Tag Archives: microblogging

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for June 5, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

Everything You’ve Been Force-fed About Blogging Is Wrong

Karol Gajda, travel/lifestyle blogger at Ridiculously Extraordinary, discusses a recent discussion he had with other bloggers about what formulas for success really work, and he comes up with the conclusion that few pre-packaged directions work for everyone, but experimentation among success models can help identify what really resonates with the key audience for a blog.

13 Alternative Ways to Consume Your News

Jennifer Van Grove, writing on Mashable.com, has compiled an interesting roundup of apps and sites designed to facilitate news consumption. Includes everything from StumbleUpon and beyond-the-bookmark sites Instapaper and Read It Later to social news apps News.me, Zite, and Smartr. Anyone writing nonfiction for traditional print media will want to review this list for ideas on how to shape stories for an increasingly online/mobile audience.

Everyone Has a Story « The Artist’s Road

Patrick Ross, writing in the first few days after the U.S. military raid in Pakistan that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, crafts a beautiful post that emphasizes that the man who pulled the trigger to kill Bin Laden, like the Navy SEAL team of which he is a member, has a story, one which he is eager to hear. The post and the comments that follow are a valentine to the power of story to humanize events with heavy historical importance.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your iPhone As A Reporting Tool | 10,000 Words

Lauren Rabaino provides several great tips for using your iPhone as a serious reporting tool. Most of them apply equally well to almost any smartphone. Some of my favorites: organize your apps, buy an audio adapter, use solid objects as a stabilizer for video.

Reading for Detail: Proofing Tips from our Editors | Beyond PR

The PR Newswire Editorial team frequently catches obvious mistakes in press releases submitted for distribution over the wire  – missing quotation marks, the website that doesn’t end in .com (or .org, etc.).   They also read every release carefully, double checking minute details. In March 2011 alone they found more than 12,000 mistakes. Here are some examples of mistakes that can reflect poorly on an organization – and some tips for fixing them before you hit “send.”

Susan Orlean Explains How Twitter Affects Her Long-Form Writing | PBS Media Shift

An interesting short post by Simon Owens relating how Orlean, who’s written many popular fiction and nonfiction books, has used Twitter to receive feedback, promote her work, connect with writers and editors and stay in touch between projects.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for March 6, 2011

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Are You Too Busy to Write? Seven Ways to Blog More Productively — Chris Garrett on New Media
New media expert Chris Garrett discusses strategies for for increasing the quality and frequency of one’s blogging.

Tweeting from beyond the grave
Russell Working, writing on Ragan.com, discusses the phenomenon of biographers, science center publicists and other history-oriented writers “assuming” the identities of long-dead famous people on Twitter, and offers four lessons that the success of such tweeters can provide to other writers.

Your First Draft is Allowed to Suck! | Fuel Your Writing
In this article, fiction writer Icy Sedgwick reminds us all that a first draft is just that, a draft, and gives advice on how to keep that in mind and improve one’s writing.

How a Writer Can Aggravate an Editor
Meryl Evans, a web content maven and digital publishing blogger, discusses a recent e-mail she received from a writer seeking work at an e-publication that had ceased publishing 3 years ago! A great example of what NOT to do when approaching a magazine (online or off)!

7 Steps to Writing Success | The Artist’s Road
Patrick Ross summarizes the wisdom he soaked up at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2011 Conference and Bookfair. Steps include “write for yourself,” “build an online community,” and “be open to the wisdom of others.”

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From the archives: A Writer’s Guide to Twitter

I did a series last year on how to use the microblogging social media platform Twitter as a writing coach, and realized the other day that this 3-part series fit right in with my continuing “A Writer’s Guide” series. (You can visit the posts I did recently on blogging and podcasting for writers.)

Here are links to each post in the Twitter series, with a quick explanation of what you’ll find there.

Part 1: Learn from Twitter poetry
Why (and how) nonfiction writers can learn about how to write with brevity and meaning by studying the Twitter version of haiku poetry, Twiku.

Part 2: The art of the retweet
A discussion of what content gets shared on Twitter via a “retweet” and what that says about how to write compelling stories.

