Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Write a Sestina

In my last post, I started talking about poetic techniques. I want to continue to share that love with you by talking about a format I love.  It's a lesser-known poetic form called a sestina.

Poetic forms with strict rules are a challenge, but writing these constructions is a great way to expand your skill as a writer. The sestina is a unique poetic structure that is a great challenge to writers. Though the form may seem intimidating, once you learn the basics you will find that composing sestinas is fun and rewarding.

Sestina Basics

Sestinas are formed by 39 lines, divided into seven stanzas. The first six stanzas are each composed of six lines while the last one only has three, and is a conclusion to the poem. Before you begin writing a sestina, you will need to decide on six words that will repeat throughout the poem.

Each stanza uses these same six words at the end of the six lines; however the order is changed in every stanza. The final stanza of three lines has two of your words per line - one in the middle and another at the end. Choose the six words that you intend to use before you begin writing the poem, and then structure the end words like this:

Stanza 1: A, B, C, D, E, F
Stanza 2: F, A, E, B, D, C
Stanza 3: C, F, D, A, B, E
Stanza 4: E, C, B, F, A, D
Stanza 5: D, E, A, C, F, B
Stanza 6: B, D, F, E, C, A
Stanza 7: AB CD EF

Sestina Tips
  1. Choose end words that have multiple meanings. If you can use your words in different ways depending on the context of the stanza, your sestina will have more depth.
  2. Read sestinas to learn how to write them. Many poets have experimented with the sestina form. The poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote two famous sestinas, titled "Sestina" and "A Miracle For Breakfast" which are two very different versions of the form. Other good examples that can easily be found online include Rudyard Kipling's "Sestina of the Tramp-Royal" and Ezra Pound's "Sestina: Altaforte."
  3. In your first draft, list the number of the end word at the beginning of each line. This will help you organize your thoughts. If you compose on the computer, you can simply type the end words first and then fill in the rest of the poem.
  4. Do not worry about using a rhyme scheme in your sestina. Because of the changing order of the end words, it is difficult to come up with a consistent pattern. Focus your efforts on the form itself.
  5. Keep your language simple. It is complicated enough to create a coherent poem with specified words at the end of each line. Begin with basic word choice until you master the form.
  6. Practice as much as you can. As with any form of poetry, the more often you write it, the more comfortable you will become with the structure. Your first attempts may be poor, but those first steps will help you improve.

Writing structured poetry is rewarding. It is a personal challenge to create a poem that not only expresses genuine emotion, but does it in a tightly controlled format. Practice writing sestinas with these tips and you may find a new favorite poetic form.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Poetic Techniques for Free Verse

I haven't written about poetry much here, although I love to write it.  I love form and structure and finding the perfect word for the sound and rhythm I am looking for.  I write a lot of sonnets.

Poetry is a difficult genre to define, especially when speaking about works of free verse or vers libre. Free verse is a popular modern poetic form, especially for novice poets. The freedom of structure allows the writer to do as they like with their ideas. Though free verse poetry does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter like other poetic forms, there are still recognizable techniques that identify it as poetry.

Meter

Not all free verse is completely without meter. Cadenced free verse, for instance, was a form used frequently by Walt Whitman. In cadenced verse, there are rhythmic patterns but they are less structured than other poetic forms. If you are familiar with the different metrical feet, you may want to experiment with ordering them in new ways throughout your poem to give it a musical feel.

Rhyme

Rhyming may be used within the course of a free verse poem; however it is not used in as formal a manner as might be found in a sonnet. Internal rhymes that fall in the middle of a line may be a good choice. Or, more sporadic and random rhyme patterns can be used to accentuate certain words. This poetic technique does not have to be completely dismissed for a poem to be considered free verse.

Stanzas

Though there is no set way to break up lines and stanzas, many free verse writers still find ways to make the separations meaningful. Experiment with stanza breaks in your work to find the places where they make sense or strengthen your point. Written poetry is a visual experience for the reader, so you may want to consider the shape of the poem as a part of the form.

Alliteration

Free verse poets often take advantage of other literary devices in place of a rhyme scheme. Alliteration is one of the easiest techniques to identify, and a popular one to write. It is an easy technique to learn so it is accessible to all writers. Alliteration uses the repetition of the beginning sound in two or more words in a row. This string of like sounds will pull attention to the phrase and give it more impact.

Assonance and Consonance

A different kind of "rhyme" can be created by using assonance within your poem. Assonance is a poetic technique in which vowel sounds are repeated. A similar technique, consonance, repeats the sound of consonants during the course of the poem. These techniques do not make a hard rhyming sound, but give the free verse poem a sense of structure.

Imagery

Free verse poetry often takes advantage of metaphor, simile, and imagery. The poem should be vivid so that it does not read like a piece of prose that was broken up into lines. The language you choose should help the reader feel the emotions you are trying to convey. Use imagery that provides them with a sensory experience for the strongest effect.

If you enjoy writing free verse poetry, spend time reading other writers who utilized the format. Walt Whitman was one of the first English-speaking poets to write in free verse, and is an excellent place to begin. Emily Dickinson also has many free verse works in her collection. When you are reading the poems, stop to consider what defines them as poetry. What literary and poetic techniques do the authors employ in place of rhyme or meter?

Learning to write free verse poetry takes as much effort as the more formal poetic structures. In fact, because of the lack of a defined form, free verse can be more difficult to write. Try incorporating some of these poetic techniques into your next poem. They may help you express your ideas and emotions while still retaining a poetic feeling.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Books I Think Everyone Should Read

Ask any group of voracious readers to list the top five books everyone should read in their lifetime, and you are guaranteed a spirited debate. There are so many factors to consider that no two people will view the topic in the exact same way.

Personally, I like to include books that challenge the reader to think and learn. I want them to have positive messages, and promote tolerance and acceptance. And, of course, I want them to be interesting! So here we go, my five books that everyone should read in their lifetime:

1. A text from a religion OTHER than your own

That's right, I'm not just going to recommend the Bible since most people already have at least some familiarity with the stories. Whether you choose the Five Classics of Confucianism, the Qur'an of Islam, the Talmud of Judaism, or whatever else catches your interest, learn something new about an unfamiliar faith and culture. Try the Rigveda (one of the sacred texts of Hinduism). It is the oldest known religious text.

Most of these texts have surprising similarities and attempt to convey the same messages. Maybe if everyone took the time to learn a little bit about another faith, there would be less hate in the world.

2. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" as a student in high school, but decided to pick it up again as an adult and see what else I got from it. I would recommend that others do this as well! It also bears the distinction of being one of the few books whose film rendition is well done, if you absolutely can't bring yourself to read it again.

Lee manages to write a book that maintains the warmth and innocence of childhood, even though the themes range from racism to integrity. I quickly fell in love with Scout (and related to her tomboy nature).

It seems a shame that Lee never wrote another novel after publishing "To Kill a Mockingbird" because her contribution to the world was stunning. I would have loved to see what her second novel might have been like, even if it wasn't such a classic.

3. "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

The Joad family had simple dreams. They wanted a home for their family and honest work. Steinbeck narrates their tale of the journey from Oklahoma to California in "The Grapes of Wrath." It captures the hopelessness of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. What I took away from the book was the fortitude of the Joad family - despite nearly impossible circumstances, they fought onward and did the best they could for the people around them.

