Historical Tidbits for Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day in the U.S. today. A day where we focus on remembering the men and women who have given their lives in military service protecting our freedoms.

Some of the history includes:

On May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC, to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp (Race Course prison camp which later became Hampton Park), former slaves dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom.

They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 black children where they marched, sang, and celebrated.

MemorialDay1865

Link to the photo and some more information

Here’s an interesting article by Brian Hicks in The Post and Courier for more information on the stories behind the first Memorial Day.

And a link to Snopes for good measure.

If you have today off, I hope you take a moment to pause and remember those who fought for our freedoms.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

So You Want to Write for Pay, but You Haven’t Been Paid for Writing Yet

When you first start out seeking to get paid for your writing you enter the Catch-22 of needing to prove you can write for pay in order to write for pay.

What do you do when you’re starting out, haven’t written for publication in years, or are switching industries and don’t have any relevant or current clips?

The answer is simple: Use whatever you have.

LaptopWhen I first started out, all I had was book reviews. So I used them to get a gig with a local paper that involved interviewing local business owners and writing about them.

Some advice is to never use clips from content mills. I say if that’s all you have, use ’em. Especially if they are related to the type of article you are pitching or the type of writing job you are applying for. At one point I was writing for a mill (it no longer exists) on  various topics relevant to small business owners. I used those clips when I pitched to editors on similar topics. (This mill had editors and strict guidelines on key words, length of each paragraph, etc. – a lot of mills let anyone write and publish without doing much in the way of gatekeeping, as they are more about producing content than producing quality content.)

If you have a blog, your posts can be considered ‘clips’ – you can use those.

If you have clips from years ago, use those if they are what you have. You may want to explain to the editor (when you submit) why the clips are old, but generally if you used to write to a deadline for publication, you probably still have that skill, so the dates won’t be an issue.

How about writing an article as a sample/example? This may work, as it can demonstrate your writing ability, but editors and publishers want to see your published writing so they can see you know how to write to a deadline, for publication, and/or within a certain word count.

Sending your clips

With the high rate of viruses and malware, I don’t know many people any more who are fond of attachments. So I recommend *not* sending clips as attachments, or hyperlinks. When I send off queries, I mention titles of articles/clips and include the full website link (if applicable and available – and it’s short enough), and offer to send clips in whatever format they prefer (Word or PDF generally).

When you start to publish, keep track of the links to your articles (if they are online). Start a spreadsheet or document so you can easily find what you need. But before sending a link off with an query letter, confirm it still works. Links can disappear or become unusable quickly. Make sure to avoid having the editor find “Page not found”.

If you’re interested in writing for publication, most likely you have some type of writing you can use as a ‘clip’ when you submit a query. I’m confident you’ll be able to land a paid writing gig with the right determination and approach.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Remember to Breathe

Sometimes we get so caught up in things — good and bad — that we forget to enjoy what we’re doing.

Remember to breathe.

If deadlines start to overwhelm or you wonder how you’ll get it all done, remember to breathe.

If you find yourself caught up in a whirlwind of excitement, or despair, remember to pause, and take a breath.

Our minds can keep us so occupied that we forget that we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.

Note to Self-Remember to Breathe

I’ve even found myself getting overwhelmed in my sleep sometimes – by dreams or thoughts or who knows – and I wake up clenching my jaw so tight that my teeth ache. With moments like that, it’s important to breathe.

And breathing can be literally deep breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale.

Taking a breath could mean physically stepping away from a person, place, or situation.

A breath could mean putting your phone on silent and taking a nap.

This post is just meant as a reminder that self-care is important, and if/when you realize that you’re wound up, caught up, tied up, or buried under it all… stop… and remember to breathe.

Once you gather yourself again, move back into the fray as gently as possible, and smile. You made it. You’re fine.

Of course you may have the personality that enjoys pushing yourself and being “full out” all the time. Even then, I think there are times when you just need to hit the pause button and shake off the strings to enjoy a little “you time”.

Sometimes you may need the reminder for when you walk in a room and forget what you were heading there for!

