Tag Archives: advice for writers

Today’s Writing Tip: Clarity

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You know what you want to say but sometimes it’s hard to express.

Try to imagine your reader. Could anything you’ve written be ambiguous? Could it be confusing? Don’t assume that the reader knows what you are thinking. Step back and fill in certain details or clarify to be as precise as possible.

Take this sentence: “That ended her short life in Shadow Lakes.”

What ended her life there? Did she die or simply move? Or did she stay but she never had a decent quality of life afterward?

Think like a reporter and ask yourself all the W’s: who, where, what and why (and, of course, the non-W, how). Once you’re clear about those, convey them to the reader.

“Marrying Stephen ended her short life in Shadow Lakes because they moved into the city right after their honeymoon.”

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. This is an excerpt from her last book, Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/c3az54r

Advice from Twitter

by Helen Gallagher

Did you know Twitter maintains a helpful blog? Twitter’s blog offers some sane advice on best practices for journalists.

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We can all use a reminder of the basics of good writing, especially for the online world. In brief, the tips suggest:

1. Tweet regularly about the beats you cover. Their research states that for people who post “a concentrated number of Tweets in a short time span, follower growth is 50 percent more than average. Live-tweeting or posting updates about a news event related to your beat is one way to grow followers and increase interaction.”

2. You know about hash tags, right? That pound symbol on your keyboard,  (the # ) followed by the subject or keyword of the post you’re commenting on…  Use the hash tag so your post gets noticed by others reading about the topic. “Journalists and news publishers use hashtags to organize conversations, gather feedback, and to identify and engage with Twitter users discussing a particular topic.”

3. When you mention a person or brand, use the @ sign, followed by the username   Twitter reports: “Brands that tweet 20 percent fewer URLs and 100 percent more @mentions grow followers 17 percent more than average.”

Master these three Tw-etiquette tips and then read their full article here.

http://blog.twitter.com/2012/09/best-practices-for-journalists.html

Helen Gallagher writes and blogs at releaseyourwriting.com

Need global exposure? Reach for Tumblr

by Helen Gallagher

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I confess I paid little attention to Tumblr until I needed to find more article resources. It is described as a cross between a blog platform and social media. You can use it like a blog filter to find relevant material for the stories you are researching.

Now I’ve read there are reasons you might consider spending time with Tumblr, and I’ll share them here, from what I learned at Journalism.co.uk.  They analyzed how various news source are using Tumbler, and found some interesting concepts.

Examples:

  1. The Washington Post, is using it for a project with  twelve students covering the U.S. presidential election.
  2. The New York Times put its historic photo archive on Tumblr at http://livelymorgue.tumblr.com/ and sells prints of the photos there.
  3. In the U.K., the Guardian newspaper is segmenting its content on Tumblr into areas of Food, Art and Fashion.
  4. During the recent South by Southwest conference (SXSW), Journalism.co.uk reports that The Guardian “created a Tumblr blog, which they could update from their iPhone or Android phone, and then they used the Tumblr API to pull those posts from the seven blogs back to the main Guardian website as a way to collect all the reporting and then give it back to Guardian readers in a central space on their site.”

Between sleep and paying assignments, freelancers always need to find hot ideas, news, fresh sources and current research.  Instead of scrubbing the web, Tumblr might be a faster way to find what you need.

If you’d like to see how other journalists are using it, take a look here. If people can find journalists by publication, beat, geography and through keyword searches, it makes me think we should all be aware of it.

Dig a little deeper and learn how Tumblr can help you expand your reach as a freelance journalist too. Muck Rack, a site that tracks what journalists are talking about offers a free database, allowing journalists to build a portfolio and link to their work. If you want more exposure for your work, and a wider research base for story ideas and networking, take a look at these resources.

Tell me, do you know and use Tumblr? Does it benefit you?

Helen Gallagher writes and blogs at releaseyourwriting.com

Write Like An Olympian

swimThe drive, perseverance, and sheer determination!