Part 3: Digesting bite-sized research
How journalists are using Twitter to crowdsource ideas, find sources and track trends.

Here are a few new links about Twitter as it relates to writing …

Is J-school relevant? (#wjchat)
Multimedia journalism educator Mindy McAdams, on her Teaching Online Journalism blog, summarizes a recent Twitter chat she moderated. The chat was organized by WebJournalist.org and discussed the relevance of journalism education in today’s media landscape.

How To Live Tweet A Conference
Mark Stelzner, writing on the Inflexion Advisors blog, offers a compact post full of tips on the right way to live-tweet conference proceedings on Twitter.

From Telegraph to Twitter: The Language of the Short Form
Roy Peter Clark gets into microblogging and writes about it on the Poynter Online – Writing Tools blog.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 7, 2009

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

How Citizen Journalists Can Learn from Work of ‘Citizen Scientists’

This post is an excellent piece on PBS’s Media Shift Idea Lab about the alliance between professional scientists and citizen or amateur scientists, and what journalists could learn from this.

Post author Dan Schultz notes that he was tuned into scientific community’s attitude towards the contributions of non-professionals by an article on Carnegie Mellon University’s website that documented efforts by Eric Paulos, an assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, to equip “everyday mobile devices” with sensors used to collect reliable scientific data. The point of all this effort is to create “a new generation of ‘citizen scientists,’ connected both to the environment and each other.”

That story, combined with several other stories he read about recent astronomy discoveries being initially reported by amateur scientists, made him think about how journalists could learn from this friendly, if structured relationship between professional and non-professional scientists:

“All three types of scientists (professional, citizen, amateur) have beautifully compatible relationships.

“Professionals can safely focus on daunting tasks, knowing that amateurs are ready and willing to take on the smaller stuff (like keeping tabs on Jupiter). The community standards are clear and ultimately bound by cold hard observable fact, so amateurs can make meaningful contributions without diluting the knowledge base. Meanwhile, citizens are being empowered by professionals to help the scientific cause in a way that informs individuals and improves their lives.”

Shultz makes the following recommendations for journalists based on this.

    • Professional journalists can take the lead by clearly defining expectations, explaining best practices, and implementing an accessible infrastructure.
    • If amateur journalists do a good job of covering a smaller scope of topics or areas, then professionals can focus on the deeper, otherwise inaccessible issues.
    • Professional journalists are responsible for creating and maintaining the citizen network if they want it to meet their standards. (Emphasis mine)
    • Citizen networks need more than a host – they need to be explicitly empowered through tools and guidance.
    • A symbiotic relationship between the professional, the amateur, and the crowd is not just possible, it’s socially optimal.

      This article is the first one I’ve seen to turn the typically contentious and negative “real” journalist vs. blogger/citizen reporter debate on its head and posit citizen journalist work as a positive benefit to professional journalists. Definitely worth reading, considering, and discussing.

      Start With A Promise

      A great reminder on what the beginning of each story must do by veteran writing coach Jessica Page Morrell, guest posting on the Editor Unleashed blog.

      Morrell reminds us that, “Story openings are like job interviews, and if the words on the page entertain, you get the job. If they don’t, somebody who writes better gets the job.” She asserts that the easiest way to have your story get “hired” by editors (whom she correctly defines as “highly discerning reader(s) … connoisseurs who love the written word”) is to make a promise consistent with the genre you’re writing in, and then keep that promise.

      She takes readers through the various sorts of promises one might make in a memoir, in a science-fiction story, a romance, etc. These genre-specific tips also could apply to the tone of a nonfiction magazine article, and her general tips on matching the promise to the overall story should be taken to heart by nonfiction authors, who sometimes (in my experience as an editor) mistake a dramatic opening anecdote as a cure-all for a lack of feel for the true tone of the story they’re writing.

      As Morrell says,

      “An emotional opening prepares the reader for a heart-rattling journey, just as a philosophical opening promises a thoughtful exploration of themes, an action-packed opening promises a bronco-breaking ride, and a quiet beginning usually promises an intense exploration of characters’ lives.”

