Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Advice’ Category

Top 7 Blogging Tips for 2020

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Why Blog?, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on January 12, 2020 at 11:00 am

01-2020 OpenSign

Blogging is a great way to let potential readers know that you are OPEN for business and have great content to offer them.

Does blogging lead to anything or is it like holding up a one-inch sign trying to get noticed among the much bigger, flashier signs?

Blogs, just like self-published books, have become the modern business card for business owners, writers and entrepreneurs who want to get their ideas and written content to readers, customers and clients.

For those who see writing as a chore or a time sucker, is starting or continuing a blog such a good idea? Are blogs necessary to promote your writing, your project, your newest product or your business? Or do they keep you away from what you really want to do?

Blogs and other written content get favor from Search Engine Optimization, which give businesses, nonprofits and individuals higher online rankings, especially for recent content.

There are other advantages too. Blogs help with marketing, branding and creating a platform. They demonstrate expertise and authority in a niche—readers over time will value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, your values and what you see as important. They also create relationships and convert readers to customers, resulting in engagement and a following.

Top 7 Blogging Tips

To get your blog noticed and to get that engagement from readers, here are a few things you can do to improve your blog in the New Year.

  • Post on a regular basis at the same time and on the same day. Optimal is once a week and not randomly with gaps in time and too many different topics.
  • Write short- or medium-length blogs, instead of long blogs that become similar to articles or white papers. Short blogs are about 200 to 400 words, medium-sized blogs, 500 to 700 words, and article-type blogs, 1,000 words are more.
  • Create blogs that educate, inform or entertain and not just to fill space for that SEO. Blogs produced through content mills are produced for clicks and provide little meaning and value and only are about quantity.
  • Write toward your target market. Think about whom you are you writing to, what voice you want to use to reach them and what it is you want to say.
  • Figure out what you want to say. You can talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. You can show your process of creation or give a behind-the-scenes look in your business. And you can talk about your life as a business owner, writer or artist.
  • Include photos or images to make the blogs more appealing. If a photo idea doesn’t seem readily apparent, find a theme to go with your blog, such as a landscape feature or type of sign (I’ve used Open signs to let readers know the client is ready for business).
  • Promote the blog on social media at least three times, preferably every other day.

The Advantages of Blogs

Blogs have many advantages. They can bring traffic to your website and hopefully into your writing platform. They build relationships with readers through regular connection. And they separate you from the competition.

Lastly, make your writing or what you have to offer look personal and inviting. Blogs are that great and flashy Open sign.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

1219 ToDoLists

To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Making New Year’s Resolutions Fun

In Goal Setting, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals on December 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

CoffeeTreeChristmas 12-2019

The Christmas tree is reflected in a storefront window, overlapping a coffee tree at the Coffee Tree coffee shop in downtown Loveland, Colo. It’s sparkly and fun, just like New Year’s resolutions should be to make them easier to carry out.

New Year’s Eve is sparkly, bubbly, colorful and fun—and then there’s the countdown.

For me, Jan. 1 is both a letdown and an exciting time. First, the holidays are over, presents are unwrapped, and it seems like a long time to Valentine’s Day (and lots of candy) and even longer to spring.

January is my least favorite month (short days, too much snow) until I remember it’s the month for … Resolutions! I love goal setting because of the whole self-improvement thing, but it’s also a way to accomplish something and to have an excuse for self-reward.

What are your resolutions for 2020? The usual of exercising more, eating less, finding a new job, increasing your reading or learning a new skill or hobby?

A Writing Tangent

My resolutions are around writing—to publish a couple of my novels, to write a short story a month and to do more professional writing. I also want to improve my blog so it’s fun and exciting. This is how I originally started this blog:

Writing is essential to a business to market its products and services, build brands and reach customers.

But is it necessarily something that you want to do?

Sure, that’s all right, but it’s not fun. Why? Because you can read those sentences pretty much anywhere, maybe with a word change or two. As a note, I just went on a tangent off the subject of resolutions, which typically doesn’t make for good writing. Professional writing needs to be straight like an arrow, moving from point to point with enough details while avoiding overwriting.

So back to the point of making and keeping resolutions. Statistics show that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through with their plans. Being part of that group can be exciting and also rewarding by the end of the year.

For those who want to make writing a goal for 2020, for example, can set a schedule for writing, such as a half-hour a day or two times a week. They can find a place to do the writing. And they can reward themselves for accomplishing the goal to continue the momentum.