If you enjoy Steinbeck and would like to pursue him further, my next suggestion would be to read "Cannery Row" which I debated adding to the list in place of "Grapes." I have never been disappointed by the time spent reading his work. Any would be a wonderful choice!

4. "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach

My cousin gave me this book as a graduation present when I was 17. He said that it helped him through a difficult time in life and hoped that it would do the same for me. I have read this book often since then, and find that

Jonathan is a seagull who is frustrated by the limitations of his life. He wants something more out of his days, but this makes him unpopular among the other gulls and eventually he is exiled from the flock. However, he keeps working and improving himself. He keeps "working on love" as well.

5. "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens

This is an interesting novel to read because it was originally printed in two-chapter installments in a British literary magazine. So, while it maintains coherence as a whole, every two chapters had to have a resolution of its own.

Dickens is another author who has never disappointed me. Following his main character, Pip, move from his humble roots to the world of upper class society, we watch him learn about gratitude and suffering. Pip places social advancement above most other things in his life, and lives to regret it.
As a bonus selection, I would recommend that everyone read one nonfiction book on a subject they know nothing about. What have you always wanted to learn but never took the time for? Whether you have an interest in discovering more about art, geology, astronomy, or philosophy, there are books out there geared towards beginners. Don't wait to learn something new.

There are many other authors who were close to making my list. They include George Orwell, William Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, Frank McCourt, Jane Austen, and Thomas Pynchon. I think I would have had a much easier time selecting a list of 25 books that everyone should read, simply because I have so many favorites that had to be excluded within this small space.

The world is filled with wonderful books - why not set a goal for yourself to read more of them? Grab your library card and explore the wonders!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Writing the Great American Novel

You too can write the next great American novel - if you change your goal to something else. When people expect to write something "great," often they end up writing nothing at all. The expectation puts a pressure on people that causes many to quit after just a handful of pages.

First drafts are not perfect. In fact, even the most popular writers can write first drafts that are downright awful. The story is really created during the editing process. Every great writer goes through numerous rewrites and revisions to turn those drafts into the books we love. If you sit down expecting to write the "great" novel and your first few paragraphs need work, it can be defeating. Writers will often refer to their "inner critic" which is the voice inside their head that criticizes their words as they go. You need to learn to ignore that voice and not worry if your story isn't perfect at first. Polishing comes later!

Write your novel. Write the story that you are bursting to tell. Write about things that you love or you hate. Write about your passions. For new writers, it is important to work on their own story. Attempting to write someone else's idea, or to write in a genre they don't love simply because it is popular, will most likely end in failure. If you love your story, it can sustain you through the difficult sections.

The process to publish a novel can be even more grueling than the initial writing process. It is littered with rejection and criticism, and is not for the thin-skinned writer.

If you want to improve as a writer, begin by reading anything you can get your hands on. Read books in the genre that you want to write in. Choose books by both classic authors and contemporary ones. Learn what you like and what you don't like in novels. A good book can be an excellent lesson in character development, dialogue, and exposition if you take the time to study it.

You also have to practice. Try and write something every day, even if it is just a blog post or journal entry. Purchase a small notebook just for jotting down ideas as they come to you. The wonderful thing about ideas is that the more you use, the more you seem to have! They multiply on their own.

Put your focus on the writing, and not the end product, and you just may end up with a brilliant new novel.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to Find Markets for Your Writing

A writer's livelihood depends on their ability to analyze the available markets and find work for themselves. With the advent of the internet there seem to be more opportunities opening for writers daily. Taking advantage of the market is about research, patience, confidence and persistence.

RESEARCH

The single largest key to breaking into the market is spending time doing research. There are more available magazines and newspapers out there than most writers might think. Search the internet and you may turn up the perfect place to pitch to.

There are many books out there on the business aspects of freelancing that could be of service. One of my favorites is "Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer. Glatzer is a well known author of books and magazine pieces, and covers subjects from pitching to interviews to invoicing.

Even small, local public libraries tend to have a few back issues of a variety of magazines. Take the time to study publications that you are considering pitching. Study the tone and length of the articles and think about where your idea might fit best. If possible, get a copy of the magazine's editorial calendar. This will let you know what the themes and topics of future editions will be, so you can send appropriate ideas.

PATIENCE

The process can be time consuming. Editors are often notoriously slow to respond to queries. Do not expect an immediate response to your email or letter, although they do happen sometimes. Editors are busy people and reviewing pitches is a low priority.

After a month has passed, if you haven't received any response to your email or letter, it is appropriate to follow up and make sure that the editor received your query. Make sure you are professional in all future contacts and "nudging."

CONFIDENCE

Many writers limit the growth of their career because of self-doubt. If you have a proposal for an article that would be perfect for a major, national magazine then find the appropriate editor and send it!

Also, have confidence when it comes to your pay rates. Too many writers continue to write for free or very low pay when they have the opportunity to move on. If you have previously written for a magazine and have proven that you do good work and get it in before the deadline, then try asking for a slightly higher rate. There are freelance writers out there making more than $1 per word - wouldn't you like to be among them?

PERSISTANCE

Inevitably, writers will face rejection. No matter how talented you may be your style will not be the right fit for every magazine or website that you query. This does not mean that your idea isn't worthy. Continue to pitch other magazines! If you believe that your story is good, there will be someone out there who wants it. Develop a tough skin and be tenacious.

Spend time learning as much as you can about the market, and you will be rewarded. Good luck and happy writing!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Writing a Persuasive Argument

We write for many reasons - to entertain, to inform, to delight, and to convince.  Creating an effective argument with your writing may seem simple on the surface, but it takes practice to persuade people with words. You need to have passion for your subject, a good understanding of the issues, and structure your writing in a way that makes your point powerful. These simple tips will help you construct your essay or article in a way that gets your point across.

Know Your Purpose

Why are you writing this essay or article? Writing that has a purpose will always be the stronger writing. If you are writing on a specific assignment, there will be guidelines to follow. Consider the format and structure that would be most appropriate.

Consider Your Audience

Who are you trying to persuade with your argument? If your essay or article has a specific audience, think about the knowledge and perspective they may already have on the subject. If your audience already has some expertise on the topic, you may be able to leave out general background information. However, an argument geared towards a novice may have to begin at a more basic place.

Use Reliable Sources

Everyone has an opinion. It will make your writing and your argument stronger if you have reliable, impressive sources to back up your assertions. Use quotes from noted authorities on the subject within your essay or article. Take care when you search for sources on the Internet - Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information or quotes. Finding unbiased information, such as scientific studies, makes a larger impact than sources with an obvious slant.

Understand the Other Side

If you want to persuade people of your point of view, it is important to understand the arguments on the other side. Prepare yourself for the arguments that your opponent will throw at you. This will allow you to provide a quality rebuttal in the course of your essay. Have a well rounded view of your subject before you begin to write.

Write Concisely

The most persuasive writing is often the simplest. Keep your sentence structure simple and remove unnecessary words. You may be tempted to overwork your essay to make it appear more "academic." However, simple writing tends to be more powerful. Make your writing accessible to everyone who reads it.

Pay Attention to the Introduction and Conclusion

The introduction and conclusion are often the most powerful paragraphs in an essay. In any piece of writing, the introduction should pull the reader in and make them want to read the rest of your work. If your introductory paragraph is weak, you are not giving the reader a reason to continue reading. Your conclusion is a chance for you to sum up your argument and drive your point home in a strong way. While this can be the most difficult paragraph to write, it is important to spend time crafting and revising your conclusion.

