Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brown-Nosing to Increase Your Writer's Social Media Presence

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I have a small confession--I'm a social media junkie.  There--I said it!  To those closest to me, this is of absolutely no surprise.  As the passionate mother of eight kids, I openly admit that I love posting, tweeting, and pinning family related items (respecting their privacy on sensitive topics!) that I either think will be of interest to my friends and followers or just as importantly ideas and thoughts that I feel are interesting and I simply want to share.

As a writer, blogger and professional pod caster, I wholeheartedly believe that social media can benefit my craft in a multitude of ways, primarily offering exposure of my work to hundreds and many times thousands of audience members that I wouldn't otherwise meet.

Social media, however, isn't within everyone's comfort zone, and that's perfectly fine.  The beauty of these tools is that individuals can use them to the fullest of their potential or limit how often they reach out to others on line and in some cases, choose not to go this route at all.

For someone like myself who desires to mingle with these social media avenues on a regular basis for professional reasons, I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is to consistently stay active so that my followers can count on regular content and updates (regardless of how in depth they are).  

This not only requires commitment on my part, but it's also imperative to find new ways to interact with existing followers and continually attract new ones.  To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of facebook, Twitter and Pinterst is the engaging banter that takes place after I post, tweet or pin a thought, upload an article or ask for feedback on a particular topic of interest or one that is trending such as the popular ALS ice bucket challenge.  You never know who will respond or what inspiring ideas you will glean from this type of interaction.

Because I am always looking for ways to reach out and attract new followers, I enjoy reading posts from fellow social media junkies about this subject.  Recently, I read a clever article from Randy Ross called Marketing for Writers:  3 Tricks for Facebook, Twitter, Meetup which offered some quick and easy tips to promote social media sites.

The article offered ways to brown-nose your way into getting more followers and while that may sound a bit pathetic in theory, I found his ideas to be practical and definitely worth giving a shot.

If you are looking for ways to increase the traffic to your social media sites, I highly recommend you click on the link above and read Ross's article for yourself.  If you like what you read, you can give his tactic a try and do a little brown-nosing of your own by leaving a comment or two on this blog!  

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beach Reads for Writers: Lisa Kleypas Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.


Before summer comes to an end, I'm recommending several more beach books—historical fiction this time.
        Lisa Kleypas writes both historical and contemporary novels with detailed love scenes. Historicals are not usually my favorite, but Kleypas has a way with words, characters, settings, and plots. Her female leads are not wallflowers although this highlighted four-book series follows four women labeled as such by a society that has deemed them unworthy of suitors from the upper class.
        The first in the series is Secrets of a Summer Night. Annabelle Peyton's family has sunk into poverty since her father's death years ago. Her brother's education is given first priority when bills are paid, but there isn't enough money for both food and shelter. Several Lords are waiting for her desperation to force her to become a mistress, but self-made Simon Hunt offers her marriage. However, she wants to marry an aristocrat, not the son of a butcher turned businessman.
        At balls and social events, Annabelle is left sitting with the same wallflowersLillian and Daisy Bowman, American sisters whose father has made millions in manufacturing soap, and Evangeline Jenner, daughter of a wealthy father who runs a gaming establishment. Eventually they begin to talk and then become friends. Together they devise a husband-hunting plan.
        The three rich debutants are invited to a month-long house party at the Westcliff estate and inveigle an invitation for Annabelle who is the first one to benefit from the husband-hunting plan. There is a happy ending, but complications, misunderstandings, and a near-death experience have to be overcome first. (Very romantic.)
        Lillian Bowman is feisty, outspoken, amusing, and infuriating which catches the attention of Lord Marcus Westcliff, the most eligible bachelor in England, in It Happened One Autumn. She wins a bet with Westcliff so his mother must help Lillian and Daisy enter into high society. His mother wants him to marry a woman with the bluest blood, but an American upstart may upset her plans. Lord Westcliff is torn. Will family expectations triumph over love? Lillian's mother just wants her daughters to marry well. Will another aristocrat win Lillian's hand in marriage by any means necessary? (Very romantic and amusing.)
        Next up is Devil in Winter, Evangeline Jenner's story. She turns to the Viscount Sebastian St. Vincent, a man desperate for funds as his father has squandered the family fortune, to save her from a horrible marriage to her cruel cousin who only wants control of her money. Without great expectations, will this relationship become romantic?
The series concludes with Scandal in Spring. Daisy Bowman's father has sworn to marry her to a man she does not like. She dreams of marrying for love as her sister did. With the help of her husband-hunting friends, she does.

