Author Archives: Susie

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Vacation is a time relax and leave your work behind, right? Not so fast. If you’re a writer, you’ll always take a piece of your work with you wherever you go. That piece is your brain and it never stops thinking about the next writing project or interesting tidbit to add to a current one. While you shouldn't work on vacation, you also shouldn't ignore what pops into your mind when you're away, since it could pay off big when you get back home. So go ahead, have fun and enjoy your trip, but take along these important writing tools that may come in handy and make your getaway productive too.

A Pen and Notebook

Whether you’re lounging by the pool or travelling the countryside in a bus, a pen and notebook are a must on vacation. You can use them to journal about the scenery, the food you ate last night, your mood, the weather, or anything you care to reflect on. You might brainstorm for topics for your next article or book. Notebooks and pens are also fun for doodling and sketching, both which can usher in all kinds of ideas pertinent to your writing.

A Pocket-sized Notepad

If a journal is too cumbersome, slip a small notepad into your backpack or back pocket. You never know when a thought will strike that you can apply to your writing. A site you're visiting or an activity you're doing might trigger something as simple as how to finish that sentence you've been struggling with for weeks. Never be without a notepad, especially on vacation. A relaxed state of mind can be exactly when your brain does its best work.

Your Phone or Tablet

Did someone on vacation use an interesting expression you’ve never heard before? Would your travel destination make a good setting for a historical novel? Your phone or tablet are not only portable, they’ll give you the means to look up words, do quick research, and even take notes for later use in your writing. Be sure to download any apps that might be of use to your writing life while on vacation, like a note-taking, translation, or dictionary app.

Books to Read

No vacation is complete without a book to read. Reading doesn’t just help pass time while in a car or plane; it’s an excellent writing tool for improving your writing skills. Books are easy to transport, slipped into a carry-on or handbag. Or, bring an e-reader on vacation and take as many books as you’d like. For a list of must reads for writers this summer, check out these ideas.

Your Curiosity

Don’t let your mind go dull on vacation. In fact, travelling is the perfect scenario for igniting your curiosity. Take full advantage of your trip and ask unlimited questions. Curiosity spurs deep thinking and creativity, both which benefit your writing life. Let your curiosity kick into full gear while you're away. It will make the return home that much more productive.

Embrace your summer vacation and enjoy it to the full. Just don’t forget to pack the above writing tools to complete the trip and make it profitable too.

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Sunshine and warm days. It’s the perfect setting for doing the thing every writer should do: read. Not only can you unwind with a good book, escape to another place, and take a break from your work; reading helps you cultivate your writing skills by teaching you how to use literary techniques effectively, broadening your vocabulary, and sparking creativity. The best part about summer reading is there’s no shortage of book options. But if you’re wondering what to read this summer, these ideas will give you plenty of satisfaction—and help you grow as a writer:

A Best Seller

Don’t let the summer go by without reading a book that everyone’s talking about, not only to experience all the hype for yourself but so you can contribute to the conversation too. Even better, best sellers can provide insight on what sells. Remember, a book becomes a best seller because it’s engaging, well written, and relatable. Pick one up; it might just help you on your journey to crafting one of your own.

A Nonfiction Book on a Favorite Subject

Reading nonfiction is a great way to learn about a real-life topic—and gain insight into a highly lucrative writing genre. Choose a nonfiction book with a subject that interests you, whether it be a political figure, historical event, or place to visit. As you read, consider how the author uses fictional tools to bring life to the facts. Don’t be surprised if you finish the book in one sitting. Nonfiction today is nothing like the mundane textbook-like stories of the past.

An Inspirational Read

Books that lift your spirits and give you confidence, comfort, and encouragement are worth a read for everyone. They can also inspire you in your writing life. A google search will uncover all kinds of inspirational books worthy of your time and attention, but here are a few top sellers to consider: The Time is Now by Joan Chittister, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and any of Mitch Albom’s inspiring stories.

