Writing Advice

7 Sure-Fire Ways to Find Time to Write

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So you want to be a writer but can’t find time to write? First, look at your motivation. Are you sure you really want to be a writer? Writers find the time to write. Then, once you’ve determined that writing is your passion and you are willing to do what it takes to write, consider these ways to carve out time to do so:

  1. Get up earlier. If you are already a morning person, getting up an hour earlier gives you prime time for writing. If you’re not a morning person, getting up earlier will allow you to wake up sooner and to start writing sooner in your day.

  1. Go to bed later. If you are a night person, the result is obvious. If not, write during the day and use the extra time at night to take care of those chores around the house you normally do during the day.

  1. Schedule it. You schedule everything else to make sure it gets done—doctors’ appointments, lunches with friends, get-togethers with family, shopping, oil changes, tire rotations—so schedule blocks of time during each day/week to write. Scheduling time to write makes it a higher priority than just putting it on a to-do list. And, when someone wants you to do something else during that time, you can legitimately say you already have an appointment that you can’t break.

  1. Just say no! Is your time being eaten by agreeing to participate in too many other activities? Keep writing your focus and decline invitations to be on committees, chair organizations, bake goodies for the soccer team, chaperone the junior high dance, or whatever other worthy cause is being touted. Ask yourself, does this event align with the steps towards my future personal goals?

  1. Keep regular office hours. Treat wherever you normally write as your office and go to work each day at a set time. Don’t leave the office until you have achieved your goal for that day or have worked diligently for the entire length of your “normal work” day.

  1. Forego one hour of television a day. Consider recording it to skip through commercials, which can save up to 20 minutes an hour. Use services like Netflix so you can watch whenever you wish without commercial interruptions, and really try to stick to just a couple of episodes. You may enjoy relaxing in the evening, but often watching one program leads to sitting there watching several hours’ worth without even realizing it.

  1. Write wherever you are. Keep a notebook with you (paper or electronic) to record thoughts, ideas, character sketches, solutions to plot dilemmas that suddenly pop into your head. The jottings you make at these odd moments may lead to a better in-depth writing session later. Snippets of time add up unexpectedly, so these daily insights can help keep you on pace.

Four Keys to Writing the Best Elevator Speech

Every entrepreneur, sales person, policy-maker, and project manager knows the importance of having a well-written elevator speech. This elevator speech has two major components. First, this speech, also known as an elevator pitch, is a short summary used to describe a person, profession, product, service, organization, or event. Often, the second component is the most important part of the elevator speech since it discusses the monetary value or need relating to the topic. Over time, the elevator speech was refined to require no more than thirty seconds to two minutes for delivery.

Some people confuse the elevator speech with a sales pitch. A sales pitch has props (the product or item being sold) and can take up to 30 minutes to deliver. The elevator speech is all about using a brief amount of conversation time to deliver an interesting idea that will add value to the business of the person with whom you are speaking. It is in those few seconds that you want to get the person hooked on your idea so that you can continue the conversation, exchange business cards, or schedule a meeting.

Here are four keys for writing success related to your Elevator Speech:

  1. Keep it Simple.

Select each word carefully. Time with your thesaurus is critical for success in writing your elevator speech. Choose words that are well known. The elevator speech is not the time to try to wow the listener with big words. You want to write a speech that everyone with an eighth grade education or higher can understand. Realistically you are pitching to people who have a higher level of education but in this quick delivery, you may not have their full attention so you want something that they can listen to, understand, and get excited about without deep thought.

  1. Keep it Flexible.

Have three to five elevator speeches prepared. You may need one that speaks to the technical level of the project, idea, or product. This version is best delivered to people with a higher appreciation of technology. In my experience, you need the following types of speeches ready: 1) technical, 2) earnings/income potential related, 3) amount of time it will take to deliver on the concept or product, 4) who you need on the team to help make this idea a success, and finally, 5) what resources you need. Once you have delivered the speech and captured your targets attention, you need to be ready to speak with others who will be brought into the conversation and you need to seize their attention quickly.

  1. Have it written out so you can practice the delivery.

Use a 3 x 5 index card and have your speech typed out and ready for you to review and practice for delivery. You may be standing in line at a coffee shop and see a person that you want to walk up to and deliver your elevator speech. Having a 3 x 5 card with your speech written out lets you have a quick review and gets you prepared for your delivery. In addition, it is critical that you practice the delivery aloud.

