Tag Archives: rss

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for December 4, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

How to Write the First Draft – 6 Writing Tips From Writers
Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, author of the Quips and Tips for Successful Writers blog, shares advice from other writers on how to get words on the page. From “avoid editing” to “write for yourself first,” they’re all great words of advice.

Top Ten Signs of a Writer | Fuel Your Writing
While I might re-title Susan Hart’s post “Top Ten Signs of an Editor,” I have to agree with almost all of her signs. I, too, mentally correct people’s grammar in social settings (#10), freak out over typos on menus, signs or marquees (#9) and get writing ideas approximately every 10 seconds (#5). Very funny and very true post!

The news ecosystem: Finding your niche | #wjchat
This Nov. 3 #wjchat on Twitter, hosted by Robert Hernandez of WebJournalist.org, discusses digital news outlets finding their niche on the Internet and how they handle attribution, criticizing the coverage of other news agencies, etc. Format is a little hard to get used to (since this is an archive of the chat), but worth it. Very interesting conversation and lots of participants worth following!

Keep your writing fresh | WordCount
Michelle Rafter, who’s worked both as a freelance writer and an editor, discusses SPECIFICS for freshening one’s writing. My two favorite tips: find real-life examples, and challenge your assumptions.

Telling Stories in Different Mediums (and answering other questions about journalism) | Knight Digital Media Center
Jeremy Rue, a multimedia journalism trainer and instructor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, shares answers to questions posed by a researcher at the University of West Scotland about the impact of multimedia reporting on journalists and journalism today.

8 Creative ways to use RSS feeds | 10,000 Words
Mark Luckie lists creative uses for journalists to make use of RSS technology — everything from creating a book from one’s blog posts (note to self: work on this!) to creating an interactive timeline to having an audio-reader read one’s favorite blogs to them.

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A Writer’s Guide to Blogging


It seems a little silly to call blogs new media, since they’ve existed since the late 1990s. Still, they are a new way for writers to engage with an audience and have been viewed with suspicion by mainstream journalists for far too long.

Blogs represented the vanguard of the social web, a place in which unfiltered (or lightly filtered) give and take between writers and readers — not to mention the informational cross-pollination that hyperlinking adds to the mix — has reshaped the expectations of the people formerly known as the audience. Ignoring blogging as a writer is possible in 2010, but it doesn’t seem very smart.

If you’ve never considered blogging before, there are a number of ways in which it could enhance your writing career.

  • A blog provides a readily available sample of your writing style, tone, range, etc.
  • Blogging can encourage daily writing and stretching oneself to create fresh content.
  • Blogging can provide useful feedback from potential readers for test marketing your story ideas.
  • Blogs are a good way to claim your expertise within a specified niche and connect with others who share that interest.
  • Creating a popular blog can help you build “platform” for a book or film project.

There are entire sites dedicated to how to write well for blogs. I happen to like ProBlogger and Skelliwag. Here are a few tips for nonfiction writers who are ready to take the plunge into blogging.

Tips for creating a must-read blog

1. Start reading blogs if you don’t already. I can’t stress this enough. I have been amazed, when discussing blogging with folks in the corporate world, how many of them are all ready to fire up a blog without having ever read one in their life. While Web 2.0 technology has made the barrier to entry for tools like blogs non-existent, it doesn’t ensure that you will produce content anyone wants to read.

In this post, I include links to some good writing blogs. Visit some of them and see if you like them. Leave a comment on a post if it moves you. Once you’ve got 5-10 blogs you want to read regularly, pick an aggregation service, such as My Yahoo, or Google Reader, that will bring RSS feeds from the blogs to you. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to keep up with your favorite bloggers this way.

For further instruction in how to set up a blog aggregator system:

Creating a passion dashboard | Creative Liberty

When you care to aggregate the very best | Guy Kawasaki

2. Claim your niche. Even if you’re planning on writing a free-wheeling blog about your personal literary adventures, recognize that your posts will have a personality and tone that differentiates them from everyone else’s blog. I often liken writing a blog to writing a column in a newspaper or magazine–people rarely read columns just because they want to know “about cars,” or “about” humorist Dave Barry’s improbable life. They’ve connected to the specific type of content delivered, the style and column’s offerings over time.

