Monday, November 30, 2009

Be Creative and Have a Happy Economical Holiday

It might just be me, but who wouldn't appreciate a short story or a painting for Christmas. This year, with the economy challenging us at every turn, perhaps instead of spending a bundle on Christmas, it would be good to put your creativity to work to create a meaningful Christmas gesture as good or better than any store-bought present. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Write a personalized poem for a friend or family member. You'll be surprised how much the recipient will cherish it. It's the gesture that will touch them.
2. Another great present for writers is a homemade journal where the recipient can post special writing creations.
3. Make a list of famous quotes that will be meaningful to the recipient. Put them in a jar on small pieces of paper or list them decoratively on a piece of paper. As a writer I'm always looking for quotes to inspire me. Great gift.
4. Artists, photographers and potters can make just about anything and the recipient will treasure their creations.
5. Many artists are equally talented at producing functional art as they are decorative art. Yarns for scarves and afghans are lovely gifts for northern friends. Quilts and wall hangings, pottery or greeting cards depicting your art are great for everyone.

The economy is not making it easy on anyone. Why make it tougher on yourself by running up a huge bill this Christmas? After all, in any economy the presents that are the most memorable are small, significant creations.

from Writer's Creative Studio

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Leaving out the details -- NaNoWriMo Style

I have gone to several write-ins for NaNoWriMo over the last three weeks. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The short version of it is that there are about 120,000 of us who have challenged ourselves to writing a 50,000 word novel in the 30-short days of November.

To write a 50,000 word novel in a month is a daunting task. I may be crazy, but this is the third year I've done it and I love the process.

In order to make it successfully over the finish line, I've found that you must move forward in your writing at all times. There's absolutely no time for revision--no time for even correcting spelling errors -- as you go along. As they say at NaNoWriMo headquarters, November is for writing. December and beyond are for editing.

So, I follow their advice and put one word after another after another, and I don't look back. In December, when the clock stops ticking, hopefully, I'll have 50,000 or more words. Then I can take all the time I want to go back and do the research to back up what I've written and to edit in an attempt to straighten out the mess my 50,000 words have become by the end of the month.

Anyway, I chose this as a topic for today's blog because I want to share with you how freeing this process is. It's just a joy to not worry about spelling, structure, or any of those maddening details that I agonize over on a daily basis. No, to make it to 50,000 words, I just slap those words down as fast as I can and I enjoy every minute of it.

I'm not sure of the tangible rewards of this process to my writing, but I do know that it usually gives me a new zest for writing -- it recharges my batteries. If you promise to not look back at what you've written and only move forward, you have a month free from slapping yourself for using the wrong verb tense, for telling instead of showing, or for not giving each character an individual voice, etc. What a great experience it is to "let it all hang out."

It's too late to join the NaNoWriMo group for this year (I mean you could, but 50,000 words in a week is a stretch), but I'll remind you next year to give it a try. Or, try it as a regular exercise throughout the year. You might get hooked on this free-form writing. I am.

And, don't think for a minute that nothing ever comes of all this writing. The Zen of Max will be out in January or February 2010. It's a revision of my 50,000 words from NaNoWriMo in 2008.

To visit the site where all of this originates, go to http://nanowrimo.org.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Choose the right name for you blog before you sign up.

Once you have determined why you want to blog and what you want to blog about, it's time to choose a name for your blog. Not just any name will do. With the name you choose for your blog, you are branding your blog.

So, take all the time you need to choose a good name, one that describes your blog, and one that is unique. When naming The Helpful Blogger, the name came to me quickly once I decided what I wanted to do with the blog -- I wanted to help others learn the ins and outs of blogging. I wanted to go about it in a helpful manner, so the name just rang in my ears. But, I didn't sign up on blogger.com using that name immediately. Here are the steps I went through to test out my name.

1. I went to godaddy.com and determined if TheHelpfulBogger.com domain name was available. It was. If it hadn't been, I would have returned to the naming process. I think it's important to own the name of your blog. You may not ever use the domain name. I haven't hooked it up to this blog, but I do want to maintain control of that domain name so I don't see it on some other website or blog someday. That would be too confusing.

2. Next, I went to twitter.com and determined if the name was available. It was. If it hadn't been, I would have gone back to the drawing board on the name thing.

3. Before you go back to godaddy. com and twitter.com to sign up for those names, test your name out on a couple of people who tell you the truth no matter what. Tell them the name without any explanation and see if they can tell you back what your blog is about. If there explanation is close, you've got yourself a name.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Writing for Fun

I spend so much time writing for assignments or writing to communicate my thoughts on works I am editing that I forget to write for the fun of it. It's so good for the health of your writing to abandon convention and write something on the other side of usual.

