If you’re a Buzz fanatic then you’ve probably read Melinda Harris’ post, “Three Reasons Writers Might Want A Blog” about the importance of keeping a blog. Here’s a recap in case you haven’t: a blog “keeps you writing,” “builds a readership,” and helps to develop an online “community.”
Sounds rather nice, right?
So we’ve established why having a blog is an awesome tool for any writer. Now it’s time to get technical. You want a blog, but what website builder should you be using?
I’ve provided a list of pros and cons for three popular and free website builders that anyone can use which are WordPress.com, Weebly.com, and Wix.com. I built my own unpublished blogging websites using these three builders so I could personally give you an account of what makes each different.
Before delving into the differences of these builders, let me mention a few features that they all have in common. All three builders are easy to learn, customizable, have search engine optimization (SEO), can be edited from mobile devices, and allow you customize your blog posts using HTML. When used correctly, each of these features will help you build and maintain a stellar blog.
So, without further ado, let me introduce my findings:
Most likely if you’ve ever looked into building a blog or you follow a blog, you’ve come across WordPress and there’s a reason for that. Not only does WordPress power 25% of the web, but it was built with blogging in mind!
Weebly allows you to build beautiful and simple websites with pre-made themes ranging from business to blogging. This builder has a unique drag and drop features that simplifies any website building. For those who aren’t tech savvy, Weebly allows you to contact support via emails regardless of if you’re using a free account or an upgraded one.
Wix is an amazing builder for those who love a little extra glam for their websites. Not only are their themes fun and interesting, but, without having to upgrade to a paid website, you can upload video clips to use as your background. Plus, they have animation features that will bring to life any piece of content you write.
These are, in my opinion, the best of the free website builders that you can use for your blog. Wordpress would be your best bet if you want a no frills website that is devoted to blogging and building a blogging community. Weebly is a wonderful option for both those who are and are not tech savvy due to the ability to customize templates with code and their customer support. Wix is a must for bloggers who really want to stick out by using their amazing video and animation features. Weebly’s and Wix’s easily enabled e-commerce options make them great options for anyone who wants to mix business with blogging. If you’re still not sure which builder to use, create websites using all three and publish your favorite one!
Write a Novel This November! NaNoWriMo 2015: What Is It, and How Do I Do It?
You probably want to write a novel. Most people do. For some people, it’s something to check off the bucket list. For others, it’s a life-long dream. Some people aspire to be a published novelist, while others simply want to write a book, even if it’s just for themselves. Regardless of what your specific dream entails, writing a novel is an incredibly daunting task. Fortunately, Chris Baty founded NaNoWriMo in 1999, thereby turning this impossible fantasy into an achievable task.
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual, month-long event that takes place every November, and it is the catalyst that generates full-length novels from both new and experienced authors each year. The goal is to write 50,000 words in November. You open your blank document and begin on November 1, and on the thirtieth by 11:59pm, you are a novelist. To participate, all you have to do is set up a free account at nanowrimo.org, and then announce your new novel! NaNo prep is already happening on the website: pep talks, forums, advice, etc. The NaNo community is preparing for the upcoming month-long writing extravaganza. To win NaNoWriMo, all you have to do is write 50,000 words. Everyone who does this is declared a winner, and you get a fancy virtual badge!
Think you can’t possibly write 50,000 words in thirty days? Don’t worry! Several tools exist to help you conquer this seemingly impossible-to-climb mountain. The first is the website itself. It has a handy tracker that tells you where your word count should be each day in order to stay on track. You enter your current word count, and you get to see the graph reflect the work you’ve done and the progress you’ve made, which is extremely encouraging and satisfying. There are forums on the website in which you can talk with other writers and inspire each other and cheer each other on. Need help figuring out the perfect surname for your protagonist? Feeling overwhelmed? Need help with some research? Running out of steam? The people on the forums are happy to help with all of this and more. It’s an extremely supportive and motivating community of writers, and it’s an invaluable source for your NaNo experience.