      Amen. Her post is a great reminder of the pact we make with the reader when we ask them to listen to our story, and our responsibility as writers to live up to the promise we make to them.

      Multimedia Magazine ‘FLYP’ Finds New Ways to Tell Stories Online

      From Poynter Online’s E-Media Tidbits section. Author Vadim Lavrusik reports on FLYP magazine, a New York-based publication that uses an innovative palette of online tools and Web 2.0 user functionality to cover topics from politics and science to art and music.

      FLYP augments traditional reporting and writing with animation, audio, video and interactive graphics. One of the major differences between FLYP and other magazines that have ramped up their digital/online versions is how the publication approaches news-gathering and production.

      “(Editor-in-chief Jim) Gaines said the production process at FLYP is different from any of the ‘old media’ publications he has worked for. At many publications there is a pyramid structure; at FLYP the production process is flatly distributed across teams. Everyone gathers and each medium is considered for a particular story. At magazines, on the other hand, the text is the primary medium. Even for Web sites multimedia elements are often an afterthought.”

      Another interesting point raised in the article is how FLYP is packaging rich media ads, which may help tease out the true profitability of using online ads as a mainstay of a publication’s business model. Currently, the publication is being privately funded by multi-millionaire Alfonso Romo, but Gaines would like to create a limited supply of “engaging” rich media ads which readers seek out, but which are not so commoditized that advertisers won’t pay top dollar for them.

      For writers and editors keeping tabs on where online media is going, especially how content and revenue will interact in the “everything should be free” web era, this article is required reading.

      Bonus Links!

      Promptly

      A fun little blog on the Writer’s Digest site that offers writing prompts for readers 3 times a week. Readers can upload their written response to the prompt in the comments section of each post!

      From Telegraph to Twitter: The Language of the Short Form
      Roy Peter Clark gets into microblogging and writes about its historical roots on Poynter Online’s Writing Tools blog.

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      Twitter as writing coach, part 3: Digesting bite-sized research

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      Photo courtesy of SXC.

      Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the microblogging service Twitter can improve your writing and teach writers a thing or two about creating compelling content . However, there’s one last way in which Twitter can be useful to you as a writer: finding the information you need to write a rich, nuanced and credible story.

      Our last post on this subject for now covers some posts that discuss ways to use the service while researching a story. And since talking about using Twitter and actually using it effectively are two different things, these resources provide plenty of case studies and links to nonfiction writers out in the field tweeting away.

      Twitter for research: why and how to do it, including case studies
      Good basic intro from TwiTip to how Twitter works and how to tag your own tweets for future reference. It points out that the two easiest ways to find something out on Twitter are to ask (and ask to be retweeted) and to search, using Twitter Search as your search engine.

      Another useful feature of Twitter explained in the article is the hashtag (#creative, for example) concept. Similar to putting tags on blog posts, hashtags are a simple way for Twitter users to slot their content for later retrieval. You can search hashtags by visiting Hashtags.org.

      This post also has a comprehensive list of Twitter tools (many research oriented) and a number of research “success” stories.

      How we use Twitter for journalism
      Marshall Kirkpatrick gives a breakdown of the primary ways the ReadWriteWeb staff was using Twitter to write their stories: uncovering breaking news stories, conducting interviews (either multiple folks contributing short answer to a question or asking followers to help frame questions), doing QA checks (i.e., asking if people remember the name of a particular software, etc.) or promoting headlines once the story is online or published.

      Marshall makes an interesting observation about the relationship with readers that develops as he interacts with them during the story development process (The bolding of the next to last sentence is my addition):

      “If we’re working on something we think will be of interest, sometimes we’ll prime the pump a bit and let people know what’s coming up. So far, we’ve heard almost entirely positive feedback on these practices. That’s probably based largely on the relationships we’ve got with our readers, many of which were developed using Twitter. If you had 20 to 50 people that consistently offered feedback on your articles, wouldn’t that be great? That’s what it feels like we get on Twitter.”

