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Be Better At The Grammaring

grammar-mistakes

An excellent resource for editing for clarity

Explaining the Hemingway App without actually copying and pasting from their website would be kind of lame because once you click on it you’ll end up seeing what it’s about anyway. So click on the words Hemingway App above and find out for yourself. It’s pretty awesome. Enjoy.

And Suddenly I Realize I’m an Avoider of Phrases…

suddenly-a-goatI don’t claim to be any kind of awesome writer,and because of this,there are phrases I avoid simply because I don’t like them.  Until I started listening to the Grammar Girl podcasts I wasn’t really interested in knowing the truth. I can’t control what anyone else says or does in their writing so rather than learn the truth I just decide to avoid using terms I’m not sure about.

Until today.

Apparently I’m not the only one who hates “All of a sudden”and its cousin “All of the sudden”because the debate is pretty fierce.

What’s a sudden?

What’s the sudden?

Apparently “all of a sudden”is correct,but if you (like me) can’t stomach saying either,then let’s join together and use the word “suddenly”when it’s necessary. There’s always a different way to say it and with such a hot debate between the two phrases,does it really matter which one you use? Someone will always think you’re wrong.

 

On Being a Sellout

I know a lot of super creative writers. I love the idea of self-expression and creating beautiful things with words,but it’s just not my style. I’ve been preparing for a career as a web writer since I was in junior high school.  I used to always get A’s on essays in school.  The secret that I discovered early on was that teachers rarely read the middles. I’d write a killer intro followed by skimmable paragraphs that looked like they said something tangible and then close it out with a final,well-constructed closing paragraph.  This lasted all through high school.  My teachers always commented on what a great writer I was,but I always felt like a fake. I thought my writing was shit and couldn’t imagine why they thought otherwise.

On my personal blog,it’s a rather psychotic combination of personal journal entries and things I’m excited to say out loud.  I wouldn’t call it good writing either. In fact,nothing I write is good.  And that’s not me giving myself a hard time,looking for compliments or being a perfectionist,it’s simply stating a fact. Almost no thought or brain power goes into my writing. I tend to be hit-or-miss picky about spelling and punctuation. I rarely proofread for substance and honestly,sometimes I’m surprised by the things my clients love about my work.

So I don’t really care about being a sellout.

A friend of mine is one of those super creative writers. She puts her heart and soul into her writing and I love to read what she writes. She cares a great deal about writing as a form of self expression and strives to be understood. She writes eloquently and artfully to convey deep emotion without fluff. Her kind of writing is what I enjoy reading when I’m reading for pleasure.

I often intend to write that way when I’m on my personal blog but I never really reach that goal because by the time I say the facts,I’ve lost the desire to ruminate on the best possible way to express myself.

So,I’m a sellout.

I make my living selling words I get with little to no mental investment.  In honor of that,I have made this Tshirt.  Please share this shirt with friends or it won’t get made :)

 

 

You might need more than just web content

Today I was writing for a tour company in the rockies. They offer horseback riding and ATV tours and lodging (though no mountain-biking on the trails,isn’t that weird?). They’re trying to pitch their services for catering and events and I think they need more than just a team of content writers bringing traffic to their website.  Here’s what I was able to find in just five minutes of poking around online:

Keep in mind that over 75% of the reviews were five-star reviews.  So this place doesn’t suck in general,in fact they’re getting A’s 3/4 of the time. It’s just not enough.

I didn’t find a single positive review of the ATV tours on any travel review site anywhere. It seems the owner of the company was a bit militant about maintaining a low speed and the guests thought he was rude and the experience of creeping along slowly was boring. One likened it to being part of a chain gang.

To solve this:market it as a slow tour and make sure the guests aren’t expecting something different. There’s nothing wrong with a slow ride in general,but there IS something wrong with charging people for one thing when they’re expecting something else. There’s something about the term ATV that implies off-roading and even mud splashing. If that’s not what you’re offering,make it clear before they book the tour.

