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Are your writing skills sharp enough?

Are you aware of your weak areas? Those areas you could stand to improve?

I’ve been seeing this issue popup on blogs lately.

We all have areas of skill that we are good at. We also have some that need sharpening.
There are books on exercises you can do to improve your writing tech, exercises a plenty, but where do you find the time?

I think finding some time and doing the practice is vital. Maybe a better question, though, is: how can we make the most efficient use of the time we can salvage from our busy schedules to improve our writing skills?

Basically 4 ways: Questions, Reading and Study, Focussed Practice, and Talking to Children

1.  Many times finding a good answer depends on asking the right questions.

Stay alert when you are writing. Notice whenever you struggle.

Is my dialogue sparkling with wit, charm, surprises, suspense?

Will my introduction grab my reader’s attention?

Are my thoughts and words clear? Do they flow coherently, one thought leading to the next and then the next?

Am I describing my character’s emotions with fresh and telling body language?

In other words identify those specific areas where you could stand some improvement? 

Take notes so that you can recall and target these skills needing improvement later.

2.  You’ve got those books on your shelf or in your Kindle for a reason: read & study

Go back into the  writing books you have read–maybe too some you haven’t yet–read, study. And again, take notes on especially helpful ideas.

Get some info on how to improve.

3.  Do some targetted practice.

At this point, if the books you have reviewed and read do not suggest exercises, why not devise some of your own.

Ask yourself: what kind of exercise can I do to improve this skill?

Then do that exercise andany others you come up with.

And finally…

4.  Can you explain how to do it to a child?

Scott Young, a learning expert, advocates the Feynman technique.

Basically it’s this: explain it to a child.  Granted, you may not have one handy. If so,  pretend that you are explaining it to a child…

“Sally, here’s how to write great conversations…”

“Sally, here’s how I made sure I got my reader’s attention.

If you can explain it well enough that a child of say 9 or 10 gets it, you’ve got it.

(For more on efficient learning go here),

For me, I think the effort described above is vital to writing success. 

What could improve your productivity and writing success better than dealing with those skills you need to improve?

Strengthen the weak areas in your writing skill and watch how your writing flow is enhanced.

What areas of writing skill do you know you could improve?

 

What 4 Activities can make you a Top-Notch Writer?

What are the essentials for your progress as a writer?

Briefly, they are: Writing, Reading, Studying, and Thinking.

Are you writing enough?

We all know writing helps us improve our writing skills. So this will be brief.

Write a lot, and not just in your chosen niche. Any writing helps move you in the direction of being as good as you want to be.

  • Keep a writing journal that records your insights and writing experiences and anything else you find meaningful.
  • Write an ad for your up-and-coming book.
  • Write recipies.
  • Write anything, including your chosen niche.
  • Using words, recalling the right words, better words, stuggling with syntax–it all moves you forward to some degree.

Are you reading enough?

In the evening, especially after a hard day at it, I like a good TV show. Currently it’s CSI:NY. I think well written dramas can add to our story-telling bag of tricks.

But I don’t want to indulge that too much. It’s like desert after a good nutritious meal. First the meal, then the reward.

There is that all important reading within your niche’s range. Study your competition, find out what’s being read, and how those author’s go about putting together their pieces. Beginnings. Endings. Style. Word-choice–all very important.

There’s reasearch you need to do.

Holly Lisle advises us to read everything. That’s the eclectic approach where you read whatever and add grist for your creative mill, grocery items for your pantry. Fuel for your subconscious mind’s engine.  Anyway, random is fun.

And you studying too?

A craftsman studies his trade, and artist his tools, and even plumbers need to learn skills and essential knowledge. All benefit from exposure to the work of accomplished practicioners. Are you not just reading fiction-writing how to books or copy-writing how-to courses, but studying, and doing the exercises–even if you have to make them up–that can accelerate your growth as a writer? Are you reading that short story or novel and getting caught up in it, and then forgetting to give it some close scrutiny to learn exactly how the author did it?

And finally, are you thinking though it all?

Nutrition involves eating, digesting, AND assimilating your food.

Until you have done all the above AND made it yours by discovering your own insights and confirmations of all the good points you have come across, until it flows out your fingers hitting the keyboard’s keys, until it’s so much a part of you that you find that writing knowledge and wisdom popping up in your finished pieces–is it really yours?

Which of these activities have you found most helpful to your growth as a writer?

