Thursday, June 6th, 2013 at 8:53 AM
Back in 2001, I connected with a fellow from InternetViZ and interviewed him about email marketing. A few months later, a client closed his business. It was one of the primary sources of my writing income. That taught me the importance of having a variety of clients instead of one or two that make up the bulk of your income.
Discovering content marketing
I came to a crossroads in my writing career where I had to decide whether to get more business or let it wither away and be a corporate woman for life. Not wanting to give up, I started writing an email asking people if they needed writing support to help their business.
While writing this (I still remember it as if it happened yesterday. And goodness knows I’ve written many emails.), my stomach knotted and I debated whether to do this. Finally, after re-reading the message many times, I hit “Send.” (Good thing Gmail and its “undo” feature didn’t exist or it may not have made it.)
The fellow responded and connected me with his business partner, Hank Stroll of InternetViZ. I’ve worked with Hank ever since. (He’s in Minn. and me in Texas. We met in person in 2007 and it was like old times. Still is.)
Little did I know he would launch my career in content marketing long before this fancy name came about. He figured it out — before most people did — that companies could better connect with clients and prospects through email newsletters and valuable content instead of marketing their stuff.
The content marketing secret’s out
Now every marketer is in on the secret and trying to churn content. (A lot of content is crap.) Multiplying like the “Star Trek” Tribbles. Even as a writer for more than 10 years, I get stumped for fresh ideas. How many articles have you seen that give you ideas for content? Zillions.
I blog less often than I should. However, I’d rather not blog than recycle something that others have said many times, many ways. Like “Green Eggs and Ham” — these articles have been delivered on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train. OK, more like in a blog, on a SlideShare, in a video, in a tweet.
Finding a fresh take on popular content topics
So how do you provide a fresh take on a popular topic you need to cover? Yes, there’s a catch. It means reaching a smaller audience.
The secret: Write about the topic with a specific focus.
Let’s say you need to write about content marketing. Here’s how you’d get specific:
- 7 Ways B2B professional services companies can use content marketing.
- How content marketing boosts your luxury car dealership.
- Content marketing lessons from a information technology research firm.
- Is content marketing worth it for the oil and gas industry? Yes!
- Team up marketing automation software with content marketing.
- 5 ways to promote your tech support services with content marketing without sounding like an ad.
You get the idea. True, not many people will seek articles on oil and gas and content marketing. The magic comes in feeding search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.rockingB2Bprofessionalservices.com/blog/7-ways-b2b-professional-services-companies-use-content-marketing.html (This is a fake link. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)
It may not mean much traffic for the article. (This is where social media rocks. Link to the article from social media and email newsletters.)
This link boosts keyword power for “b2b professional services” especially if the company’s other content uses those keywords in other blog posts and page headlines. While few may search for “b2b professional services content marketing,” “b2b professional services” in the headline and link pump the site’s keyword muscle.
This narrow focus content approach …
- Lets you produce fresh content for your website. (Search engines <3 that.)
- Strengthens keyword power for your site.
- Allows you to give away your expertise for free — which builds credibility and trust.
“But, Meryl. Doesn’t adding keywords like this come across as phony and smart search engines will catch on to such tricks?”
As a writer, I’m more sensitive to keyword fakery in web content. You probably have lots of stories you can tell about your business. Turn your story into an example and those keywords will fit naturally. Don’t force it. Just write conversationally. Edit and tweak. Repeat. (Not too many times, though!)
One more suggestion: Skip mentioning your company, product or service in these articles.
Competitors and fans of competitors won’t link to your article. In searching for articles on niche topics for clients, most of the good ones mention the company, product or service. While a competitor or its fans may not want to link at all, they may be more willing to share because it’s important to them to be a trusted resource. (Great article on this: Why You Should Link to Your Competitors.) When an article promotes something, then that’s a little much.
How do you find content ideas that have been rehashed many times?
Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM
My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.
Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.
A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.
We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.
After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:
Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.
I didn’t like it.
