Writing Wednesday – The End

BlogTargetReached

Yesterday was day 66! I am excited to review my progress, so let’s start with the stats!

Action Plan Recap:

  • DONE – 66 consecutive days of working on my blog for at least 1 hour.
  • DONE – 2 books on writing read.
  • DONE – 2 people interviewed about blogging.
  • DONE – completed the Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens Coursera course.
  • DONE – 10 weekly blog posts on developing my blogging habit completed.

Grade: A

Blogging Stats:

  • 22 posts
  • 16 followers
  • 126 visitors
  • 249 views
  • 72 likes
  • 12 comments

Incentive: This afternoon I upgraded from a Free to a Premium account!

Lessons Learned:

I am proud of myself for sticking with this habit for 66 consecutive days. There were definitely some days it was hard to put in the time. One day I didn’t start working on the blog until 11 pm. My action plan helped me the most over the last few months, especially on the days where my motivation was lacking. It was good to have a reference list of ideas that all kept pushing closer to achieving my goal.

Making this blog public and sharing my goals with friends and family has also helped me to reach this milestone. Having people around me ask about my progress, and sharing excited conversations about the blog kept me inspired.

I am not going to track daily progress anymore, but I would like to implement some maintenance goals to stay on track with my newly formed habit.

6 Month Goals:

  • Improve my blogging stats
  • Blog about 4 new habits
  • Read 1 new book on writing

I am excited to carry this momentum forward in maintaining this habit and creating new ones! Do you have any new habits you’d like to build? Please share your goals in the comments.

Crash Course on Journalism

Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens is a University of Melbourne course taught by Dr. Denis Muller and Dr. Margaret Simons offered through Coursera. The 8 week course is geared toward the new media publishers and teaches the basics of journalism, interviewing, gathering information, and the ethical and legal implications of practicing journalism.

I thought this class would help me develop my blogging and writing skills because blogs are a part of this new media landscape and some of the highlighted topics were on my action plan.

Each week they posted video lectures, quizzes, and follow ups on the assignments.  I really enjoyed the video lectures and found the lessons on the principles of good writing, attribution, and finding things out particularly helpful. The quizzes helped to reinforce the material in the videos, and you could take them as many times as you wanted to ensure understanding.

The assignments were related to a mock investigation into the local government of a fake town. At first I tried to keep up with the assignments, but it seemed like wasted effort. While I love getting grades, I took this course to help improve the quality of this blog. I chose to focus my efforts here rather than spend hours writing fake reports that were only going to get more involved.

Overall I found Muller and Simons engaging and knowledgeable. I have already incorporated some of the things I learned from them into my blog, like writing in a clear and simple manner and focusing on word choice. They also covered topics that aren’t useful for the blog like managing confidential sources and the ethics of interviewing traumatized people, but it was intriguing material nonetheless.

This is a well structured course lead by excellent professors. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their writing skills or dabble in journalism. This course also offers a Course Certificate – Statement of Accomplishment, if you’re into that sort of thing. There are no future sessions currently listed, but based on the feedback I have seen in forums I am sure they will be back.

Do you think bloggers and journalists have overlapping skill sets? Let’s discuss further in the comments.

Asked & Answered: On Books and Blogging

Ana Spoke  is a blogger and self-published author. I have been following her blog for over a month now, and have learned some great tips and tricks about blogging. The newest idea she shared was a blog tour.

Ana is promoting her new book Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1), and in an effort spread the good word she is doing interviews and guest posting on her follower’s blogs. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to interview her! Since Ana is in Australia and I am in the US we did the interview over email, which was another first for me.

“You Go, Girl!”

According to Ana, Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1). was born when she wrote a spoof scene of Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, Book 1). The scene was about Isa, a young and dumb girl, meeting  an eccentric billionaire. She emailed that scene to her sister who found it hilarious and demanded more. At her sister’s urging she continued writing bits and pieces of Isa’s story.

“This time it had to be different.”

Ana has shared on her blog that she has started multiple writing projects, but none of them really went anywhere. When Ana had a raw draft of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1) she made the decision to turn these scenes into a book and finish it! Ana’s read a number of books and articles on plotting, character development, and creating drama, but needed some additional motivation to complete the book. She started her blog to give her public accountability in working toward her goal. The blog narrates her journey from draft to publication and beyond. Since deciding to publish the book herself the blog has also become a marketing platform. To expand her reach and promote her brand Ana has started posting helpful articles on a regular basis and engaging other bloggers.

“I love data…”

To meet her goal of finishing the book Ana needed structure to stay on track. She created a spreadsheet to track her daily word count. Ana also shared some of her blog stats with me that show the snowball effect of her recent marketing efforts.

