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Health and wellness is all the rage these days, so it’s no wonder people are making career choices in fields related to healthcare. As a writer, you can too. Not only is health writing a lucrative niche, you’ll gain important knowledge about how to keep you and your family healthy. Plus, it’s easy to get started as a health writer. There are various paths you can take to work your way up to a health writing expert. Here are a few that’ll put you on the right and robust track:

Begin with Schooling

Many study programs are available to help you learn the ropes of health writing. One of the most well-known and respected options is the Essential Skills Certificate program from the American Medical Writers Association. The AMWA also offers a variety of individual online classes in health writing. Another idea is to take courses through a local college on subjects related to health, like pharmacology or nutrition, to acquire background knowledge for writing in the health field.

Be a Self-Learner

Not the student type? With a little dedication and perseverance, you can learn to be a health writer on your own. Start by getting to know the world of healthcare. Read about health topics online, pour over health journals at the library, do some research on health topics that interest you, or talk to people in the health and medical fields. Then starting writing and submitting your work. Build a name for yourself as a health writer, and enjoy the perks that come with your newly acquired expertise.

Draw from Experience

Many successful health writers got their passion from experience. Maybe they’re longtime health and fitness nuts, perhaps they’ve been dealing with a lifelong medical issue, or possibly they know someone in the field who inspired them.  If you have any life experiences with health, use them to your advantage as a writer. Dig into your repertoire of health knowledge and start writing about it. You might be surprised at how much information you already have that can help educate the public.

Join a Group or Association

Sometimes your writing peers can be your biggest career boosters, so make a point to make contacts in the health writing world. Become a member of a health writing association, like the American Medical Writers Association, the Association of Healthcare Journalists, or the National Association of Science Writers. Look for local chapters and attend meetings and events. Or, join a private writing group of like-minded health writers. The important thing is to make a point to get connected!

Health writing is a fun, lucrative field with endless possibilities for writers. If you’ve wanted to delve into this high-opportunity niche, don’t hesitate. You’ll set yourself up for a thriving career for years to come.

Image by Nick Youngson

 

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Spring Bluebell Flowers Purple Blue Scilla Bloom

It’s that time again in Minnesota—time to get ready to enter a spring writing contest. This year’s offerings target everyone from fiction writers to poets to students in the great North Star State, so you’d be hard pressed not to find something that suits your style and interests. Check out the list of Spring 2017 writing contests for Minnesota writers below, then gear up to get creative, share your writing, and earn some recognition—and cash—for your work.

2017 GPS (Geek Partnership Society) Writing Contest

Topic: Sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, graphic, poetry & short fiction pieces, youth and adult.

Deadline: May 1, 2017

Prizes: $50 - $75 Amazon gift cards

Basic guidelines: Submit original, unpublished works on the above topics to open, youth, poetry, and graphic novel (comics) divisions. No entry fee. This contest is not exclusive to Minnesota writers; the organization is simply based in Minneapolis. For more info, click here.

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis 2016-2017 Student Essay Contest

Topic: Can the U.S. economy still grow the way it once did?

Deadline: March 31, 2017

Prizes: $100 (for 30 finalists) - $500, plus a paid internship for first place winner. Cash prize for teacher of winners, too.

Basic guidelines: Open to high school students in the Ninth Federal Reserve District, which includes Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, northwestern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For contest rules, check here.

2017 Great American Think-Off

Topic: Has the 2016 election changed our perception of truth?

Deadline: April 1, 2017

Prizes: Four $500 cash prizes and invitation to debate in New York Mills, MN

Basic guidelines: This contest is sponsored by the Cultural Center of New York Mills. Submit an essay of up to 750 words on the topic using personal experience and observations. Enter online, no fee, and all ages welcome. See the website for further details.

Minnesota Christian Writers Guild 2017 Writing Contest

Topic: Everyday people who are making a difference for Jesus.

Deadline: March 13, 2017

Prizes: $25 - $75 cash, plus a mentor session with an editor

Basic guidelines: Submit a personal experience article between 800 and 1,200 words. You must be a member of MCWG to enter, plus pay a $5 entry fee. For more information, click here.

2017 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest

Topic: Unpublished sonnet written in Shakespearean, Spenserian, Petrarchan, or Non-traditional rhyme scheme.

Deadline: June 1, 2017

Prizes: Cash totaling over $2,000 in several categories, including Local Area (Winona, MN, and adjacent counties), Best Youth, and Laureate’s Choice.

Basic guidelines: $5 entry fee; free for youth 17 and under. Click here for more info.

