Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journalism

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Journalism should be literal; fiction can be figurative. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/18/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-17-theme-swing/

If a newspaper clipping has significance for you, use it in a post to tell your side of the story. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/10/27/journalism-101/

As a former writer for a student-run newspaper, I browse old issues not just to learn history but to steal from it.

If you need to practice writing in AP (Associated Press) style, and you’re more of a creative writer, try writing mock newspaper stories for your blog based on the town and characters you’ve created.  

A couple of summers ago, I had the opportunity to write a tribute piece for the college newspaper. This kind of feature writing has helped me not only tell the stories of others better but also my own. http://ecorsair.com/iconic-professor-bill-clover-leaves-lasting-legacy/

Writing for your blog will help you tell your own stories better, writing for a newspaper, the stories of others.

Sometimes, being a writer isn’t just about writing what you know but sharing what you know. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/29/12-more-feature-article-ideas-for-a-college-newspaper/

Having worked for a college newspaper, I’ve found lots of inspiration from other college newspapers. The same principle applies to why you can’t be a writer without being a reader.

If you like current events, hard news articles are for you; if you like history, feature stories are for you. Both have their place in journalism. I’m always a week late and several dollars short, so the story behind the story is my cup of coffee.

Every one of us has a story. It is up to the writer to make it interesting.  Know what to quote directly and what to paraphrase. Know what facts to use and what to leave out (but still tell the truth).  Know where to start and where to end.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/20/not-the-story-but-how-you-tell-it/

“How-To” writing is in demand, but unless you’re an expert, take the time to interview those experts. Do the legwork (rather than the “click work” from Google).

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Summer Writing Mini-Workshops: On Blogging

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Invest in yourself by investing in your blog, losing the .wordpress.com. Having a site that is just the name of your blog plus .com is much more professional.  This upgrade is extremely affordable (just a little over $2 a month). As for the design, it’s okay if your blog is a constant work in progress.  Don’t wait until you can afford a professional photographer or web designer. Get started today!

Don’t put slideshows on your blog. People would much rather scroll down than wait for the next screen to load. 99% of the time, I click off a site that uses this device and google for the same information elsewhere.

Nothing is more annoying than going to a blog that uses gifs (things like that are for tweets and Facebook comments) or worse, music/noise.  The latter is why I keep my speakers turned off–just like I hit the mute button on commercials.

Be aware of what posts capture readers. I’ve found that my book reviews far outpace my poetry posts as books have a built-in readership (and many more read fiction over poetry).

This article got over 3500 views, and I believe it’s because it’s a “How-To” article. We live in a self-help, DIY society. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/02/04/feature-story-ideas-for-a-college-newspaper/

Because of the boring nature of most LinkedIn articles, I decided to close my account and focus on Facebook (friends and family I actually see) and Instagram (which welcomes a much higher degree of creativity).

It’s okay to share posts, but never reblog, as you’re only promoting them, not yourself.  Don’t give someone free real estate on your virtual space. If you want to respond to a post with your own, you can post a link back to it, and then write your own take, as you are benefitting from their “writing prompt.”

Unlike writing for a newspaper, it is better to use your own quotes in your blog post rather than someone else’s; you only boost their brand by sharing their words rather than elevating your own.

If you have an old post that would add clarity to or enhance a new post, backlink it. Backlinking is a fantastic way to bring attention to past posts.  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/10/04/15-blogging-prompts/

Double check the links on your blog occasionally. Whenever I discover a broken link on another blog, I think the administrator doesn’t update their site very often, and so I won’t go back again (assuming there will be no updated content).

Here are 15 reasons why every author should have a blog. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/06/my-500th-blog-post-why-blogging-rocks/

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Writing Truths

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Remember that colleges ask for essays, not equations, when it comes to admissions. Numbers matter, but in cases like these, words matter more.

Imitation is a form of admiration; plagiarism is not.

Behind every image, there is a story, but a picture doesn’t always have to equal 1000 words. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/11/17/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-14-theme-ekphrastic-poem/

Sensory details don’t just inform the person but take them there.

We can perceive the same thing, seven different ways, at seven different times in our lives. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/01/november-poem-a-day-2017-writers-digest-challenge-1-theme-new-day/

Write what you know, but don’t write about everything you know.

As mothers, we always wonder, even as our children are filled with it. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/06/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-6-theme-praise/

Conciseness breeds clarity.

Life is many things. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/19/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-19-theme-abundance/

All writing matters. If the language arts didn’t matter in mathematics, then there would be no word problems.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshops: Writing Prompts

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Whether it’s the periodic table of elements, a litany of every Mary Kay lipstick color, or a grocery list, you can make a poem out of it.  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/04/06/poem-a-day-2017-writers-digest-challenge-5-theme-element-like-from-the-periodic-table/

Life is full of unanswered questions.  For example, if your wish came true, how would that affect someone else’s life?  Would that undo their wish? 