Practice

Like any skill, composing a persuasive argument on paper takes practice. Continue to hone your writing skills and seek out critiques from people you trust. Revise your work several times once you complete your rough draft, taking any advice that seems useful to you. As you grow as a writer, you will learn what strategies work for you.

Knowing how to write an effective argument is an important skill for any student, employee, or writer. If you write with honesty, integrity, and knowledge of the subject, you should have no trouble convincing your audience of your point of view.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Winding Down at Helium

So, you've probably noticed the abundance of posts here lately.  As I mentioned previously, it was because another site I wrote for is closing it's doors.  I started deleting content there and scheduling it for publication here.

That site is Helium (most recently Helium Network).

I joined Helium in December 2007.  It was the first site that ever paid me to write something.  Most of my content there is from 2008 and 2009.  In 2010, I started disagreeing with the direction the site was going and feeling that the writers weren't being heard.  I kept my account active, but didn't contribute much anymore.  Between the recession and the difficulty of managing a content site successfully, it continued to slide.

When I got the email that they were closing down, I wasn't surprised.  What did surprise me, though, was all the emotion I felt when I started deleting content.  I pulled down all my poetry first, since I didn't really want it online anymore and I have it stored elsewhere.  I started remembering and feeling nostalgic.

Although I haven't actively written for Helium for several years now, I think I'm going to miss it.  It's where I first connected with writers and started learning how to write web content.  I keep deleting and posting the content to other relevant sites, but it's definitely a reminder of the first moment where I felt like I was a Writer.

When did you first feel like you were a Real Writer?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Much Detail is Too Much?

"Beware of the man who won't be bothered with details."
-William Feather

One of the challenges of writing is providing the reader with an appropriate level of detail. You want your audience to be able to visualize the scene, but excessive numbers of adjectives can dilute the story.

Part of the appeal of books is the ability for the reader to stretch their imagination. They take the details and descriptions that the writer provides, and turn them into images in their mind. Why do so many film adaptations fail to meet the expectations of a book's fans? Because the film is the vision of a small group of people, and may have little resemblance to what other readers picture. They have to have enough details to begin forming their image, but excessive amounts can destroy that pleasure.

Too many unnecessary details can hurt the narrative as well. When the author is busy describing the scene, there is no action taking place. It is like looking at a still photograph instead of a moving scene.

"Purple prose" is another description for overwrought text that is so flowery that it distracts the reader from the story. When someone sits down to read your story, you want them to be completely engaged in what is happening. When your words draw attention to themselves instead of to the action, it can break that concentration. The reader may even lose their ability to suspend their disbelief.

In Stephen King's book "On Writing," he describes the process of cutting scenes that you love as being able to "kill your darlings." Sometimes the passages that you love the most and are beautifully written are not ones which advance the story. As hard as you may find it to be objective, try to step back on your story and see if the details really add to what you are trying to portray. If it doesn't move the story forward, take the plunge and cut it.

I suggest rereading several of your favorite books, paying specific attention to how the writer uses details. Most successful writers have a talent for weaving details into the action so that they are unobtrusive. Study the books you admire, and determine what you like and dislike.

So much of developing your writing skills depends on practice. Keep reading, keep writing, and have fun!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Good Subjects for Novels

So many writers fall into the trap of trying to write in the trendy genres and subjects of the day. These people see the successes of authors like Rowling, King, and Grisham and try to emulate that instead of developing their own style. They seek external opinions regularly and always want to know what books people are buying.

The problem is that there is no way to predict what will be the hot literary fad in advance. The publishing process is slow. Many authors can spend years trying to land a deal with a publisher, and even then it can be another year before their book hits store shelves. The subjects that people want to read about today may be dated before the book hits the press.

If you are interested in selling your work, the best agents and publishing houses are not looking for more of the same work that is already out there. They are looking for the next trend and the next popular author.

The best subject for a novel is one that the author is passionate about. What do you love? What do you hate? What questions intrigue you? Ask yourself "what if" questions about situations in your life. People watch. Keep a notebook specifically for jotting down ideas as you think of them.

Walking into any bookstore should tell you that there are a wide variety of readers waiting for new books. Just because certain authors are popular does not mean that other genres stop selling. There will always be people looking for the new and the different.

If you write something that you are uninterested in, your story will probably lack passion. That is, if you even finish it! Writing a novel is hard work, and you would be doing yourself a disservice to try and write 80,000 words on a subject that bores you. There are so many people who want to write a novel, but never get past the first ten pages. You increase your odds of writing a successful draft by writing what you love.

Don't spend time worrying about what has and hasn't been done already. Many of the best books out there are based on ideas that were already written. What is important is your fresh perspective and unique voice.

Write for yourself first. The best subject for your novel is the one that you feel inspired to write about. It is said that everyone has a story to tell - find yours and share it with the world!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Finding the Perfect Title

Writers often struggle to create the perfect title for their work. Whether you write fiction, articles, or blog posts you will need to give your work a title. The title is the first thing that your reader will see and can be an effective marketing tool. Try these easy tips to help create a great title for your latest writing.

Write Titles Last

Many writers try to create a title to their story or article before they even begin writing. However, drafts often grow and change as they are written. Save the title until last and you will have a better understanding of your work's true meaning. Your title may come to you during the writing process without having to think about it at all. If you feel like you have to call your work something while you are writing, use the name of a main character (or the subject matter if you are writing nonfiction).

Find an Important Phrase

Is there a significant image or message hidden within your manuscript? Using an important concept from your piece in the title can help strengthen the message. Even the name of a pivotal character may be an effective title, so long as they have a unique and powerful name. The significant phrase may be found near the end of the book, causing your readers to wonder why you selected it until everything comes together.

Offer Intrigue

When your reader sees your title for the first time, they should want to know more. Don't give away everything with your title. Pose more questions than answers and you will gain more readers. What is the significant event that brings about the climax of your work? If the point of the title is not revealed until late in the writing, your audience may be propelled to keep reading and find out what it means.

Study Other Titles

All it takes is a trip to the bookstore to begin studying other titles in your genre. Head to your favorite section and see which books catch your attention. What do you want to pick up? Why is that title so special? If you write for magazines, newspapers, or the internet, it is also simple to research. Study the market and see what is out there. Gather five or six of your favorite titles and take the time to analyze why they work for you.

Brainstorm

Take fifteen minutes and make a list of as many possible titles as you can come up with for your work. Don't think too hard or overanalyze what you write. They may not all be usable, but by having a wide selection you will increase your chances of finding the perfect title for your work. If you already have beta readers, you can try having a brainstorming session with them and bounce ideas off each other.

Think About Keywords

If you write for blogs, websites, or ezines, you want to make sure that your work has the best search engine optimization possible. When giving your work a title, consider possible keywords that people would search for. Many websites are available to track hot keywords. Using those searchable phrases in your URL and title are two of the fastest ways to improve your rank in search results.

Use a Subtitle if Needed

Don't feel limited to just a few words if you have the option to include a subtitle. You can add a few more details to help your reader understand what you will be writing about. If your title is especially oblique, a subtitle can clarify the exact subject of your manuscript. Subtitles are also a great idea for web writing, because you can include an entirely different set of keywords from the ones used in your title.

