What’s in a Word?

A lot.  Which takes us into a new post about editing, the first of several.

Too many words and you may lose your reader/viewer.  Too few words and writing may seem “static” (dull, stagnant, boring).  How you present ideas through written communication will be based on what you’re offering (fiction or nonfiction) and your audience (who you’re writing for).

Let’s begin with word usage.  Every word has its own nuance and merit.  Here’s a simple example:

  • Bradley said he’d start work on the project next week.
  • Bradley divulged he’d start work on the project next week.
  • Bradley declared he’d start work on the project next week.

The bolded words relate to a form of verbal communication, yet each offers a different spin.  The first one tells us Bradley spoke; the tone isn’t conveyed so maybe he’s sad, angry, or bored out of his mind.  (If we add an adverb—dully, excitedly, sleepily—we have a better idea of what good ol’ Bradley is thinking or feeling.)  The second one suggests something secretive had been going on and our buddy has finally revealed this.  In the third example, Bradley Boy is stating something emphatically—i.e. making an official announcement.

Maybe you’re just starting out as a writer/blogger and you’re still getting a feel for your “voice”.  That’s fine.  It takes time to hone skills, just as it takes time to refine writing.

I love a good thesaurus, but years as a writer and editor have taught me to use it judiciously.  Feel free to utilize one and give thought to the following: 

Tip #1: Don’t throw in synonyms willy-nilly just to “jazz up” your post or writing (you may inadvertently “jam up”).   Tip #2:  Make certain that the synonym is appropriate; check the definition, even if the word is familiar.  Tip #3:  Ensure the synonym is recognizable and applicable to your audience.

Use the right words to correctly convey the message.  Write and edit (polish) accordingly.  Sure, it takes extra time: consider it an investment.  Clear and concise writing sells [much] better than that which is garbled and long-winded.  Trust me on this one—been there, done that (many a time).  Lesson [happily] learned.

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Avoiding the Blog Snooze Factor

Snoozey blogs are a bore.  But keeping them interesting or appealing can prove difficult, regardless of your blog’s focus: to sell, advise/inform, promote, or entertain.

Nobody wants an eye-glazingly boring/bad blog, so let’s give some thought on how to maintain one that’s attention-grabbing.  (And, yes, even if your blog is about the Luna Moth, it could be super fascinating . . . with the right approach.)

When you’d first thought about starting a blog, what [should have] popped into your mind?  Ri-ight.  Your intended audience.  And?  Are you writing for—and attracting—that audience?  If not, consider using tools like Google Analytics to determine whether you’re succeeding.  If you’re not, you may want to rethink your approach.

The first thing I did when setting up a blog was create an “About Me” page.  It’s not a requirement, but if you decide to have one, make it interesting and/or funny, classy and/or silly, and ensure it reflects you.  In fact, why not write one as a tale—about you?

Blogs generally tend to be personal, so you may want to write in first-person.  I love first-person (can’t imagine writing any other way).  It’s an ideal way for readers to get into your head and understand the real you.  If you’re shy, suck it up—sell yourself.  You can do it.

Ensure your writing is clear and crisp.  Going off on tangents, rambling incessantly, adding too many descriptive words (those things called “adjectives”) probably won’t engage your readers much.  You want to embrace—uh, what’s the right word?  Yes!  Simplicity.

Simple = straightforward = uncomplicated = clear-cut.

On that note, also ensure your writing is to the point and not overly long (avoid run-on, mind-fogging sentences).  You want to engage readers, not bore the hell out of them.

Feel free to break up posts, too.  Visuals “pretty up” posts, make them appealing and easier to follow.  Use [judiciously] different fonts, colors, spacing, and bullets.  Too many words chockablock in one post can resemble a giant square or sticky note, and may prompt readers to move on.  Draw attention, pull them in, but don’t go overboard; too many visuals can be as detrimental as none at all.