Especially for writers, I also recommend Suddenly You as the lead character is Amanda Briars, a novelist who, with the help of her publisher, becomes a celebrated editor of a quarterly review journal. 

While I wish this novel had a less Chick Lit name, Lady Sophia's Lover is the story of tragedy, revenge, and true love. Sophia's brother died in jail and she blames the man who put him there. She works her way into Sir Ross Cannon's office and home. Becoming indispensable and intriguing are part of her plan to ruin his reputation and break his heart. Will it work? (Very romantic.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Power Writing--An "Energized" Way to Wake up Your Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of my favorite ways to get exercise and clear my mind is to take a power walk.  I've been walking for years now and my routine is generally the same.  I stretch for five minutes then I jump right in and walk briskly for at least 30 minutes, longer if I have the energy or the time.

Though I do enjoy power walking with friends, truthfully I much prefer to do this alone.  It's "my" time to just be alone with my own thoughts, and I can choose to go at any speed I like or take any route that suits my fancy.

Last week while walking my thoughts wandered into the area of my life that I can never seem to get enough of--writing!  My intentions for making more time to write are always grand, but unless I'm very disciplined I still don't honor my writing goals as sincerely as I'd like.

As I began walking faster and faster my mind just wouldn't let go of my obsessed desire to find new ways to sneak in more writing time.  The quicker I moved, so did my thoughts.  It was as though I couldn't get out of my own way and then a new idea on how to supercharge my writing came to me the instant I finished my walk--power writing!

I have always gotten some of my best ideas for articles and journal entries while walking, so I paid good attention to these thoughts of power writing.  

Basically, I decided to turn my extra energy from walking into some extra energy for writing.  I packed one of my journals along with my walking gear and decided to experiment with my new idea.  After walking one morning last week, instead of heading straight home I grabbed my pen and journal and sat down under a tree and just let my mind and pen work together.  After 15 solid minutes, I had turned out over 8 pages of what I considered to be some of my best ideas!  

My heart was still racing from the power walk and that extra bit of oomph transferred right to my pen.  Wondering if it was just a fluke, I tried it again the following morning, and although my ideas were completely different and my area of concern was more of a "to do" list, it was still very productive and I ended with a feeling of great productivity.

I've since done this new form of power writing at least a half dozen times, and each time I have walked away with inspiration, a feeling of accomplishment, and I even managed to write most of an article yesterday, a process that usually takes me at least a couple of hours!

I don't know if I will use all my power walking jaunts to power write as well, but I will definitely be taking advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible because for me, so far, it's a winning combination!

What physical activities inspire you to write? 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tips for Freelance Magazine Writers

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        For well over a decade, I have been a magazine editor working with freelance writers. Some have writing experience, some don't. Some with writing experience have never interviewed people and written feature articles.

Before giving these writers assignments, I give them all tips, style formats, and answer their questions.

The tips include: have at least a dozen questions ready to go before the interview; make sure to ask for the correct spelling of every person's name, title, and organization; ask follow up questions for clarity; elicit detailed answers with specific questions; and also ask some open questions like: "What is your favorite part of your job or of the event?" and "Is there anything else you would like the public to know?" The last two questions can lead the interview into new territory—more personal when discussing what they like as well as more valuable information about something you didn't know to ask about. 

In-depth interviews can take 45-60 minutes. People with public relations backgrounds and experienced interviewers can finish in 20-30 minutes. Every interview is different. The key is to be prepared with questions, extra pens, and batteries if you are taping the interview.

Style formats vary from publication to publication. Some examples: write out zero through nine, but 10 and up are numerical except in quotes; people's titles are capitalized before their names, but are lower case and encased in commas afterwards; songs are always in quotes, movies and TV shows in italics. There is usually a guide book or style sheet to refer to when writing the articles.

Writers' questions and concerns vary.

If a bit nervous about questioning strangers, I tell writers that genuine curiosity and interest will put the interviewees at ease. These people love what they do and enjoy sharing their knowledge and insights with others (as my publications only include positive articles). Generally, the more you are interested in the answers, the easier the interviews get.

Also, respect the other person's time--be on time and don't waste time during the interview.

Do word counts matter? Yes. There is a finite amount of space in printed publications. If the word count is too low, a filler (jump text, pull quote, extra photo, etc.) must be found for the empty space or the article may be moved to the back of the publication where space is tighter. If count is too high, the article may be cut down to fit the space.

