Saturday, February 25, 2017

The 50 Funniest American Writers: According to Andy Borowitz by Andy Borowitz

Not funny except for a few selections near the end (Wanda Sykes, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Jean Shepherd, Woody Allen.)



(In other words -- not recommended.)

NOTE: This review (such as it is) originally appeared on Goodreads. I spend way too much time on Goodreads. Anyone else addicted to writing reviews on Goodreads?

Anyone?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Book Series Review The Everything Series By Adams Media

No, I haven’t read them all but enough to get the general flavor of the series

First there was the For Dummies series by Wiley Publishing and then came The Complete Idiot's Guide series by the Penguin Group. Since they did so well, there has been a host of other series based on the similar themes, subjects and layouts as both the For Dummies series and The Complete Idiot's Guide series. The most promising of these knock-off series has been the Everything book series from Adams Media.
The Good
The Everything series tends to be indexed very well, organized well and include an interesting "Additional Resources" section of print media, websites or organizations to help you get further details. These are especially helpful for students, teachers or freelance writers.
The books use an easy to read font and use different colored text and headings to help break up long chapters into easy-to-digest pieces. Like the two series it mimics, the Everything books also has specially named and illustrated features scattered about the text. These include "E Alerts" which are warnings; "E Essentials" which are "quick, handy tips" and "E Facts" which sometimes wanders into the trivial.
The Bad
Unfortunately, the Everything book series does not have the clout (such that it is) that the For Dummies or The Complete Idiot's Guide has. Perhaps this will change in the future. But for now, the Everything series cannot pull in experts in the field that also know how to write. The writing quality varies considerably from book to book.
Also, these books are less than 300 pages long. That does not include the introduction, contents list, index, Additional Resources section and advertisements for other books in the series. Many books in the series try to cover topics much too broad to be explained in less than 300 pages. The most successful books in the series are ones that focus on a more specific topic, such as The Everything Blogging Book by Aliza Rishdahl.
The Downright Ugly
The titles of some books in the Everything series can be deceptive. The writer may cover a topic slightly different than what the title suggests. This can be highly annoying. One example of such a book is The Everything Aquarium Book by Frank Indiviglio. He spends most of the book talking about saltwater or marine aquariums. This does not help people with freshwater or brackish water aquariums.
This was also reflected in the eight pages of color photographs in the book. Seven pages described salt water species. Color pages also push up the cost of a book and so it would have been much better for the reader to ditch the photos and get eight more pages of content, especially about freshwater aquariums and equipment.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Happy Birthday Peter Gabriel

Today is Peter Gabriel's 67th birthday, so I'm trotting out this old picture that appeared originally on the Solsbury Hill website. I couldn't find any news on PG except that his rather mediocre song "The Veil" (from the Oliver Stone movie Snowden) is up for an Oscar (the show is on Feb. 26.) The same song was nominated but lost at last night's Grammys. Something called "Heathens" won and apparently the population of a small nation sung on the track.

The only other news I could find is that Anna Gabriel, PG's eldest child, is selling her posh New York flat.

If you're waiting for a new album from PG, don't hold your breath.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is Blogging Stressful?

Several years ago, one of the most widely circulated stories among bloggers is The New York TimesIn Wide Word of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog ‘Til They Drop.   Chances are, you already read it, had it emailed to you or heard about it.  The story alleges that bloggers can kill themselves blogging in the hunt to report the Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing is crucial to bloggers trying to make some money.  The Next Big Thing often brings in more traffic and thus gives the blog a larger chunk of revenue share.

The Reality of Blogging

I hate to disappoint you, but blogging is not stressful in and of itself.  In fact, I find it to be a real relief from my daily stress.  I have two personal blogs that don’t generate money and have worked on blogs for clients that did make money.  The only stress I received was blogging for other clients. (“Hmm – wonder if he’ll bother paying me this month?”)

There does seem to be a difference between the blogger interviewed for the New York Times article than for "normal" bloggers.  The former — and most stressed out kind — are journalists where the deadline was always yesterday.  Don’t let their job pressures dissuade you from writing a diary, journal or blog.  Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or a computer screen) is one of the most economic and effective ways of managing stress.

The Word “Blog”

Just the word "blog" is can make you relax.  It’s such a ludicrous-sounding word.  I know blog is short for "weblog", but that’s not what I thought of when I first heard the word ‘blog" years ago.  I thought it was a sound you made when a vine or a tentacle wrapped around you.  You know — "Have I ever seem a giant squid around here?  Nah, there aren’t any giant sq — blog!" 

