Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Cautionary Tale: I sent you a LinkedIn invitation? Really?

Who ARE all these people? Why is LinkedIn suddenly filling up my Inbox with messages from seemingly random people who have accepted my “invitation” to connect?

It started with a simple request from someone I knew: Would I like to connect on LinkedIn?

Yes, I would. This person works in an industry (Sports Marketing/Education) that merges well with my own (Writing/Editing for a national sports organization). By all means, let’s use this online tool to connect and possibly work together.

Accept? Click!

I’m taken to a page that has a long list of people, some of whom I know.  These would be the contacts of my newest LinkedIn contact (the Sports Marketing/Education contact). But there are also many people I don’t know, probably because they’re contacts of contacts. In other words, they are strangers to me. Without doing research on each one, I’m quite sure I don’t want to connect with them professionally at this time.

I click “Skip” and move on to another screen – of more people I might want to connect with. “Skip” again…

But something happened along the way. Perhaps it was the fact that I was using my mobile phone with its small screen and risk of mis-clicking. Perhaps I misread something. Undoubtedly the problem was between the keyboard and the chair, because whatever I clicked has produced a maelstrom, an avalanche, a deluge of emails from LinkedIn saying:

“[Person’s name] has accepted your invitation. See [Person’s] connections, experience and more…”

LinkedIn is a useful tool. It’s not simply a Facebook wannabe for business or professional purposes, because it’s not about being a social connector. Used strategically, LinkedIn helps people find jobs, share important professional information and join forums for discussion and education.

I thought that was exactly how I was using it, too. Apparently not.

Because while trying to navigate a path through LinkedIn – I thought, carefully and strategically – I got caught. (I would say “tricked” or “duped”, but that sounds a bit too nefarious). 

No, you know what? It was somewhat nefarious. This is the dark side of online platforms, social or otherwise. Somewhere in their clever design, they have a way of sucking you in and making you agree to things you really didn’t intend to agree to – Facebook privacy settings being an excellent example. Be very careful what you click – or don’t click. (That drunken photo from Sara’s bachelorette party just went viral, sorry!)

I thought LinkedIn was safer. I was wrong, and the bottom line is I goofed and I now have an unending list of new and not professionally helpful connections – invited by me – piling up in my Inbox.

But LinkedIn made it very easy for me to fail. Consider yourself warned.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Writing on holiday is...easy?

Writing while on holiday should be easy.

It’s not.

First, you’re on holiday. Obligation and duty fly away with the breezes over the water. Out with the tide. (In with the tide, too, but that means guilt, and you’re having none of that because, of course, you’re on holiday from guilt, too.)

Second, there are too many distractions. You know, distractions – like over-indulging in food, drink and cringe-worthy, lightweight summer reading. Or sitting by the water and doing abso-bloody-lutely nothing. Watching waves, falling under their spell (that rhythmic lapping is powerfully soporific). To Do Lists evaporate. Whole afternoons disappear. Actually, whole days disappear. This is a good thing. Too busy. (See above.)

Too much reading. Self-indulgent, escapist reading is so much easier on holiday. “I’m on holiday,” you say. “I’m allowed to read whatever crappy bestseller or over-rated classic I want.” Or award-winning bestseller. Whatever. When you’re reading you’re not writing. You’re doing research.

Also, this is sacred Holiday Time. No, not: “It’s time for a holiday from the demands of daily life.” Rather, Holiday Time describes a shift in the space-time continuum. Time actually slows, and your thought processes with it. Slow thinking isn’t great for productive creative writing. It’s okay, though. Just go with it.


And another thing – on holiday, your senses seem to wake up and take over. The scents of salt water or lake or pool, and wild flowers, and fresh fish on the BBQ, and sunscreen. The many sounds of water and wildlife (yes, even mosquitoes) and lawnmowers. The air, which you now have time to notice. Tastes (see BBQ reference above – add wine, desserts, food prepared with care or seized on a drive-by whim…) So much sensual overload. You’re too busy living it to write about it.

All of the above. That’s why I’m not doing much writing during my holiday.

