What Every Writer Wants

Google GI asked Google, “What does a writer want?” I found a variety of answers. Lev Raphael says we want “Everything,” and quotes Roxane Gay saying writers “want and want and want.”

Some writers will say they want fame, others money, some just want luck. I think what a writer really wants is Audience.

Writers want what they write to be read.

But as the explosion of blogosphere and the self-publishing industry demonstrates again and again, publication does not guarantee readers. Good writing might.

Here are some ideas for finding and building an audience with a blog. None of these ideas require an advanced degree in rocket science; they all require hard work, and they’re all working for me.

  1. Write for your audience. (This post is for Live to Write – Write to Live readers: writers – you.)
  2. Say what you want with economy and grace.Like everyone else on the planet, your readers are pressed for time, so don’t waste theirs. (I aim for a post of 400-600 words.)
  3. Practice your craft and give your audience a polished performance. If you
    Practice your craft and give your audience a polished performance. (pixabay)

    Practice your craft and give your audience a polished performance. (pixabay)

    were a pianist, you wouldn’t invite your audience to listen to you play scales or learn a new piece; as a writer, you don’t want to show your audience your rough draft. (This essay went through three drafts.)

  4. Commit to a publication schedule. While an audience may like to be surprised in the content of what you write, it also likes to know when to expect a new post. I post here every other Tuesday, and I post to my own blog every Wednesday. It’s hard work that has garnered non-monetary rewards, namely a growing audience. I have readers who look forward to my posts; I know because they tell me.
  5. Keep writing and other opportunities will follow. I keep writing; in addition to meeting new readers, editors I don’t know now ask me to write for them; invitations for public speaking and proposals for writing projects arrive in my inbox. I get to decide what I want to write and for whom.

I wouldn’t say no to fame and fortune, but it’s my audience who will determine that. Of course I’d like more readers, more publications, and more royalties. I believe they will come if I continue to do my job, which is to write stories that will cross that membrane between writer and reader, to engage in that intimacy that occurs when my words get under my readers’ skin, into their thoughts, and maybe even change how they think.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs every Wednesday at Living in Place.

“Fucking” is a Poor Intensifier

“Fucking” is a poor an intensifier in written non-fiction.

My objection is not one of prudishness but one of good usage. I don’t approve of using “very” as an intensifier, either (or really, or so). Saying something is “fucking unbelievable” is no better than “very unbelievable”; both lack imagination and weaken one’s prose. In the crowded blogosphere, prose with muscle is more likely to attract readers than flabby and/or overused intensifiers.

Readers depend on writers to rant with vivid language.

I think “fucking” has lost its vividness due to overuse. It’s lost its meaning and punch. Like love handles on hips, it’s flabby padding rather than taut flesh.

Lest I be written off as a member of the grammar police, I’m not. Language lives and changes with its users. Neologisms arrive (sexting, localvore) and antiquated words fade (mooncalf, quidnunc). Usage changes, too, as exemplified by the gender-neutral singular they.

Just as there’s a time and place for sex, there’s a time and a place for “fucking” in the text.

Certainly, it belongs when quoted as in, Luskin objects “to the current trend of using ‘fucking’ as an intensifier in written non-fiction.” You must use the word if you’re quoting someone else, and unlike on broadcast media, the word doesn’t have to be “bleeped” in print.

Another justified usage occurs when you’re writing fiction and it’s the language of your narrator or characters, in which case, let it rip! Some people say fucking as often as others say like, almost as a nervous tic.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of audience.

I’m sure that some of the writers who overuse “fucking” as their intensifier of choice have readers who don’t give it a second thought. But writers who want to reach an audience that includes people they don’t know, as well as people who might not agree with them, it’s better to state your ideas with clarity and precision. Personally, I want people to read what I write and object to what I say rather than to the language I’ve used.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Her work can be found on Vermont Public Radio and on her website, where she blogs about her rural life in Living in Place and about middle age in The Middle Ages. Her award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, is a love story about two sixty-somethings, set in Vermont in 1964.

