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Having trouble deciding on a New Year’s resolution? Why not look to your writing for help. Even if you’re satisfied with how things are going, there’s always room for improvement. Take a minute to reflect on your writing life during the past year—what you liked about it, what you didn’t, and what you could do differently. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come up with a New Year’s resolution—or a whole list of them. To help you get started, here are some ideas to consider:

Set Higher or Lower Goals

If you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to produce, maybe you need to scale back this year. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to set a high standard to stay challenged. Re-evaluate what you know you can and cannot accomplish in the next year, and resolve to meet your goals.

Try a New Writing Genre or Market

Have you been unhappy with the type of writing you do? This could be the year you begin your mystery novel or try your hand at children’s writing. Maybe you just need to look into new markets for your work. Do some research and see what piques your interest for the upcoming year.

Acquire Knowledge

Learning helps you advance your craft, plus it’s a good way to avoid burnout. If you’re writing life feels stagnant, make it your New Year's resolution to taking a writing class—or a class on any topic that appeals to you and helps you further your career. Or, join a writer’s group or organization. You’ll learn from your peers and make some friends in the process.

Start Submitting Regularly

How often do you submit your work? If the answer is very little, it’s time to step up your game. Pledge to submit a certain number of articles or queries weekly as your New Year's resolution. Remember, the more you submit, the more likely your chances of getting published—which will help keep you happy and inspired this year.

Talk Openly About Your Writing

Many of us are quiet about our writing. No one asks, so we don’t talk about it. Telling the world you’re a writer, though, may open up good discussion and new opportunities. One thing’s for certain: it’ll validate to you and others that you’re a writer—and that can be just the motivation you need for a fruitful year.

New Year’s resolutions are good for writers. Spend some time coming up one or more. You’ll approach 2017 with a much better outlook and a greater likelihood of success.

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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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cupcakeGood holiday recipes are always in demand—which is why if you’ve got one, chances are you’ll be asked to share it. And share it, you should. Whether you’re participating in a holiday cookie exchange or bringing a crowd-pleasing dish to Christmas Eve dinner, sharing a holiday recipe is a giving gesture and a great way to pass on a holiday tradition. Plus, you'll get to hone your writing skills in the process.

There are no set-in-stone rules on writing holiday recipes, but you’ll want to keep a few things in mind before you get started:

Make Your Holiday Recipe Coherent

Recipes aren’t the place to get creative with words, especially at holiday time. Cooks and bakers want to know one thing: how to make your holiday treat just like you did. The more straightforward you are, the better for them. Write your holiday recipe using easy language, a step-by-step format, and short, succinct (not necessarily complete) sentences.

Pay Attention to Recipe Symbols and Spacing

Typing out a recipe versus handwriting it will help you avoid errors, but be sure to use proper mechanics when writing recipes. For example, 1 14 oz. can might read as 114 ounces. Instead, write 1-14 oz. can or one 14-ounce can. Likewise, 11/2 teaspoons is better written 1&1/2 teaspoons. And avoid confusing abbreviations, like "T" for tablespoon and "t" for teaspoon; spell out measurements instead.

Test Your Holiday Recipe

Holiday cooking is different than everyday cooking: time is limited and stress is often high, so there’s no room for error. If you’re giving away a new recipe—something you haven’t made yet yourself—do a trial run first. You may decide it isn’t as good as you thought or that it needs some tweaks. Test out a new recipe, and you’ll be more confident when you write and share it.

Add Helpful Tips

Do you decorate your holiday cookie a certain way? Does adding an optional ingredient to your holiday casserole make it moister? Do cooking times vary depending on the texture you prefer? If there’s something you do to make your recipe especially yummy, include it. Tips are always helpful for bakers and cooks, especially at holiday time, when success matters most.

Review and Edit

Never share a recipe without looking it over for mistakes. One tablespoon off can turn your favorite holiday treat into a disaster for the next person making it. Look over the ingredient list carefully, double check baking temperatures and times, edit for spelling and grammar, and make sure all the steps are included. Check for minor typos, too—they can throw off a cook.

‘Tis the season of giving, so go ahead, share a favorite holiday recipe. And help make someone else’s holiday as bright—and tasty—as yours.

Image: Courtesy of tawest64

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fall-park-benchEvery year, I get excited about fall. It’s not just because I can start wearing sweaters and jeans again; I like everything about fall - the weather, the changing colors, the approaching holidays, and especially the peace and quiet. Fall is my favorite time to reflect. And write.

But if you’re like me, sometimes it takes a minute to get out of summer mode. The slower pace of August isn’t that easy to part ways with, even though the computer beckons.

What works well for me is doing something new and different to jumpstart my Autumn writing routine. Fortunately, fall is rife with options that are motivating, fun, and profitable. Check out these fall writing activities, and make this autumn your best writing season yet.