Everything–from the days of the week to a single emotion–can be personified. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/04/10/poem-a-day-2016-writers-digest-challenge-10-theme-emotion-title-&-theme/

If you have a book written, a fun exercise to promote it would be to treat it as research for mock newspaper articles. Write a human-interest story based on one of your characters (preferably, a minor one—it might end up spinning off into a story of its own); this will help you get to know your characters better.

What If? poems are some of my favorites. Many of the choices I’ve made have led me to the choices I am making today. Life is rife with unintended consequences. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/12/01/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-30-theme-last-chance/

Our lives are full of “firsts”: First (and last) dates, first job, first child, first experience with someone close to us dying, first time trying potted meat, et cetera. Write about one of these times; analyze whether the first could have led to the last, or play around with the order of things.

Fairy tales, myths, and Shakespeare are all ideal places to start if you need ideas, but throw in something timely to freshen it up. For me, it was an ecological disaster, personified. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/04/23/poem-a-day-april-2018-writers-digest-challenge-22-theme-plant/

The newspaper is full of stories. Scan the classifieds, the advice columns, the police blotters, &, if you’re morbid, the obituaries.

Though ____ “walk into a bar” may seem as cliché as knock, knock jokes, it is endless what you can do to bring freshness to an old idea.  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/05/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-4-theme-whosoever-blank/

The Bible is full of wives & daughters, whose characters aren’t fleshed out. Give them a voice.  Write a piece of fictitious herstory or an alternate history.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling and Chapbooking

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Shutterfly makes incredible gift books—better than the kind you see in stores because they will come from your heart—with the words you’ve written, the pictures you’ve taken. If you’re not much of a photographer (or artist), you might want to become one. Just be patient and have the books ready weeks in advance. These “professional” chapbooks take time; I generally spend several weeks on one.  So far, I’ve done two autobiographical series of poetry, a collection of my Dove chocolate poems, a.k.a. “Sweet Little Nothings,” and a collection of community college stories.

Though there’s something intrinsically beautiful about a handwritten journal, don’t feel like you have to write your journal by hand. (Better to keep a digital journal than no journal.) There are many journaling apps online. Think about it:  Most of us already journal every day, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, et cetera (though hopefully, we’re not posting our deepest, darkest thoughts—that should be between you and your journal, whether on paper or paperless). Journaling just privately removes the filter.

I am a scrapbooking collagist when it comes to journaling—heavy on the photography and layout and light on the writing. I’ve included newspaper clippings, greeting cards, event programs, badges (for example, my college press pass), and a myriad of other elements.  They may not tell a story, but they just might caption one.

In the film, The Secret Scripture, the main character has a Bible in which she keeps her journal, writing in between the lines, the margins, et cetera. You can do this with any book that profoundly affects you—even a recipe book!

I have written hundreds of poems. What helps me keep them organized is separating them into chapbooks.  For example, I have a collection of ekphrastic poetry, 50-words or less, “Modern Proverbs,” et cetera.  http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/what-is-a-poetry-chapbook

Adjacency matters. Typesetting matters. When you put together a poetry chapbook, the order of the poems should have an ebb and flow to them. What’s more, it’s not just about the way the words sound but also the way they look on the page.

Emily Dickinson wrote over 1800 poems. One a day is enough for me. Push yourself, but know your limits.  I know this is mine.  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/29/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-329-theme-you-should/

For some, journaling is their stream of consciousness exercise; for me, it’s poetry. Poetry writing is my playtime, short story writing, my work time. Poetry helps me make my writing more concise whereas short stories help me generate ideas for my poems, which make up the bulk of my blog’s content.

Just as an interior designer doesn’t have to know how to sew, a graphic designer doesn’t have to know how to draw. It’s all about having an eye for what works.  Working on the college newspaper helped me with this (see recruitment ad below).  Keeping a minimalist, non-glossy look to your chapbooks looks more professional than a busy, glossy cover (and don’t go crazy with fonts).

Recruitment poster

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: Drawing from the Well

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Write what you know first. Then you will learn how to write what you don’t know. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/23/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-23-theme-when-blank/

Make a timeline of your life. Find the dots, connecting them if necessary. An entire narrative can be built around one defining moment. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/04/01/poem-a-day-2017-writers-digest-challenge-1-theme-reminiscing/

We all have our quirks. A self-portrait in poetry is more interesting than a self-portrait in pixels. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/11/24/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-21-theme-strange/

Life is full of awkward moments. Don’t let them go to waste. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/04/24/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-24-theme-moment/

Certain spaces only have meaning for the memories attached to them. Think of several places that have had meaning in your life, preferably in various stages of it, as personal change makes for dynamic (versus static) characters: https://sarahleastories.com/2014/09/17/the-memory-trees/

Some would say life is like a box of chocolates; I say it’s like a patchwork quilt. Think of fabrics or patterns that represent you. When I see fruit basket wallpaper, I think of my grandmother’s kitchen with the white porcelain gas stove where she cooked meals. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/09/28/writers-digest-wednesday-poetry-prompt-369-theme-pattern/