Editors have their own sensibilities when cutting text. Articles may lose what the writer thought was the best section or quote. It's professional to meet word counts.

For ideas on self-editing to meet word counts, see my post dated October 1, 2012. (Please note: I occasionally go over my self-imposed 500 word count for posts if the topics warrant it.)

What about leads? Lead sentences set the tone and direction of articles. They can be funny, serious, or factual. They need to make readers want to keep reading. Many times leads are written last. Once articles are completed, leads become clearer.

How important are deadlines? Exceedingly. Editors have a limited amount of time to edit before the magazines have to be laid out by page along with the ads and then proofed. The printing schedule has to be met or the issues will not be out in time. If a writer cannot meet the deadline, tell the editor as soon as possible so he/she can make other arrangements to fill the space reserved for that article.

What do editors love?

Well-written and well organized articles sent in on time with few, if any, spelling or grammatical errors. A piece with a strong voice that is informative and entertaining and has great quotes is the goal.

Articles with headlines, captions for photos, and suggestions for pull quotes are always well received. Working together makes the article and, therefore, the magazine shine. Editors may make changes to your suggestions or use their own ideas, but the extra effort is appreciated.

Share ideas for future articles. Editors welcome them. Every month there are pages to fill and if the writers are interested in certain topics, it makes for better articles. Not every idea will be approved, but sharing your ideas keeps you in mind when those topics come up in the future.

Communication is the key. Stay in touch with the editor. Ask questions. Share ideas. Be professional and you will receive more assignments.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Inspired Visit to Macmillan Publisher's Headquarters

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When I was a junior in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer.  There was never any question in my mind that the dozens of journals I’d kept since I was in middle school would pave the way to a Pulitzer-prize career in journalism.  Though I had complete faith in my ability to earn a few bucks in this capacity, my guidance counselor had other thoughts on the matter—“forget it, you’ll never make a good living by writing.”

That was back in 1981, and I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It was a cool, crisp fall day and the last of the jewel-toned leaves of amber and scarlet clung to the near bare branches.  After I was advised to steer clear of a writing career, I completed a career survey which ultimately pointed me to a path more suitably matched with my strengths and likes.  Are you ready for the result?  Sit down now, because you just might not believe it.  A forest ranger!  My interests and strengths would serve me well as one of Smokey the Bear’s companions.

I’ve got nothing against forest rangers, but I just couldn’t picture myself wearing an olive green jumpsuit to work every day.  Luckily, I didn’t follow that path, but sadly, I didn’t pursue my writing passion for nearly 2 decades after I graduated, but let me tell you—it was worth the wait.

Many of my writing goals have been accomplished during the past ten years, and one of my biggest achievements, which came quite unexpectedly, was met two years ago when I was hired by one of the world’s largest publishers—Macmillan. 

Macmillan Publishers, a distinctive group of publishing companies, has a rich history in the book industry and offer publishing in a broad range of quality works—including award-winning fiction and nonfiction, and inspired and much-loved children’s books.  Not only that, they have a significant presence on-line.  I was hired by their Quick and Dirty Tips community to be their parenting columnist.  (Having 8 kids in one decade sort of qualified me!). 

Quick and Dirty Tips (QDT) offers short, actionable advice from friendly and informed authorities that will help you succeed at work and in life. Whether you want to manage your time and money more efficiently, communicate more effectively, observe the correct rules of etiquette, or improve your performance in other home and workplace endeavors, Quick and Dirty Tips shows you that education and entertainment can go hand in hand.

Hosts like Get-it-Done Guy, Money Girl, Domestic CEO, Get-Fit-Guy, the Clever Cookstr and perhaps our most famous host-Grammar Girl give helpful snippets of advice via a weekly podcast and column.  My host name is “Mighty Mommy” and each week I share parenting tips and tricks that will add a bit more balance and perspective to your family’s busy life.

Though I do most of my work from home, I also visit their headquarters in New York City, and last month I had the pleasure of spending a very full day in the Big Apple with my Macmillanfamily.
Traveling to NYC is a snap thanks to the convenience of Amtrak right here in our own backyard.  I grabbed the 7:11 AM train out of Kingston and was in Penn Station just three quick hours later.  Though it was a gray, rainy day for my visit, I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying my commute.

I’ve been to New York a handful of times, but always with other friends or family members.  This was my first time going solo, and I wasn’t going to let a little rain get in the way of navigating the city all by my big girl self.  Just in case, however, my oldest daughter was on standby should I get lost—she’s lived in NYC for two years now so I knew she was only a phone call away.