Write Drunk. Edit Sober.

Blogging can be scary. Some days, it feels like you’ve been pushed on stage and asked to do stand-up. The guy who was on before you totally killed it. The crowd was laughing in the aisles and people were repeating his catch phrase. Now you’re up there, peering through the glare of the floor lights, trying to catch a glimpse of the audience, sweating under the deep and awkward silence of a crowd waiting to see what you’re going to do.

Yeah. Sometimes, blogging is like that.

So, you ask yourself, how do people get brave enough to put themselves and their brands out there in authentic, vulnerable, stick-their-necks-out ways? How do they find the nerve to say the thing that needs to be said? What gives them the self-assurance they need to blog in a way that makes them stand out from the crowd so they can capture attention and make people give a damn?

The answer: courage.

As the saying goes – courage isn’t a lack of fear. It is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. True courage does not come easily. You have to dig down deep and find the strength to face the dragons that stand in your way. You have to take a breath, square your shoulders, and push yourself to do the thing that scares you.

But, there is another way. A shortcut called “liquid courage.” You know what I’m talking about – the inhibition-lowering, boldness-bolstering, let-me-at-‘em kind of courage. The sure-I’ll-karaoke kind of courage. The lemme-tell-you-what-I-think kind of courage.

If you haven’t gotten to the point in your blogging evolution where you can tap into true courage, if you’re still teetering on the edge of writing posts that make you cringe a little when you click the “publish” button, you might want to try writing like you’re a little tipsy.

Write drunk; edit sober.

Most often attributed to Hemingway, this little gem of writing advice is perfect for bloggers. Like good fiction, a good blog needs to reach out and grab the reader. It needs to say something worth saying, take some kind of stand. But too often we settle for the ho-hum and so-so. We play it safe.

This is called “going through the motions,” and it’s not going to help you attract attention or build an audience. It’s going to bore people. It’s hard to push beyond the easy, run-of-the-mill blog fodder to try something new or even controversial. I get it. But, if you don’t start taking steps in that direction, if you don’t start giving people something worth reading, why even bother blogging?

Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get hammered; but what if we applied the attributes of intoxication to our blogger’s mindset?

Lowered Inhibitions

You’ve seen it a hundred times in the movies and probably in real life, too. The shy guy finally asks the pretty girl out. The shy girl finally gets up and sings her heart out to a bar full of dumbstruck friends. The downtrodden desk jockey finally stands up and tells his boss what he really thinks.

Turning down the volume of your internal censor can be a good thing for your blogging. If your primary worries are about being politically correct and pleasing everyone, you’ll end up watering everything down and diluting your message until it’s not worth hearing. Loosen up a little. Try to be less self-conscious. Roll with your “crazy” ideas.

Brilliant Random Associations and Wild, Unruly Bursts of Creative Insight

Speaking of crazy ideas, get some of those.

Make your brainstorming sessions a free-for-all, a no-bad-ideas zone.  Write down every wacky idea you have and cultivate a mindset of curiosity and creativity.

Sometimes it takes a little inebriation to see more clearly. How many winning ideas have been hatched during happy hour when we finally get a different perspective on the day? With our internal filters shut down, the ideas can suddenly flow freely – colliding into each other and creating new, hybrid ideas. Happy hour can be very fertile ground for innovation.

Swagger

“Lemme at ‘im!”

Eyes slightly glazed, but with a fire burning in them, you’re ready to take on Goliath … bare fisted … with one hand tied behind your back. You know you can handle him. No problem. No problem at all.

Blogging requires a little chutzpah. You have to believe that you’ve got what it takes. You have to believe you’ve got something worth saying. If anyone says, “Who do you think you are?”, you have to be ready to tell him exactly who you are.

