Thoughts on writing Writing tips

Plan a Beginning, Middle, and End

Rudolph Flesch suggested we plan a beginning, middle, and end. Sound advice.

The lead sentence should lead the reader in. The beginning paragraph should introduce the subject or subjects. Succeeding paragraphs should illuminate those subjects. An ending should wrap up the topic just discussed.

A lead sentence should be snappy and to the point.

“I don’t like peanut butter and jelly, I love it.”

The lead paragraph gets us ready for the individual points to be discussed. A quote is often helpful.

“I don’t like peanut butter and jelly, I love it. James Garfield once said ‘Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.’ Aside from neglecting admiration for jelly, I heartily agree with the president’s remarks. In this article we’ll look at the roles that bread, jelly, and peanut butter play in forming this quintessential American sandwich.”


  • A paragraph or two on bread.
  • A paragraph or two on jelly.
  • A paragraph or two on peanut butter.
  • A paragraph or two on making the sandwich.

A concluding paragraph summarizes or pulls together the different elements of the essay. Adding a quote can help. Look for an appropriate one before writing the ending, so you can better shape your last paragraph. I see potential in this Anna D. Shapiro quotation:

“Everyone has the talent to some degree: even making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know whether it tastes better to you with raspberry jam or grape jelly; on chewy pumpernickel or white toast.”

The ending is the second most important paragraph in an article. (The lead is the most important because you have to get the reader to read.) Without a proper ending you’ll leave readers dangling. If you can hook your last paragraph to the beginning, make it echo, very good. In my case here, I’ll leave you with another quote from Flesch. “Say what you have to say, then stop.”


WordPress tips

Market Your Blogging Skills

Have you set up your writing portfolio site? (internal link) And are you blogging on it? If so, you should be able to sell your blogging skills to other web site owners. I’m currently blogging for three companies, but through my Vancouver employer. This post talks about going after such work independently. Let’s talk about WordPress sites.

WP sites are fairly easy to recognize. There’s usually identifying marks in the upper left hand corner or down at the bottom of the page. There are also a plethora of sites that will tell you if WP is running. This is one: (external link)

A blog is the easiest way to keep a website from going stale. Your local veterinarian, eye doctor, or plumber may all have websites but are they current? Is there anyone adding fresh content to appeal to customers and to search engines? I’d advise soliciting local businesses because you would be nearby to photograph their work or interview their employees, all good material for posts.

My pitch to a small business owner would be to write a 350 to 500 word post once a week for $25 a post. I’d rewrite a recent news story that pertains to their business and I’d supply an image. I would not approach the owner with a custom sample story because your rejection rate will be so high. (Offer to write a sample in your pitch, just don’t write it unless requested.) Spend a half hour or less identifying each prospect and writing up each proposal.

As with sending off unsolicited resumes, you will probably get few responses. Never-the-less, this is an approach you can do on your own. It goes beyond checking Craigslist and freelance sites like Flexjobs (internal link) for writing gigs. You are now in charge, actively working on boosting your freelance work, rather than waiting for something to show up on a job board.





Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

News and Notes

Magazine article to be published

I can’t release the details yet, but another of my articles is tentatively scheduled for an August issue.

Two More Interesting Freelance Opportunities

1.) This branding company is looking for experienced writers and they won’t waste your time applying. (external link)

If you already have a resume you can be done in five minutes. In lieu of writing credits they will look at your online portfolio. Which, again, is why every writer needs one. (internal link)

2.) This content creation site is looking for writers. (external link)

Besides clips and a resume, they want pitches (internal link). Pitches are a great way to show how creative you can be to a new employer. With pitches you control part of the hiring process. Consider it a writing test which you should always offer to do. Follow their guidelines and submit several.

UC Berkeley Extension Course Continues

I’m taking a course on creative nonfiction. (internal link). This workshop stresses writing the personal essay, focusing on memoirs and self reflection. My first graded essay has been turned back and I am not sufficiently nuanced:

“One of the traits of a successful personal essay is the writer’s willingness to dissect his own assumptions about himself, and question, test, even reverse longstanding opinions about his life. I think you have the skills to do this and end up with an essay that is more complex and nuanced.”

Nuanced? I’m not here to nuance, I’m here to be clear. Leave nuance to fiction. Fiction is like a stained glass window. It’s pretty and ornate and sometimes mysterious but not always clear. I regard nonfiction to be a pane of pure, clear glass, all nicely polished. Transparent and beyond guesswork.

Still, I continue happily with the course. It makes me think about things I’d normally not consider and I am reading essays that I would not have read before.  My first reaction to the class orientation, though, remains the same: “Where’s the market?” If we’re not writing personal essays for family and friends, whose going to pay for this stuff instead of reading Kennedy, Lincoln, or Keats?


job application tips

Job Applications and Freelancers

Does anyone have advice on how a freelancer should handle a conventional job application form? I recently filled out an online application and it was a frustrating experience.

The application asked to list my last employer first. But I currently have three employers if you consider them that. I’m not a salaried or hourly worker, what people call a W-2 employee. Rather, like most freelancers, I work as an independent contractor. A 1099 employee. There was no way to state this.

