Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Right Time to Write: NaNoWriMo

Have you heard about NaNoWriMo? November's annual words-fest is designed to encourage folks to write a novel in 30 days. There's an official website and registering gets you encouragement/nagging and the virtual company of a lot (a LOT) of other writers - and people with good intentions.

Great title; sorry- taken.

You're Ready to Write that Novel! 

Some eager folks insist you can show up November 1 with nary an idea 30 days later, you too will have a complete manuscript. I am not convinced. But I am an optimist, and I believe everyone has a novel inside, it's just a matter of (an almost indescribable amount of) dedication to get it on paper. Or hard drive.

Or Get Ready for NaNoWriMo

I like the approach suggested by Jennifer Mattern, business copywriter and head-honcho of the super-practical and useful site, All Indie Writers. Mattern says a little preparation goes a long way, and offers a host of helpful tools to give you an edge over all those just-show-up-and-write types. So, get ready and write - and you'll show them!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Content takes time - lots of time!

Nobody minding the store?
Raise your hand if your last blog post was more than a week ago. More than two weeks ago... more than a month ago?

Raise your hand if you've been looking into a company, interested enough to read the blog...only to lose confidence in said company when you see the last post was more than three months ago.

OK, now that EVERYONE has a hand or two up in the air, put 'em down.

Content creation takes time. Be realistic about managing your blog and 88 social media profiles. And if you think your time is better spent elsewhere - like running the company or managing the sales staff - you're probably right. So, hire a ghostwriter.

That is all. ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A guide to style guides

So now that everyone's in the content business, don't you think it's about time we all had a little style?

Let's Talk Style Guides

Whether your company has a website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or "just" a print presence, you have a style. And you need a guide.* And then, for heaven's sake, you need to make sure all of your employees know it exists, and why, and that they are expected to follow it.

Many large corporations and publications of all sizes have their own style guides. Some of those organizations even update said guides every-so-often. (If you keep your style guide up to date, please, give yourself a pat on the back.)

While creating a style guide sounds like a lot of work without a measurable payoff, reconsider: If half of your sales literature states the company name in ALL CAPS and the other half uses title caps, the company looks a little sloppy. If your website varies noticeably from page to page; if your sales presentations don't reflect the same style as your sales literature and websites, prospective customers can lose confidence in the company. And if there are more significant inconsistencies, especially on contracts (did I just get your attention?) they could have legal ramifications.

So. Have a style guide. And use it.

The Most Common Style Guides 

Most custom style guides are actually just a few pages long, highlighting a few company- and industry-specific terms and how they should be used. And, on the first page or maybe at the end, there's a line that goes something like this: "For all other style questions, refer to the AP guide," or another standard reference. The most common style guides are -
AP  - From Associated Press, or as it humbly considers itself, the Journalist's Bible.
Chicago Manual
MLA - AKA Modern Language Association Style, while generally considered the style of academia and researchers, its more widely used than that - even if many users don't know it.
Now, if you prefer to wing it consider something like the useful guide Purdue University's Online Writing Lab put together. Or, if you're into creating a brand new style guide, from scratch, well, congratulations on your adventure! Reinventing the wheel completely could be fun.

Here are a few questions to get the gears turning:
What font (or fonts) will you use? You might choose two or even three to use for different sections, situations, or sales. That's OK - just be consistent in their use.
What about line spacing? Like your choice of fonts, how you use line spacing has a lot to do with how easy your copy is on the eyes.
And alignment? While left-justified, singled-spaced copy is the most commonly used, there's certainly room in the world for a little center- or even right-justification. Again, consistency is key. if you
Have you chosen your case? If you don't know your title case from your sentence case, learn before you create your style guide. (Please don't talk to me about camel case or bumpy case.) And when you decide on a case type, stick with it.
Bonus points:
You don't need to be a graphic designer, but it sure is nice if you can speak the language.

*I'll save my comments on how stylish a company's style might be for another day. Today I'm talking guides. No matter what your guide, here's the best advice you'll ever get: FOLLOW IT.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Writing Process: Q&A with Author Megan Cyrulewski

Megan Cyrulewski, who wrote about postpartum depression with sharp insight and no pretense in her memoir,  Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, recently opened up a little more - this time, about her thoughts on writing and publishing.  
Megan Cyrulewski
I offer my thanks to Megan, for this post, for her honesty and dedication to the the process, and for being willing to share her experience to help others. Thanks, too, on behalf of other writers wrestling with some tough questions - inspiration is always welcome! 