Bad Headlines Live!
That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.
There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.
Please stop. Just stop.
It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.
Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.
Back to Basics
A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”
Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)
Now when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)
For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it. (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.
Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?
Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 9:38 AM
Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Chynna Laird’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour.
About Chynna Laird: She’s a psychology major, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their four children. Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs. Laird has authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a young adult novel (Blackbird Flies), an adult suspense (Out Of Sync), and a Young Adult Suspense/Mystery/Paranormal/Sweet Romance (Undertow, to be released 2012). She blogs at The Gift Blog and See the White Elephants.
Chynna’s Top Ten Writing Tips by Chynna Laird
I’ve been writing since I was in my single digits. I guess you could say that writing isn’t just a hobby for me or something I ‘just do’, it’s a huge part of who I am. I need that creative time that’s separate from the other roles I play during the day when I can lose myself in my characters and the places they take me. It’s a wonderful feeling having all of these stories inside of me bursting to get out that I can actually share with other people … and they read it! How cool is that?
I consider myself very blessed to be able to do what I do and I don’t take it for granted in the least. Writing is something we can always do as long as we have a story in our hearts and our wits about us. There’s no age, sex, race, religion, social status, or ability barriers when it comes to being a writer. If you have that creativity inside of you, if that passion is there, nurture it.
A still have a few years to go before I’m plopped in that ‘veteran writer’ category, and my goodness I still have so much to learn. But in the fairly short period of time that I’ve been out in the writing world, there are a few things I’ve learned. And, if you’ll allow me to, I’d love to share them with you.
1. Accept that you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you dabble in it or you work most of your day pounding on the keyboard. You could be a blogger, an article writer, a poet, a short story creator, or a diligent person who writes 200,000-word books. You. Are. A. Writer. You have that creative energy inside of you and you make the effort to channel it. So, even if you haven’t been published yet, just say what I used to before I got my first story published: “I’m a writer. The world just hasn’t found me yet.”
2. Find the time. If all you have time for is a paragraph or two or a single blog post, perfect. There will be days when you just don’t have time to write as much as you’d like to get some out. It keeps the creative juices bubbling. My personal goal is about 1,500 words a day. That could be an article, a blog post, or a section in one of my novels-in-progress. For me, writing gives me the same energy as my yoga or exercise time. I make the time.
3. Have your own space. I realize this isn’t always possible. My “work space” is smack-dab in the middle of my living room where all the action is (I know … my bad … ). But when I have something I really want to work on or an important deadline to meet, I take our tiny laptop or a notebook and a pen and I hide somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you set up a little space in the walk-in closet, put little desk up in the quietest place in your house or shut yourself in the bathroom for a bit, have a space where you can let the words flow.
4. Journal. I’ve been practicing journaling since I was very young. It has many benefits. Aside from being a place to jot down your personal thoughts, feelings, and dreams, it’s also where you can work on ideas, practice finding your writing voice as well as getting into the habit of writing. That’s how my dedication and discipline for ‘finding the time’ came from.
5. Read … a lot. Just like in any profession, in order to succeed it’s a good idea to learn from those who are rocking it out there. Read anything and everything from authors you aspire to be. Trust me, you can learn so much just from that alone.
6. Start in your “safe place” then branch out from there. When I first started, I had absolutely no idea where I fit into the writing world. There are so many genres and sub-genres, it’s hard to know at first where I “fit in.” All I knew was that I was told my style of writing was “emotionally charged.” So I started writing inspirational articles and personal essays. From there, I channeled my emotional energy into intense contemporary young adult shorts, then it blossomed from there. The point is by all means start where you feel safe. But don’t be afraid to venture out past the safe area because you never know what else you’re capable of.
7. Join a writing group. Every province or state has some sort of writing association. Get in touch with them and find a local writing group. If there isn’t one, why not put one together? Writing groups are great because they are often made up of a good mix of individuals in various stages of their writing careers. You can get critique of your work and network with writing peers, which is a major part of being a writer.
