Archive for the ‘howto’ Category

That’s how I would summarize, “Want to Boost Your Writing Productivity? Have a Baby!” by Michael Stelzner.  Definitely worth thinking about.  I you know you have a limited time to work in, you will tend to be lest wasteful with it.

So here are five books on writing for a living.

What I find interesting about these authors is that they have pretty different views of where writing for articles fits into the plan of becoming a successful writer. Some think it is essential. The first thing you do is go buy Writers Market, and then start writing and proposing. But for others, writing articles is only helpful in that it distracts other capable writers from competing in the ad copy business. Articles are fine for PR and self-promotion, but they pay far too little to be pursued as a real source of income.

For myself, I did buy a copy of Writers Market in a fit of hysteria, but after looking at it, I couldn’t understand why I did so. The pay is way too low, the time between acceptance and payment way too long, and you are supposed to be motivated enough to work on a proposal without knowing for certain that you have a customer. Maybe some people are able to do this often and fast enough to build a business, but my sense of things is that you would be far better off finding a couple of people who will let you write a brochure for them (for free if necessary) so that you can make a portfolio and try to get some business clients.

I talked to a publisher of a news magazine recently who was an editor about fifteen years ago when I did a few stories and book reviews for his publication. I asked him casually if he still did any journalistic assignments, as he did back when I worked for him. His answer didn’t surprise me. “Writing is for young people.” The people who write for those rates are those for whom writing is still somehow romantic as an activity. For those of us who are trying to make a living, it simply doesn’t make sense.

Of course, I’m sharing my opinion on the premise that I began a writing business earlier this year–that I am a “beginning writer” as of 2007. But I got my first job based on previous work I did part-time while a solo pastor. And I got that work based on relationships I built up before seminary when I did that low, low paying work. So I can’t deny that a history of writing can help–including a history of writing articles.

It all depends on your needs. If you have an income and can do some work on the side part time for awhile, then it might be worth investing a year of barely-worth-it writing so you can get a portfolio going (“Here are my two most recent projects,” is always technically true). My strong advice is to do some non-controversial pieces on health or technology or something that might be perceived as translatable into sales writing.

For the record, I personally found all of the above books worthwhile, even if I disagreed with a couple of them about the usefulness of writing articles for magazines.

These look really helpful.

  1. Identify Your Productivity Zone
  2. When in the Zone, ONLY Write
  3. How to Stay Focused on Writing
  4. How to Accomplish More Writing (actually two tips)
  5. Reward Yourself for Getting Writing Done

The CEO blog watch has published some writing guidelines.  I thought the first two were especially good:

  • Write in your own voice. Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary. The best blogs convey quality information in a conversational style.
  • Write each blog post so it can stand on its own. Each post should offer value on an individual level (in addition to being  part of a greater whole).

They are all worth reading.

1. What is a Blog and what is Blogging.

A blog is a web log, a journal of some sort kept on the web. It entails a web site where you can publish entries that are time stamped (Usually the most recent is on top).

Blogging is a simpler way of saying, “I keep a blog,” the way people will say “I keep a diary.”

A blogger is a someone who has a blog.

Typically, a blog is thought of in a way that involves a website control panel that posts in a blog format.

2. The first blogs.

Of course, the first blogs did not have a customized blogging control panel. The first blogs were created by web savvy people who, instead of adding essays or articles or simply updating their home page, decided to start creating journal entries.

http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html

In 1998 there were just a handful of sites of the type that are now identified as weblogs (so named by Jorn Barger in December 1997). Jesse James Garrett, editor of Infosift, began compiling a list of “other sites like his” as he found them in his travels around the web. In November of that year, he sent that list to Cameron Barrett. Cameron published the list on Camworld, and others maintaining similar sites began sending their URLs to him for inclusion on the list. Jesse’s ‘page of only weblogs‘ lists the 23 known to be in existence at the beginning of 1999.

Suddenly a community sprang up. It was easy to read all of the weblogs on Cameron’s list, and most interested people did. Peter Merholz announced in early 1999 that he was going to pronounce it ‘wee-blog’ and inevitably this was shortened to ‘blog’ with the weblog editor referred to as a ‘blogger.’