2017 LSW (Lake Superior Writers) Writing Contest

Topic: Rivers: mapped and unmapped

Deadline: April 1, 2017

Prizes: $250 per category for winner, plus publication

Basic guidelines: Theme of submissions must be real or metaphorical rivers. Categories include poetry, short-short fiction, creative nonfiction, and short story. Free to LSW members, or you can join and pay a membership fee of $35 to enter. Visit the site for complete rules.

BestPrep and Thomson Reuters High School Essay Contest

Topic: Martin Luther King famously wrote: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Why is it important for students to develop their character alongside academics? How has your educational journey and life experiences developed your character?

Deadline: April 15, 2017

Prizes: MacBook Air, iPads, Beats headphones, Google Home, and Walmart gift cards, plus an invitation to an Education Forum and private reception at the Saint Paul River Centre in October. Visa gift card for teachers of top five winners.

Basic guidelines: Open to Minnesota high school students. Submit an essay of 600-750 words on the above topic. See website to download essay competition packet.

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img_0864Despite what anyone says, writing a book is never a solo endeavor. As a self-publisher and e-book author, I’m especially aware of the amount of help that goes into writing and publishing a book—and the thanks owed to each contributor. Which is why including a section for acknowledgments is so important.

That said, writing acknowledgments doesn’t necessarily come easily or naturally. Common questions include: How do you begin? Where should you place the acknowledgments? Who do you include? And will the section even get read?

For answers, follow these guidelines, and make this purposeful front matter, well, matter.

Who and What to Include in Acknowledgments

Before you begin writing the acknowledgments, reflect back on all the people who assisted with the book project—librarians and researchers, subject matter experts, other authors who offered opinions or direction, editors, critiquers, printers, publishing consultants, mentors, friends, and family members. Jot down everyone who helped. You can always go back and cross off those who played a small role. A brief note or word of gratitude may be enough thanks for minor contributors.

Now think of any organizations or other resources that played a part in writing your book. Maybe you spent a lot of time looking up records at the county historical society. Perhaps you visited the police department or another government agency for advice. Obviously, a bibliography might be the best place to credit books and periodicals, but it’s possible some held enough value that they deserve a spot in the acknowledgments section of your book too.

One word of caution: If you’re unsure whether a particular contributor wants to be mentioned in the acknowledgments, ask him or her first. Respect privacy concerns for anyone you interviewed or consulted who might not want the public exposure.

Organizing and Writing Acknowledgments

Once you have a list of all who contributed to your book project, it’s time to start writing. Here’s where you have to decide how you want to organize this section. There are no set rules. You can begin with the indispensable helpers—those you couldn’t have written the book without—or you can work your way toward the most important contributors.

When writing acknowledgments, some authors draft a collective thank you while others create separate descriptions of each contributor’s role. Either way is fine, as long as the section doesn't drag on for pages. Begin with a brief introduction followed by heartfelt, succinct gratitude. Avoid flowery language and rambling sentences. Instead, offer simple, straightforward details of how the contributor helped you. When it comes to writing acknowledgments, less is more.

Front Matter or Back Matter?

Traditional publishers typically place acknowledgments with the front matter, after the table of contents and preface but before the introduction. When the acknowledgments are exceptionally brief, they can even be included within the preface.

Of course, if you’re a self-publisher, you don’t have to follow traditional publisher guidelines. You might choose to place your thanks at the back of the book, before the other back matter. If your book already contains many pages of front matter (i.e., a lengthy preface and/or introduction, dedication, epigraph, etc.), putting the acknowledgments at the back of the book might make more sense.

A Book Section That’s Overlooked?

So do readers really read this section? The answer is yes—and no. Some readers don’t miss a page; others skip over front and back matter. If you want your acknowledgments read, make them stand out. These tips and reminders can help:

  • Place the acknowledgments where they’re most visible or likely to be read
  • Keep the section short, personal but professional, and to the point
  • Use an easy-to-read font
  • Edit, using another set of eyes
  • Read acknowledgments written by other authors for style and techniques that work

Without question, writing a book takes more than just the author to pull off successfully. The best way authors can express their gratitude and give back to all who helped—many of whom may not have been paid—is to include them in a section of acknowledgments. Done right, it’s a thank you that will never be forgotten.

 

 

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calendarA new year is a time of new beginnings. So why not apply that principle to your writing and do something completely different this month? You might find that a fresh project, completely out of the box, is just what you need to start your writing off on the right track for 2016. Even better, you might discover a hidden talent or skill within yourself that you never knew you had. Here are 10 ideas for writing fresh this month. Give one a try, and see what new beginning is in store for you.

