How to Boost Blog Traffic (as a human)

wpid-2015-04-20-17.03.57.jpg.jpegAll sorts of services offer to “Boost Blog Traffic Now!” for a price. But really? What kind of “traffic” do you get? There’s already enough black-market Viagra in my spam box to make the entire male population of Canada pop like an overfed tick!

Recently, I was reading a blog post on a craft technique (I’ve always dreamed of trying it out but know I will never get around to actually doing it), when I stumbled on to a great blog. I liked it because it was very interactive between the readers and the gal who writes it. So I took my time and poked around (besides, the craft I was reading about would likely have resulted in me buying all the supplies and then throwing them atop the pile of other unopened craft store bags). Something else caught my eye, and then “poof” somehow I landed on Readers In Wonderland.

Aside from their fun to read reviews of YA books, here’s what I found that I consider one of the best parts of their blog!

Look at this cute little blog badge:

BUTTON

Created by the founding authors of Readers in Wonderland, Bec and Alise , it encourages the simple good manners of humans communicating and expressing acknowledgement of good works to other humans. Thus making time spent on our laptops, sweating out gerunds and uploading photos, feel like a worthwhile pursuit to writers–appreciated even!

What a “crafty” idea!    Why yes, I believe you could probably call it Novel!

It’s free, and there are no exploding Canadian guys involved at all! 

And due to my innate, bossy nature (see the deep rooted psychological explanation for that by clicking above on “All About Mom”) I am driven to “gild the Lily” a bit more. So, at the bottom of the little “pledge” I tacked on my own embellishment about using “like “buttons too.

You see, the Readers in Wonderland writers use Blogspot to write with~ they don’t have “like buttons” which makes Mom a little sad for them 😦

 Thanks to this new discovery, I’ll be proudly displaying this badge on my blog. I invite you to do the same. Together, we can spread a great idea all the way from Blogspot across the Sea of Happy to the Land of WordPress…where we are blessed with “like” buttons.

If you are on-board with this “Boost Blog Traffic by Being a Human” thing I’ve cooked up, I encourage you to display the badge, share the post if you’d like, and leave your blog link in the comments below

–after taking the “pledge” of course 🙂  Raise up your pencil holding hand–

The Pledge~

By displaying this badge on my blog, I promise to respond to the comment you make there, and to also use the “like” button on YOUR blog any time I visit–so you’ll know I stopped by, cared about what you said, and that I am dang glad that you took the time to share your story or thoughts with others in the world.

All of us, the new badge club members, would love to stop by and drop you a like and a comment in the spirit of our newly found “humanity in blog trafficking.” So be sure to let us know how to find you in the comments section below 🙂

wpid-20150420_161201-1.jpg

Oh, and starting Friday…it’s coming!

I’ll kick off a new series addressing the emails I’ve been getting for some time. The ones about, and generally categorized as:

“Okay Mom, I have all these cool stories written up, now how do I make them into a book?”

Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss out on this one…and comment…and like of course! Meanwhile, I’ll be working on thinking up a title for said series 🙂

Until then, behave, be kind, be Human and enjoy sharing this badge!

xoxo,

Mom

The Writing Write Up

 

wpid-2015-04-01-17.09.49.jpg.jpegDo you follow any good Writing blogs? You should if you want to “Up” your writing skills. And, really, who doesn’t want to become a better, faster, stronger, Six Million Dollar Man-type writer?

I like to mix things up a bit to learn new stuff from various points of view–yes including “Point of View” how-to’s. So today I’m sharing my list of favs…read on and then click through, you may learn something cool!

I follow Kristin Lamb’s blog and love that she offers long, interesting, relevant posts infrequently. In her latest post she discusses exactly why I feel this way. Why? Because if I’m following a blogger and they jam up my Reader or my Inbox with post after post…I’ll unsubscribe or un-follow. I can’t read everything, nor do I want to, so I try to choose only the best. I need a little “me” time to get my stuff done…not to just sit around and read about how I could be doing better…instead of doing it.Also, if you’re constantly trying to cyber-shame me into buying what you’re peddling (a book, coaching, editing, blah blah blah) I don’t really feel the need to be badgered.