Do You Think Things Through?

Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?

Don’t be hasty.

We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”

This is important for all writing.

I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.

What about first drafts?

Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.”  If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”

So what are my points on thinking things through?

1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.

Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.

2.  Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.

Would your character really do that?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.

Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.

3. Does it work all the way through?

Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.

And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?

4.  Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.

How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.

Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.

Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”

Dare I add…

Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.

Back to writing.

My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.

How about you?

Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?

 

Do you write by the rules?

A review of the “Simple Writing, Straight Talk for Smart Writers” blog.  http://simplewriting.org/

Do you want good advice?

Do you feel you need good advice about writing? Would you welcome a skilled editor’s help now and then.  I know I would.

I appreciate the fact that there are available right now excellent books and blogs on writing well. When I started writing years back, there weren’t that many really good books on the subject to be had.

First, I forget most of the rules.

Often I do not write by the rules. That is in my first draft, when I dash it off rather intuitively, when I don’t want to be inhibited by worrying about getting it just right. Not at first. But when it comes to good writing advice, I always welcome it.

Revising is another story.

To me, I need those “rules”–call them guidelines–when I am editing my writing. I can’t go out every other month and hire a pro editor to read my writing and offer advice. So for the most part, I need to know what to look for in my writing that stands in need of careful revision or downright re-writing. Nevertheless, I am in favor of hiring a good editor to checkout any serious writing for publication.

Back to the blog: the Simple Writing blog offers sound and sensible tips and techniques that make for good writing. It is primarily focused on nonfiction writing, although much of the content certainly applies to fiction writing too. I find its balanced and knowledgeable approach practical and pleasing. We all need to know to write well, of course, in whatever niche we target, including nonfiction.

Why bother with another blog on writing?

I have been writing for a while, and if you are reading this blog, you probably have been too. So why bother with a blog that calls itself “Simple Writing”? I can‘t speak for you, but I find that when I am tempted to think I don’t need more writing advice, that’s when I seem to get into the most trouble. Like when I have reached the point with a writing project where I can’t figure out how to improve it more. Hence, I like to read sensible and reliable sources that reinforce essential points re good writing in my memory.

Need to improve your blog writing?

The Simple Writing blog is a fine one for improving your own blog writing too, which is essential to developing a platform, which in turn is essential  to getting published or self-publishing successfully these days.

Here are some of the recent post titles:

  • “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox”
  •  “41 Hot Blogs Every New Blogger Should Know”
  •  “Personification: good for writing not weather”
  •  “The only way to get over fear”
  •  “3 great ways to get those creative juices flowing”

About the blog’s author…

The author is Leah McClellan is  a writer and copyeditor who’s mission is to help other writers develop their craft. She offers a free 6-week mini writing course: “The Fast Track to Polished Prose.” I checked it out, and it looks good. In brief, she knows her stuff.

Her course  will be a good refresher for me and could be for several of you, my readers, too. Wink

Highly recommended.

What advice would you offer to a writer young in her craft?

Want your book to have more Depth?

Does your story seem a bit thin to you? Lacking  in the substance you were hoping for? Or just too simple or lifeless on the page?

You’ve slaved away and there it is on the computer monitor, but it seems to need something more, maybe a more intricate plot complete with twists and turns, and surprises, and even some humor? Maybe your how-to book could use some important subpoints so that your reader gets it more clearly.

A story—or any piece of writing–is like a tree.

A strong and healthy tree can withstand most storms. A sapling often cannot. It takes growth and some time for it to develop roots and dig down deep in the soil for nutrition to grow resilient.

Very likely, your story or essay can grow too. Perhaps it needs the nutrition of insights, new ideas, connections, surprises, twists, and at times to double back on itself. Does your piece need to branch out?

How can we cultivate such a story? How can we write such a book?

First, don’t be in a hurry.

Second, think it through.

Brainstorm it , ask yourself questions, look at your scene through your characters’ eyes. Program you subconscious mind with those questions and put them to work behind the scenes.

You can make yourself alert to any information you seek.

I do this by making a habit of looking for what I need. This tells my mind that I want that info, really want it. Here’s an art illustration: Let’s say I want to draw Victorian houses. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for them. Do this enough, and I am “programmed.” The result is that whenever I come across such houses–in magazines, on the residential block, in a movie–I take special notice.

(Anybody know the technical term for that? I tried Googling it but couldn’t find it.)

