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.

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“In order to write about life first you must live it.” 
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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.
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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 All...in 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.
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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!! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seven Things You Should Know Before High School

    You're way past primary colors and fat pencils, but admit it: the start of a new school year is something of a curve ball. That goes double for starting a new school - HIGH SCHOOL, yet. Don't freak - here are seven survival tips you'll be glad to know.

  • 1. Don't buy clothes until after school starts.
It never fails; somebody decides THURSDAY IS EVERYTHING PURPLE DAY or YOU HAVE TO HAVE YELLOW HIGH TOPS (or gray flats, or cut the sleeves off your shirt, or whatever) and unless you do the deciding at your school, you won't get the memo until after the first week of class. Plus, you'll probably just wear shorts the first week anyway, and everything goes on sale after Labor Day. Shopping can wait.
  • 2. Take gym in summer school if you can.
Here's one of those completely-unfair-totally-true things that nobody tells you (until now): gym is the only summer school class that's really a blast. Gym during the school year means, first of all, it's in a gym - which is where dodge ball and lame free-throw shooting drills happen. (Borrrrring!) The summer version of gym, however, might mean tennis, bowling, golfing, kayaking, and other things that are infinitely more fun than calisthenics or anything you can do in a gym. Plus, if you don't have to take gym during the school year, you'll never have to figure out what to do if somebody takes your underwear and flushes it in the toilet while you're in the shower. Just sayin.'
  • 3. The bigger the backpack, the better.
More room is more room. Period.
  • 4. Your phone will fall into enemy hands.
So ask your cell phone service provider to make a back-up of your contacts if possible, and get in the habit of erasing texts you've sent if you don't want everyone to read them. Obviously, the same goes for pictures.
  • 5. College applications are important now. Seriously. Yes, NOW.
It's not fair, but it's true. Everything about your academic performance matters in high school. College apps don't just make students crazy, they put parents in a panic too. Breathe deeply and do your best. In every class, in every subject, every day. Sorry. This is why they call it your high school CAREER - because it matters. If you can't be serious about your high school performance, start practicing how to say, "do you want fries with that?" in a sincere and helpful tone of voice. Because the competition for fast-food jobs is almost as crazy as the race to get into the "best" school.
  • 6. Coaches don't really hate you. Much.
But their jobs depend on having players who are absolutely, positively, prepared for anything. Whether your sport is soccer or skydiving, basketball or basket-weaving, you will be expected to work hard in the weight room, run a mile (or a marathon) and drop and give 'em twenty anytime you get caught smirking during practice. Get used to it; it's part of the fun. Or at least, it will seem that way by your 10-year reunion.
  • 7. Get over-involved.
Here's the worst advice you'll ever get about high school: "If you're too busy, you won't have time to goof off and enjoy yourself." Fact: there's no such thing as too busy. Write for the school paper, get a job, try out for the play, if you don't make it join stage crew, volunteer at the food bank, get another job, run for class officer, get (or be) a peer tutor, and attend every game, dance, walk-a-thon, and sort-of-lame-sounding event that's going on. See, most of those things are just a more interesting way of goofing off and enjoying yourself. Bonus: when you're involved in almost everything, not only will you know almost everything about your high school, almost everyone will know you - in a good way! So get over-involved; it will almost guarantee that you'll have fun.
And now that you know some of really important things about high school survival, relax. A little bit. Or - perhaps this is the best advice of all -  learn to enjoy the stress. After all, high school will be over before you know it. Have fun with it!
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Diane Stresing is a freelance writer focused on the business and people of northeast Ohio, who brings 20+ years in marketing, communications, and operational management experience to each assignment. She is the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cleveland, and her byline appears in a variety of regional and national publications. Diane also provides photos with assignments for clients who request them.
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This article was originally published in Yahoo! Voices, a now-defunct channel of the Yahoo.com family of websites and other experiments. Surprisingly, my byline hasn't changed a lot since it first appeared. (I'm sure I haven't either.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wrapping Your Head Around Headlines

The Moz Blog nailed it (again) - this time, about those "mind-blowing" headlines I refer to as hype-lines. 

Clickability & SEO vs. Real Readers

Yes, I know putting an outside link in the opening line of my blog virtually guarantees readers will click away, but on the other hand, I like my writing to be more helpful to readers than it is to me. Hello, usefulness. Or as The Moz calls it, credibility. The point is, if your content matters to real readers, you have to write for them, not for click-metrics and the continually changing rules of SEO engagement.