That’s what my kids are for…and they are all certifiable ninja-level black belts when it comes to irritating Mom.

Another one I like quite a bit (maybe because there are little themes daily and I can pick and choose which ones I’m in the mood to look at) is Ryan Lanz’s blog “A Writer’s Path.”   I especially enjoy his Under the Microscope series where he does an intensive critique of a writer’s volunteered sample. Lots of good stuff comes up on that weekly feature. He’s also talented at rooting out good little nuggets in the inspirational quotes field!

Rachelle Gardner usually has something interesting to say when she says it. Another infrequent blogger, her site is a treasure trove of info. Use the search box and you’ll find she’s written about nearly any topic you want some info on when it comes to the “P” word. Yes, publishing. She’s a literary agent and quite generous with her knowledge and guidance.

Also, some of her followers leave great comments. Be prepared though, a handful seem to enjoy using the comment box as a sort of Agent Audition space…a little cheeky if you ask me 😉 

The last two, are certainly not the least. I always enjoy what Sue Bahr has to say on her blog as she takes us all along questioning the universe, shaking the pudding out of lazy muses and writing really, really good YA stories (and allowing us to peek over her shoulder as she does it).

And I am overjoyed and amazed to have found the easy-to-understand tutorials and tips put up by David Pasillas on iPhone Photographer. I don’t have an iPhone–I’m an Android person, but so much of the stuff crosses over, I’ve learned oodles about taking pix with my phone for my own family history writing AND my blog.

By the way…No one on this list knew this post was coming. I just wanted to share some of my very favs with all of you. You are all so generous in sharing with me 🙂

Happy Easter / Passover

Oh! And Please feel free to share a favorite or two of your own in the comments below…I’m always looking for something good to read / learn/ obsess over 🙂

How to Tell A Story that Makes Sense in 10 Steps

How the heck did we get Here?
How the heck did we get Here?

There is storytelling, and then there is telling a story that makes sense (even years into the future and long after it’s written). Sometimes as Family Historians, we find that our tales get twisted up into mazes of confusion and backtracking.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been there, and I understand completely.

At times, even while we’re writing a piece we know that it will “never do.” Unfortunately, this is how so many of us give up before we’ve ever really started. So here’s my 10-step remedy for such situations…presented of course with one of Mom’s little soul-baring stories as a side dish…

10 Steps to Writing a Good Story (that makes sense)

The first time I attended a writing workshop I was full of fire! Inside my leather satchel (yes, it’s been that long ago) I had four typed and double spaced pages of pure storytelling genius. Our samples were collected at the door by a teaching assistant, and then whisked away to the copier room to reproduce one set for each attendee.

Back then, I would guess the photocopying and stapling expense comprised about half of the $25 fee for the series.

Over the next three Thursday evenings, we were immersed in technique discussions and submission sample reviews done in alphabetical order by each author’s last name. Until my “time at the table” I was feeling really good about my little story. Dang good. But when “R” time came in the lineup, my confidence faltered. I deflated, melted, and disintegrated into a thin grimy layer of humiliated dust atop my chair.

The teacher was quite nice about “it” –the killing of my pages that is. She could have been much worse I suppose. As she wrapped up the previous story’s glowing critique and announced my piece, she fanned out the four pages, raised them above her head and proclaimed them “a perfect example of a beginner’s error.”

Oh Murder!

Apparently, in the meager 1000 words I had slavishly typed during lunch breaks on the nice IBM Selectric at work, I had wasted no paper. She briskly lead us through my beloved pages emptying out red pens as she guided us in circling large chunks of my lovely prose.

As it turned out, I had managed to write about five different story fragments in one small essay.

“Yes,” she reiterated to my classmates, “This is a perfect example of the huge mistakes a beginner makes.”