If 50,000 words still seems out of reach to you, keep in mind that it translates to only 1,667 words a day. That is totally manageable! You can do that, I promise! Here are some sources that can get you pumping out those words:
I have participated in NaNoWriMo three times, and I won each time. Here is the best piece of advice I can give: don’t think; just write. NaNoWriMo is not about producing a polished and perfect work of literature. It’s about writing the damn book. The goal is to get the first draft done, and the first draft is the hardest part. As Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” You don’t have a story until you write it. Now is your chance to write it. Do not waste time trying to make it as beautiful and perfect as possible. You should not do a single revision during this month. Do not go back to the words you’ve already written at all. Only move forward. If you do this, you’ll have a first draft of your book by the end of the month, and a first draft is a physical thing with which you can work. After November, you can begin your revisions. At this point, you’ll have achieved an amazing accomplishment, and you’ll be well on your way to completed manuscript.
Good luck, and happy writing!
I can understand why people are hesitant to write poems.
Poetry can be uncomfortable. You pry yourself open, you scoop out what you find, and you dump it onto a blank page. You do all of this just so you can read it; so you can potentially understand the stuff that’s been festering in the back of your mind—in the deepest reaches of your gut. Sometimes you even let other people read the stuff, which is just plain terrifying.
Poetry is discouraging. It’s disheartening when the right words won’t come. Especially when poets like Frost, Whitman, Collins, Pound, and Stevens (the list goes on) make the whole poetry thing seem so effortless, so natural. It makes your efforts feel useless, makes you feel inept, and makes the whole ordeal seem like nothing but a grand waste of time.
Most of all, poetry can be embarrassing. It’s personal. It’s a verbal manifestation of all the crude, coarse, natural, and organic roughness that we’re not sure we’re supposed to verbalize at all. And when your poem is finally done and you re-read it from start to finish, you can wind up gagging on your own sentimentality, nauseated by your own nostalgia, or disgusted by your self-indulgence. Really, how audacious to think that you or something that happened to you is worthy of becoming a poem?
The key is to let all of this go. Just write the thing.
A passage from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest comes to mind. He describes being human as being “unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” So the point here is to put all of that aside. Just try it. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find as you write your poem.
You’ll get to know yourself better. We think at an incredibly rapid rate. We process borderline unquantifiable amounts of information on a daily basis. We have a thought, we move on, we forget it. When you write a poem, you’re forced to slow way, way down. You’ll ask more questions about yourself, about your experience living in this world. You’ll ask things like, “is there a better word I can use here?” or “how can I really capture what I’m feeling.” If you’re writing of memories, you’ll have no choice but to wrack your brain, stroke your chin, and knit your brow to bring yourself back to the precise moment you’re writing about—be it two weeks ago or two decades. You’ll be shocked at the things you’ve had catalogued back there. And you’ll be amazed at how much more vivid they become when you try to express them.
You’ll properly deal with the things that consume you. Lawrence Durrell wrote of women,
“There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.” I find the third option applies to all things. All suffering, all happiness, any emotion can be turned into literature. Of anguish, write until you’ve nothing left to say, and more often than not, you’ll have conquered your anguish. Of happiness, write until you’ve nothing left to say, and you’ll have preserved your happiness to look back on fondly when memory alone is no longer sufficient. Only poetry can remind you of the way a cool sea breeze blew through your hair on a September evening, how the sting of salt stung your eyes.
To end on a somewhat sentimentally and cheesy note (but remember, we’re all “unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic”), poetry will create for you a portal to the places you’ve been. You’ll read your old poems and be reminded—in the most visceral ways—where you were, what you felt, and how far you’ve come since then.
I was barely old enough to read the first time someone tossed “don’t judge a book by its cover” into my arsenal of clichés. Although well intentioned, the saying actually has little applicability to the book industry because books are and will continue to be judged by the quality of their cover art. My roommates are vocal supporters of judging books exclusively on exterior value, and after two years together, I finally decided to find out why. After a lengthy discussion, they pinpointed four structural components that make or break their reading material.