A Cookbook

Cookbooks aren’t exactly reading books, but they can be just as absorbing and useful to writers. Whether you enjoy cooking or not, browsing through a cookbook is a great way to pick up tips for meal prep, get a feel for how to organize a book, see how pictures enhance content, and learn more about the art of good eating. Besides that, cookbooks are just plain fun to read, plus they’re easy on the brain and appealing to the appetite.

A Light Summer Page-turner

What summer is complete without a satisfyingly light page-turner? It can be anything from a humorous memoir to a steamy romance to a young adult fantasy novel. The point of a summer page-turner is pure enjoyment, so choose something that’s entertaining and uncomplicated. Check out summer picks at the bookstore, library, or get recommendations from friends. Then take a break from your craft and head to the beach or the hammock.

A Book on the Craft of Writing

Feel like your writing skills could use a little sharpening this summer? There’s no better way to do it than to educate yourself. Pick up a book on the craft of writing, especially one that teaches something you want to learn. Maybe you’ve wanted to try your hand at writing for children’s magazines or learn how to craft multi-dimensional characters. Books on writing instruction run the gamut. Just be sure to have your pen along when you read for note-taking.

Summertime is a great time to do some seriously fun reading. Get your summer reading list in order and start the season off right.

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Writer’s block is something every writer faces from time to time. But while it’s a common problem that can get in the way of productivity and making money, it’s not all bad. Here’s why: Not every writing session has to be devoted to writing for the job. Practice writing can be just as purposeful by giving you the opportunity to hone your skills and recharge your mind and creativity. In fact, a day of practice might just be the ticket to reversing writer’s block. Even better, there are ways to practice writing that can pay off big. Here are ten to get you started:

Write To-Do Lists

Not only are to-do lists fun to write; they’re a great way to organize your routine. Check out my earlier blog post on writing to-do lists. Make them as short, long, simple, or detailed as you want. Then use your lists to help you get back on track with your professional writing endeavors.

Compose an E-mail

To anyone! Write to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send out a request for writer’s guidelines to publishers you’re interested in querying. Or, draft an anonymous e-mail—just for practice and the sheer fun of it.

Design a Flyer

Are you’re planning a garage sale? Organizing a fundraiser? Design an attention-grabbing flyer for the event. Have fun choosing words, images, and fonts. Your creative practice can earn you plenty of kudos, along with cash.

Pen a Thank You Note

Handwritten thank you notes may be a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean they’re not appreciated. If you have someone to express gratitude to, go for it. They’ll appreciate the gesture and you’ll get satisfaction too, along with some useful writing practice.

Offer to Edit

A writer friend or spouse may be able to use your help with something they’ve written. Offer it up. You’ll gain editing experience and the joy of doing someone a favor. Editing is also a nice diversion from writing that still offers practice working with words.

Rewrite a Bio or Resume

Bios and resumes always need updating. Find a fresh photo and revise your experience to reflect your growth. It’s great practice and something you’ll need to do eventually. If your bio and resume are already up-to-date, offer to rewrite one for someone else.

Make Up a Word Game

Love to think up word games? The sky’s the limit when it comes to conjuring up puzzles using words. Make up with something unique or create your own version of a familiar word game. Be sure to test your word game out on friends or family—that’s half the fun.

Record the Details of Your Day

Whether you journal regularly or not, it’s a great way to practice writing in an informal, liberating way. For tips of how to get started, check out this post. The benefits of journalling go far beyond the writing sphere; you’ll gain confidence, peace of mind, and an optimistic outlook too.

Cut Words

Find a newspaper article or blog post that interests you and start chopping away. Take out everything you can without changing the meaning and readability of the piece. It’s great practice for slimming down word counts in your professional work.

Create Captions

Wish you could put a caption on your favorite picture on the wall? How about the scene outside your window or last night’s dream? Writing captions is a satisfying way to practice writing and pass time, not to mention a great activity for tapping into your creativity.

You don’t always have to write to sell. Whether you’re facing writer’s block or just want a day of simplicity, practice writing can be the perfect solution. Give the above ideas a try, and see how fun and rewarding it is to practice your craft.