Focusing on Resolutions

For resolutions in general, here are a few good steps to take:

  • Pick a resolution that makes you feel excited and is something you want to do. Don’t pick something that you think is good for you, like exercising an hour a day when 15 minutes is better to get used to it.
  • Opt for one to three resolutions instead of a long list of everything you ever wanted to accomplish in life. Lists are difficult to manage (I made a 30-item to-do list, and it took four months to get through it). Plus, being selective can help you focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Break the resolutions into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month.
  • Be specific in your goals, such as planning to blog once a week, posting it on the same day to be consistent and build traction.
  • Identify your most productive time of day to work and fit your goals into that time frame, even if it is for a half-hour for three or four days a week. A lot can be accomplished in small chunks.
  • Place a written statement of your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Seeing the resolutions will be a reminder, and even if you are busy at that moment, you can visualize how you will carry them out.
  • Create a checklist of accomplishments toward your goals, marking the time you put in each week. This is a way to make sure you’re meeting your goals and figuring out if any adjustments need to be made.

Working on your resolutions is a reward for moving toward self improvement. Reward yourself every quarter or for certain accomplishments. Soon, the resolution will become routine and eventually a habit. And once a habit, it will be something that will get noticed.

Fast and Fun Tips for Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on August 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

DucksSummer14b 2019

A duckling snuggles against Mom in July at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo. Good writing helps keep the words tight and comfortable for the reader.

Writing is not easy, even for a writer, but there are some fast and fun tips for writing that you won’t learn in English class.

Forget the five paragraphs and the introductory and concluding sentences. Go for the essential details and tell your story clearly, concisely and simply. Get in the needed transitions, or those sentences that tie together two seemingly disparate ideas, and forget the tangents.

To avoid veering off subject, figure out what you want to say or write first and identify the message from your rough notes. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader in your word clutter.

The Fast Tips

There are three things you should do in any piece of writing.

First, identify that main message. What is it exactly that you want readers to take away from your blog, article or social media content? What ideas, perspectives or emotions are you trying to convey?

Second, figure out your audience. Are your aiming to reach high-end coffee connoisseurs or do they prefer a casual outing? Write in that tone? Do you want some humor? Do you want to be casual? Or is being serious more fitting?

And lastly, peg your structure. Do you want to tell an anecdote up front and then tell a story? Do you see a beginning, middle and end to what you have to say? Do you want to segment the content into topics or create a list?

The Fun Tips

Here are some tips writers know but may not want to share (it’s what sets them apart and makes their writing great).

  • Be concise and say what you want to say in one sentence, not three. In other words, know how much information is enough and what’s relevant. Cut the rest.
  • Avoid writing in abstractions and using words that convey only the big ideas. Don’t generalize but be specific in what you want to say.
  • Avoid using jargon and unnecessary and fanciful words. Don’t embellish your language just to sound good.
  • Write in the active voice to keep the writing brief and in the present, so that it feels current and relevant.

Once you achieve quick and dirty writing and put in the time and energy to practice, you’ll be able to fit in writing between the busy hours of running a business. Or you can hire some to do it for you and know that they’ve got the clean writing that brings in customers and clients.

 

How to Keep Up With Summer Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

BuschGardensShorebirds1 06-2018

During my 2018 summer trip to Florida, I photographed shorebirds at Busch Gardens chasing another bird holding a bun, making it so the bird with the prize couldn’t stop to have a snack. I turned my observation into a poem, taking advantage of summer fun to get in some writing time.

With summer a few weeks in, how do you keep up the writing pace when fun beckons?

Writing and blogging seem to be the kind of practices that if set aside lose momentum. Coming back to the project or a regular posting schedule takes review and discipline, just like setting aside a book and forgetting some of the intricacies of the plot and character.

For writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in busy summer plans?

Try small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work. Plan a regular time for writing, a little at a time, or write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time or you feel inspired or motivated to write, so that it is not an obligation.

Think of it as quick and dirty writing: get in, do the work of fast content and return to the fun. The result is a mini-moment of work with a reward of having achieved something.

Methods for Quick Writing

Here are a few tips for quick and dirty, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting or between the moments of work, errands and summer plans.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, then there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun summer schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list.
  • Break up writing into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Come back to it later.