8. Find a writing mentor. I love my writing mentors. They inspire me, keep me focus and grounded and never let me give up. It’s very important to have someone who has “been there, done that” who can give you guidance, answer your questions and be that strong support when you need it. If you don’t know someone who can mentor you, check with your local university or college’s English department or the writing association nearest to you. Both often have mentoring programs you could sign up for.
9. Get out once in awhile. This is something I have to remind myself of once in awhile. If you’re a full-time writer, you’ll be spending a lot of time in front of your computer. Alone. (No, social media chats do not count as getting out or connecting with others!) I’m lucky because I have my four kids around me and have to get out there and be around others through their school, activities and my charity work.
10. Rejection is a part of writing. It sucks, but it’s true. If it makes you feel better, even though I’ve written countless articles, blog posts, and books, I still get rejections. It’s a part of the whole process. The only advice I can give you is to feel the sting, then move on. Consider it a learning curve. Analyze why you were rejected and work on it. There are other editors waiting to hear your pitch. Trust me, each time it happens your skin gets a little thicker until you can finally say, “Ah. Their loss. NEXT!”
The only other piece of advice I can give you is this: Do not give up. I consider everything I go through in life a lesson, good or bad. You just can’t think of it any other way or things will just get to you. If you truly believe in yourself and what you’re doing, others will too. Never give someone the power to squash your dreams. They are what inspire us, give us hope and keep us moving forward.
What writing tips do you have?
About White Elephants: Elephant in the middle of the living room — that is one way of explaining how a family walks around the invisible presence of huge problems. Hindsight is what brings the elephant into focus.
Somehow at the innocent age of five Tami began to see the bulky creature crowding her family and took on a sense of responsibility far beyond expectation for her age. Her mother was different than other mothers. Family life in their household was not pretty. No one noticed. No one did anything about it, and Tami wanted someone to do just that. As an adult Tami took on her first name, Chynna, and took up the challenge to find out what might have helped her mother fight her battle of self-destruction. She couldn’t help her mother, but she would consider it worth everything if her family’s story helped another.
This candid memoir is a story of one girl’s struggle to deal with her mother’s alcoholic/bipolar condition–the white elephant no one else would see. With a conversational tone, Laird shares her remarkable story of abuse, survival, and her triumphant recovery into becoming a healthy, well adjusted wife and mother. Tastefully written, this book will touch your heart. It offers hope that, no matter where you come from, life is what you make it.
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 at 8:56 AM
You may have heard that Encyclopædia Britannica no longer sells a print edition. It now only offers a paid subscription to its online edition. Why pay a few bucks a month for information that’s available free? Ah, yes, Encyclopædia Britannica entices prospects by saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad question–but there are bad answers.”
Wikipedia vs. Encyclopædia Britannica
Resources like Wikipedia and infographics have been known to produce incorrect information. Besides, even if Wikipedia managed to produce perfect entries — it still has a human factor problem with volunteers writing and editing the entries.
I’ve seen an editor delete an entry due to bias rather than providing a solid reason that complies with Wikipedia guidelines. I’ve seen entries on controversial hijacked or rewritten with bias. And I’ve heard stories like David Henderson’s. He shares his thoughts and experience on Wikipedia.
I think we all agree Wikipedia has plenty of mistakes. But what about the stalwart Britannica? It’s not infallible according to a study.
Nature conducted a controversial study comparing the accuracy of the two sources. Using the average mistakes per article, the study found 2.92 mistakes for Encyclopædia Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia could make corrections instantly while a printed edition could not … that is, until now. I wonder how the two compare when using the online edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.
Nonetheless, we all need to know how to discern bad information from the good. That means learning how to find information, looking at the facts, and evaluating the source [pdf]. Many Wikipedia contributors include citations to support the facts presented. Using our experience and research skills, we can figure out whether those resources suffice.
Wikipedia doesn’t get much respect in academics. Some educators consider it invalid as a source. (Search for it and you’ll see.)