If you’ve been reading blogs for a little while before starting your blog, you’ll probably get a good idea where you fit within the section of the blog-o-sphere in which you want to become known. If not, ask yourself what you want to write about, then narrow it several times by subtopics, demographic groups (old hippies vs. Generation Y professionals), or your skill level or role in relation to the blog topic (passionate hobbyist, skilled teacher, detached documentarian).

3. Let your hair down… The best blogs read like a conversation. The blogger talks to readers like he would to his friends or colleagues, and commenters reply in the same spirit. The conversation can be serious, technical or even contentious, but it doesn’t become pedantic or bureaucratic.

Corporate blogs have to work hard to achieve this sort of authentic dialogue; if you are able to connect with other bloggers and blog readers (through linking or commenting on other blogs  or other methods), you, as a solo blogger, may have an easier time expressing yourself with your authentic voice. And as a writer, being able to express in a style that is clear and genuine should always be your goal.

4. …But have some boundaries. Mostly, use common sense. What would you think if your post was printed in a magazine or newspaper?

Privacy is one of social web’s biggest battlegrounds. Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg reportedly doesn’t think much of privacy. And we’ve all met contacts on social media who commit other over-sharing faux pas. But even if you’re legitimately revealing intimate details in the service of a post that showcases your writing abilities, keep in mind that the reader won’t have the same investment in the minutae of your life as you do. (But identity thieves might!)

More quick tips for successful blogging

  • Plan ahead. I make a blog post calendar every month. I often deviate from the posts I say I’m going to write, but it does make me think through my content and research posts ahead of time.
  • Break a long post into a series of posts. I’m not really following my own wisdom in this post, but if your post is more than 1000 words, consider parceling it out over 2 or 3 posts.
  • Understand, but don’t abuse, visit-boosting strategies. You should put your best posts on sharing sites like Digg and StumbleUpon. It’s OK, while you’re reading the blogs of others, to link to relevant posts on your own blog in your comments to them. However, if your entire life online looks to a third party as if all you do is seek blog visits, it will turn people off.

Bonus links on blogging

Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2009 | Copyblogger

Here are 10 great blogs to visit for information on writing and blogging.

Nonfiction Tweets: 70+ Authors to Follow on Twitter

Many of these tweeting authors also have excellent blogs.

How to Decide What Blogs to Read (4 Steps) | American Express OPEN Forum
Author Rohit Bhargava gives four great tips for figuring out whose blogs to follow — and how.

10 Pathways to Inspired Writing | Copyblogger
Power blogger Matthew Cheuvront offers 10 somewhat surprising tips on how to perk up your blog posts. He makes such heretical suggestions as reading actual (paper) books and listening to entire music albums from beginning to end!

How to Keep Your Readers Coming Back to Your Blog | Social Media Examiner
How to use the CODA (Content, Outreach, Design and Action) system to improve one’s business blog.

9 Ways People Respond to Your Content Online
Great post on the Lateral Action blog that sketches out how people respond to material online, and how to truly engage them with your stuff.

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Feed Me! Non-Writing Blogs That Can Nourish Your Work

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Photo by Jan Willem Geertsma via SXC.

Despite my admitted tendency to read books about reading and write blog posts about writing, I do think it’s important for writers—especially nonfiction writers—to expose themselves to other sources of information when they go online, if for no other reason than to have something to write about!

Today’s post was inspired by a post I read recently at Fuel Your Writing Blog, “6 Non-Writing Blogs You Should Be Reading.” I enjoyed visiting several sites suggested in the post, particularly PostSecret and Craziest Gadgets. I’ve decided to offer my own list of non-writing-centric blogs to add to their RSS aggregators, with an explanation of why each one might benefit you as a writer.

Zeitgeist Zen

When thinking of writing topics or story ideas, it’s nice to have your finger on the pulse of what your friends and neighbors are talking about, so that your stories have some resonance for your readers. Open Culture bills itself as the “best cultural and educational media on the web,” and it never fails to stimulate my mind with links, videos and tips relating to arts, culture, education and history.