Eliminate Weak Words

Create your title out of powerful words. Eliminate any weak or unnecessary choices. Do you really need to start your piece with "The" or is the title stronger without it? Use descriptive words that evoke specific images in the mind of your reader. Try slashing any unnecessary words from your title and see if it doesn't become stronger and more interesting.

Let choosing a title for your writing be a fun part of the process. It does not have to be stressful. Be patient if the perfect option does not come to you right away. Step away from your manuscript and a great title just might emerge. Let these tips help your title become an organic part of the manuscript.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What genre should I write?

Beginning a novel is a daunting task. There are so many decisions to make that it can be frustrating just to decide what genre you want to write in. Every author has unique talents and abilities that might direct their storytelling towards a particular genre. But how do you find yours?

Writing is not only an act of love; it is a long process full of edits and revisions. You should make your story something that you have passion for. When you sit down to read, what kinds of books do you like to pick up? What kinds of movies interest you? What topics are you an expert on? Analyzing your own entertainment preferences can help you narrow down the list and find out what makes you happy.

Don't choose a genre simply because it is trendy at the time. Not only will you have a more difficult time writing a story you don't care about, but the genre may be out of style by the time you finish your book! The publication process is long and, even if your work is accepted by a publishing house, it can take up to a year for it to appear on bookstore shelves. Trying to predict what will be the current fad that far into the future is nearly impossible.

Keep a notebook of the ideas that pop into your head. Even if you only jot down a sentence or two, this record will help you choose a new idea when you are ready to start a new project and discover what genres most interest you. Read through your notebook and make notes in the margins of what genre might best suit the idea. Do you see any patterns forming? If you are constantly coming up with ideas in one particular genre, don't fight your muse. Write them!

Genre is ultimately about marketing, not writing. It helps categorize the writer into a place on bookstore shelves. Authors often feel pressure to write future books in the same genre as their first simply so they can build a following of fans. It can be difficult to maintain an audience if your books are widely varied.

But remember, just because there is pressure to continue in one genre does not mean you have to follow it. If you want to write in multiple genres do not feel obligated to limit yourself! Many published writers have books in a variety of genres. You may wish to take on a pen name for one or more of them (for marketing reasons) but it is certainly an option.

When you begin a first draft, don't worry about what others expect you to write or what you think might sell. Just write for yourself and have fun!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tips for Writing a Cookbook

Celebrity chefs are the new icon and many of them are pouring cookbooks onto the market. However, this does not mean that a newcomer should give up their dreams of writing a cookbook. More and more kitchens are home to large collections of cookbooks. Putting together a collection of your own may seem like a simple task, but creating one that consumers want to purchase can be difficult. If you are thinking of writing your own cookbook, here are some tips to get you started.

Read Other Cookbooks

Spend some time in your local bookstore or public library to research what kinds of books are on the market. Pay attention to how the books are organized, what information is presented, and what subjects are covered. What about these books do you like? What do you think could be improved on? Is there something obviously missing? If there is a type of cookbook out there that you would want to purchase, it is likely that other people would as well.

Find a Hook

Can you describe the theme of your cookbook in a single sentence? Focus your energy on a specific idea, ingredient, or course. There are plenty of large, general cookbooks on the market. Most homes contain a copy of the Joy of Cooking or a similar tome. What people are looking for is something that details many ways of preparing their favorite type of cuisine, or something that exposes them to something new and different.

Be Original

There are thousands of cookbooks on the market today. What makes your hook different from all the books that have already been published? Do you have a new take on an old idea? Do you have information or expertise that makes you uniquely qualified to write this cookbook? Publishers receive numerous submissions every day. It is important that your cookbook stand out and not be a clone of something already on their list.

Make it Uniform

Standardize the way you present your recipes when you are organizing your cookbook. Use the same system of measurement throughout. Make sure that your abbreviations are consistent if you are going to use them. Your cookbook should feel like one entity from the beginning to the end. If you decide to self-publish your book, the formatting will be entirely up to you so it is simplest to decide on the style from the beginning.

Be Specific

Could a cooking novice pick up your book and create your recipes? If you are writing for the home cook, make sure that your directions are clear and specific. There may be steps that you take for granted, but a novice cook will need to know exactly what it expected of them. List the equipment that will need, including sizes as applicable. Use measurements instead of phrases like a "dash" or a "sprinkle" whenever possible. Include estimated cooking and preparation times on each recipe.

Tell a Story

Many successful cookbooks include small paragraphs or even entire stories about the recipes that are presented. Sharing your own point of view about the recipes allows you to bring your unique story into the mix. This introductory paragraph can also be a good place to mention any possible variations or additions to the recipe. Bring your own personality to the cookbook will give it heart.

Test Your Recipes Carefully

Your recipes need to work as they are written. Have a friend or other beta reader go through your manuscript and look for any inconsistencies, inaccuracies, or other errors. Then sit down to actually cook them. If your readers find that your recipes fail, they will not buy your next effort.

Writing a cookbook is a fun and exciting way to share culinary knowledge with the world. There will always be a market for great recipes. Spend time thinking about your ideas and brainstorming what recipes might best work in your outline. By utilizing these tips, you can create a cookbook that people will want to read.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting Over Writer's Block

On a blog named Writer's Blocks, eventually I was going to address writer's block.  Although many people out there claim there is no such thing, to me the term refers to times when my creative juices seem blocked and writing seems frustrating.  It happens sometimes.  There are as many different causes as there are writers, and often new writers give up on their project when they get stuck. Don't let that happen to you! Like many writers, I have developed my own set of solutions for writer's block. These are my top five tips:

1. Spend some time outside.

Nature is one of my favorite inspirations. Whether you have access to a wilderness area or just head into your own garden, spending time outdoors can be a great way to reinvigorate your creativity. Take a notebook with you and simply describe what you see. What sounds, smells, and colors surround you? Try to use all five senses when you paint the scene.

Also, getting your body moving can help relieve the stress associated with writers block. Go for a hike, ride your bike, or meet a friend for a swim. Raising your heart rate not only is good for your cardiovascular system, it also elevates your mood. This can be a huge help when writer's block has you down in the dumps.

2. Work on a different project.

If I get stuck on my novel, I switch gears and work on a short story, poem, or non-fiction article for a while. I like to have multiple works-in-progress (WIPs) for just this reason. When something isn't flowing, I can set it aside and work on something different instead of wasting my time staring at a blank page.

When I focus too long on a project that has me stumped, I just end up frustrated, which further blocks my ability to write. Moving on to a new project allows me to keep my hands moving across the page. Meanwhile, while my brain is distracted on a different project, I often stumble across the solution to the problematic scene!

3. Read something.

Pick up the book you are currently reading, regardless of genre, and sink into it for a few chapters. Forcing yourself to stare at a project that is frustrating can be counterproductive. Let yourself take a break and reread one of your old favorites.

I have quite a few books on the subject of writing, and the ones that I reach for the most are the ones that inspire me to pick up a pen, such as "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg. Also, there are books entirely devoted to writing exercises, like "The 3 A.M. Epiphany" by Brian Kiteley, which can give you a topic to write about or help you decide on where your WIP needs to go next.

4. Jump to a different part of the story.

Are you stuck on a particular scene? Try writing what happens immediately afterwards, or even jumping further forward and writing the ending of your story. Many writers find themselves blocked when they are not sure what the current scene is supposed to accomplish. By writing whatever comes next, you now have a beginning and ending for the section that is causing the block. This can make it much easier to sit down and write.

