Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Add Skloot to the 'Excellent Examples' List of Debut Authors

"Debut author" sounds a little bit like "overnight success." It's a label, and it doesn't say much. We must know there's a unique story behind each person we slap that label on, but slap we do.

So with due respect and admittedly not knowing her story, the label's been slapped on Rebecca Skloot. Skloot uncovered the story of Henrietta Lacks and wrote about her with integrity, determination, (a grant) and a hell of a lot of sacrifice and hard work. She ignored lots of labels along the way and cared enough to discover the unique story behind many of those labels. While reading the book, I marveled at Skloot's work at the same time I realized it paled in comparison to the amount of work Lacks did in her life. But that's just me seeing the world through my own lenses. My focus and perspective leave a lot to be desired.

Let me try again. From my writer's perspective, Skloot's account is a stellar work; it exemplifies (verylong form  journalism and historical nonfiction storytelling. Journalists, nonfiction writers, and students, please add this to your "excellent examples" list.

From my reader's perspective: damn! what a story!

 ~~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Skloot earns a spot next to Michael Lewis 
on my list of non-fiction, 
journalist/storytellers worth reading  -
and Henrietta Lacks' story was worth telling. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writers Beware, and Be Smart

Among the many opportunities for writers, I'm seeing an increase in ads soliciting bloggers to write 250-700 word posts for $15 a pop and to basically pimp the copy on the writers' personal social media accounts.

From an ad posted last week:

"Writer MUST HAVE a STRONG social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media websites. If hired, articles MUST be posted on social media accounts. Please provide links to those accounts."

The best way to describe an opportunity like this is "Ew," because it stinks. In case you were left in a cabbage patch yesterday, I'll offer this advice that otherwise should go without saying: Don't do it.

Unless you want to sell your social media credibility for $15. Then, by all means, apply today. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Blog Excuses

What's holding back your business blog?

Is it a lack of a plan? A lack of discipline? I'm pretty sure it's not a lack of something to say...

Good old-fashioned blogs may seem less "exciting" than Pinterest, Tumblr, and a host of other social media tools, but the fact that they can increase your sales and reduce your cost of sales is well proven.

What are you waiting for?

~Diane Stresing

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Goofy Writer's Tip: Talk to Yourself

You know how inspiration strikes when you're out and about? Maybe you're driving or walking and typing is the last thing you want to do.

Chances are, you probably have your phone handy.

So here's what to do: learn to use the voice record feature on your phone (almost every model has one) and log your idea for later use.

When I come up with an idea on the trail, whip out my phone and start talking to myself, I know I look goofy - but sometimes I capture a good idea that way, one that I may have forgotten otherwise.

If you don't jot them down, do you remember the good ideas you have when you're out and about?

I'd love to hear from you.
 Happy Trails! ~Diane Stresing

             ^  for those who like to write in the rain

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stories Set to Song, and Storified, and other Social Media I Haven't Tried Yet

Today I thank Tommy Tomlinson for doing many writers a great service, delivering a lecture on good writing structure without making it sound like a lecture. Rather, it sounds like a classic ballad. It's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

It's not the first time Tomlinson has waxed lyrically on Nieman's Storify Storyboard.

(Yes, that's the correct spelling, as it belongs 
to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at 
Harvard, not the high-end department 
store. Although I must say, Neiman 
Marcus is doing some interesting 

While I'll admit that I'm really glad Tomlinson did it, and he did it really well, I'm kicking myself for not doing it - or something like it, just not as good - because I've always thought songwriters make the best storytellers. Elton John, David Bowie  (Ziggy Stardust), Billy Joel, James Taylor, and John Denver are the first that I think of, and there are many more. 

But instead of focusing on one thing I haven't done yet, why not worry about two or more? "Learn how to use Storify" hovers near the top of my lonnnnnnnnnnnng list of "things to do." (I haven't figured out what Pinterest is good for yet, either, but Storify is a much higher priority, at least for me.)

