Saturday, June 28, 2014

3 Reasons YA Authors Deserve More Respect

One of the most ridiculous things I have been seeing around the literary world lately is that YA or young adult novels are not good literature. It seems like many reviewers have relegated YA novels to the realm of chick-lit or fluffy romance novels that have no real literary value. Unless they were written by John Green, who was just given the title "savior of YA." (Not to take anything away from him because his work is fantastic.)  But there seems to be a hierarchy of writers which has nothing to do with the popularity of the books but rather the age of the main character, the sex of the writer and the age of the intended audience. Well I'm here to tell you that your bias against YA novels is wrong. You're SO wrong, and here's why:

1. YA spans every genre and are *gasp also written by men.

So many reviewers and people in general assume that YA is basically fantasy/romance or dystopian novels with a teenage protagonist. This might appear to be the case in recent years with the rise of the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises, but the fact is, YA spans into every possible genre with great success. Here's just a few examples: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; The Absolute True Diary of Being a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and If I Stay by Gayle Forman. None of these books have any fantastical elements or were written by John Green, but yet they are all extremely popular with a wide YA audience. If we would all pay attention to what is being published rather than what is currently being made into franchise movies, I think more people would be able to appreciate the diversity and complexities of the YA category.

2. YA books are just as difficult to write as general, genre and literary fiction.

I think some people get confused by the YA writing process. It is the same regardless if the sentence structure is a bit simpler and the plot lines a little more direct. The point of the YA novel is to be accessible to teenage readers who have not necessarily developed abstract thinking. In fact, I know many adults that have never developed abstract thinking. So, if these novels were not written for these particular skills (or lack of skills) they would be written for adults. However, just because they are directed toward a particular group does not mean they are less "literary" in nature or were some how simpler or less time consuming to write. In fact, they might be more difficult to write because authors must be more careful how information is given or withheld. Teenagers are not adults and do not think like adults. The majority of YA authors are adults. Does this really need any more explanation?

3.  YA books are important for the development of the younger generations.

What you are doing when you put down an entire class of books based on a few examples is limiting the education of the younger generation. Telling kids that books written for them have no literary value is telling them not to bother reading. What you get from that are kids with no "learned" lessons or "experiences" to draw from later in life. They have limited examples of choices to make and limited examples of heroes to admire. They lose the opportunity to connect with a character; to fall in love with a character; and to see there are others out there just like them. YA books regardless of genre expand kids' minds, give hope and offer much more learning opportunities than can be expressed. Kids need these books. Many adults need these books to help them process and accept the things that they went through as a teenager. They are important and will continue to be important literature. It's time to accept the fact; that YA does not need saving but rather more promotion.

In conclusion to this soap box post, by all means continue to read and review YA books. But review each book on its own merit. One book or one sub-genre of books should not cloud your view of the entire category. If you don't like fantasy/ dystopian adult novels, you will not like the YA versions. But I promise you there are thousands, maybe even millions of other options. I'm not going to lie, YA books are freaking awesome. YA authors are freaking awesome. Both deserve the respect and admiration of the literary world.

I'm done,

Jami   

Friday, May 16, 2014

Authors and YouTube

via http://heroes-get-made.tumblr.com
As we all know, marketing can be extremely difficult for writers. How do you reach a massive audience quickly and efficiently? The answer many authors are turning toward is YouTube. Following in the footsteps of John Green always seems like a great place to start. However, is YouTube really a good marketing tool or are you just wasting your precious time with some fool's gold? Is John Green's success an anomaly or can jumping on the bandwagon reap some of his success? I have come up with a clever little list to help you decide if YouTube is an avenue you should pursue in your marketing and platform building campaign. Have at it and take notes! Or don't, it's not that long...

Consideration #1: Are you a YA author?

I believe YA authors have the best chance at starting a YouTube channel based on the simple fact that 77% of all YouTube subscribers are under 35 (sysomos.com). This plays right into the demographics of Young Adult Novels, so you may be giving yourself a leg up in the eyes of the publishers if you can establish a strong following. YouTube is a great place to start if your demographics match the current YouTube subscribers. This is part of the reason John Green is so wildly successful because he can market to his readers with his additional content on YouTube. Now what if your demographics do not fall into this category or only partially? I would say, if you can say yes to all of the other considerations I have listed, then go ahead and give it a try! But you should also make an effort to go where your chosen demographics will be. For example literary magazines (literary and general fiction), Twitter (everybody!), blogs (genre fiction) or even e-books.

Consideration #2: Do you have the equipment and time?

Yes, I realize that John Green's videos look relatively simple and short. However, he also has employees, sophisticated video editing equipment and vast resources. Check out some of his earlier videos... you will see the difference. If you are getting in your time machine and going back to 2007, yes you could become popular with a basic cell phone camera, natural lighting and simple editing software, but toady it won't cut it. Viewers expect quality these days and if you plan on editing yourself then plan on spending at least an hour for a 2 minute video. The only way you will be able to get away with poor production will be if you are shooting vlogs that follow you around. But even then the content must be exceptional to get attention. Do you really have all that time to shoot and edit videos when you should be writing? Successful YouTubers have hundreds and even thousands of videos. And keep in mind subscribers will expect you to deliver a quality video on a pre-determined schedule. If you don't, they will move on. Is this something you can truly commit to as a professional writer?