Never be negative.  I have a tendency to express regret—like that damn mailing list I often mention, the one I just can’t find the time to do (or wrap my head around, if I’m totally honest).  See?  Did it again.  <LOL>  Don’t you do it.  Freely share ideas and feelings and thoughts (in context with your blog).  It’s fine to communicate opinions and emotions; simply take care as to how you sound (and what image you convey).

On the “never be negative” note, make certain not to insult or condemn people, gossip or berate.  Stay factual and objective.  Mind what you share and say.

Be original.  Don’t plagiarize or steal.  You have your focus: stay on point.

Being typo-free is good.  (I’ll readily admit that I’ve caught a few in mine, so slap on hand to me.)

Enough tips for now.  I don’t want to run on and un-interest you.  Next post: editing tips (which lend themselves to keeping our posts all of the above).

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Mystery Writing 101 . . . or . . . What the do I Know about Writing a Mystery?

As a writer of mysteries (The Triple Threat Investigation Agency series), it’s no secret that I’m also a lover of the genre.  Which would go without saying, of course.  But I just did.  <ROTFL>

Nancy Drew, as often stated, was [still is] my heroine.  I first read her when I was eight and was hooked, big-time.  Solving mysteries with her and George and Bess was fun.

It’s still fun, although these days I keep company with more heavyweights.  Having that challenge—just who is the killer?—sends a shiver of anticipation along the spine with every novel cracked open (I like the feel of a real book, sorry Kindle).

So, you’re considering writing one?  That’s good, very good indeed.  But you’re uncertain where to start.  Well, acquainting yourself with the genre should come first, but I’m assuming you’ve got an idea of what the world of whodunits entails.

Let’s consider a few “musts”.

You must introduce your main character(s), the sleuth(s), as soon as possible.  The villain should be presented fairly early on, as well; readers must have an opportunity to pull the baddie(s) into their musings (as they endeavor to solve the mystery).

Make the major crime evident within a reasonable period, such as the first three or four chapters, as you want to create—and prolong—tension and suspense/excitement.  With mysteries, what’s that major crime?  Yup, you got it: murder.

Give the murder careful thought and plausibility.  Maybe there’s only one body, maybe a few.  If there are numerous ones, have the “surge” sound logical.  Sure, there could be a serial killer, a whacko, maybe even more than one killer.  Who doesn’t enjoy the roller-coaster ride of a thrilling serial killer case?  If you intend to write one, ensure that it’s compelling and believable, given the characters and circumstances.

Keep your story twisting and turning, but don’t drag it on forever.  And don’t make the killer(s) obvious.  You want readers to keep solving your challenging mystery, not yawning and heading off to do something more exciting, like garbage disposal or counter cleaning.

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As I always say, do your due diligence.  When you’re writing—creating—make sure to include facts.  This could include details about the murder (perhaps from a forensic or law enforcement angle), description about the state of the body (if you’re writing a cozy, you may want to sugar-coat it and keep intense details/facts to a minimum), states of mind, and so forth.  Present a sense of realism.

Consider writing a mystery like a paint-by-number kit.  You’re completing it in a painstaking manner: every little piece should uniformly connect (“bind”).

Now that you have some food for thought, I’ll let you digest.

We’ll look at how to develop your detective next post.  In the meanwhile, slap on that sleuthing cap and pursue that ever-winding writing/solving trail.

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The Continuity Conundrum

Continuity = Continuousness = Coherency

One of the more difficult things when writing a novel—especially the first time out—is ensuring that everything is consistent and correct.

There’s nothing more funny (and really kinda embarrassing) than having a female protagonist with raven-black eyes in the opening and then sparrow-brown a few chapters later.  Contacts?  Iris transplant?  Methinks not.  We-ell, maybe, if you’re writing sci-fi / fantasy.

It’s fine to write off the cuff.  Not so fine not to do a final edit or two, or three.  Editing helps find flaws and mistakes.  But you know that.  So kudos to you.