If you want to pick the brains of today’s “thought leaders,” or research high-profile story sources, visit the TED blog. Developed in 1984 as a conference to bring together leaders in technology, entertainment and design, TED has become a portal for spreading ideas through brief, information-packed presentations. It’s become an intellectual badge of honor to be invited to do a TED presentation, so whether you’re scouting sources or just fishing for interesting topics to write about, TED is a great place to park your eyeballs for an hour.

If your writing has an advocacy bent (either covering change movements or participating in them), you will want to check out GOOD, which bills itself as “a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward.” Covering design, the environment, business, food, people, politics and much more, the blog summarizes the best of the organization’s magazine.

Artistic Notions

The relationship between writing and other artistic disciplines can be a pretty tight one, and cross-pollination is highly likely if you’re paying attention.

Tammy, the author of Daisy Yellow blog, describes her site as “a vivid life with kids,” and her art projects prompts cover both experiments for adult artists to try and family art-making projects. Her site is always alive with color and creativity—if you’re feeling verbally dry, rest your eyes on her posts, maybe even try a few of her suggestions, and see if that doesn’t get your writing mojo working again.

Chris Zydel at Creative Juices Arts blog is a wild woman! And her blog can help you release your inner wild writer! She writes passionately about the creative process and the need to maintain a direct connection with the playful spirit inside each person in order to make living, authentic art. Her latest post (as of this writing) is “Abuse your art supplies,” and many of her entries are in that vein—intense, dead-on and incredibly encouraging.

If you have a passion for music, revive your writing by visiting Elaine Fine’s Musical Assumptions site. Her posts remind me of wonderful conversations I’ve had with other musicians after we’ve rehearsed together—and that sort of relaxed idea-interchange and creative intimacy is often just the ticket to get a writer’s mind flowing with narrative or wordsmithing ideas for their own work.

Eyewitnesses

I’ve sort of fallen in love with infographics. In addition to being something that every 21st Century journalist should understand, they are terrific examples (much like Twitter updates) of delivering a message filled with impact using few, or even no, words.

Two of my favorite infographic sites are Information Aesthetics and Information is Beautiful. Each is set up slightly differently, but both link to dazzlingly beautiful graphics that take complex issues and boil them down to the basics one needs to grasp them and discuss them intelligently. If only our writing could do that more often!

In a related vein, I also love the Hand Drawn Map Association’s website.  With maps ranging from blocking diagrams for stage plays to directions to church, I find perusing the site a very interesting study in how people represent spatial relationships and how they approach writing directions for something that must be done in real-time (i.e., navigating a 3-D environment).

Exercising your options

One other blog that I like to read for its quality writing on a topic many would consider a hobby (or perhaps way of life) is Jill Homer’s Up in Alaska blog. Jill works for a newspaper in Juneau, but the purpose of this blog is to chronicle her cycling and other endurance sports pursuits—which she does, lyrically and enjoyably.

I’m not a regular bike-rider, but her descriptions of days-long tours into the backcountry make me want to don my helmet and take off for parts unknown—on-road or off. She does a good job of capturing the intensity and satisfaction that cycling must bring her, and for that reason, it is a good blog to follow in terms of translating a visceral experience onto the page.

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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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Digital Diets, Information Overload, and Your Writing

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Photo courtesy of SXC.

A lot of people resolve to lose weight at the beginning of the year, but few carry through successfully. I’ve discovered from personal experience that sustained weight loss is possible, but what works for many people is a tough, but attainable, set of practices. There’s no quick fix.

What does this have to do with writing and editing? A lot. It appears that 2009 may be the year when “info-bloat” reaches a turning point and challenges the benefits that many have seen from digital and online platforms and Web 2.0 technologies. Thinking proactively and taking preventative steps can keep your writing from suffering the effects of too much information, available too readily, with no focus to guide its usage or significance.