  1. Commit to Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Camp NaNoWriMo is a more laidback version of November’s NaNoWriMo: you write a 10,000- to 1 million-word work during the month of April. It may not result in a best seller, but you’ll have a solid draft to polish and a productive month of writing. For more info, contact Camp NaNoWriMo.
  2. Take a class on a fresh writing topic. Classes are a great way to start the New Year, especially if they teach you a new skill or steer you in a direction you’ve always wanted to try out but never have before. Search the internet for course options, or contact a college, writing center, or writer's association.
  3. Join a writer’s group. A writing group doesn’t just reward you with contacts; it can motivate you, offer new and lasting friendships, and provide a way for you to share your skills and knowledge. Check local libraries, a chapter of a national writer’s organization, or an online writing community for groups to join. Or, start a group of your own.
  4. Make a cold call for work. It may be bold and uncomfortable, but if you want work, sometimes you have to get gutsy. For editing and proofreading work especially, cold calls and email inquiries to publishing companies, bloggers, or other freelance-hiring companies may be the best way to land clients.
  5. Write a poem. Even if you’re not poetic, writing a poem is a great way to jumpstart creativity. You don’t have to publish your poem; just writing it may be enough to refresh you and open up ideas for future writing projects. Or, you might find that you’re actually good at poetry. Poems come in all forms to try, from simple rhymes to haiku to acrostics.
  6. Draw or paint. Whether or not you’re skilled at drawing or painting, they can be a means to an end—like a way for you to put color, texture, and visuals to your words—or an end in themselves. Either way, you’ll have fun in the process. Consider enrolling in a drawing or painting class for a more serious go at this fun and rewarding art form.
  7. Find a contest to enter. Contests for writers abound, and entering one can payoff big in money, recognition, and motivation. If you’ve never entered a writing contest before, you’re missing out on a great way to showcase your work and possibly get feedback. Look for updates on these past writing contests.
  8. Start a new blog. Blogging is the thing today, and while the competition is stiff for readership, there’s no reason why you can’t—or shouldn’t—start a fresh one. You can set up a new blog, revamp an old one, or submit guest posts for other bloggers. If blogging isn’t for you, consider an alternate way to share your writing with the public, like starting a newsletter or writing posts for social media.
  9. Study vocabulary. Having an extensive vocabulary isn’t essential for writers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Building your vocabulary won’t just help you recognize and use words better; it’ll provide insight into the background and history of words. There are many books available on how to expand your vocabulary. Or, look for electronic vocabulary-building games or apps.
  10. Rearrange your office space. A fresh writing space can add newness to your writing life. Start by rearranging furniture or your desktop. Remove old, outdated reference books from your writing bookshelf, and add new, fresh materials. Restock your drawers with notebooks, pens, and other essential office supplies. Then put your “new” writing area to use!

Got any other great tips for writing fresh this month? Please share your ideas!

 

 

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life writer

Do you write to live or live to write? It's a question I see pop up on writing websites and blogs from time to time. And it's a hard one to answer. If you say you write to live, that implies that money is your endgame, and I’m fairly certain that money doesn’t top the list of reasons why most writers write. For one thing, money in this business is often sporadic, unscheduled, and uncertain. To depend on money regularly is just plain risky.

Now, money certainly has a spot on the list of reasons why most writers write, but I suspect the majority of us do it mainly because we like it. I’d even go a step further and say that we need it. Writing makes us tick and gives us purpose. Without being able to write, we would not be fulfilled, and that would make life for us less than satisfactory.

So does that put most of us writers in the live-to-write category? Whether it does or not, living to write—like writing to live, with all its risk and uncertainty—has downsides too.

First of all, we writers need recognition. We can’t expend all that mental energy and not get rewarded for it. (Actually, we can and sometimes don’t but not usually by choice.) Rewards, whether in the form of money or praise, empower us and help validate us as writers. Second, the live-to-write mindset can make us stagnant. While writing to live might force us to write about topics we have no passion for or in styles that aren’t truly ours in order to appease clients, living to write can keep us from delving into new subject areas, learning different techniques, and experimenting with our own voice. Essentially, living to write can, if we let it, keep us from growing and developing as writers.

But whether we think we write to live or live to write, the best place to be is probably somewhere in between. If we write to live, we risk losing our true writing self as we try to meet the demands of readers and our financial goals. If we live to write, we might forego recognition for our work, the opportunities to reach wider audiences, and the chance to flourish at our craft.

If, on the other hand, we aim for a little of both—writing with passion on topics that appeal to us while being open to taking risks in areas that are new, and doing it for fulfillment, growth, recognition, and rewards—we might just win. We might find that happy medium that makes us full and complete, the writer we were meant to be.