Trusted resources not always reliable
The Internet has changed how we obtain information. The information is out there, but we need to know how to dig through it to get what we need. Even reliable resources get it wrong.
For example, The University of Texas’ Energy Institute conducted a hydraulic fracturing study that included a look at the media and public perception of shale gas development. The study found that the tone of media coverage was “overwhelming negative.”
Here are the most interesting facts from the study:
- “Less than 20% of newspaper articles on hydraulic fracturing mention scientific research related to the issue.
- “25% of broadcast news stories examined made reference to scientific studies.
- “33% of online news coverage mentioned scientific research on the issue.”
Newspaper articles. Broadcast news. Online news coverage. These are resources many people trust. Yet, these media outlets don’t often rely on scientific research when talking about shale development.
Side note. Here’s an infographic comparing the two. Accurate or not? I found the Nature study through Google, which happens to be one of the resources in the infographic. Do a search on the study and you’ll see plenty of results about its controversy.
What kind of impact does the Internet have on research? What if many researchers, journalists, and students rely on flawed data found on the Internet and reliable resources? How do we determine what’s reliable aside from talking to a primary source?
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 at 10:21 AM
Image from sxc.hu user rhythms
Before reading Margie Clayman’s Avoid the temptation to write something popular, I saw articles on how to get ideas for blogging and how to write a bunch of blog posts quickly. These tired topics introduce nothing new. Same outfit, different color and style. Blog there, done that.
I’d rather not blog than rehash something that others have said many times, many ways. Like Green Eggs and Ham — these articles have been delivered so many ways possible … on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train.
Is there any hope for writing about popular topics? Yes. Even about Pinterest. Already, every kind of article on Pinterest has shown up: round ups, lists, advice, and so on. Many of them good reads.
Good things about writing about a popular topic like Pinterest:
- Add fresh content to the blog.
- Reach newcomers. (Users join Pinterest daily, so they may have ignored past articles on the topic.)
- Share my experience. (No one can be me.)
Blogging isn’t just for driving traffic. It’s for loading the website with fresh content to keep search engines happy. Because of this, blogging always pays off. Traffic is a bonus.
Yes, there’s a way to make a post on a prominent topic like Pinterest stand out. Although it means reaching a smaller audience, the search engines will love it. The secret: Write about Pinterest with a focus on a narrow topic.
Examples of Pinterest articles with a specific topic:
- Ways to use Pinterest in the oil and gas industry.
- How to make Pinterest work for your professional services business.
- Pinterest for a forklift company? Yes!
- How a luxury car dealership uses Pinterest.
- 5 ways to promote your help desk department with Pinterest.
Get the idea, yes? Not many people will be looking for articles on forklifts and Pinterest, but you’re feeding the search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.helpdesksoftware.com/blog/5-ways-to-promote-your-help-desk-department-with-pinterest.html (This link is fictitious. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)
This link provides more keyword power for “service desk” especially if the company’s other content already uses those keywords in the headlines. While few may look for “service desk pinterest,” “service desk” appearing in the headline and link will help the site pump its keyword muscle.
You may wonder if adding obvious keywords into an article like these has a phoniness about it. As a writer, I’m extra sensitive to keyword phoniness in web content. In this case, you treat those specifics as your example.
Be careful, though. Try to write these articles without mentioning your company, product, or service. Why? A client needed articles on how to evaluate help desk software. Go on and give it a shot. Search for “evaluate help desk software” and see what you find. Most of the time, the search engine produces few results. And when they do, the article mentions the company’s product.
Lost. Link. Opportunity. The company needing these articles doesn’t want to link to articles mentioning its competitors’ products. This also makes an argument for having a company blog under a separate URL. Even if the competitor doesn’t mention its products, the company wouldn’t want to send prospects anywhere on the competitor’s site.
What do you think? Should bloggers and writers stop writing about the popular topics? Do the niche thing? Something else?
Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 at 9:50 AM
Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Pesi Dinnerstein’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys! [affiliate] Read on to see how you can win.