The incredible expanding information waistline

The fact that the digital universe is in “growth” mode is obvious to everyone, but it may come as a shock that, according to market research firm IDC, by 2011 the digital universe will be 10 times the size it was in 2006. ComputerWorld, the source for that fascinating little tidbit, ran a very good article last August about the consequences of information overload and what companies can do to avoid “data-rich” parts of their businesses becoming data dump heaps.

As reporter Mary Brandel writes,

“Today, ideas and discussions are broadcast not at a prescribed time on a specific channel via a single medium, but all the time, on millions of forums, discussion groups, blogs and social networks. And they occupy a growing piece of our consciousness, thanks to RSS feeds, Twitter messages, mailing list and newsletter subscriptions, instant messaging, e-mail and Web surfing … It’s gotten to the point where information — which should be useful — has in some cases become a distraction.”

Inherent in the explosive growth of information is the rise of user-generated content. Duo Consulting, a group of web content experts, posted an article this month about digital overload, noting that “participatory media is resulting in a nearly infinite supply of content, although the increased fragmentation of attention is certainly an implication” of the shift to many-to-many, mass collaboration types of communication.

Do I look fat in this data?

Things have gotten so bad, Duo notes, that some are considering “digital diets,” limiting their intake of computer and Internet based materials to the bare minimum. Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits and Write to Done blogs, wrote a great post in 2007 on the Web Worker Daily, giving readers 21 tips for dealing with info-overload. Many of his tips work well for anyone considering a digital reducing program:

Map out your day. (Make a time map of what you want to accomplish.)

Allow RSS feeds to overload. (Just because it is there doesn’t mean you have to read it.)

Learn to focus. (In other words, learn to “unitask” and get one thing done at a time.)

Eliminate the news. (Believe me, as a journalist, I can vouch for this one—if something’s truly earth-shattering, you will hear about it at work or from friends.)

Read only 5 posts a day/Respond to only 5 emails a day/Write 5-sentence emails.

Beyond editorial-type content online, Seth Godin also points out that our writing has to compete against marketing in new media, which is rapidly leading to what he calls “social clutter”:

“It’s the clutter of the impersonal. Yes, you want an alert from a friend when it’s really a friend and really an alert. But what happens when it’s an ad that pretends to be an alert? Or what if it’s not an ad, but not really a totally personal tweet either?”

Seth predicts that social clutter will only get worse, so it appears the best offense against digital info-glut is a good defense. I’ve outlined a couple of steps writers can take to avoid the damage that information overload can produce, both from the standpoint of the information we consume, as well as that which we produce.

Tips for writers as information consumers

Resist the urge to try out every new social media tool that comes along. Be a mid-cyle adopter. Read about the promise of the next big thing while it’s in beta testing, sort through the hype and cautionary tales that follow the initial public rollout, then jump on board when you have reason to. Which leads us to the next tip…

Know why you’re online. The Internet is TV on steroids; not only is it possibly to surf endlessly and view passively, you have billions of “channels” to do it on. Before you sit down at the computer, or before you click the next link, ask yourself, “What am I looking for by going to this site?”

Find the 20 percent of social media/Web 2.0 tools that further your writing and learn how to use them effectively. Writers have a lot of uses for social media. Blogging can make you a better writer, Twitter can be useful for getting a heads-up on breaking news stories or doing quick fact-checks on stories and Facebook is so useful to journalists that numerous news organizations have a presence there. But to use each tool effectively, it helps to find out how your fellow writers or editors are using them.

Use content filtering to help the information you really need come to you. The ComputerWorld article offers several useful options for setting up aggregators or feed systems that provide only highly discussed and relevant content on a given topic. The article mentions using Techmeme for technology news, Blogrunner for general news and Wikio for global coverage. It also recommends customizing your iGoogle dashboard to develop a newsfeed that’s unique to your interests, something that I also recommend highly.

Another way to filter your content is to select a circle of Web 2.0 friends and acquaintances who’s online activies mesh with your information-gathering needs and following their “lifestreams” on services such as FriendFeed or Plaxo Pulse. Mark Krynsky, writing on Lifestream Blog, discusses this filtering strategy:

“I’m now leveraging the ultimate human filtering algorithm to bring me the wisdom of the masses. By selectively following those who are sharing bookmarks, Tweets, RSS shared items, and more, for my areas of interest, I am increasing the chance of having creme of the crop content delivered to me. This shift is treating people as a valued commodity ahead of the content.”