Page count means different things to different readers. Fans of epic fantasy won’t be deterred by a book that counts 900 pages, but someone looking for a quick read won’t want to wrestle with more than 300. Although Fury was clear that people should choose based on their own needs and lifestyles, she champions epic fantasy, textbooks, and even atlases. Apparently, larger books make better nap pads.
Used books have a place in the hearts of bookworms. A worn book is a loved book. Few would gravitate exclusively toward books with broken bindings, but Damon was adamant that the bindings of his favorite ink and paper companions be broken. He wouldn’t elaborate, but, like Fury, I suspect he prefers sleeping on his books to reading them.
Hardcover vs. Paperback
Have you ever tried to rub your face against the corner of a paperback book? I doubt it, so trust Damon and Durza on this one. Hardcover is the only option.
All books are capable of being shelved in a respectable manner, but according to Damon, you really need a healthy combination of size and style to create an acceptable arrangement that offers enough space for a feline book nook.
Although they made some fair points and will undoubtedly continue to disagree with me, my roommates pay far too much attention to a book’s cover. With time and effort, I may be able to convince them to join those of us who care more about the words on a book’s page than the pages themselves.
Books have always been my favorite accessories. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t buried in their pages. “She’s going to be a writer,” my mom would tell dinner guests as I shook breadcrumbs out of my book. I never really thought about doing anything else with my life. It seemed like it had been decided so many years ago. I would be a writer. I fought my instincts all the way through my second year of journalism in college before I finally ran out of gas and admitted my biggest fear: I didn’t want to be a writer.
The ensuing identity crisis was turbulent. In freeing myself from the race to create the “next Great American novel,” I felt as though I might have lost my chance to create anything. It’s difficult to be part of a species obsessed with creation when you don’t feel a desire to add to its library, but I’ve learned a lot about my definition of creativity over the last few years. Here are five things every supporting player in the book industry should remember.
1.) Being an enthusiastic audience member is just as important as writing the play, scoring the film, or designing the set.
Addressing fans at the final Harry Potter film premiere, J.K. Rowling said, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” The audience's role is just as important as the role of the writer or the performer. The ability to absorb a new idea or concept is creativity in its rawest form. Just because you didn’t create the words on the page does not mean you’re a passive consumer without value or creative abilities.
2.) Love things with an unapologetic enthusiasm.
When you’re not at peace with your role in life, it can be difficult to enjoy others’ artistic efforts. The books, shows, and art you used to love might suddenly trigger an irritable response. Don’t let your perception of what you think you should do limit who you are. Inspiration is everywhere. Absorb new ideas. Explore new environments. Be who you are in this moment. Love things enthusiastically and unapologetically without forcing yourself to contribute an unnecessary admission fee.
3.) Don’t confuse creation with affirmation.
I get it. It’s difficult to be surrounded by successful writers, writers/editors, designers, and photographers if you’re struggling with your creative identity. But they will be the first people to tell you that a need for positive affirmation does nothing to drive their creative impulses. Their need to create is driven by curiosity and a love for the creative process, not by a positive reception. Just because you don’t thrive on that creative process doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer. Embrace what makes you different.
4.) Cut yourself some slack.
Life isn’t about overcoming obstacles that block the path to who you think you should be. Life is about exploring different abilities and letting yourself be what feels right to you. Be the first person in line to cut yourself some slack.
5.) Don’t be afraid to be a human bookend.
There’s a reason we have marketing and publicity departments. There’s a reason we have booksellers and librarians. Not everyone wants to be the next John Green. I’ve learned to embrace my supporting role in this industry. I am a proud human bookend. Now it’s your turn.
While my last post was about claiming the title “writer,” I do have to admit that I've been suffering from a rather long stint of writer's block. In other words, I have not been writing very much at all. I write here and there. Jot things down and never return to give them my full attention. Obviously, this is a common thing that happens and everybody has his or her own remedy. There's whole books on it for god's sake. I'm not going to say a bunch of stuff that everyone already knows. I'm just going to talk about one thing that I realized the other night after attending a lovely poetry reading.
Attending readings and open mics is one of the most inspirational motivators to get me to put pen to paper and I would argue that this is true for many people.