Third, carry a pad and pen with you wherever you go.

So that when those ideas come, and they can come quickly and unexpectedly, you can record them before you lose them.

Fourth, do the research you have been putting off.

It can lead to new ideas, new directions, new surprises. Maybe a whole new subplot.

Fifth, organize it!

Make it usable and readily-accessible. I summarize, write lists, and have them handy for my re-writing work. My lists and summaries contain things I want to be sure to remember as I write and re-write. Things I need to do or to include.

Now I’m a rather organized person by temperament. I love planning, sometimes more than the writing! So this all comes easily to me. I enjoy it. But it does take some work: but it’s work that pays off. I put clickable icons to my lists and summaries on my desktop. (I have quite a few of them now, and they are convenient).

Sixth, List important Points from good Books on Writing Craft.

I get some of my best ideas when reading books, blogs, and essays on how to write fiction as well as nonfiction books.  The points in them often alert me to things I want to include.

Seventh, be open to fresh ideas from any source.

A couple days ago I was with friends at the movies. The latest James Bond spy-thriller.  It was quite good–and long! I had been searching for an enhanced ending to my novel. And while watching this movie, I got it. Big time. There I was scribbling away with my fountain pen and turquoise green ink (a lovely color by the way) on a small notepad in the near-dark. No one even looked at me.

If you try my suggestions above, I predict you’ll get some good ideas and find your work taking on additional depth.

Tell me, what do you do to add substance to your writing?

 

Do you have any bad habits–when you write?

If you’re human, you’re not perfect. I know I’m not. We all have flaws and weaknesses. Just like we have strengths and natural abilities.  But the flaws can hinder our writing progress.

Let me illustrate from my own experience with watercolor painting (once again!).

I’ve heard it said, and I agree that any personal weakness an artist has will surface when he tries to paint–and cause problems.

Now me, I can be a bit impulsive. So in the midst of a painting, my intuition can be warning me: Don’t go ahead with that color you just mixed. I can rebel against that inner voice and plunge ahead, usually ruining my painting or often winding up with one just not that good. I’m also a skilled procrastinator–really good 🙂

Maybe at times you doubt you ability as a writer, like on the days when it is not going well at all?  Some days nothing goes well.  You do have writing ability, by the way. As a micro-minimum you have potential.

Do you procrastinate, finding it hard to get started? I think most of us do, at least at times.

Do you hate proofreading, or editing, or find it hard to freewrite without stopping to edit?

Well, this list could go on and on.  But what can we do about it?

I offer a neat, simple, little piece of advise I read several years ago that works well for me:

Watch what you do when you write.

Both the things you do well, and the things you do that hinder.  Maybe list them so that your list can act as a reminder. Then work at remembering to do the former and avoid doing the latter.  Simple, right? But effective. And at times challenging.

These are habits, both the good and the bad.  Bad habits in particular are tough to break free of.  We fall into doing them without conscious choice. You have to stay alert to even catch them at times, and it takes work, dsicipline.

And it’s worth the work.

Removing stumbling blocks, or at least avoiding them, can help:

  • It can mean more efficient use of your time.
  • It can make for a more enjoyable writing experience.
  • It may even encourage your muse to drop some exciting new ideas on you–because you’ve escaped a mental block.
  • And it might just open you up to new possibilities, directions and insights.

You can also consciously work at strengthening your strengths to advantage.

Ask: “Okay that’s good, but can I make it better?”  Write and read a lot. But don’t just write. And don’t just read to learn how other writers write.  Both are excellent and oh so needful.  But also study, read good books on writing, take courses including those that serve as reminders of what you’ve forgotten to do lately. Practice. Do exercises.

So I think it’s a good idea to pause every once in a while, in our rush to pump out the next great American Novel or that copy that will blow a client’s socks off, to observe what were are going.  And ask questions like: “What am I trying to achieve with this piece, anyway?” “Is there a better way to approach this?” Or, “What exactly am I doing here?”

Try this approach. I can mean some breakthroughs.  

Just don’t get carried away.

 

Story writers: Have I got a book for you…The Emotion Thesaurus

“Show, don’t tell”–we’ve all heard it and likely read it several times. Important advice for sure.

And not just for fiction writers. Nonfiction writers too.

Stories and anecdotes are popping up in blog posts constantly, in magazine articles, memoirs, even sales copy.  Why? Because stories are potent attention-grabbers.  When we write nonfiction, we need those story-telling skills just like novelists and short-story writers.

