Tag Archives: editor

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for March 20, 2011

Photo courtesy of SXC.

4 tips for writing killer headlines—from Gawker

Michael Sebastian, writing on PRDaily.com, discusses four tips drawn from a report in The Atlantic about the huge online success of Gawker Media, whose websites pull in 32 million unique visits per month (on par with the New York Times and twice as many as the Washington Post).

How you can get involved with the online journalism community today – 10,000 Words

Lauren Rabaino, a contributor to the 10,000 Words blog, provides an excellent list for journalists wanting to become more integrated into the online journalism community. Among her suggestions: join the Carnival of Journalism blog symposium, host a chat on #wjchat, create a meetup for members of the Online Journalism Association in your city, or participate in a Hacks/Hackers event, which is dedicated to uniting writers and programmers.

Blogging is Such Sweet Sorrow | The Artist’s Road

Patrick Ross writes about the difficulty of blogging and provides sage advice for authors and other considering doing blogging as part of their “social media platform.” As a committed blogger who all too frequently sees people pushed into blogging who really don’t understand or like it, I can say his post is a very good introduction to the joys and hard work of blogging, especially for those doing it to promote a book or service or business.

Another misleading story reports that blogs ‘r’ dead | Wordyard

Author and website builder Scott Rosenberg provides some perspective on a February 2011 New York Times report that blogging is on the decline with kids aged 12 to 17. Rosenberg asserts that the NYT skips over the part of the Pew Internet study that forms the basis of the article that indicates that blogging is still increasing among adults over age 30.

Tips on Writing to Impact Change (from my wise friends) | sophia leadership

Heather Plett, developer of the Sophia Leadership project and blog, surveys her friends for tips on how to write in a way that promotes change. Some very basic and very profound advice is shared! The Sophia Leadership project is a movement that its blog describes as “about ALL of us (women and men) learning to trust our feminine wisdom more and letting it change us and change the world.”

Here’s a Washington Post Story With All the Editor’s Notes In It

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan publishes the online version of a WaPo story about cervical cancer that was mistakenly published with notes from an editor still embedded in the story. It’s an interesting look at how an editor looks at a writer’s work. The comments section is also interesting — several commenters get stuck on the editor’s question about a single statistic!

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How to Make the Editor Your Friend, Revisited: Discussing the story assignment

Photo by Mateusz Stachowski via SXC.

It’s been a good long while since I discussed ways to make magazine editors happy. There are some simple rules of the road relating to hitting your word count , meeting deadlines and handling revisions that make writer-editor relations ever so much more congenial if you know and follow them.

One of the most crucial steps in the writing process comes at the very beginning of the writer-editor relationship. For many freelance assignments, you’ll get some sort of written direction about the story that your editor needs you to write. How you follow up after receiving that document, whether it be a memo describing the assignment or a contract with story assignment information embedded it in, can be key to understanding exactly what your editor wants and needs from you.

To make things easier, I’ve crafted a short checklist that you might want to keep by the phone or the computer while you communicate with your editor about your new assignment.

Assignment Discussion Checklist

__ The Basics: Are you clear about the story’s deadline, word length, pay rate, kill fee, the section the article is appearing in, what type of story it is (profile, etc.)?

__ The Angle: The story angle is what differentiates this assigned story from any other story you might write on this topic. Are you clear on what your editor wants? Are you free to research the topic further, and suggest angles?

__ Sources: Is the editor supplying you contact information for specific interviewees, associations or organizations that might yield appropriate sources? Do you need to clear potential sources with the editor before contacting them for an interview? To what degree should you work with publicists to set up interviews, gather research information, etc.?

__ Background information: If the editor has a set structure in mind for the piece, can he/she provide links to parallel stories, esp. in his/her publication? Does the publication have a “dossier” of information available for profile subjects? Are there previous stories in the magazine you should read for reference?

__ No-No’s: Discuss any deal-breakers for you and for the editor (i.e., missing deadline without warning, endless revisions without additional pay). For custom, corporate or institutional publications, clarify any “political” danger zones (topics that must be approached a certain way, protocol for contacting VIPs).

__ Follow-up communication: How does the editor prefer to connect with you? Does the mode of communication change if you need him/her to make an urgent decision about the story?

More story assignment tips

Want More Article Assignments? Tips for Working With Magazine Editors
Tips from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog.

Helping Reporters Improve Stories | International Journalists Network
Tips on how to coach reporters from a story coach/editor point of view. Many of the pointers apply to maintaining happy editor-writer communication related to the assignment.

