Writing Background Inspiration

Today I was thinking about what you like in the background as you write? Music is the most likely background. I flick on the radio to an oldies station and then I ignore it completely while I write. Some of it likely leaks into my brain but I couldn’t tell you even one of the songs that played.

Anyway, today as I was working I thought of a new background inspiration. Smell! So, I bought 4 bottles of aromatherapy/ cologne stuff. (I found some fairly cheap at the department store). I bought two of the Gingerlily so I could give one to my Mom for Mother’s Day. Here are the four scents: Gingerlily (for positivity), Green Tea (for enlightening), Tangerine (for energizing) and Jasmine (for sensuality). How does that sound? Well, it smells great. Gingerlily is especially interesting, though the smell fades faster than the others.

I bought them to give me a boost when I’m writing. You know those days when you feel like all your words have already been written, all your ideas have already been explored and all your thoughts are stale, having breathed their last during the first Ice Age. On those kinds of days an appeal to a different sense might help. After all, we may write about smells but we don’t use much of our sense of smell while writing. Its not so easy to tune out as the white noise of the radio either.

So, if you’re looking for some extra inspiration or something to keep you going give my idea a try. Or come up with something that appeals more to you.

A Writer’s Website

Here are my ideas about making a writer’s site an asset to you and a resource for others to come to. It’s a bit scattered as I am leaving for Ottawa tomorrow and have some family stuff ongoing. But, I wanted to share the ideas while they were brewing around in my brain.

I think blogs are a great way to go. They take over a lot of the grunt work and are still fresh and creative. Avoid going the LiveJournal route though. Your blog should look like something you have done, not a clone from another site. Getting your own domain is a huge asset, if you can afford the cost. This will also give you an email address which does not include the words Yahoo, Hotmail or AOL.

The best thing about a blog on your website is keeping your site freshly updated and making it interactive without too much fuss on your part. You can update daily, or a few times a week. Just add an inspirational quote, a writing tip you’ve found that works, jot down a new publisher/ market you’ve found, scan a sketch or photograph you’ve come across and add it to your blog.

However, a blog doesn’t have to be the focus of your site. Make it a sidebar on your main site, a secondary page or a secondary site. It really does help to keep traffic to your site if they can expect to have something to read when they get there. Avoid link rot, stagnating pages and a bland site in general by adding a blog. Be creative, that’s what we do!

Also, blogs run on text mainly. If you are not a great graphic artist a few simple text graphics are really all you need. Look for a font you like and make a banner to head your blog. Keep the colours simple and easy to read. Add some smaller text graphics as navigation links if you have more than one page. Include a text graphic with your email address. This will foil spam bots as well as they can’t read graphics, only HTML. br /br /Check out other writer’s sites and see what they come up with. Avoid copying anything, instead make your own unique version of the idea. Turn it around to suit you and your own site.

Monitor your traffic cause it does give you a nice ego boost to see people actually coming to your site. Keep a guest book or some form of message boards available. People are more likely to leave a quickie note than send an email. Especially if they can leave a link to their own site behind, self promotion. When you get feedback, answer it as soon as possible.

You can boost your ratings/ rankings with Google by getting your site linked to on bigger sites. So email the webmasters and ask for a linkback. Explain who you are, what your site offers and always offer to link to them too.

If you go with the blog plan and turn your site into a resource of some kind (for writers, for hobbyists, or for the topic you write about) you will find it easier to get linkbacks as you are offering original content. Webmasters and directory editors want original content with simple navigation. If you create it, they will come.

Consider ways of going out to your readers, catching them at home. Send out an email to subscribers each time you update your site. Give a preview of what you ar updating with. Start a newsletter with your best content of the month/ week, depending on how much work you can put into it.

Work on the webring idea. Make yourself part of a chain of sites. When you submit your site to web directories suck as Dmoz send the listed editor an email. Be polite and courteous. Add your URL to your email signature and make a point of joining relevant email lists, forums and newsgroups. Post when you have something to add to the chat, not just to self promote. If you seem interesting people will click on your signature links. Leave comments in guestbooks too. Even if only the site owner sees your link he/ she could be a contact to cultivate. After all, you came to visit them.