Consideration #3: Do you have a unique and interesting idea for endless content?

Here's the kicker: content creation. What in the heck are you going to talk about? As an author should you talk about writing or books? Should you talk about topics relating to young adults? Should you offer advice or demonstration videos? How about video games or celebrities? In my opinion, it really doesn't matter as long as you capture it in a creative and interesting way. John Green talks about topics that interest him, but I don't think too many other people could interest Young Adults with the political situation in the Ukraine. Coming up with a theme or topic for your blog is going to be the most important aspect of your YouTube campaign. Take some time to brainstorm and test some topics out with sample videos. See what you are most comfortable with and choose a general topic where you can come up with hundreds of ideas. But most importantly, choose a topic that you can be creative with, that excites you and will engage your demographic.

Okay. Sounds simple enough right? Personally, I think YouTube is an excellent tool for certain writers to utilize in their author platforms. However, if it is impeding your writing time and still not providing you with enough interest in you or your book, then I think its time for you to hang up your camera and focus on the most important aspect of your platform: writing.

Toodles!

-Jami

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Is Self- Promotion a Necessary Evil?

Most authors will need to address this question at some point early in their career. And I would conclude that yes, self promotion is a necessary evil despite the sleezy and repulsive feelings that it might conjure up. But who else is going to do it?

So what exactly is self promotion? I say it's anything you include in your author platform: from blog posts to articles or Facebook posts to tweets. It's all promotion if your goal is to find new readers or keep your current readership interested.

Since self promotion can leave a nasty taste in your and your recipients' mouths, I have developed a list of rules to make the experience much more pleasurable for everyone involved.

1. Don't spam.
Nobody is going to take you seriously if you are filling their inboxes or notifications with random items. Look at your promotions from the audiences' perspective: if you wouldn't open it or save it then don't send it!

2. Do provide something of value.
You want your promotions to make an impression. So, there needs to be an informational, educational or entertainment aspect to your promtions. This also means directing your promotions toward the audience that will appreciate it. For example, if you're trying to sell you're self published children's book, it's probably not going to do you much good to send information to your insurance sales guy (unless you know he has kids). The point is that it is much more effective to direct your promotions toward a small group of the right eyes than a hundred shots in the dark.

3. Don't repeat posts.
When I say this I mostly mean on twitter and Facebook. There is no faster way to lose fans and followers than posting the same thing asking them to buy or read something they already have. Only provide links to your work now and again. I know you have unfollowed people for posting those annoying "look at this" post every single day. So, don't be that guy. Or gal. Be more creative than that. 

4. Do engage with others.
If somebody comments on your posts for-the-love-of-everything please respond! You should also be engaging with your peers. Comment on others' posts. Be insightful, but most importantly be available! People are much more likely to return and share your work if they know you appreciate them and their time.

5. Don't be rude or pushy with your friends and family.
By all means share and promote yourself with your friends and family, but don't get upset if they don't or can't share your work. Maybe it's too riske or maybe they just don't know anyone that would be interested. Keep them informed but your best bet is to focus on your defined audience or clientele. 

6. Do share other's work.
It's a two way street out there. You can't expect someone to share your work if you aren't willing to share there's. Find a community of people with similar aspirations and join in. Advocate for them alongside yourself. Someone else's shinning star will not dim your own.

7. Don't be ashamed to ask your audience to share.
Sometimes a reader won't even think to share an article unless you remind them. That is why there are so many share options at the bottom of every article you read. Remind them that if they liked something then they should share it or follow you. Capture the reader before they get distracted by another button or post or email. Ask and you shall receive.

8. Don't post links without a description.
I see this all the time, especially on Twitter. A link. What is it? Exactly. Readers are not going to click on a link without you explaining what it is and why they should read it. Just a link could be a virus or spam or even porn! No reader with any internet common sense will click on it, so make sure you tell us why you are posting the link. We're interested, I promise!

9. Do be creative and thought provoking.
This goes back to providing valuable material. Maybe you're selling something, but bombarding people with advertisements is not effective self promotion. You need to provide them with incentive. Give them an interesting article related to your product. Or offer a contest or give-away. Don't just expect anyone to care about a boring ad. That's why people fast forward through them on their DVR.

10. Do have patience. 
Effective self promotion takes time. Don't expect a 100,000 views or sales from your first attempt. Learn from your efforts and figure out what works best for you and your audience. Listen to feedback and ask for comments or suggestions. And don't be afraid to try new methods. You never know what might be your golden ticket.

Please feel free to argue any of these points or add to them. Please share this post with your own followers and check back for new tips on writing and platform building frequently! Thanks for reading.

-jami lynn 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tips For Going Viral

The Cover Photo on BuzzFeed.... via giphy.com
In case you missed it, the last few days have been extraordinary. I, me, Jami Pack, had an article go viral. Probably in the top 10 weirdest things that have ever happened to me. Behind like breaking my wrist and not knowing for 4 weeks and being video taped by MTV falling down a flight of stairs. But those are stories for another time. So what does "going viral" mean exactly? Here is what happened, my article 16 Things Only People With Unique Names Will Understand had 3.5 million total views in 36 hours. And I became the top ranking contributor to the BuzzFeed Community with one post. I have had more traffic on my blog in the past few days than I have had ever. EVER. My article has been tweeted by an actress and an author and shared more than a million times on Facebook. I have received several emails offering me work and asking me questions about writing in general. And the article has now been translated into Spanish and Portuguese and going viral overseas now as well. With all that happening, I have been trying to process this whole experience into something that I can learn from and possibly repeat.