The frantic, high-paced energy of the city could be felt the minute I stepped into Penn Station, but as the mother of 8 kids it didn’t deter me, and instantly gave me a jolt of excitement.  Dressed in summery white jeans, a cobalt blue blouse and my most comfy sandals I stepped out onto 8th Avenue and 34th St. and giddily headed to Macmillan’s home office in the infamous Flatiron Building.

For more than a century, New York City’s famous Flatiron Building has occupied a piece of curiously shaped real estate at 175 Fifth Avenue, sitting on a small triangular island at 23rd Street and Broadway, facing Madison Square. It is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, appearing in numerous movies and on countless postcards and posters. Aside from the ground floor retail space, Macmillan Publishers is the sole tenant. The Flatiron’s interior is known for its strangely shaped offices, with walls that cut through at an angle on their way to the skyscraper’s famous point. These “point” offices feature amazing northern views that look directly upon another famous Manhattan landmark, the Empire State Building.

I cannot tell a lie—I did get lost!  I went the wrong way on 8th and had to walk a couple extra blocks, in the humidity, drizzle and rain and soon discovered that comfy pair of sandals I was wearing weren’t so great after all and my sleek hairstyle of 6:30 AM was now long gone.  Still, my adrenaline was rushing at a very constant pace so I didn’t notice the beginning blisters or that my hairstyle now resembled that of George Washington’s.

My editor was waiting for me in the entrance way with a big hug and a small piece of advice—never wear sandals to New York!  Still oblivious to the welts startingaround my toes (who am I kidding, I knew those sandals were a mistake when I put them on—I have only myself to blame!) I headed up into the Macmillan suites where I finally got to meet many of the production and editorial team I’ve known via phone conferences, e-mails and texts for the past two years. 

My first impression was how peaceful the office was.  There were dozens of people working in small offices, each strategically handling their own important tasks that ultimately resulted in an article or book getting published.  Some were really scurrying to meet a deadline, while others were laid back and casual about their workload.

I immediately noticed the neat stacks of books throughout the floor I was visiting.  That was a sight to behold.  There were magnificent hardcovers, soft and crisp paperbacks, and colorful audio book covers nearly everywhere I looked.  I stopped, took a deep breath (book paper has always had an intoxicating effect on me), and just pinched myself.  Gratitude poured out of me as I sat in my editor’s office and was treated like a VIP for the entire day.

I was introduced as “Mighty Mommy” everywhere I went that day and although I know it might not be the equivalent to an Academy Award winning actress or a New York Time’s Best Selling author (yet!) I felt like a rock star the entire day.  We worked on some of my short and long-term goals with Quick and Dirty Tips and I also shot 4 videos for the “Mighty Mommy” channel that will be airing this summer.  

I got a glimpse of what other authors were working on and saw the publishing world in a whole new light—behind the scenes—so by the time my day too quickly came to an end, I was revitalized and more excited than I’ve ever been about my career as a writer.  And to make the day even more fantastic, my daughter met me at Macmillan and we had dinner in Times Square—where the sun finally broke through the overcast clouds and made the day complete perfection.

Tired but still on Cloud 9 I returned to Penn Station to board the 9:30 PM train home.   I clung to my daughter for what seemed like forever (those good-bye hugs never get easier) and breathed in that NYC air one last time. It was then that I finally saw the pitiful shape my feet were in but even all those blisters couldn’t burst the sincere joy and appreciation I was exuding after my quick and dirty trip visiting my place of employment—Macmillan Publishers in New York City!  Learn more at

Which of your writing dreams has come true?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda

From Kate's Writing Crate…


        Looking for inspiration? Flip open The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

        His questions don't have answers per se; they make you consider. Ponder. Laugh. Think. Feel.

        A few of my favorites from pages 3, 14, 20, 40, and 47, respectively:


                Tell me, is the rose naked

                or is that her only dress?


                Who shouted with glee

                when the color blue was born?


                And why did cheese decide

                to perform heroic deeds in France?


                What do they call the sadness

                of a solitary sheep?


                In the middle of autumn

                do you hear yellow explosions?



        Think of some questions of your own or write down your thoughts after reading some from the book. The author was playful with many of his questions including on page 32:


                Is there anything sillier in life

                than to be called Pablo Neruda?