Old School Optimization

Someday the dust may settle on the Google ranking algorithms and we'll all wake up and realize that business hasn't changed that much. Products and services still need good word of mouth and good reviews to sell. A product with an especially strong USP is a little easier to sell and easier to charge a premium for than a runner-up. And if you don't know your audience, you can't write to them, or sell to them. 

But there I go dreaming again. Until common-sense copywriting is what every client wants, do the next best thing - read The Moz blog. The latest post about headlines asks the right questions, and has quite a few smart answers. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Board Games and Web Content Games

If you've been following this blog recently, you've noticed that I've archived several articles from the now-defunct Yahoo! voices channel. I've written about web content "gaming" before, and - heaven help me - I probably will again. So, in addition to archiving this 2009 article, I think this slice of history provides a good example of evergreen content that can be used to build traffic to a site or several sites. And, if you like family board games, I think you'll also find it's still pretty darned useful. 

Active Games for Multi-Age Players 
Over the years we've collected a great bunch of games for a wide age group - games that can be played inside, outside, and some, inside and outside. I'll list of some of our family favorites below, but first let me tell you how I pick games.
I only buy games that: 
  • can be played quickly 
  • can be played by multiple ages 
  • are sturdy, durable, and 
  • are not dangerous 
If you've ever refereed a fight between a 5 year old boy and a 13 year old girl, you know why I have to pick toys that are not dangerous!
One other thing about these games - they tend to encourage kids to get active and get moving. I love books, card games, and lots of board games (our family favorites are Apples to Apples Jr. and good old fashioned Yahtzee ) but when playing games, we most enjoy engaging our bodies as well as our minds. Without further ado, here are my/my family's favorite games:
Indoor Games
While we can happily play Balderdash (with the older kids) and Apples to Apples for hours, these indoor games are a little more active and well suited for a broader age range.
Cosmic Catch, under $20, may not be cosmic, but it sure is a great twist on catch. Players wear elastic colored bands on their hands and then try to toss the ball around the group according to what the ball says. Yes, it's a talking ball. It's also a great game for almost all ages (3 and up, I'd say) and a "codebreaker" mode adds a little more thinking challenge to the game, good for older kids. (And adults, who should remember, this is not a drinking game!)
Carpet Bocce, under $20, is a great indoor game as long as you have a carpeted area big enough to play on. (Oh - and no shag carpet!) The small plastic disks slide easily along the carpet, and rules are just like outdoor bocce ball.
Scrabble Slam!, under $10, is not really active, however, it is a little more so than the average card game and a good bit more exciting than traditional Scrabble. The object? Players race against each other to build and change four-letter words - first one out of cards wins. Yes, it is pretty darned educational for early elementary school age children, and fun for all.
Outdoor Games
Besides Badminton, bocce, and good-old-fashioned games of catch, here are a couple of newer games in our backyard:
Blongo Ball is also known as ladder golf. Blongo Ball consists of two three-rung ladder-like structures and six ball/rope throwing thingees, which sort of remind me of nunchucks. The object is to get your balls to hang over one of the rungs, the lower the better (the top rung counts as one point, the second as two points, the third three). My Kentucky cousins introduced me to the game, and I was hooked. Their homemade game set was different from my store-bought game in one important way - my cousins used tennis balls; some of the store-bought versions use golf balls. Golf balls are hard! So, we only play this game when I can supervise my five year old. 'Nuff said.
Cornhole, $100 and up, is a craze, at least in most parts of the Midwest, but I dare say it's a craze that's here to stay. Often likened to Horseshoes, it's actually much easier. My five-year-old loves it; we just modify the game for him (and other short kids that turn up in our backyard) by letting him stand close to the board. We also modify the scoring, which can be a bit complicated for those new to addition/subtraction. We simply score one point for each bean bag that lands (and stays) on the board, and three for any that fall in the hole. If you're crafty you can make your own game (CornholeCornhole.com has a nice set of plans) but I bought a waterproof, plastic game instead. A final word about ladder golf and cornhole games: they can be rather addicting, as you'll see in thisforum for tossing games.
OK, speaking of addicting games, here are some of my favorite spots to find good family games - these sites generally offer lots of active, creative, and fun games for all ages, and for the most part, they're also reasonably priced.
Now let the games begin! And remember, as we say at our house, it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, what matters is that you don't kill your siblings - and that you have fun playing the game!