I get so consumed with being alone when I write. I read and read and stare at blank pages in my journal, looking for something inside me to spill out. Instead, I just get frustrated and read more or watch Netflix. Sometimes I won't even let myself go out because I didn't do the writing I had set out to do that day.
When I stop punishing myself for not writing and I decide to go to a poetry reading or an open mic or a book launch, I always end up writing in my journal on the way home. Sometimes I even pull it out in the middle of the reading to jot down a stray thought. I think there are lots of reasons for this. Firstly, it's important to forget about your own writing for a while. Secondly, it's also important to be out in a community of writers who are sharing their work with other writers and readers. I think just the energy of this can help knock a few things loose in your brain – get ideas to settle down and want to come out for a change.
Most importantly, I think hearing writers read their own work aloud can be engaging and empowering beyond reading it for yourself. This is especially true with poetry. I find myself getting lost in just the voice – sometimes, even if I don't know exactly what it “means,” I can hear what the poet wants you to feel in their tone, rhythm, movement. It doesn't even have to be good. Focusing on these aspects of performance in the reading is something you don't get simply by reading someone else's work. I find myself focusing so much on craft when I read, that I almost forget the art. Hearing it come to life through the writer herself I can hear the art. I can see it. Which in turn always ends up inspiring me to create art where I had previously felt my passion for it draining.
So, for anyone feeling uninspired or in a rut of not writing I would encourage you to find a reading or open mic in your area. In listening to everyone share and speak their truth, you may just find yours.
Beginning a career in the publishing industry can be difficult because there seems to be a thousand different paths to go down. But that is really what makes the publishing industry so awesomely unique. In my last semester at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about to have a degree in English Literature, I had a tough decision to make. I had no idea how to break into the industry. Where would I even start? So, I researched entry points.
I had to decide if I wanted to find an unpaid internship or attend a summer course to earn a publishing certificate. Publishing certificate programs are different than earning a master's degree in publishing. One of the most well known programs is NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. It is a six-week program held over the summer. The goal of this program is to teach the students about all the different aspects of publishing as well as give many opportunities for networking with other publishing professionals. The NYU website states that in their program, “Students create actual launch plans for new magazine brands and imprints for book publishing houses, and learn from having their projects judged by a panel of senior publishing executives.” The program costs a little over $5,000. Other similar programs exist at Columbia University and the Denver Publishing Institute. The point of these programs is to give you the experience you would need to succeed in a full time job in the publishing industry as well as the networking opportunities to meet the people who can help you get the job. This experience seems ideal; I just lacked the money and time to go and do it.
The other option is to take on an internship for a publishing house or journal where you learn about the industry in a real life setting. Most of these positions are paid little to no money. Some offer academic credit for college students, but what you are really gaining from these positions is experience. Most full time job openings ask that the candidates they are considering have at least one year of experience in a professional publishing environment. Getting hands on, real life experience is one of the best ways to learn. Many of these internships can also lead to full time jobs depending on the situation. And even if it doesn’t, it is still a great way to meet other publishing professionals and network. You can also do multiple part time internships in different positions. You can work on an academic journal, literary journal, trade publisher, or educational publisher. I have had the opportunity to be a part of a few different publications and feel that the internships have given me a well-rounded education in the publishing industry.
Publishing programs and internships are both great ways to gain valuable experience in publishing. They are also things that employers look for on a résumé that would put you above other candidates. Either route you take, you can still end up where you want to be if you are determined.
A lot of hullaballoo is made about the process of writing. What’s the best way to generate ideas? Should you free write or outline? How long should you write each day? Where should you write? What should you wear while you write? Writers are almost as superstitious as baseball players are. Famous writers are constantly being asked about their process, to share the keys to their success and offer any piece of advice, any rule to follow (see this, this, and this). Personally, I see the value in a routine—it keeps you on track, forces you to actually write something, prevents distraction—but I also see the value in breaking a routine—the thrill of inspiration, the little light bulb moment that comes when your world shifts away from normal and jostles you awake.