  1. Grammar matters, but Flow is critical.

Grammar is important but our speech patterns can sometimes be different from what we write on paper. Do not focus on the comma or semicolon in writing out your elevator speech. Most importantly you need to make sure it is easy to say/recite and that you are completely comfortable sharing your idea. One additional idea is to have a friend or family member deliver your elevator speech. If they have trouble with the delivery, your flow is not yet right.

Follow these four keys and you will be able to have success in delivering your elevator speech. When in doubt, seek professional help from speechwriters, editors, others because a great elevator speech might help you get your idea across and lead to your next promotion.

5 Tips for Managing Unruly References

As authors research information to help support the work in their paper, they spend a great deal of time reading references. All too often we wind up with a stack of papers or computer files full of references. These references are important so that authors can cite the information from other sources that they wish to use to either support, acknowledge, or contradict their research. How do we organize and choose the correct references? In this blog we share five easy steps for managing references.

 

1. Sort your references into categories.

 


Most papers have an introduction, materials and methods, results, and conclusion/discussion section. It is best if you sort your references into those categories. The introduction should use references that provide historical information relevant to the paper topic. References used in the materials and methods should help the reader know why the author decided to use particular methods and how those methods are best utilized. When we select references for the results, they can be sub-categorized into those that support or contradict the data. The conclusion/discussion section draws once again on references that support the historical context necessary to understand the work and these references must also aid in the discussion of the relevant data.

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2. Use quality references.

It is important to use the most original reference possible. Additionally, authors need to use up-to-date and reliable references. The authors want to use references that have been peer-reviewed by leaders in the topic field. Peer-reviewed references have been checked for errors by knowledgeable reviewers well-versed in the field being studied.

3. Select references that are easy for people to access.

As our ever-expanding world of technology makes more information available, this is an easier step to manage. Still, we most often should select references that are in the same language as the paper being presented and easy to access by everyone with either access to the internet or a library.

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4. Keep the references to a manageable number.

Unless you are writing a review article and need to tie in the information you are sharing with an extensive number of other papers, select only the most pertinent sources. If a point needs to be validated by external references, this is most often accomplished by referring to three or four sources from unique author sets. Using a few select but widely accepted references that trace back to experts in the field will help readers of the paper being presented better understand the importance of this new work to the field of study.

5. Have all your references printed or in electronic format and easy to access.

In this new day and age there are multiple electronic programs that can be used to sort, catalog, and manage references. All too often people focus on getting the references into these bibliography programs and forget that it is the content of the reference that is critical. Authors need to have the abstract and a few notes about the paper easily accessible and a copy (printed or electronic) of the complete paper should be available. By having the information readily available, it alleviates improper citations and the possibility of plagiarism.

Follow these five suggestions and you will find that managing your references becomes less of a chore!

Library Lady Jane: the Grammar Guru Grants an Interview!

Library Lady JaneIf you write anything at all and you haven’t heard of or followed Library Lady Jane (aka, Jane the Librarian), start getting to know and follow her now. She’s a guru of grammar and a darn nice lady too! We’ve admired her work for quite some time, so we decided to connect with her and see if she’d grant us an interview. To our great delight, she did!

Edit911: Where did you get your love of grammar?

Jane: I got my love of language from my Mom, and from constant reading, another love that was bequeathed by her and pretty much every member of my extended family.  Mom demanded perfect grammar and regular precision of vocabulary, and I loved being able to get it right.  When she saw that, she had me read books on language really early; I remember reading The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, by Bill Bryson, some time around fifth grade.

 

Edit911: Why do you think so many people have so much trouble with grammar?

Jane: People have difficulty with grammar because they hear it spoken and see it written imperfectly far too often, and they don’t have good models to imitate.  Grammar is taught in very dry ways, and grammar in school would never have interested me in the slightest if it hadn’t been a key to decoding formulas I already knew from reading great books from a young age.

 

Edit911: What advice would you give people who want to improve their grammar?

Jane: If you want to improve your grammar, read your own writing aloud.  Yes, it can be painful, but you will surprise yourself with what you catch if you add the sound of your own voice to the process of revision.  Also, read more.  Read good, well-written, entertaining books when you have the chance.

 

Edit911: Do you have a favorite grammar book and grammar website?

Jane: My favorite grammar book is The Elements of Style, affectionately referred to as “the Strunk and White.”  It’s the only physical book I find myself reaching for for reference purposes on a semi-regular basis.  I don’t have a particular favorite website, but I find myself agreeing with Grammar Girl a great deal of the time. I very rarely use only one resource for grammar or language questions, though, because when such questions arise they are often points that language experts have some disagreement on, or they’re points of definition of use and grammar terminology, so it is necessary to compare several resources.  Google is my best friend for that kind of inquiry; it definitely helps to have mastered some advanced searching techniques.