Remember to breathe.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

You Want to Make a Living as a Writer? Are You Crazy?

If you have a passion for writing and have non-creatives in your life, you have probably heard some form of this mantra for years:

No one can make a living writing; find something practical to pursue. 

What’s ‘practical’? What makes sense if your passion is for words? Fitting the square peg into a round hole never works, does it?

The comfort of working for yourself

The comfort of working for yourself

It helps to be a little crazy when pursuing something many people can’t relate to. But if you want to make a living as a writer, there are a few skills that can help you succeed.

  • Passion for words – I believe you need to have a yearning to learn about words, to want to play with words, to strive to get sentences just write, to want to share part of yourself through written expression. You want to make an impression on your audience in some manner.
  • Confidence – Believe in yourself and in your passion to write. Take pride in every piece of writing you create; in every story your muse delivers to you. Every new piece of writing is more experience that helps you grow, expand, and refine your skill.
  • Discipline – this is such a big deal! You absolutely have to be able to set a schedule and stick to it! Writing only when you’re in the mood will not help you make a living as a writer at all. Take writing seriously – get your butt in a chair and your hands over the keyboard – and write! Daily!
  • Training/Education – Take some writing classes (online or in person), practice writing and submitting to contests that offer feedback, join a critique group. Practice different types of writing to discover what you enjoy most – also learn about what pays well — you want to make a living as a writer! (this helps build your confidence and discipline too)
  • Marketing – as a solopreneur writer, you have to not only create, but you have to advertise – let people know you have the talent, time, and ability to deliver on their writing needs. Marketing takes time, isn’t easy, but is absolutely required in order to make a living as a writer. If people and businesses don’t know you exist, the money will not come.

To make a living as a writer, you must have business skills. There isn’t any way around it — other than hiring someone to manage the business side of the writing life — but even then, you want to have an understanding of all that is involved.

The writing life isn’t something to jump into – take the time to honestly assess your skills, passion, and interest in words.

If it’s truly what you want – go for it! Being a little scared and unsure is natural – it means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and there’s never anything wrong with that. Ever. (in my humble opinion)

Do you have what it takes to make a living as a writer?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Grammar-ease: ‘That’ vs ‘Which’

That_Vs_whichIt’s a common trouble spot for a lot of people — creating a story or document and the words are flowing easily, but then the conundrum of ‘that’ or ‘which’ arises.

Do you rewrite the sentence to avoid the confusion all together? Do you flip a coin to decide? Or maybe you just go with what sounds the best. After reading this grammar-ease tip, I hope the confusion will be removed.

It can be simple: If a restrictive clause, use that. If an unrestrictive clause, us which.

What does that mean?

A restrictive clause is part of a sentence you can’t get rid of; it’s necessary for the meaning.

  • Dogs that bark are disruptive. (Without ‘that bark’, you’d have “Dogs are disruptive.” Unless you want to say that all dogs are disruptive, you need ‘that bark’ in the sentence.)
  • The vase that you dropped was a priceless antique. (You can see how ‘that you dropped’ clarifies the meaning.)
  • He refused to sit in the chair that his wife put together.  (he might trust a chair that he put together himself!)
  • Gifts that keep on giving are her favorite. (not all gifts are her favorite)
  • Vehicles that have hybrid technology get great gas mileage.  (in other words, not all vehicles get great gas mileage)

A non-restrictive clause is a phrase that can be removed from a sentence without losing the meaning (if you take out the ‘which’ phrase in any of the next examples, the remaining part of the sentence hasn’t changed its meaning). A non-restrictive clause adds non-defining details.

  • His new running shoes, which were expensive, wore out after only five miles of use. (you don’t really need to know the running shoes were expensive)
  • There was a landslide at the resort yesterday, which is bad news for vacationers. (one can infer a landslide is bad news)
  • Cats, which are great pets, can be quite destructive at times. (not just cats can be great pets)
  • She signed up for the continuing education class, which is free for all town residents. (the details about the class being free aren’t necessary — they can be useful, but not required in regard to knowing she simply signed up for a class)
  • Your task, which is to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders, will be a never-ending chore.
  • The book, which I had at the lake, is the one I wanted you to check out.

