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