And yes (been there!), it’s tough recalling what happened to Susie Creamcheese on page 18, or what she wore.  It may not be even matter.  But if good ol’ Susie spoke with an Arkansan accent, replete with local expressions, and lost it later on, your integrity as a writer could come into question.  Errors happen, sure.  Small ones are usually forgivable.  Glaring ones, not so much.

So, what areas should you be consistent with?

  • characters’ appearances & traits
  • characters’ names (I confess I, too, have mixed them up and/or changed them halfway through, slap on hand to me)
  • facts
  • locations, settings & places
  • seasons & time/timing
  • plot & action, and
  • things (if Susie’s riding a bike in Chapter 5 due to a fear of driving, why is she steering a convertible down the I-90 in Chapter 19?).

If you’re not going to do an outline before you start, that’s fine (some do, some don’t, including yours truly).  What you should do, as advice from one fellow writer to another: keep a scene breakdown and a character rundownNeither need be lengthy.

As I write the Triple Threat Investigation Agency series, I tend to have quite the extensive character rundown.  I’m always adding/updating.  Having both really does help with continuity (trust me on that).  Here’s how you might want to approach them.

Scene breakdown:

  • list chapters and each scene within
  • record major events (Susie and Lee went sailing; Lee fell off the sailboat; a strange surfer rescued Lee)
  • note day, time, and weather
  • have a “to do (later)” box so you remember something needs fixing/adding.

Character rundown:

  • list names, ages, characteristics, traits, likes and dislikes
  • note people and events important in a character’s life that play a part in the plot
  • do up a family history (this doesn’t have to be long, but anything that influences or shapes your characters’ lives should be documented).

Yes, both take extra time, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Remember:

Continuity = Continuousness = Coherency

= Credibility.

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The Beginnings of E-book Nirvana

Maybe first and foremost let’s decide how to spell that?  Ebook, e-book, or E-Book?  Methinks e-book (coz it works for l’il ol’ me.)

The two main types of publishing—e-book versus traditional—have been touched upon in previous posts.  Now, how about actually writing one?

It’s something you’ve thought and dreamed about, but haven’t yet done.  Check a reason:

  • lassoing time (it’s proven as difficult to snare as a rampaging bull)
  • picking a genre from a cornucopia of possibilities (mystery? romance? western? steampunk?!)
  • deciding between fiction or nonfiction (do I create exploits for crazy characters or advise others on how to construct cuckoo clocks?)
  • settling on a story, plot, and/or focus (huh? uh?)
  • getting <bleeping> started when you’re <bleeping> unsure what to do, and/or
  • other: ____________ (you fill in the blank).

Now that you’ve recognized why you haven’t written one, you can kiss off the reason(s) and move forward, and actually start writing.

Awesome. You’ve got an idea—a tale (or teachings) screaming to be shared!  Go for it.  Put the pedal to the metal, or fingers to the keyboard.  Pen to paper [still] works, too.

Before beginning your chef-d’œuvre, it might be best to determine:

  • where you’re going to write: distractions (pets, kids, partners, coworkers, outdoor views) should be at a minimum, unless you possess superhero skill at blocking out all
  • when you’re going to write; sticking to set schedules is about as easy leaping tall buildings, but figure out the best time of day/night to sit down and then do it.

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If the plan is to write fiction, check out authors writing in your genre.  If it’s nonfiction, research websites and blogs, and authors, centering on the same or similar topic.

Read some e-books in your given genre.  See what’s out there and what’s popular.

Do research before or while you write, or after the first draft (whatever works best for you).  Check facts and stats, settings and locales.  There’s nothing worse than glaring errors (like a famous institution located in the wrong part of town, or a misspelled product or place).

When working on your first draft, try not to worry too much about grammar or typos, logistics or continuity.  Just go with the flow.  Get it all down, then clean up (e-d-i-t).