This is your first book. Did you grow up thinking, maybe one day I'll write a book? Or was "author" a label you never expected to wear?   
MC: I actually wrote a fiction book when I was in college (I think I was 19.)  It was awful but I think that was the beginning of wanting to someday write a book.
How did you make time to write your memoir with a young child, and the rest of life, swirling around you?  
MC: Luckily, Madelyne was in daycare 3 days a week. So on days that she was at daycare, I was able to write.  
What surprised you about the publishing process?  
MC: The marketing aspect.  I love my publisher but as with many small publishing companies, the author has to do a lot of marketing him/herself.  I didn’t even know where to start!  
Who in your life has inspired you to write?  
MC: My daughter.  She inspires me every day. 
How do you feel your writing may inspire others?  
MC:  Whenever I get an e-mail or a contact from someone telling me that my book helped them, any doubts I had about opening myself up vanish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“In order to write about life first you must live it.” 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have your fears stopped you from writing about personal experiences?  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blog rules to know and break

The Steveology Blog is always a great resource; in the series of interviews with Lou Hoffman, doubly so. I liked part 3, about storytelling, best. It highlighted some of the rules of corporate blogging that I'd argue most organizations break or ignore.

And there I go again, breaking the rules. See what I did there? You know I know you're not supposed to put an outside link in the first line of your blog. *Sigh* Go ahead, click away laughing - if you've read beyond the outside link in the past, you'll know why I do this. I think writing should be more useful to readers than it is to the writer - in this case, me.

Which may explain why I don't blog for a living. But I digress.

Engagement isn't easy, nor is it overrated

Your corporate blog needs readers and you need patience and commitment to get them.

Just because monkeys can write blogs and many blogging tools are free doesn't mean it's a good idea for monkeys to have blogs. *Ahem* Sorry, my snarkiness is showing.

If you've been charged with writing a corporate blog or any kind, don't fall into the content trap and think your task is all about writing. Blogging is copywriting, and copywriting is marketing. Or that word no one likes to say out loud anymore: advertising.

Call me old school: I came to copywriting via some great advertising classes taught by an adjunct who knew it, because he was doing it.

Copywriting vs. Content 

Copywriting, of course, is not just writing, or even storytelling. It's advertising. Meaning, before you write, you have to know your product (or service), your target audience, and how to reach them quickly and effectively.

Sounds a lot like content management, doesn't it?

Coincidence? I don't think so. And what's this? Another external link just as you finish reading this post? Another rule broken! Coincidence? Or valuable content, offered in trust? It's your call.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is it Time to Quit Your Job (and Freelance)?

"Most people don't quit; they wait to get fired," says Donna Nowak, a business consultant and interim executive who specializes in helping underperforming companies. Nowak has managed major organizational restructurings, many that included the loss of jobs. But leaving a job can be a win-win situation. The key is to be proactive.

5 Signs it's Time to Quit Your Job
Nowak encourages employees to take control of their careers, which sometimes means recognizing that it's time to quit.

1. The business is in (bad) trouble
If you suspect your employer is involved with any illegal or immoral activities, getting out can save you untold aggravation and potential legal liability. Is your employer out of compliance with OSHA regulations? Not honoring customer contracts?
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and there's always a chance that you could end up being a scapegoat. Leaving allows you to maintain your integrity," Nowak says.
When Nowak takes over as Interim CEO of a company, it's often because the business is on the verge of bankruptcy. In many cases, those companies have used financial challenges as an excuse to cut corners, legally and ethically - or maybe not so much.  When things are handled in a ... let's say less-than-honest manner, "It would have been better for employees to take a stand at the first sign of anything illegal," Nowak says.
2. Your job is a career killer, or is harming you professionally
If you are being mistreated on the job to the extent that it's harming you professionally, damaging your self-esteem, or both, it's time to quit and find an employer who will treat you with dignity and respect.
3. Your job is killing you
You don't have to enjoy every minute of your job, but since most people spend most of their waking hours at work, it greatly affects the quality of life. If your job is causing irreparable or unmanageable physical or mental harm, that's reason enough to quit.
4. You really suck at the job
Let's face it: it's possible there just isn't a good fit.
"Most employees know when they're not well-suited for a job or vice versa," says Nowak. When that's the case, the longer you stay, the more experience you'll have - doing a bad job. Get out before you make a colossal error or create a truly awful situation for your employer and/or coworkers. They may be so relieved that they'll graciously offer to assist you in finding a job that makes better use of your talents.
5. You're about to get fired
Clearly, the best time to quit a job is before you get fired. While some signs are obvious, others are subtle. Just don't overanalyze everything your boss or co-workers do or say; self-doubt makes it easy to misinterpret harmless comments.
That said, some things are meant to get your attention. Receiving multiple reprimands at work, either verbally or in writing, means your job is in jeopardy. Most corporate policy handbooks stipulate that employees will be terminated after a third written reprimand, Nowak says. 
Less obvious, but possibly just as telling: Posting something derogatory about your employer on Facebook (or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or social media tool of choice). Many employees don't recognize this as a symptom of it's-time-to-go-itis. 
"Badmouthing or disrespecting your boss, the company, or your co-workers," online or otherwise, is a clear indication that you should be planning an exit, Nowak says.
One sign that's often underestimated: Doing personal things on company time. Make no mistake, the company knows. Most employee handbooks contain policies prohibiting conducting personal business on the company dime. It also indicates that you're not fully engaged at work. Be honest about it, and find a job that really excites you.

