Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

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

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

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

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

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

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Set Apart: Compelling reads vs. Ho-hum?

Ever picked up a book, read through several pages or chapters and… gave up?

I brought home a book from the library the other day, the fifth in a series by a favorite author.  I read the first four books cover-to-cover in a day or two a piece.  But there was just something about the fifth book… it was like trudging through a muddy bog in hip-waders under a hundred pound pack in a monsoon at midnight.  Blindfolded.  I plowed through several chapters, teeth gritted, hoping it would get better.  Gather steam.  Engage.  It didn’t.  I eventually plopped that puppy into the library book return drop, half-read.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t “get into” that book.

Was this due to an implausible, incoherent plot?  Cardboard characterizations?  Stilted dialogue?  A pace that moved as fast as a gimpy snail in a molasses factory?  Maybe it was bad lighting, a serious dent in my private chocolate stash, or the weather?

What is it about a book or an author that disappoints?  Derails a story?  Elicits yawns, shoulder shrugs or a No-Doze run?  What do you look for in a good book – one that hooks you from the first paragraph, grabs you by the jugular, slides down your esophagus, invades your whole body and being and won’t let go until you finish it?  Compelling reads are out there.  What sets a compelling read apart from a ho-hom one?

Chime in with your comments. Don’t forget to include a favorite and a few primo titles you’d like to recommend.


‘Training Sammie’

One of the purposes of this blog is to give new writers an opportunity to share their work and give them some visibility*. Every so often I come across an up-and-coming writer who’s a real “diamond in the rough.” Gib Check is one of them. That’s why I’m re-publishing this post from 2011.  Enjoy! Don’t forget to thank him in the comments section. (And thanks again, Gib!)

By Gib Check

           Can you better-informed cat owners tell my wife and me how to train ours? Sammie, our part-Siamese, was already house-trained when we got her, or so we thought. We figured she’d do fine with adjusting to our household routines. Instead, she’s had us jumping through her hoops ever since.

For openers, how does she know to wait until exactly 4:30 AM before she starts pawing insistently at the bedroom door? Cats are too dumb to read the time on our clocks, right? Yet, give or take a few minutes, that’s when she wants us up to start her day.


As I make the bed, she circles my feet meowing impatiently to tell me it’s time for our wrestling match. And yep, I said wrestling. Her previous owner also had a dog with whom he rough-housed a bit. Jealous of the attention the dog was getting, Sammie would join in. So, growling like a wrestler, I tumble her around atop the bedspread for a few minutes. If I don’t, she pesters me until I do.

Next is her water and food bowl ritual. Even if they’re full, I must at least pretend to add more, otherwise she’s displeased. Once I’ve made a big show of dribbling in more of each, she’s satisfied.

Oddly, she thinks using the water bowl is boring at times. Whenever we forget to drop the cover over the toilet bowl, she finds it far more entertaining to scoop up water out of there. Ruthie will head for the john, only to cry out a minute later, “Gilbert! Your dumb cat splashed water on the seat!” (Whenever Sammie is naughty, she’s my cat).

A glutton for being fussed over day and night, she absolutely hates it when we leave on trips. Thinking Uh-oh! at seeing suitcases appear, she begins sounding off and keeps it up as we’re heading out the door. She’s mollified not at all by our friend who cat-sits for us. Upon our return, Sammie scolds us unmercifully the rest of the day.

Contrarily, whenever her snooty Siamese aloofness kicks in, she keeps to herself as if our presence has suddenly become bothersome. During one of her disappearing acts, we realized we hadn’t seen her all day. Suddenly worried she might have escaped outside somehow, we spent until dark looking up and down our block, but no Sammie. Even though she could be a pain in the butt at times, we’d grown quite fond of our temperamental little critter.

Making a final search indoors, I heard sounds coming from behind a dresser set diagonally into a corner. When I peeked in back, there she was! While playing around atop the dresser, she’d fallen behind it and gotten trapped. Totally unconcerned, she must’ve spent the rest of the day catching up on her beauty sleep. Glaring down at her, I exclaimed with a mix of exasperation and relief, “You little goof!” Ignoring me, she nonchalantly began licking a paw to groom her furry face. Beautifying herself is also very important, you see.

Carrying her to the den, I showed her to Ruthie. “Look who I found behind the dresser!”

Blowing out her own sigh of relief, Ruthie laughed, “Can you believe this cat? Back there all this time and never made a sound!”

It’s clear her stubborn streak of independence has convinced her that our house is actually hers and that she can darned-well do or not do whatever she pleases. And so, is there hope Sammie can be re-trained? On second thought maybe I should be asking; is there some way my wife and I can escape being trained by her?

Author Gib Check

Retired from construction, I live on a Wisconsin lake with wife Ruthie and am finally exploring being an author. When I write about our travel adventures, I focus on the fun we have meeting people and exploring these places. I’m also big on hiking, biking, canoeing, and thrill to stargazing. (I keep hinting to Ruthie and the kids about a new ‘scope). But always, it’s the writing I love.

* Have a short story, anecdote, travelogue or “slice of life” piece you’d like to see featured on Road Diverged? Let me know in the comments section or shoot me a line at:

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Seven Deadly Social Media Sins

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

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

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

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


Coming up:

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