So, just thinking "I’ve got to go work on the blogs now" can put at least half a smile on my face.

Help In Survival Situations

I used to have a book on wilderness survival written by an ex-SAS guy, John Wiseman.  In it, you learn things like how to survive in the woods after your airplane has gone down or how to find drinkable water in the Arctic.  And you know what one thing he recommended for surviving difficult situations where you are stranded in the middle of nowhere?  

If you guess, "keep a journal", pat yourself on the book and go have a cookie.   If you kept a journal (ordinary or written blog") in survival situations, you can keep track of what plants are edible, any significant landmarks to remember and how long you’ve been stuck out in the middle of nowhere.  He also says that it helps as a stress reliever and to give you a sense of purpose ("I can’t die yet — needs I must blog!")

So, if you don’t believe me, you can take it from John Wiseman.  The act of blogging is not stressful and it can help you overcome stressful situations.  Blogging for money can be stressful, depending on how goofy your client is.  But even then, you don’t have to deal with the client face to face.  But you can always blog about how annoying blogging is, as long as you don’t name any clients and incur a lawsuit.


The Informal Library in Clifton Heights, Pennsylvania

My favorite place to go in my neighborhood

My home town of Clifton Heights has a rather unusual library.  It’s so unusual that most residents are completely unaware that it exists.  When asked where the closest library is, A Clifton Heights resident will most likely direct you to the public libraries in Lansdowne or Upper Darby.  But one library exists, unheralded and mostly ignored inside of the Clifton Heights Borough Hall.

The Informal Library

This library lacks many of the things a usual library has.  It does not have librarians, books organized into categories or even steady hours.  But it also does have due dates.  The library is based entirely on the honor system.  Residents can take as many books as they want, although they are requested to bring other books they do not want in compensation.

The library is the first room on the left as soon as you walk into the Borough Hall doors.  Often the lights are out.  Just open the door and switch on the lights.  Inside the vast room, you’ll see a lot of empty tables and chairs.  This is where Veteran’s Administration meetings, council meetings and voting takes place. 

But flanking the room are large, stately wooden bookshelves crammed with books, old textbooks and tons of Reader’s Digest Condensed Book tombs.  You never know what you are going to find at the informal library.  I try to only go a few times a year in order to ensure the largest turnover possible.  I like to savor the occasion as it’s such a treat.

Tips

The library is mostly open when the Borough Hall is open.  However, if there is a meeting going on, then the doors will be locked.  You are allowed to look for books while voting is going on, as long as you do not bother the volunteers helping out that day.  They usually park their desks in front of one wall of bookcases.

Bring a large tote bag or backpack and fill it up.  Don’t expect to see a lot of books or authors that you recognize.  But this is a great chance to expand your reading horizons and sample all kinds of authors and genres for free.  Bring a sense of humor.  Some volunteers do try and sort out the shelves, but mostly they are a hodge-podge of categories. 

Clifton Heights Borough Hall
30 South Springfield Road
Clifton Heights, PA 19018

610-623-1000

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Why You Need to Market Yourself Online If You Are Self-Employed

Originally published on Helium


Online marketing is crucial in order to be both self-employed and able to pay bills. No one will come looking for a freelancer. The self-employed freelancer needs to go to the clients. There are several ways a freelancer can connect with future clients.

Social Networking

There are two types of social networking sites available to the self-employed. There are all-subject social websites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace and then there are business-related social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook’s BranchOut. Only join free websites. Fill out the profile page as completely as possible. Use a professional head-shot or at least a clear photo as an avatar.

Although business social networks may seem to be the most logical choice to concentrate efforts, they are a narrow avenue for connecting with new clients. BranchOut, for example, has a very limited search feature for their job listings.  Connecting with other self-employed contemporaries on regular Facebook or Facebook groups opens up new client possibilities. Building relationships with others not only helps relieve the loneliness the self-employed experience, but also can give tips and tricks on what new markets are opening and if anyone is hiring.

Bidding Websites

There are many job-listing sites that serve as a third party between clients and contractors. For example, if an e-business needs a new logo, they put up a job listing and sift through the individual job bids and proposals in order to pick who they will work with. The bidding websites often provide help mediating any disputes between clients and contractors.

Some of these sites include Elance, Odesk or iFreelance. Get to learn which bidding sites feature which type of jobs. Unfortunately, many of these sites require a subscription fee. It is not necessary to subscribe to a job listing site. Take whatever free membership is offered and take advantage of any free trial memberships. Two to four weeks’ free membership is enough time to find a client.