      If Twitter isn’t part of your online strategy, it should be

      Chrys Wu’s Richochet blog is all about good ideas in online journalism, which should be a natural match for tweeting nonfiction writers. This short post, from the end of 2007, focuses mostly on examples of good uses of Twitter by journalists and news media. As Chrys says,

      “Perhaps the real power in Twitter is in speed and community. Not only were media outlets able to broadcast breaking news updates (in the examples here), non-media people also sent updated, on-the-scene information. Talk about crowdsourcing…”

      Twitter to journalists: here’s how it’s done
      Monica Guzman of Eat Sleep Publish taught a class on social media to the (now) online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer last November and gathered the collective wisdom she presented in part by putting out a big public tweet about it. This post shares a lot of the “for journalists, from journalists” tips she got, and includes a number of case studies. Lots of journalists recommend following potential sources and give good advice for how to “come out from behind the byline” without sacrificing any journalistic principles.

      Sweet tweets: Journalists using Twitter

      Journalists on Twitter – Muck Rack
      Muck Rack publishes up-to-the-minute tweets from reporters and writers for many major news outlets.

      My Creative Team Wiki / Media People Using Twitter
      A long international list of media folks who are active on Twitter.

      One more Twitter “tool” (mostly for fun)

      Visible Tweets – Twitter Visualizations.
      Addictive visual display of current tweets on terms (search operators, hashtags, etc.) selected by the user. Might make a fun background screen for a presentation.

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      Twitter as writing coach, part 2: The art of the retweet

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      Last time I posted, we looked at Twitter’s power to shape our writing by studying Twitter poetry. Today, let’s consider what we can learn by studying what makes for compelling content on Twitter—in other words, what sort of posts get “retweeted” and spread from network to network.

      Writing compelling content is something with which every writer—nonfiction or fiction—should be concerned. Even in story forms governed by the rules of journalism, where objectivity and even-handedness are highly valued, being able to package a story and make sure it finds the widest possible audience is an essential survival skill.

      One of the most important guidelines in writing compellingly and getting retweeted on Twitter is to consider one’s network of followers. What do they need or want to know?

      The good folks over at Cyberjournalist.net recently blogged about super-entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki’s rules for getting retweeted, and had this to say about Guy’s first rule, which is “ask the right question.”

      There are pockets of Twitter users who want to bond with small group of people and learn the answer to the original Twitter question: ‘What are you doing?’ These are the folks that enjoy tweets that say, ‘My cat just rolled over’ and ‘The line at Starbucks is long.’

      “The question you should answer if you want retweets is ‘What’s interesting?’ for your group of followers. For example, the story that Taiwanese scientists bred glow-in-the-dark pigs is a lot more interesting than what your cat is doing and therefore a lot more likely to get retweeted.”

      Another Twitter lesson for writers from the retweet arena is that sharing begets sharing. Social media researcher Dan Zarrella, guest posting on Copyblogger, notes that 70 percent of retweets contain a hyperlink (often shaved down to size using http://tiny.cc or other services). If you’re linking to your own content, it’s a good idea to think about what sorts of writing get passed around online—Zarrella lists how-tos/instructional content, breaking news, warnings (about scams, etc.) and freebies or contests as links highly likely to get a retweet.

      The lesson here, I think, is that people want to share useful stuff with those they care about and keep their friends out of trouble. When drafting our stories, no matter the venue, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that this is a huge piece of what drives information passed through online social networking.

      The final rule we can draw from what gets retweeted on Twitter is that calls to action produce action. Zarrella, writing recently on his own blog about the 20 words and phrases that generate the most retweets, notes that the phrase “please retweet” appeared very frequently in posts that got retweeted. Other action verbs that appeared in highly retweeted posts included “help,” “follow,” and “check out.”

      Obviously, a lot of journalistic non-fiction writing cannot directly order the reader to take action, although it can quote sources about the need for action, the urgency of a situation, etc. However, thinking what frame of mind you want to leave a reader with after digesting your story is still helpful. And for many “service” stories in trade or self-help oriented publications, issuing a clear call to action is part of the package—readers are looking to you to explain how something works, and then recommend ways to use the newfound knowledge.