Write a Halloween Article or Story

If you’re a web content writer, there are all kinds of Halloween-related article ideas that are sure to sell, like Halloween safety tips, nutrition-based treats, modern-day costume ideas, or the latest Halloween apps. Halloween stories and articles for kids are big sellers, too. Look for Halloween writing contests for places to submit.

Get Ready for the Holidays

October is a great month to start writing for the winter holidays. Article buyers seek material months in advance, so get writing and submitting now. You may have a quick sale if it’s unique and well written. One thing’s for certain: holiday-themed writing is always in demand.

Write Outside

What better time to write outside than on a beautiful fall afternoon? The gorgeous colors, cool temperatures, and light breezes make being outside refreshing and inspiring. Head to the park, sit outside at the public library or pull up a comfy chair on the patio. A change of scene can be highly fruitful for your writing career.

Take a Hike with Your Notebook

Fall hikes are full of adventure - and writing ideas. Take a nature hike with your notebook and jot down whatever captures your attention. Hikes are exceptionally visual activities that can spark all kinds of thoughts, emotions, and sensory descriptions. Be sure your notebook fits in a pack or your pocket, and don’t forget a writing utensil.

Attend a Conference

Fall is loaded with conferences and the perfect time of year to attend one. If you’ve got kids, check into writing conferences that you can do together. Not sure where to look for a conference? Try local writing organizations, colleges or the public library, or look online.

Don’t let fall slip by without taking advantage of this great writing season. Try any of the above fall writing activities, and make autumn productively pleasing from start to finish.

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writer-605764_1280So you’re done writing an article for the web. You’ve polished it, collected images, done your final edits, and put it in the proper format. Before you press submit, hold on. Did you include a bio? Writing a bio may not have been part of the assignment, but rest assured, it’ll be needed. Bios aren’t just for print magazines; they’re used on websites and blogs too. And that’s a good thing for you. It gets your name out there and can bring exposure—and more work.

A bio is basically a short summary of a writer’s credentials and interests. As small as they are, bios have a big job—to describe you in a way that grants you readership and credibility. So don’t take writing a bio lightly; done well, it can do wonders for your career.

So how can you write a top-notch bio that’ll get you noticed? Here are six tips to help put you on the right track:

Choose a Voice

Should you write in first or third person? Good question—and one only you can answer. Often it depends on who you’re writing a bio for. If you’re not sure, ask. Some editors prefer third person; others first. For your personal blog, first makes more sense. Do what’s stylistically appropriate.

Focus on Brevity

It’s great if you have a lot of credentials; just save them for your resume or you might lose readers. If you’re not required to stay within a specific word count for a bio, offer a few sentences—powerful yet succinct is the goal. Be sure to include the obvious: your name, position, and key accomplishments.

Home In on the Significant

Sometimes it’s hard to decide which parts of your background to use in a bio, especially when they all seem important. Look to your audience for help. Readers will want to know what makes you an authority on the subject at hand. If you’re writing about pets, for example, mention your expertise in pet training, competition, or veterinary care.

Add Something Fun

Do you have a unique hobby or skill that would interest readers? Maybe you’re a fitness writer who has an affinity for ballroom dancing and a dream of joining a dance competition. Offer a side of your personality that makes you relatable to your audience.

Link Up

Your bio is just a sampling of who you are professionally, but some readers will want to know more about you. Give them the option. Add links to your resume, website, Facebook or LinkedIn profile, or blog. Pick just one or two, though; too many links gets confusing.

Include a Photo

People want to see a real person behind the article they just read. Make sure you have a photo, whether it’s of yourself or something relevant to your bio. The picture will likely be small, so don’t choose something with too much detail. Make it simple—a head shot of you works well.

Writing a bio is an important task for any writer. Give yours the attention it deserves, and see what a huge impact it can have on your career.

 

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writing v editingMost of us writers know that writing and editing have a lot in common. For one thing, they both need each other. You can’t write, or write well, without editing, and you can’t edit without a piece of writing. For another, they both involve words, grammar, mechanics, communication, headwork—and the list goes on.

But writing and editing are actually very different disciplines, and understanding those differences can go a long way in making you better at either—or both. Check out these five, and learn what skills you need to use for each process. You might even discover which one you’re best suited for.

Writing is about creating; editing is mending.

Writers are creators of stories. They know how to tell a tale or put an idea into readable form. A thoughtful, creative mind is a quality of a good writer. Editors are fixers. They’re good at cutting, pasting, adding, revising, restructuring, and rewording.

Writing requires finding research; editing corroborates it.

While writers must find resources to back up their facts, editors do the fact-checking. They need to verify that the writer is telling the truth. Fact-checking is a good skill to have as a writer, but it’s essential for an editor.

Writing uses the heart; editing relies on the head.