In my world, order and mess go hand in hand. Which is why I am forever caught up in the ultimate writing routine question: pen vs. keyboard, paper vs. screen, handwritten vs. typed. I have terrible handwriting and it gets worse the faster I think so the aesthetic beauty of a handwritten page, the grace of putting pen to paper, is lost on me and my loopy cursive/print hybrid. I find myself plunged into the computer writing world of online distractions and trains of thought interrupted by the immediate ease of editing as I go. The pro/cons lists in this debate are endless and so are the routines. Some writers write all first drafts by hand and only type things up during the editing process. Others type up first and then print and edit by hand. Computers are distracting; they come with internet and twitter and quizzes about which clone you are on Orphan Black (No? Just me?). Writing by hand is more pure, a flow of words from thoughts to page that breeds creativity and freedom of expression. On the other hand, computers are convenient, they allow you to organize and compile in a way that becomes tedious with papers and scratched out notes.
What I’m saying is this: using computers to write is a much-debated personal preference, the various sides of which I am well aware. This article is not meant to tell you how to write, or that you must use a computer. Only that, currently, we’ve come to a point where all writers must go digital at some point. Slowly, but surely, submissions processes are turning online only. Whether you wait to the last minute to type up a manuscript or use a computer through the entire process, in the end it must be typed. Which, let's be honest, can be scary and frustrating and time consuming.
So to ease the process, I’ve compiled a list of practical computer tips and tricks to help a writer out. I focused on tools in Microsoft Word, since that’s what most people use as a word processing program. Also, as I am a writer and not a computer genius, I’ve chosen to explain why these tools could be helpful to writers and leave it up to the whizzes at Microsoft Word to show you how to use them (links for everyone!).
You may know some of the obvious shortcuts like CTRL+x, CTRL+c, and CTRL+v for cut, copy, and paste. Those can make moving around sentences a lot faster and simpler. There are also a few others that can make life easier for speedy writers. CTRL+b, CTRL+i, and CTR+i allow you to make highlighted text bolded, underlined, or italicized. Another extremely useful shortcut is SHIFT+F5, which returns you to the last edit point in a document. That way, if you are working in a large document with several chapters and close the document for a lunch break, when you re-open the document later, you can hit SHIFT+F5 to return to the specific paragraph you were editing. Also, a good one to remember: CTRL+S to save your document. That’s definitely a good shortcut to turn into an obsessive habit.
See this for a complete list of shortcuts.
Find and Replace
Find and Replace can be helpful to writers in a lot of different ways. You can use the CTRL+F shortcut to search a document for a specific word or phrase. This is especially useful in large documents for finding a specific character description or fact. You can open the advanced Find and Replace dialogue box to not only search for a word or character name, but also replace every use of that word with another. This is great for when you decide Fred is a terrible character name and you want to change all instances of Fred to Roger. You can also use this to replace specific formatting like paragraph breaks or page breaks. If you are particularly concerned with efficiency, you can write character or place names or common phrases in shorthand and then use Find and Replace to change the shorthand to the full-length phrase. You can even use Find to search for bookmarks you’ve placed within a document (see below for more on bookmarks).
See this for more information on Find and Replace.
Custom Dictionary/ Spelling and Grammar Check
Hate those squiggly colorful lines that show up everywhere? Tired of all your character names being marked as misspelled? Then, it's time to customize your dictionary. You can add any word you want to your dictionary, especially character names, place names, and technological jargon.
Another great trick to make you look especially professional is to customize your Spelling and Grammar check in accordance with a specific style guide (AP, Chicago, MLA etc.). You can specify what changes should be auto-corrected as you type, allowing you to determine stylistic choices, such as whether to use curved or straight quotation marks.
See this for custom dictionaries and this for Spelling and Grammar check.
Split a Document
This magical tool allows you to view two copies of one document at the same time. It’s an excellent way to edit a paragraph while keeping a copy of the original one for comparison as you edit. Splitting the document is also a great way to keep things consistent in your writing; you can view a description of a character on page 12 while you write more about the same character on page 103. You can use the View menu to split the document or the shortcut ALT+CTRL+S to split and unsplit. When you split, just click inside one version of the document to make edits to that copy. When you undo the split, however, all changes will be merged so the original sentence or paragraph will not be saved, but the changes you made to each version will be saved.