Image by Ramunas Geciauskas

 

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grammar

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of writing with—what seems to me—misplaced commas used with conjunctions. Granted, most of these sightings appear on social media, where grammar and punctuation apparently don’t matter much. Still, it made me wonder whether the rules surrounding commas and conjunctions are starting to bend a little, even in professional writing. True to form, I got right on it, researching what other writers and grammar gurus think.

What I discovered wasn’t surprising: everyone has an opinion. What I gleaned, though, is that the rules for using commas with conjunctions aren’t hard and fast today. In fact, there are times when they don’t make good writing sense. Check out which old rules still apply and which appear to have moved on:

Commas/conjunctions with independent clauses:

Example: John decided to travel to Europe in the spring, but he wanted to keep his plans a secret.

  • Old rule: The comma precedes the conjunction when two independent clauses are separated by a conjunction.
  • New rule: Still the same, but some authorities say it’s okay, even recommended, to leave off the commas for very short clauses if no confusion results.

Commas/conjunctions with independent clauses that contain parenthetical or descriptive phrases:

Example: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday, and, given her knack for procrastinating, she might not get back to you until Monday.

  • Old rule: A comma should separate two independent clauses as well as set off descriptive phrases from the rest of the sentence.
  • New rule: Although the above example is still technically correct, three commas so close together makes the sentence look cluttered. One solution is to remove the comma before the conjunction, along with the second she, so that you no longer have two independent clauses: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday and, given her knack for procrastinating, might not get back to you until Monday. Another option is to substitute a semicolon for the comma after the first independent clause: She wouldn’t have an answer until Friday; and, given her knack for procrastinating, she might not get back to you until Monday.

Commas/conjunctions without independent clauses:

Example: He didn’t ask any questions or raise any concerns.

  • Old rule: No comma before or after the conjunction.
  • New rule: Still the same. For long sentences where a pause becomes necessary, place a comma before the conjunction.

Commas/conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence:

Example: I didn’t get the job. So what do I do now?

  • Old rule: No comma is necessary.
  • New rule: A comma after the conjunction is useful to show a pause or a lingering of thought, if that’s the writer’s intent.

To sum up, commas usually still have a place beside conjunctions, though not always in the spot you might think. Of course, my theory on commas remains unchanged: don’t use them if you don’t have to. It’ll make your writing cleaner and smoother. Best advice? When using commas, use good judgment.

For more information on commas, check out my blog post For the Love of Commas, Don’t Overuse Them.

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handwritingHandwriting seems to be a lost art—or maybe I’ve just lost the art of handwriting. Every time I sit down to write out a greeting card, I get discouraged. My handwriting isn’t what it used to be. It’s not nearly as attractive, uniform, or legible as it was decades ago. I often wonder, should I just type out a short greeting and stuff it inside the card? Maybe that would be easier for the recipient to read.

Despite my deteriorating skill at handwriting, though, I know I won’t quit doing it. Handwriting comes in handy on too many occasions. In fact, there are times when handwriting just plain makes more sense than typing. If you ever wonder whether to handwrite or not, here are guidelines for the times it’ll pay off:

When it’s personal. Take it from a writer, there’s nothing like receiving a handwritten note to make you feel special. A typed rejection from an editor takes on a whole new meaning when there’s a handwritten message to you adorning the page. Likewise, a handwritten note from a friend suggests she spent some time thinking about what she was going to write and then took the time to sit down and do it. When writing is meant to be personal and heartfelt, consider doing it by hand; it’ll make all the difference to the recipient.

When speed matters. For some writers, note-taking or any other kind of speed writing is easier done by hand. Many of us are proficient at typing, but I, for one, like to handwrite my notes because I’m less likely to misspell words and can abbreviate more quickly. When time is of utmost important, whether you’re doing an interview or listening to a lecture, a pencil or pen can be a better aid than a keyboard.

When convenience comes first. Writers are struck with writing ideas at some of the oddest times—usually, when they are not at their computers. Carrying around note pads and a writing tool is ideal for those times. Handwriting offers convenience because it’s always with you and it’s easy to do. Without the ability to handwrite, you risk losing a brilliant idea waiting to get to your computer.

When you’re stuck. Have you ever sat at your desk scratching your head over a sentence or paragraph that just isn’t working? You might shift words here and there, delete phrases and replace them, and then wish you had the original sentence back to start the process over. Handwriting alleviates this problem. It allows you to cross out, scribble, rearrange, and rewrite—without losing anything. Not only does handwriting help you get unstuck, though, it promotes clear thought and natural flow to your words.

Even if your handwriting is bad, like mine, it’s a skill worth keeping. Handwriting can come in handy, especially when your computer just won’t do the trick.