Maintain Business Website

The self-employed ideally should purchase their own domain name in order to really make their online presence felt. Buying a domain name and building an easy-to-read and easy to navigate business website makes an incredible first impression on clients.

But not every self-employed worker can buy his or her own domain name. Freelance web content writers, for example, will struggle to afford a domain name. But even maintaining a free blog on Blogger can help create a positive impression on anyone who clicks onto the blog. Keep updating it at least once a week to reassure clients both old and new that no one has suddenly disappeared. Keep all views on religion or politics off this blog (unless you are me.)

10 Bad Books By Great Writers

“People who have half a mind to write a book – unfortunately do!”  -- Anonymous

Even the best authors can produce some real clunkers. Although these 10 are arguably great writers, steer clear of these books, listed in alphabetical order. (Some of these appear on my Goodreads reviews.)

Judy Blume, Wifey

Celebrated children book author Judy Blume’s 1978 work for adults seems desperate to distance itself as far from children’s books as possible.  The unsympathetic protagonist, caught in a boring marriage, decides to have an affair.  This theme has been much better done by other writers.  The numerous sex scenes are blunt, chilling and embarrassing instead of sensual.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

This highly-acclaimed 1929 novel about the fall of a Southern family is confusing, unsatisfying and depressing.  It was written in a Faulkner’s stream of consciousness style, but novels like As I Lay Dying managed to make this style compelling and comprehensible.

Dick Francis, Hot Money

Francis became more famous as a mystery writer than as a champion steeplechase jockey.  Most of his mysteries are examples of how to write a mystery, but this 1987 offering lacks the grim but hopeful reality of British horse racing that appears in the majority of Francis’ works.  There are too many characters and a sudden ending to make this a satisfying work.

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

Franzen has earned accolades for his works, including this very long 2010 novel.  Told in different character’s voices, this novel fails for being too patronizing to the reader.  Symbols and metaphors are explained at great length by the characters.  The novel is much too long and cutting out those explanations would save the reader’s nerves.

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Although this novella won the Pulitzer Prize of 1954, The Old Man and the Sea is responsible for a generation of readers to hate Hemingway.  This is a shame, considering that most of Hemingway’s novels are full of quirky dark humor and three-dimensional characters.  Unfortunately, this novella lacks his sense of humor and character development.  In modern times where animal suffering is cringe-worthy, readers may find themselves rooting for the fish.

Stephen King, Insomnia

The master of this 1994 thriller starts strong and then keeps on stumbling in this bestseller.  Although this was publicized as being a novel that can stand by itself, it makes numerous references to King’s Gunslinger series.  This is incredibly frustrating for anyone who hasn’t read a Gunslinger book.

Dean Koontz, Cold Fire

The basis of a good horror story is that the plot must be believable.  In this way, the reader wonders if the premise could actually happen.  This is sadly missing in Koontz’s 1991 offering, Cold Fire.  The female protagonist, a reporter, seems to be the most intelligent human being that has ever lived in order to figure out just what is going on to a seemingly miraculous man.

Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed

Lamb creates vivid characters and compelling plotlines, but The Hour I First Believed (2008) breaks no new ground.  It contains dozens of pages reproducing interviews and news articles about the Columbine school shooting.  Readers already overly familiar with the Columbine shooting will find these long passages tedious.  This novel so similar to Lamb’s previous I Know This Much Is True (1998) that you have to wonder if he plagiarized himself.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

McCarthy’s 2006 short novel won raves from Oprah Winfrey and from many critics.  However, the main plot line – what happens in a post-Apocalyptic world – has been much better in Stephen King’s The Stand, in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and about 100 other science fiction short stories.

John Steinbeck, Burning Bright

Although technically this is a three-act play, it’s more of a three-act circus.  Published in 1950, Steinbeck’s experiment of writing a novella in play form fails.  The characters have bizarre dialogue, as if they are trying to speak in pretentious poetry.  Each act includes the same plot structure and characters with the same names – but other than that, these acts have nothing to do with each other.  The first is set in a circus, the second at a farm, the third on a boat and the finale in a delivery room.  It makes for disorienting reading.

Had to Monetize the Blog. Sorry.

Hey, give me a break -- I made only $850 in 2015 and I'm still hurting. I need to gather in all the pennies I can -- even if this means that I loose my literary soul. Hopefully this means I will not have to delete any previous posts (you never know when the AdSense rules are going to change) but if I do, it probably won't be that great a loss to society.