Showing rather than telling is easier said than done.  It’s tricky, challenging.

And just to be clear on what I’m talking about here: It means dramatizing your story by depicting its events, not just telling what happened.

Compare:

Randy was upset and angry. She left the room, closing the door decisively behind her.

To:

Randy glared at them, stomped out of the room,  slamming the door behind her.  They’re being ridiculous, she thought.

Showing rather than just telling, or telling much at all means showing a character’s emotion through her actions, body language, thoughts and even, most powerfully, her internal visceral reactions:  She started to heave.

But if you’r writing a story or did so recently you’ve probably noticed how challenging describing those emotions can be.  It’s so easy to latch onto the first wornout cliché that comes to mind.

It takes creative thought and work to come up with fresh expressions.

That’s where The Emotion Thesaurus comes to the rescue.

This super-useful book by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a brilliant and tremendous resource.  Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been waiting for this book to come out in print and Kindle format.

It’s not a book of formulas but instead is a resource, a starting point for coming up with your own original words and phrases to express what a character is feeling.

The book starts with a fine essay on aspects of including the power of character emotion in your writing, portraying body language, including a POV character’s thoughts and internal visceral reactions,  avoiding those clichés and melodrama, identifying the root emotions, getting help from the setting.

This is one of the best essays I have come across on this vital part of story-craft.

But the heart of the book is the thesaurus.

It lists and thoroughly describes 75 emotions and the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

The dictionary-thesaurus type entries are alphabetically arranged for easy navigation and start with a definition, then list physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and other cues.

For example, here is the beginning of the entry for “anxiety”:

DEFINITION: mental apprehension and unease; a sense of foreboding

PHYSICAL SIGNALS:

Rubbing the back of the neck

Crossing the arms, forming a barrier to others

Standing with one arm holding the other at the elbow

Clutching a purse, coat, or other object

Wringing one’s hands

Twisting a watch or ring

Scratching

Hands repeatedly rising to touch one’s face

Fingering a necklace

Rolling one’s shoulders

Bouncing a foot…

That entire entry on “Anxiety,” quoted in part above, runs for a total of 319 words (my count).

The introduction also includes instructions on using the thesaurus, including the sage advice to “view entries as a launching point.” But there are also suggestions for twisting those worn-out clichés for fresh wording, trying related emotions, and several others.

The authors are the creators of The Bookshelf Muse website (http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/), voted as one of the top ten blogs for writers for 2011 and 2012. The book can be ordered from the site in .pdf format or through Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon (including the Kindle version).

By the way, at the website/blog you can find a listing ofa number samples from this thesaurus and also others: the “Weather & Earthly Phenomena Thesaurus,”  “Color, Textures and Shapes Thesaurus,”  “Character Traits Thesaurus,” “Setting Thesaurus,” and the “Symbolism Thesaurus.”

I’m glad I have my copy. I’ll be using it constantly.

Why not check it out?

 

 

Are you Overwhelmed with Things to do?

A review of  The One Minute To-Do List by Michael Linenberger

If your seriously into writing, you’re busy.  I know I am.  

Have you got a lot of projects going? Have you tried to-do lists and time-management systems in the past–but they didn’t work that well for you?  Consider a new approach to the old time-management challenge.

A couple weeks ago I was frustrated.

I have several wiring projects I’m working on, and at times I didn’t know where to begin. I use a to-do list program called “Swift To-Do List 7.” It’s powerful and easy to get up and running. But I was struggling with setting my priorities and coming up with a schedule I would stick with.

I remembered that the author of the to-do list program I use has a blog (http://www.dextronet.com/) that I have found helpful at times, so I went there and found a blog post that described a system that that author recommends. I tried it and found it quick to implement.  In fact, it’s called “The One-Minutge To-Do List.”

I’ve been using it since then, and it’s  helped me get a grip on my projects and  even defeat most of my procrastination tendencies.

For me, it’s a brilliant and powerful time-management tool.

Its core involves listing tasks you need to do into 3 categories:

  • “Urgent Now” for what must be done today. Period. (Recommended maximum number of tasks: up to 5 or so.)
  • “Opportunity Now”  for tasks you’d like to do today if there’s time but should get to within the next 10 days. (recommended maximum : 20.)  And…
  • “Over the Horizon” for any tasks you can delay starting for over 10 days or more.