Reviewers had legitimate complaints about the customer service they were greeted with over the phone.  I suspect it was the owner of the property,in which case…tsk tsk…You need to stop answering your own phone or retire please. Either way,each of these review websites allows the property owner to log in and respond.  At the very least,he could log in and say “I’m sorry,my dog died that day and I was crabby to everyone. my bad.” If the reviews aren’t true he can deny them (although that always looks like lying)

And finally,I visited their Facebook page.  In several of the reviews,customers mentioned one gifted tour guide by name. He was the best,he was so much fun and he made sure we all had a great time.  On the company’s Facebook wall,I could see that he recently commented on an event the facility hosted.  I clicked on his face to reveal his personal profile and found him bemoaning the fact that he had to fish a tampon out of the toilet at work using catering tongs.

Yeah,I’m sure that’s good for their catering business.

Yuck.

The lesson here is to ALWAYS be completely mindful of what your online presence is saying about your company.  There’s nothing we can do about the bad reviews the company is ignoring or the fact that their catering equipment works double-duty in the outhouse.

Best Podcasts for (Fiction and Nonfiction) Story Writers

I looked down at my hands and they were pasty and contorted into unnatural shapes,like a 90 yr old woman with arthritis. They were cramped from white-knuckling the steering wheel for the past 2 hours. I was glad that the kids had been asleep in the backseat for so long because several times I squealed and jumped when puddles of water from passing vehicles flooded over the windshield,blinding me.

The other cars became “something not to hit”and the slowly creeping semi trucks became obstacles that drove me to endure the sure death embedded in the wave of water they left in their wake,with my windshield wipers maniacally swishing back and forth in a panic,desperately trying to clear my view and unapologetically making my heart beat faster while I waited to verify that I had not,in fact,been pushed off of the cliff and into the Columbia River.

I didn’t have time to get annoyed that those trucks were hugging the safe side of the road that night. Surely on rainy nights like this,All big rig truck drivers in Oregon would feel inclined to band together keep little Prius drivers like me safe and reverse the whole slow lane-fast lane paradigm. At least on eastbound routes. Be slow on the scary side of the road,please. Be big and tall over there,by the edge of the cliff so that little old me can hug the mountain and if I happen to lose control,catch me,OK bro.

After one very surfable wave blanketed my little car and my life flashed before me,I wondered if I were to die on this road tonight,what would be said about me? Surely my ex husband would call it suicide. He was always quick to chalk everything I did up to some mental health deficiency. As if it was crazy to hate being married to him. The death of me and my kids that night would surely prove to him that divorce was a bad idea. I wondered if my boyfriend would be notified. None of “my people”really know much about him. Come to think of it,I don’t have a lot of people that I confide in. (Also,I think that might be the first time I have typed out those words;“my boyfriend”it sounds so juvenile.) I guess my friend Karri could tell him.And my children,what futures will be robbed of the world tonight when we go tumbling down into the river? Also,does drowning hurt? Or would we even make it all the way down the cliff?

Yes,I have just spent the past two hours driving down the freeway listening to The Moth podcast. These are short stories from the lives of the storytellers. I like how one of the announcers said that “The moral of each of these stories is ‘And I never looked at life the same again after that.”

I’m not a storywriter or a storyteller. I write nonfiction articles and blog posts for corporate websites and small businesses and nonprofit organizations. I guess you could stretch it to call it storytelling,in a cumulative sense.

But listening to all of these short stories has caused me to narrate every thought in my head like I have some omnipotent,no omniscient,no omnipresent a microphone and I’m looking back at the experience and somehow it changed my life.

That’s a cool perspective because it means that no matter what I do the following day it’s going to be important.

So here I am today,avoiding work for a few minutes to write this,drinking my 3rd cup of coffee at 9am and about to close my laptop and make breakfast for the kids who slept through my entire adventure last night.

If you’re a storyteller at heart,or you want to see if it’s possible to alter your mind through a mental immersion in storytelling like I did,Here are a few of the awesome podcasts I have been listening to for short stories lately:

Selected Shorts
True Story
The Moth

Also,check out BuzzFeed’s article 12 Storytelling Podcasts that you need to be listening to and the UK Telegraph’s article The Best Podcasts for Stories,Fiction &Poetry.