What makes something go viral on the internet? Now, I don't think you can make something go viral but you can put yourself in a situation that will better the chances. Here are my tips for helping yourself go viral.

1. Write about things you care about rather than what you think people want to read.

Here's the thing, readers can tell when you are just trying to get their attention. They can tell if you are just regurgitating information from the web or when you are mimicking another viral item, so your best bet is to be original. I wrote my viral piece as a way to deal with an aggravating experience I had that day involving my name. I had no idea so many people experienced the same problems. I was just going about my business writing about something personal to my life, trying to create some backlinks to my blog. The important thing to remember here is write about what you care about and do it often.

2. Put your work in front of as many eyes as possible.

I chose to publish that article to BuzzFeed because I love that site. But there are several others just like it that you can use as well. The point being these sites have a lot of clout and have the abilities to get your work in front of millions of eyes quickly. Much faster than you would on your own blog despite all the social media sharing outlets you can use. It's just a fact. Don't be deterred by these sites because you want to retain your own work. It's still your work, they just get the benefit of promoting your awesomeness to the front page of their site. I mean, unless you have access to some high profile people to do your bidding for you, this is your best bet. And it works. I am living proof.

3. Write something that is relatable, easy to read and easy to share.

Now this is the toughest part because you still need to write about something you care about, it just needs to be easy for the audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing a full length article but you should break it up with pictures, diagrams and bullet points so you don't lose your audience. I prefer to use lists, if you haven't noticed. That is just what works for me. I also use humor and lots of pictures. But the most important part of this is speaking to your audience to the point that they feel like they need to share it with their facebook friends, twitter and tumblr followers. The best way to do that, in my opinion. is to specify a group (people with unique names, The Walking Dead Fans, etc.) and speak directly to them. I used "You" a lot in my post. Open letters also work for this reason. Shocking and heart-breaking stories also provoke action. And pictures, memes, gifs, and lists can also accomplish the same thing. You just want them to feel like you wrote the piece for them. Now I didn't realize I was doing that, but it is what I learned.

4. Stop checking on it and work on something new.

Like I said before, you cannot make something go viral. Do the best you can by sharing it everywhere you have available and stop worrying about it. Sometimes it takes weeks to go viral. Just don't give up. Keep posting new things. Keep being creative and unique. Post articles, lists, whatever to as many sites as you can. The more you have out there, the more opportunities you have to go viral. It's a fact. Play the numbers. Some people get lucky and hit it on the first try. Others can take years. But the point is to just keep being your awesome self and always working on new material and creating backlinks to you and your work.

Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions, suggestions or ideas. I also am testing my theory with my new piece 18 Things The Walking Dead Taught Me About People. Feel free to check it out if you are a fan of the show or just want some examples for research. Let me know what you think!

Later Gators,


-Jami Lynn

Monday, February 10, 2014

To Teach or Not to Teach?

That is the question.
"Are you going to teach?" is probably the second most asked question I get; right after "What is an MFA exactly?" (It's a Master's in Fine Arts.) Most people assume that the only thing a person can do with an English/Creative Writing degree is teach. Especially since writing is very rarely considered a realistic career choice. It's right up there with supermodel and flaming trapeze artist. However, teaching, as unappealing as it may sound, is something that should be considered for writers holding degrees. Don't get me wrong, I have mad respect for the courage and willpower of writers without degrees, but unless you want to teach at a community center this post won't really apply to you.

Why do I think teaching is a decent option for writers with degrees, you might be asking? To answer that question, let me explain my situation. I will be graduating with my M.F.A. in about 6 weeks. After that time I will have roughly 6 months before my student loans kick back in and let me tell you, I will be paying those loans back probably the rest of my life. That is, unless I can build a decent following online and get a book sold to a publisher. Which is highly unlikely in that short amount of time. So, teaching college level composition and introductory literature courses actually seems like an attractive idea at this point. I'm not exactly in to teaching at high school level for a few reasons: the licensure process, the testing requirements and the extra time commitments. But, this article can apply to those of you that would prefer teaching in middle or high school as well. So, if you are in the same boat as me, or are considering adding teaching to your repertoire of skills, let me break down the pros and cons for you. Then we can all make an informed decision together. Like friends.

THE PROS:

1. A paycheck. We all know money is a necessity. And this was probably a pro already on your list too. It certainly is number 1 on my list because a paycheck means I can continue to work on my novels and my blog without the interruption of a regular 9-5 job. Yes, teaching is a time commitment, but it is much less strenuous due to breaks, vacations and holidays.

2. Networking opportunities. Colleges and universities have fantastic alumni networking opportunities. They may even have a few published writers on the staff as well. Take the time to get to know your colleagues and the resources available to employees, even if you are only there for a short time. You can also include your website, blog or your own work for your students to view and sample. You may build or find a new audience for your work.