Oh, wait…!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

REVIEW: Writing Fiction: A Guide for Pre-Teens by Heather Wright

The latest writing guide from author, teacher and professional writer Heather Wright provides everything a young writer needs: instruction, prompts, examples and, most of all, encouragement and inspiration.

“You want to write stories and the purpose of this book is to help you do exactly that,” Wright begins.

Aimed at young writers of any level or experience, this guide fine-tunes the material Wright covered in her previously published Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens (Second Edition, 2014).

This is the kind of book I longed for when I was a kid. It’s clear and concise without being dry. I can hear the author’s friendly and encouraging voice throughout as she guides the reader through the why, what and how of creating stories.

But more than that, she’s able to make the guide relevant to others who work with kids who write. Home schoolers? Writers-in-residence? Teachers? Parents? You bet.

The scope is broad, too. Yes, Wright provides lots of tips on the much-travelled technical side of writing stories – brainstorming for ideas, charting a plot, creating strong characters, revealing setting, making use of dialogue. But she addresses the real business of writing too, including revision tips and the classic writerly problems of “I’m stuck!” and the importance of finding the discipline to write every day.

Full disclosure – Heather is a writing colleague of mine. I know how hard she works at her writing life, and I also know how experienced and successful she is as a writer. If she could sit down at a desk with every young writer, or stand in front of a classroom full of them, the tips in this book are exactly what she would share (and she does, on school visits and in her workshops).  You could not ask for a better guide.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fear and the Writer

Writing is a journey. Don't be afraid to venture out there
into the wilderness... (Photo D. Mills)
As much as writers love to - need to - write, it's amazing how often we find ways to avoid the job.

I've been thinking about what keeps me from writing. For some reason, this summer, with all this free time at my disposal, I dither and resist and find so many other things to do.

I could be writing. I should be writing. I want to be writing.

I’m not writing.

It might be fear. Let me explain.

A long time ago, when my first novel was out and about, a reviewer trashed it.

It was a novel for young readers, and I received tons of positive mail from readers – many of whom were students reading the book in their English class – who loved it. I loved it. Writing that book and sending it out into the world was like raising a child and watching it toddle off, away from me, unprotected. (You just hold your breath and hope everyone likes it).

But this reviewer – who, at the time, had no children and was in no way associated with children’s books or literature (I know this because I did some internet creeping and checked her out) – found a cute way to dis my book. She said it was “flow-charted”, which I take to mean predictable. She said it was contrived. She said it was earnest. Basically, she said it sucked.

I was paralyzed for weeks. Couldn’t write a word. I felt like a complete failure, despite the fact that letters were still arriving and sales were still being rung up (in fact, I received royalties for years).

Even though that reviewer wasn’t influential or worth worrying about, I was deeply affected. One day a few weeks later, I showed the review to my husband. He read it and shrugged.

“So? She didn’t like your book.” (He’s an engineer. Perhaps that explains his response).

But hearing him say that helped a lot. She didn’t like my book, and she made a public case for not liking it, but so what? People were obviously still reading and enjoying it, so why should that review matter to me?

I was able to write again, eventually, but I carry that Mean Reviewer on my shoulder all the time now. She's peering at my words, pointing, and saying "Flow-charted! Contrived! Earnest!"

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been writing. Fear.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m lazy. That’s certainly a possibility, thanks to the incredible pace I normally operate at during the year. My job (editing and writing for a national sports organization) is demanding during the winter and sometimes involves travel as well as dealing with deadlines and people who don’t understand deadlines. (Enough said). My home life, up until this year, has involved driving my kids to school and operating around the schedules of everyone else but me. Like most mothers, I put myself at the bottom of the ladder and put everyone else’s needs first.

Which, as every mother knows, keeps the ship going, but is exhausting.

So I’m tired. I’m lazy. The deck and a good book beckon. My brain is fried. I don’t have any stories in me.

And yet…

Ideas are burbling, percolating, wafting in and out. There’s this girl, and she’s a little bit different, and one day this boy walks into her school and he’s a bit different too. But no, it’s not as simple as that. And it’s not a typical teenage love story.