How to FOCUS on work when you have kids in the room

OK,so in the past my solution to working from home in spite of the fact that I have children was to lock myself in the bedroom and beg,bribe or otherwise encourage (mostly begging) them to leave me alone until this one task is complete. There’s never been a soundproof room in any of my homes,so this only works to the extent that I can tune out whatever is going on outside the door.

But Alas,I have found something that allows me to sit at the kitchen counter and knock out writing assignments in the middle of the day just as quickly as I can at 6am when they’re all asleep.

The solution (for me) is White Noise

Yep,that’s right. That static sound that old TVs used to make when they went off the air for the night. That has been my saving grace.  That and my earbuds.  Wearing a plain old $5 pair of ear buds and listening to white noise louder than my kids’conversations makes it possible for me to be so much more productive when they’re awake and active.  FINALLY we can share the same space in the middle of the day.  I don’t get to HEAR them much,but I’m much more accessible and much less crabby this way. It’s taken a bit of learning for them to see that I can’t hear them event hough they’re right next to me.  They have learned to weigh their interruptions against my relative attentiveness. Since I’m working at the kitchen counter,I can choose to stop working when I see them starting to prepare foods so that it’s done with little waste and that it all gets cleaned up quickly. So far,this is the perfect solution.  I have this video bookmarked so that I can return to it over and over again,you might want to also.  I now present:My new favorite sounds to work by:


 

My new favorite webwriting agency

I’ve been writing for Blogmutt since December 20,2013 and almost instantly,they were my #1 favorite place to log into.  Their behind-the-scenes format is so easy to work with.  Instead of blowing their horn here on my website,I’m going to send you directly over to Blogmutt via some links to posts I wrote for the company blog:

How to Spot the Best and Worst Content Writing Services Online

Effective Blogging for Insurance Agencies

Freelance Work-From-Home Opportunity For Seniors

I encourage you to check out the way this company operates.  As part of their compensation plans,writers can “level up”to a point where they’re given a share of the company’s profits.  I’m currently at a level 4 and in the next few weeks I expect to reach level 5,whereby I can officially claim “writer”status on Linkedin and I think at some point I’ll get a T shirt ;)  Honestly I’m not too terribly concerned about the levels,I think it’s a cool system but as a mom of six I’m just glad that I can spend a little time creating web content for other sites and still pay my bills. Not a damned thing is currently scheduled for disconnect and my bank balance isn’t negative. Hooray for little things :)  Now,I’m off to get some schoolwork done and write just one more for the day.

It just occurred to me that when I review writing websites I’m much more thorough. I haven’t said much here but I’d like to add that they pay every Monday.  You do have to click the little “submit invoice”thing to request a check. I like that because you can choose how often to pay yourself.  You might want to let it add up on a monthly basis so you can use it effectively.  It goes directly into PayPal which (at my house) means “Gas money for my teenagers.”So there’s no benefit right now for me to let it add up significantly. I do pay a few bills through PayPal,but not a lot. That’s so irrelevant,I have no business writing at this moment. Goodbye,friends.

Pet Peeve About my Fellow Writers

writers

Is it ethical to use my own website to complain about people who might be readers?  I say “Yes,as long as it’s constructive.”I also think I might have just quoted myself in real-time for the first time ever. Do people do that?  I guess I do. So here’s the thing:

Stop Wasting Your Time in the Message Boards

Seriously,are you a writer for money or are you a writer to be social? I just don’t get it. I’m currently writing for 3 different content providers and every single one of them seems to have a very active writer’s message board population.   On one hand,it’s fine with me because then there’s more work for me.  On the other hand,I want to remind them that the message boards won’t increase their income and won’t improve their writing skills.

Part of me sees that maybe some people need to feel some kind of social connection to their coworkers. Except that we’re paid by the word,by the article or by the job and none of those things includes the posts we make and comment on in the message boards.  Plus,we’re freelancers so we’re not technically coworkers. It really IS a competition and you’re all hopelessly distracted.