3. Developing your skills. Don't be distracted by the old adage "those who cannot do, teach." Not true. You need to constantly be developing and perfecting your skills in order to teach your students as well as write. So, don't look at developing educational material as a negative. Plus you may learn something along the way that makes a breakthrough for you in your own writing.  

 4. Resume builder. If you've never been published and are looking for an agent this is something that can be added to your bio. Teaching relevant, respectable and better than the names of your dogs. So, even if you only ever teach one class it will forever be on your writing resume. Which can only help, right?

5. New experiences. If nothing else comes from your time teaching, you will have had some interesting experiences to draw from in your writing. You are bound to meet eccentric professors and hung-over football players or even an international student in America for the first time. Document things, take pictures and enjoy having new experiences.

THE CONS:

1. Time suck. The loss of precious writing time, is the biggest con I have personally. I am an adult with a family and other responsibilities, so the loss of my writing time is a huge concern for me. Writing and publishing is a long difficult process and teaching will only complicate and stretch the time table out further. This is what keeps me awake at night, and I am a person that needs lots of sleep. Not good.

2. Not a great paycheck. It's no secret that the paychecks of adjunct professors and secondary school teachers is not anything too exciting. Adjuncts, especially, are at the bottom of the barrel getting paid per class with no benefits. So, if you don't get a class, you don't get money. There is also the consideration of daycare, transportation and supply costs. Many colleges make adjuncts foot the bill on many things tenure track professors don't. Do your research and calculations before making any final decisions. It might not make financial sense for you.

3. Not always consistent. Like I mentioned in #2, teaching isn't always a consistent form of work. It depends on your contract, university course load and student enrollment. One term you may have 15 credit hours of class, then the next term nothing. It all depends. Community college positions tend to be a little more stable than online positions or university adjuncts. But be prepared to be out of work occasionally.

4. Contracts. Contracts may not sound like a bad thing, but what if you do manage to sell your novel and the publishers wants to send you on a book tour? If you are stuck in a teaching position, you won't be able to just leave mid semester. Many schools offer 9 or 10 month contracts, just read the contract before you sign it. And ask human resources what you can do should your contract conflict with your writing career. Your writing career may depend on it.

5. Stuck with classes you are not interested in. So you need money. And the university needs a technical writing course taught. You agree. And now you are spending 20 hours a week looking up information on a boring topic that you hate. You need to get good evaluations from your students, so you wind up spending much of your free time doing research for the class instead of writing. You will probably get stuck with classes you aren't that enthusiastic about, but don't sign up willingly. Limit those to the best of your ability, otherwise you will lose precious writing time even more than usual.

So there you have it. These are the top 5 pros and cons in my personal opinion. I will probably go ahead and apply to several teaching positions and see what comes of it. I don't think this list of cons should prevent anyone from at least trying or finding out more information. Can you think of any more pros or cons that I may have missed here? I am a big advocate of doing your due diligence when it comes to career moves, so please enlightenment with your knowledge.

Have a fantabulous day!

 
-Jami Lynn


Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Revise Like a Boss In Five Easy Steps

Let's use your brain today!
Image courtesy of Mr. Lighthead/freedigitalphotos.com

So, you are ready to revise? Let me make a distinction first before we go any further: I am talking about revising the content of your writing. I am not discussing editing (that will come at a later date). Editing is grammar, word choice, sentence structure and the like, while revision is POV (point of view) dialog, descriptions, theme, character and plot development. This is NOT how to make your paper pretty. This is the meat and bones of your writing; how you connect with your audience. Keep in mind that I am writing this post for creative writing, while much of it can be used for academic writing it is certainly not the same. I am currently developing a few posts specifically for academic and research writing, but if you are in a pinch these steps can certainly be of use.

One of the main questions I have heard about revision is when do I do revision? I know it is a dreaded endeavor for many, but the answer is: as often as possible. I know when you are in school, you are told that the revision process occurs after the writing is complete, and this may very well be the case when writing short stories or an academic piece or even a blog post. But, I am here to tell you that when writing a novel you need to revise often, otherwise you will be doing yourself a disservice. I personally revise after every chapter, and I'll tell you why: I have a terrible memory. Call it a symptom of childbearing or laziness on my part, but I simply cannot remember things I wrote weeks or months ago. What does this have to do with revision you might ask? Well, everything. Because one of the first things readers (including agents) will notice is if you are inconsistent. If your character is wearing a red shirt in chapter 1 but has magically changed into a tuxedo in chapter 3 without any explanation, your readers will be confused, obviously. These are the small things that will make a difference, but are very difficult to catch in a huge piece of work on your own. You will have to go back and revise the piece as a whole, but smaller revisions help make that process much easier as you won't be flipping through hundreds of pages to find the places that need fixed. That is why I am here today. We will work on this together and break it down into manageable portions. I'm feeling very helpful today and you should take advantage. You should also consider an organization routine to help you prevent these little inconsistencies from the get-go. You can read about my organization techniques here.

Ok, let's get started.

Step 1: Put your manuscript away for at least a few days.

