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Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Although this post is a bit of a stretch from the topics I usually cover in that it is not directly related to writing, grammar, or journalism exactly, it is related to blogging and another facet of creativity–visual art–so I thought, why not? 

In a thoughtful, well-articulated piece called “Pop Couture” published not-so-recently on The New York Times Magazine blog, Virginia Heffernan delves into the world of street-style photoblogs that “display snapshots of chic pedestrians in cities around the world.” I found Heffernan’s assessment of the photoblog particularly interesting as one of the many folks obsessed with these beautiful and revealing looks at everyday fashion.
Heffernan hints at why they are so compelling in what she calls “the search for a quiet connection with beauty in a metropolis of strangers.” Scrolling down the stunning pages of The Sartorialist, a personal favorite, I take part in a much loved pastime—people watching—but in a perfectly distilled form. Rather than sitting in a café, eyes darting, waiting for the next stranger who peaks my interest with her unique blend of pattern and texture and then straining to drink in all the details before she disappears, I sit at my computer, armed with coffee, and linger for as long as I like on every individual who glides down the page. Each person as stunning as the next, and best of all, I can return any time to reference the cut of a man’s plaid jacket in Paris or a woman’s high-riding boyfriend pants in Florence.
Although the thrill of the hunt, so to speak, of spotting stylishly dressed passersby from the café window, is not present in this incarnation of people watching, the watcher is exposed to a wider variety of individuals and styles, especially with blogs available from all over the world. In an instant, we can suss out how folks are adapting high fashion to their fabulous street-style inspirations, expanding our ideas about fashion and our worldviews simultaneously.
In addition, despite that the photoblog is often bereft of language, allowing the pictures to speak for themselves instead, I often find that reading the comments, especially on such well-established blogs like The Sartorialist, can reveal smart, witty, and incredibly observant and insightful fortune-cookie-sized expositions of the photo at hand.

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As part of an online editing and writing group on LinkedIn, I have seen the topic of blogs come up in the discussion forums fairly frequently. Not so surprising, considering everyone seems to have one, or two, or five. Often, the topic (and ever-present question) is whether a blog is essentially “giving away the milk for free.”

I recently commented on one of these discussion threads summing up my feelings on blogging and why I blog (in quite a tiny nutshell) that went something like this: I must admit that I love blogging and that although I actually don’t get to do it as often as I would like, I feel it is a valuable enterprise as far as self-advertisement is concerned. I’m mainly a professional editor and proofreader who does light writing for enjoyment more so than pay, so perhaps my perspective differs a bit from one who is primarily writing for pay. However, I have to say that my blog has brought me paying clients and jobs that I would not have found otherwise. The posts I write consist mainly of grammar rules, my opinion/comments on pieces I see in various newspapers (which I then sometimes expound on with additional web sites or links), and I have a featured poem section that I post occasionally on Sundays. I think of my blogging as an extension/example of my professionalism, my expertise, and my love of language in all its forms. Additionally, I should say that I never put anything on my blog that I would hope to sell later, and I never spend hours upon hours working on my blog, as I don’t want it to interfere with the paying jobs. I blog when time permits, and I like to think that I formulate simple but informative copy quickly and concisely- hopefully that’s what my readers are getting!

Many others voiced a similar use for their blogs in the comments of the discussion thread: self-promotion, an opportunity for others to find you and your work, a way to move toward your goals, a way to create a following that will hopefully be interested and loyal enough to pay for your book or article once its published, and an opportunity to generate trust from future clients if your blog is well-written and your information is accurate.

I like to think that I keep my blog professional and that it reflects well on me as an editor, proofreader, and writer. I think it’s clear that my personal answer to the question of whether blogging is “giving away the milk for free” is no, certainly not. My advice (not that you asked, but that is part of the beauty of the blog!) is to use your blog to invite your readers to see what you can do but only give them a taste. Don’t post whole articles or stories, don’t post anything you are hoping to sell at some point, and don’t spend an inordinate amount of time writing posts.

I’d love to hear what you think. Please post some suggestions, comments, or your answer to the question: Is blogging “giving away the milk for free?”

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The importance of good writing skills is evident no matter what your profession, as I noted in an earlier post. So how does one go about improving those skills? I’ve gathered some invaluable tips, which I learned through experience and which other professionals have taught me, with accompanying complementary links from around the Internet.

1. Read often and read everything. The more you read, the more you learn; the larger and stronger your vocabulary; the more you will begin to pick up on the basics of what good writing looks like as well as distinguish the good from the bad.

2. Revision, revision, revision. Whether you’re writing a business report, a work-related memo, a novel, or a poem, revision is your friend. Most great writers are great writers because they spend countless hours revising and continually improving their work.

3. Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else that you want to improve, you must practice writing. Establishing a daily writing routine is a great way to ensure that you will continually improve, especially if you enlist the help of a professional or friend who can critique your work and point out areas where you may need extra practice. In this respect…

4. Join a group or take a class. Online courses are more readily available than ever, so you may not even have to leave your house to learn to write better. You can also always check out the course schedule at your local community college.

5. Proofread. Before you sign off on anything, whether it is a paper for school, a job application, or a blog post, be sure to proofread. Even if you have already revised several times and you think the document is perfect, proofread. By this I mean, do more than just scan for obvious errors; look closely for correct spelling, word usage, and grammar. If possible, have someone who knows writing well proofread for you because even an excellent writer may not catch obvious mistakes because he or she is too close to (i.e., already spent too much time with) the work in question.