See this for more information.
In the throes of writing and editing, I often end up with multiple versions of the same document: KickAssStory, KickAssStory2, KickAssStoryFinal, KickAssStory3good. Often, I save an older version in case I change my mind about deleting a whole page of dialogue or switching the point of view for the whole story. With this trick, you can compare these different documents and see exactly what makes them different via track changes. Great for returning to a story you haven’t worked on in a while, it allows you to revisit some of the changes you made, or just figure out which document really is the final one. After you compare the documents, you can also merge them into one document and choose which changes you want to make.
Formatting: Headings, Page Breaks, Tables of Content, Bookmarks
Using real grown-up formatting can make your document infinitely easier to navigate and your future editors will love you forever. No more hitting return over and over again to start a new page or chapter. Add a page break! Set up your title page and Chapter titles as headings. If you like to work with each chapter in a different document, you can make your own custom “style” of how the page is formatted to keep things uniform and make them a lot easier to combine later (style can include heading and texts, but also page numbers and header and footer information). If you do like to keep it all in one document, when you add a new chapter, you can also add a bookmark to that page, which can then be linked to your table of content so that it works like a real big-girl, clickable table of content. You can also view all the bookmarks you have in one document at once, which helps with navigating.
See all the links: this, this, this, this, and this.
Mail merge will soon become your dearest friend. I first learned of the glories of mail merge when I worked for a non-profit and now I will never go back to my pre-mail merge life. You can make customized envelopes! That’s classy as fuck. It’s also extremely useful for sending out query letters and manuscripts to a lot of different places. Plop the names and contact information for all your addressees into an excel spreadsheet and then mail merge away. You can make custom envelopes, labels, letters, and even emails. If you are as addicted to Gmail as I am, you can also get the Yet Another Mail Merge add on for Google docs, which will allow you to send custom emails with your manuscript attached without copying and pasting a million times.
See this for the whole mail merge process and this for how to get Yet Another Mail Merge.
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The coffee is stale and cold. The desk is littered with marked up papers, red pens, half eaten food, and a not so structurally sound tower of books. After hours of writing, finally the first line has the possibility of perfection. Every writer has been in that same situation: struggling to tame an inspiring idea.
How does one make an abstract idea that is floating around in their mind into concrete words on paper (or unfortunately, in the modern age, type on screen)? The answer is, they have work at it.
Somewhere in time a fable was created: writing comes naturally to a writer. This assumption is a problem that undermines the creative process. This assumption adds to a writer’s self-doubt: if I am struggling this much, am I actually a writer?
How does one deal with self-doubt and struggles? Look for advice from the art form’s masters:
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
The best writers experienced the struggle. Humans are not horses; we are not born walking. It is through the progression of time that walking becomes so easy that it appears to be natural. Even after years and years of practice, writing well, like walking, is not innately natural. But a great writer can make it appear to be natural.
To learn one must first fail. To write one never stops learning. It’s harsh, but it’s the world. To write you must have the courage to fail, and the passion to keep perusing when you do.
Our job is literature and our passion is too. We want to hear from you and ask you to share your stories with us in the comments below. Do you start at the beginning or the climax? Do you first develop the characters or the setting? Do you outline or just write? Do you begin in the morning or at night? How do you get out of a writing rut?
Be courageous; dump that stale coffee sitting next to you. Brew a fresh pot coffee and begin the process again: read, write, edit.
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Writing a great blog post has more to do with planning and editing, and less to do with punching out a fantastic idea. When I began blogging several years ago, many of my pots fell flat -- bam, boom, dead. They had maybe one reader. Why? The idea was solid, but the execution was poor.
Writing a blog serves to inform and intrigue readers. At least, for me it is. Some blog posts are purely informative; others seek to twist the reader -- fuel passion, or insight creativity in my readers. A careful balance is required to succeed. Blog posts require several planning points to succeed:
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