Getting some distance from your work will help you look at it with fresh eyes, which will allow you to be able to find problems much easier. If this is absolutely not an option (high-five procrastinator) then you should read your work out loud, preferably to a live person or record yourself. Mark any places you stumble over or that don't make sense. Or if you are working on a novel you can start writing a new chapter and then go back to previous one when you are ready to revise. This may not seem like a crucial step, but gaining some perspective on your writing is harder than it seems right after you finish. Everything sounds good when you are exhausted or feverishly writing an exciting scene. Take some time. You will find out I am right eventually.

Step 2: Track all changes.

Before you even start hacking your work, you need to set up the "track all changes" feature in Word. It can be a lifesaver. You should also have what I call an "out file." This is a document where you can paste cut bits of dialog, description, paragraphs or even whole chapters. I like to mark what chapter they were removed from as well. I do this because you may find these little nuggets have a place later in the story or even the sequel. You never want to completely erase anything, just in case. It may seem like crap now, but you might be crying in your coffee over it later. Just don't do that to yourself. Work smarter, not harder.

Step 3: Find all the places that need further research and get to work.

If you have followed my organization tips, you will know that I am a proponent of coloring text that needs further research. These are the easy fixes because you already know they are there. Find those colored sections and do the research. Make notes or print things out that you will need later and fix the text to your liking. This will also prevent you from having tons of changes in later chapters if you go ahead and do the research as needed. If you think you will need more extensive research later mark it down on your print outs or notes. Okay, easy so far.

Step 4: Check your chapter notes and locate and fix the inconsistencies.

You should be keeping chapter notes on all the basic physical information about your characters and the setting for each chapter or scene. This includes things like what they are wearing, time of day, weather, location of each major character (on or off scene) and any other pertinent information. You want to reconcile your new work with your old notes. Make sure your character hasn't switched from a red shirt to a tuxedo in the same hour without explanation. Check to see if a hot summer day hasn't suddenly switched to a dreary fall mist. These inconsistencies will catch up with you if you do not check them regularly. You are building a world that the reader can only see with your words. They don't have the mental advantage you have, and while these changes may not seem like a big deal now, but you will lose a reader completely if they are not on point. If you are self-publishing, this step is so much more important that grammar editing. Readers may be annoyed by a split infinitive but they will stop cold if they can't follow your imagery. Be careful and be thorough. Gah, I sound like an old school marm.

Step 5: Take the time to answer ALL of these questions to the best your abilities.

I think reflection is one of the most important tools we can use in the revision process. I personally like to answer questions about my writing. It makes me feel like I am in school again and will get a good grade. Yes, I was kind of a dork. I mean did you really expect anything else? Any who, I have adapted this list of questions from a peer review sheet I created for a class I taught. You could in fact do this with a partner, but I still maintain that you should do it for yourself as well. It will help you look at your work much more critically.
  1. What do you think is the strongest portion of this selection and why?
  2. What are the blaring questions left by this selection?
  3. How do you plan to reconcile those questions in future selections?
  4. Are there any portions that no longer make sense to you? Which?
  5. Are there any portions that do not further the plot or character development?  Which?
  6. How can the writing be made more clear? Use of more power words or combined sentences for example?
  7. Are there any portions that are unintentionally vague? Do you need more research? 
  8. What is your favorite part and why?
  9. Could you write a stronger lead sentence to draw the reader in?
  10. How do you feel about your ending? Does it clarify anything important?
  11. Could you include a cliff hanger to entice the reader to keep going?
  12. Does your dialog sound natural when spoken aloud? If not, how could you change it?
  13. Are the paragraphs in the best order? Can anything be moved or removed for clarification or conciseness?
  14. What was your least favorite passage to write and why?
  15. After you have made your changes reread your selection again. How does it make you feel now?
After you complete your questions you should make changes or brainstorm ideas that reflect your feelings on the selection. Revision is about making your piece as strong as possible, so don't underestimate the power of a good revision session. Do it as often as you can and then do it again. It will make you a better writer. Trust me, I have an MFA. Ha! I couldn't resist, that made myself laugh.

 If you want the downloadable version of my question worksheet, you can find it here. Or search it on Scribd.com. I am also embedding it in the Resources tab on my home page.

As always, stay classy internet,


-Jami Lynn

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blogging Ethics

Here is my kitten in a stroller to help you calm down.
This post may come across like a rant, but I really think it is something that needs addressed. Lately, I have been reading really disappointing blog posts from my fellow bloggers. I mean you'll always come across some whack jobs that are just out there to scam people but there seems to be a trend happening in the past few months that is bringing down the quality of the blogging community. I don't know about you all, but I would prefer not to be associated with the whack job bloggers, just because I write a blog. Not all blogs are the same and neither are bloggers, but we should all strive for quality. To address these problems (or disappointments) that I have been running across more and more frequently, I have compiled three rules or "ethics" that I think we should all apply. These shouldn't be new, but apparently they need reviewed. 

Blogging Ethic #1: Your Title Needs to Apply to Your Post

I know this one is absolutely shocking, but you would be surprised how many times I have read a post that actually had nothing to do with the title. Here is an example, (not the exact example I read, but close enough) the title is "10 Things You Should Know About Your Man" however, the article is actually about why men don't read lists. So, I get that this is some form of satire, but in the blogging world your title needs to inform your readers about the content of your article. This is how readers find you and like you and come back for more. They don't want to be mocked or tricked and they don't want to be used to boost your numbers, so unless your blog is related to The Onion, just don't do it.