Maybe I’m socially retarded in that I just don’t feel the need to congratulate someone for continuing to work,answer trivia questions,share a picture of my workspace,post my favorite coffee recipe,share my favorite writing sites,discuss the oxford comma ad nauseum,complain about people who don’t understand the hardships of working from home,make fun of myself for procrastinating or wax nostalgic about the old days of SEO keyword stuffing just to prove I’m not a noob.

So do yourself a favor,please.  Constantly ask yourself if you’re being productive. Maybe you actually do this work in order to be social with other “writers”in which case;disregard my commentary,please. But if you’re suffering from this social plague,keep track of how much time you spend sharing anecdotes in the message boards. It’s no more productive than scrolling through the endless Facebook feed. And most importantly,before you click “send”on that comment or posting,ask yourself “Will this help my fellow writers be productive.” Just once,I’d like to log in and see that little red bubble of new community posts say 3- because that’s how often the admin updates the site news each day.

End of rant. Good day to all of you. Write on…

 

Working From Home During the Holidays

I’m writing this at my kitchen counter,it’s centrally located,well,right in the middle of the house (grin).  My six-year-old and my eight-year-old are running circles around me,stark naked with bath towels trailing behind them like superheroes.  If I stop writing I might say something lame like “Cheesus Ate Rice,stop running in the house”and that’s no way to reach a daily financial goal,is it?  With all the snow outside,I’m sure they need some exercise,plus their little behinds are so cute.

It’s not all work here,last night I made Alton Brown’s homemade marshmallows recipe. I heard a rumor that once you try homemade marshmallows you’ll never buy store-bought version again.  That’s a total lie,the recipe was complicated and time-consuming. It involved no less than three bowls,a couple obscure-to-me ingredients and a 4 hour (or overnight) wait until they could be eaten.  The entire process was a painful reminder that I’ve failed to reward myself with the Kitchenaid Mixer that I’ve lusted after for like 15 years.


It just occurred to me that instead of leaving subliminal gift idea clues for friends and family I could be offering up some actual helpful advice for working from home during the holidays since the title of this post sort of led you to believe that’s what you’d find here.

1- Don’t go crazy expecting yourself to do more work than usual to make up for the fact that you’re probably spending more than usual.

2- Use the stress you’re feeling to create a plan that will prevent it this time next year.

3- Avoid over-indulging at the cocktail parties if your best work time is in the early morning. If you’re a mom with small kids at home,like me,you might find that it’s easiest to get work done before they wake up in the morning so while it might be fun to drop the social anxiety with a rum and coke at your husband’s office party,it’s probably not worth losing an entire day of work,is it?

4- Reach your daily financial goals as early as possible.  The only reason I am writing this instead of helping kids get dressed is because I have reached my daily goal and it’s only 2pm.  I worked from about 4am to 10 am and met my goal for the day. Plus,they like to be naked.

5- Make time to help others.  This year I’m taking my kids to Skid Row for Christmas  to deliver funky socks to homeless people.  It makes me feel like a human being that’s contributing to society. Spending my days writing marketing content for companies without actually ever researching their environmental impact or social impact feels strange sometimes. On one hand,they’re my client so I make it my goal to do my best work but sometimes I wonder what the overall affects of my contribution are going to be.  What if I write the web content for a company that singlehandedly kills all the dolphins in the sea or enslaves toddlers for cheap labor in Guatemala?  That would feel horrible,right?  Then again,no one is paying me to research the ethics of these companies and I just want to feed my kids.  So I do the best I can with the job at hand and try not to be too concerned if the companies I’m helping are ones I can stand behind as a human. Right now I’m make up for the potential karmic downfall by raising great kids and giving homeless people something to smile about.

Finally,my last bit of advice is to love love love these munchkins who might run circles around you when you’re trying to finish a sentence and know that deep down inside they’re so glad that you’re working from home. I’m sure they are. Otherwise they’d have to be dressed right now.