There was also no way to put down that I sometimes work by the job and not by the hour. Magazine articles? They take a tremendous amount of time  to complete (like conventional projects for an employer) yet there was no category for them. There are no supervisor names, position titles, or dates of employment for a magazine article written on spec. (internal link) Yet every box I left unfilled generated a red asterisk, demanding I go back and fill something in.

Screenshot 2016-06-12 03.54.47

I suppose a cover letter would help but with this application there was only a resume asked for. I was completely limited to their checkboxes and pull down choices. And when I did submit a resume it was stripped of all formatting and links, as if the text was about to be entered into a giant database, to be accessed only through keywords. Good grief. I can only hope the employer uses the original Word doc.

There was no way to anticipate these problems. There was a progress bar indicating four or five steps but no detail about them. No way to find out what each step entailed until each step was completed. And after I put in a goodly amount of time I was loathe to cancel the application process. No e-mail address to query. Anyone have advice?

Google Tips Writing tips

Unique Content and Unique Value

When I’m writing newspaper or magazine articles I don’t worry about SEO ideas like unique content and unique value. My research and writing is original and I have no worry that I will be ranked lower due to repetitive content. But because I often have to rewrite news stories for my Vancouver employer I should probably learn more about these related subjects.

I’ve touched on unique content before (internal link). Copying a story word for word produces no unique content. Google doesn’t like that. So we rewrite. Substantially rewriting a story produces a higher unique content simply by using different words than in the original story.  Run your variation through Copyscape (external link) to see how it passes. Let’s take an extreme example.

A famous Melville quote goes like this:

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

One might rewrite it thus:

I’m coming after you Mr Unstoppable Whale, rowing to you in my longboat. I’m going to fight you to the end, chuck my spear into you, and, just because I hate you so much, spit on your watery grave.”

This would achieve a 0% match with the original. You’ve just rewritten a story that Google should now see as unique content. But you’ve added no unique value. Nothing of your own has been added.

Rewriting the whale story with unique value would mean more than adding a quote from Wikipedia or a purloined anecdote from a whale expert at the Discovery Channel. Ideally, you would bring in your own original experiences with a whale, along with original images.

This is totally impossible, of course, when you have to rewrite news stories that are breaking and have to be posted immediately. Perhaps the best we can achieve is a rewrite. But how much of a rewrite? We certainly don’t have time for 100% unique. What then? 50% unique? 25%?

I’m still mulling over these ideas. A great video presentation on the topic is at the link below. Check it out to learn about a vexing problem in our information age:




Google Tips

Add Your URL to Google

Did you just write a scintillating post that you can’t wait to share? Submit its URL to Google. This should get it indexed faster than waiting for Google to next crawl the web. Instead of hoping that Google eventually stumbles on your page, you’ve done something positive to get that URL promoted.

You’ll need a Google account. Using Chrome is probably the best idea. Once you’re signed in to your account, search with Google for the terms “submit URL to google.” You’ll land on a page called your Search Console. Enter the URL, click the box that says you’re not a robot and you’re done.

Getting your post indexed quicker doesn’t mean you’ll rank higher in search results. That’s an entirely different matter. But submitting a URL to Google is something you should do for all important pages you’ve recently posted.


Magazine article

Long form article being posted today

Rock&Gem magazine was unable to use an article I recently submitted to them. I am therefore going to post it as a sample of my current writing. The article is called “Track Stars: The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site Fossils.” The first page is here (internal link) By including a great deal of photographs I hope to keep everyone interested in the article, not just rockhounds.

Posting the article will take some time, so bear with me and the broken links you might find. I’ll have it done in a few hours.



Images Might Influence Your Writing


Most magazines require a writer to provide images. That means taking photographs. Depending on how they turn out, you might have to change your writing.

Lets say you wanted to write about rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias. Problem is, when you got to the arboretum the camellias were bloomed out. But perhaps a Redbud was in full bloom. You better take its picture and get ready to write about Redbuds. Or omit any mention of camellias.

While finding images on the web is easy, don’t count on a Google search to save your article. You’ll need a high resolution image, something around 300 dpi, which ordinarily isn’t available unless you subscribe to a stock image service. Make sure you can use it in a for-profit magazine in case your editor asks.

With someone else’s image you’ll need a release unless there is language with the photo to indicate otherwise. Wikipedia and some other services release photos if proper credit is given.

A complicating factor is that you don’t often know which photograph an editor may use. You may slave to find that camellia photo only to learn the editor and layout person decided against it.

I am currently submitting an article to a magazine. They want 12 to 15 photos to accompany it. Three or four photos might eventually be used. On a field trip I’ll take 25 to 50 photographs, some with my iPhone and some with my Sony point and shoot camera. I’ve even take photographs with the camera built into my GPS unit.

Between all three cameras I stand a good chance of  of producing something useful. But I am always prepared to rewrite, especially if a great photograph gives me the chance to write about something I hadn’t originally planned.