Have an “analog” workday and compare your productivity to a typical digital day. Try reporting, writing or editing “old school” style for one day. Travel back in time to, say, 1990 and work with the tools from that era: using a computer to type up your story is fine, but call sources on a land-line phone, take notes in a paper notebook and go to the library for research (it’s OK if your librarian uses the Internet to help you, but you have to interact with her face to face). Then work on a similar project in your usual digital fashion. If you save time doing it the old way, you may want to put yourself on a digital diet for a while.

Tips for writers as information producers

Think of your audience before beginning any project. What is the return on investment your reader will get for engaging with your material? How can you be of value to “digital dieters,” making their brief plunges into cyberspace worth it?

Think pull, not push. The upside of Web 2.0 is that readers can customize their content and have it come to them. Writing seductive headlines, subject lines and blog post titles is a matter of making a provocative proposition, then backing it up with substance.

Distribute your content in non-paying media (blogs, Twitter, RSS) strategically. Offering content for free is sensible if you’re building your brand, creating a platform for later revenue-generating work, connecting with people who may be important to your projects, or if your passion for what you’re doing is your overriding motivation.

Link enthusiastically, but add value. I’ve pruned several bloggers from my RSS aggregator list who simply posted links every day. While the filtering of content that they provided was useful for a while, I longed to understand their take on the topic of their blog and what they had to share with their audience. When you link online, pay at least as much attention to where you’re sending readers as if you were sourcing the material for print.

Pay attention to usability and information design when creating for online distribution. Sometimes, good online content gets buried in a 2-inch-deep paragraph, or simply doesn’t read the same way on a screen as it does on a piece of paper. Learning to optimize your writing for online display can make the difference between your audience taking the actions you want them to and your voice being ignored.

Letting Go of the Words by Janice (Ginny) Redish is a terrific resource for web content producers and is filled with dozens of before-and-after website “makeovers” that focus almost entirely on how the content is arranged, rather than the visual design or the code behind the site.

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Cool Tools: RSS feeds and your writing

Writing and reporting non-fiction has changed a lot in the last generation. When I was sending my first human-interest features off to market in the mid-1980s (fresh off the dot-matrix printer), I would carefully tuck a self-addressed stamped envelope in to receive the proverbial thumbs up or thumbs down in the mail. Today, our ideas can receive approval or rejection at light-speed, thanks to e-mail.

One of the best things to come along in the last few years for writers is the concept of Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. In a nutshell, writers who need to research websites that have content that is updated frequently can use RSS to bring the updates to them. Common Craft explains the concept far better than I, and they’ll make you laugh harder, too.

Oh! And RSS has its own Awareness Day on May 1, to help spread the word.

Although a lot of corporate and organizational websites are late in joining the RSS party, many sites do have RSS feeds. The key to enjoying all this customized info-to-go goodness is picking a reader or aggregator.

There are plenty of free readers online, such as My Yahoo, My MSN, Google Reader, etc. Or you can purchase an aggregator/reader that operates from your desktop. Each one lets you add new feeds to your interface, and then you can visit your ONE reader, and not 10-15 websites or blogs, each day to see what’s new.

For writing projects, this is heaven on earth. I use My Yahoo to track websites that I write about on my other blog, Creative Liberty.

I have a tab for each subject area I cover. Here’s a snapshot of the RSS feeds on my ‘Journalism 2.0’ page.

The only downside to readers, if there is one, is that at some point you can go into cognitive overload from seeing so many updates in one place. (But the intrepid author of the higher-ed-technology blog Edublogger even has suggestions to combat that.) Or the site owner can stop updating on a regular basis, and you have to decide whether to take the feed out of your reader, or leave some feed in there with items that say ‘updated 2 months ago’.

Overall, however, the RSS reader is a free or cheap, extremely easy way to keep up on your ‘beat’ or specialty writing areas. It might not make you a better writer, but it will definitely make your ‘required reading’ online more efficient.

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