What I Do for Quick Writing

For me, writing after engaging in professional writing and editing during the workday requires discipline, so I set up a schedule in my planner and mark on my spreadsheet the number of hours I achieve writing. I have a project deadline and a weekly goal of a certain word count or page count, depending on if I’m in the writing or the editing stage of my project.

And then I sit down and write, aiming for an hour but if it’s less or more, I’m fine with it. The important thing is that I write.

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

ZoeyLaptop2

Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.

What Your Writer Won’t Tell You (until you go to a conference)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writers Conferences, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Amy Rivers, director of Northern Colorado Writers, right, welcomes writers to the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference during the banquet dinner May 3 in Fort Collins, Colo. April Moore, left, dresses in sailor gear in line with the conference theme, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!”

Going to a writing conference is a way to learn trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing without having to spend years on experience and time and energy on classes.

A few such secrets could be found at the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!” May 3 to 4 in Fort Collins, Colo.

The secrets came about during workshops, panel discussions and editor-agent consultations. Literary agents, editors, authors, freelance writers and industry professionals taught one-hour workshops on a variety of topics, including writing at the sentence level, plotting the scenes of a novel, building a platform and applying film techniques to novel writing.

Writing Secrets

Here is a sampling of a few of the writing secrets (followed by the workshop name and presenter):

  • Find the Intention: If you want to freelance or hire a writer, figure out your intentions. Money? Fame? To keep busy? To promote yourself and what you do? To sharpen your writing skills? That’s the why. The what is your subject matter expertise, such as about current trends or untapped topics. The where is the places where your writing will appear. The how? How much do you want to get paid or are willing to pay to achieve quality? (The Business of Art: How to Make Freelance Writing Work for You, Kristin Owens, freelance writer)
  • Stick with It: Don’t give up if you believe in your writing, and be sure to schedule it in, even in small chunks. Realize that writing is a process. You can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit bad writing. The biggest mistake in writing is to turn it into early before it has been edited or revised. Lastly, remember “Writing is hard, not easy. Only stick with it if you can’t imagine not doing it.” (A Writer at Any Age, Cynthia Swanson, bestselling author of “The Bookseller,” keynote speaker)
  • Come Full Circle: The opening pages of a long project should have a hook to draw in the reader and also mirror the closing pages. Start in the right place where the action is, not with a lot of backstory that slowly leads up to the storytelling. Don’t perfect the beginning over and over again, but consider the middle and the ending as equally important. (Opening Pages That Lead to Yes, Angie Hodapp, literary agent)

Writing Passion

The conference concluded with a discussion and poetry presentation by Jovan Mays, former poet laureate of Aurora, a TED speaker and a National Poetry Slam Champion.

“Honor your passion, your love for words,” Mays said. “Keep your options open about who you are in this life. … It’s not about the about, it’s about the journey.”

Blogs Key to Telling a Writer’s Story

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on March 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

Flowers-CoffeeShop 03-2018

A flower assortment from a downtown Loveland, Colo., flower shop decorates the counter of a local coffee shop, demonstrating that a touch of color makes customers want to stay longer. The same thing happens with readers and good writing.

Blogging is a great way to tell your story, but how to get that message across takes some knowledge about your readers.

What is it that they want to see in your blog? It’s like a storefront but instead of opening the door, it takes a click.

They want to discover the latest news about your writing career. They want to know about your projects and get behind-the-scene peeks into your working processes and inspirations and motivations. They want to learn how you find and tell a story. And they want to know what’s up next, a short story or a full novel, and if they can support you in any way.

Blog ROI

Blogs are pervasive, but they also can have a ROI by helping writers look personal and inviting. Writers demonstrate that they want more than sales but connections. Likewise, blogs demonstrate expertise but in quick, direct messages.

Blog posts don’t need to be long with 500 to 700 words optimal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog 1,000 or more words is long and article length.

Blogs crafted with a focus on the audience and what they care about will get more attention than SEO-centered blogs written solely to build a platform. They are not about clicks and quits—the audience sees the content is valueless and moves on. The audience stays for the quality, just like they do when they find a writer they love and can’t get enough of, visiting their websites, signing up for their newsletters and rushing to Amazon or the bookstore for a new release.

Click and Stay

To get a click and stay, here are some things to consider.