Of course, if you feel you already write well but have an all important piece that must be perfect, you can always hire a professional editor/proofreader!

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As the 2nd Annual WordCount Blogathon comes to a close (tomorrow being the last day of May), I realize just how happy/relieved I am that it’s almost over. Not that I didn’t enjoy writing everyday, and not that it didn’t raise my visits per day, or teach me a lot about blogging (strategies, tips, and SEO included) but it did, surprisingly, turn out to be hard work. 

At times, it was thinking of topics that flummoxed me and at others, I had a topic but had a hard time finding the time to actually sit down and write. I am a pretty hard-headed person however, so having put my mind to successfully completely this blogathon, I was not about to miss a day. I’m proud to say that I completed my mission, our collective mission, successfully (well, with tomorrow’s post I will have anyway, but it’s pretty much a guarantee that’ll happen).

As I mentioned in an eariler post, I strongly encourage bloggers, especially new bloggers, to participate in a blogathon for the learning experience it provides. This blogathon had around 40 bloggers participate, so it was also a great way to get introduced to other blogs on an amazing variety of topics. I hope they all had as much success and fun as I did!

My goals now that the Blogathon is coming to an end are to:

First and foremost, keep up with regular posting. Keeping a regular schedule keeps readers engaged and coming back for more, since they know they can count on new content.

Second, spend more time with each post. By that I mean craft solid, content-rich posts that will lead readers to more information on the topic I’m addressing and provide a new understanding of the information.

Third and last, have fun with it! I don’t think this one needs much explaination.

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I found an interesting blog that also happens to be part of The New York Times, like the Grammar News section I mentioned in a previous post. The blog is called After Deadline and examines “questions of grammar, usage and style encountered by writers and editors of The Times.”

This is potentially an informative and useful resource for those in journalism using AP style.

Tuesday’s post tackled varied subjects, from the phrase “openly gay,” describing when it is in/appropriate to use it to the recurring mistake of calling people who have moved from Puerto Rico to the United States “immigrants,” when in fact, they are not immigrants but U.S. citizens.

There is also a section called Bright Passages in which the author, Philip B. Corbett, brings our attention to what he calls “sparkling prose” that has been featured in various articles in The Times. I really enjoyed this section for the deft composition skills that it showed off and for that fact that rather than simply pointing out mistakes, as many grammar blogs do, it offered the reader a chance to admire some of the more resourceful and pithy phrasing in current reporting.

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Some of my favorite SEO tips are:

Be bold. Use the <b> </b> tags around some of your keywords on each page. Don’t use them everywhere the keyword appears; once or twice is plenty.

Linking. Make sure you have links coming in to as many pages as possible. What does all this linking tell a search engine? That you have lots of worthwhile content.

Article Exchanges/Guest Bloggers. Article exchanges or guest bloggers are like link exchanges, only more useful. You publish someone else’s blog article with a link back to their site. They publish your article with a link back to your site. You both have content. You both get high quality links.

Here are some sites with more tips for bloggers:

1. 8 Simple SEO Tips for Blogs– Lots of good info for the beginner.

2. Search Engine Optimization for Blogs– Detailed site from Problogger. A must.

3. Google Success SEO SEM Tips for Better Ranking– Everyone want to succeed on Google, right?

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As you may know, I’m participating in the 2nd Annual WordCount Blogathon, in which more than 40 freelance writers have committed to blogging every day in May. See a list of all the participants here.

While taking part in this experiment of sorts, and getting into the habit of writing for myself at least a little bit every day, I’ve also learned a few things that can be attributed directly to my participation:

1. Clearly Focused Attention. This blogathon has helped me tremendously with starting a new blog by focusing my attention on it intensely. Otherwise, I’m certain I would still be meandering through posts on a semi-regular/spotty basis with no real direction. Speaking of direction…

2. Direction.  I think I’m beginning to figure out what this blog is about (beyond the simple editing and writing part), what I’d like to and need to include, and where I might like to end up a whole lot sooner than I might have just posting whenever I felt like it. The fact that I’m posting every day has given me a sense of cohesiveness.

3. Ideas. Again, because I’m posting every day, I’m thinking and reading regularly about what I need to do to improve this blog, including its content, its readership, and its ability to be found on the internet (that is, SEO). I’ve posted a few blogging tips and links to other people’s blogging tips previously.

4. Establishing Regularity. Obviously, a month of posting every day has established regularity and boosted readership; however, looking beyond this initial month, I think the blogathon and its forced regularity will allow me to establish a slightly less intense but no less regular posting pattern. I fully believe that after posting every day for a month, I will be able to committ to posting at least three days a week and stick to it. I’m developing a habit and its even becoming something I look forward to.

5. Strategies. With all this regular posting bearing down on me night after night, I’ve developed strategies for preplanning topics and usually have at least the bare bones of a post or two lined up ahead of schedule. (I still have to get down writing my posts for the weekend ahead of time, but I think by then the blogathon will be over!)

So, although you may not be participating in this blogathon or have the opportunity to particiapte in an “official” one anytime soon, I highly recommend that you challenge yourself to participating in your own personal blogathon. This practice is especially helpful if you are starting a new blog or have a blog that’s been faltering for some time. And if you don’t think you can stick to it yourself, better yet, get your blogger friends involved and start your own group blogathon.

Cheers!

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