Image by Nick Youngson

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Sports are a favorite nonfiction article topic for kids

If you ask children whether fiction or nonfiction is more fun to read, most will say fiction. After all, a good story is hard to put down. So imagine kids flipping through a children’s magazine, their eyes grazing over the choices of reading material. Will they skip the articles and home in on the stories? You might be surprised. Nonfiction can be just as eye-catching and engaging to read as fiction.

In fact, popular children’s magazines are chockfull of nonfiction articles, and kids are devouring every word. It’s welcome news for parents since reading nonfiction helps kids gain valuable information, expands their curiosity, builds their vocabulary, and prepares them for handling life experiences. Children’s article writers benefit too because children’s magazine editors are always on the lookout for good nonfiction submissions—pieces that draw readers in and keep them hooked.

Think you’d like to try your hand at writing nonfiction articles for kids? Give this fun and marketable genre a go. These five steps will help you captivate the minds of young readers with true tales that’ll teach, inspire, and entertain like a favorite short story:

Choose a Topic That Appeals to Kids

Although there are plenty of things to write about, the question children’s article writers have to ask is, what do today’s kids like to read about? A good way to find that out is to ask kids themselves, or check with teachers, librarians, or other professionals who work with children. Children’s magazine editors may not know exactly what they’re looking for in a submission topic, but they’ll favor subjects that appeal to their readers and that capture the spirit of the magazine.

Naturally, it helps to know something about the topic you choose. Not only will you have expertise to share, but your passion for the subject will also shine through in your writing. Of course, everything is researchable, so not knowing about a subject shouldn’t stop you from writing about it. Some of today’s hottest topics for kids include animals, technology, the environment, fashion, history, social media, sports, music, school, video games, and world cultures. Many children’s magazines, including the Fun for Kidz magazines, Cricket magazines, and Highlights, conveniently list monthly themes or needed topics in their writer’s guidelines.

Once a general topic is selected, it’s time to narrow it down and give it a specific focus. Too broad a topic and you’ll lose the reader through boredom or information overload. Let’s say you want to write a piece on animals. Think of all the ways you could reduce this broad topic to something more concrete and manageable, like a certain type of animal, an animal behavior, or a physical characteristic of an animal. Even these ideas may not be specific enough, though. Topics often require several rounds of fine-tuning before they’re ready for the writing process. And it isn’t enough to just narrow down a topic; you’ll also have to freshen it up.

Consider the subtopic “dogs.” Many children’s magazines have published articles about dogs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another piece on this popular subject. The trick is to find a new angle, something that hasn’t yet been covered or done before—a new breed, a teen celebrity’s adorable pooch, or a recently-discovered canine fossil. I once caught an editor’s attention with an article about the then-latest dog sport craze, agility, and how to train a dog at home using common household props.

Another way to freshen up a piece is through writing style or voice. Not too long ago, I came across an issue of a children’s magazine that contained an article about therapy dogs. While this topic was nothing new, the therapy dog served as the narrator of the story, giving a unique perspective to the topic.

Borrow Tools from Fiction

When writing nonfiction articles for kids, it also helps to think like a fiction writer. Suppose you’re writing a short biography of a famous person. A factual summary of the person’s life probably wouldn’t engage kids, but a gripping narrative that contains plenty of action, rich characterization, and lively dialogue likely would. Nonfiction that has a storytelling quality to it makes for a much better read, especially for children.

Also like fiction, engaging nonfiction takes an enticing opening, a paragraph that provides a hook. In fact, an article that doesn’t hook the reader at the beginning, despite an overall good story, will likely end up in a pile with other unread material. Fortunately, there are many ways to hook readers: tell an interesting anecdote, ask an intriguing question, or blow kids away with an awesome fact or figure, to name a few.

Once readers are hooked, however, keeping them interested demands another important element. Lee Wyndham summarizes it best in her acclaimed book Writing for Children and Teenagers: “Nonfiction writing, whether for articles or books, must have punch, an aliveness.” This level of excitement in writing can be achieved through pace.