Often, I get stuck when my mood doesn't fit the scene I am writing. If I am very mellow and quiet, then writing a frantic battle scene just won't work (and visa versa). So I will leave a note in all capital letters in my manuscript, such as "INSERT BATTLE SCENE HERE," and move on to the next chapter or scene that fits my frame of mind. This way I am not procrastinating on my story, and I can come back when I feel prepared to write the scene I skipped.

5. Switch from a word processor to pen and paper.

A change in mediums can often help the artist regain their creative vision. If you always write on a computer, grab a few sheets of paper and compose the next scene longhand. If you always write in a favorite journal, switch it up and type your story directly.

Changing locations can have the same positive effect. If you always write in a particular room of your house, try sitting outside or going to your local coffee shop. Meet up with a fellow writer at a restaurant, and challenge each other to see who can write more in a set period of time.

Every writer has a different solution to writers block. When you start having trouble, the most important thing is to not panic. Take a deep breath and remember that you are in good company and you can get through this!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is the ultimate reward for writing?

Everyone has a different idea of what being a successful writer is. There are probably as many definitions of the ultimate reward as there are writers in the world.

For me, the ultimate reward is the writing itself. When I sit down to write, I get to let go of my stress. Whatever happened during my day disappears as I concentrate on the subject at hand. I can also use any negative emotions to fuel my creative writing and bring real drama to my scenes. By turning my anger or sadness into art, it makes it something beautiful and I can go on with the rest of my day.

Holding a finished article or story in my hand is my second greatest reward. Particularly if I overcame obstacles or writers block, finishing that piece of writing makes me feel that I've accomplished something. Even the simple act of crossing "write one blog post" off my to-do list makes me feel proud!

While my work may not be recognized by the masses yet, I have occasionally received messages from people who were touched or inspired by something I wrote. Once, I asked a question at the end of an article and received a letter from a woman who ran with my ideas and started pursuing a passion she had never made time for. I was floored that a simple article had made such a difference in someone's life!

I don't write for the money or for fame, I write to communicate my ideas, opinions, and creativity. But when someone lets me know that they were inspired to do something they always wanted to try because of something I wrote, it warms my heart. I can live without awards and fame if my writing makes a difference in the life of just one person. That recognition is far more profound.

These questions are ones that all writers should reflect on, whether they write professionally or just for fun. Knowing what is important to you is a great way to improve your efficiency at communicating your message. I am a firm believer that people should know their motivation for participating in creative activities. It can only make their work stronger and more focused.

So take a few minutes to think about it today: What is the ultimate reward from your writing? What would be the ultimate recognition? Why do you love to put words down on the page?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Importance of Good Characters

No matter how strong your premise or plot is, if your reader can't relate to any of your characters they may never finish your book. I have often started reading something only to find myself thinking "Who cares?" when things get difficult for the protagonist. I realized that the majority of these characters either were unrealistic or didn't have clear motivations.

Think about the people in your life. Even the most loving and generous of them have flaws and weaknesses. If you create a perfect hero, it can be difficult for the reader to understand their motivations. Also, you are depriving yourself of great plot points, as he or she struggles with their own limitations and humanity!

There should be a reason behind your characters actions. Spend some time developing a history for your character, even if the details don't appear in your story. Knowing a little about how they grew up or what significant events happened in their past can help make their decisions and speech real. Actions should never seem forced or out of place. Readers suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to become immersed in your story. When a character does something that seems completely against their nature, it distracts the reader from what is happening. Has someone ever told you an anecdote about a person you knew, and you thought "That doesn't sound like something she would do"? You begin to doubt the person you are speaking with. Don't let your reader doubt you.

The same thing should be true for your antagonist. Many of the most evil people in history have truly believed they were doing something good for their country, people, faith or family. Their perceptions may be severely warped due to some traumatic event in their lives, or just their upbringing, but even the villain should have a motivation for what they are doing. Rarely do people act just on a desire to hurt others, although that may be the outcome. Try making your antagonist think that he is the good guy. Give him reasons for what he is doing, even if they are flaws. Your story may become more interesting and complex.

Avoid stereotyping in your writing. Try to make all your major characters well rounded, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. If they have understandable motivations, your reader will be able to connect to them and care about their story. Then the plot you have created can really mean something.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Becoming a Better Writer

Everyone has advice on how to become a better writer. From articles about keeping readers interested in your work to discussion about generating ideas, opinions are numerous. But how do you decide which advice is going to be useful? If you want to improve your writing skills, there are five basic strategies that you might want to consider.

• Practice

This is universally known as the most important thing that a writer can do to improve their skills. Some people subscribe to the practice of writing every day, no matter what. Others set up schedules that fit their lives. However much time you have to allot to writing, make it a priority. Block out the time in your planner and keep the date with yourself. Or, find a writing buddy and work together to motivate yourselves.

• Reading

Reading good literature can help you write good literature. While it may not be as easy as that, reading is essential in developing your skills as a writer. Read in the genre or genres that you want to write in. Read non-fiction and fiction. Read anything that catches your interest. Not only will you be entertaining yourself, you will be taking in the grammar, pacing, and structure of the work as you read. Take a look at some of your old favorites from a critical point of view. How did the author achieve their goals? Why does it affect you in the way it does? What do you love about it and what do you hate? Learning what you don't like when you read the writing of others can be just as important as identifying what you like!

• Classes

There is much debate between writers about whether the skills can be taught. Writing classes vary greatly in their usefulness. If you find a class with an excellent teacher and know what you want to get out of it, writing classes can be a great way to become a better writer. Not only will you be exposed to different techniques, you will have an opportunity to get your work critiqued and meet other aspiring writers. Many great writing groups have begun in a classroom.

• Books on Writing

Most bookstores have many shelves dedicated to books about writing and getting published. Like classes, these vary in usefulness from writer to writer. If you have specific areas that you want to work on, you may find help in a book. Every writer should have a good grammar or style manual in their collection. Though some rules are frequently broken, knowing what they are can help you decide if they are appropriate to break.

Other books on general writing can be useful to aspiring writers who have yet to develop their skills and techniques. Two of the most commonly recommended books on writing are "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg and "Bird By Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life" by Anne Lamott. Ask other writers you know if they have books they recommend. Just make sure that you are not spending so much time reading books on writing that you forget to actually write!

• Critiques and Beta Readers

It is a hard thing to allow someone to critique your work. Receiving feedback on your article or novel takes a thick skin. However, developing relationships with good beta readers is an excellent way to improve your writing. Your betas may help you discover weaknesses that you had not noticed, and will be an extra set of eyes when you proofread. Make sure to choose people whose opinions you trust and remember that you do not have to take every suggestion that they make.

Becoming a better writer is a matter of time and dedication. Whichever of these techniques you choose, the key is persistence. Your writing may not change overnight but as time passes you will find your work becoming better and better.

Monday, June 09, 2014

How to Keep Readers Interested in Your Novel

Writers of novels have to keep the reader interested in the story so that they continue to turn the pages. Anyone can write a novel, but writing a great novel takes a combination of skill and talent. Once a writer has a general plot in mind, the hard work begins. If you are working on a novel, keep these factors in mind while you are writing and your novel will benefit.

Consider Your Audience

Is your novel targeted for adults, young adults, or middle grade readers? Knowing who you are writing for can help you craft an appropriate novel. You need to keep your language and themes at a good level for the age group you are targeting. It might also help to consider other factors about who you are targeting (gender, for instance).