  • 1,863 blog followers
  • The week of 09/06 – 2,092 views from 923 unique visitors
  • 21,477 Twitter followers

Ana assured me this was a big jump from the approximately 20 followers the blog had in the first year. Having these data points to track progress have been very motivating for Ana, and have helped her achieve her goal of becoming a published author!

Pro-Tips

  • Consistency – blog once a week and have a daily word goal.
  • Try to learn something new every day.
  • Have fun!

Thank you, Ana for the wonderful insight into the world of blogging and writing. I am going to start tracking my daily word count so I can review my own trend lines, and hopefully see some improvement! I also can’t wait to jump into Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1). I’m through chapter 2, and am looking forward to really getting into the book over the weekend.

If you’d like to see what all of the fuss is about grab a copy of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1) and head on over to Ana’s blog!

Book Breakdown: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

 

When browsing Goodreads shortly after I decided to start this blog I noticed this book on a friend’s to-read shelf. The title alone sparked my interest because it seemed like exactly what I needed to help improve my writing skills.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between is presented in 2 parts. Part 1 defines creative non-fiction and is full of general tips for improving your writing. Part 2 focuses on how to successfully write creative non-fiction by analyzing some well known works in depth.

Creative non-fiction is “true stories, well told.” By focusing on the story and characters you can frame your work by building scenes that embed the non-fiction elements you want your readers to learn about. Storytelling will allow you to engage your audience and help them push through the dry, informational bits. Gutkind calls it the “creative non-fiction dance,” and teaches the reader the basic steps.

There are 18 exercises peppered throughout the book. I am particularly excited to try immersion (exercise #6). “Just watch, listen, take notes… and see what happens.” I am going to a family reunion this weekend and it is the side of my family that I am not very close with. Approaching the event with a writer’s eye has made me less nervous about meeting 28 new family members for the first time.

I don’t know that I will adopt a creative non-fiction style for all of my blog posts, but some might benefit from a more stylized approach, especially the ones that deal with my interactions with other people.

Overall, this book is well structured and insightful. I recommend it to anyone with a great idea for a non-fiction piece who wants to reach a wide audience. I would also suggest it to any fan of Malcolm Gladwell, Rebecca Skloot, Janenette Walls, etc. looking for insight into why their pieces work so well. It’s an entertaining book with excellent tips on becoming a better storyteller.

Want to win your very own copy of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between? Just follow this blog to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced Wednesday.

If you already follow my blog (THANKS!) and want a chance to win, just leave a comment.

Inspiration and Implementation: Blogging

Blog Inspiration

I created a blog inspiration board on Pinterest. Out of all of the resources I pinned the 4 listed below have been the most useful in refining my blogging habit.

  1. Inspirational Blogs

The first thing I did when I decided to start a blog was make a list of all the blogs I like and read on a regular basis. Interesting Thing of the Day has been the biggest inspiration to me, because the breadth of topics they cover really speaks to my varied interests. They write about anything that happens to catch their fancy. I don’t love every topic, but I have been a loyal reader for years. They post on a consistent basis which means I always have something interesting to look forward to on uneventful days.

Critically reviewing the blogs that I find inspiring allows me to reflect on the goals I have for my own blog. Now I am reading them for their entertainment value and for ideas to improve the quality of my posts.

2. First Site Guide

The “Start a Blog” section of First Site Guide is very well done. I was drawn to the site because of their fun animation, and stayed for their comprehensive videos. I watched all of the videos in the first week of starting this blog and was able to get all my ducks in a row before I started posting.

3. Resource Libraries

I have found some very thorough resource libraries that I have been putting to good use. It’s hard to know what you don’t know so having access to the A-Z guides has given me a broad overview of topics I am sure will come in handy.

4. Creative Nonfiction

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind and the Creative Nonfiction magazine he founded have bee great resources for “true stories, well told.” I am trying to develop great content, but I also need to present it in a way that potential readers find compelling. I just started reading Gutkind’s book, but I can already tell it was a great choice!

The magazine is actually running an essay contest that might be a fun challenge for me. Building this habit is supposed to get me out of my comfort zone and I have never entered an essay contest before!

These resources have been extremely helpful in getting this blog off the ground. They have provided a great foundation for my blog and improved the content of my posts.

Do you have any great writing or blogging resources? Please share them in the comments below!

Writing Wednesday – The Middle

I have successfully completed 32/66 days of my blogging habit. The half way point seems like a great time to pause and reflect on my progress so far.

Action Plan Progress:

  • 32 of 66 consecutive days of working on my blog for at least 1 hour.
  • 1 of 2 books on writing read.
  • 1 of 2 people interviewed about blogging.
  • 3 of 8 modules completed in the Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens Coursera course.
  • 5 of 10 weekly blog posts on developing my blogging habit completed.