Writers are a passionate bunch. They write with heart, soul, and all the senses. Editors make sure the writing isn’t overly emotional, flowery, or opinionated and that it appeals to the intended audience. Editors must be mindful and objective.

Writing takes reading; editing takes resourcefulness.

Most good writers are avid readers. Reading makes writers better at their craft. Editors benefit from reading, but they must be good at using resources even more. Knowing how to make something read better by consulting style guides is key for editors.

Writing can’t be interrupted; editing can.

Writing is something you need hours of quality, uninterrupted time to do. Editing can be done in pieces—a paragraph or page at a time. It helps to have continuity when editing; writing, on the other hand, depends on it.

Writing and editing go hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same thing. Even though many writers are editors and vice versa, each requires a different set of skills. Know what it takes to do either job and learn how to become better at what you do best.

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some grain had been partially harvested nearby, so we could walk into the center of the field and take a few photos.

Summer’s here, which means school is out and there are lots of fun things beckoning—barbecues, a trip to the beach, biking with the kids. Who has time to write?

Just because outdoor activities are in full bloom and schedules have gone by the wayside, doesn’t mean you stop writing. Writers write—year round. The trick is to find ways to fit in time to write so you’ll feel productive and stay devoted to your craft without missing out on summer fun.

You may need to be a little creative and flexible, but finding time to write in the summer isn’t all that tough. Here are five ideas that might help.

1. Carry Your Writing Tools Everywhere

You never know when an idea might strike, so always be ready to capture it. Slip a notebook and pen in your purse, or carry your tablet or laptop in a messenger bag when you go out. Even a pencil and scratch paper stuffed in the glove compartment of your car can come in handy for those days when creativity sudden flows. Don’t count on your mind to remember your ideas; be safe, and be prepared.

2. Rise and Shine

Whether you have the birds to thank or the sun, chances are you wake up early during the summer months. It’s not a bad thing actually. Popping out of bed at the crack of dawn can be a great way to start your day, especially if you use the time productively. Grab some coffee and make a beeline to your desk for an hour or two of concentrated writing.

3. Make It a Family Affair

If you have kids at home, include them in your writing routine. Set up a workshop where everyone writes. Pick a topic that's kid-friendly. You’ll get an interesting variety of writing to read, writing practice for all, and a worthwhile use of your time. Include snacks or prizes to make it more fun. Just don’t be surprised if the kids come running back for more.

4. Be a Weekend Warrior

Summer weekdays can be hectic for families with busy summer routines. Your days of writing alone suddenly become filled with carpooling to sports, making lunches, and cleaning up after everyone. That’s where weekends come in handy. Use the time when another parent is available to hit the office. Shut yourself off for several hours and get some quality writing time in.

5. Plan a Writing Vacation

A writing vacation may not be your idea of a summer trip, but you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be. Not only will you get to do what you love, you’ll enjoy the break from busy summer schedules to concentrate on just you. There are plenty of writing retreats available during the summer months (check out the ones on this list), or you can create one of your own.

Summer is a time for fun, family, friends—and writing. Give your craft the attention it deserves this summer, and make the season as enjoyable as it is productive.

Image by Nosha

 

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kids writingIf you're a young Minnesota writer looking for ways to cultivate your craft this summer, listen up. The Twin Cities has some great opportunities for blossoming student writers. Summer writing camps and workshops are an ideal way to learn because they’re laid back, pressure-free, and centered on fun. Besides that, they’re a productive use of your time and a chance to meet new friends. What have you got to lose?

Check out these six writing opportunities for youth living in the Twin Cities area. But don’t wait too long to enroll; many start soon and space is limited.

Minneapolis Young Writer’s Workshop. North Central University in downtown Minneapolis hosts this creative writing workshop for young writers aged 13-19. You’ll get one-on-one critiques, open-mic opportunities, and evening sessions with keynote speakers, including Jay Asher and Jonathan Friesen. The workshop runs June 14-16, 2016, and costs $300.

Writing Magic – The Art of Creative Writing. Targeted at grades 3 through 8, this four-day Edina Summer Computer Camp runs from June 7-10, 2016, and is an opportunity for students to explore different genres of writing and gain confidence in their skills. You’ll also learn about digital writing, including blogging and self-publishing. The fee is $135, and the camp is held at South View Middle School in Edina.

Hamline University’s Young Writer’s Workshop. This is a great opportunity for high school students to prepare for college and connect with other writers in the area, including the Hamline staff and published authors. Besides in-depth instruction, you’ll get to tour the literary Twin Cities. Cost for this workshop is $400 for four full days, from June 20-23, 2016.

Bethel University’s Journalism Mini-Camp. Have an interest in the media? This camp might be just the ticket. It’s a three-day minicamp for students in grades 9 through 12 who want to learn more about reporting and other forms of media work. You’ll also get to hear from top Twin Cities journalists. The camp runs July 22-24, 2016, and costs $75. Find the details here.