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6 Tips for a Perfect Writer’s Staycation

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

It’s a tough year for planning R & R – despite the fact that travel bargains abound – and given all the economic uncertainty, it seems foolhardy to plan a big, expensive out-of-town vacation. But what to do with your time off this summer? Isn’t there something to do that can get you out of the daily grind and not cost a fortune?

Of course there is. I’ve compiled a half-dozen tips for creating an enjoyable writer’s “staycation,” the sort of stay-at-home (or stay-close-to-home) vacation that will bring you back to the keyboard rested and ready for your next writing project without producing worry about its expense.

1. Tell a story in pictures. Whatever you choose to do with your days off, take a small digital camera with you, or use your mobile phone’s camera. Try to take enough pictures that you can create a “filmstrip” about your day, one that needs no captioning to get the message across. In addition to getting you in the habit of documenting your life photographically (which is fun and useful in and of itself), this tip also teaches you how to frame anecdotes and think scenically.

If you need some inspiration for what you can do with a cel phone camera, you might check out the My GPS Camera Phone blog. Blog owner Pete always amazes me with the photos he gets out of a humble mobile phone.

2.  Tell a story in sound. If you’re doing any driving around on your staycation—or even if you’re going on a long bike ride, run or hike—create a mix CD or a playlist on your MP3 player to honor your journey. The idea here is to create a soundtrack to your down-time that expresses your feelings, as well as give you experience in using subtle factors to set an anecdote’s mood and tone.

3. Buy 5 magazines to read for recreation. The trick here is to buy five that you don’t ordinarily buy, perhaps even five you’ve never heard of or would never even glance at otherwise. The farther the publications are from your ordinary reading, the greater the chance that they will creatively cross-pollinate your thinking about your writing projects or help you generate ideas for fresh, new works.

4. Keep a “vacation journal.” Even if all you do is stay home and weed the garden. If you look at the letters and journals kept by people before the invention of the telephone, they often described “ordinary” events in great detail—dinner parties, conversations ‘round the fire, walks they took in the woods. Deprived of other means of being intimate at a distance, writing about their day helped share it, and themselves, with readers of the journals or the recipients of their letters.

Being able to write about what you’ve done helps you see the value in how you spend your time, and also strengthens your ability to write interestingly and cogently in the first person.

5. Live like a Spaniard for a day. Or an Italian, Greek, or French person. If you’re mimicking the Spanish, you should definitely take an afternoon siesta, but the idea here is to make time for the Mediterranean ideal of “the sweet life,” one that includes plenty of good food, heart-to-heart talks over meals with friends and family, and a pace of living that doesn’t feel rushed.

The benefit to living this way is that it can free up your subconscious to incubate writing ideas with which you may be struggling. Plus, it’s fun and renews social ties that are easy to put on the back burner in the heat of a project. By focusing on your writing challenges before you go on vacation, then letting go while you’re taking time off, you may just come back to your work with solutions that work better than whatever you might have come up with by “forcing” an answer to appear.

6. Have at least one plan-free day. Most writers who are successful know how useful goal-setting tools and systems can be. However, if you can’t have a change of geographic scenery to shake you out of your routine (and thereby spark some insights about how you are living day to day), make it a point to build in at least one staycation day where schedules and planners are tucked away, and you set out (physically or mentally) with a few simple intentions: to explore public art in your city, for example, or to bike to the next town and see what there is to see. The idea is to be open to how the day develops, following one’s nose as it were, and receptive to what is experienced, rather than trying to cram it into one’s pre-planned blocks of whatever.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits blog and the book “The Power of Less,” recently discussed this approach as an aid to simplicity. This is what he had to say about his stepping away from excessive planning:

Don’t try to force outcomes — let them happen. Be open to what emerges.

This is a change that I’ve been trying in my life over the last year or more — slowly, gradually, because it’s not always easy. You have to learn to let go of the need to achieve certain outcomes, to embrace the flow, and that can be very difficult. So I’ve learned to embrace it slowly, and it has been wonderful.”

He asserts that this approach focuses one in the moment, and that can be very liberating.

“The lesson I learned (from my experiment): you don’t know what will happen, or what opportunities will arise, until you arrive at that moment. You can plan and plan and plan, but there is just no way to know how things will turn out…. Instead, I have forgone the need to define outcomes, and have focused on enjoying the journey. That doesn’t mean I’m not motivated to do my best … It means that I’m motivated by the work, that I enjoy the activity, not by the destination, goal or outcome.”