Tip: when using ‘which’ it’s common to offset the non-description phrase with commas; you won’t find restrictive clauses offset with commas (in most cases).

Of course, there are always exceptions, and you may simply prefer to use ‘which’ instead of ‘that’ at times. These examples were to give a straightforward, clean way of looking at the two words.

I don’t use ‘which’ all that often. I find that I can write tighter when not using it.

Did these examples help clarify the differences?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Being a Contest Judge Brings New Perspective to Submitting Work

FollowTheGuidelinesOn the flip side of being a contestant in a writing contest, I’ve also been a contest judge. I realized many of the challenges that those who run contests (and publishers) run into consistently.

First off, I admire anyone who takes the time to write and submit for a contest or publication. Whether it’s a short entry or novel-length, submitting work to be read (and judged) by someone else forces a big leap out of your comfort zone. Kudos for pushing yourself to submit!

My best advice for submitting to anyone at any time is: Make the most of your effort by following submission guidelines.

You’ve put a lot of effort into your story — you don’t want your story disqualified before anyone reads it, do you?  Of course not!

We writers are a creative sort, but one area not to express our creativity is in tweaking the physical appearance of the submission.

  • Submitting in a font other than Courier or Times New Roman; a font size larger than 12 or smaller than 10; or pages with margins smaller than 1″ all around, doesn’t work (unless explicitly asked for). Don’t do it. Always always always submit in standard format – for publication, for contests, for inquiries, for queries, for anything, really.
  • If guidelines say ‘no more than 800 words,’ make sure your submission is not more than 800 words. If in doubt, word count more often than not, does not include the title; however if you have any doubt at all, include the title in your word count!
  • If submitting a piece that requires specific words to include, or a theme to write to, make sure to include the words, or write to the theme in an obvious way.
  • If submission guidelines say to submit as text in an e-mail (versus as an attachment), then, by all that’s holy, submit in an e-mail and not as an attachment!
  • Seldom, if ever, do you want to do a special header on a submission that includes all your contact information. Name, e-mail, postal address, phone number, and other such information should be sent within an e-mail or simply typed at the top of your submission (again, depending on guidelines).

Make the most of your effort to push yourself out of your comfort zone to submit to a contest (or publisher) — make your submission count — follow the guidelines, every single time.

I’ll have a follow up post on how to handle feedback from an editor about your piece.

I wish you a great week and hope you’re thinking about submitting to a contest or publisher (if you weren’t already!)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Motivate Yourself by Submitting to a Writing Contest

Today’s post is as much for me as it is for you. You see, I’ve been quite lethargic about writing fiction lately, as my business has been so pleasantly busy that I don’t have time to write for fun.

I put don’t have time in italics, since, we all know that we make time for what is important to us. I do have time. I have the same amount of time as everyone else and if I truly want to write fiction, I will find a way.EnterWritingContests

Today’s post is my self-motivation for finding that way.

Submitting to contests is a great way to be inspired to write, to actually write, and to actually submit. I’ve done it. I know it’s always fun and challenging and a unique way to get the must to come out and play.

My all-time-favorite contests are the quarterly 24-hour contests by WritersWeekly.com, where you register in advance (this is for the July 9 contest) and pay the modest $5 fee, then on the date of the contest, you receive the writing prompt, the word count, and the guidelines. You have 24 hours to write, polish, and submit a short story.

It’s up to you if you want to pay a fee or not. $5 is the most I’ve ever been willing to part with to enter a contest, but there are all types of contests available.

Here are some contest lists to get you started

I hope you try a writing contest, or two, to shake off cobwebs, exercise the muse, or to have some plain old fun for no other reason than you want to!

Deadlines are a great incentive in themselves, but you could win a prize (money, publication, or some type of gift), improve your writing and editing skills, and even give your self-confidence a boost — which is where I’m at.

Feel free to share your thoughts on contests, and if you have a favorite, please share!

(I’ll talk about contests from a judge’s perspective next week.)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.