Our jobs are so much easier than the Olympic athletes, yet we sometimes stop trying, quit too soon, or get in our own way. Lets use the examples of Gabby Douglas, who planned for her Olympic success since age 12, and the determination of the 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia who put herself out there to win, but lost the judo match in a mere 82 seconds. And of course, Mark Spitz now needs an extra suitcase to bring all his medals home – an Olympic record of 20 medals and counting.

There is no Freelancers Olympics, but we still show up to do our work. But you have to wonder what successes we could achieve if we really tried to push the boundaries, went for the gold… broke the limits, and WON.

It’s Monday: Go update your blog, tweet about something good in the world, then get back to work and surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

iPad or Laptop for Back-to-School?

If you’re a parent, your freelance income has to cover a lot of school expenses for your children.  Here are some important considerations before you spend money on a tablet computer for your back-to-school offspring. These tips are courtesy of DealNews.com, who invited me to excerpt their full list, written by media editor Jeff Somogyi.

IPADGIRLWith summer already on its way out, your college-bound child is probably in the midst of asking for more and more money to buy the “essentials” they’ll need for dorm life in the upcoming school year. (FYI: A BMX bike is not an essential school requirement for anyone, except those attending BMX U.) It’s very likely that they’ve also mentioned needing a little device called the “iPad.” That may have gotten you wondering if, in this day-and-age, the iPad should be considered instead of a laptop for kids heading off to university.

And so, as the youngins are about to matriculate, they’ll come at you with all sorts of “reasons” why the iPad is a “valuable tool” for “learning.” Are you prepared to fight back? Are you armed with the knowledge you need to protect your dollars? You better be, because — as we’ll show you — the iPad just isn’t a suitable replacement for a laptop, in terms of meeting your student’s needs. Here are 10 good reasons why:

1. It’s expensive-ish

An iPad, at its most basic 16GB configuration with Wi-Fi connectivity starts at $399 — and that’s for last year’s model. The latest model, which is packed with a retina display and all sorts of extra goodies, starts at $499. The higher-end models (that include 64GB of storage and 3G connectivity) can burn a hole into you wallet in the shape of $829 … with additional per-month rates for data plans. Even at the cheaper end of the spectrum, we often find full-fledged laptops deals for about that price. Though the iPad 2 is close, it just doesn’t make monetary sense to buy an iPad instead of a laptop.

2. It’s not the best solution for note-taking or editing documents

A virtual keyboard doesn’t have any tactile feedback. This tech is fine for a quick text on your smartphone, but the iPad’s keyboard — which is a non-standard shape and size — is a bit more awkward. And say goodbye to touch-typing because your fingers will start drifting, and you’ll soon wind up with a page of gibberish.

Further, if you do manage to struggle your way through writing an entire term paper on the tablet, editing is another headache completely. Using your finger tip for fine placement of the cursor is next to impossible, and it’ll take you a few tries to land it where you need it. After several failed attempts, you’ll be wishing you had a laptop with a real keyboard and mouse.

3. It’s ultra-portable — and ultra-droppable

Taking a tablet everywhere means there’s a greater chance of dropping it anywhere, and breaking it. There will even be more of a chance that your kid will forget completely that it’s in their bag and, as kids will, fling their satchel across the room — only to be rewarded with a gut-wrenching *crack*, followed by a cold-sweat-inducing *tinkle* of broken screen glass. Just try forgetting you have a 5+ lb. laptop in your bag!

4. What makes it desirable to your teen is what makes it desirable to criminals

Your college kid wanting an iPad is second only to the desire of a criminal to steal one. It’s so light (see above) and small that it’s easy for a n’ere-do-well to quickly yoink and abscond. Sure, there are security locks you can use, just like the kind you can get for a laptop, but who — especially among the devil-may-care college-age set — really takes the time to actually use it instead of saying, “Pfft! It won’t happen to me?”