Thursday, August 7, 2014

7 Habits of Amazing Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Hello Writer's Crate Friends!

It has been several LONG months since I've contributed a blog post to The Writer's Crate!  After a spring full of illness (pneumonia and bronchitis) as well as my starting a full-time job right as my children got out of school for their 10-week summer vacation, I am finally a bit more like my organized self and am ready to get back to joining my blogging partner, Kate, with regular contributions here at The Writer's Crate!

I've missed my regular postings here on Thursdays.  As I gently get back to the basics of posting on a topic I'm completely passionate about--all things writing--I thought I'd share the 7 habits of some Amazing Writers that were shared in an article I just read by Leo Babata that will hopefully help inspire you with your writing as much as they've inspired me as I venture back into blogging.

1. Stephen King. In his book On Writing, King says that he writes 10 pages a day without fail, even on holidays. That’s a lot of writing each day, and it has led to some incredible results: King is one of the most prolific writers of our time.
2. Ernest Hemingway. By contrast with King, “Papa” Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. That’s not bad, though. Hemingway, like me, woke early to write to avoid the heat and to write in peace and quiet. Interestingly, though Hemingway is famous for his alcoholism, he said he never wrote while drunk.
3. Vladimir Nabokov. The author of such great novels as Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada did his writing standing up, and all on index cards. This allowed him to write scenes non-sequentially, as he could re-arrange the cards as he wished. His novel Ada took up more than 2,000 cards.
4. Truman Capote. The author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” claimed to be a “completely horizontal author.” He said he had to write lying down, in bed or on a couch, with a cigarette and coffee. The coffee would switch to tea, then sherry, then martinis, as the day wore on. He wrote his first and second drafts in longhand, in pencil. And even his third draft, done on a typewriter, would be done in bed — with the typewriter balanced on his knees.
5. Philip Roth. One of the greatest living American writers, Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claimed to walk half a mile for every page he writes. He separates his work life from personal life, and doesn’t write where he lives — he has a studio built away from his house. He works at a lectern that doesn’t face the view of his studio window, to avoid distraction.
6. James Joyce. In the pantheon of great writers of the last century, Joyce looms large. And while more prolific writers set themselves a word or page limit, Joyce prided himself in taking his time with each sentence. A famous story has a friend asking Joyce in the street if he’d had a good day writing. Yes, Joyce replied happily. How much had he written? Three sentences, Joyce told him.
7. Joyce Carol Oates. This extremely prolific writer (see her bibliography on her Wikipedia page!) has won numerous awards, including the National Book Award. She writes in longhand, and while she doesn’t have a formal schedule, she says she prefers to write in the morning, before breakfast. She’s a creative writing professor, and on the days she teaches, she says she writes for an hour or 45 minutes before leaving for her first class. On other days, when the writing is going well, she can work for hours without a break — and has breakfast at 2 or 3 in the afternoon!
What writer's do you admire?  Have you ever checked into what their best writing habits are?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing Senses

From Kate's Writing Crate…

         I sit at my desk to write every day. Technically, all I need is my computer and inspiration; however, inspiration isn't always around so also on my desk are:

·       Binoculars;

·       Diminutive animal figurines;

·       A round, yellow glass disk stamped with "Be true to yourself—do what you love" given to me by a college roommate;

·       A Lip Smacker;

·       Two small aqua ceramic vases: the tall one filled with pens and pencils, the shorter with dark blue glass pebbles;

·       TV remote; and

·       Wintergreen mints.

When I find myself not writing, I pick up one of the figurines and gently rub the turtle's shell or look at the face of the owl, or I run my fingers through the glass pebbles in the vase, or flip the glass disk while I ruminate. Sometimes I use the Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker. Inspiration often appears as I distract myself with tactile experiences.

Then I see a flash of color outside the window and I grab for the binoculars to watch the cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, and other birds fly in for the black oiled sunflower seeds in the feeder outside my office window. More exciting is when the hummingbird is darting among the orange blossom-filled Trumpet Vine wrapped around the nearby 40-foot evergreen tree. Sometimes he sits on a branch for five or six seconds so I get a good look before he is gone again.

I turn the TV on for music or news. It doesn't matter which as while I am writing I no longer hear it. But before I am writing, it, too, can provide inspiration.

Once I'm writing, I may as well be in a dark, windowless basement. All my senses are attuned to my thoughts—capturing them, describing them through my senses—but having no sense of where I am until I take a break and pop a mint while looking out the window again.

Writing seems like a simple act requiring only my computer and imagination, but all my senses are involved when I sit at my desk to write.