Gear up for NaNoWriMo!
Ready for a great experiment? See if you can write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I have a guilty secret: I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo. That’s a heck of a lot of words to write in a month, and if you’re like me, turning off your internal editor is easier said than done. However, I’ve decided that it sounds like fun (or, possibly torture). Plus, it’s always important to challenge your writing skills in new ways. That’s why I’ll be trying my hand at something completely different: a fantasy novel. What fun!
Here are the official details from the NaNoWriMo website:
What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.
Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.
Head over to the NaNoWriMo site and start writing November 1st!
Asking the hard questions: putting your writing career in perspective
Let’s face it: writing is hard work. When you’re working project-to-project, it can be easy to lose sight of your creative and career goals. Once every few months I sit down and evaluate where I am with my career and writing goals to make sure that I’m still on track. Here’s a handy list of questions to ask yourself to help with your own creative, financial, and professional goals.
- Where do you want to be with your writing in the long-term?
- Where are you with your writing now?
- What creative goals do you want to achieve over the next year?
- What financial goals do you want to achieve in the next year?
- What steps do you see necessary in your life to achieve these goals? Creatively? Financially?
- What steps do you need to take on the technical front to achieve your goals?
- Improve punctuation
- Learn about the mechanics of freelancing (taxes, queries, etc)
- Read widely and start narrowing down potential markets
- Keep a journal of ideas
Each month, pick one step and work on it.
- Devote time each day to writing
- Create a plan to manage finances
- Read and research
64 Phrases that add oomph to your copy
Sometimes you need the right word or phrase to add a positive spin to your copy, but in the midst of writing (or re-writing) you’ll be damned if you can think of them. Here’s a shortcut for finding just the right phrase when your brain just isn’t up to the task.
Have any other suggestions for words or phrases that add oomph to your writing? Comment below and let me know!
The secret of Groupon’s success is … good writing?
Whew–it’s been a busy week! As such, I have short post for you today before I head out to the Great American Beer Festival, courtesy of Beer Advocate Magazine.
So, you’ve all heard of Groupon, right? I came across an article this morning via MediaBistro where the founder of Groupon explains how, “well-written, engaging content is a key part of convincing users to keep reading about new shops that they might never have never heard of.” Indeed!
I’ve done a little research into Groupon and was surprised that they have almost no SEO to speak of–really putting pay to the fact that it’s the writing (well, and the deals) that have spurred their success. There aren’t any tricks here. They’ve just done a killer job of using social networking to its fullest and with hiring writers to produce great content. Word of mouth and great writing go a long way.
Taking your writing beyond the first draft: 6 tips for pain-free editing
So, you’ve pounded out a first draft. You’re pretty sure it’s awesome as is, but you come back to it a few days later and realize it’s not as sparkly as you thought. The truth is, half of writing is editing. Here are some editing tips for putting the polish on your writing.
1. Kill the adjectives
A carefully placed adjective is a great way to spice up your writing, but adjective overload sucks the meaning out of your sentences. This also goes for “filler” words like very or little.
2. Keep the jargon to a minimum
Jargon is really a question of audience. If you’re writing a highly involved paper on particle mass and the Large Hadron Collider, readers are going to expect jargon. But what if you’re not a physicist? It becomes your job to explain concepts in a way that’s accessible.
3. Write short sentences
No one wants to read a paragraph-long sentence. Not only are short sentences easier to read, they’ll also help you keep your message clear and concise.
4. Double check
Don’t just rely on spell check to do all the editing for you. Their might be spelled correctly, but it’s not the right word if you’re talking about “going over there.”
Remember the well-placed adjective? Pull out your thesaurus. Choosing the right word as opposed to the almost-right-word is the difference between a breeze and a tornado.
5. Use active voice
You might remember this from your high school English class. Active voice is much more effective at engaging your readers than boring old passive voice.
Active voice is constructed using subject, verb, object:
The students loved English class.
As opposed to the object, verb, subject of passive voice:
The English class was loved by the students.
6. Omit anything that doesn’t contribute to meaning
This is the part that might be painful. Let’s say you’ve written a brilliant paragraph, one that shows your superior skills as a writer. If it’s not pulling its weight and adding something to meaning, it has to be cut.