So in an effort to spare you all from making the same classic “beginner’s errors” I offer you my 10 Steps to writing a clean, clearly focused, enduring and easily understood Family History story.

 

  1. Start writing. Don’t worry about any of the above. Just think about a person or branch of the family or an event you would like to tell a story about and begin.
  2. Keep writing. Write everything you know via family lore, genealogical and historical research.
  3. Gather together all the media (photos, ephemera, source books etc) and check to see if you’ve left anything out. If you find something, add it in to this piece.
  4. Write a bit more about how you came to discover/know/guess on the details of the subject: “Old Daniel always wore striped overalls, he saved the solid denim set for Sunday Church”–per photos and stories told to me by Aunts Aida and Lily Poindexter and Uncle Les.
  5. When you simply cannot write any more about this seemingly narrow subject, get out your red pen.
  6. Begin circling small or large blocks of text that could be made bigger. Who are the other people (neighbors, the mail carrier, a teacher, the Poindexter Aunts and Uncle Les) mentioned in the story? Do they matter? Is the setting of the tale of interest on its own? Did these events take place at a newly built home or on a farm passed through generations, on a steamship or clipper crossing the Atlantic in August? Is there back-story here that needs to be added in so that years from now–when “everyone” doesn’t possess what we currently think of as common knowledge people will “get it?” Would a future reader need to do research to understand or find explanations in order for this tale to hold their attention? Perhaps the small town your relatives “traded in” no longer exists. Can you map it– if no, why not? Was it wiped out in the TVA project? What was the TVA? Was the town on the main road, and suddenly the railroad came through about a mile to the east…killing all the businesses and leaving the area rather abandoned? Is that small town now swallowed up by a larger city and only referred to on maps as a neighborhood? Was your family’s first home on American soil razed to build Slugger Stadium in Louisville (mine was!)?
  7. Don’t be intimidated. This really is the fun part. This is when you discover that you have a much larger story to tell when you may have thought otherwise. The “trick” is to dissect it in this way so that it doesn’t all get convoluted and become a “perfect example of huge mistakes that beginners make.”
  8. Now take your time. Go back to each circle of red ink. Relax. Simply tell your reader the story of that solitary snippet. Make it into a stand alone piece. Give it all the care and attention that you’ve given it’s “parent” essay.Try out steps 1-7 on this new work. Worry about weaving together the bigger story later.
  9. As a luxurious bonus, if you have a kind friend who knows little to nothing about your subject matter, ask them if you may read a completed story to them. Have them stop you anytime they have a question or have no point of reference for what or whom you are storytelling about. This info is gold…it’s just like having a reader from the future sit with you over coffee and ask you questions about the story you are telling.
  10. Since this method will work equally well with pieces you’ve already written…put them through this exercise and see if anything cries out for the red pen treatment! You may find an additional batch of stories to write adding to the richness of the work you’re doing.

Above all, enjoy your writing and storytelling. Go ahead and tell as many stories as you’d like. But make the events clear, interesting and well thought-out so your readers will stay engaged and keep turning pages and wanting more.

Maybe even throw in a photo of yourself at work on the laptop you used to write it with…imagine what a hoot that’ll be to your great grandchildren seeing dinosaurs of all types!

dino-land with Uncle Harv
dino-land with Uncle Harv

Read This if You Want to Become a Novelist

 

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Many of you enjoyed and have sent little notes to me about the Francine Prose book Reading Like a Writer I reviewed. Well, in that spirit, here’s my other all-time favorite, On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner which I’ve also reviewed for my part-time reviewer gig at CatholicFiction.net and Tuscany Press. This is another nugget of gold for your bookshelf! Read on, then read the real book, and better writing is a sure bet!