That’s not all there is to the system.

But that much you can get working for you right away. You can use this system on paper or with any of a number of to-do list programs, and be up and running in minutes.

By the way, you can download the book in .pdf format, free in exchange for your email address, here:  http://www.michaellinenberger.com/free1MTD.htm.

The book is a quick read, and I like his ideas well enough that I bought his advanced book:  Master Your Workday Now!: Proven Strategies to Control Chaos, Create Outcomes, & Connect Your Work to Who You Really Are.  It explores further refinements and additions to the core system.

Michael Linenberger knows what he’s talking about.

He has been a management consultant and technology professional for over 20 years. He previously led the technology department at the U.S. Peace Corps and has been called “The Efficiency Guru” by the Detroit News.  He has been a management consultant for over than 20 years. (Background information adapted from the author’s summary at Linkedin.com.)

If you’d like to get a better grip on all the things you need to do, check out this book. It’s available as described above and in online book stores.

(Disclaimer:  I’m not affiliated in any way with Mr. Linenberger, except as a customer. And you can download his “One-minute” book free, just as I did.)

Do you have any favorite to-do list systems, programs or tips to share?

Additional resources:

http://www.dextronet.com/

http://www.davidco.com/

http://zenhabits.net/zen-to-done-ztd-the-ultimate-simple-productivity-system/

https://www.udotherest.com/managing-time.aspx?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=time+management&utm_campaign=appsphase1_exact&mid=V009728&wt.srch=1&wt.mc_id={time+management}&src=1

http://www.timethoughts.com/time-management.htm

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/time-management/WL00048

 

An Interview with Ali Luke, Part One

Welcome to Ali Luke, successful blogger, freelance writer, coach and novelist.  She is the author of the Aliventures.com blog and newsletter, the novel Lycopolis, and creator of the thriving writers’ community “The Writers’ Huddle.” She is also under contract and currently writing a book in the popular “For Dummies” series on writing ebooks.

  • Ali, would you start with some info about yourself, your background, how you got into writing, and basically how you got to where you are today?

Sure thing – and thanks for having me here, Bill!

I’ve been writing since childhood (and I was making up stories before I could write…) In my early teens, I started work on my first novel, and never really looked back. I studied English Literature at Cambridge (and wrote a second novel) and, after a couple of unfulfilling years in the “real world” of a 9 – 5 job, I quit to be a freelance writer and to take a part-time Masters in Creative Writing & Life Writing at Goldsmitsh College, University of London.

When I started freelancing, most of the work I did was for blogs. I’d had a couple of personal diary type blogs as a student and while I was working a day job, but I then got into “professional” blogging – with a clear topic and the intention of making money. This was what led to a few initial freelancing gigs, and what gave me the confidence to quit my day job.

Blogging

You have what I consider to be a successful blog and writing career.  Your posts and articles draw a constant flow of comments from readers who relate that they find your content helpful.  And, you seem to have a canny way for hitting on quite practical advice that resonates with your readers.

  • So tell us, if you would, what’s your secret?

Hubris and luck! 😉 I threw myself into blogging, confident of success. It took a good while longer than I expected, but I was constantly learning new things and putting myself out there. I started writing guest posts within my first month of blogging, and my first two guest posts actually led to paid positions.

I suppose perseverance played a role, too, along with a deep-seated love for both writing and the online world. I’ve also got a definite business-minded streak, which surprised me a bit!

  • Do  you still enjoy blogging? I know for some it can become like a treadmill, and it can be all-to-easy to burnout.

I love it – though I’ve changed direction a few times over the past four years, and it’s only in the last two that I’ve really settled on my core topic (writing for writers/bloggers). It definitely helps to be writing about an area that I’m immersed in as part of my work and life.

  • Did it take a while for you to build up your subscriber list?

Oh yes! Aliventures was my third blog (after one on dieting and one on student tips, respectively…) and it still took me a good while to establish a strong readership base. Here’s how the stats look:

0 subscribers – July 16th, 2009 (launch)

1000 subscribers – February 12th, 2010

2000 subscribers – February 5th, 2011

3000 subscribers – March 26th, 2012

  • When you were starting out, did you use any particular strategies to build your subscriber list?  If so, did they help?

Guest posting has always been my best strategy, and it definitely helped. In the early days of Aliventures, I was blogging about personal development rather than writing, so I was able to tap into the audience for some of my paid work too.