Offer free content to ezines relevant to your genre. Set yourself up as an expert on your topic/ genre. Always include your byline with linkage (also known as a resource box) at the end of each article. Stage chats on your site and make sure you are there on time for however long you set the chat. Or moderate your message boards, don’t leave questions unanswered. Set up surveys, quizzes and personality test type things. People seem to be addicted to clicking those. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Give freebies of some sort. If you are graphically inclined offer desktop wallpaper. If you write books offer desktop wallpaper of the cover art from your latest book. Link to sites you have found useful. Either handy web gadgets for writers or something useful for people interested in your topic/ genre. Keep these links checked and eliminate/ fix link rot right away.

If you can, offer a coupon or discount on the purchase of your book. Better still, give them out to those who come to your webcasts (web chats) or subscribers of your newsletter.

If you make appearances or attend events keep a schedule available on your site too. Of course, keep it updated. You can also keep readers up to date with what you are working on. Let them know you are writing a fresh chapter, proofreading copy, mailing out an article, hearing back from that promising editor, etc. Also, write about professional organizations you are a part of, as they relate to your work. Let your site become a news portal for them. This is especially nice for hobbyists, crafty types and such. You can become their guide to what’s going on. Not so tough for you since you will already be keeping track for your writing.

Make sure you also include all your essentials for self promotion. Contact information, clips, the services you offer, and so on.

Writing is a business, not just an art. Happy webbing.

Cutesy Words

I do not like cutsey words. “Peeps” “sumpin” and “wassup” make me cringe. Perhaps I’m just showing my age, or being too particular and unbending. Whatever the case, I don’t like them and I can’t see myself changing on this.

It’s interesting to think, the way the English language evolves, some of these so called words could become standard English, over time. Hopefully a lot of time so that I’ll be into my next life and never see it happen.

What do you think about the use of cutsey words? Is it acceptable to use them in an article? I guess it really depends on the editor who will be choosing to pay for the article or not. Of course, a big guideline to language is the publication itself. What do the other writers write like?

Still you have to think of the readers when you submit an article. It’s the readers and the advertisers who make the style guides in the end. These days the advertisers probably have more sway than the readers even.

Anyway, you can be sure that if I ever type something cutsey like sumpin, I will have been taken over by aliens or something even worse.

Free Content

I’ve used contributed and/ or free content before. But, it brings it’s own set of difficulties. Before you jump into this, thinking how much easier your life will be consider the following:

1) Unless you want content geared to website promotion, you may be out of luck. The main topic of free content is about site promotion, one way or another. This is changing, slowly. As you find articles to use the well will run dry. Eventually you may find you are spending more time looking for fresh content than it would have taken to write it yourself. If you do find a good writer this way, keep in contact and ask if they have other articles you could use.

2) People who post to free content sites don’t always read the rules. I’ve had authors demand I stop using their content. Some claimed it had expiry dates, some claimed the full article was never meant to be used, just a teaser with a link back to their own site. One expected me to change the format of my pages to suit her article. Before you use a free content site, read the rules, be aware of them. Before using any free content send an email to the writer. Give them an outline of how the content will be used, keep it short and simple.

3) Formatting is hell. Do I need to elaborate? If you have ever cut and pasted a large body of text to a site you are familiar with the backspace and up and down keys on your keyboard. The most aggravating part of using content which you cut and paste from another site is making it fit into your own site’s layout. Yes, this is a small thing but over time it is seriously aggravating. Ask if all contributed content can be sent to you in plain text files. You can at least hope.

4) Grammar, punctuation and spelling. I’m not a dictionary myself but I try to learn from my mistakes, I proofread and I run spellcheck. I don’t understand why everyone who writes can’t do the same. But, you may find yourself editing a lot of contributed content.

I’m not against using free or contributed content but it’s not the perfect answer to filling up your zine with greatness. On the plus side, you won’t be the only one talking. It is good to have more than your own voice, ideas and experiences. It’s great to have something you can rely on when you’re pressed for time, out of ideas or just don’t want to write. Making contacts and networking is another plus. But, it’s not all free and easy. Be aware of the pitfalls.