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Here it is. With the definitive line at last drawn in the sand, we can know the truth. The real talents, tricks and learned abilities that absolutely separate the hobbiest from the serious writer.  Admittedly, I hesitate to describe On Becoming a Novelist in this tone. It sounds either rather snarky, really mean or sarcastic. But in truth, the description is apt for the contents of this book. Gardner himself was a prolific author, educator, and curmudgeonous guardian of art expressed via perfectly selected words. He dissects the work of “noveling” like a scientist dismantling an important new insect. He wants us to know what makes a story written as marks onto paper into what he refers to as a “fictive dream.”

I love that description; a story as a fictive dream. Indeed, the best told tales are always enchanting and nearly magical to experience. Each time a written scene draws us into it, we become a part of the book and author’s own trance of imagery. We are transported, and when the writing is right, the spell wraps around each person who cracks open the fresh new book and settles in to be transported in place.

The first time I read John Gardner’s book, I was flying in criss-crosses around the country trying to get from Asheville, North Carolina to Indianapolis. With nothing even resembling a direct flight available, I had plenty of time onboard and during layovers to read the entire contents of On Becoming… I have to say that I was fascinated and found myself scribbling notes on the over leafs, in the margins and circling large blocks of text. After nearly twelve hours, four separate airports and too many chatty seatmates, I decided that I needed to set the book aside and reread it when the pleasant distraction from travel trauma wouldn’t cloud my opinion.

Round two proved to be just as fascinating and worthwhile. More notes were taken and by the end of my second reading, I found I was just as impressed as I was originally. I was glad on both readings that I had taken care to read the foreword written by Gardner’s student Raymond Carver and the author’s preface. Generally, I skip these long winded, boring Oscar Award-style thank you notes. But for some reason, I opened the book at Foreword page “i” and read the entire preamble (both foreword and preface). In a book that weighs in at a scant 150 pages, the more than one dozen pages written before the “book” starts are a surprisingly worthwhile portion.

Published posthumously in 1983 by the writer’s estate, one year after his passing, the Library of Congress indexes it perfectly.

1. Fiction–Authorship–Vocational guidance.

Gardner gathered his thoughts into four headings.  Parts 1 (The Writer’s Nature) and 4 (Faith) hold my attention like a vise grip every time I read them. The middle sections include, naturally, Part 2 (The Writer’s Training and Education) followed by Part 3’s description of “Publication and Survival.” Did I mention that this guy both knows his stuff, and is hilarious too? On page 46, the author talks about people who press and pry and how a writer can respond to such muse battering inquisitions:

The development of fully competent technique calls for further psychological armor. If a writer learns his craft slowly and carefully, laboriously strengthening his style, not publishing too fast, people may begin to look at the writer aslant and ask suspiciously, “And what do you do?” meaning: “How come you sit around all the time? How come your dog’s so thin?” Here the virtue of childishness is helpful–the writer’s tendency to cry, especially when drunk, a trick that makes persecutors quit.  If the pressure grows intense, the oral and anal fixations swing into action: one relieves pressure by chewing things, chattering mindlessly, or straightening and restraightening one’s clothes.

This is fully representative of the writer’s wry style. He proclaims the things that are often thought but not said aloud during polite conversation. Things I will paraphrase here like “education can ruin a perfectly good writer” or “one must be damaged, but not too horrifically, to be an effective author” and “gin is sometimes what it takes to understand the essence of a character.” He makes mention several times of his own struggles with organized religion and whether or not he is cool enough, or dull enough to either bail out completely or whole heartedly jump back in. Throughout his own novels he writes extensively on early classic story themes such as the days of King Arthur and his noble guardians of the grail. In these, he shows a deep understanding of the lyricism and poetry originally funded and commissioned often by the Church. He uses many of these as inspiration for his written chronicles into the “fictive dream.”

I recommend this book highly to all aspiring writers and those who already find themselves flailing neck deep in lyrical prose passages and story arc. Although tongue-in-cheek at times, there are abundant kernels of wisdom. My only disappointment is that I was never fortunate enough to try my hand at enrolling and surviving one of his classes.