When I searched for a "Storify primer" Google coughed up one on the Harlem Shake, which didn't exactly make me feel like dancing. 

So now that another deadline is looming and I have to get back to my "real" job, I ask you, dear readers:

What do you use Storify for? where can I find a free, Storify 101 course online? Is there a Storify for Dummies?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eeyore Here

As luck would have it I just looked up H.W. Fowler (yep my life is that exciting) and saw that the Oxford-educated man called "a lexicographical genius" is also described on Wikipedia as a "not very successful" freelancer. 

And it gave me reason to recall, again, the look my DH gave me, and his response when I told him I planned to freelance. 
"It's just really hard," said the aerospace engineer with two patents. 

What's the allure of this stupid business, anyway? 
~Diane Stresing

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Make a Writer Mad

I'm a copywriter. I don't work for free. I don't know any copywriters who work for free. I don't know any good copywriters who work cheap. Or for free coffee or for references or to build their portfolios. 

If you have any questions, you know where to find me

Contronyms Rock, Haiku Matters, The Week and TGIF!

Thanks to The Week for a snappy way to end it: yesterday's list of words that are their own opposites was like 90% pure fun, 10% education - for a word geek, anyway. I wear that label with pride, just a tad unsure whether I deserve it, and aspire anyway.
Fair warning to my fellow word geeks: The Week also reminds us that April 17 is Haiku Day.

Meter that matters
Black and blue streaks and splatters
Hurling dancing words.

Regular readers know I love Magnetic Poetry, aka "magpo." Here, proof that I'm not the only one who likes such things. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Writing Essays for College Applications: Advice I've overheard, part 1

I've found myself hanging out in college admissions offices recently, and have picked up some juicy tidbits about the essay-writing (or more accurately, reviewing) process that I'd like to pass along.

First, in case you're even newer to this process than I am, here are a few things it's helpful to know before you begin applying to colleges and universities:

  1. Some applications require the applicants write on a particular topic, some just want a general "getting-to-know-you" essay. If you're applying to several schools, write on the prescribed topics first. Assuming you write several essays on prescribed topics, you can submit your best piece to the schools that leave the topic up to the applicant.
  2. Longer is NOT better. One college admissions employee told me in confidence that many are merely skimmed for grammar and construction. "But not in my office," she added. Of course.
  3. Obviously, that also means grammar and construction are critical. Of course. 
More to come... 
FroshMonster is a website in beta as of April 2013. Its goal is to help high school students more "easily manage the complex process of selecting, applying, and getting into college." Students who sign up now will be alerted to new features as they become available. 
(Thanks to Mary R. for the tip!) 


In the meantime, it should go without saying* that if you're concerned your student's writing skills aren't won't measure up to college admissions standards, writing or heavily editing an essay for your student is a HUGE no-no. And while help for writing college essays abounds** more important in the long-run is, a college student should know how to write. Well. Before he or she gets into college.

*but people who blog are compelled to say such things anyway!
** I'm partial to the tip sheet US News published a few years ago.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Write it right, now.

The rules of writing are a-changin,' folks. It was true 1,000 years ago, and it still is. Relax, this isn't a philosophical diatribe about social evolution. 

Worse, perhaps. It's about communication.  

As many of us realize there are rules - gasp! yes, grammar rules - that govern texts. And many of us "of a certain age" blatantly ignore them. Most that do, I'd argue, do so out of a deplorable combination of disdain and ignorance. 

For a more lucid description of the problem, please read Arika Okrent's recent article in The Times

Now, my plea: Dear writers, please snap out of it. 

The point of writing well is that doing so helps us communicate better. Language evolves, and while in our snobbish moods (I'll admit to the occasional snit) we like to lament the "evolution" as "degradation," I think, more often than not, evolution isn't driven by laziness, it's driven by results. As in, better communication. 

Now, I hope you'll notice I didn't say "hopefully" it's driven by a need for better communication. But rather, note that I said I am hopeful. 

~Diane Stresing