In the meantime (and it is a mean time) I am going to post some of my old articles from websites that are no longer with us (and I see appear in evil scraper sites.) Right now, I'm going to concentrate on posting articles about writing but I'm sure I'll stray off to other topics eventually because that's how I am and there is no cure.

Also, I've started posting new material up at my other blogs that you may enjoy:


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

3 Reasons Why Freelance Writing is Great

If you’re passionate about writing and learning, then freelance writing is the best job in the world.  It’s not an easy job, though.  

If you’re passionate about writing and learning, then freelance writing is the best job in the world.  It’s not an easy job, though.  You have to be willing to put in the hours, drop a lot of social engagements and submit to seemingly bizarre revision requests.  If you are willing to do all of that, then you will discover all of the reasons that freelance writing is such a great career – flexibility, variety and stability.

Flexibility

You work your own hours.  This doesn’t mean that you get to watch YouTube videos for hours and call it “research.”  You have to get your behind in the chair, fingers on the keyboard and churn out the work.  But the more you write, the easier it is to get in the habit of writing. 

There is no one to ask vacation dates from, so you can set your own vacation dates.  You may not be able to go on vacations for the first few years of your freelance career, but eventually you will be able to.  You may be able to incorporate article ideas during your vacation.  Expect to do rough drafts or article outlines while on vacation.

Variety

The Internet provides thousands of places to turn your words into money.  If you are able to get into traditional print media, great, but the bulk of freelance writing jobs are online.  On the same day, you could be writing for blogs, press releases, brief news items, how-to guides and advertising.  The subjects also vary wildly, which keep you from getting bored.

When you begin freelance writing, get out of your comfort zone and write about as many topics as you can.  This gives you more job opportunities and more clips to show to future clients.  As your career progresses and you have your pick of clients, you can pick which subjects will be your specialty. 

Stability

In a traditional job, you went from your home to a building and did your job for one business.  But how about if that business tanked?  You’re left without any income.  With freelance writing, you avoid this scenario by having many clients.  You can keep on assessing the clients you have, dropping those that are irksome and taking on more clients.  Try to have at least six clients at any one time.  That way if one fails or just does not have enough work for you, you can still bring in income with the other five clients.

Even though you are your own boss, you still have to be disciplined, professional and know your limitations.  These are things best learned on the job.  In freelance writing, you can learn these skills while still bringing in an income.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Advice for New Online Writers

Writing web content is not a reliable way to make money

According to Indeed.com, the average annual salary of a web content writer is $56,000. Keep in mind this is just an average. When starting out, web content writers will make a lot less. You will be lucky to crack four figures. Web content writing is hard work with long hours for very little money. Treat a career in web content writing as a second job instead of relying on it as a main job.

When you do get work, act professionally. Get it done on time. Let your clients have at least two ways of getting in contact with you. Use good grammar, spelling and punctuation in your correspondence emails. Get a separate email account for your clients. If you do not have a PayPal account, get one. Many clients will only pay by PayPal.

Expect Scams

Finding paying clients that offer steady work is very difficult. This is a “feast or famine” type of career. You must take as much work as you can when it is offered in order to help you get through times of no paying writing jobs. Because there are so many online writers desperate for work, it will be inevitable that all web content writers will run into scammers.

Scammers will not give you a clear answer as to how much money you will make. They will ask for long articles as a “sample” of your work. Never send long articles as samples. It will wind up being stolen. Make a blog, webpage or LinkedIn page that shows off your best online clips. Send links to these pages as samples to potential clients.

Unpredictability

Never count on steady work from any client. Many online writers were making a good living writing for just one client, Demand Media. Google then launched the Panda algorithm in late 2011, which penalized Demand Media web sites. Demand Media dropped most of its writers and greatly slowed down the amount of writing jobs available for the few writers that was left.

Clients can come and go at the drop of a hat because of online trends, natural disasters or sudden bankruptcy. Never be satisfied with just one or two major clients. Get at least six clients so that if one client suddenly disappears you still have five other revenue streams. Economize whenever you can and bank your savings. Your savings should be used only in emergencies when you cannot find work.




Being a Writer: Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Or, overcoming the intimidation factor of being a writer

If I only had a dollar for every time I was laughed at when I mentioned I wanted to be a writer, I’d still write anyway.  I’d only do it in a more comfortable chair.