 

A List of To-Dos for March

this little cutie is from the image collections available on The Old Design Shop web page

This is not my favorite month.  Maybe its a wee bit’o jealousy because the only Irish in my family’s DNA runs through my husband’s side of the equation.  St Patrick’s Day has always been a fun day of green beer and sheepish pretense.

I’m not Irish, but kiss me or pinch me anyway!  I do have green eyes though…the better to be “pea green with envy” with my dear…

Perhaps my disdainful attitude toward March is more about the weather here in the heartland.  Good Lord what a ride!  I, like many Hoosiers, dream of retirement in the desert, any desert.  A place where the humidity level rarely flinches.  Here, my sinus cavity is under a constant state of attack with it’s little faucet running full on, then suddenly dried up to a painful pinching sensation, only to find a tortured relief in the post-nasal agony of the drip..drip..drip.  Yep, Indiana weather~ if you don’t like it ~ stick around for an hour, it’ll change.

Regardless of the snow, no snow, shorts and t-shirt weather and/or tornado laden skies outside, we Family Historians must push on.  For that end, I offer you a list of  To-Dos for March~

1.  Do something really nice for yourself this month~ begin a little achievement journal.  Nothing big and fancy (unless you just crave that kind of candy…I don’t judge).  This can be as simple as making a to-do list on your calendar at the beginning of the week, and then checking off the “done-did-its” as you go.  It’s a gift to give yourself.  Mark down exciting (to you) stuff that happens on that day:  Found cousin Dehlia’s Christmas card with her contact info under the sofa cushion…bonus…also cleared the underside of all sofa cushions!

During points of drought over the seeker’s field, these can be reviewed to help you re-inspire yourself..  RahRah Me!

2.  Start getting the kids involved.  This is a great time to plan and gather.  Spring break car travel-time looms, or being stuck at home with “bored” loved ones.  Instead of hiding inside your head, invite them to start their own spiffy project. Call in the cousins for support and reinforcement.   If you would like to see a shining example of what a kid’s book can look like click the link and visit Raelyn of Telling Family Tales…all her little book projects are fringed with magnificence.  You don’t have to be this elaborate, just drink it in for inspiration ~ http://tellingfamilytales.com/2013/03/04/when-he-was-young/

3.  Toward the end of the month, prepare and send out another “mailing” to let everyone know you are still working on this project (call it the “story of us” or something clever and inclusive).  Include a little crumb of “reactive bait” like a photo, or a couple of little questions (does anyone recall the name of the road Grandfather’s farm was on? Was it named? Was it always paved?). If you have been lucky enough to elicit a response or two from the last letter binge…build on it.  I find that others are kinda generous with sharing scans of photos, and that they love telling me about how much fun it was “digging through the dusty boxes with mum” but, they don’t really convey the meat of that to me~without direct and subtle inquiry 🙂

 Human nature…sigh!

So, I then start feeding back to them…hey, that pic of Granny and Harry, where do you think that was taken?  Do you know about when?  What the heck were they doing there in that place? Wonder who took the picture? That looks like the 60’s to me (when clearly it’s more like the 20’s…trust me on this one…try it!).

Then, it never hurts to throw in something utterly stupid (this is a great technique to get info…everyone loves “correcting” me). Ask a questions that you are sure you know the answer to ~

Say something really, profoundly, ignorant…”Did Harry have any bothers?”  This would be a good one if in fact, Harry comes from a brood of 10-12 assorted gender children, or was the younger brother of a famous prize-fighter, or was taken in as an infant or purchased from Gypsies (as my family generally insists about me)

Everyone loves to be right. Everyone likes to “school those fools who have it wrong.” So say your dumbest stuff, and listen to every little utterance that comes at you as fall-out. That’s YOUR pot o’ gold! Have fun with March where ever the weather and the “stupid questions” land you, and I hope you get kissed on St Paddy’s day too!

xoxo

Mom

ps…definately make sure that Someone writes this down!

Best Book on How to Become a Writer

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Lots of folks are out there selling the latest and greatest (usually written by them) books on How to Become a Great Writer. 