Smart or Over-sensitive?
What if the boss stops saying 'hi' to you in the elevator? Don't freak out, but don't dismiss it. After a decision on termination is made, "quite often a boss will start feeling awkward," Nowak says. Sure, there could be many other reasons for such behavior. "But it would be something that I would look for," she says.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This article was published way back in 2012, when I was a contributor to the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices channel. Live and learn, eh?  If you're thinking about quitting and hope to freelance fulltime - or just to make ends meet for a time - get your plan in rock-solid shape before you jump ship. I don't have a magic wand, but with more than 20 years of freelancing in the bag, I can tell you it's really sweet to have a job. #Thinkitover

Friday, August 22, 2014

Take a Hike, Cleveland

Want to see Cleveland's tourist attractions by foot, take a walk on Cleveland's wild side, or just get some exercise? Hiking in Cleveland is easy and offers a lot of options in and around the city.

Sightseeing Hikes in Cleveland
Visitors can take in Cleveland's skyline and Lake Erie views from Edgewater Park, which has expanded into Whiskey Island, and several other lakefront parks. 
Many of Cleveland's sights can be seen by strolling from E. 9th and Ontario Streets, the site of the beautiful Cleveland Indians ballpark, north along E. 9th, where there are many popular eateries, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. Next door to the cool IM Pei-designed museum is the Great Lakes Science Center with its modern hydro-electric windmills in plain sight. Cleveland Browns stadium is next door. Turning to head south again, visitors should stop at the Justice Center to admire its architecture, and stop in at the Money Museum educational center located inside the Federal Reserve Bank building off Rockwell Avenue. (Admission is free!)
Among Cleveland's best neighborhood walks is Little Italy, where a favorite attraction is Lakeview Cemetery - also known as Cleveland's Outdoor Museum. Hikers are encouraged to explore the ornate grounds, designed to resemble the gorgeous garden cemeteries in Europe, and stop in to Wade Chapel to see the windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Hikers can fortify themselves with a real Italian meal in the hilly ethnic neighborhood that lies just beyond the cemetery's gates.

Self-guided downtown hikes and tours are safe, free, and fun - many neighborhood associations and local historical societies offer maps with points of interest.
Good Hikes for Kids in Cleveland
Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the 'Emerald Necklace,' offer plenty of kid-friendly hiking opportunities. Little hikers who like a ghost story with their outdoor activity love exploring Squires Castle, built for the wife of a Standard Oil executive. Reportedly, the missus had insomnia and often roamed the castle late at night. While stories vary about just how it happened, one night she met her end in the basement. It's said she still roams the castle, wailing.
Cleveland visitors can combine sight-seeing and exercise when they hoof it around the zoo. When you eschew the trams (which are free) and walk the perimeter of the zoo grounds, you'll get an approximately 3-mile hike - more if you also visit the Rainforest, which covers two acres. (The zoo is about a 10-15 mile drive from downtown Cleveland, and RTA buses run to the zoo, too.)
Get Away From It Cleveland!
Did you know Cleveland has a National Park? The old Erie Canal bisects the park, and 60 miles of the Towpath Trail have been restored and widened to accommodate visitors - which are said to number more than a million every year. The Towpath Trail extends from downtown Cleveland all the way to downtown Akron (and into New Philadelphia). And on either side of the Cuyahoga River, hiking trails abound - the park covers more than 30,000 acres. A favorite for many locals is the approximately 5-mile hike along the Carriage Trail to Brandywine Falls. The stunning 70-foot falls offer great scenery in every season. Trail maps for Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be found at the National Parks website.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
This article originally published on the travel pages of a now-defunct Yahoo! channel eons ago (in internet time). I visited most of the places mentioned here and updated links in 2014. Looking for still more Cleveland-area hikes? Have I got a book for you!!