I was reading this post by Ali Hale on Dumb Little Man and started thinking about what I like to call Procrastination Station. Yes, that state of being in which doing anything of value feels like waiting on an empty platform for a train that will never arrive. You start out hopefully looking down the tracks, but, ultimately, waiting for that train is a waste of time. Here are some tips for escaping procrastination station:
1. Complete non-work related tasks before sitting down at the computer
Working from home has its benefits. There’s no traffic between the bedroom and the office, no annoying co-workers (unless you count a particularly needy cat), and no boss monitoring your internet time.
The downside is that on my congestion-free commute from said bedroom to said office, I find a great many things to do. There are dishes in the sink and the living room desperately needs to be vacuumed. Oh, and that pile of laundry still needs to be done. Maybe I should wash all the windows and hose down the patio?
You get the point. I find that if I complete at least one or two of these tasks, my need to complete household chores is sufficiently quelled. At least for a little while.
The last point I want to make on this subject is the importance of beverages. You must have your beverage of choice (tea, please) next to you on the desk. Otherwise you’ll have to get up again. Which will lead to another series of tasks that need to be completed. It’s a dangerous cycle.
2. Let the countdown begin
So, you’re finally sitting down at your computer, ready to start a productive day. For me, the start of a productive day means the following things: Check my multiple email accounts; open new tabs for interesting articles I want to read from RSS feeds; open tab for Facebook; grumble about Farmtown updates; close Facebook; open new tab for Twitter; tab to remain open indefinitely; and so on, and so on.
Wow, that took a while. How’s productivity today?
While there’s nothing wrong with reading new articles or status updates, make sure that it’s not eating away all of your time. My strategy is to set a timer. While the timer is running, I’m not allowed to do anything but the task at hand. If that means that I’ve set 30 minutes to do nothing but write, I do nothing but write. I’m not allowed to research or check my email or do anything else. I find that once I get started a sort of tunnel-vision develops, making me much more productive and less likely to seek out distractions.
I use Xnote Stopwatch, but there are tons of virtual timers out there that will work just as well. Even a kitchen timer will work.
I would suggest starting at short intervals, say, ten minutes. Then, take a short break. Once you get focused, you might find yourself wanting to exceed the time limit. Awesome. Bump up the timer to fifteen minutes. The point is to have a stretch of time to concentrate on your work. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get done.
3. Break up big tasks into manageable parts
I absolutely agree with Ali on this one. I think most of us have a tendency to visualize a big project as an insurmountable whole. It doesn’t take long for panic to set in.
If you give yourself a minute to breathe, you’ll realize that the project doesn’t have to be done in one long marathon session (making you more likely to just put the whole thing off for as long as possible).
I find it helpful to write down how I’m going to break up the project into more manageable pieces. Do whatever works best for you. Draw a diagram. Write a list on a sticky note. The main idea is to tackle one thing at a time.
4. The Carrot (never the Stick)
I may be mixing my metaphors here, but if you truly have the procrastination blahs, try setting a reasonable goal and then rewarding yourself. I find this to be especially true at the end of the work day. For example, I’ll set the goal of sending out five networking emails before I quit working and then I’ll reward myself with a glass of red wine, a bubble bath, and a good book. Just don’t give into the temptation to skip the work and go straight to the reward…hence setting the reasonable goal.
Nothing kills creativity like stress and guilt. For me, procrastination leads to guilt (guilt about not getting more work done) and then stress (deadlines!). This is never a good thing.
If you follow these steps you’ll leave procrastination station behind for good!
Communicating with Clients: Five Essential Questions
Web content is about more than pretty words. It’s about quality, interesting content that’s more than just fluff. So what’s the key to content that leaves readers wanting more?
The first step is to really understand what your client is looking for and how they identify themselves. A company that sells handmade goods is not going to want copy that sounds like it was written for a mega-corporation.
Your web content should have a clear purpose. A writer’s goal is to compel, to inform, and to inspire readers. In the end, you want to elicit an action from the reader. It’s the writer’s job to make it happen.
Here’s a list of questions to ask clients to ensure that you’re writing content with a purpose:
- What’s the purpose of the product or service?
- What problem is your web visitor looking to solve by using your product/service?
- What action would you like web visitors to take?
- What image do you want your company/service to reflect?
- What emotion do you want to convey through your web content?
The answers to these questions are the meat of your web content. Without them all you have is fluff, and that’s not going to convince readers to take any sort of action—other than clicking to another site. Take the time to ask the right questions and you’ll not only impress your client with the finished product, you’ll also save yourself loads of time and frustration in the writing process.