Personally, I have nothing against promoting your own work. In today’s cyber-spaced-out-twitterpedia market, it’s just what is demanded of authors. But before all this instant gratification culture hit us, there were writers who took it slow. Who did the deed deeply and with precision. These are the ones to follow and sit quietly studying if you truly want a shot at stardom.

Of course, that’s just Mom’s opinion 🙂. And we all know how Moms are in general when it comes to having a thought about something–right. Just blatantly, unarguably, right.

If you are interested in peering in over the shoulder of many great writers, take a look at Francine Prose’s book “Reading Like a Writer.” My review of this “rocked my world” book follows. It was originally written for my gig as a reviewer at CatholicFiction.Net for Tuscany Press. If you want to write, buy this book, dog-ear it, go in deep, savor it and don’t spare the highlighter markings! I promise it will up your game, no matter whether you’re a wannabe, a beginner or a seasoned pro!

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In her book Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose sets out to explain the art of reading and enjoying words written by some of the world’s most gifted authors. In artfully dissecting great works piece by piece, Prose succeeds without lecturing.  In Reading like a Writer she uses sample passages by literary giants to teach her readers, while simultaneously demonstrating her love for the written word. The only part of this book that nearly caused me to knock it down to four stars from the deserved five, was the passage where she tells of her passion and enjoyment of diagramming sentences! Mercifully, this errant exaltation only lasts for a scant few sentences and then Prose is back to the beautifully told stories of and about the stories we love to read.

Anyone who loves books, read books, writes them or hoards them in tall stacks should own Reading like a Writer. The 300+ pages are crafted like a tour of a well curated library.  Each point made by Prose (whose ironic last name is quite telling) unfolds before the reader as a gift. At no time does this book feel like a required text for a tiresome Lit class.  Francine Prose herself is a gifted writer. She sets out to teach appreciation of the perfection laid onto pages for readers by the greatest of the great writers and succeeds fully.

Prose begins Chapter 1 by explaining the method and joys of “Close Reading.”  This is something I have never thought of or experienced.  Like most people, I am a casual reader. I am generally not “deep.”  I tend to read at face value, simply closing the book when the last page ends. “Close Reading” totally changed my approach to pleasure reading.  I pulled a couple of my favorite books down from the bookcase to “play along” as I read on.

Chapter 2 is about “Words.”  She teaches the reader to intimately consider each word chosen for a sentence. We learn here that one by one, the writer of substance discerns each word and asks if it is meaningful, meaty, or simply acting as a place holder.  I was on fire with the idea of the power of a single word given to or taken from a sentence. Back at my bookcase, into my personal manuscripts, the same questions and word scrutiny was happening alongside Francine’s coaching.  All the way through her book, Prose introduces and then thoroughly demonstrates her method for understanding and appreciating one narrow topic after another.

We are led through such chapters as “Sentences,” “Paragraphs,” “Narration,” “Character,” “Dialogue,” “Details,” and “Gesture.”  Each part inspired another look back at my own beloved books and indeed, my own writing to make comparisons. Just as it seemed no other topic is possible to explore, Francine Prose walks right up to the lofty and learned principles of the author Chekhov in her chapter “Reading for Courage.” This chapter is one where the true God-given talent of the author is revealed between words.

While the head spins with happiness from the new enjoyment that one is able to extract from old favorites, Prose hits the reader with her personal recommendations.  This is a lengthy list of titles (117 but who is counting?) which she names as “Books to Be Read Immediately.”  A tall order?  Absolutely, considering that no fewer than five are tomes by Tolstoy.  However, being armed with these new insights imparted by Reading like a Writer I feel inspired and capable.  Those 117 books will all go on my bucket list alongside my well-worn copy of Francine Prose’s wonderful field guide to absorbing great writing!

What Samuel Johnson said so perfectly — “A writer only begins a book; a reader finishes it” — Francine Prose eloquently proves in Reading like a Writer.