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      Twitter as writing coach, part I: Learn from Twitter poetry

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      Photo courtesy SXC.

      It seems everyone is doing Twitter these days, from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Microblogging, the art of condensing your thoughts into 140 characters, has hit the mainstream, and many people are wondering what this service, which continuously asks users to post an answer to the question “what are you doing?” is good for.

      One thing I strongly believe Twitter is good for is improving the craft and skill of non-fiction writers. I freely admit I am not a “power tweeter” yet (I still haven’t got the hang of the interactivity of Twitter yet), but as an editor, I see many ways in which microblogging can provide opportunities to tune up one’s writing ability.

      Less is More
      I’ve blogged a bit about this before, and today it’s the main point of my post: non-fiction writers can learn a lot about economy of words through poetry, and one emerging trend in Twitter-land is the popularity of posting poems or lines from existing or potential poems in one’s status line.

      The main advantage poets have on Twitter is that they know how to say a lot in very few words, and pack their content with descriptive material that appeals to both the reader’s eye and ear.

      Some of my best freelancers have been poets, and I find that poets who write nonfiction tend to be extremely careful and precise with their word choices. Also, along with former advertising copywriters, poets who write for journalistic publications almost never complain about the word count they are assigned—I imagine that after mastering the rigors of poetic structure, meter and rhyme, just having to worry about how many words to use is a snap.

      Making your tweets “attractive”
      One popular trend in poetry over the past decade has been magnetic poetry kits, and the Twitter Magnets site combines digital renderings of magnetic poem kits with the interactivity of social media. Go to the site, and you’re presented with a set of words and encouraged to move them around on the cyber-fridge to make a poem, which can then be broadcast via Twitter to those following their feed.

      While you can choose another set of words to make poems out of, you are limited to using the words and letters presented, and that extra layer of constriction is a great tool for calling forth even more creative effort to make oneself understood.

      5/7/5 = the formula for Twitter profundity?
      Another poetic form that has built-in restrictions is haiku. Many poetic tweeters have written in the 5-syllable/7-syllable/5-syllable form and made amazingly interesting, compact statements. Here’s one example of what many have come to call “twiku”; and here is a Twitterer bold enough to take the name “Haiku” as his/her handle, who posts mostly funny stuff.

      Even writers who work in marketing and other non-journalistic fields recognize the power of Twitter haiku to shape one’s writing for the better. Marty Weintraub, writing on the aimClear Search Marketing blog, posted a couple of months ago about the “imposed brevity” of Twitter and phone texting, and made the haiku comparison:

      “It’s nothing short of cultural revolution, as our increasingly plugged-in populace evolves to more succinct communication.  In my opinion this efficiency serves to counter ever-escalating online cacophony … I caught a tweet from respected SEO Michael Gray (@graywolf) which still has me thinking. He tweeted, ‘if you learn to be brief clear and easy to understand Twitter becomes very powerful even with the 140 character limit.’ In the next few minutes as we chatted briefly, he likened the process to skills required to write a Haiku.

      “Haiku is an epigrammatic Japanese verse crafted of three short lines with restrictive syllabic syntax. Yet some of the most beautiful poetry on earth flows from within the imposing structural requirements … The core skill necessary for Twitter & texting is brevity. Chatting in bite size chunks forces a writer to eliminate unneeded and voluminous verbosity, a valuable lesson for any artist.” (emphasis in original quote)

      Well said. If you want to discuss this Twitter Haiku movement with others, there is even a Facebook group dedicated to it.

      Try it yourself
      If you have a Twitter account and tweet with any regularity, make it a point this week to post at least one tweet in which you describe your day, your surroundings, or your thoughts about world events in a poetic way. You can try using the haiku syllable formula of 5/7/5 if that suits you, or adapt a more sophisticated poetic meter if you’re familiar with how to do that.

      Notice your writing process as you attempt this. How did you decide what to say? How to describe it? What mood or tone to choose?

      How might this selection process inform your prose writing?

      Additional link
      Poetry News
      Poetry News tweets about news and events related to the world of poem-making.

