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