Debating Yourself

Could you argue in favour of something you disagreed with? Could you take the side, against your personal beliefs, and come up with a great debate? Debating is a skill. It’s not easy to come up with strong, winning points when you don’t agree with the overall ideas. But, as a writer, that is what you have to do, sometimes.

If someone pays you to write, speech write or ghostwrite something for them, you have to do it to the best of your abilities. Once you take on a job you need to do your best with it. Your personal opinions can be useful as you will already know the reasoning behind the opposite point of view.

I think one challenge would be keeping your focus and not letting your own point of view creep in to influence the writing/ debate. It would be so easy to slip in a subtle zinger. So easy to not try to really come up with the best points and just settle for your first ideas. But, you’d be selling yourself short that way.

As a writing exercise debating against yourself is a great way to get your brain working. Could you apply this to writing fiction too? If you were stuck at a point of choice for a character, would it help to write a scene where they do the opposite to what you feel they should be doing? By writing what you don’t want them to do could you not find what you want them to do, think or feel?

Trying to be Professional

How professional are you? What impression do you make with potential editors, clients and other writers?

Last year I joined up with a well known online community (Note: When I originally wrote this I named the site. I decided not to name them in the newsletter thanks to advice from subscribers to my InkSplatters list) to write a regular column about the Internet. It took almost a year for my application to be accepted. This was mostly due to it being misplaced or forgotten. I’m still not sure what happened. Eventually, I was accepted to write the column. The editor wanted me to be especially careful with grammar and punctuation. She wanted each column to be professional.

When I wanted to go into the site and update the column, add more links and all the other stuff you do when you write a column for a website, I couldn’t access anything. I had no editor screen. I emailed asking for help. She replied that I must be doing something wrong and gave me a list of instructions. However, I still couldn’t get to any editor screen. It just wasn’t there. I emailed with a few other people at the site about the problem but got no further. Months go by and a new editor starts to head up the Internet/ Computer section of the site. He writes to ask if I’m interested in doing the column or have I forgotten it. To make a long story short, you can still see my dead end column up at that site. The spammers are making use of it.

The point to this is not bad mouthing anyone or any site, it’s showing how people can be unprofessional at all levels. You don’t have to be some newbie writer to be unprofessional. But, you should watch for it and do your best to look like you know what you’re doing and you know how to do it well.

One way to be professional is organization. If you have a few balls in the air make sure you know where they are, which one you need to catch next and when the next one is ready to be tossed. Don’t lose track of important details. I’m not good at this myself. But you can always improve. Just cause you messed up one day doesn’t mean you can’t do better the next day. We’re human and adaptable for a reason.

Another way to be professional is to learn, find out what the expected standards are and use them. Write a query letter without irrelevant personal comments. Save chit chat for friends and people who are interested in what you have to write. Don’t forget or be too timid to include your terms, your contract, along with the ideas you are submitting. Make it clear writing isn’t some hobby you do without pay. It’s more professional to present yourself as a professional, showing what you can offer and what you expect back for your work.

Are there ways you could be more professional? Read some of your past business correspondence and see how you could improve. Did you find any typos? Did you chit chat a bit too much? Was your proposal specific enough? Know what you need to fix so you can write a better query next time. Also, if you get into the habit of being professional it becomes easier and it will leak out into all the aspects of your writing career. One other plus, the more professional you are the more you will feel like a writer and less like someone trying to be a writer.

Setting Goals

We all have some goals as a writer. Whether you have written them down or just keep them somewhere in your head, they are there. Are they good goals, goals that inspire you to keep going or are you making goals into a torment for yourself? Having high goals may actually keep you from getting where you want to be. If your goals are too high you may not really think (expect) you can reach them. In that case you need to adjust your goals. Set them up as a path you can follow rather than a pinnacle you can’t reach.

These are some goal setting guidelines based on those I read in “Writing for Magazines: A Beginner’s Guide” by Cheryl Sloan Wray.

Start simple. If you are beginning your goals won’t be the same as a writer you has been published a few times and has contacts with editors/ publishers already. Simple goals are comfortable, attainable for as long as you need them.

Challenge yourself. Having simple goals doesn’t mean you won’t be working, challenging yourself to do better and try bigger. Make goals simple so you won’t give up in frustration but challenging enough to be taken seriously, worthy of working for.