Blogging Ethic #2: Your Post Should Not Be Riddled With Unnecessary Keywords

I get it. I completely understand your desire to make your post appeal to the search engine gods, but something's got to give here. There is no need to include the word "twerking" in a post about photography rights, or "Miley Cyrus" in a post about blogging (ha! did you see what I did there?). The readers that are searching those terms are not going to be interested in your content. Period. You want readers that are looking for your specific article. There is no need to cast a net so large that a majority of your viewers won't care. The other side of this is when bloggers use the same phrase over and over again to try and capture the SEO's attention. It makes your content boring. It makes you look like a bad writer. It makes me not come back to your page. When it comes down to it, you need to stop worrying about keywords and focus on your audience's needs. It's truly the best way and the least annoying.

Blogging Ethic #3: You Shouldn't Make It Difficult For Readers to Comment

 This is one that I just don't get. Why do you have a public blog if you do not want readers to get involved? If you are that afraid of negative comments then you shouldn't be a writer or you should at least make your blog private. There is no reason for a blogger to have a reader find a bot-filtering code, give you their home address, credit card number and then wait for you to "accept" their comment. Ok, so maybe that was an exaggeration, but you get my point. It shouldn't be this hard, and I will tell you flat out that I will not leave a comment on a blog with contraptions set up to prevent me. And I probably won't come back to read either. Blogging is a community that is meant to be shared, it shouldn't feel like a trip to Riker's Island just to tell you I enjoyed your post. So, just stop it. Be friendly. Be open. And if I am a spammer then just delete it. There is no need to punish your real readers because a few spammers or haters infiltrated your page.

So, there you have it folks. I think if we all would adhere to these ethics, we would live in better blogging world. I mean if you are going to write content like this, you should probably just copy write for some Nigerian Prince that is trying to scam old people out of their retirement funds. Because that is what you are doing, scamming people to your site. Am I right?

Does anyone have any other ethics would should include on this list besides stealing other's content? (I think that one is a given.) Or is anyone guilty of any of these in fractions and would like a chance to address the court? Please feel free.

I rest my case.

 
-Jami Lynn

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing is Wonderfully Hard

So, how many of you are struggling with ideas? Me! Me! (Kermit flails in the air). Well, I may have a solution for you. Much like Wreck This Journal makes you step out of your comfort zone, so does The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron. Only this deals more with writing and less with pouring coffee on your book. I see the intrinsic value of each, I am just all for trying out all the options. You can never have too many creative ideas right?

The purpose of this book is to help you come up with ideas through specific prompts. And there are hundreds that range from writing about your childhood toys to the most inspiring person in your life. But the point is to try and tap into your own personal wealth of experiences that you can draw on in your creative life. One of the very first prompts Mr. Heffron gives is to explore why you write and what is holding you back. Then he asks you to develop ways of removing these blocks. I have decided to answer this prompt because I feel like I am not the only that struggles with this. Here is my actual journal entry:

Writing is Wonderfully Hard

There I said it. Writing is hard. Which is why most people do not choose to put themselves into this career. It takes a special kind of person to torture themselves day in and day out for love of their art. But why is it so hard? I mean I have thousands of ideas, bits of dialog, interesting characters all floating around in my head. Why is it so difficult to sit down and write them down?

After extensive contemplation, I have come up with three theories on the reasons why writing is so difficult for me. These may not apply to everyone, but I think they pretty prevalent. And of course, as an incessant planner, I have developed plans to make writing easier.

Theory 1. I don't always listen to the needs of my body. Meaning, I don't or can't utilize the atmosphere where I work best. For me, I am most functional late morning and early afternoon, but with a toddler that doesn't nap, this isn't always possible. So, what happens is I don't write. Then I am mad at myself and promise to do better the next day, which the cycle usually starts over.

The other problem I have is that I am a binge writer. Meaning I let stories build and build (incessant planning again) until I physically cannot contain it. Then it sort of sprays all over the paper (or screen) in a messy kind of word-vomit. Which isn't always bad, but I am not always prepared for it and in that case I lose all motivation for the idea.

So how to solve this problem? Easy. Schedule regular writing sessions and show up. Ha! So much easier said than done. I do have a regular standing date with my desk chair every weekday from 9-4. I regularly stand him up, but my intentions are good. If only the road to published novels was paved with good intentions...

Theory 2. I deal with a ridiculous amount of writer's guilt (as Mr. Heffron calls it). This may have to do with the fact that I am female, but I think men deal with guilt too, just for different reasons. I feel guilty that I spend time writing when I could be doing activities with the child and husband, cleaning, cooking, working out, or any of the thousands of things left on my plate. And these things are important but so are dreams and ambitions.

Do I want to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc.? Of course, but I also equally want to be a writer. And this is where planning and execution needs to take precedence over my personal feelings. Meaning writing needs to happen whether I feel like it or not. Success does not just drop in your lap. So, in order to achieve success I (and probably you) need to answer this question daily: what am I doing today to reach my goals?

Theory 3. The final reason writing is hard for me is fear. Fear of failure, rejection, exposure, change and even possibly success, I don't know. But I do know it paralyzes me at times. It makes me doubt myself and my skills. It makes me unable to focus and unwilling to publish my material. And sometimes it even prevents me from finishing a project. Unfortunately, the unknown is a constant in this business, and if I want to work as a writer I need to accept fear as a companion.

