A Bone to Pick

bad grammar3

Source: Pinterest

I can’t help it. I honestly can’t. No matter what I read, whether it’s a blog, an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a book, I can’t help but edit as I read. I instinctively pick out the grammatical errors, found online and in print all too frequently these days: run-on sentences; sentences ending with a proposition (which seems to be more acceptable but it still bugs me); incorrect words, mainly homonyms (for example: their, they’re, and there) and misused possessive pronouns (its versus it’s); not knowing when to use a (precedes a word beginning with a consonant) versus an (precedes a word beginning with a verb); and placement of commas or their overuse. They stick out like sore thumbs for me. I’m sure it harkens back to my private Catholic grammar school days (pun intended) where Catholic nuns with metal-sided rulers were quick to whip knuckles for the slightest error in English composition. Before the typewriter found its way into our home, I wrote and rewrote every paper I ever had to write, all the way up to and through eighth grade and my early high school years.

This morning was no different when I opened an email from a writer’s blog I follow. His specialty is advice on finding paid work as a freelance writer. Today’s blog was so full of blatant errors I couldn’t take his advice seriously. Immediately I thought does he write like this for clients? The article overflows with grammatical errors: excessive/incorrect word use (using most when best is appropriate, the overuse of very and just, and redundancy, to name a few); misuse of homonyms (verses instead of versus when talking about writing a comparison article); and past/present tenses and singular/plural nouns all in the same sentence. I gave up before I was halfway through the blog.

Back in June, I wrote a blog titled Graphic Un-Design, where I moaned about a new book cover that did not materialize as I’d hoped. What bothered me was the quality of the final product. I wrote “how devalued graphic design work has become with the advent of the Internet” and that so much of the work lacked “style and originality.” I believe this to also be true of English grammar and writing in general, what with the advent of the Internet and the plethora of “online experts.” Far too often, I read articles and blogs where people are writing as they talk instead of editing for flow and clarity (and, ugh, spelling). A lax attitude has superseded the ability to accurately convey information. Writing, a once proud field where it was as important to be grammatically correct as it was to inform and entertain, is now chock full of lazy copy, prose, and poorly presented information. This younger generation concerns themselves less with the details because they’re more focused on having their say, regardless of how they say it, and no matter how ambiguous the message.

We cannot give up the good fight to maintain our writing integrity if we want our work to be taken seriously. Take advice from people who write as well as they speak (and vice versa) because it raises the bar – and demands more of us and our work.

That is my bone to pick.

The Write to Roam

I want to learn more about how to live life on the road and write while I’m on it. I want to upgrade my car to an RV. That way wherever I roam, I’m already home. No more spending hard-earned money on a storage unit to keep my life in and no more wasting money on rent. Or trying to prove I’m a good person so some management company will rent an over-priced apartment to me; or a roommate who doesn’t fear I’ll sneak into her room late one night and stab her 150 times just for the helluva it.

(A quick aside: I firmly believe credit checks are a new form of discrimination against people  who have fallen on hard times – once known as the middle class – and are scrambling to work their way up from the pit of poverty they’ve fallen into thanks to greedy politicians and corporations determined to serve their own purposes over our needs.)

I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time, and recent events have perhaps emboldened me to JUST DO IT (or at least begin to plan for it).

I want to roam North America and meet people from all walks of life, which I’ve already done on four brazen cross-country trips as I moved to some new location, having become bored with the last one, because it became stale and uninteresting. I enjoyed meeting people for those brief moments, while they allowed me a glimpse into their storied lives.

One of my favorite memories came on my first cross-country trip (on the move from CT to NM on a semester break from graduate school): Charlie and his two friends (shame on me, I didn’t note all their names and have since forgotten) were riding their Harleys to the Sturgis bike rally in August of 2005. We met while staying at a small motel in Kanorado, a spit of a town on the border of Kansas and Colorado, hence the name. If memory serves me, we met while checking in at the front desk. We chatted while checking in and exchanged reasons for needing rooms. They were pleasant fellows and invited me to have breakfast with them the following morning after checkout, at a nearby diner. We had great conversation and I remember laughing most of the time. They hailed from Alabama and had a slight drawl in their speech. Charlie (the fellow on the furthest right in the photo on the left) was just a big teddy bear and he’s the one who made me laugh the most. This is what I remember of these guys and always will. Funny how people who barely touch your life can become some of the most memorable recollections. And now I get to write about them, weaving them into my life’s story.

I’ve been doing some research into starting a podcast as another MPC and it seems awfully techie to me at this point, which has a tendency to deflate my enthusiasm. There are excellent tips on the Smart Passive Income site by Pat Flynn and on some other sites I found. Hope to build it up to a point where I can actually provide for myself from it and give myself the gift of life on the road. Wouldn’t it be grand to podcast from every corner of North America!