Like fiction, nonfiction articles for kids work best when the pace moves at a fast clip. Many tools used in fiction can help speed up the pace, like action, tension and suspense, and vivid, coherent descriptions that show rather than tell. Long, drawn-out explanations that simply recount a set of facts, on the other hand, will fall flat with young readers.

Wow Children with Fascinating Details

While topics and tools are important, writing compelling nonfiction articles for children often boils down to details. Kids love them—obscure, amazing, relevant, unknown, and well-researched details, that is—so finding them is key.

Where can you look for those fascinating tidbits of information? Books, periodicals, and the internet are all useful resources, but some of the best information can be found in places that aren’t so obvious. Visit a historical library and dig through unpublished materials. Head to a museum to study the exhibits. Find an expert on your topic and ask for an interview. Watch a movie, take a trip, or do an experiment. Important and quirky details are often discovered by simply observing.

Although it’s helpful to gather as many details as possible, keep in mind that not everything will make it into your article. Some details won’t be appropriate for the targeted age group or relevant to the theme of the article. But don’t be too quick to discard those unused morsels of information. Even if they don’t fit in the body of the article, they might work well in a sidebar. Sidebars are not only a great place for interesting “extra” details that somehow relate to the article; they’re a potential selling point for editors.

One more thing worth mentioning about details: don’t make them up. Some harmless fictionalizing is acceptable in nonfiction writing, but conjuring up material that doesn’t exist or facts that don’t ring true won’t do. Bibliographies or source lists are usually required by editors and, trust me, fact-checking is done. Avoid using details that can’t be corroborated.

Structure Children’s Writing for Readability

Who likes to read long sentences and paragraphs with few breaks and no variety? Definitely not kids. They prefer material that’s visibly appealing and well organized, especially when it comes to nonfiction. How an article appears and flows can actually make all the difference to young readers, who may not even attempt to read a dull, tedious-looking piece of writing. An attractive, structured article is much more inviting.

To organize your writing, consider using an outline. Many writers, including myself, do. Outlines help me lay out an article’s beginning, middle, and end and keep me from rambling and getting off topic. But there are other tricks that come in handy when it comes to structuring a children’s article for readability. They include:

  • Vary the sentences in length and structure. Short sentences intermixed with long ones make the writing flow better and allow readers to pause and take a breath.
  • Break up lengthy articles with subheadings, bulleted lists, or one-sentence paragraphs. Big blocks of print are hard on the eyes and look uninviting.
  • Use dialogue if possible and set it off with proper punctuation and paragraphing.
  • Avoid clutter, like redundant words and too many commas and exclamation points (which should be minimally used, if at all).
  • Create sidebars or related activities, such as games, puzzles, recipes, or quizzes, to offer variety.
  • Submit graphics, illustrations, and other images with your article. Visuals add life and color to any piece of writing.

Strive to write an article that’s clean, coherent, and well organized. Articles that look fun and easy to read will have a better chance of getting noticed, purchased, and read.

End with Closure but Not Finality

Everyone likes endings that provide closure, but closure doesn’t always mean finality. In fact, an ending that leaves kids curious to know more or still thinking about the piece long after they’ve read the last sentence is one that does the job well. Steer clear of endings that consist of a basic summary.

That’s not to say that summarizing the point or purpose of a nonfiction article for kids isn’t an important part of a good ending. It is. But summaries alone are a letdown for children and can make an article easy to forget. Instead, offer the reader something extra at the close, like a thought-provoking statement, contact information, or further reading for those who wish to explore the topic in more detail.

One of the best ways to end an article for kids is to use humor. It worked for me on a submission to a popular e-zine for kids. We loved your piece, the editor told me, but you need to add something clever at the end before we’ll accept it. I did, and it sealed the deal. Whether you use a play on words or amusing final remarks, funny endings are a hit with children and editors.

