Simply Security Questions

I was registering for an online points service with one of the grocery store chains here in Ontario. Part of the process was choosing a security question and then typing in your (unique and individual) answer. Well, I have a problem with the new security questions which pop up. I was just fine with the old standard Mother’s maiden name or Father’s middle name. I knew those, they had a simple and definite answer. 

Maybe they became too standard, maybe they were less secure as they became over used or maybe not everyone knows this information about their parents. Some how there are now new security questions and I usually can’t find a simple answer for any of them. I don’t remember enough, I don’t have strict enough opinions or I just don’t have a preference and this leaves me with no security questions and answers, too often. It’s frustrating. 

Here are the security questions from my recent adventure with them:

If you could be any historical figure who would you be?

Where did you go on your best vacation?

What is the name of your best friend from childhood?

What was the first concert you attended?

What is the name of your favourite teacher?

Do you have answers for all of them? An answer you are sure of enough to be able to remember and have the same answer months from now? Not me. I can think of a lot of historical figures, none I’d really want to be. My best vacation…. I can’t pick one. My best friend from childhood… too many options, we moved a lot when I was a younger child and then I never really was great at keeping friends or making them. Another memory game… the name of my favourite teacher, I can’t pick one from among the faces I remember and I’m not sure how to spell the names I can remember. First concert was Cher, or Sonny and Cher, I guess. Or was there something else I’ve forgotten. Likely so. I picked the concert question because it was the only one I might answer the same way twice. 

The problem with most of these questions is still that they do not come with simple, definite answers. Different spellings, different abbreviations, different ways of writing them (like short forms versus long forms). Even if you give the same answer it might be wrong because you typed it with capital letters or without any spaces the first time you gave the security question answer. 

This is why the old standards of Mother’s maiden name worked. Just type in a last name, with the first letter as a capital because (of course) it is a proper name. I miss the old, simple security questions. Security seems to be pulling us farther and farther away from the very things we are supposed to be accessing. I think it will be easier for someone else to guess my security answer than for me to remember it. 

What would you use as a great security question? Can you think up a few? 

How to Achieve Word Impact

How to Achieve Word Impact

(Another post among many which Suite101 has deleted from their content. I had linked to this on Creative Writing Inspiration and decided to save it on my own site when I found it among the carnage).

Nov 22, 2011  Karen Newcomb

Three word power secrets that add impact in communication
Writing too often simply sits on the printed page and does nothing. This is because there is a tremendous difference between the potential impact words have and the actual impact they create in a piece of writing.

How many times have you received something written from another person which you had trouble understanding and which you finally stopped reading because you just lost interest? In addition, how many times have you written a letter expecting immediate action and received almost no response. The fact is that written communication often falls flat. This applies to articles, books, query letters, right down to memos in an office. Think about how advertisers use this formula to grab your attention.

The basic word power formula consists of three things:

Keep it simple
Get your reader’s attention
Talk directly to your reader
Keep It Simple

This is a basic rule that should be applied at all times. One of the main problems is that people often use too many words to say what they’re trying to say, and the writing itself is too complicated.

You can greatly improve your writing if you look at everything you write and ask: Is this the simplest way I can say it and still include everything I want to say? If it isn’t, rewrite it.

Here are some examples of complicated sentences and how they can be made simple.



We would be very happy if after thinking it over you would reply.


Please reply.


I got the right address when my first letter was returned with another address which I see is correct.


I got the right address from the envelope when my first letter was returned.


Your suggestions will indeed be discussed during the next Publications Committee meeting.


We will discuss your suggestions at the next Publications committee meeting.

Get Your Reader’s Attention

Much writing simply starts without giving the reader any reason to read on. As a result, the first couple of sentences get read then the writing is put down. You should always do something at the beginning of each piece of writing to attract attention. In the beginning, you can improve your writing tremendously if you remember that reader will always read on if you offer him some future promise. How? By changing the sentence around so the reader feels you are offering him something he can use.

Here are a couple of examples:

Poor Beginning

This summer at King Memorial Library we had a Creative Writer’s Workshop.

Attention Getting Beginning

Let me tell you about the Creative Writer’s Workshop we had at King Memorial Library.

Poor Beginning

Paris is lovely in the spring.

Attention Getting Beginning

I’d like to share Paris in the spring with you.

Poor Beginning

The high school carnival was a success and we got marvelous response in our call for donations and help for the Country Store…and a lot of people helped in phoning and in putting in a lot of long hours…thanks a lot.

Attention Getting Beginning

Thank you very much for helping to make our school carnival a tremendous success. This was due to…

Talk Directly to Your Reader
Of course not every type of writing will allow you to talk directly to your reader, but where you can, you’ll increase your written effectiveness 100 percent. In fiction writing you talk directly to your reader through viewpoint, in non-fiction and article writing you simply insert the word “you.”

Some examples:


Special thanks to those people who helped us.

Talking to Your Reader

A special thank you for helping us.


Those who use this method will find out how to lose five pounds easily.

Talking to Your Reader

Using this method you can easily lose five pounds.


There are probably many people who would like girls chasing them.