Grade: A

Blogging Stats:

  • 11 posts
  • 8 followers
  • 47 visitors
  • 128 views
  • 26 likes
  • 5 comments

Based on my action plan progress, I am making great strides in building my blogging habit. Even though the blogging stats are not part of my primary goals, they are interesting to review. As I continue blogging after my 66 day challenge is completed I will probably set new goals around these stats.

Lessons Learned:

The hardest part of this habit is staying ahead of my posting schedule. I really want to have my posts done a day or two in advance, but there are only so many hours in the day. Writing 300 words a day has helped to get my shitty first drafts out of the way, but I’m still not completing them any earlier. I haven’t missed a deadline yet, but I need to try to get ahead of the game.

Another problem is that my posts feel incomplete because habit building is a work in progress. When I investigate different aspects of a habit it feels like there is more I could do and experience before I’m ready to write about the topic. I just have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this to improve myself, not to become an expert.

I am really enjoying the challenge of cultivating this blogging habit. It has kept me motivated to keep up both of my daily habits, and by branching out of my comfort zone I have felt really good about how I am spending my free time.

Check out my Twitter account @ppreoccupation to continue following my blogging progress.

Writing Workouts

This habit is all about becoming a better and more consistent writer. As I have researched different ways to accomplish this goal I keep seeing the same tip over and over again: Write! In an effort to write at least 300 words a day I have come up with some different ways to meet that goal.

Assignments

I am a great in class learner so I signed up for a Coursera class, Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens. There are writing exercises we will be working on throughout the course. The word count varies by assignment, but it is a good way to get writing. I also picked my second book for this habit, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, because there are writing exercises peppered throughout.

Prompts

I follow /r/WritingPrompts on Reddit, NaNoWriMo on Facebook, and some of my favorite authors on various social media sites. Great writing prompts can come from these sources. I don’t do them on a regular basis, but if I’m dealing with writer’s block the prompts can get me out of my rut. I will search for prompts that fire a spark of inspiration, and then write as much as I can on that topic. It’s a useful distraction!

Journals 

I have always been a consistent journal-er, but this blogging habit is a stretch for me. This blog has been my primary writing outlet, along with my corresponding notebook. I use the notebook daily to reflect on all the ways I am trying to cultivate my habit. Those notes lead directly to my blog posts.

I also have a private LiveJournal account and a small journal that I keep on my nightstand. When I find it hard to sleep or am particularly stressed out I use those journals just to get things out of my head! I find I am better able to relax once I get everything down on paper.

Business Writing

As a consulting project manager I have the opportunity to write a lot throughout the day. I send countless emails, create reference documents, and give a lot of presentations. I do not count the words I type during the work day, but I am reinforcing the skills that I am learning from my blogging habit.

Now, when I proofread my emails I ensure I have the “newsiest” pieces at the top with a great introduction. When I write my project management plans, I try to power through my shitty first drafts. Building this habit has given me a new appreciation for all the writing I already do on a daily basis.

Writing 300 words a day is not as simple as I thought it would be. Having a couple of different “writing workouts” like the assignments and prompts help me to keep building my writing chops. It also a great way to ensure I meet my goal of working on this blog for at least 1 hour every day.

Do you have any tips on how you meet a daily word count? Please share in the comments below!

Lessons Learned: Planning a Give Away

Pro tip: Test out your brilliant blog ideas before you share them with the world.

So a funny thing happened to me on my way to the Stats page today. My Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life post has garnered 32 views and 21 shares on Facebook. That surpassed all of my expectations, so I was excited to start compiling my list of people for the drawing. I am fairly tech savvy, but I couldn’t figure out how to see the names of the people that shared the post on Facebook. Imagine my horror when I googled “people who shared my wordpress blog,” and found out 30 seconds later that you cannot, in fact, get to that information.

As I skimmed through the forums I realized I’m not the first person to make this assumption, and I probably won’t be the last. Some of the tips said to just pick someone at random without acknowledging the error, but this blog is all about personal growth and learning so I think it’s important to share my failures too.

Apology time for all the people who have already taken the time to share my blog post with their friends. Sorry! I really appreciate your time and effort, and I am sure you are excited for a chance to win the book. I am going to amend my previous post and ask that anyone who has shared it to please leave their name in the comments. This seems like the best way to make sure I can still do a drawing.

If you have a problem with this alternate method of selection, please leave a comment below and you will still be entered into the drawing. 🙂 The winner will be announced on Wednesday.

Hopefully, we’ve all learned something from this. The next time I try to give something, I will be sure to test out my method of award.

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
L.M. Montgomery