Keep Your Voice Consistent

If you want to keep your reader interested throughout the story, try to keep your tone and style consistent unless you have a good reason to change your perspective. Jumping around in tone or point of view too much can put off the reader, even if they can't verbalize the reason why there is a problem.

Hook the Reader

Beginning your novel with back-story or descriptions of the scenery will not grab their interest. Instead, start your story with some sort of action. Move right into an event, and reveal the history and setting with small details throughout the book. You may find that many of these details are not even necessary, as the reader can imagine the scene with their own spin.

Get Them to Care

If all your characters are unlikable, or are flat caricatures of real people, then why would the reader care what happens to them? All characters need to have strengths and weaknesses. The reader needs to have a reason to root for your main character to succeed in their story. Make them realistic, with some vulnerability.

Hone Your Dialogue

Poorly written dialogue can kill an otherwise great novel. Many writers attempt to cram too much of the story into their characters' conversations, creating "info-dumps" that do not read like actual speech. While your dialogue should be more refined than everyday speech, it might help to spend time listening to the people around you. Also, remember that you characters should each have their own voice. If they all start sounding alike, your reader might wonder if they are all you.

Create Conflict

There needs to be some sort of suspense or conflict for the protagonist of a novel to overcome. Your story will become boring if there is nothing that really challenges your characters. Plant some doubt in your readers mind about whether or not the ending will be happy. Having one central conflict within a novel is the most traditional way to go.

Use Subplots

No one's life is focused on only one event. Even when there is something huge going on, people still go to work, have friendships, and encounter smaller problems. Using subplots can be a good way to develop your characters or create tension in your writing. By having small conflicts that are resolved in the subplots, you can play with the pacing of your story.

Make Them Change

Your characters should grow and develop as they face the obstacles on their journey. Some of the most dynamic stories ever told feature main characters who start off weak, but gradually build the skills to accomplish their goals. They learn who they are, and the reader learns along with them.

Satisfying Ending

Although some people will argue that negative or sad endings can work, it takes great talent to make these unsatisfying conclusions work. The ending to your novel should grow naturally from the story you have told. Many people still prefer the "happy ending" in whatever capacity that is appropriate for your characters.

Writing a novel is a fun and rewarding project, but it takes an extraordinary amount of work to finish. Do not worry if your first draft does not come out the way you would like it to. First drafts are created to get the story down on the page. Then you can use these tips to revise and rewrite your novel until it shines.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Best Books About Writing Fiction

A writer's library is often overcrowded with stacks of favorite books and authors. Every bookstore contains a section devoted entirely to the craft of writing, so making a choice can be daunting. Each writer will find different books useful depending on their needs. There are many standard items that writers should have on hand if they intend to write fiction.

There are a number of reference books that a writer should have in his or her toolkit. First, find out what modern authors are considered the best in your genre and pick up a few of their works. A copy of a style guide, such as "The Elements of Style" is an essential. Books on general writing improvement, such as "On Writing Well" can provide guidance for both fiction and nonfiction work.
If they are seeking publication, they should consider investing in the most recent edition of "Writer's Market." And of course, a high-quality dictionary would round out the collection nicely.

However, when it comes to references that are specific to fiction writers, the choices are much broader. These books contain different techniques, exercises, and personal experience from their authors that can help a new author find their own voice. This list contains ten of the most entertaining and informative books on writing.

1. "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is a talented, witty writer. She manages to combine her personal anecdotes with practical advice seamlessly. I love the title of this book - much of the advice really does pertain to both subjects! Her focus is on taking things one step at a time, and not becoming overwhelmed with the process.

2. "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg
Although she has several books on writing, this is Ms. Goldber's crown jewel. She emphasizes the importance of practicing and free writing. In any other art form, it is expected that the person has to practice before they share their work with the world. However, too often writers seem to believe they have to be working towards something. Practice is never a waste of time!

3. "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Steven King
Half autobiography and half instructions, this book gives an honest look at King's life and attitudes towards writing. He does not sugar-coat his advice for young writers. This is frequently listed as one of the best writing books out there.

4. "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card
This is the only book on my list that is specific to genre writing, but I feel confident in it since SF and Fantasy are such popular genres right now. Card uses wonderful examples to demonstrate subjects like world-building and character development. Several chapters really would apply to writers of any genre.

5. "Steering the Craft" by Ursula K. LeGuin
LeGuin's credits alone justify her writing a book about fiction writing. Her fiction is tight and polished, and I respect her ability with words. This book exceeded my expectations and helped me focus my own work a little better.

6. "Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True" by Elizabeth Berg
Berg maintains a positive attitude throughout her book. Many writers do focus on their hardships and try to keep new writers realistic, but Berg maintains the attitude that passion is the most important element of writing. I certainly agree!

7. "The Tao of Writing" by Ralph L Wahlstrom
The back cover blurb of this book begins with the line "The creative process doesn't have to be torturous." As someone who has dealt with writer's block and sagging middles in my work, it was an appealing line! Wahlstrom connects the 12 principles of Tao with writing in practical ways. It also includes activities, which is a huge bonus for me.

8. "The 3 A.M Epiphany" by Brian Kiteley
"Epiphany" is entirely devoted to writing exercises - more than 200 of them, in fact. There are sections on nearly any aspect of writing that you could need work on. I suggest doing one every day, just for practice.

9. "Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life"
People laugh when I put this on my list, but the book is great fun. It combines some of the best Peanuts strips featuring Snoopy writing his novel with articles and advice by32 authors. It is heartwarming, funny, joyful, and whimsical.

10. "Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life" by Natalie Goldberg
This is the follow up to Goldberg's successful "Writing Down the Bones" and deals with writing as a practice. Goldberg writes like you are a friend she is sharing her process with, making it a very personal work.

While books on fiction writing can provide insight, inspiration, and exercises that benefit the writer, do not hide in them instead of putting your words on the page. Take the tools offered in these and other writing books and use them to create your own work. Happy writing!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

How to Recognize Bad Writing Advice

Mention that you are a fiction writer in public and you may receive a barrage of unsolicited advice. It seems that everyone would write a book if they "only had the time." Friends, family members, and even complete strangers may be quick to tell you what you should write about and how it should be written. Receiving contradictory writing advice can be frustrating for new writers. Separating the good advice from the bad is critical. There are some easy ways to learn to recognize bad writing advice, so you can discard it and continue with your work.

"Always" and "Never"

There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. Every person is different, so they are all going to bring their own schedule and style to the process. Some of the most important works of literature in history ignore common writing rules and guidelines. The rules of writing can be broken when it suits your story. It is important to understand why you are choosing to break a rule, but that doesn't mean you are wrong.

Consider the Source

Sometimes, people have ulterior motives for giving advice. Perhaps you have a friend who is jealous of your writing or a teacher who has never managed to publish - should you really trust these sources? Your non-writer friends may have great intentions when they try to give you advice on writing, but if they have never written a novel or short story, they may not have the knowledge base to help you.

Know Your Style

Every person is going to write differently. Not only is the style of the words you put down on paper going to be different, but your process will be. Some writers swear by waking up an hour early to get their writing time in each day, while night owls could never be successful working like that. Writing is not a one size fits all activity, and any advice will have to be modified to fit into your own style. When you are working on your first novel or short story, it can be difficult to know how to get your best work done. However, with practice you will gain confidence and understanding.