Talking to Your Reader

Would you like girls chasing you?

There are many types of writing in which you can’t talk to your reader. But when you can it will improve both the communication and response many times.

Copyright Karen Newcomb. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Read more at Suite101: How to Achieve Word Impact |

Now that I’m dead, I want to tell you a few things

Every letter on Dead Advice begins with the same first sentence: “Now that I’m dead, I want to tell you a few things.”

Imagine, for a moment, that you have just died. If you had to look back over the arc of your life as it stands today, what stories would you tell? What lessons would you share, what things might you regret or confess?

via Dead Advice.

Now that I’m dead, I want to tell you a few things.

First of all, your feet are just not that interesting. Neither is the sidewalk. Look up. Pick up your feet as you walk, walk with a light step rather than scraping your shoes along as if they carried the weight of the world. Carry yourself with confidence, even if you don’t feel it. Shoulders should be level, not sloping. Keep your back straight and your head up. When someone walks by you look at them. They may not look back at you, many people won’t and some cultures even find it threatening. But, there is a confidence in walking in the world looking like you have a place in it.

You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be kind and patient with everyone all the time. But, listen when people talk to you. Remember what they tell you. People will be more impressed if you remember some small thing they told you than if you remember their name. The little details are more personal than a name handed out freely.

Keep some mystery in your life. Have something you feel passionate about, something you are learning about and something which can stir your curiousity. Mystery, curiousity and passion are the real things of life. Food, shelter and the rest may be practical but life requires more than the practical things in order to open your eyes to the world each morning you wake up again.

One last thing, value your culture and your history. Culture may have to adapt to world changes but history should not – it is past and can only be changed by the people looking back at it, giving it new perspective.

How to Become a Contributing Writer to a Publication

atworkWhen you want to be a published writer and you don’t have a lot of writing to show an editor or publisher, choose a small publication and become a contributing writer for them.

Contributing usually does mean you aren’t getting paid in cash money. There might be some kind of trade of services or goods. You may get a percent of ad revenue for instance. Don’t deal with promises for future payment and avoid publications which have not begun yet. Too often those promises don’t come true. A publication should have a few issues in print or online so you can see what they are doing. Also, if the publication never gets off the ground you will have done all that writing work and not have any writing credit to show for it.

Getting paid is one thing to look at when you choose a publication. The other important thing to know is, do you keep all rights to your work? Those two things are the first things I want to know when I look at a publication which I am considering. You should always have the rights to your work – especially any work you have not been paid for. Never write for a publication which wants all rights to your work and does not pay for your work and those rights to using and keeping it.

Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

Take time to brush up on your language basics: spelling, punctuation and grammar. Never underestimate the power of a few good words. If you want to sell your skills as a writer, make sure you have them.

Get second opinions. Ask editors to read your work and give feedback. If someone points out an error, learn from it. Make a note of it, a real physical note which you can keep right on your computer to remind you. As you work on fixing each error you will learn and become better. Never assume you aren’t making some kind of mistakes.

Treat yourself to a book about writing. Not character development but how to write. I mean those old rules we were taught in school and have forgotten since then. It may not seem like a real treat to work on your grammar, spelling and punctuation. But, it is nice to know you’re doing it right. Especially, when you contact publishers and you want to put your best foot forward.

Know the Publication

Pick a publication you would like to write for. If you’re just getting started aim a little low, give yourself a good chance of getting the job. Not because you want to sell yourself short, but think ahead. Getting this experience will give you a writing credit and a lot of experience which you can use to help sell yourself to the bigger, fancier and better known publications.

Before you contact a publication find out who the editor is. Get their name and make sure it’s current information. Then read the submission guidelines on the site. Even if you want to apply as a staff writer you should know the guidelines, know what they are looking for and what they expect. Writers guidelines can tell you a lot if you take the time to read through them.

Read all the back issues or online copies you can. Develop a feel for the publication the tone and voice the writers use. What kind of advertising do they run? As much as you want to write for your readers, publications will cater to their advertisers too.

Find out what you get as a byline. For an online publication you should get an author resource box, or a profile. However they work out the details, you should be getting your name and contact information in the publication when you write for them.

Writers Need a Portfolio

Give yourself a web presence, an online portfolio to show your past work, your skills and give some information about yourself. Keep it professional, an extension of your resume.

Add social media links, if they are safe to add. If your usual Twitter posts have been personal, start a fresh account for your business as a writer. Keep them sorted out, don’t merge them and take the chance on having something sneak out which you can’t control and may not want to explain.

If you can, print up business cards for yourself. Then when you send in a letter to the publication you can include your card. This gives them something they can keep with all your contact information. A business card may get kept even when they add a resume and cover letter to the recycling bin.

Last of All, Ask for What you Want

Once you have studied the publication, written your resume and cover letter, and sent them by snail mail or email… don’t forget to follow up. Actually talk to someone and ask them for the job. Remind them who you are, give them all your contact information and thank they for taking time to talk with you.

If they ask you for a query letter with an actual idea they want written, great! Get to work on it. Do the research, find the sources of information and put together a package showing what you can offer them on that topic. Meet their needs.