At this point, the bandwagon jumping began. More and more people began publishing their own weblogs. I began mine in April of 1999. Suddenly it became difficult to read every weblog every day, or even to keep track of all the new ones that were appearing. Cameron’s list grew so large that he began including only weblogs he actually followed himself. Other webloggers did the same. In early 1999 Brigitte Eaton compiled a list of every weblog she knew about and created the Eatonweb Portal. Brig evaluated all submissions by a simple criterion: that the site consist of dated entries. Webloggers debated what was and what was not a weblog, but since the Eatonweb Portal was the most complete listing of weblogs available, Brig’s inclusive definition prevailed.

This rapid growth continued steadily until July 1999 when Pitas, the first free build-your-own-weblog tool launched, and suddenly there were hundreds. In August, Pyra released Blogger, and Groksoup launched, and with the ease that these web-based tools provided, the bandwagon-jumping turned into an explosion. Late in 1999 software developer Dave Winer introduced Edit This Page, and Jeff A. Campbell launched Velocinews. All of these services are free, and all of them are designed to enable individuals to publish their own weblogs quickly and easily.

Pitas is still around but I had never head of it back when I started blogging in 1999. I learned blogging from a friend of mine who used blogger and the only other system I remember finding in the early days was http://diary-x.com (which was not be adu1t c0ntent beyond the writing of the bloggers themselves).

Blogger.com was a website from which you could send content to your homepage. However, they also offered free memberships on Blogspot.com so that anyone could start blogging right away. They tried to pay for the system by putting one single banner ad on the top of each blog.

This also became a way for people to naturally learn html. They learned both from their posts (using italics and embedding links) as well as from putting up links and pic in their sidebars. Until recently, blogger gave you access to the entire template including the css stylesheet which was included in the main page rather than a separate file like is done in most websites.

At some point early on, Upsaid appeared. They offered blogs for free but now charge $2 a month.

Not too long afterwards came Greymatter. This was open source software that you installed on your own website. It is still around (though I’m disappointed that the website uses orange).

Movable Type soon followed. Like Greymatter it was for those who owned a website, though it has been used by sites offering free blogs like Chattablogs.

I should meantion three blog systems that also appeared, though some of these tended to be seen as “virtual communities” along the lines of the later myspace.com rather than pure blogs. In a sense, I simply didn’t notice these because they seem to appeal to a younger user.

  • Livejournal.com (Wikipedia entry) 1999
  • Typepad.com 2005 — considered the largest paid blogging service in the world. I notice that lots of professionals use it, but since I never pay for this kind of thing, I am not one of them.
  • Xanga.com (Wikipedia entry) 1998 as a music and book review community. I don’t have much knowledge of Xanga because I find it aesthetically painful whenever I visit.

3. Blogging Now

The most recent blogging news has been WordPress (both as a free blogging program and as a free site for blogging) and Blogger’s recent upgrade. WordPress.com is great, but it doesn’t allow you to “weaponize” your blog for income, nor to embed video. In both these cases the free account at blogger is better.

Other kinds of web logs have come into being. Audioblogging (see Hipcast.com) and vlogging on youtube are now possible. To an extent, these aren’t done that often because audio and video podcasting have also developed.

Google not only made the banner ad go away from blogspot.com, but they invented Adsense.com which enables you to put ads on your blog and get money from them. Some blogs have been highly successful. Dooce.com (no link due to content warning) was, last I heard, still able to pay their house mortgage with their revenues from blog advertizing.

See also, Text Link Ads.

Blogging was part of the move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and it provided a market for a bunch of new services and social networking sites, like delicious, which has applications for blogs. Also, some services are specifically aimed at blogs, like Technorati.com. Other services have sprung up like Cocomment.com and specialized search engine features on google.

This has all lead to new ways of marketing. For more see Copyblogger.com, Problogger.com, and others.