And don’t be fooled into thinking article endings need to be a full paragraph long. In fact, short, snappy, one or two sentence endings often have a bigger impact than a paragraph or longer conclusions.

Ready to get started writing articles for kids? Before delving into this exciting genre, it’s a good idea to review back issues of children’s magazines for examples of topics that interest kids, writing styles that click with editors, and other details related to nonfiction article writing for children. Then follow the above steps, and learn how to engage young readers and keep them wanting more, even after the final paragraph is read.

For a directory of children’s magazines that seek submissions, check out Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, which is updated yearly and available as an ebook or in bookstores and public libraries. For a shorter list of popular children’s magazines and submissions guidelines, take a look at this article.

For general information on writing your best, including your best a children’s article, please check out my ebook No Average Writer: How to Stand Out in the Writing Crowd and Write Your Best.

Photo Credit: Mark Thomas, Pixabay

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Spring will soon be upon Minnesota, and along with the warm sunshine, puddles of melted snow, and return of the red-winged blackbirds come writing events aplenty for the state’s word-loving youth. From young writer’s conferences to Minnesota’s first weekend-long word festival, the spring of 2019 offers a range of options for Minnesota students to grow their craft and hone their skills. So without further ado, check out these eight spring writing events for Minnesota students and choose the one (or several!) that suits your writing fancy:

Wordplay 2019

When: May 11-12, 2019

Where: Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

Whether you’re a writer, avid reader, or lover of words, this brand-new event hosted at The Loft in Minneapolis has something for everyone.  The weekend-long festival promises to be “Minnesota’s largest celebration of readers, writers, and great books,” complete with famous authors (including Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Mitch Albom), workshops, book signings, activities, and books galore. For more information on Wordplay for Minnesota youth, adults, and families, visit the website.

South Central Service Cooperative’s Young Writers and Artists Conference 2019

When: March 12-13, 2019

Where: Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato

Hosted by the South Central Service Cooperative (SCSC), this writing conference targets students in grades 3 to 8 living in the Mankato area. You’ll enjoy a keynote presentation by songwriter Ken Lonnquist, along with a variety of breakout sessions, from writing about extreme sports to creating a murder mystery. The cost to participate in the SCSC conference runs $27 to $37, depending on how soon you register for the event.

Southeast Service Cooperative's Young Authors, Young Artists Conference 2019

When: May 21-23, 2019

Where: Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester, Minnesota

The Southeast Service Cooperative’s Young Authors, Young Artists Conference caters to students in grades 3 to 5 living in southeast Minnesota. (The SSC’s conference for grades 6 to 8 is held in the fall.) The focus of this conference is “to promote student enthusiasm and competence in written and visual communication” and includes a keynote speaker and three breakout sessions. More information will be available on the website as the conference date nears.

Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable 2019 Internship Fair

When: March 19, 2019

Where: Open Book, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN

Are you an older student looking for an internship in the field of writing and publishing? Plan to head to the MBPR’s annual internship fair, where you can meet Minnesota magazine and book publishers and discuss internship possibilities, both paid and for academic credit. Bring at least 10 copies of your resume. Check out the details here.

Success Beyond the Classroom Young Author’s Conference 2019

When: May 28-31, 2019

Where: Bethel University, Arden Hills, MN

Registration Deadline: February 28, 2019

This is the second Young Author’s Conference of the year held at Bethel. Students in grades 4 through 8 can spend the day learning from professional Minnesota Authors. The theme of this conference is “Expect the Unexpected! Where Will Writing Take You?” and includes breakout sessions along with a keynote address. Some fun extras? Open mic, a book fair, and live music. Early bird registration has passed, but there are still a few days to register for the conference.

2019 Camp NaNoWriMo

When: April 2019

Where: Anywhere!

Although this event is open to any young writer anywhere, Minnesota students would be well served to consider this rewarding longtime writing event. You can chat on the forum with other Minnesota students who are trying their hand at novel writing, poetry, or short stories, plus there are many weekly events to prepare for your writing endeavor. This virtual writing retreat can pay off big in creativity, writing practice, and networking. Check it out here.