The only conceivable way to get rid of fear is to work in spite of it. Work through it. Work with it. Fear can be a good thing by keeping writers humble and connected with their audience. Fear is also a commonly used theme and having experience with it can make your writing more authentic. But the point is fear should not be a deciding factor in whether or not you show up to your writing desk every day.

So, yeah. Writing is hard despite what non-writers may think. There is no way around it, except to write. Write when you are not feeling inspired. Write when you should be doing other things. And write even when you are afraid of the outcome. A successful writing career depends on the ability to challenge yourself to complete the manuscript even when the universe seems to be working against you. Hard work and sacrifice are expected in many other professions and writing is no exception. So, get somewhere comfortable and inspiring (even if it is in your own head) and get to work. Boom.

Catch ya later,

 
-Jami Lynn

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wreck This Journal



Even though I do journal occasionally on my own, I bought a copy of  a Wreck This Journal because my creativity has been waning lately. I don't know if it is exhaustion or burn-out or just an anxiety flare-up, but I feel like I keep repeating the same things over and over. I needed to shake things up a bit and step out of my comfort zone. Keri Smith has some fantastic ideas to help you push your limits.


When my journal arrived, about a week and half ago, I flipped through it. I was slightly confused because most of the activities didn't involve markers or well outlined writing prompts. Actually, I was disappointed. I'm not a destructive person and things like rubbing your food on a page, or chewing on one, or even poking holes in another just seemed ridiculous. What could possibly come from doing such things to a book? Even worse, a book I paid for with my own money. So, I put it aside.

I decided to start working on it yesterday for two reasons: I am completely overwhelmed right now with family, animals, school, writing, my thesis and several other personal issues. Second, because I was beginning to doubt my creative and writing abilities. I was feeling particularly down the past few days and I saw it on my bookshelf and thought, "Why not try it? If it helps great, if not, you haven't lost anything." Let me tell you, it helps. I decided to start with the first 10 pages. The prompts are simple and non-restrictive, which allows you to do what you feel. It's actually an amazing feeling to stand on a book, stab it with a pen and fling a wet teabag into it. And the best part is, no one can judge you for it. It's uniquely yours and there will never be another book just like it, no matter what you do to it.

I am showing you my completed pages so far. But, I think you should complete your own pages before really looking at mine. I don't want you to hinder your own creativity, come back when you are done. I will tell you though, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed these pages. After completing them, I do feel better about my creative abilities. I now know I still have some. I also released some tension by "wrecking" this book. I plan on doing 10 pages a week for now and see if its therapeutic qualities continue. For now, I would recommend this book for anyone that is stressed, anxious, depressed, uninspired or just plain bored. Let me know what you think of my pages and tell me which pages are your personal favorites.

*I didn't photograph the first 3 pages because they were: number the pages, crack the spine, and leave the page blank. (I didn't think those would be very interesting photos.)


 
 
 
I hope some of you will give this a chance because the pictures do not show the great feelings you get while completing these pages. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to see more of my pages. I will see ya'll next time. Stay classy.
 
 

-Jami Lynn


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to Organize Your Writing

Look... index cards...Shocking!
I will tell you a secret: I have an inexplicable need to be completely (by completely I mean on the verge of ridiculous) organized before I can get even one word written. For me, the creative energy comes out when I am outlining and sketching ideas. Writing the actual sentences are more of a by- product of the word vomit that occurs during brainstorming and planning. And I love brainstorming. It's my favorite part because there are no restrictions, nothing that binds you to a certain genre or theme. It's just pure creativity. I like to think of my jumbled mess of paper and word docs as art. These are the underlying pieces that shape your story into its best form. Think of it as the spanx, foundation and bobby pins that make you look your (or your wife look her) most beautimous self. So, here are my suggestions on how to keep yourself and your ideas organized through the new year. I have even broken them down into groups for your pleasure. Have at it kids!

1. Brainstorming:

A. Collecting Inspirational Items
This is a category that I didn't even start until more than half way through my novel. I see its intrinsic value now because ideas come from everywhere, and your brain is not capable of processing and remembering all the information you perceive. To solve this problem of normal amounts of memory loss (or even abnormal amounts) here are several examples to create collections of inspirational material. Some writers carry notebooks (or apps) and write down descriptions of people they see. Some will cut up magazines and newspapers. Some will even take snapshots. However, I find this a little too stalker-esque for my taste, so I prefer to post pictures and notes other people have taken on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr. Feel free to scour mine for items that peak your interest. I find it helpful that I can separate each item into easily searchable categories. But to each his own, do what works in your life. Use something that you can access regularly because this will be an ongoing process in your writing life. But heed my warning: if you must take your own photos, for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy, please do not take a picture of someone without their consent. Don't be that creepster.

