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creating meaning with content

Getting over blog stall, blog lag, or writer’s block

Every writer invariably suffers from the dreaded writer’s block. (These days, it would more likely be called blog lag or blog stall, which is what happens when a blogger gets writer’s block.)

Back when I was writing daily news, writer’s block wasn’t a viable option. Either turn in that article on time or find a new job. But rather than sit around and complain about the way things were, I’d like to offer up my patented tips to help you get through even the worst case of writer’s block. These strategies have always come to my rescue during my times of need and I hope they can do the same for you.

1) No excuses. Whatever the reason, the first rule of writer’s block is to not make excuses. So shut up!

2) Just write. Be it nursery rhymes, a shopping list, your favorite songs, the names of your yet-to-be-born children — just start typing or scribbling. The act of writing anything can lead to inspiration and may even lead you in a direction you hadn’t even anticipated.

3) Notes, quotes, and info. To me, a story isn’t just composed of flowing words, but also facts, figures, and quotes. So gather up your supporting information and put that in order. From there, you can easily insert additional text and before you know it, your article is complete.

4) Edit. The best writers are usually the best editors (though there are definitely exceptions to that rule). So just write anything. It doesn’t have to be perfect or remotely decipherable. You can always edit it later.

Sure, there are other tips, like Faulkner’s patented “drinking oneself into a stupor,” but I purposefully didn’t include those. What about you? How do you get through writer’s block?

Filed under: content, journalism101

Be a better writer, in 50 words or less

Maybe I’ve been hiding under a rock or behind a very large shrubbery, but I hadn’t seen the Daily Lit web site until best-selling author Dan Pink pointed it out on his blog. The site brings literary tidbits to your inbox, PDA, or phone in five-minute chunks — a very useful service in this increasingly online and mobile world.

Daily Lit is currently featuring a 50-word writing challenge, inspired by Pink’s book A Whole New Mind. The little stories submitted need to have a beginning, middle, and end. That’s easy. The hard part is limiting your saga to only 50 words. Of course, being forced to chose your words wisely and edit yourself can help you become a better writer. Because being a great writer is all about being a great editor.

Here’s my entry:

Heavy gray rain fell that February Sunday. There she sat quietly sipping chamomile, reading, cheeks flushed, wearing a petit dejeuner t-shirt. He ducked in out of the damp, spotted her — could not turn away, yet could not walk over. Love. The next day, a Missed Connections posting. She replied.

Now, go write your own.

Filed under: content, editing, writing

Ask a grammar snob: using to and too

I admit it. I’m a grammar snob. I scoff when I hear people misuse who and whom. I snicker when I see a misplaced their (when instead it should be there). And, I am saddened by the gratuitous use of apostrophes. But what good is laughing behind someone’s back if I can’t turn back around and help that person get it right? Call it altruistic grammar snobbery.to-bad

Even outside of the editorial microcosm, good grammar is the mark of education, intelligence, and attention to detail. Having a firm grasp of grammar doesn’t necessarily mean you went to an Ivy League school; however, I’ve seen plenty of highly intelligent, well-educated people completely butcher the English language and offend my grammatical sensibilities.

To do my part to make the world a better place — and, selfishly, so I don’t have to see any more grammar mistakes — I present you with the first installation of Ask a Grammar Snob.

Dear Grammar Snob,

I often see the words to and too, but don’t know the right times to use them?

Signed,
To confused

Dear To,

Even your signature is a grammatical error. For shame! Don’t worry, I’ll show you the proper usage of the words to and too so you won’t embarrass yourself in the future.

Use “to” as a preposition or as part of an infinitive.

  • I went to the store to buy some eggs.
  • I want to see a movie.
  • When you send a letter to your mom, make sure to use a stamp.
  • Where to, Romeo?

Incorrect:
I want some, to.
You to can be like me.

Use “too” as you would use the words also or very.

  • I want some eggs and soyrizo, too.*
  • You are too cute.
  • I, too, think bacon is nasty.

And, finally, some required reading. No editor’s desk drawer is without a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

Signed,
The Grammar Snob

* Notice the comma prior to the word “too.” We’re not going to get into comma usage, but know that you should always use a comma before too when it’s at the end of a sentence.
photo credit: ifindkarma


Filed under: content, grammar, , ,

Creating successful messaging

You can use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Yammer, build a fancy web site, create a blog — all in the hopes of getting attention. And you may very well get some attention through those vehicles. The sad truth is that you will quickly lose those hard-earned eyeballs if your message isn’t clear. And if your message isn’t clear, it will fail.

faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

That’s why keeping content fresh, to the point, and easy to understand is the key to successful messaging. Remember, your readers don’t have hours to peruse your copy so don’t waste their valuable time with marketing hype and frilly language. Put the meat in the first sentence, delivering the “five W’s and an H” journalism punch right away — the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Let’s look at two examples, shall we:

The wrong way: Company X is pleased to announce its latest mind-blowing invention that will change millions of lives. This revolutionary new product is one business users have always been searching for and will truly revolutionize business travel as we know it. We are thrilled to offer Product X to you at a low cost. Just click this link to find a list of fine retailers offering the product.

The right way: Geared toward business travelers who aren’t often near a wall outlet, Product X by Company X is a $59.95 solar-powered device that plugs into your USB port and extends the life of your computer’s battery by 60 percent. (Product X is now available online at Amazon.com.)

In the right way, readers get information upfront, stripped of all the nonsense. They can get in, get out, and buy the product. (If they want to read more, provide a link so they can.) In the wrong way, the wording is vague, sentences filled with useless adjectives, and it takes a long time to get to the point — if there is a point. Create content for someone in a rush and your readers will thank you by becoming customers. A novel approach!

So what are your big content questions? What sorts of head-scratchers do you come across when crafting content? Please ask your questions in the comments.

photo credit: faeryboots *away for the weekend!*

Filed under: content, journalism101, , , , , , , ,

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