Intermedia Art’s Writing Circle for Teens. If you're a teen who loves to write and you’re looking for a peer group to learn and workshop with, this Intermedia Arts-sponsored program fits the bill. The Writing Circle for Teens meets every other week to share prompts, set goals, and get feedback. The best part is, it’s free! Check the website for times and dates.

The Loft Literary Center Summer Enrichment Classes. Minneapolis’s well-known literary center, The Loft, has an array of classes for youth ages 6-17 this summer. There's everything from writing fan fiction to fantasy to college essays. Dates and fees vary, although discounts apply for Loft members. Online classes are available too. You can see the full listing of summer youth programs here.

Know of any other summer writing camps or workshops for youth in Minnesota? Please share them below.

Happy summer writing!

Image by USDA

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When it comes to writing about animals, the issue of gender pronouns often pops up. Should you call the family cat in your story a he, she, or it?  What about the neighborhood coyote? The doe in the woods? Or the yapping terrier in the passing car?

As writers, we may not put much thought into something as seemingly insignificant as animal gender. Who really cares what we call them, right? Actually, our readers do, more than we might think. And it isn’t worth it to assume otherwise because our respectability—and our potential sales—could be at stake.

Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to gender pronouns for animals. Generally speaking, personal pronouns shouldn't be used unless the sex of the animal has been established. That’s straight from the AP Stylebook. But before you start calling every dog, cat, and fox an it, consider this advice from my ebook No Average Writer:

Some writers prefer to take a more personal approach to the treatment of animals in writing, especially domesticated and familiar animals. To call a stray kitten an it, for example, may seem cold and inhumane. The problem with using he, the formerly accepted generic pronoun for people, is that it’s now considered sexist and inappropriate. But while he may offend some readers, using she isn't exactly a fair alternative.

When he/she or it doesn't do the trick, writers have the option to reword their writing. One way to do that is to choose the plural form of the animal. For example, the sentence “When a dog feels ill, he chews grass for comfort” could be changed to “When dogs feel ill, they chew grass for comfort.” However, as William Zinsser explains in his classic book On Writing Well, “this is good only in small doses. A style that converts every ‘he’ into a ‘they’ will quickly turn to mush.”

For some writers, using the phrases he or she and him or her for an animal whose gender isn’t known can work too, although this will also get tiresome and clutter the writing. Another option is to change the pronoun to a noun (i.e., instead of using he for a dog, substitute the dog. the pooch, the pup, etc.)

Sometimes, whether to give an animal a gender pronoun depends on the publication where the writing will appear. For example, the Humane Society, PETA, and other organizations devoted to the compassionate treatment of animals might frown on using it in their publications when referring to an animal. Choosing either he or she and then using that pronoun consistently might be a better approach for them. On the other hand, a newspaper aimed at the general public may favor the pronoun it for animals.

Bottom line? Next time you write about animals, consider gender pronouns carefully—and then reference with reverence. You’ll make your readers happy and your writing more credible and thoughtful.

For more information on gender pronouns for animals, see No Average Writer.

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exclamation-point-64050_960_720Drills aren’t just for military personnel. In fact, just about anyone can benefit from training exercises—writers included. Here are seven simple drills that can boost your writing skills and make you better at your craft. Try one a day this week, and see how they improve your clarity, creativity, and style.

Take a quiz. On something writing related, like spelling, grammar, or vocabulary. Quizzes can be found in magazines or online and can help refresh your memory and expand your writing knowledge. Plus, they’re fun to do. You might be surprised at how much you know—or don’t know.

Rewrite a sentence. Pick a sentence, preferably a complex one, from a favorite book or a magazine or newspaper article. Now rewrite the sentence to make it stronger, clearer, and more readable. Or, using your unique style, revise the sentence to reflect a different tone.

Read content. From pamphlets to signage to blog posts, content comes in all forms, and taking notice of it can help you become a better writer—especially when you analyze it, edit it in your head, and ask yourself what works about it and what doesn’t.

Study a word. Is there a word you’ve run across lately that intrigues you? Look it up, then study its definitions and origin. Use it in a sentence or in speech. Get comfortable with the word and incorporate it into your writing and vocabulary.

Write a filler. You know those short, front-of -book pieces in magazines, like a list of tips, a simple recipe, or a brief how-to? They're easy to create and a great way to learn how to cut words and write short. Give one a try.

Review punctuation rules. Punctuation is often underused, overused, or misused. Review the rules of punctuation from your favorite style book and experiment with using each mark. Keep in mind that rules are meant to be guidelines, not set in stone.

Write an acrostic. Acrostic poems aren’t just fun to write; they exercise the brain. The best part is, you don’t have to be a poet to write an acrostic. Need some help getting started? Check out these tips on writing an acrostic poem.

Do you have any other drills that help boost your writing skills? Please share your thoughts!