It’s a great lesson to learn, but as Leo points out, it can take a while to internalize it. Since vacations are the best time for most of us to experiment with new routines without the outside interference of daily pressures, why not try living a day or two by intention, instead of a strictly defined plan?

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Feed Me! A five-course RSS meal for the hungry writer

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

In today’s hurried, media-rich world, it’s nice to know that a news and information can still be accessed in bite-sized pieces. I have written  here and elsewhere about the usefulness of RSS feeds and how to use them to build a dashboard of incoming news on topics that are important to you.

Here are five feeds, most (but not all) of which link to blogs, that you might consider following to further your writing and editing career. They can serve as the foundation of a “balanced diet” of information relevant to non-fiction story-crafting, ready to be consumed when you have time to snack on them and (like food in your pantry or fridge) all accessible in one handy place.

Editor Unleashed
Maria Schneider, former editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, has assembled a terrific blog dedicated to sharing what she knows about writing and editing. Now a freelancer, she posts on a variety of topics and in a variety of formats, including author interviews, marketing advice, tips on social networking, blogging, and grammar, writing technique tune-ups, and thought-provoking writing prompts. She’s not afraid to speak about what she’s learned from her own experiences, as she did earlier this year when she posted about getting in over her head by taking on a difficult writing assignment at a trade magazine.

Quips and Tips for Freelance Writers
Canadian freelancer Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s blog has as its sub-head “Where writing quotations meet practical writing advice. And live happily ever after.” And she means it! Laurie and her band of guest bloggers cover a wide range of writing-related issues, mostly through helpful tip-based posts. Last month, Laurie had several very practical “housekeeping” posts on invoicing clients and keeping track of query/article submissions, as well as 6 tips for coping with the stress of freelance writing.

Columbia Journalism Review
CJR has several blogs on its site and updates its content elsewhere on the site frequently, just like you would expect a nice RSS-enabled online magazine about journalism to do. But this publication is more than just a “web 2.0 correct” magazine—it carries ongoing coverage of the life and times of American journalism. If you want perspective on the death-spiral that print newspapers are currently in, and informed debate about what comes next, CJR is a good place to seek it. I prefer the “master” RSS feed, which covers all new content on the site and gives a nice overview of what’s available.

Teaching Journalism Online
For more than three years, Mindy McAdams has been blogging about her experiences as a multimedia journalism educator. She uses her site to showcase or link to good work done by online journalists or promising students, discuss current trends in cyber-journalism, and talk shop about the programs reporters and producers use to assemble their Web stories.
One of her most recent posts, “Your (Journalistic) Past Can Haunt You Online,” generated a great discussion of whether student newspapers should permanently archive work by fledgling reporters. She also wrote an interesting post on lessons learned from teaching multimedia reporting, which could have implications for print-era writers trying to get up to speed in online journalism.

Write to Done
Any blog started by Zen Habits author Leo Babauta can’t be all bad, and in this case, his mix of positive thinking, practical tips and philosophical musings have continued on his writing blog, although he has turned the day-to-day reins over to managing editor Mary Jaksch. I would say these nice things about the blog even if they hadn’t published a guest post of mine on how to come up with fresh story ideas, but I do believe their mix of outside bloggers is key to tip posts covering fiction, non-fiction and other forms of writing continuing to draw interest and comments.
Recent offerings on Write to Done have included posts on improving your blog’s About page, whether or not to release copyright on some of your writing, and how much personal information to reveal in your work.

Second Helpings

Which RSS feeds do you follow to enhance your writing? Answer in the comment field below.

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Do-It-Yourself Story Coaching: An Introduction

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

Writers and editors can sometimes be an unpredictable alliance. Specialists in each discipline need each other (although sometimes they don’t act like it), but at times it’s unclear which set of skills will best bring a non-fiction article to a satisfactory conclusion and eventual publication.

During the month of March, Write Livelihood will be exploring do-it-yourself story coaching, a new approach to self-editing. Story coaching is a way of editing that broadens the concept of revision well beyond proofreading and line-by-line revision, taking the whole of the piece into account, as well as a writer’s development over time.

Story coaching isn’t new. The legendary author, editor, teacher and writing coach Don Murray, who passed away in late 2006, was one of the first to suggest that an editor’s relationship to authors should be that of a coach, not primarily a grammar cop or an overseer. In a eulogy of Murray on Poynter.org, Roy Clark has this touching anecdote that summarizes Murray’s attitude:

“Some time in the early 1980s, my youngest daughter, Lauren, now 26, was a toddler, and I asked her, “Can you say ‘Don,’ Lauren? Say ‘Don.’ ” She looked up at the Santa Claus-like figure in our family room and said something like ‘Bobo.’ ‘That’s great,’ I said, giving her a little squeeze. ‘Good job, Lauren!’