Over the past year, I’ve also focused on my newsletter rather than RSS subscribers, and that’s now close to 2,000 members: in my guest posts, I’ve often promoted the newsletter rather than the blog itself.

  •  I’ve noticed that your posts and guest posts get a lot of comments.  And I suspect that it’s because you aim at being very practical. Anyway, can you share how you think about addressing reader concerns and being practical–I’m assuming my suspicion re practicality is correct?

I absolutely try to be practical, though I’m not sure that’s necessarily linked to the number of comments. At least, I’d never thought of it that way! But you may well be right. I definitely think that readers like posts that offer practical advice which they can implement … though I try to mix this up with occasional posts that aim to be more inspirational.

I try to reply to all the comments on Aliventures (unless they’re very short) and also on my guest posts. Not only does this encourage people to come back and comment on more posts, it also boosts the number of total comments. 😉 Sadly, it’s getting harder to keep up with that now that I’ve got a bigger readership, and when I post on big blogs.

  •  The internet has enjoyed exponential growth worldwide.  It seems to be evolving almost as fast as technology. Where do you see blogging going in coming weeks, months, years?

We’re in for a fantastic ride, I think! When I was an undergraduate, blogging was still the reserve of geeks – I certainly had no idea that anyone made money from it (beyond, perhaps, covering their hosting costs by running a few ads).

In the time that I’ve been blogging (2008 onwards) there have been some substantial changes. For one thing, WordPress has become much more user-friendly, so I think we’ll see more and more people joining the ranks of the blogging world. Twitter has also become hugely popular, and so bloggers tend not to do so many round-up posts, preferring to link to posts from Twitter instead. (Twitter’s one of my best traffic sources, in fact.)

I think we’ll see micro-blogging, with sites like Twitter and Tumblr, become increasingly popular. I also think blogging will become better understood and more respected in the wider world – for many people, it still seems like something a bit techy or geeky. The technology will, of course, continue to get better and better, and I imagine video blogging will become increasingly popular too.

  •  Do you see blogging and online entrepreneurship as a force for good in this world, generally or specifically?

I do. On a personal and individual basis, running your own business can be immensely fulfilling – it may well also mean a better lifestyle with more time for family or friends. And on a broader level – bloggers can be a powerful force for change, often able to express opinions that the mainstream media are unwilling to commit to.

Entrepreneurial bloggers can provide excellent services all around the world, and they all give away a huge amount of content too – so even those who can’t afford to, say, buy an ebook can at least benefit from blog posts and newsletter material.

Freelance and Copywriting

You make your living with your writing.  I find that admirable.  I spent most of my career in government, actually writing a lot, and I’ve done some ghostwriting and did various work as a writer outside of my career, but I have never made my living at it.  But you earn part of your income freelancing and writing for the web.

  • How did you get started in freelancing?  I mean from day one?

In January 2008, I wrote a guest post to promote my new and fledgling blog The Office Diet (it still exists, and brings in some advertising revenue, but I haven’t updated it in years). The guest post was for Diet Blog, and the editor there, Jim, said he could offer me a paid gig. That email opened my eyes to the world of freelance blogging. (Thanks, Jim!)

  •  Did you do anything to prepare yourself in the way of skills and knowledge about copywriting before taking or looking for assignments?

I bought a couple of books on copywriting and freelancing, and I read Copyblogger and Freelance Switch avidly. In terms of my assignments, though, most of what I was doing was fairly straightforward – I wasn’t writing sales copy, just content.

  • For readers thinking of getting into freelancing, how would you advise them?  For example, would reading some good books and blogs on copywriting fundaments and insights be advisable—or should the wannabe just jump in and sink or swim?

I think this really depends on the individual. If your writing skills are already pretty strong, I’d just jump in! (By “strong”, I mean that you’ve written as part of a day job, or you’ve been blogging consistently for a while, or you’ve had work published – even if it’s in a somewhat different style.)

If you’re going to be writing sales copy, then you will need to get some solid knowledge on that. I didn’t take on any sales copy until recently, and even now, it’s something I only tend to do for existing clients – I don’t advertise myself as a copywriter.

eCourses and writing eBooks

You’ve written a number of ebooks and also ecourses, so…

  • Do you have what they call an “ideal reader” in mind when your write? Do you aim your materials at beginning level writers, as well as more advanced? Or do you have a wider target?

