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Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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10 Blogging Ideas for a Lockdown

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Tired of “what I’m doing while stuck at home waiting out the coronavirus” posts?

 

Me too.  I’m lookin’ for posts with a little more meat on their bones, if ya know what I mean. But what to write about?

 

If you’re staring at the screen and wondering what to blog about while the clock ticks, here are 10 blogging topics you might consider tackling:

 

1. Creative Ways to Stay Connected

 

“Stay at Home” orders are the order of the day. How do you stay connected with friends, family and colleagues while practicing social distancing at the same time?

 

Do your readers know about video communications like Zoom and Skype? Videoconferencing with GoTo Meeting? Give them the skinny on Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

 

Videoconferencing is part and parcel of today’s workplace as many companies are seeking to accommodate work-from-home options. Here’s a list of 10 meeting tools and products for your organization.

 

2. Grocery Delivery Services

 

Research and polish a post comparing pros and cons for Shipt, AmazonFresh, Peapod, or Instacart. How ‘bout Gourmet Meals to Go? Which service provides the best quality, most selection and quickest delivery options at the best price? Also check out: 9 Best Site for Online Grocery Shopping in 2020.

 

3. Classic Books to Battle Boredom

 

Doctor Zhivago? Gone With the Wind? Jane Eyre?

 

A lot of classic literature has a lot of pages. What interesting, engaging classics can you recommend to help occupy the heart and mind while you’re stuck in doors?

 

Compile a list of long books that are worth the time. (Anything but Proust, or Bleak House, okay? On the latter, you’re better off watching the TV mini-series.)

4. Homeschool Helps and Hints

 

Homeschool blogger? If so, you may be experiencing a huge boost in traffic right now. So carpe diem! Seize the day and crank out some practical dos and don’ts. Where to find good curricula. How to keep kids on task. Setting realistic goals and expectations. (We homeschooled for years. I might jump in.)

 

5. Most Effective Relief Organizations

 

Many people are struggling and turning to relief organizations for help. Do you know a relief organization with a track record of efficacy and ability? Blog about it! Include a donation link and contact info.

 

6. A Little Levity, Please?

 

How ‘bout a roundup of some of the best coronavirus memes that’ll tickle your funny bone? Dispel some of the gloom with a little cheer.

 

7. DIY

 

With some store shelves bare and panic buying spread like wildlife, now might be a good time for a DIY post. Ideas:

 

8. To Soothe the Savage Beast

 

Put together a list of downloadable or other sources for soothing sounds: breakers on a beach, rain on the roof. Bird calls. AC/DC. (Well, okay. Maybe not AC/DC. But you know what I mean.) And how ’bout some golden oldies?

 

9. Cooking and Recipes

 

If this is your jam, your readers are probably looking for easy, comforting meals they can put together from what they have on hand. Whip up some recipes using pantry staples. Include substitute suggestions. Don’t forget kitchen projects to keep the kiddos busy!

 

10. Remember Rover

 

Pets can get stressed out, too. Research and write a post about how to identify and counter stress in your dog. Include creative ways to keep Rover occupied and exercised if you’re stuck in doors.

 

Of course, whatever category you choose depends on your niche and your interests. But writing is therapeutic. It may be “just what the doctor ordered” – not just for you, but for your readers, too!

 

Forget that ticking clock. Get busy blogging instead!

 

Have a blogging idea to add? Holler!


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How to Find Your Writing Voice

Have you run out of blogging steam? Feel like you’re talking to nobody? Struggling to find your writing voice?

 

Back when I was young and foolish – about 20 minutes ago – I thought the best way to vaunt into the exclusive echelons of “serious writer/blogger” status was to mimic The Best. So I tried sounding like John Steinbeck, Anton Chekov, Charles M. Schulz and company. (Well, okay. Maybe not Chekov.)

 

But every time I sat down to write I’d think, “How would Hemingway or Jane Austen or Charlie Brown approach this?”

 

It was one of the dumbest things I ever tried. (Not counting the time we poured gorilla glue into ‘Steel Neil’s’ football cleats just before the big homecoming game or the time I left Reese’s peanut butter cups inside the tent in the middle of bear country. It was unintentional, honest!)

 

Not the Case

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But that’s not quite the case in the writing/blogging biz.

 

We all have authors we return to again and again, like favorite relatives or another slice of raspberry white chocolate cheesecake with extra hot fudge. Nothing wrong with that. Ditto studying great literature and technique.

But trying to mimic another writer, imitate their rhythm, pacing, or style is like trying to nail jell-o to a tree. It can’t be done and wearing raspberry goo all over your face is just plain silly.

 

Say It Your Way

Let’s face it. You’re one of a kind (you can take that any way you want). No one sees, hears, experience, processes or records life like you do. What you may think is insanely funny, for example, others may see as …. not. (Trust me on this one.)