Lakes Country Service Cooperative's Young Writer’s Conference 2019

When: Spring 2019

Where: 1001 E. Mount Faith, Fergus Falls, MN

Held every spring, the LCSC Young Writer’s Conference is an opportunity for students in grades 3 to 7 living in an around Fergus Falls to attend classes taught by Minnesota authors and other artists, including storytellers, puppeteers, and illustrators. For more information and updates on the timing and details of this conference, please visit the website.

Kate DiCamillo – A Piglet Named Mercy Tour

When: April 6, 2019, 1-4 pm

Where: Barnes & Noble Apache, Rochester, MN

Favorite Minnesota children’s author Kate DiCamillo will be appearing at the Rochester Barnes and Noble bookstore to talk about A Piglet Named Mercy, the picture book prequel to the New York Times-bestselling Mercy Watson series. No matter your age, this is a great way for aspiring  writers to see one of the top Minnesota children’s authors in person and learn what goes into the writing and publishing of a successful children’s book. Information is available on the B&N website.

If you’re a Minnesota student who likes to write, make this spring an eventful one. There’s plenty here to choose from and you’ll gain knowledge and skills that can help advance your writing craft—and your dream of being an author.

 

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Wish you could put more emotion in your writing? If you’re worried you’ll sound unprofessional or you’re just plain uncomfortable showing feelings, here’s some good news: it’s okay to write with the heart. In fact, it can bring life to your words, engage your readers, and free your spirit. But there is a catch—putting emotion in your writing must be done with care in order to work. With Valentine’s Day nearing, why not let it inspire you to take your feelings to the page. These ideas will help you write with the heart:

Remember To Show

You may be tired of hearing the mantra “show don’t tell,” but in order to write with the heart, you have to take those three words to heart. When you let readers tap into the senses by showing rather than telling, they’ll feel what you’re feeling, no explanation necessary. And that makes writing with emotion easier for you and more satisfying to experience for the reader.

Make It Relatable

Exposing your emotions in writing is a lot less intimidating if readers get what you’re saying. Gushing over something that no one but you cares about or can relate to won’t draw readers in and keep them interested. In fact, it might turn them off. When you write with the heart, make sure people connect with your feelings. In other words, always keep your audience in mind.

Be Honest and Real

Emotions in writing can come off as overdone, contrived, or fake if they’re not heartfelt. Whatever it is you’re describing should actually touch or move you. Think of people who feign emotion and feelings in person. It shows. The same thing will happen if you pretend on paper. Be real and true to yourself, and writing with the heart will come easily, naturally, and credibly.

Follow Up with Your Head

When you write with the heart, the initial draft can sound pretty raw. That’s why it’s important to take a second, third, or even fourth look at your work. You might even set your writing aside for a day or two. Then go back and edit with your head—tone down your words, fix sentences so they flow better, and make sure your point or message filters through the emotion.

Don’t be afraid to show your feelings on paper. Done with care, writing with the heart can be highly gratifying and inspiring for you and your readers.

 

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With a fresh year approaching, how about taking a fresh challenge: drop your old, worn-out writing habits and adopt a new approach to your craft. You might be surprised at how a simple change of pace, style, and attitude can bring revived life to your writing—along with a year of productivity. Try these eight ideas for starting the New Year fresh, and see how you can unleash a new writer in you that’s better, bolder, and bound for success.

Set Writing Goals

Make this year the one you focus on achieving your writing goals. Start by writing down everything you hope to get done in 2019. You can devise a list of goals for the year as well as monthly and weekly goals. Then keep the lists handy so you can refer to them regularly.

Grow Your Confidence

If you’ve been shy or uncertain about your writing worth, take time to assess your accomplishments. What have you published to date? Have you earned a new degree or attended a conference? Putting together a resume can grow your confidence by helping you see how far you’ve come as a writer.

Learn

What better time to learn than the beginning of a new year? Consider taking a writing course or enrolling in a workshop to improve and expand your skills. Learning can also open up doors for your writing business, sharpen your mind, and offer networking opportunities.