Bulldog reporter:

Over lunch with a prominent PR industry blogger recently, he was lamenting that PR people seem hopelessly out of touch with today’s revolution in PR technology. I noted that PR practitioners had already missed one huge technology opportunity for lack of trying: Control of the corporate website. We had the chance to command this primary corporate communications tool, and we let it slip through our fingers. Today, we’re lucky if IT lets us have an online newsroom (and even most online newsrooms are embarrassingly effete).

Today we have a second chance. It’s an exciting and historically momentous time to be in the communications business. We now have the power to communicate our messages—in words, video and audio—to hundreds of millions of people around the globe in seconds. And those millions of people can communicate right back to us just as quickly. Interactive technology, broadband telecommunications, search, social media—these things are revolutionizing not only the way we communicate, but also how we function as communities and as a society. These technologies are beginning to affect profoundly the way we interact politically, socially and of course, commercially. As communicators, the question we should ask ourselves as we stand looking out on our profession’s horizon is: How has our experience prepared us for this moment in time, in history and this juncture in our professional lives?

Experience is a funny—deceptive—thing. Experience can provide you with a body of knowledge and received wisdom, and it can give you an intuitive sense of how to respond to the challenges springing up around you. As a general notion that’s good. But I’m starting to wonder if experience is always the most important quality we can bring to the table.

Blogging also promises to change the shape of intellectual interchange. Journals are still around and so is peer review. But now mavericks have a voice.

Unlike Ms. Rivers, I typically never touch pen or pencil to paper. My father was geek enough that I had a home pc in the house by the time I entered junior high. Word processors are what I do.

Still, I share her conviction that writing is fundamental.

I hear some school systems in Maryland are talking about . . . doing away with teaching creative writing. With the advent of laptop computers, text messaging and other developments taking over mainstream communication, it seems some people don’t see the need to develop the creative thinking process or fine motor skills that come with the age-old technique of putting pen to paper.

I would say in response to this heartfelt column that the development of fine motor skills shouldn’t be confused with the issue of writing, and that reading quality literature is more likely to lead to good writing rather than the other way around. But I have to agree that it is misguided to believe that creative writing is passe.  Just because we now have means of communication that lend themselves to choppier, more terse, forms of writing, doesn’t mean that conventional forms should be left behind. New communication technologies should be seen as an addition, not as a replacement.

I write conventional books for clients, craft newsletter articles, and blog for hire. I don’t see why anyone would think they had to choose one or the other.

I think there are two kinds of political blogs: blogs that are political and political groups or organizations that blog (yes, I know these overlap, but it works for my purposes).

The blog I just found is of the latter kind–a known organization that gained a reputation through other communication media has now started to blog.

And they’re doing it wrong.

  1. A blog should not be a “clipping service.” Everyone on the web already has the ability to use google news or subsribe to a news feed according to the search parameters they select. They don’t need you to post links to news stories. They may find one or two of interest, but they will not be motivated to return to your site.
  2. A blog should be a place, where people know they will receive your analysis. That is what you have to offer that google news can’t: your own voice. People will return, not for just news, but for our spin. You don’t have to write a column (in fact, you shouldn’t produce anything that long), but a few remarks can make a big difference.
  3. A blog should not be aimed at a demographic group that is unlikely to surf the web. You can change this somewhat by advertising your blog, but the fact remains that blog readers tend to be younger. Are you reaching your potential readers or are you assuming that those listening to your radio spot are just as likely to surf the web?
  4. A blog should be designed to appeal to those most likely to be blog readers. This could be as easy as sharing your blog with a couple of other people who fit the demographic better. We’re not talking about every single post, after all, but a general feel.
  5. A blog should not be considered simply a new means to reach the same audience who listen or watch or read you in your older venues. You already have them.
  6. A blog should be a means of reaching new people.
  7. A blog should not be considered simply a means of broadcasting. Yes, I know: you type it and it can be read by anyone. But it is still not a virtual newspaper.
  8. A blog should be a means of getting a conversation going with other bloggers and commenters. This was where I was headed all along. There are lots of bright political bloggers out there. Talk to them. Argue with them. Recommend them and dismiss them. But don’t ignore them. Blogging is more akin to walking in a room where a lot of conversations are already taking place and trying to get in on one, than it is to a magazine column.