Set goals that suit your personality. Don’t try to make yourself into some other writer. Make the goals work for you, your style, your routine, etc.

Be concrete and specific. Goals shouldn’t be too broad or lacking in detail. Don’t have a goal of submitting an article to the local paper. Be specific, plan an article topic and set a date for submitting it.

Share your goals with a few writer friends. Pick a few people who encourage you and let them know what you’re planning. They will help keep you on track.

Check your progress. Mark your progress somehow, keep a goal calendar to show yourself how you are making progress in keeping each of your goals. This way you can look at how far you have come when you need to keep yourself going, along to the next goal.

Stick to it. Remember you made the goals to help you become the writer you want to be. If the goals you set aren’t working for you change them, use the guidelines here to set goals that will work.

Some good goals you could try are: I will write at least a page every day. I will be ready to write by 10:00. I will submit at least 2 of my articles every month. I will challenge myself with the goal of submitting to one big publication each month.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

What Kind of a Writer Are You?

You’re a pantser, someone who “writes by the seat of her pants.” You’re the type of a writer who has a brilliant story idea, and runs with it. You’re very creative, with the source of your creativity in spontaneity. Outlines bring you down, and you could never write a story if you knew ahead of time how it was going to end. You’re a free spirit who writes as whimsy inspires you without worrying overly much what others will think.
Take this quiz!

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Honour Yourself as a Writer

Last night I went on a spending spree at Chapters, the mega bookstore in this area. I went in for The Writers magazine and came out many dollars lighter. (Debit cards are a blessing and a curse). I bought a new thesaurus which I already love and A Writer’s Book of Days which I’m building up into love for. Judy Reeves wrote it and I’ll look her up online later.

Anyway, there is so much encouragement, inspiration and creativity in this book for writers. I highly recommend you find it at your local bookstore.

I’ve paraphrased and added my thoughts to one of her articles. This is one of her essays which caused me to buy the book.

Honour Yourself as a Writer

Name yourself a writer. Give your writing preference over your day job, affirm the place it holds in your life. Tell them you’re a freelance writer when someone asks what you do. Let yourself be proud to be a writer, whether you’re raking in the bucks from writing or not. Don’t put your writing in second place, like a hobby you might mention if someone asks. Honour yourself as a writer, just like Judy Reeves says!

Make a place for your writing, furnish it with materials that support you and your writing. Keep the space sacred and go there joyfully. I especially like this idea from her book. Make yourself a writing alter, take notes from the Pagans on making an alter. But, whatever you do make the space where you write special, meaningful, uniquely you.

Get the equipment and accoutrements you need. Do you really let yourself spend a enough on what you need to write? Don’t over spend but let yourself have what you need to write well. Don’t give it hobby status if you don’t want to keep writing as a hobby.

Make time for studying and practicing your craft: attend writing groups, workshops, writer’s conferences, classes and lectures. If you’re too busy to go far try a few writing email lists. See which one works for you and then become a regular (don’t just lurk).

Schedule time with other writers. Find someone else who writes and plan time together to talk about writing and have some fun. Don’t let yourself become too isolated from others who write and think about writing.

Read your writing to others. Say it aloud to those who can appreciate it. Read it at writing meetings, family gatherings and no occasion at all.

Transfer your writing from your notebook to the computer and print it out. Everything looks more professional in print. Save your writing in printed format and keep it all organized in files. There is no reason you can’t even make up a zine yourself. Just add a little desktop publishing and you can create your own literary publication, starring you.

Submit material for publication. In spite of yourself and your fears respect your work in producing the writing and the writing itself and submit it for publications. Give yourself a chance, it only costs a stamp, some paper and the time to research your markets.

Celebrate when you’ve completed a work or hit a significant marker. Take a road trip, make a fancy coffee, get a manicure, soak in the tub, call a friend, buy that new thesaurus you wanted, whatever makes a celebration to you. You deserve it.

Accept compliments gracefully. Don’t become your own worst critic when someone says your writing touched them, was a great read or made them think. Instead say thanks and give them more to read, point them to your website, the latest publication to buy your work, whatever you have to offer. Instead of denying your work, promote it.