About Pesi Dinnerstein: Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak) has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories. Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years.
She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.
The Joy of a Good Verb by Pesi Dinnerstein
I’ve never liked verbs very much. Adjectives have always been more my speed. How things look and feel and smell are generally more interesting to me than what they do. Whether someone sips or swigs or guzzles their coffee concerns me less than the fact that it’s steaming hot, creamy beige and mocha-flavored with a hint of vanilla.
Most of the verbs that are part of my daily life are not particularly exciting. I drive from here to there; I return a phone call; I lose my keys — I find my keys — I lose my keys again; I unload the dishwasher — I reload the dishwasher; I water my garden; I steam my vegetables; I try to remember to breathe. It’s all necessary, but pretty boring.
I would certainly rather spend my time in the presence of a flaming orange sunset or an iridescent ocean wave. Hanging out with an adjective is so much more satisfying.
However, a few years ago, something shifted. As I was writing A Cluttered Life and thinking about all the things that make my life unmanageable, I couldn’t help but notice that my world was becoming more and more crowded with adjectives and the objects to which they were attached.
Then, one day, an old friend came to visit. She had never seen my house in quite the state it was in at that moment, and her eyes opened wide as she stepped through the front door.
“This place feels very . . . stuck,” she said, expressing many layers of meaning in that one well-chosen word — which, interestingly enough, just happened to be an adjective.
She was absolutely right. My home was stuck; my things were stuck; and I was feeling increasingly stuck myself.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that what I needed were a few dynamic verbs to help me break through my own inertia. The ones I was currently engaged with — observing, reflecting, writing — were not creating much movement in my life. The situation clearly called for action. Organize; fold; file; recycle; throw out — do something! I immediately put the book aside. It was obviously time to stop describing my mess and start dealing with it.
And, then, a strange thing happened. When I returned to the manuscript, I found myself dissatisfied with many of the chapters that had seemed perfectly fine to me before. Now, they felt stuck as well.
So, I began to delete adjectives and add verbs. It was painful at first, but, before long, light and air seemed to flow into my sentences — and I could feel the manuscript beginning to breathe.
But change is not easy to hold on to. Although I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good verb — in my life as well as in my writing — I continue to prefer the comfort of a friendly adjective.
And when I take my morning walk tomorrow, I probably still won’t notice the running and skating and bicycling going on because, once again, I’ll be too busy enjoying the beautiful, brightly colored, deliciously fragrant world around me.
About Dinnerstein’s Book: Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys (Seal Press) is the story of Pesi Dinnerstein’s quest to create a simple and orderly life—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear. When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance reveals the extent to which disorder has crept into every corner of her existence, Pesi determines to free herself, once and for all, of the excess baggage she carries with her. Along the way—with the help of devoted friends, a twelve-step recovery program, and a bit of Kabbalistic wisdom—her battle with chaos is transformed into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.
Comment and win: The prize: winner gets a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys!. For a chance to win, please leave a comment about clutter, getting organized, changing your vocabulary or whatever comes to mind after reading this post (other than you wanna win!). You have until 11:59pm on January 31, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.
Friday, December 9th, 2011 at 6:32 PM
Image from sxc.hu user wolliballa
The AP is Changing the Way Their Reporters Use Twitter reports that the Associated Press (AP) is forbidding writers from sharing opinions in Twitter, including opinions of others through retweets. I understand AP wants to ensure its reputation for unbiased reporting remains intact.
My initial reaction was tripping over my jaw that had somehow landed on the floor. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood the concern. Let’s say you read an unbiased AP article about hydraulic fracturing. If the AP writer who wrote the story has a Twitter account and tweeted that the problems surrounding hydraulic fracturing are overblown, how would that affect the article? Future articles?
What if the writer makes no mention of writing for AP in his Twitter bio? When I tweet a link to a story, I often look up the writer for a Twitter ID to credit the person with writing the story. If I do that with the hydraulic fracturing writer and see opinionated tweets on the subject — could that reflect on AP and the writer?