Take on a Writing Challenge

Ever wanted to participate in Nanowrimo? How about submitting to a high-circulation magazine? Don’t hold back. Commit to doing something that gives you reason to work your hardest and produce your best material. Success often comes in the risk-taking and journey rather than the end result.

Get Serious

The month of December can be slow and unproductive for writers, especially when holiday activities pile up. But there’s no excuse not to get serious come January. Adopt a determined attitude and see how it can do wonders for kick-starting your writing for the New Year.

Make an Investment

That is, of time, resources, writing tools—you name it. Whatever you need to do to push your writing to a new level this year, go ahead and invest in it. Making improvements to your writing life may be costly upfront, but you’ll find the long-term payoff to be worth it.

Give Back

Giving isn’t just a nice thing to do; you’ll benefit from the gesture. When it comes to growing your writing career, there are plenty of ways to give that’ll fill the bill. Offer your writing skills to a nonprofit, mentor a novice writer, or donate a percentage of your writing income to your favorite charity.

Start Strong Now

Don’t wait another day to be a new, improved writer. Procrastination won’t move your talent or career along, but action and perseverance will. Shrug off the bad days and the rejections. They’re a normal part of the writing life. Be bold, push through, and strive to be the best writer you can be—starting now.

Let the new writer in you emerge. Try the above ideas, and make it a year of progress, productivity, and endless possibilities.

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Before you know it, the holidays will be here. For those of us writers-who-like-to-bake, that means one thing: it’s time to start thinking about making Christmas cookies and other holiday goodies. But don’t put away your writing tools while you’re mulling over recipe ideas. Instead, why not combine the two and craft an irresistible holiday treat recipe? You can share it with friends, submit it for sale, or just have it tweaked and ready to use when baking day arrives. Writing a holiday cookie recipe is also a fun diversion from the usual routine and a great way to learn about recipe writing. Here are some important tips to follow:

Make It Easy

Complicated holiday recipes aren’t just complicated to write; they’re hard to follow. Avoid too many steps, wordy instructions, and using unfamiliar baking terms and processes. Holiday baking should be fun, easy, and festive, not tedious and complex. The simpler and clearer the recipe, the better.

Be Fresh (Or Add a Fresh Twist)

Write a recipe that’s truly yours. Many Christmas cookie and holiday treat recipes are out there, but only yours is made by you. Make sure it’s unique. If crafting your own version of a well-known holiday treat, add a fresh twist to it—an unusual ingredient, shape, or texture that makes it one-of-a-kind.

Use Common Ingredients

Some of the best holiday recipes (or any recipes for that matter) are those made with common, everyday ingredients. No one likes to search far and wide for specialty baking items. In fact, most people will scan a recipe first to see if they have the ingredients on hand or they’re easy to buy. Keep in mind that most grocery stores carry popular holiday baking ingredients during the season.

Offer Extra Tips

What makes your recipe come out beautifully every time may be a baking technique you follow, like roasting nuts before adding them to the batter, refrigerating dough overnight, or using unsalted versus salted butter in your recipe. Be sure to include any tips that give your recipe that extra level of perfection and deliciousness.

Include a Picture

Pictures make all the difference when it comes to trying new recipes. If the end result looks tasty and appealing, chances are someone is going to want to bake it. Use an attractive display—a colorful holiday platter, for example—and photograph your masterpiece to include with your recipe.

Ready to do some recipe writing before you start your holiday baking? You’ll appreciate your well-crafted treasure for seasons to come—and so will others.

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Everyone’s got a favorite punctuation mark. As for me, I like the em dash. Seems like I often have something extra to say at the end of a sentence or find myself wanting to interject a thought between thoughts. I’ve got options, of course, but the em dash usually grabs my attention first. Em dashes are simple and clean, easy to type, and extremely versatile. They also make my writing flow the best. But take my advice: there are tricks to using the em dash effectively, and getting to know the ins and outs of this functionally fun punctuation mark is worth the effort if you want it to improve your writing.