Honesty

A cocktail, mixed correctly, is as good as the best high-test truth serum.

When you’ve had a few drinks pretenses drop, charades dissolve, and facades crumble. Your authentic self, who has been waiting patiently behind the lines of sobriety and propriety, rolls her head and cracks her knuckles like a boxer preparing to enter the ring. It’s finally game time – her turn to show her stuff.

“You know what I’ve always wanted to tell you?” … and then it all starts to come out – all the really juicy bits, all the stuff that keeps the listener hanging on every word. You don’t need a fancy vocabulary, you just need to tell it like it is – straight up, no filter.

Affection

“I love you guys.”

What is it about spirits that makes it so easy for us to express our affections? Defenses come down and the whole world seems like one big hug fest. How did we not see the awesomeoness of these people before?

Feel the love. Go with it. You’re trying to connect with your readers on a very real level. Why hold back? If you feel moved to do it, tell them you love them. They are the reason you’re here. They are the reason you do what you do. Go ahead – lay one on ‘em. They’ll love it.

The morning after

Hemingway’s approach is only effective if you work both sides of the equation. I think we’ve covered the “write drunk” part, but what about editing sober?

The key is breathing room. Premature publishing is akin to drunk dialing (or texting). The results can be disastrous and embarrassing. Brainstorm and write to your intoxicated heart’s content, but don’t hit “publish” until you’ve come down off your creative party train and can look at things with a sober and impartial eye.

Believe me, you don’t want to wake up with a tattoo you don’t remember getting.

From liquid courage to the real thing

Eventually, you’ll find that you don’t need a shot of faux fearlessness to blog like you really mean it. Over time, practicing blogging like you’re tipsy (even though you aren’t … really), will give you all the true courage you need to get out there and speak your mind in a unique and engaging way. You’ll feel at ease, be open to new and creative ideas, find your groove, embrace your truth, and surrender to your affections.

And that’s when the magic will happen. You won’t worry about feeling trapped up on a stage you didn’t want to be on in the first place. You will have found your voice, your audience, and your stride. You’ll be working that spotlight like a pro and having a great time doing it.

 


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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/orintroduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This original version of this post appeared on suddenlymarketing.com.
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Image credit: WordsIGiveBy on etsy

 

Sourcing Free Images 2.0

paulus self portrait

Paulus Moreelse self-portrait from the Rijksmuseum

I needed an image of a Renaissance self portrait for a recent post on my blog,  but having made an expensive mistake once, I’ve become hyper vigilant about sourcing free images.

In my search for digital images I could use free and clear, I made two discoveries worth sharing. First, I stumbled across Open Culture, which proclaims to be “the best free cultural and educational media on the web.” There, I found links to over twenty world-famous museums that make images of their collections available on-line.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Museum in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Margit Wallnery via pixabay.

Essentially, it’s possible to see a significant portion of the world’s great art with the ease of a few keystrokes. While this isn’t the same as visiting the Museum of New Zealand in person, for those of us in North America, it’s a lot cheaper. And while I’d love to spend a week at the British Library, or visit the Getty in Los Angeles, or even stroll through the National Gallery in Washington, DC, traveling requires the dual resources of time and money, which are not always available separately, let alone at the same time.

Should time and money allow, however, these websites could

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

The Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre, in Paris. photo from pixabay

serve as a wonderful primer in advance of a trip. And for the blogger in need of images with which to illustrate a post, these sites offer a wealth of images.

Not every museum gives carte blanche, however, so blogger beware, and follow the rules. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for instance, has made 400,000 high-resolution images available on-line, but has restricted downloading them to non-commercial use. Looking closer, The Met’s free-use policy is even more restrictive: the images are available for “Open Access for Scholarly Content.” As I understand it, this excludes using an image from their collection on a personal blog.