B. Idea Box
So, index cards in a box is not a new idea. But I think it is often overlooked, and I have been guilty of overlooking it in the past. I use my cards for promising ideas; book premises, blog articles, short stories, screenplays, etc. I separate them by categories and label each index card. I then include as much of the premise as I can like: a working title, genre, approximate word count, single piece or part of a series, important characters, and what is missing from the story (plot, setting, characters). This way I know how much work needs to be done for each idea. I can flip through my cards and find one that peeks my interest and get to work. I fill out as much of the cards as I can, as well as update them, that way I am never short on ideas for several different projects. And once I finish a piece, I put the card in the back of the box as a nice little reminder that I have completed something. Check!

C. Storyweaver
Storyweaver is my all time favorite brainstorming resource. And it is free if you download the demo version; the only thing the demo version doesn't do is save your work to Storyweaver. But a quick cut and paste into a Word document solves that problem. What it does do is provide you step by step brainstorming prompts to develop characters, plot, themes, a synopsis and eventually a full outline. It is extremely helpful if you are just starting out, stuck, something seems off or even if you have written yourself into a corner. Each prompt builds on itself until you have completely developed every aspect of your novel. All you have to do then is write. I would suggest this software to any writer, new or experienced. And its free. Did I mention it's free? Free...


2. Outlining:

A. Post-It Binder
So, a Post-it Binder might not sound so technologically advanced, but it works. Here is what I do: first, I look at my outline (see Storyweaver) and break it down scene by scene. Each Point-of-view (POV), if you have multiple, is assigned a different color. Then, I write each scene on a Post-it. Once every scene is written, I stick them in the order I want in a binder under page protectors. What is great about this method is it is easily changeable. I can swap scenes, change POV's, write new scenes, etc. and I don't have to go back and re-write my outline/synopsis every time I make a change. This might seem like over-kill to some of you, but to me, this is easier than working off an out dated synopsis and it takes less time away from my actual writing. Give it a try. You might be surprised what you can do with school supplies. Come on don't deny it, I know you still like shopping for school supplies...


B. File Box
This is another one of those possible over-kill examples, but it works for me. I personally hate having tons of documents, saved searches, images, etc. on my desktop. When I am writing, I need the information now and I don't want to have to go look for it, which always happens when I have several open files or web pages at the same time. So, instead I like to print out my research. This is different than my inspirational items I mentioned earlier. This is information I am going to need while I am writing. Research. For example, if you are going to have the White House as a setting in your novel then you would need to print out images, maps, blue-prints of the White House to look at while writing. I like to put this type of information in a file box with clearly labeled folders. This prevents me from freaking out when I cannot find the image I originally wanted. If you don't mind a hundred open windows on your screen, then you have my sincerest apologies. The rest of you, you'll thank me later.

C. Plot Point Outline
This is the final preparation I make before writing. The plot point outline is a document that clearly lists every plot point in the novel. Plot points are the important actions that must be present to make the storyline work. This is different than the Post-it binder which are individual scenes. I like to use both the binder and the outline together to make sure each scene I am writing is related to a plot point, that way I am avoiding unnecessary or confusing actions. By keeping your writing in check with the outline, it will save time in editing and revising. There is nothing as painful as ripping out pages of work because it ends up being useless to the storyline. Do your future self a favor and outline.

3. Writing/ Revising

A. Scrivener
I wish Scrivener was free, but alas it is not. However, it does have a free trial for 45 days. And these aren't consecutive days just the days you open the program. This software is really helpful because it allows you to write, outline, save research, save notes, and old drafts all in the same place. Then you can pull items up side by side, which is especially helpful for revising. The other thing I like about this program is that you can choose screenplay formatting. If you have ever tried to manually format a screenplay, you know how hard it is in Word. If you ever plan on turning a novel or story into a screenplay, or just write a screenplay from scratch download this software. It's a real time saver and makes you feel like a professional. Kind of.

B. Research Markings
Whenever people read my drafts, I always get questions as to why some words are colored red? Here is the reason: they represent something I need to research. As much as I research before I even start writing, it never fails that I will run across something I need to know but didn't think of during my research time. I absolutely hate to stop a writing flow to Google some information because then I get side-tracked with Facebook or Twitter or e-mail or the latest on some food that is killing people. So, I solve this problem by coloring words or phrases that I need research in red. Sounds silly? Yes, but if I don't I will forget later. Then some little Amazon troll will write a review that states I know nothing of "such and such" and people shouldn't read my book. We all want to prevent the trolls from succeeding in life, so you should probably do your part and prevent as many "troll-able" offenses as possible.

C. Chapter notes
Keeping chapter notes is another method of keeping the trolls at bay. Every chapter, or scene if you prefer, I write down as much descriptive material as possible: the day, time, color of shirt on each character, weather, hair up or down, who is on scene/off scene, setting descriptions, etc. You get the picture. Inevitably you are going to need to remember at least one piece of information on this list and it is much easier to find it on a notebook page rather than scrolling through dozens of pages in your manuscript. This is especially true if you have long novel, a story that shifts POV characters, or has flashbacks. You will forget what your characters are wearing. You will forget what day a particular event happened. You will forget if it was morning or night. But the trolls never do. So, make some notes especially if you are self-publishing. Save yourself now.


Thanks so much for reading! If you enjoyed this post please take a moment and subscribe. Also, feel free to let me know if you use any other particular organizational methods, or if you want to argue about one of mine. Or tell me how awesome my photography skills are; I'll listen. Have a great evening friends.

Talk at ya later,


-Jami Lynn