Public Perception of Writers

And I'm not the only one. Any career in the creative arts is looked on with eyes rolled to the heavens. Although some lucky writers were given immediate support by their families and friends, most would-be writers are heavily encouraged to take up another profession by friends, family and total strangers.

The reason for this is because the nay-sayers hold a genuine fear that you will not be able to make enough money to survive. Most people look at all artists as starving artists. You will certainly find them in any field of the creative arts today. If someone you know (or don't know) tried to discourage you from being a writer, they are usually doing it out of concern for you rather than trying to put you down.

Money or Lack Therof

The chances of making enough money to survive through your writing alone are grim. You not only have to learn how to write, you have to learn how to network, how to sell yourself and do your own bookkeeping. Even books on writing careers written by successful freelance writers will caution, "Don't quit your day job." For example, my “day job” is caretaker to my elderly mother.  I don’t get a salary for it, but I do get bed and board.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for a freelance writer was 
$55, 420.  Keep in mind that this is the average. Last year (2015) made a mere three-figure salary.  Finding the average of a freelance writer's salary is like finding the average of a professional baseball player's salary. It only takes a few multi-million dollar contracts to screw up the national average.  And so, this worry about money can be very intimidating, indeed.

Write Anyway

Write anyway. Let the very burning drive to write be your validation to write.  If you have the passion for it, you will find ways to incorporate writing into many aspects of your life, whether you are a freelance writer or not. Know deep within yourself why you want to write is it to put food on the table, to express yourself, or just because you love it?

If going three days without writing something down drives you nearly insane, then perhaps you have the passion to write. Writing is the jugular vein of your life. The more you write no matter what you write the better you will get. And you'll keep yourself sane.

Recommended Reading


  • Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft.  Jane Yolen.  Writer’s Digest Books; 2006.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  Stephen King.  Scribner; 2000.
  • Procrastinating Writers. “Do YouFear Failure?” May 12, 2009.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

5 Most Effective Ways to Get Over Writer’s Block

Advice from a freelance writer -- me

When you write for a living, then writer's block can be crippling. Although people who write as a hobby or "for fun" also feel crippled when they undergo writer's block, they usually have another source of income to fall back on. But for a professional writer, word flow is the only way to get food on the table. Here are five ways to get the butt in the chair and the fingers on the keyboard.

Look At Your Bills

This is an incredibly effective way to remove writer's block. Do not underestimate the thought of getting a harassing phone call from a bill collector. Suddenly, that series of colon cleansing articles due next week looks a little more appetizing.

Needing to pay bills taps into your survival instincts. When asked about his talents, legendary British singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel quickly denies that he possesses exceptional talents. In an interview with Musician magazine, Gabriel explains, "Image that a gun was put to your head and you were told that you'd be shot unless you managed to produce a great work of art. Suddenly you would find motivation to do so."

Let that pile of bills act as a gun put to your head. You'll be writing like mad before you can think about it.

Read Something From Your Favorite Charity

Ever wish you could give more money to your favorite charity? You could if you wrote more articles, blog posts or whatever it is you write in order to get paid. By looking at people or animals that suffer worse lives than you have, your writer's block seems to dwindle in comparison. This is a more altruistic version of the first method.

Just stick to one charity or you'll soon feel overwhelmed with responsibilities. Try to keep the reading of websites, charity newsletters or whatever to about ten minutes, or you'll just be reading instead of writing.

Write in Small Chunks

You can trick yourself into writing a whole article, short story or whatever. Don’t think "I have to write a whole big project now." Instead, think, "I have to write a headline or title now." That's it. That's all you have to do. When you get that done, mentally pat yourself on the back and think, 

"Alright – now I need to write the first sentence. That's it. Just the first sentence." And so on.
It’s a bit like climbing a mountain or cleaning a house.  The whole task looks insurmountable, but if you take it down into small chunks, the task is accomplished.

Set a Deadline

Even if your writing project does not have a deadline, give it one. It’s hard to justify postponing writing when you have a deadline looming. Make the deadline the day before a special event so that your event is even more special with a sense of accomplishment.  Other deadline dates can include upcoming vacation days, doctor's appointments or when the next episode of your favorite television show comes on.

Loosen Up and Laugh


Your first draft does not have to be perfect. Editing and revision come later. Just get that first draft out as quickly as possible. When you go back and see the mistakes you made, realize that the sky has not fallen because you did a typo. Have a laugh and enjoy the process of getting yet another writing assignment accomplished.