As I think about this, I’m at a loss on the right way to handle this. With so much low quality, biased reporting today — maybe it’s necessary for AP to do it for the sake of integrity.
What do you think of AP’s actions? Are they exempt or should it apply to other publications? What about companies? Can employees be allowed to share opinions about competitors and their industry?
And now for your weekly links.
Brain food …
For fun …
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011 at 9:15 AM
Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Mari McCarthy’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a prize of the winner’s choice! Read on to see how you can win.
About Mari McCarthy: Mari L. McCarthy is The Journaling Therapy Specialist, founder of Create Write Now and Journaling for the Health of It™. Mari offers guidance, counseling and encouragement to writers through her many journaling eBooks and in private Journaling Jumpstart consultations. Mari’s hosting the next Peace of Mind and Body: 27 Days of Journaling Challenge starting January 2, 2012. Please join her!
Her new Dark Chocolate for the Journaler’s Soul ebook compiles the journaling journeys of 17 journalers who have shared their stories on Create Write Now’s Journal Writing Transforms You blog. Reading these stories is both comforting and enlightening, sort of like dark chocolate, a food that is good for your health despite being sinfully delicious!
Journaling for Documentation by Mari McCarthy
There are innumerable reasons why keeping a journal is beneficial. From dreaming to scheming to moaning and groaning, filling the pages of your journal with your various states of being is the most direct route I know to personal achievement, resolution and inner peace.
However, probably the oldest and most fundamental purpose of journaling is its use as a documentary. Surely the caveman’s wall paintings were a kind of journal, to share with posterity his achievements and the details of his days. And ever since, people have kept diaries for the simple reason that they wish to document their lives: what happens, who they meet, where they are and all the minutiae of their experience.
Nowadays, we tend to think our time is far too pre-occupied for such pursuits. But if we read the journals of predecessors, we can quickly see what a great gift such writings can be. Despite the rush and roar of 21st century life, keeping a journal will benefit not only our own peace of mind, but also that of our descendants.
If you have experienced the death of an elder in your family, you know that such passing away is always shocking, no matter how expected it may have been. And in so many cases, we regret that we did not know the deceased as well as we might have wished. Moreover, our children and their children may later on become curious about their ancestors. Isn’t it appropriate, then, that we take pains to prepare for this eventuality by documenting our lives in a journal?
So the diary-kind of journaling is precious and obviously important. But note that there are many other kinds of journaling for documentation, as well.
- Keeping a travel journal is a great way not only to maintain a record for the future but also to heighten your enjoyment of the experience as it is happening. Jotting down notes, describing places and scenes in detail, reflecting on the meaning of what you see and recording your personal reactions gives you a more well-rounded awareness of your journey.
- You might want to keep a journal that documents your progress on a project, something that you create over time. This could be professional or personal. You might document your work with underprivileged children; or your participation in a mastermind group; or your process of learning to paint landscapes.
- A journal documentary of your commitment to weight loss, or to stopping an unhealthy habit or building a healthy one, or to a new personal relationship can be powerfully helpful in achieving your goals, in addition to providing a record of progress that will give you much satisfaction when you re-read your entries later on.
- Another kind of documentary journaling may focus on a certain area of your life. Try journaling about what you cook and eat each day, about your child’s growth and learning, about your garden, or about your spiritual experiences. Remember that while most journals involve writing, they can also (or alternatively) include drawings or scrapbooked items pasted into the pages.
There are endless ways to document the details of your consciousness in a journal. Never think this is a vain pursuit or waste of time. By journaling your experiences, you deepen your own life and potentially enrich the lives of many others in the process.
Comment and win: The prize: winner gets to pick one of three prizes, which are Dark Chocolate for the Journaler’s Soul ebook, a Dark Chocolate for the Journaler’s Soul T-shirt or Mari’s Most Musefull Journaling Tips (8 1/2 x 11 Spiral Bound).