A nomadic lifestyle, once the cornerstone of life on this continent (thanks to the many Indigenous peoples who have lived here for eons), has once again become popular. Somewhere in between being strangled by a 30-year mortgage (where the house owns you, not the other way around, as most people proclaim) and working in a square-peg-round-hole, soul-sucking J-O-B, many folks have felt the need to escape a life of conformity and embrace adventure into the unknown. Like Charles Kuralt and his always interesting On the Road series and travel books, I wish to embrace the freedom, challenge, and all the details of a life on the road – so I can have the write to roam.

The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.

{Charles Kuralt}

It was so much fun to have the freedom to wander America, with no assignments. For 25 or 30 years I never had an assignment. These were all stories I wanted to do myself. 

Free Publicity: Exposure and Perhaps More

In early August, I wrote a blog on getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In continuing with this theme, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz recently followed her first blog on this subject with a second and just as informative blog on getting trade journal publicity. I admit, since my last post on this topic, I have not increased my trade journal exposure. But it’s probably due to the fact that I was a crime victim and have been focused on protecting my identity and life (update: so far, so good, but I still want my Curacao pen back).

Sandra is quick to point out that publicity is NOT advertising (duh), because you can’t buy it or control it. But it is free exposure (currently in my price range) and you do sort of have to throw caution to the wind and cross your fingers at the same time. She offers six great tips (plus two bonus tips for getting and responding to interview requests):

publicity2

1) Review several journals and issues of those journals to find out what kind of content they use. Look for a ‘news brief’ section where book announcements can be added, or whether they utilize guest columnists. Do they review books? Maybe they’ll add yours to the list.

2) Check out the editorial calendar – you can find it online or request it from the editor. That way you’ll know what goes in the publication and when it goes out to the public.

3) Make a list of how you can contribute to the publication’s content. Personally, I’m not much of a list-maker so this one won’t get me far. I’ll know whether or not I want to write for a publication once I review its contents.

4) Find out who the contact person is for a specific topic/department (if applicable). Last thing you want to do is send an article to a person who doesn’t handle the section/topic you write about. Check the masthead (also called the impressum) for the necessary information.

5) Map out your strategy – this includes a press release or an offer to send a review copy (again, make sure you have the right contact person). In her article, Sandra offers a link for writing a press release.

6) And finally – send your pitch (okay, this is the one I need). If you’re pitching an article or guest column, make sure you know what they want (subjects) and what they use. Again, a cool link on how to email a press release to a journalist/editor.

Bear in mind that there is no guarantee from this endeavor; however, I’m willing to roll the dice and see how it plays out. I got lucky with one trade journal and perhaps I will again. Sometimes you just need to be patient and build momentum.

Writing as One Profit Center

I was in the mood to read a book today so I snagged a book I’ve been working my way through from the bookshelf. I’ve mentioned this book before – Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara J. Winters. I’m in a bit of a pickle at the moment (I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my life will be turned upside down as of end of this month, which could turn good or bad). I’ve been racking my brain on how to create more of what Barbara calls Multiple Profit Centers or MPCs. It’s her theory that by creating MPCs, you increase your potential for prosperity and a more balanced life. Each profit center/idea/ job/entrepreneurial adventure has its own rhythm; over time, you create a steady stream of income because while one or two MPCs may experience a lull in business, one or two other of your MPCs will be on the upswing and generate income.

She even mentions getting paid to write articles. Personally, I’ve not had much luck in this area (the getting paid part). In a previous blog, I wrote about getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In my experience, this type of exposure doesn’t pay (if it does, please let me know how – and now!). But I would enjoy writing articles for other publications; problem is, I’m not sure how to go about doing that (query advice anyone?). If any of you have had some success in this area, please share your experience and expertise so that we who have not yet tasted that kind of success can take a step closer.

Something else in her book got me thinking – and it made perfect sense. This is from her chapter on creating MPCs and is a quote from author and former London Business School professor Charles Handy (she quotes him in her newsletters), who advocates developing MPCs:

“Think of it this way, ” he advises. “You will have a portfolio of work like an architect has, or like your stock portfolio, no prudent investor puts all his savings into one stock, and no sensible business goes after only one customer. Yet that’s what you’ve been doing with your work and talent all these years….Now is your chance to go ‘portfolio’: to diversify your interests and do some things for money, some because they interest you, some out of love or kindness, and some for the sheer hell of it. And, moreover, it’s your chance to flex your portfolio to leave you time for all those other things – for travel, for discovery, for golf, for dining.”

Wow. That brought me back to one of my early blogs, Be Careful What You Wish For. I just realized I have already created MPCs, except that they don’t yet pay the rent. I guess I need to come up with a few more MPCs to cover the downswing of the current ones. It’s just that I feel lost amid the millions of voices already out there clambering for everyone’s business. All I can come up with at the moment is that I (and you, too) need to find a way to STAND OUT by doing something DIFFERENT with my (and your) skill set. Only then can my writing become a Multiple Profit Center that truly pays (emotionally and financially) – and supports my no-more-nine-to-five lifestyle.

What’s your MPC? 