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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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      What does the rise of “snack-size communication” mean for writers?

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      Photo courtesy of SXC.

      It’s official—texting has supplanted actual conversation on American mobile phones, according to a new Nielsen survey for the second quarter of 2008. According to the survey, U.S. mobile subscribers sent and received 357 text messages per month as compared to only 204 phone calls.

      Unless you have been tied to a chair in front of a typewriter somewhere, this news doesn’t come as a shock. Handwritten letters, typewritten manuscripts, even the well-composed e-mail have given way to “snack-sized” messages that can be digested in 10 seconds or less. Phone texting, Facebook status updates and Twitter alerts have reinforced a new word, or rather, character limit on communicators: if you can’t say it in 140 characters, don’t bother.

      What does this mean for writers, especially those who shine in long-form works, such as 10,000-word nonfiction narratives, epic poems, or novel-length, um, novels? Reactions are decidedly mixed, so far.

      Journalists who find the digital revolution to be an aid and not a threat seem to like Twitter. The New York Times ran an article earlier this year on the growing popularity of reporters “tweeting” via Twitter at live campaign events and a compilation of Twitter statistics shows that public accounts owned by American newspapers are experiencing a growth spurt. Web consultant and journalist Craig Stoltz over at Web 2.0h…Really? (great blog name!) claims Twitter has made him a better editor:

      “I’ve been an editor for 20-plus years. But Twitter—that idiot desktop companion for the work-averse—has become my mid-career editing coach. This may be due to how I use Twitter, at least some of the time: Less for top-of-brain me-spatter and more for tiny reports or editorials.

      “Fact is, it’s tough to convey any substance in 140 characters. You have to carefully weigh every word, letter and space. Even punctuation.”

      On the other hand, poet Robert Peake writes a rather damning (and well-thought-out) indictment of Twitter and other Web 2.0 technologies, especially where the writing of verse is concerned. He asserts, after playing with Twitter for a few days and having it leave him rather cold,

      “We care about poetry precisely because it exists outside this frenetic word-space (found in cyberspace). We care about poetry because it represents a kind of necessary antidote to the soul-draining quantification and commoditization of language the information age has brought. All good poems, no matter their style, share this: an enforced attention to language, and some degree of innovation upon it. This runs contrary to the bigger/faster/more pervading everything from network news to the blogosphere.

      “….That’s why there will never be a Poetry 2.0. The first version still works fine. And when the new has finally worn off all our technobabble, poetry will still be around.”

      However, Tom Watson found poetry in the words of the people he follows on Twitter, often unintentionally:

      “This Twitter thing may have legs, but not in the way its founders or a few self-obsessed wired wonksters may think. See, Twitter is a poetry machine.”

      He gives as an example the tweets of a friend headed home to comfort his mother after his father has passed away:

      Driving down to West Cork used to be a quiet pleasure.
      Now it’s a melancholy chore.
      Still, the sky is absolutely full of stars.

      He also provides several other examples, and a commenter on this 2007 entry also provides a good link to examples of haiku-via-Twitter.

      (Another writer whose microblog posts read like poetry is Dave Bonta at The Morning Porch).

      Some fiction writers on the Internet have found ways to use Twitter to promote longer works. TwitterLit provides twice-daily tweets of the first lines of novels and other types of literature (memoir, etc.), with an Amazon link for those who want to learn more or (one hopes) buy the book. And tech-savvy English or media history professors may be heartened to learn that Twitter users staged a reenactment of sorts on the 70th anniversary of the radio broadcast of the “War of the Worlds”. No word on if panicked mobile phone users rushed to CNN.com to verify the story.

      My take on text-sized communications? While I haven’t used Twitter yet, I have texted for nearly a decade and I would consider microblogging or “liveblogging” an event via Twitter.

      I think text-message-sized communications are a double-edged sword. Using tools that enforce the 140-character limit can make you a better editor or poet, learning to choose your words, even punctuation, with much greater care. You can promote great words and links, your own or those of others, with it. It can also reduce your communications to others to your impulsive reactions and meal choices.

      As the obscure movie quote goes, “Choose wisely.”

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