You may want to do an outline before you start writing.  Some writers do, some (like me) don’t so, again, do what works for you.  You’ll figure it out.

Now, if you’ve got a blog going, consider engaging your viewers and visitors.  Let them know what you’re up to.  Maybe you’d like to request their input?

When that final edit is complete, take a deep breath, and pat yourself [profusely] on the back.  Find an e-publisher and show [off] your baby to the world!

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Landing a Landing Page

Recently, we touched upon setting up a blog.  Now, what about a landing page?  (To be honest, I’d not much considered it until a few articles and “chats” fell into my lap last week.)

What’s a landing page, you may wonder.  It’s a single [unique] web page on your website.  Sometimes called a destination page or lead-capture page, that’s exactly what it does: it leads a visitor or viewer to you, it “captures” his/her attention.  It’s either aimed at the intended promotion of a company, product or service, or to inform a viewer of something.

There are actually two types: Click Through and Lead Generation (the aforementioned lead-capture page).

  • The former encourages a visitor to click through to another page . . . motivating him/her [hopefully] to make a decision about buying something, and then filling that shopping cart.
  • The latter is used to obtain user info, like names and email addresses. Usually, the signer-upper will get something in return—such as regular blog posts, vouchers, discounts, free trials, demos, and gifts (among many other things).

Is a landing page really necessary, you may also wonder.  Yeah, it is . . . if you want to increase your visitor-to-lead conversion rates.  Because, yeah, you want to capture leads!

Leads = data.  Data = insight.  Insight = progress.  Progress = success.

Apparently, they’re fun and easy to use.  I li-ike that, because those familiar with me know I can suck when it comes to anything technical—just ask me about that elusive [much dreamed of] mailing list.  <LMAO>

When you decide to design a landing page, write and create it with one business objective in mind.  What is it you’re trying to “market”?

As I always say, ad nauseam I know, do your due diligence.  There’s tons of information out there on landing pages.  And there are some awesome sites that offer great ideas.

Now, I’m not endorsing these, but if you’re interested in learning about landing pages, here are three sites you may want to visit.

Instapage has reviewed 100 landing pages, and offers pros and cons of why they work (or don’t).  Worth checking out!

https://instapage.com/blog/landing-page-examples

Unbounce has “The Landing Page Conversion Course”.  Find it at:

http://do.thelandingpagecourse.com.

One Page Love (“the ultimate showcase of One Page websites”) has some interesting deals and free templates.  For a nominal fee, you can also get a critique of your “one-pager”.  (I have to confess, I really like the comfy, easy-going feel of this site and may just—once I get my own landing page created—have them take a gander.)

https://onepagelove.com/gallery/landing-page

Happy landings!

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Bloggin’ Bonanza

Have we touched upon actually starting a blog?  Methinks maybe not.  So-o, let’s give it some thought.

Why have your own blog?

  • Coz it’s a great way to share thoughts, ideas, reviews—the sky’s the limit!  It puts you out there: you can shine like a star.
  • Coz it can prove a bonanza (not the show, but the jackpot).  It can serve as a fabulous way of generating income (personally, I’m still figuring that out on this end, but it’s a definite objective down the blogging road).

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For those not yet blogging, but giving it serious consideration, you may want to start with some basic background/information gathering.  But that said, why not simply jump in and learn as you go?  I more or less did.  The only thing I did before setting up A Writer’s Grab-Bag was to determine which blog-publishing service / platform to use.  A lot of people had great things to say about WordPress, so WordPress it was; you choose the one that feels right for you.

Happy news for those counting nickels (like I seem to perpetually be)—a blog can be set up and designed for free.  It depends on who you go with and what options and type of reach you’re contemplating . . . and what you’re willing to do without.

Remember, though:  free = limitations.