Common Sense

The best way to recognize bad writing advice is to simply listen to yourself. Does the advice make common sense to you? Trust your own instincts. At the end of the day, you are the one that has to sit down and write your story. No one else can do it for you. Only take advice that you feel comfortable using. If it doesn't make common sense to you it is bad writing advice, no matter how many other people have succeeded.

Trial and Error

Sometimes, the only way to recognize if a piece of advice will work for you is to try it out. Authors invariably disagree on many things, such as whether or not to outline their novel before they begin. If you aren't sure whether you should write on the fly or outline, try it both ways! Since your style and sensibilities will vary from other writers, you need to learn what works best for you. Try writing something without an outline and then use one on your next project. What were the pros and cons of each format? Did one feel more comfortable and natural to you?

Learning to write is about practice. As you continue to develop your skills, you will learn which writing advice suits you best. Do not stress out about the advice that others give you. Far too many people who give writing advice are not writing fiction. Learn to recognize what fits with your writing ideals and ignore the rest.

Friday, June 06, 2014

How to Make Difficult Concepts Easy to Understand

When writing articles, you may be called upon to explain complex ideas in simple forms that an everyday reader can understand. Whether you are crafting a "how-to" article or discussing a political theme, there are many techniques for helping your reader understand easily.

Spend time brainstorming your idea. If you are writing a how-to article, for instance, make a list of all the steps. Write down any questions a beginner might have on the subject. If it helps you, create an outline of what information you would like to cover.

Enlist the help of a trustworthy friend during the writing process, preferably one that knows very little about the topic in question. Sit down with him or her and explain the concept from your article orally. Often, talking through a difficult subject can help you discover what needs to be cleared up. Ask your friend where the stumbling points were in your explanation. If possible, have the same friend proofread your finished article.

If appropriate, use bullet points or a numbered list. Not only will these formatting choices create more white space on the page and make it more readable on the screen, it will give your reader a specific order of operations for the project. They can proceed through it step by step, with less likelihood of getting confused.

Explaining difficult social or political subjects can be even more difficult. The factors involved are generally complex. Even if you have a distinct opinion, make sure to research the opposing viewpoints and give them fair consideration. This is not intended to make you change your mind, but to help you understand the opposite side of the debate. If your reader has probably heard information that contradicts your opinion, you should be aware of it and address the inconsistencies.

When addressing social concerns, it can be helpful to give the situation a "face" or an anecdote. Find a real-life story to illustrate your points. Examples can do wonders to clarify tricky subject matter. Let your reader emotionally connect to the subject and show them why it is a topic that should matter to everyone.

Use simple, strong language. Cut out unnecessary words. Make sure that your sentence structure is easy to understand. Too often, writers reach for a thesaurus to make their writing more impressive. When you are working with a difficult concept, don't overcomplicate your writing.

Once your article is complete, let it sit for a day or two. Then you can reread it with a fresh mind. Not only does this strategy help eliminate typos and grammatical mistakes; it can make you more aware of places that need extra explanations.

No matter what kind of article you are writing, take your time and listen to feedback. Practice makes perfect, and explaining difficult concepts is no exception to this rule.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tips for Entering Writing Contests

When you compete in a short story contest, you are facing numerous other talented writers. Your story needs to be polished, complete, and sent in before the deadline in order to have a chance. These simple tips are necessary to successfully participate in a short story competition.

Research the Competition

There are many people out there who want to scam naive writers. It is important to research any short story contest that you want to enter. Double check any contest to make sure that it is hosted by a reputable source, especially if they charge a reading fee. There are many websites available to help you discover legitimate contests, and simply Googling the contest name can often bring up and problems.

Read the Directions

If you don't follow the guidelines completely, you may have eliminated yourself from the contest before it begins. Rules are NOT made to be broken when it comes to contest directions. In many competitions, judges do not even read entries that do not properly format their entries or otherwise break the rules. Stick to the word count or page count that is prescribed in the directions.

Take Your Time

Don't wait until the day before the deadline to write and submit your story. Give yourself several weeks to write, revise, and proofread. By starting a few weeks in advance, you will have time to change your plan if your story does not unfold as you expect. Also, make sure to mail your entry in advance of the deadline.

Revise and Rewrite

Never send the first draft of a story to a competition. Legitimate short story contests are very competitive. You will always be able to find areas to improve a first draft. Once you complete a draft, set it aside for two to three days and work on something else. When you return to your story, you may find blaring mistakes or weak points.

Find a Beta Reader

Do you have a friend or fellow writer who would be willing to give you an honest critique of your work? Finding a great beta reader is important for fiction writers. After working on your story for a significant amount of time, it is helpful to bring in fresh eyes. Keep an open mind when listening to criticism from your beta. They just might be giving you the tools to win the contest!

Proofread

Trusting your computer's spell check program to proofread your short story may lead you to problems. A judge may lose all confidence in your writing if you mistake "their" for "there" in the first sentence. Many writers find it helpful to print out a copy of their story for editing. Reading it backwards may also help highlight errors that you had previously missed.

Have Patience

Decisions can take time. Once you submit your entry, begin working on your next project or competition. There is nothing you can do to change your submission now, so worrying will just distract you from the next opportunity that comes along.

Persistence and determination are two of the key factors necessary for winning short story contests. The more competitions you enter, the better your writing will be. Keep an open mind and develop your talent as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Benefits of Journaling

A lot of my writing time is spent writing for other people.  I write articles for clients and blog to share and open discussion.  But sometimes, it's important to write for myself.  Journaling can be a positive way to reflect on your daily life and understand patterns in your behavior. It is simple to begin keeping a journal. All you need is a notebook, a pen or pencil, and your open mind. You can journal on your computer if you prefer. Journaling can have a positive impact on many aspects of your life.

Learning about Yourself

Writing in a journal can help you clarify who you are and what you want out of life. You can better understand your goals or plant seeds for future projects. A journal is a great place to explore spiritual concerns or discuss aspects of yourself you may not feel comfortable talking to other people about. You may find out what is most important in your life and how you can pursue it by writing about who you are.

Focusing on Positives

Many people begin by keeping gratitude journals. Reflect on the good things that happened to you in the course of a day of the things that you are grateful for in your life. By focusing on the positive experiences and people around you, you will begin to realize how much there is to feel good about and there will be less room in your life for negative emotions.

Stress Reduction

If you had a tense day at the office or a fight with a loved one, writing it all out is a way to release your feelings and move forward. Leave the frustration, anger, and stress on the paper and you can return to your life. You can untangle any complicated issues that are troubling you and clarify what is going on.

Problem Solving

As you write about your problems in order to reduce stress, you may find yourself discovering creative answers. Working through problems on paper can be an effective way to find solutions. If you are frustrated about something going on at work or home, write down what the problem is and possible solutions that you can take. By writing down the details, you may notice something that you hadn't previously considered.

Learn to Communicate

With the Internet as a staple in our daily lives, many of us communicate via the written word on a regular basis. By writing in a journal every day, you are practicing the art of expressing your thoughts with words. You may find yourself writing better emails or other written messages because of the practice you have gotten.