Can I make it work? Fear says no. Laziness says it’s going to take way too much work.

But that girl is in my head. She’s talking to me.

I'm very afraid that...

I’m going to have to write something.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Grammarly Guest Post: Finding work in unexpected places

Remember this blooper? 

I was contacted recently by the clever and innovative folks at Grammarly, who specialize in helping writers (and non-writers!) produce the most correct copy possible. They asked if they could visit my blog and share a few tips on how grammar skills can help writers find work.
Okay, I said!
So here's a guest post from Grammarly's Nikolas Baron on how to market your grammar skills to find work in unexpected places:
Grammar Skills that Kill
You’re a writer. You’re already ahead of most people when it comes to writing eloquently, stylistically, and correctly. Why not market these skills to business owners, friends, and various other industries to gain work? Grammar is a difficult set of skills that takes years of practice to learn and many people don’t spend the time to learn proper punctuation and grammar; but you have. Good grammar is an excellent commodity in a world where professionals are still struggling between they’re, there, and their. Start printing business cards because you’re going to take your skills to a monetary level.
 Where to Go
Now that you have your business cards, it’s time to use them. Start looking for community bulletin boards in local restaurants or establishments and post them there. Ask business owners if they ever need freelance editing help and hand them your card. Try to see if friends can get you an in with their boss or company or try to find errors in your daily life that you can offer up to fix. I’ve come across many ads, menu items, and billboards that have mistakes. Why not offer to help fix them? The worst that could happen is you’re turned down and you have to try again.
Think of the world of opportunities out there for writers. Every mistake you can find along the way, could be a potential job. If there is a community newspaper run by your neighbors, offer up your grammar and punctuation proofreading services. If you visit your favorite restaurant’s website and notice they have errors littering the page, contact them and explain your services. Anything you can think of that’s printed, on the Internet or from a business, must be proofread. Having grammar and punctuation knowledge can get you jobs in no time.
 Market Your Skills
When you begin contacting businesses or getting emails from people who picked up your card from a bulletin board, you want to make sure that you’re clear about what you’re offering. You can offer any of the following services:
·   Proofreading/editing
·   Grammar and punctuation checking
·   Re-writing/re-phrasing
·   Updating content
·   Marketing content
·   Creative Writing
·   Technical Editing
·    Fiction Editing
·   Technical Writing

If you’re not comfortable with any set of skills, don’t suggest them to a client. You want to show them that you’re confident in what you can do without going overboard and selling something you don’t possess. If they’re looking for technical editing and you know more about fiction editing, explain to them that although you commonly do fiction editing, this can help them. Sometimes technical content can become boring and stodgy. But by utilizing your fiction editing and writing skills, you can help technical content come alive. It could flow better, be more interesting, or invite more people to read it. You want to make sure to give the customer what they want, however, and shouldn’t go overboard with fiction technique if they want something more cut and dried.
Explain your years of writing knowledge, education, previous work history, and any important accolades you may have won. You want the customer to feel as if they contacted you for the right reason and that you can deliver. Even if you are unfamiliar with vegetarian eating, remind the client that you’re extremely familiar with AP (or, in Canada, CP) style, grammar, and punctuation. As a writer, it’s also important to be a good researcher to understand the content you’re editing. Explain to the client that you will do the necessary research to deliver the product they desire.
Most importantly, the work should be correct and excellent. When I’m unsure about a grammar or punctuation change, I like to refer to Grammarly for a grammar check. Grammarly lets me know when I’ve misused a comma, what my most common errors are, and teaches me how to fix my errors easily. Even if you just want to proofread and email, Grammarly is accessible from any device and works quickly. You can run your work through Grammarly to ensure that it is completely accurate for your client.
 Get Out There
The more cards you hand out and the more people you speak to, the better your chances are of using your grammar skills for profit. You could even reach out to the local hardware store to help them edit their monthly email blast or newsletter. For every business, there’s an opportunity to grow your resume so get out there and market your skills.
 Nick's Bio:
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.