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post at www.deborahleeluskin.com

The image from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that I used in my recent post

The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, on the other hand, not only makes most of the collection available on-line, it also allows ordinary users to download and manipulate their images, whole or in part through their Rijks Studio – a program that allows a viewer to save, edit and change images. I was glad to make this discovery and found an image that served my purpose well. And I’m determined to return to the site and figure out how to use the tools fully.

I’m also intrigued by Open Culture which offers a great deal of free material, including on-line courses, free audio books, e-books, movies, free music and more.

Where do you find open source images for your posts?

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-wining novel Into the Wilderness, a love story between people in their mid-sixties, set in Vermont in 1964. She blogs at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Is Blogging Worth the Effort?

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin

Is blogging worth the effort?

I wonder.

It’s coming up on a year since I launched my new website and blog, revamped my author page on Facebook, and started to tweet. It’s time to review.

I set out to post an essay every Wednesday. Fifty-two blog posts later, I want to evaluate what have I gained, and at what cost?

 

There’s definitely been good that’s come from posting weekly.

  • I’ve posted every Wednesday but once, when I posted that Thursday.
  • Almost all my posts have been new essays; I’ve reworked previously published work less than a handful of times.
  • I’m proud of producing so much original work, and mostly pleased with its quality.
  • Thanks to a hard-learned lesson about intellectual property rights, I’ve also started to take my own photos. It’s been a lot of fun to reactivate the visual part of my brain and learn new skills around digital photography.
  • I’ve also learned how to source free photos and how to manipulate photos for the web. Since I like learning new skills, this has been fun.

But there’s been a cost to this work, in both money and time.

  • I’ve let some of my paying work slip in order to write for the blog.
  • Have I made up for lost income in increased audience? It’s hard to tell. Even looking at the numbers, I’m not sure.
  • According to the Jetpack Stats, my website has had 8,266 views; according to my hosting company, I’ve had 81,312.
  • Which stats do I trust? Why the discrepancy? And who are these viewers?

Evaluating the stats.

  • After a year of regular posting, I have forty-nine email subscribers, some of whom I don’t know.
  • The number of people who follow my author page on Facebook, however, has doubled, though still shy of 500.
  • If Facebook’s analytics are to be trusted, an average of two hundred viewers see each of my posts, and generally ten per cent of those viewers click through to the post.
  • Some of my posts have seen much more traffic; one had 1550 hits.

Social Media.

  • I also gave Twitter another try, but I still don’t get it.
  • For one, I refuse to put any social media on my phone. Life is distracting enough!
  • Even Facebook is getting old, as in Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame.
  • Social media does seem like lust in action – lust for readers, for higher numbers, and for book sales. Sure I want readers and income, but I still believe good writing will bring both.

Comments.

  • Without meaning to fall down the rabbit hole of social media, it’s hard not to become addicted to checking the numbers and looking to see if there are new comments.
  • The comments are unquestionably more gratifying than the numbers, because they represent real human interaction.
  • “Meeting” readers is definitely worthwhile.

There are definitely pros and cons to blogging, so I’ll sign on for another year, posting an essay every Wednesday about one of three themes: Living In Place, about living a life rooted in place; The Middle Ages, about this glorious passage between young and old; and Vermonters By Choice, profiles of some of the really interesting and talented people who’ve come to live in the Green Mountain State.

What do you think? Is blogging worth the effort?

Taking photos for the blog has been fun.

Taking photos for the blog has been fun.

Deborah Lee Luskin lives and writes in southern Vermont. She’s the author of the award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness and a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio.

Comments on the Web

Thanks

Thanks for your comments.

I’m grateful to all the readers who take the time to write comments in response to posts. For me, comments do three important things.

  1. They reassure me that my work is being read. Sure, there are all sorts of analytics that tell me how many people click on the post, but mechanical numbers aren’t the same as human response. So if you’ve ever taken the trouble to post a comment here, I thank you.
  2. Many comments express gratitude, which goes a long way in this solitary business. To be read is a good start, but to make a difference – well, that’s why I do it.
  3. Some comments express different information and/or different opinions than those I’ve expressed. These are perhaps the most important comments around. They expand my knowledge and those of others who read them. It’s this ability to expand our common knowledge that is one of the great gifts of the web.
Comments are the string that weaves us together in a web.