It seems that one can never have enough stories set in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles (or a fictitious, generic small town), so it’s nice to read about a real place that isn’t overexposed. Make the most of where you live. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/23/poem-a-day-writers-digest-challenge-23-theme-when-blank/

Sometimes stories come from somewhere deep inside ourselves (i.e. our genetics). DNA has played a role in finding lost loves, in freeing the innocent and punishing the guilty, in locating life-saving medical donors, and in causing identity crises as well as solving them. https://sarahleastories.com/2018/03/18/childhood-memories-the-luck-of-the-irish/

Who do you think people say you are? https://sarahleastories.com/2017/11/24/writers-digest-november-poem-a-day-2017-challenge-24-theme-how-ill-be-remembered/

The highlights of our lives are the pearls, the mundane every days, the string.  Sometimes we have to seek complexity in simplicity. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/02/06/relaxing-at-the-park-on-a-thursday-afternoon/

15 Blogging Prompts

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Bloggers, have “theme days” or regular “feature articles”.  It will help you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time; this will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (as inspiration doesn’t always happen on a regular basis).  Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, or no less than once, and preferably on the same days.  Make your own deadlines, and meet them.

If you’re not on a regular blog schedule yet (which I highly recommend) with “themes” filling in the slots on certain days, here are some blogging prompts to get you started:

1.Query letters:  I believe these are an art form in & of themselves, and should serve as an appetizer to the main work.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/01/17/query-letter-to-missouri-life-magazine/

2.Rejection letters:  The good, the bad, and the funny.  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/08/an-interesting-rejection-letter/

3.Book reviews:  Analyzing a book and articulating why you liked (or didn’t like) it strengthens your critical thinking skills, which helps you become a better writer.  A well-written book review can often be as entertaining as the book.  If you’re praising the book, try to “sell it”; if you’re not, then state exactly why you didn’t like it. “It sucked”, or “it was stupid”, will never suffice.  Beware of spoilers—think of a book review as a movie trailer.  Whet the appetite, but don’t satisfy it.  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/30181323-sarah-lea-stories.

4.”Blog your book”.  That said, don’t post 1000-word chapters at a time.  300 (or less) is perfect.  For a 60K word book, at 300 words per post, you will generate more than 260 posts, which you could stretch out over two years time.  However, read this (http://www.rachellegardner.com/should-you-blog-your-novel/) before doing that.

5.Author tribute.  This is different than a book review in that it “reviews” an author’s entire body of work.  As great as it is to find a good book, it’s even greater to find a good author and read everything they’ve read (as many authors are hit-and-miss).

6.Take something cute (or not) & turn it into something dark & sometimes inappropriately funny:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/02/12/linsey-gordon-had-a-hatchet/

7.Haiku, limerick, or even a 6-word story with a stunning photograph; posts don’t have to be long, just good.  (A great suggestion I once read is that the first two lines of a 3-line poem should be opposites, and the last line should be a surprise that ties the two opposites together in a surprising or unexpected way.)  I often like to do short pieces in series of 3:  https://sarahleastories.com/2014/03/02/nonet-poems-my-geography/

8.Short, personal essay (300 words):  Myslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/nonfiction/) does this using the ABC’s, which I thought a cute idea.  It’s easier to mine your life for material when it doesn’t have to be a full-length piece.

9.Writing tips:  I share these on my Facebook page Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday:  https://www.facebook.com/sarahleastories/?fref=ts

10.Writing prompts:  I appreciate these, as they are ideal for freewriting practice.  https://sarahleastories.com/2016/03/06/writing-prompt-the-memoirs-of-others/

11.Writing products you like (software, pens, free Kindle books, etc.): https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/06/5-really-cool-things-about-kindle/

12.Favorite writing blogs (or Twitter accounts).  Mine are (so far):  https://twitter.com/WriterlyTweets, https://twitter.com/GHowellWhite1,  https://twitter.com/tablopublishing, https://twitter.com/writerswrite, https://twitter.com/Grammarly, https://twitter.com/AgathaChocolats, https://twitter.com/WritersDigest

13.Life Lessons:  A list of 10 life lessons (serious or silly) you have learned.  I consider this a “column piece”.  These are so “notebookable”.

14.How-To Article:  Did you know Microsoft Word can “grade your work”?:  https://sarahleastories.com/2015/03/20/writing-tips/

15.One Book, Many Forms.  Every Friday, I post a set of #novelines or #micropoetry from my book  (https://twitter.com/KatrynNolan).  Not every noveline is a true noveline because of Twitter’s character limitations, and the micropoetry is brand new–all of which I am going to repurpose into a pocket book called “Mormons on the Beach”, as part of my book promotion package.  Though you should always keep at least half of what you write under lock and key (until you become Stephen King and can charge for it all), make sure everything you put out there is your best work.

And here is 40 more from an author who has great content and isn’t just all about selling her books:  http://writerswrite.co.za/40-types-of-content-that-will-make-your-life-easier