Now, morning pages are wonderful, but I'm not talking about those. Those are more free writing to empty the mind and make room for creativity.

No, I'm talking about deciding to write something totally out of character for you, just for the fun and challenge of it. How do you know you can't write fiction if you never try? Or how do you know you can't write a poem if you don't put your pen to it? Have you ever put a limerick together just for fun? Or have you ever tried to write Haiku for the precision of the 17 syllables?

If you're a fiction writer, choose another genre.... you get the drift here. When you find your writing getting a bit stale, try writing something totally unexpected just to see if you can do it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a comedian. That went by the wayside in deference to more serious pursuits. So, my assignment is to write something funny.

What's your assignment?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why do you want a blog?

When you are first setting up a blog, it's important to ask yourself why you want to blog. Your answer to that question will help you define the name and the goals and objectives of your blog.

The history behind adding the topic of blogging and changing the name of my blog to The Helpful Blogger is that for a while I've been helping people find their way around Twitter. I've done everything from helping people set up their accounts to learning how to find followers and people to follow. From that, I guess my brother decided to regard me as knowing a bit more about blogging than he does. Anyway, long story short, he sent one of his students to me when she was looking for help on how to set up a blog.

In order to help her, I decided I should test myself out and set up a blog from scratch. (I have four blogs, but I've always had someone set them up for me).

So I found myself in need of a topic for a blog. I do write lots of articles on blogging, tweeting, marketing on the Internet, etc., and do share tips with others regarding how to get going online. So it just naturally came to me that I should make this experiment useful and become The Helpful Blogger.

That says it all. I know enough to help others. I have strengths in writing, editing, blogging, tweeting, and photography. I can share information on all those. So, I have my topic for this part of my blog. The Writer's Creative Studio part of this blog will continue with the goals of helping others with writing the best fiction and non-fiction they can. The two fit nicely together.

And, I've just given you an example of what you must do first in establishing a blog. You have to determine why you want a blog and choose a burning topic you want to blog about.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Helpful Blogger


Welcome to The Helpful Blogger. I have combined my blog Writer's Creative Studio with another of my blogs The Helpful Blogger. Both have been combined under the URL http://www.thehelpfulblogger.com/.

Some of the posts will be about blogging and promoting your blog and others will continue with emphasis on writing fiction and non-fiction. I hope you will enjoy the variety.

Enjoy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Trouble with Writing...

The trouble with writing is that we think it should be easier than it is. How many of you have read a good book and thought, I could have written that, or even, I cold have written that better?

When you do finally sit down to write the great American novel, you find it's not quite so easy. Here's my theory on why. Writing a novel is much more complex than just enumerating a series of events that happen to a group of people. The writing of the events is only one small part. As a writer, you are also in charge of:

1. Scenery. Your words have to not only set the mood, but create the whole scene design, backdrop, ambiance, etc., for each scene. And, you have to make the reader think it's not a set, but that they are really there. To top it off, you must do this seamlessly in order to not break the mood.

2. Characterization. You must not only convey the inner workings of your characters, you must include hair, makeup and costumes as well. Unfortunately, you don't have the luxury of showing the reader pictures of your characters; however, your readers will insist on vivid characters. They must have makeup and costumes appropriate for every scene without the benefit of a makeup artist or costume designer. It's up to you to describe what is important without it being obvious. Not an easy task.

3. Sound. Without making a peep and without the help of a sound technician, you must convince your reader that he hears the KABOOM of the mailbox that has exploded while your main character reaches toward it or the creak of a back door as it opens in the middle of the night. And without the help of a full orchestra, you must build the tension in your scenes so the reader is gripping the book tighter and tighter with each word you write.

4. Dialogue. Another component of your novel is what your characters say and how they say it. You not only have to put the words down, but you need to give each character an individual voice. This voice, which your readers will only hear through your written words, gives your characters their personalities. That's a tall order.

These are a few of the tasks of a writer. I don't make this list to discourage writers. No, I present this to encourage writers. Always remember your task is much more complex than listing a series of events. When writing, take the time to ensure you address these components (scenery, characterization, sound and dialogue) and you will make strides in blending these complexities into rich, effective text.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Developing Characters of Interest

I know I've written about character development before. It's no accident that I'm showing you another way to look at it. The creation of rich, multi-dimensional characters is key to developing a mature novel.

To give your readers believable, full-bodied characters, it's good to look at them and develop them from different angles. So, here are two more factors to consider during characterization:

1. Develop individual actions and reactions for your characters. We all have mannerisms that are ours alone. They make us unique. Your characters need them too. Don't overload your characters with unusual actions; however, or they may become caricatures. Give them just enough unique mannerisms to set them apart from the other characters.

