Friday, April 18, 2014

How to Write Short, Crop Well a Matter of Practice

I'll admit I've thoroughly enjoyed How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark, and it's served as a great refresher course in copywriting. (Actually, it applies to all forms of writing. Copywriting just happens to be what I do the most.)

But How to Write Short isn't a breakthrough method or a new spin on anything - rather, it reminds you of the rules, and how experts employ them.

If you're a copywriter, it's a definition of the tools you use daily. Without thinking about them. Maybe, it reminds you of a few of those tools you don't use often enough. Probably, it will occur to you that you overuse a few of them. Almost certainly, it will teach you that those tools actually have names.

Whether you write novels or catalog copy or blog posts, your writing improves with practice. (I'll wait while you file that under Well-Duh or Obvi.) And the thing is, you learned by being taught in boring classrooms and by seeing your first efforts marked by a red pen. If you became a professional writer or copywriter, your practice paid off - and you forgot how you do what you do. You just do. (Hello, mastery.)

Aside: I don't want to draw the analogy out to brain surgeons and nuclear physicists; 
I'd like to think they regularly re-read all of their college textbooks. 
(Oh, the great luxuries of a Liberal Arts degree...)

And so I believe it is with photography. Practice of the basics becomes your "natural instinct." What you forget - or the rules you fail to follow - becomes your "artistic signature." Of course I'm not knocking photographers; I kinda consider myself one. I bring it up because just after I'd begun reading How to Write Short, I was sucked in (I meant that in a good way) to an article titled "How to Crop Images Like a Pro."

Honestly, I thought it would be a great example of an SEO-grabbing headline backed up by disappointing content. It wasn't. Instead, it's a solid article listing the basic tools that professionals employ in framing, cropping, and restyling images.

My point? Professional communication and writing, like photography and many other things a person is supposedly "talented in" - or not - are greatly improved by, and probably even made through, excessive practice.

So write on, my friends.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Writing for Free, Contests, and Other Opportunities

I've always liked Midwest Book Review, for several reasons. As a reader, I find its reviews are clean and clear. As a writer, I find it policies simple and straightforward.

Midwest Book Review doesn't pay reviewers, and it makes that clear in a nice way: reviewers are called "volunteers." Submission is simple (text in the body of an email) and MBR doesn't get all fluffy describing the "benefits" of volunteering. It is clear about bylines - you can get one, but won't always. The criteria, again, is clear. 

Also as a reader, you might want to know why most MBR reviews are positive. That's because it only accepts to review books it thinks will make the cut, so to speak. 

So, if you're a writer looking for a place to get exposure and have some decent, recent online writing samples, look into writing for MBR. Trust me, you could do a lot worse. If you're a reader looking for reviews on books you'll probably like, same goes. 

Writing Contests - May 2014 & More

Looking for essay, poetry, fiction or non-fiction writing contests? I love "how-tos" so I'm partial to this one:

Baltimore Review Summer Contest

Online submission deadline: May 31, 2014
The theme for the Baltimore Review’s summer contest is “How To.” Why? Because writers are unabashedly inquisitive and can instruct readers in such eloquent ways. Instruct our readers in how to do anything—anything at all—in the course of your poem, fiction, or creative nonfiction, and you’re eligible. 3,000-word limit for prose, 1-3 poems per entry. $10 entry fee. Prizes: $500, $200, and $100. All entries considered for publication. Deadline is May 31, 2014. Final judge: Michael Downs. Hit blue Submit button on Submit page, then the Contest link to enter. Also considering non-theme (non-contest) submissions. Visit

If you're a longer-form fiction writer, you might like Glimmer Train's Standard contests, for stories not to exceed 12,000 words. Three contests per year, prize money, and no reading fee! A nice combination, don't you think?

I found these contests on, where most of the contests are for unpublished work. However, it also lists a few for previously published work

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mini Matriculate Monday

Is Thuronyi Bluff a poker strategy, Antarctic feature, crime case?

Thank the Library of Congress for this one

The site doesn't have user-friendly search, but hey, if you're looking for a way to procrastin... uh, educate yourself, scroll through the fun weekly Q&A-style trivia. 

Here's one you word-lovers might like: The answer is archaeoastronomy. Want the question? Happy hunting! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Great Advice, If You're Going for Ironic

I love the advice from a Forbes blogger on being more effective.  Especially item number eight. It would be better if it were clear that the typo was intended to be ironic.