“What followed was a mini-lesson from Murray on how to teach writing. It went something like this: ‘Too bad we don’t teach children to write the way we teach them to talk or walk. When a baby tries to take her first step and then falls down, we treat it like a national holiday. We surround the baby with support. We don’t say: No, no, no, before you can learn to walk, you need to develop the proper foot angle. Don’t try that again, you little brat, before you’ve mastered the basics.’”

Others who have added to the craft of story coaching are Clark himself (individually and in partnership with Don Fry), Jack Hart, and Jacqui Banaszynski. Banaszynski was my introduction to the discipline; her story-coaching seminar at a gathering of university editors helped me recognize the sort of editor I was all along, and fired me with new confidence that I had something to offer to my writers.

DIY Story Coaching

The only catch with the current state of story coaching is that if often relies on regular contact with an editor to make it work. For many writers, including freelancers or those just starting out, this contact is sporadic or absent. This month’s blog series will cover how to adapt many of the most useful tools in the story coaching “kit” to use with your own writing.

There are many rewards of self-coaching your way through your stories. For one thing, practicing story coaching on your own work makes you much more desirable as a writer to editors, as you will improve your ability to understand their approach to editing and how to collaborate with them successfully. Also, you will be able to peer edit the work of other writers with more clarity and specificity, which is always a useful communications skill to have (and a leg up if you ever want to become an editor yourself).

Next Week: The 2 Essential Keys to Story Coaching

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Write this Way: Writing and Editing Links for February 16, 2009

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Image courtesy SXC.

Tips for “tweeting” productively on Twitter, confusion surrounding the best way to save journalism in the digital age, and myths and truths about freelancing are all on tap today in our monthly link-fest. Plus, a couple of fun and useful bonus links (as always).

Our first featured link comes from Maria Schneider’s excellent blog, Editor Unleashed. Like many writers, I’ve been struggling to figure out the best way to use Twitter, a social networking application centered around text-message-length communications (140 characters or less), and she has come up with writer-specific Twitter tips, plus a list of 25 folks to follow on the service, including authors, agents, book publishers and publicists.

Schneider, a former editor of Writer’s Digest, admits that Twitter can be intimidating at first:

“At first, Twitter feels like being at a cocktail party where you know no one. But if you focus on making the right connections, Twitter can actually be quite useful.

“There’s a bunch of publishing types using Twitter and following them is tapping into the zeitgeist—a never-ending stream of conversations, random thoughts and links. It gives you access to lots of smart, interesting, connected people.”

In case you’re wondering what you’re actually supposed to say/do (or “tweet,” in Twitter parlance) once you’re connected to these people, she has also written a very insightful post on how to build up your Twitter “street cred.” For example, I learned that you should follow the 60/40 rule when promoting your own stuff to the Twitterverse, as well as the fact that you should never ask for followers—Schneider calls it Twitter suicide.

All in all, her posts are a friendly introduction to the fast-moving, almost ephemeral world of Twitter—and a good guide to using it for more than detailing what you had for breakfast.

Our second stop today is at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, where veteran journalist Michele McLellan has posted parts one and two in a multi-part series on ideas that get in the way of saving journalism.

It seems everyone with a pulse (or at least a journalism degree!) is aware of the business struggles of daily newspapers across the nation. In her first post, McLellan takes on the idea that only the newspaper industry can produce quality journalism, and that endowments should be used to save newspapers in communities where a for-profit model is failing:

“Right now, the newspaper industry does produce the bulk of original reporting that we find in print and on the Internet …. But the superior performance of the Internet for a growing number of users and advertisers is transforming the journalism and the business model, and thought leaders in the industry itself recognize there is no going back.

“As long as people believe that only the news industry equate newspapers-only with good journalism, the debate is heading down a blind alley. It might be possible to raise an endowment for a beloved newspaper in a few communities. But I don’t see a lot of monied people—much less taxpayers if that is proposed—willing to underwrite a product that is only one player, albeit an important one, in the field.”

After that treatise, she takes on the even stickier issue of whether readers will pay for online content in her second post. She admits there are no easy answers. The newspaper-centric model of paying a set fee for all content bundled by a single provider hasn’t worked, and the potential for micro-payments to take up the slack from traditional publication advertising is extremely controversial. Other models, which include voluntary consumer funding of projects they deem worthy of coverage (keeping tabs on the local school board, for example), are still very much in the development stage.