Decide whether you want a selfhosted blog or hosted one.  The former resides on your own server.  Most people generally, however, go for the latter and pay a third-party to host their blogThis allows for a lot of benefits: a more professional appearance, additional bandwidth and memory, and control over your blog in terms of layout and SEO, among other things.  If you go with a hosted blog, yes, you will have to put out a few of those nickels.  The good thing, though, is you get to focus on your posting and not worry about configuring and all that annoying technical sh-uh-stuff.

Figure out your domain name; think of something catchy, easy to recall, and indicative of your blog.

Part of the fun is designing the blog.  The scheme and layout options are endless!  Feeling daunted, unsure?  Check out blogs that cater to the audience you want to attract.   Scrutinize successful ones.  Research ideas.  Then go for it.  Design one that reflects you and your blog content.  Add those bells and whistles!  You can do it.

Enough food for thought?  Methinks likely not.  But perhaps sufficient enough for you to take the plunge into the blogging foray.  Just bear in mind: there’s a ton (!) of resources out there for beginner/novice bloggers (which I still am), including support groups and communities.  You don’t have to go it alone . . . but you should definitely go for it!

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! Time to Get Motivated !

Let’s find ways of getting motivated—to move beyond fear’s stagnation, battle a lack of confidence, quell a bout of ennui, or whatever it is that’s tethering us in place with super-thick bungee cords.

Where to start?  By un-tethering those cords and determining what needs doing.  What’s the goal or objective?  Mine: to create an extensive mailing list, have a recognizable name and successful blog, to assist fellow writers, and maybe offer editing advice and/or services.  That’s a lot to accomplish with limited time; in fact, that’s a lot to accomplish in any span, period.  The logical thing to do then is focus on one objective at a time.  For me, the mailing list is an excellent one to begin with.  As such, I should learn all I can about what makes a successful one and then apply that knowledge.

Having an objective is one thing; being motivated (enthused, stimulated) to make it happen is equally important.  Viewing the works/products of others (in my case, successful authors) will provide creative ideas.  Seeing their achievements will offer encouragement.

Having a timeframe is a great idea: set one that’s realistic.  As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day; so don’t decide to accomplish your goal in 24 hours.  You may want to post about it or simply stick a reminder on your fridge: keep the intent [and wished-for outcome] readily in view and accessible.

You may have a few hours, or days, where motivation just ain’t happening.  That’s okay.  It’s like writer’s block: a temporary time-out.  Don’t fret and don’t give up.  It will come.  Keep the faith.

If necessary, find inspiration.  Read inspirational quotes, watch a persuasive thought-provoking video, talk to a friend, join an on-line community (you’d be amazed how many offer valuable support and advice).  Or maybe take a long walk, get some [relatively] fresh air, and un-jumble thoughts.

Stop finding excuses.  <ROTFL>  I have a great [true] one—that lack of time.  But, at the end of the day, it’s exactly that: a X*&!%$ excuse (so here’s a kick in the butt to myself).  If there are only 30 minutes of “personal” time per day, make the most of them: read, learn, absorb, apply!

Sure, some tasks aren’t that pleasurable, but they need to get done.  So focus on the components of the goal that are fun and run with them.  The rest will fall into place.  Once you’ve discovered enough external motivation, realize it internally.  It’s there and it’s in you.  You’ve got what it takes.

Baby steps are something I’ve referred to in Typepad posts—how those teeny-tiny strides may seem like they’re not progressing us too quickly or very far, but the fact of the matter is they are.  Moving slowly is actually a good thing: it allows us time to absorb and assimilate (kinda like Star Trek Borgs, but in a positive way).

These are but a few off-the-cuff ideas to get going.  I could offer more, but this is a post, not a dissertation.  . . . That said (speaking of goals), one day there’ll be a deck or vid on this blog.  In fact, there’ll be a few.  <LOA>  But one baby step at a time, my friends.  One baby step—and goal—at a time.

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Getting Motivated . . . or . . . Finding that Elusive Mojo

There’s [still-lllllllllllllllllll] a knee-high heap of articles and emails to read re getting a mailing list going, attracting viewers/followers, and making big bucks.  Should I laugh or weep?