Don’t stop asking and applying with publishers and editors. Instead of dwelling on a negative reply get to work on your next query letter for someone else who could say ‘yes’.

Good luck and best wishes.

How to Find Penpals (Pen Pals)

My sister phoned, asking me how to find penpals for her 9-year-old daughter. This wasn’t completely out of the blue. I still have a box full of penpal letters I received all the years I wrote letters to people around the planet. I’ve got coins from other countries. I’ve got postcards too. But, I haven’t really looked at any of it for years.

I stuck with it for several years. I even met the man I ended up married to through penpal writing. That’s a long story. Now I’m looking for the next generation to start up with letter writing, finding friends by mail.

When I wrote my first penpal letter it was going to someone working in a factory where they canned pineapples. My Mother had picked out the address from the back of a can we bought at the grocery store. “Do you want to write to someone in Hawaii?”

So we sent a letter to that address. I got a reply back. I wrote to “Sushi” for years, though we never met. We wrote as we grew up, we wrote as she got married and had children. I didn’t get married until much later. At some point we stopped writing. With only one of us married and having children we just had less in common to write about.

The next time I wrote to someone it was from a penpal zine. This was before the Internet. The penpal zine was pretty cool really. I don’t know who started it (and there was actually a few of them by different people). It was created as a booklet, photocopied and stapled together. Inside were listings from people all over the world who were looking for penpals. Some of them wanted to write to people from specific countries. Most of them seemed to be from the US or Australia. Each person wrote a bit about themselves, who they wanted to write to and gave their mailing address and age.

Find penpals for young people

Find penpals of all ages

Safety Tips for Penpal Exchanges

  • Never go anywhere to meet a penpal (for the first few times) without an adult.
  • If a penpal writes something rude, or anything a kid shouldn’t be sending – tell your parents, a teacher, or another adult who can help you.
  • Don’t accept or send photos your parents wouldn’t approve of.
  • No one should be asking for your email password or your phone number. Don’t give it out.

The Letter L is Me

L jewel Do you have a token, something you keep around to inspire you when you need a quick boost while writing? I found this letter L today. It’s shiny and pretty. Keeping something with my initial reminds me that I am a somebody. A somebody who can do things, accomplish things and finish things too. We all need a boost at times. But, there isn’t always someone else around we can count on to be there in the moment, every moment we may need them. So, find your own little ways to keep yourself focused, driven and creatively feeling good.

ASCII Art is a Useful Skill for a Writer

ASCII art dragon

We are told to bring something extra, unique, something people will remember to each query we sent for our freelance writing ideas. Most writers are limited in what they can show in text. I’m not. I’ve made ASCII art for more than 10 years (on and off). Just today I thought about how I could create something and send it along with a query letter. Not as something in the envelope but in the actual letter, on the same paper my query is typed into. This even works for email queries, though not as nicely as something I can actually print out.

What do you think?

Advice Column Writer

I think I would have enjoyed being an advice column writer. But, I’m not sure I would have been able to see things from every point of view, predicted every reaction and then been comfortable telling people what to do and have the responsibility for whatever happens, the fall out. That’s a bit scary. As an advice column writer you want to do more good than harm and yet, you can only know as much as you are told in one letter. There is always more to a situation and hidden details that could change your whole point of view (and the advice you would give) if you knew more.

Of course, that’s why most advice columnists (if not all of them) write a statement pretty much explaining they are not omnipotent and can’t take responsibility for whatever happens to people who take their advice. It does sound like a bit of a cop-out. Here you are, giving advice and then telling people you aren’t responsible for it. However, it would be stupid not to have that kind of statement. There is no way one advice columnist (especially those who tend to give pretty biased advice) can know every eventuality and accept blame for whatever happens.

Still, it would be an interesting writing job. I’d do it. I think I would even give good, sensible advice. Unless I was having a bad day, got a bit too cocky and full of my own powers or became angry and then lost my perspective.

Book Drunk

It happens to us once or twice in a lifetime to be drunk with some book which probably has some extraordinary relative power to intoxicate us and none other; and having exhausted that cup of enchantment we go groping in libraries all our years afterwards in the hope of being in Paradise again.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson in a letter to Sam Ward

Writing Well

Originally posted to SuiteU, part of Suite101. SuiteU is being removed from the site. I wanted to save the ecourses so this resource would not disappear.

Writing Well

By Katherine Swarts


Professional authors hear it on a regular basis: “I could write a book, too, if I had the time.” Obvious implication: writing is easy. Well, maybe writing is easy. But writing well definitely isn’t. Think back to your earliest school reports. Remember how your teacher insisted on seeing a rough draft before the final copy? And remember how you grumbled, “Why should I do all that extra work?”

Because writing is work. Authors know that. Other people tend to forget after graduating from research papers.

Okay, but you’re not an author, and you don’t care if your byline ever graces so much as a letter to the editor. So why should you bother improving your writing skills?

Because you still have to write: Friendly e-mails/Thank-you notes/Letters of complaint/Office memos/Business reports/You name it.

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