Whatever your belief about the future of American newspapers and/or journalism, this series of posts will give you food for thought.

Finally, if you’ve worked as a freelance writer or editor for years, as I have, you tend to rub up against some very odd notions of what your life as a freelancer must be like. And if you’re a newbie freelancer, you may very well wonder if the ecstatic or apocalyptic claims of the joys or sorrows of the freelancing life could possibly be true. Laura Spencer, a contributing author at Freelance Folder blog, did a great job recently of sorting out some lies, myths and half-truths related to freelancing.

She covers everything from needing money to get started freelancing (a myth, she says) to freelancers typically working for next to nothing (a half-truth, she asserts). Here’s her take on the number one item on her list, “freelancing is an excuse for not working at all.”

“According to this myth, none of us are working . . . not really. We are either spending our days playing computer games or in front of the television with a box of chocolates….

“The real culprit here is the difference between the experiences of a significant portion of the population and that of most freelancers. For many people, work is synonymous with a place that you go each day. If you don’t go anywhere, then you must not be working. Technology is changing this perception, but it will take some time before it is completely gone.”

Bravo! And if you like that train of thought, Laura also posted a companion piece on 10 things you’ve heard about freelancing that are actually true.

BONUS LINKS!

Storybest

Storybest is a “social content network” for storytellers (of any genre) powered by the filtering/ranking service coRank.

CPSIA: Book Banning in the Guise of Safety

A cautionary tale from the Bookshop Blog on (we hope) unintended consequences of Consumer Product Safety Commission’s updating of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

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How to Make the Editor Your Friend (III): Be Willing to Revise

Another area in which little things mean a lot in the writer-editor relationship concern story revisions, and the writer’s ability and willingness to revise a story once it’s been submitted to the editor.

When I say revision, I’m not talking comma patrol. As an editor, I expect to have to do a copyediting sweep to get the article to conform to Associated Press or house style expectations. However, if the writer is able to turn in copy free of typographical or common AP style errors, that shows me that he or she is aware of style issues and is trying to make my job easier, which is a plus.

But even when there’s been a good flow of information on the story’s progress back and forth between writer and editor (which often happens when the editor uses story coaching techniques), parts of an assignment may not hit the mark. The writer might explore a tangent that doesn’t bring out the general theme of the piece, he/she might raise questions with a source that they don’t answer later in the article (but sound deliciously relevant to the editor!), or it may be that one section is too long, while another, more important area has been overlooked in the quest to meet the word count for the assignment.

I often tell new writers to plan for one round of revisions in the article writing cycle. Eight or nine times out of ten, I don’t need a rewrite from them, but it avoids the ugly situation in which a writer might insist I should publish an article “as is” because they don’t have any more time to work on it (this has actually happened to me once or twice; those folks don’t write for me anymore).

My favorite way to communicate rewrites to writers is through a story edit memo, which provides my take on the story (what I got from the piece as a reader), identifies what I see as the story’s primary strengths (e.g., good use of description or quotes, excellent transitions) and summarizes what I see as the article’s main problems. I like to provide as specific feedback as I can, rather than expect the write to know what I mean by “tighten it up a bit” or “tell us more about the subject’s childhood.”

A couple of hints for making the revision phase go more smoothly:

  • Clarify with your editor during the assigning phase how many rounds of edits are typical for the publication, if you haven’t worked for them before.
  • Let your editor know early on if you’re having trouble structuring the piece in such a way that you can meet your word count without going over. (Or if, heaven forbid, you don’t have enough to fill out the length requirement.) He or she may have suggestions for what to expand or trim.
  • If your editor doesn’t provide detailed feedback on a revision, by all means ask for specifics! If the editor says “write less about the businesses involved in this project,” ask how much less (number of words) and if there’s any part of that section he/she wants preserved.
  • Don’t forget to ask what’s working about your initial draft. Getting the editor’s take on what he or she likes can make the decision-making while you are cutting or rewriting material easier.

Helpful links related to article revisions

How To Edit, Revise & Rewrite Your Articles, Essays Or Book Chapters

Tips On Revising Your Writing: How To Edit Your Article Or Manuscript Professionally

Rewrites and Revisions: They’re Nothing Personal

The Rewrite Request

Working with Your Editor: Three Tips on Getting the Most out of the Editorial Process
This post is aimed at book writers, but some of the advice about responding to revision requests still holds.

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