It’s kinda like suffering from writer’s block—you’re stuck, determining what direction to take, what to do first, and who to attract.  The thing about becoming motivated is that you may already be completing or accomplishing things, but you’re just not quite focused or informed enough to impel yourself that little bit further.

Or you may have a comfortable routine that suits your needs.  There’s no need to learn more; you just continue doing what you’re doing.  <pointing finger at moi>

Every day, I whip up a brief Facebook post for my Triple Threat private-eye gals.  I’ll add a little pic, maybe an emoji.  Voilà!  Every Wednesday and Saturday, I create a WordPress post or page related to writing or my lovely lady detectives.  Voilà!  Damn, I’m good.  And let’s not forget that Typepad blog that no one visits; there’s a weekly post there, too.  Damn, I’m really good.

. . . Not really<LMAO>  I haven’t motivated myself to learn [more] about—or apply—those [%!@!] mailing lists I post about.  No ifs or buts: they’re vital to success.  As such, I can hardly question, or grumble about, why I’ve not attracted more than a couple of followers.  My [really] bad.

But, in deference to self, it’s a question of time, too.  There’s very little of it in my current life (given a full-time job and taking care of Mom), so I apply it where I can: posting and writing.  If I don’t do either, then I’m a non-entity.  But if I don’t promote/market, then I’m a non-entity, too.

LMAO again.  The intention had been to post about motivation and I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent about myself.  Look for “Part 2” next week on tips/strategies for you [us] to get motivated and inspired.  Let’s locate that elusive mojo!

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Calling All Writers & Bloggers!

There’s [still] a knee-high pile of articles and emails to plow through re getting a mailing list going, attracting viewers/followers, and making big bucks.  <LMAO>  It sounds so f’g easy.  And, for some, I don’t doubt that it is.  God bless you that have it easy.

As one of the “missions” of this blog is to share information gleaned, I thought I’d touch upon that valuable marketing tool called the “Call to Action Button” (CTA).

It has a plethora of purposes—like getting readers to sign up for your mailing list, subscribing to your blog/website, leading them to your shop, or purchasing a product or service.  You can use these CTAs in posts or add them to a sidebar.  Whatever it is you want your visitor or viewer to do, make sure you have one.  But before you design one, ask yourself this: “what’s the goal of my blog (website)”?

There’s a ton of stuff to be learned about this lovely little tool; given this is a post and not a page or in-depth PDF doc, here are a few highlights (which I’ll apply to mine, when I finally apply a CTA to this blog—and I will).

Make it clear/uncomplicated.  Your visitor should be drawn to it almost immediately.  Let it stand out from the bordering content, so watch what’s around it.  Also, keep an eye on the size of your button.  Too small and it’ll be lost; too big and it’ll take over the screen.

Fun fonts are just that—fun, far-out, and frivolous—but make sure they’re readable.  Keep your lovely call-to-action short and sweet.  Create a sense of urgency, if doable.  Consider words like: “try”, “buy”, “sign up”, “get”, “join”, “start”, and “send” to name but a few (“free” is a pretty good one, too).  Get personal, as well: use “you” and “me”.

Offer a reason (or two) why your visitor should complete your CTA.  And don’t overwhelm him or her by offering too many actions or options.

You can keep them rectangular, as most of them are, or you can opt for something different—circle, box, star, whatever you like.

Remember: while a CTA may look amazing, it may not generate action (i.e. convert traffic), so you’ll want to test it out.

In my Google travels, I came across a couple of free call-to-action button sites (and this is by no means an endorsement, simply a sharing of something found); I’ve not tried them.  You may want to check them out (like I plan to) to see where they take you.  But, like I always say: do your due diligence.  Learn what’s out there: absorb and apply . . . and have some fun, too.

http://buttonoptimizer.com

https://dabuttonfactory.com

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