 

Image by Taylor Liberato

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sylvester-435376_640Writing every day isn’t always easy, especially this time of year. I have to admit, there have been many days this past month when I haven’t jotted down a single word, except maybe on a grocery list. For a writer, that’s bad. That’s my daily brain exercise neglected.  If I kept up that routine, my writing would surely suffer. In fact, I can already feel the effects—I’m getting lazier at my computer, slower to draft that first sentence, and more easily distracted by other duties.

That’s why I’m making my New Year’s resolution early, starting today. Despite the busy holiday season, I will take the time to sit down and write every day, even if it’s just a short session. Writing daily is a must for writers. It’s the only way to keep our creativity alive, flowing, and fresh. The writing doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to be for publication. The point is just to write. Anything.

So, where do you begin when your mind isn’t focused on writing? Start with something easy and fun that won’t take up too much time. Here are some quick, daily writing exercises designed to get you writing. Try one today—and every day.

  • Find a word in the dictionary you’re not familiar with, and write a paragraph around it.
  • Write an essay about something funny or scary your pet did recently.
  • Review a favorite book, movie, or television program.
  • Make a list of writing projects for the New Year. Plan to develop your list in more detail later.
  • Write an old-fashioned letter to a friend or relative.
  • Sharpen your editing skills by reviewing a short, published article for typos, poor grammar, and stylistic problems, then re-write the article with your corrections and in your voice.
  • Finish the sentence, “The year 2014 couldn’t have been more….” Now explain why.

Of course, you could always start a big project today if you feel the motivation. Sometimes writers work best when they have little time in their schedules. The important thing is to make daily writing, even 20 minutes of it, a habit that will carry you into the New Year and beyond.

 

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800px-Woman_reading_at_the_beachAugust is here, and so are the dog days of summer. Maybe you’re planning to spend the month preparing for the upcoming school year. Maybe you’re scheduled to take that much-needed vacation. You might just want to spend the final weeks of summer at home, relaxing under a shade tree. Whatever you’ve got in store for the month, here’s a suggestion for something not to do: write. Seriously write, that is. Taking a break from writing can actually do a whole lot of good by helping you refresh, rejuvenate, and write better when it’s time to return full force to your craft.

Here are a few of the ways I plan to “write” in August. Try these out for yourself. You might be surprised at how much you’ll achieve this month—without creating a single draft.

  1. Read helpful books. Learn something from another writer by adding a writing book to your summer reading list. Consider one of these noteworthy recommendations:  Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do (Meredith Maran), Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (Kidder and Todd), and Letters to J.D. Salinger (Kubica and Hochman).
  2. Research writing classes. It’s never a bad idea to take a writing class, even for the most seasoned writers. You can always learn something new, and fall is a great time to go back to school. I have a few classes on my list already; it’s just a matter of thinking them through and choosing the right course.
  3. Develop a fall writing plan. I’m halfway through my fall writing agenda, where I’ve listed all the projects I can think of that I’d like to work on come September. I’ve also got a list of those writing classes I plan to further research and a few follow-up reminders for projects I’ve already completed.
  4. Update your website and social media. Does your website need some freshening up? What about your profiles on your social media sites? Adding new photos, updating writing credits, providing new links, and expanding your bio can all uplift and enhance these all-import sites.
  5. Connect with other writers. Networking is such a big part of making it as a freelancer today. If you haven’t reached out to other writers and professional contacts, now’s a good time to do it. Use your social media outlets to make connections or attend local writing and reading events.

There are many other ways to work at your writing without actually writing. Use this month to concentrate on those activities. They’ll make sitting back down at your computer at summers’ end that much more successful.

Image by: El coleccionista de instantes

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An interesting new website just launched by some graduate students from North Dakota State University. Sponsored by Assistant Professor of History Angela Smith, the site is called The Fargo History Project and serves as "a vehicle for student research” in a digital history class. The site is designed to attract community engagement about local Fargo history and will continue to add information from future history classes at NDSU.

I’m especially excited about this new website for several reasons. First, I’m from Fargo and have always been interested in learning more about the city’s beginnings. Also, as a writer of history, I appreciate reading what other history writers have to share. And finally, I have a small part in the project. I was asked to perform an audio recording of a history piece I wrote years ago on Fargo pioneer Martin Hector. Unearthing my old article and reading – aloud – what I’d written years ago turned out to be as fun as it was rewarding. Plus, I got to relearn the story of the man who happens to be my great-grandfather.

I am grateful to Angela Smith and the students at NDSU for creating an innovative way to share and discuss important local history – and keep yesterday’s news fresh and alive. Check out the new website at Fargohistory.com.