 

Another writer may describe the proverbial “dark and stormy night” as “dark and stormy.” You may call it “a hundred-year monsoon blowing from the bowels of oblivion in a coal miner’s shaft at midnight during a lunar eclipse.” (But I sincerely hope not.)

 

The bottom line here: Your writing voice in unique. No one else can express what you can. So say it your way.

Besides, relying on someone else’s style or approach is a crutch. It reveals a lack of confidence and imagination. Or skill. Maybe all of the above. It’ll also suck the life out of your own writing style and keep you from finding your own voice.

 

No Short-Cuts

Developing your own unique writing style and voice may seem daunting. That’s because it is. But there are no short-cuts. Part of what makes a great writer great is that they’re willing to stumble and fall and get up again and keep marching. Consider:

 

  • William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected by twenty publishers.
  • Commenting on The Diary of Anne Frank, one “genius” sniffed, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
  • Book one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected by a dozen publishers.
  • Ms. L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers before finally breaking into print. It went on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal.

 

And so on.

Hard Work

Writing is hard work. It requires insight, sensitivity, growth, maturity and discipline. As you grow as a writer, you may collect stacks of rejection letters and unsolicited “critiques” from barely literate peasants who wouldn’t recognize quality writing if it walked up to them on a street and shook hands (trust me on this one, too).

 

Don’t despair.

 

With practice, you’ll learn to sort through the “advice” that’s worth heeding and to smile politely when someone introduces himself as a “writer” because s/he’s invested nearly 19 whole minutes in the craft.

 

It Takes Time

Learning to express yourself on paper and engage an audience takes time. Do you think I became this brilliant overnight?! Not!

So be patient. Keep plugging. Practice. Expand and experiment.

 

If non-fiction has you worn to a crackly crisp, try poetry or an adventure novel or short stories. If you get really, really good at fiction, run for Congress.

 

Whatever you do, be willing to learn and accept constructive advice. As you study, struggle and practice, you’ll build writing muscle. Stamina. Depth. Perspective. Clarity and originality.

 

Learn from your mistakes. Take a class at the local college. Enter some writing contests. Ask a trusted friend or family member to read your work and provide honest feedback

 

There are no short cuts, no “silver bullets” to finding your voice as a writer. The instances in which a body falls out of bed and wakes up in “serious writer” territory occur about as often as the last Ice Age.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Becoming a “serious writer” takes time, experience, training, teachability and a willingness to learn, grow and mature. And practice, practice, and more practice.

 

Power tip: A generous dose of humility doesn’t hurt, either.

 

So, dust off that keyboard, warm up those fingers and get going. You may have to “color outside the box” and exercise some mental muscles you didn’t know you had. But growing your own writing voice is worth it. The best way is the Nike way: Just do it! Like:

 

We write to expose the unexposed. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words – not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues. You can’t do this without discovering your own true voice, and you can’t find your true voice and peer behind the door and report honestly and clearly to us if your parents are reading over your shoulder.  — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

What’s your biggest challenge in finding your writing voice?


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Group Blogging? Look Before You Leap

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

Or are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A Writer’s Best Friend

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

– Suze Orman, finance editor and author.

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

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

Huh? 

That’s right.  Restlessness.  Let me explain.

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7 Ideas for Jump-Starting Your NEW Writing Year!

banana split

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Terry Whalin

Used by permission

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About The Author:

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

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

 

Find out more about Terry Whalin here.


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Hemingway and Raison D’Etre

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

3) People want to read what I have to say

2) Give yourself a feeling of accomplishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let me ask: Why do YOU write?

Cause for Commitment?

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

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

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

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

What say you?

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

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

Writing is your raison d’etre.

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

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

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

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


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Chair-Falling 101: Nine Tips for Building Your Blog

Fall trees and sky

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

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

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

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

Naw.

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

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

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It’s Not About You

Fall sky off Riverside Bridge

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

– E.L. Doctorow

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

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How A World-Class Acrophobic Survived Pyramid Peak (sort of) & Writing It Real

Disclaimer: I may have done some pretty stupid things back when I was young and foolish – like yesterday – but nothing like hiking Pyramid Peak. At least not in the last 10 minutes. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)

***

You know that saying about “There’s dangerous and doable and then there’s dangerous and stupid?” (If you’ve never heard it before, don’t worry. I just made it up.) Well, guess which category the Pyramid Peak hike fell into?

My husband, aka Snuggle Bunny, and I planned to do what we always do to celebrate our anniversary: hike the hinterlands. I mean, who needs romantic candlelit dinners and tiramisu when you can chug through every mosquito-ridden, rock-strewn traipse known to man in knee-deep mud and cushion your every fall with a nice, thick slab of granite while enjoying The Great Outdoors?

Pyramid Peak 2

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