Consider what your goals are before you begin your journal and you can use it to its best effect. These and other positive benefits will quickly appear when journaling becomes a daily ritual. Even just setting aside ten minutes a day to write will allow you to reap the rewards. Plus, it is a fun an engaging way to use your time. Consider journaling as a meditative addition to your daily life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

How to Get More Pageviews

Earning money on Helium is based on several factors, including quality, traffic, and advertiser interest. Finding appropriate locations to link to your articles is one of the best strategies to increase your earnings. The more page views that you accrue, the more earnings that you will see.

Before Starting

Before you begin a traffic campaign, check out your existing articles. Make sure they are your best possible work. We all learn and grow as writers, so you may spot areas to improve older articles. Carefully proofread your work for errors that are not caught by the spell check. Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the set of techniques used to help your articles rank high on search engines. Learning about these strategies can help build even more incoming traffic than links and self promotion can.

Websites and Blogs

The easiest places to begin are with personal websites and blogs. If you post something on your blog that relates to an article that you have written, add a link! Having good content with your links will encourage more people to click and help build your readership. Even a personal website should not contain only promotional links. Give people a reason to want to click. Posting the first paragraph of your article followed by the link may entice more people to visit.

Forums and Message Boards

If you are a member of a forum that allows personal links in signatures, add one. You can also link to your author profile from any forum profiles. Depending on the forum guidelines, if you are an active member you may be able to link to your relevant articles in a post. Make sure that it is a useful contribution to the discussion, however. Remember to never spam your link or join forums just to promote your work.

Social Networking

Don't forget to add links to your social media pages. Not only will you gain some traffic, but some of your friends may become regular readers. Invite those members, and you will earn a bonus from them as well. There are so many social media options that you probably already have a few that you like.  Try creating a Facebook page for your website or use Tumblr to share an image that connects to one of your articles.  Use the sites you enjoy and you will have the best results.

Social Bookmarking

Another option for website promotion is social bookmarking. These sites, including Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, all encourage users to post interesting links that they find. The key to using social bookmarking for self-promotion is to do it sparingly. Only join these websites if you want to participate. Post great stuff that you find around the web, read the submissions of others, and comment on what you like. If you only post your own articles, you will find that you get little traffic (or end up banned).

Academic Websites

Getting your article linked to on academic, corporate, news or popular websites can be a huge advantage, though difficult to accomplish. Make sure your articles are of high quality and relevant, and that your layout is professional.

Continue to build your number of well-written articles and link as appropriate. You may start to find that your articles are linked to on websites you have no affiliation with if your content is useful. Then watch your earnings grow.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Spring Cleaning for Writers: Organizing your Office

Alright, so spring is nearly gone and summer is arriving.  And yet, my place still needs a massive dose of cleaning.  My office is that room in the house where random stuff gets tossed when company is about to arrive, so it's pretty cluttered.

A writer's workspace should be organized to help them produce their best work. Everyone has a different idea of how clean things should be. However, if you are constantly spending time looking for missing documents, then you aren't spending as much time writing as you could be! It is important to design a space that allows you to work efficiently and keep track of all the paperwork that comes with a writing career.

Where to Start

Make a list of all the cleaning projects that you want to undertake for your workspace. What areas are causing you the most trouble? Do you ever find yourself frustrated looking for research or invoices? Prioritize the tasks that will have the most impact on your space.

Begin the cleaning project with a quick purge. Take fifteen minutes to look over your writing area and find anything that you want to throw away, recycle, sell, or donate to charity. If you haven't touched it in months, decide if you really need it.

If possible, set aside your writing area for work only and rid yourself of distractions. Move books that aren't being used for research. Keep bills, non-writing to-do lists, and video games away from your desk. It's easy enough to get distracted with an internet connection - increase your odds of success by creating a space that is just for writing.

Think about what you use on a daily basis. Move the most necessary items to the most convenient drawers and shelves. If you have limited space and need to store things away from your writing area, they should be items that you need infrequently.

Organizing Paperwork

Notes, interview transcripts, drafts, and research can quickly get out of hand. Whether you prefer a series of binders or a file cabinet, find a way to organize your work so that you can find whatever you need. If you have items that you need to keep but will not be actively using, archive them in a separate space. A storage bucket in the closet should do. Make a list of everything that you have archived so that you know where to find it if it once again becomes needed.


Make sure that you have an accurate filing system to keep track of your billing and payment information. While you may want to take a creative, free-flowing approach to the other areas, the IRS will not accept "I'm a writer; I don't need to organize" as an excuse when you forget to file the correct paperwork. Create a system to record when you have sent invoiced and received payments as well - you don't want to forget to bill a project that you invested time and effort into.

Shopping for Supplies

As you go, create a shopping list of anything you wish to purchase at the office supply store. Consider new file folders, pens, staples, and notebooks. Check to see that you have an adequate stash of printer paper and ink cartridges. Get rid of tools that you are unhappy with and find ones that make you love to write. If there is a particular brand of pens that you always reach for, throw away the cheap ones and replace them.

Organize your Files

Don't forget to organize and backup your computer files. If your computer crashes, you don't want to lose hours of work. No matter what method you use to backup your work, choose a day to do it regularly. Take the time to update your anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Maintaining the Work

Once your space is organized, keep it that way. Just five minutes a day to file any loose paperwork can help you avoid needing to do a major clean next spring. If you watch television in the evenings, set aside the commercial breaks to do small tasks.

"Spring" cleaning doesn't have to be a burden, or a chore for spring alone. Spending just ten minutes a day organizing your work area can lead to a more productive environment in no time. Happy cleaning!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Improving as a Blogger

Blogging allows everyone to create an online space to express their opinions or teach people about their area of expertise. Whether you are looking to improve traffic and earnings, or just entertain your friends, spend a little time improving your skills as a blogger. Your readers will appreciate it! Here are a few easy tips to get things moving.

Think about the goals you have for your blog. Many bloggers don't consider what their aims are before starting to write. Make a list of what you want to accomplish. Are you in it for the money, to express an opinion, or to keep in touch with the people in your life? Knowing what you want to do can help you find the best path to get there.

Surf over to some of your favorite blogs, and read them with a critical eye. Try to understand what makes them so appealing to you. Often, people prefer to write the same things that they enjoy reading. Are your favorite blogs humorous, educational, sarcastic, or practical? Are there any topics you regularly read about?

Find a unifying theme or tone for your blog. If you are going to focus on a single subject, make sure it is one that you can sustain over time. Will you run out of material in a few weeks? If you want to write on multiple topics, try using one particular style or tone. This will give a consistency to your posts.

Update your blog on a regular basis. While excessive updates can sometimes irritate a reader, not posting at all will make your blog look abandoned. Shoot for at least weekly updates and remember that quality is more important than quality. A weekly post that is well written and thought out will retain more readers than a daily post riddled with grammatical errors and containing little new content. Try including links to source information with your posts - they only take a little time to find, and can back up your opinions.

Find a trustworthy proofreader! It is easy to overlook your own typos and misplaced commas. A friend with a fresh pair of eyes can uncover these small mistakes. Obvious errors will make your blog look less professional (or give your friends fodder to tease you with). And please, avoid leetspeak unless you are writing exclusively for an audience of friends.

Reply to comments and encourage discussion. Asking questions at the end of posts can get your readers involved in the topics. A great blog is a community activity. Often, good comments can spark ideas for future posts as well.

Remember that practice makes perfect. As you continue to develop your blog and your writing style, your posts will improve. Do your best whenever you have an opportunity to write. Even a quick reply on a message board is a way to practice your grammar or style. Make writing a natural process.