Comments are the string that weaves us together in a web.

Taken all together, what comments do is help us form on-line relationships and forge internet community. Comments are the string that weaves us together in a web.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Nota Bene: This post is scheduled to go live while I’m away and unplugged, so I won’t see or respond to comments until I return in mid-September. In the meantime, I wish you good words.

Writing a blog – freedom of speech, controversy, and social media

This is the last week of teaching my college online course on writing and marketing a blog. Here are some more of my notes from the class.

Freedom of speech vs. what’s inappropriate (and possibly punishable)

We all know that in America we have freedom of speech. But we also have a few protections from some people’s outrageous speech. People are not allowed to say things that aren’t true, especially if it hurts someone’s “standing in the community.” If someone says something that defames (injures a reputation) of another person – then that is considered slander and it is punishable in a civil court.

Slander involves the oral “publication” of a defamatory remark that is heard by another, which injures the subject’s reputation or character. Slander can occur through the use of a hand gesture or verbal communication that is not recorded. Libel, on the other hand, is the written “publication” of a defamatory remark that has the tendency to injure another’s reputation or character. Libel also includes a publication on radio, audio or video. Even though this would be considered oral, or verbal, communication to someone it is actually considered to be libel because it is published in a transfixed form.

Libel is what you have to be very careful about in your blogs. You are always allowed to have an opinion. “She acted like she was suicidal” but you are not allowed to state a fact that is untrue “she is suicidal.” Most of you will probably not have to worry about it, but you need to know that nothing disappears on the internet. Ever. If you say something about your boss or your work, it will eventually be found and it will live on forever to haunt you.

The simple solution is to not post that kind of information in the first place.

My general rule is to write “happy” things. It’s simplistic but it works. I don’t bring up hot topics (religion, guns, abortion) in any of my posts and I am very careful to make sure that if I am stating an opinion, I preface it with something like “in my opinion. “ or “I believe …”

Controversial Topics

So what do you do if you’ve said something controversial that has hit a raw nerve and people are responding in a negative fashion?

Easy, you ignore them. Remember that even bad publicity is good publicity. I have had occasional negative remarks on my blog and I just let them roll off my back like water off a duck. (But remember that my blog topics – “children and chickens” – don’t tend to draw out the negative people – what are they going to say? Chickens are dumb??) Don’t try to fight a negative remark some people (trolls) just put them up there for sport and trying to fight them is the proverbial throwing of gasoline onto a fire.

If you think there is a clear misunderstanding, go ahead and attempt to explain your point, but if the comments just return with more negativity – drop the discussion. Try to remember that a negative remark on a post is *not* a negative remark about *you.* (I know, sometimes that’s easier said than done, it can really hurt when people say nasty things about you.)

If someone is vulgar or leaves a particularly nasty comment, feel free to delete it. This is your blog after all, just as you would pick up some garbage thrown in your front yard by a stranger; feel free to clean your blog of garbage that may be left by others.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

For the most part, these are the quick differences between these social media platforms:

  • Facebook posts share a graphic and tell a short story or they tell why you should follow a link to read another story.
  • Twitter tweets immediately grab attention and divert you to somewhere – think of those exciting headlines we talked about. They are also used to make comments on someone’s posts. But remember that space is limited so you really only get to “talk” in bites.
  • Google+ posts are shorter than Facebook but longer than Twitter, these posts include graphics and the audience tends to be a little more high-tech. Google+ tried, but it never really gained traction (but you should still use it to get your blog posts out to another audience.)

As an exercise, take a blog post you’ve already written and then create a post for Facebook, Twitter and then Google+

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.