What is the Em Dash?

The em dash is a dash that’s about as long as the letter m. Don’t mistake it with the en dash, which is shorter and typically used between numbers, dates, and times. It’s also not the same as a hyphen, the shortest dash and the one used in compound words.

While the em dash is often referred to as the long dash, it's a great way to bring tightness and focus to your sentences.

When is the Em Dash Appropriate?

If you’ve got an important detail you want to highlight or you want to show a sudden break in thought, the em dash may be just the ticket: Sarah decided to return the white dress—she never planned to keep it anyway—after her mother commented on how pale she looked.

It also works when adding a final thought: Eating healthy and staying fit and strong will improve your overall well-being—and keep you young at heart.

You might also use an em dash to set off an introductory series of nouns: Patience, empathy, and kindness—those were the virtues she preached the most.

Finally, em dashes make reading a sentence with other punctuation easier on the eyes: Fruits, vegetables, and protein—especially strawberries, cauliflower, and fish—are among her favorites.

Dos and Don’ts for Using the Em Dash

The em dash has a place in your writing, but it’s not always the right mark to use. Keep these dos and don’ts in mind:

  • Do place the em dashes in the right spot. When used with an interjected idea, put dashes on either side. When used for a final thought, place the em dash directly before the thought.
  • Do watch your spacing. Em dashes don’t need spaces between letters. Make them look neat on the page.
  • Don’t use the em dash if parentheses or commas make more sense; for example, when a detail is minor and doesn’t need amplification.
  • Don’t precede an em dash with a comma, colon, semicolon, or period. You may use a question mark or exclamation point, though: He made it on time—thank goodness!—and the meeting was a success.
  • Don’t overuse the em dash. If your entire page is filled with them, they backfire and become hard on the eyes. Place them sparingly throughout a piece of writing. And never use two or more em dash clauses in the same sentence

Got a propensity for the em dash? Me too. Use it appropriately and intermittently and make the mark work to your advantage.

 

 

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Summer’s nearing an end and it’s time to start thinking about hitting the keyboard full force. But while you’re busy collecting ideas for your fall writing schedule, here’s one more idea to consider: planning a fall vacation. Wait a sec, didn’t I just take a vacation, you ask? Whether you did or not, fall’s one of the best times to travel, especially if you want to make autumn a lucrative, productive writing season. Here’s why:

You Need a Fall Vacation to Recharge

Let’s face it, summer vacations aren’t exactly restful and rejuvenating. Bustling beach adventures, hectic air travel, and multi-stop road trips to visit the relatives can be exciting—and exhausting. Fall vacations, on the other hand, tend to be less chaotic and tiring, giving your brain and body time to refresh and recharge so you can write full force when you return to your desk.

Fall Vacations Offer a Multitude of Writing Ideas

Beautiful colors, perfect weather, and popular destinations for less money describe a fall vacation. What more could you want? Actually, there’s plenty more. Vacationing during the autumn months is also an ideal way to jumpstart a new season of writing. All the advantages of fall travel translate to a long list of writing ideas—from interesting vacation spots to unique fall foods, activities, holidays, and foliage.

Motivation Comes from Something to Anticipate

You don’t have to take a fall vacation at the beginning of autumn, but you can start planning and getting excited about it, which will help motivate you to work hard now so you can relax and enjoy the trip in a month or two. Knowing you have something to look forward to in the short-term can be just what you need to be productive after a long, unstructured summer.

You Can Make It a Writing Vacation

A vacation doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. If you love your craft (and most writers do!) and it relaxes you, why not take it along? Choose a private, quiet spot to travel, and bring your writing materials and creativity with. Or, sign up for an autumn writing conference or retreat, where you get the opportunity to mingle with other writers, enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, and spend time honing and broadening your skills.

Fall is a great time to write. It’s also a great time to get away. Do yourself a favor and plan a fall vacation. It’ll do wonders for your mind, body, and writing life.

Image by David Whelan