-dagger stuff, and practice.  It’ll come.

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Seven Deadly Social Media Sins

Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and joined the wonderful world of  social media.  Now that you’ve set up your Facebook, Digg, Redditt, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts and have burnished your initial blog post to a fine sheen, you’re ready for the world to snap up your pearls of wisdom.  But wait. Although savvy sales folks and business gurus often push social media as the latest and greatest marketing miracle, it has its hazards.  Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Feeding readers a steady stream of me-centered posts. Fascinating as you may find yourself, the truth is that unless you’re the POTUS, a Nobel Laureate or the Pope, you’re probably a “small fish in a big pond.”  One way to “enlarge” or enhance your presence is to get outside yourself and engage others.  Offer content targeted to a specific audience.   Carve out and cultivate your “niche” by offering readers something they can use: tips, tools, advice, links, feedback.  Leverage your experience and expertise into a shared resource.    Respond.  Reciprocate.  Retweet.  Ask questions.  Don’t forget to comment.
  2. Opening an account and using it once in a blue moon.  Your life need not revolve around your Twitter account or blog, nor do you need to develop a Facebook addiction that sends you into withdrawals if you’re not checking in every 20 minutes.  But you need to post on a reasonably regular basis if you want to retain your readers/followers.  Don’t forget to complete your profile and keep it updated!
  3. Posting ho-hum or redundant content. You’re not the only game in town.  If you’re not offering a new angle, fresh perspective, something original or breaking news, your followers will find someone who is.
  4. Using profanity. A big turn-off and a big no-no.
  5. Wordiness. You’ll lose readers if you dump the online equivalent of War and Peace on ‘em every time you post. Choose your content carefully, keeping in mind your focus, theme, and intended audience. Keep posts short, sweet, and to the point (2,000 words doesn’t qualify).  Offer value, not volume.
  6. Expecting to be an overnight heavyweight. Building a social media following takes time and effort.  Schedule in a bit of time each day to work your outlets.  Post quality content to a targeted audience.  Participate, contribute, and be patient.
  7. Taking your readers for granted. Social media is a community. Think dialogue, not monologue.  Focus on building relationships and networking.  That means joining a conversation, offering help, advice, or encouragement and highlighting those who contribute.

If your primary goal in using social media is to promote yourself or your product, you don’t get it.  Instead of selling or self-promotion, focus on building friendships and offering content with “take-away” value.  Be patient.  Stay focused.  Don’t forget your manners.  “Please” and “Thank you” go a long way in both real and virtual worlds.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to increasing your social media traffic.  Bon voyage!

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Coming up:

Part 1 of a five-part series: Write Away...