Evoke, Awaken, and Enlighten with Your Writin’

The inspiration for this blog came to me as I hungrily devoured the middle chapters of The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn. This is the third in a trilogy of books he has written at the request of an American Indian elder named Dan (not his true name but Ken keeps it from us for good reason). It’s been some time since I’ve been so moved (emotionally and spiritually) by a story told by an exemplary storyteller. I realized that whether we write fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to captivate your readers and leave them wanting more.

In the first book of the trilogy, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent beautifully details his trips to the Northern Plains region to meet with the Indian elder. I’ve never been there but I can clearly picture the landscape, thanks to his exceptional descriptive writing style; it’s as if I were there with him every step of the way, emotionally and physically. He continued to mesmerize me in the second book, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghost and Shadows, where his adventures into Indian country continue, and so does his brilliant narrative.

This one particular paragraph from the first book spoke volumes to me:

Because of this, I saw something else in that roadside enclosure. I saw a piece of the earth – a huge and silent rock – enclosed in a pen like an animal. I saw the living belief of a people reduced to a placard and made into a roadside curiosity designed for the intellectual consumption of a well-meaning American public. In short, I saw one of the most poignant metaphors for the plight of the Indian people that I am likely to confront in my entire life; the spirit of the land, the spirit of the people, named, framed, and incarcerated inside a fence.

Isn’t that what it’s all about for us writers? To evoke images, awaken a sense of imagination, belonging, or participation in the story, and enlighten us in a way that transforms? It’s what I try to do but whether or not I succeed is purely the opinion of my readers. Yet I keep on writing with the hope that some of my work – be it fiction or not – will take the reader on a ride to a land or place or dream they’ve not before been. And want to go again.

Banish Elevator Pitch Shame – 5 Secrets to Crafting an Intriguing Intro

How to craft an elevator speech bursting with personality that appeals to your ideal audience – perfect for coaches, consultants & personality-driven biz.

Banish Elevator Pitch Shame – 5 Secrets to Crafting an Intriguing Intro

Your Elevator Pitch is BORING. Do Something About It Now.

The typical elevator pitch goes like so:

I help the blah blah blah do the blah blah blah… YAWN!

Does that sound like yours?

Are you excited about sharing your elevator speech, or do you drag your feet in those networking events hoping you’d never have to whip it out?

After spending 6 weeks agonizing over an elevator pitch, how many times have you actually used it?

Is whatever script you landed on so freakin’ boring and formulaic that you’d rather dress like captain underpants than recite your elevator pitch that makes you sound like everybody else?

I hear you.

 

Source: Banish Elevator Pitch Shame – 5 Secrets to Crafting an Intriguing Intro

The Write Stuff

With the explosion of freelancing sites like Fiverr, Freelancer, ODesk and too many others to name here, writing for other people has become prolific, a phenomenon even. I (and I’m sure you, too) struggle to stand out among the gazillion freelance writers now available at our fingertips. The quality of said writing, however, has reduced drastically in the rush for people around the globe to become qualified, paid writers with access to the world. You can check a multitude of websites and you will find more grammatical errors  than you can shake a stick at, including articles on the venerated Associated Press site. Not to mention the poor English skills (reading, writing, and speaking), an issue not uncommon right here in the U.S.

My biggest pet peeve in this writing explosion is overuse of the word “thing.”In one AP article I read some years ago, I counted sixty-four uses of the word in ONE article. That’s discouraging, since AP is reputed to have excellent, intelligent journalists on staff. In a Constitutional Law class I took for my Criminal Justice program, our professor (then Democratic Speaker of the House or something like that) basically outlawed the use of this ubiquitous noun. He told us it represented an inability to properly express ourselves. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to use the word as little as possible. Instead, I opt to restructure my sentences with stronger noun-verb connections to better illuminate my messages.

So I ask again, how do I (you) make my (your) work stand out? For one, by sticking to my (your) principles. I refuse to dumb myself down to appease the masses. My fiction novel, Rescue on White Thunder, was once referred to as parochial (by a friend, if you can believe it). My immediate response to her was that since the literacy level in the U.S. is at the 6th grade level, my book had a wider target market. (snicker snicker)

I’m bombarded by LinkedIn discussions (via emails from my LinkedIn groups) by many so-called experts in book marketing/sales. Yet I’ve not heard of any of these people (not that I know many to begin with), and I certainly have not heard of any of their books. Everyone’s an expert these days (more like a marketing tool than an actual accomplishment, I believe). A professor in medical school (a different degree program) once jokingly told our class that he’s an expert – but only in his opinion. It was then I realized ALL experts are just that – someone who is accomplished in his/her field and publicly shares their interpretation of the information.  That’s it. You can pick any field, anywhere on the planet, and you won’t find a hoard of experts who will all agree to the same information. It’s all in the interpretation of data. Which takes me back to my original issue of being recognized for my work. At this point, all I can do is continue to write and publish my books and stick to my principles. That gets my name out there in various circles, since each book (so far) has been in a different genre. That’s the “write stuff” for me.