 

Edit911: What else would you like our clients and visitors to know about you and your work?

Jane: I’m just a librarian with a passion for language!  I got started working with Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) because I sent him a fan email about four years ago and offered to help him with proofreading, and that led to the creation of the semicolon comic (“How to Use a Semicolon“).  We’ve never met in real life.  He sends me comics, and I proofread them to the best of my ability and aim for a fast turnaround, because he often wants to publish as quickly as possible.  Sometimes we collaborate a bit more closely on the text, especially when he is focusing on points of grammar, but we’re not perfect. I’ve overlooked some mistakes that make me cringe now, and wow, the internet is an unforgiving audience for that kind of thing.

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Jane has some additional advice: if you want to improve your own writing, or if you have a document that needs another set of eyes, I would encourage you to seek out resources that you might have at your disposal that you may not have considered.  Are you in college or graduate school?  Utilize the writing center on campus. I worked at Auburn University’s writing center for almost three years while I was in school there.  Out of school?  Try the public library. As a public reference librarian, I helped people with papers, resumes, even contracts occasionally, for free.

And, if you have a longer document that absolutely has to be right, it is worth it to pay for professional editing and proofreading services.  I have seen important documents that were poorly edited because someone didn’t want to pay an experienced professional for their time and expertise, and that only reflects poorly on you, the initial author.  Don’t skimp for this kind of service!

Thanks for your wise words and friendly exchange, Jane! You can follow Jane on Twitter @libraryladyjane

How to Write News Stories

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Do you want to pitch strong, timely news stories to papers and magazines? Looking for ways to sharpen your accuracy, credibility, and professionalism? Here are a few pointers to give you an idea of what publishers are looking for and what editors love to see:

  1. Timeliness: In the print media, particularly newspapers, most of news reaches readers several days or even weeks after it’s written. This means it’s important to emphasize the elements of your story that will still be current. Instead of leading with: “On December 5, Ourtown Ministries held a conference on homelessness,” begin: “Homelessness is an epidemic in Ourtown,” says the director of a local ministry that hosted conference on homelessness in December.”
  2. Lead: The lead is the heart of the story. It should grab the reader’s attention, be in the present tense, and sum up the story in 30 words or less. Writing the lead is half the job. A hard lead contains all the facts. If you use a more oblique approach to catch attention, (known as a soft lead) the key information should follow immediately.
    1. Hard lead: “A family in Ottawa’s Westboro neighborhood fled their house in a panic early Monday morning when the roof started to collapse under all the snow that fell over the weekend.”
    2. Soft lead: “The little town of Bethlehem may be overshadowed by a wall 24 feet high and crowned with razor-wire, but it’s home to a small beacon for peace. Wi’am is a grassroots conflict resolution centre in the Bethlehem devoted to building peace in the Middle East using principles of traditional Arab peacemaking.”
  3. Direct quotes: The reader should have encountered a direct quote by the second or third paragraph. Quotes should be colorful descriptions, convictions, or gut responses rather than plain factual information.
    1. Weak quote: “Last year 1,000 cars were stolen in this city,” said the mayor.
    2. Strong quote: “I’m horrified at the way car thieves in our city are thumbing their noses at the law,” said the mayor.
  4. Active verbs: Use every opportunity to turn passive constructions (A plan for a new shopping mall is being discussed by city council) into an active construction (City council is discussing plans for a new shopping mall.) Subject – verb – object. It’s snappier, and more effective newswriting.
  5. Shorter is better: I’ve found that my stories almost invariably are stronger and tighter after I trim them down. When I’ve edited a story, it almost always ends up shorter. If you’re over your assigned word count, go over your story and see where you can tighten it up without losing any content.
  6. Always use “said”: When quoting someone avoid using charged words like “admitted,” “claimed,” or “suggested.” Stick to “said” or “says.”
  7. Get both sides of the story: It does not matter whether your story is about abortion, same-sex marriage, freedom of expression or whether the Holocaust really happened or not, there are always two sides to present. As a reporter, it’s your job to find intelligent voices who speak for both sides. If only those people who already agree with our position want to read our paper, we won’t have much of an impact in the world.
  8. Sources: A news story is not well researched unless you’ve interviewed at least three people. For example, if you’re writing a profile, interview the person’s mother, colleague or employer.