  • Identify your target readers, or who you want to write to, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Figure out what your readers want to learn about your writing career and projects and then create the content, instead of writing whatever comes to mind.
  • Demonstrate your expertise on a subject related to writing or your projects.
  • Regularly talk about your main subject, but add some variety to keep up the interest.
  • Be specific, give examples and avoid going off topic into tangents.
  • Tell your story with details and descriptions, so that the audience can picture what you have to say.

Schedule It In

Make your blog routine, so your readers know what to expect and can mark it on their calendars. Make sure to post according to a schedule, such as once a week or even monthly, and on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment to the blog—plus, it’s unpredictable for the audience.

On a personal note, I aim for once a week, but when I get busy, I find that I end up skipping. But I always come back to it, not wanting to give up something I started in 2011.

 

Why Businesses, Writers Need a Regular Blog

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer9 2016

Blogging is a way to separate you from the crowd, just like the ducklings huddled together eventually will go out on their own.

Everyone seems to have a blog from writers to business owners, but are they a necessity?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like a key way to promote what you have to offer to your readers, customers and clients. Google certainly likes blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization and higher online rankings.

Beyond SEO

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. A blog is part of branding, an aspect of creating a platform and a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image and demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. It gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, plus your values and what you see as most important. It’s a way to connect in the fast-pace world of social media that feels a little more personal.

Blogs should educate, inform and entertain and not be solely written for SEO purposes. Content-mill produced blogs are written to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity, not quality.

Quality Blogs

Alternatively, writing regular quality blogs create relationships, build audiences and convert readers to fans, clients and customers. They result in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a lack of focus in topic. To create quality blogs, think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What voice do you want to use to reach them? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts fans to your business or what you have to offer and why you are the best pick.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your customers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with your audience through regular connection.
  • Separate you from your competition.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your business, platform or website look personal and inviting. The good news is they don’t have to be written by you—you can hire a ghostwriter to get great quality and a consistent approach that brings readers back wanting more.

Loving Writing on Valentine’s Day

In Loving Writing, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Inspiration on February 10, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Zoey-Shelley2 06-2009

Zoey the Dachshund makes for a cute valentine!

Does writing fit with a romantic holiday like Valentine’s Day? The day is all about declaring your love for someone, but why not for a hobby or a passion?

As you check the aisles in the grocery store filled with pink and red from Valentine’s cards and heart-shaped candy to teddy bears holding stuffed hearts, do you think of a red notebook? Do you want to set aside maybe even just a half-hour for writing—or do you need to, ensuring the blog, article or short story meets deadline?

Do you see writing as a gift? This gift giving and exchange of cards developed out of Saint Valentines. A number of Saints called Valentine are honored on Feb. 14, a day that became associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages in England. Traditionally, lovers exchanged handwritten notes and later commercial cards when they became available in the mid-19th century.

On the surface, greeting cards and the notes in valentines all involve the quick correspondence about friendship and romance. Communicating through writing has a universal appeal (think notes passed around at school before texting, texting, Facebook messages, emails, letters and cards). What’s written can be reread, saved and kept as a memento (even texts, if you copy them into a notebook or journal) and serves as physical proof that someone is thinking about you.

Writers do the same thing, compiling poems, short stories, manuscripts, ideas for writing and processes for doing the writing. They become collectors of the written word, saving their work toward the day they will be published. Or they simply write out of a passion and because it’s their hobby.

They do it because of love. For me, my love is writing, and a close second is editing.

Here are a few things to love about writing:

  • Writing is a way to figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • It’s a way to be creative.
  • It’s a way to play around with words and language.
  • It’s a way to improve your understanding of words and how to be concise with language and how to effectively get message across.
  • It’s a way to express yourself, using your intelligent and creative minds at the same time.
  • It’s a way to make connections with text, memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • It’s a way to tell stories and disappear into another world, where you don’t see the page and can’t tell you’re writing.
  • It’s a way to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do, going places and doing things you might not do otherwise.
  • And it’s interesting to find out what it is you created after spending a few minutes or hours on a story or essay. It’s a process of discovery.

Writing is the perfect match:

Lastly, writing gives you a sense of accomplishment after completing a story, meeting a word or time goal and finishing a novel or other large project.

In essence, it’s reciprocal, just like love, because you give your words and you get back a product, starting in rough draft form. But as you get to know each other even more, you develop a relationship, turning something rough into your perfect match.