5. It’s too distracting: Games, apps, 4Gs, web-browsing, Twitter, and messaging beckon

The iTunes App Store boasts more than 500,000 apps — which is tantamount to over 500,000 distractions for your child, who’s supposed to be paying attention to his professor. (Well, 599,998 distractions and two dealnews apps! WINK!) Angry Birds, too, will be calling during those long lectures, we’re sure. But on the contrary, would anyone boot up DOOM or Minesweeper on a laptop in the middle of a lecture? Probably not. That’s a commitment that doesn’t allow them to lie to themselves that it’ll be “just for a minute.”

6. eTextbooks are a marvel, but there’s no secondary market

Your kid will probably make the argument that an iPad can display digital textbooks and, since the device is lighter than a stack of dead-tree tomes, you’d be saving the planet and them from years of backache and possibly a future addiction to painkillers / chiropractors. To this argument, you should tell them to wear their backpack over both shoulders, like one is supposed to, and they shouldn’t have a problem.

7. It’s meant for solo enjoyment, which means social seclusion

You want your kid to grow up to be a personable, extroverted, well-functioning member of polite society, right? So why would you give him a personal entertainment device that all-but-guarantees he’ll spend every moment of his free time with his nose pointed at a tiny screen, drowning out the revelry, camaraderie, and general good-times that are taking place around him?

Got an hour between classes? iPad. Waiting for the shuttle to campus? iPad. Yes, your child could seclude themselves with a laptop — but not in as many places. Let’s see them try walking down the street watching the latest The Walking Dead on their laptop! It’s too cumbersome and awkward. (Just like The Walking Dead.)

8. It’s essentially just a status symbol

Like any gadget, the iPad is a status symbol. Like any Apple gadget, it’s an expensive status symbol. It’s something we’ve been trained by society and lifestyle magazines to want, simply because it’s a luxury — and if we can be the first to have it, somehow, we “win.” To combat this, you can sit your kid down and, being very earnest, tell him that he doesn’t need things to be popular. Then explain to that laughing at you, when you’re trying to be serious, isn’t getting him closer to that iPad.

9. It’ll be old technology by the time you actually buy one

Apple is very consistent with its release schedule of devices. New models come out like clockwork, and our guess is that the iPad is not going to stray from this tried-and-true model. Specifically, an even newer version of the tablet is surely going to come out sometime in March or April.

That means the iPad your kid wants to own in August is already six months old and half-way through its lifecycle; what’s the point in buying this older model, when there’s a shiny new version on the horizon that your child will surely start eying greedily once it debuts?

10. They’ll probably want a laptop, too!

Yes. You heard that right. If you buy an iPad for your kid thinking, “Well, that’s that,” think again! Since there are situations in which a tablet just doesn’t cut it (see above), your child will come to realize that she definitely needs a full-fledged desktop or laptop (like the new MacBook Air, of course) for school, too. Whether it be for essay-writing, Internetting, game-playing, or entertainment-centering, you’re looking at a double-dose of device deployment. Never forget: There is no end to the amount of money a kid can or will ask for.

Share this with your circle of parents-on-a-budget, and enjoy the full article at DealNews.com.

Want Better People-Skills?

Here’s another bit of advice from Robert Bly’s book: “Make Every Second Count.” discussed last week.

This list is even easier than his ideas to gain ten percent productivity.

A long long time ago, BF (Before Facebook) there was a concept known as “people skills.” Bly’s suggestions for better people skills are worth reading, and can be distilled down to a few basics that can carry you far when working with others.

I’m distilling them down to the essence, so you can tweet or  put ‘em on your phone and carry them with you today:

  1. Make a conscious effort to be positive.
  2. Answer emails and phone calls promptly.
  3. Take an interest in people’s lives.
  4. Meet people halfway.
  5. Listen before speaking, maintain eye contact, and admit when you’re wrong.

Read more in Bly’s book if that list doesn’t turn you into a charmer. He explores the psychology behind these traits. People tend to want to work with you if you communicate well and can keep impatience or annoyance off your face.

If you want to be on the ‘preferred vendor’ list in your world, it couldn’t hurt to apply these few principles.

BIO: Helen Gallagher blogs at Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes about, coaches and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. Helen is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network (SPAWN.org), and several great Chicago-area writing groups.