For a chance to win, please leave a comment about journaling, documentation or whatever comes to mind after reading this post (other than you wanna win!). You have until 11:59pm on December 14, 2011 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.
Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 9:42 AM
Guest post by Margaret Norton
Five years ago, when I started thinking about writing my first book, most people recommended a traditional publisher rather than self-publishing. I took that advice many times, but since then I’ve wondered if I made the right choice.
One year after my book was released, I terminated my relationship with my publisher. There were several reasons for this: I felt that I was doing most of the work anyway – except for printing the book – so why not get the full financial reward? However, my biggest reason was lack of control. I felt that I had very little say over anything that happened with my book and I had no way to track my marketing efforts. Like most new writers, I wasn’t making much money anyway, so why not venture out on my own?
That was five months ago and this is what I’ve learned so far:
The electronic author has most of the same problems as the traditional author. For the new writer, the biggest problem is publicity. I am doing the same things I was doing 18 months ago – press releases, blog tours, working social media, trying to build a name for myself as a writer, etc. The only thing I’m not doing is physical book signings, which I could do with my remaining stock, but have chosen not to. My goal is to have a total virtual experience.
Technology is the biggest epublishing challenge, especially if you’re weak in this area. For months, I took classes and read articles to prepare for this change, yet I’m almost overwhelmed with the amount and content of the information. Initially, I was under the impression that there were two major formats – Mobi for Amazon’s Kindle and epub for everything else.
What I’m learning is there are variations on these two and it hasn’t been as easy as it sounded. Most web sites that publish books have technical departments that are very helpful and there are companies that assist you with the technical aspects of epublication such as formatting and creating ecovers.
Numerous outlets exist for epublications. New writers are usually encouraged to purchase their own books from the publisher until they create a demand for their product. Epublishers typically do not have as many restrictions and once your book is in the correct format, you can often list it free. One list had 40 web sites that allow you to sell books online.
This is time consuming. Some have regulations, some charge small fees, some have time limits, most let you set your own price with a minimum and maximum, some allow you to give your book away or free chapters, some have blogs and community support and some list your book with other sites and help with the promotion.
Payment is quicker with epublication and varies by site – PayPal, check or electronic transfer. Returns are not as likely with ebooks, a good thing. It takes time to get everything set up. Once this is done, all you have to do is maintain and collect your checks.
Changing from traditional publishing to epublishing is going from one extreme to another. I no longer feel that I have little control. Instead, I have total control over everything that pertains to the distribution, promotion and sale of my book. If it doesn’t do well, I can’t blame my publisher. On the other hand, if it does, then I’ll get to claim all the glory. The royalties are less per book, but the expectation is that I’ll sell more books.
Publishers tend to send you out to pasture unless you continue to generate healthy sales numbers. Online sales are different – they don’t drop you if sales are down. You can spend the rest of your life promoting a book and perhaps generate some healthy sales over time. For me, this was a chance that I was willing to take.
If you’d like a copy of the list of 40 web sites, the name of the company who did my formatting, my ecover designer or others who’ve helped me in this process, please contact me at margnorton at yahoo dot com.
About Margaret Norton: Margaret Norton has always pushed the envelope – never totally accepting the status quo. A people person, her greatest joy comes from helping others. Preventing abuse, empowering women and improving health are her passions. As a personal life coach, Margaret founded Life Transitions to help individuals deal with change. In addition, she’s a trained Stephen Minister and Dale Carnegie Coach. This training, along with her personal life experiences, makes her a caring and compassionate coach. Her stories have appeared in A Light Along the Way, the Upper Room, various local newspapers, and on-line.
Margaret Norton’s When Ties Break: A Memoir About How to Thrive After Loss chronicles one woman’s struggles through life, encumbered by far more than her fair share of burden, and her eventual triumph. The author provides an excellent guide through the tribulations of life, having survived divorce, abuse, abortion, excommunication, chronic illness, homelessness, death, bankruptcy, sibling rivalry, adultery, single parenthood, drug addiction, low self-esteem and depression.
Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 at 9:16 AM
Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Melissa Ann Goodwin‘s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of her book The Christmas Village [affiliate]. Read on to see how you can win.
About the author: Melissa Ann Goodwin is a native New Englander, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, artist J. Richard Secor. She has written extensively for Fun for Kidz, Boys’ Quest and Hopscotch for Girls. She was a regular feature article contributor to the Caregiver’s Home Companion for more than five years. Her poetry took 10th prize in The Writer’s Digest 2010 annual competition. WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re hosting a giveaway of her book The Christmas Village is her first novel.
Doing It Anyway: How I Overcame My Fears about Writing by Melissa Ann Goodwin
I doubt there is a writer alive whose brain doesn’t feel as thick and frozen as a Dairy Queen Blizzard before sitting down to write. It’s why we post on Facebook, sort the laundry and make out the shopping list, when our firm intention that day was to get writing First Thing. We do this, often, because we’re scared. A thousand undermining thoughts creep into our minds: What if I try to write and nothing comes? What if what I write is awful? What if, GASP, it’s not perfect?
But how do we silence that insane Drama Queen screaming inside our heads, terrifying us into paralysis of the pen? Believe me; I count myself among the biggest fraidy-cats of all time. In fact, I let fear keep me from writing for almost 40 years. But I found some practices that have helped me overcome those fears. If you feel a bit paralyzed before sitting down to write, maybe these ideas will help you too.
Make Like the Buddha and Calm Down: Besides being a writer, I’m also a yoga teacher. Part of our goal in yoga is to focus and calm the mind. Similarly, clearing the mind of distractions before writing can help quiet your fears and make it easier to get started. Try this: Sit comfortably and just breathe. Try to empty your mind, but don’t be aggressive about it. Let your thoughts come and go. If you are thinking about your shopping list or other “life” things, just mentally whisper the word, “later,” and try to move on. When you feel calm, open your eyes and start writing.
Leave Your Mind Out of It: The idea of writing without thinking might sound strange at first, but in my experience, it definitely works! After calming yourself with quiet breathing, open your eyes and start writing whatever comes to mind, without even thinking about it. Keep writing fast, without stopping or thinking, for as long as you can. If you slow down and get stuck, write, “I don’t know what to write this is really stupid I can’t believe she told us to do this and I can’t believe I’m doing it.” Good! Keep going. The next thing you know you’ll be writing something coherent and unexpected and surprising. You’ll be amazed by what comes out of you that you had no idea was hiding inside there.
Perfect Makes Crazy: I used to think that what I wrote had to come out of me fully formed and close to perfect. What a silly goose I was! No wonder my panic-stricken fingers hovered over the keys like a Zamboni with transmission trouble. How did I learn to let go of this perfection complex? By giving myself permission to write what the brilliant writer Anne Lamott calls a “shitty first draft.” Just let stuff flow out of you without judgment or mental editing. Let it be really and truly awful. Celebrate its awfulness! After all, that’s why they invented revision.
I think that overcoming our writing fears is less about particular techniques than it is about learning to trust that the well of inspiration is deep and limitless. I’ve discovered that no matter how awful my first draft is, there is always something in it that is worth keeping – a word, a phrase, a snippet of dialogue. Something. We’re all different, and different things will work for each of us. The trick is to experiment, and while you’re experimenting, you’ll be writing. And the more you are writing, the more you will learn to trust in that infinite well.
About The Christmas Village: Jamie Reynolds wished that he could live in Grandma’s miniature Christmas village, and now that wish has magically come true. But is the village really what it seems? What stunning secrets does it hold? And how will Jamie ever get back home? Join the fun, come along on the adventure, and find out!
Comment and win: For a chance to win a copy of The Christmas Village, leave a comment about dealing with any writing struggles. How do you deal with perfection? Facing a blank page? Or share what you think happens in The Christmas Village based on the above description. You have until 11:59pm on November 15, 2011 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic Random.org has the honor of picking the winner.
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