Through the development of unique actions and reactions for your characters, your readers will learn what to expect from them. After you have established a pattern of behavior and reaction for our characters, you can use this knowledge to increase the tension within your story. Lead a character toward an event where their predictable reaction would end in disaster. The readers will have the delight of biting their nails to see if your character reacts predictably and what happens as a consequence.

2. Another way to develop multi-layered characters is to pair the actions of your characters with their physical attributes. For example, perhaps your main character is very precise in his actions and quite methodical and deliberate. His clothes reinforce this perception by being fresh and his grooming is impeccable.

If you build a character such as this, your readers would naturally expect the character's apartment to be tidy and organized. What does it do to the picture if the person lives in a mess with dirty dishes in every room, newspapers and piles of books strewn about, etc.?

Knowing this adds another layer to that character and gives the readers a bit of information that lets them believe that this person is not quite as predictable as they appear. Without specifically telling them, your readers have been alerted that this character might indeed delight them with some aberrant behavior later in the book.

Look at your characters from many angles and you'll develop much more interesting characters.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ways to find an audience for your blog

If you put up a blog and let it sit, you'll be lucky if people just happen by to see it. It's important to be proactive and implement measures to drive traffic to your blog. Here are some ways:

1. Frequently update your blog. By posting to your blog often, you offer readers variety. They are more apt to visit often if they know they'll see something new each time.

2. Keep your blog posts short so they are easy to read. Usually, posts consisting of 200 to 400 words seem to be about right.

3. Write your blog posts with search engine optimization in mind and be sure to include key words in your title. You'll want to be sure search engines pick up the key words and phrases from your post and send people to it. It's worth the while to learn about this area.

4. Be sure your blog is interesting and diverse. Humor, questions, polls, suggestions are ways to elicit the involvement of your readers.

5. Use social media sites to help increase readership of your blog. When you post a new entry, tell your Facebook followers or those on Twitter that you have new content up. Encourage them to visit your blog to see it.

6. The best way to increase readership of your blog is to write well and to check for errors before you post. Show that you care and others may return the sentiment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Your business benefits from your blogging

We're always looking for ways to gain attention for our businesses. A blog has many benefits. Some of them are:

1. Informing your customers/clients about you and your business. Today, people look on the Internet first when trying to find a product or service. Be there and let people know about you. If you don't have a presence on the Internet, they will probably choose a competitor.

2. Offer information about new products or services the day you think of them. You don't have to wait to develop paper ads to mail out. Include as much detail as you want.

3. Notify customers when you have special deals going on or when you have discounted items. Keep your customers/clients informed instantly.

4. Reach more people for fewer advertising dollars.

5. Increase communication with your customers and increase customer service. Insert polls into your blog to determine what your customers want and encourage comments to open channels of communication.

6. Provide help to a customer instantly. If you receive a comment with a question in it, you can meet that customer's needs instantly by making the answer to that question the topic of your next blog.

Let's hear from you. What benefits have you found in blogging for your business?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Setting up a new blog

Developing a good idea is the first step in setting up a new blog. Here are some of the steps in developing your blog:

1. What's the point? Do you want to share pictures with your family of the new baby? Do you want to push sales over the top for your company by offering valuable information to customers? Do you just want a spot to put all that knowledge rattling around in your head? The first step is to define what you will cover in your blog.

2. Next, set up the blog. You can do this yourself by using Blogger or Wordpress or one of the blogger sites. Or, if you want something a bit more individual, contact a web designer to put up the blog of your dreams.

3. Once the shell of your blog is up, start adding the permanent content. This includes your profile paragraph and any gadgets, such as followers, ads, pictures, etc., you may want to occur on each page.

4. In your Profile, be sure to include a clear and concise description of the purpose of your blog. Readers often look at the profile statements first to see if they want to take time to look through the blog.

5. Make a list of topics you want to write about. Put the list into a logical order and start your post with a welcoming statement. Then, follow it with a blog each day or every couple days from your list. Keep adding to the list as ideas come to you and you have yourself a blog. Enjoy

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Make your blogs entertaining

Make your blog pop... photo by Lou Belcher

Your mother might find every word you say fascinating, but the rest of us may not want to read everything you write if you don't mix it up a bit to make it interesting.

Rather than writing your post as if giving a lecture, talk to the reader. And mix it up by: asking a question or two to give your readers something to comment on; or, spice up your topic by telling a related story or including an interesting example; and, occasionally send your reader to a related website for additional information.

Try mixing it up and you'll gain the interest of your readers. Write as if you are talking to them and get the conversation going.

Feel free to leave a comment about other ways to make blog posts entertaining.