I concentrate on what I consider relevant about my ideal reader. I don’t worry about things like how old they are or where they live, but I do consider their level of technical expertise, as well as their writing experience. I tend to assume that my readers want to write and that they’ve done at least some writing beyond what they had to do in school.

I suppose I’m aiming at the beginner to intermediate range in my ebooks, with The Blogger’s Guide to Irresistible Ebooks being more advanced than the others. With my ecourses, I try to make them as broadly applicable as possible, but they’re not suitable for absolute beginners.

  • I suspect that you started with you first ecourse (Ontrack, right?) when you didn’t have quite the online following you have now?  So, did you have a sizable number of followers when you offered your first ecourse?

Yep, On Track was my first ecourse, in January 2011, so I had about 2,000 blog subscribers at that point but just 250 email newsletter subscribers. (I think loyalty is often underestimated in the blogging world; it’s not just about the size of your list, but about how much those people actually care about you and what you’re offering!) Forty people joined up for On Track, which made it well worth running.

  • Would you advise those with knowledge to teach to start out small.  I know, later on, a course-giver can recycle the ecourse in an updated version, say.

Definitely start small in terms of offering something that’s fairly straightforward: On Track was an email ecourse to keep things simple both for me and for the participants. In terms of your audience, I think you need to be confident that you’re not going to end up spending a huge amount of time for very little return – obviously you can reuse the basic course materials, but if you’re also offering a weekly Q&A or similar, technical support, etc, then the time invested can quickly add up.

You might prefer to begin with an ebook (or self-study course) so that you can easily sell it over time, rather than relying on bringing in enough people with an intense launch.

  • I’ve noticed you do well when you offer ecourses.  How did you learn to write them, in a lesson format?

Thank you! The wonderful Ainslie Hunter of Courses That Matter helped me out a lot, and I also ask for feedback from course participants, which helps me improve each time. I come from a family of teachers, too, so perhaps it’s in my blood. 😉

I approach my courses in a similar way to my blog posts: I try to make them as practical as possible. I’m particularly keen on including step by step instructions and short, straightforward exercises to help get people moving.

  •  What has worked well with your ecourses, and what not so well, if anything?

I’ve been lucky enough to attract great people to take them! With a group course, the mix of participants is really crucial. I’ve found that breaking things into short, simple lessons works well, particular in a web format; that way, people don’t have to wade through huge passages of text at a time.

In terms of not so well … the technology can still get in the way, and this is something I really hope will improve over the next few years. I know Writers’ Huddle members have been having a few problems with the login system (and I’ll be the first to admit it’s not perfect) – unfortunately, I have to work with what’s available.

I’ve also not done as good a job as I’d like of promoting my courses at launch. Next time I open up Writers’ Huddle, I want to do lots of guest posting to reach out to a wider audience than my own blog and newsletter list.

Coaching

  • What sort of coaching have you done? For example, do you coach fiction writings as well as nonfiction, copywriters, webwriter?

Yes! I’ve had years of experience of fiction critiquing, both in informal workshops and an academic context, so I do work with clients on short stories and novels. Most of my clients are writing blog posts, ebooks, or web copy, and with those, I’ll often give some strategic support as well as help with the actual writing bit.

  • Do you offer coaching of small projects as well as large ones?

I do; some people come for just one session on a specific project, like a guest post for a big blog. Most of my clients stick around long term, though, often working on an ebook, a blog, or a whole writing career.

  • What specific areas do you focus on when critiquing a client’s work?

This depends a lot on the client, in terms of what sort of support they’re looking for, and in terms of what level they’re at with their writing. With most people, I’ll look at the big picture (structure, flow, etc) as well as the details (voice, grammar, etc).

I find that voice is often a key area – it’s easy to accidentally slip, and I’ll pick up on any words or phrases that seem inconsistent with the overall voice of a piece. Most people tend to over-write, too, so I’ll often make suggestions for where words, phrases, and sentences could be cut out.

  • Do you enjoy coaching?

I love it, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t! It’s wonderful to see a client’s work progress over time, and I also get lots of great ideas from my clients – if I see the same sort of problem coming up for several people, I know that will make for a great blog post.

Thanks, Ali.

Note:  Do you have any questions after reading the interview above.  Please feel free to share them, or comment of course…

Coming next Monday, May 14th:  Part Two of the above interview.