Stronger Fiction: Should you write every day?

One of those pieces of advice given out to every writer is:

Write every day

It is given out so often that we are in danger of feeling that we are not writers if we don’t write every day. What if you find it hard to find time to write every day, however? What if you are at home with work emailing you, your children asking for help with school work and your partner locked away in another room constantly in another Zoom meeting? How can you possibly find time to write every day?

clock-coffe-mug-typewriter-spectacles

The fact is that we are not super-women (or men). We have a lot going on at the moment and that may mean that some things do not happen. But should the thing that gives, be your writing?

To be honest, it depends on how you feel about it.

The thing about writing is that it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more easily it comes to you. So if you can find some time to write as often as you can, then your writing will flow better and you will find more ideas for inspiration coming to you. If you are on the look out for ideas, they will come. Many writers carry small notebooks around just to jot down ideas as they happen, although in these days of smartphones, it is just as easy to make notes on that.

Perceived wisdom has suggested that it takes 100,000 words of practice to make a novelist. That’s a lot of words, you had better get going now. Seriously, though, most successful novelists have a rough novel or two, hiding somewhere in their house, which they have sworn will never see the light of day. That’s a lot of work for something that people will never read, but it was important to achieve to find out how a novel is structured, how you manage to sit down and write words by the thousands and whether you can actually do it. Until you try, you will never know.

Do you need to write?

When you have been away from your notebook or laptop for a few days, do you find that you are itching to write? If you find that you are missing writing, then it will be important to find time for it.

Equally, if you are in the middle of writing something and you have got stuck, then you may avoid writing. You may open up the document, stare at it for a moment and close it again, without any idea of what you want to say. It can be hard to know where to take a story, when the characters seem to have a mind of their own.

If you want to write but just can not find time:

Write down your daily routine for a few days, then look for times when you might be able to fit writing in. Look for quiet times, times when the children are busy and times when the partner is in a meeting.

You could get up earlier, when the children are not expecting to be working, and take 15 minutes for writing

Why not write at a point when you are normally slumped in front of the TV in the evening?

You may have a small amount of time between when the children are finished schoolwork and it’s time to start cooking dinner.  Why not ask your partner to cook dinner occasionally to give you a bit more time?

Your writing time does not have to be every day, but it does have to be regular. It is no good just finding time to write once a month. Writing more regularly than that will help improve your skills. However if you are not working on something that you want to get done, then you may be happy writing 3 or 4 times a week.

Plan to write

If you are working on something that you expect to finish at some point, things may take a little more planning. You will want to snatch 15 minutes here and half an hour there so that you can finish your work. You will find that you do not have time for writers’ block, and that your need to finish the piece might outweigh all other considerations.

If you are stuck at a point and you are not sure where to go from there, then  leave it for a few days and come back to it. Pick up something else for a short while.

Go for a walk or a run to clear your head.

You may decide to carry on with the story for now and then come back to it. This may help you decide what happens next.

Try plotting out what happens next to help you get past the place where you are unsure where to go

If you are not happy with the direction your story is going in, you can always change it.

So should you “write every day”?

I suggest that you take this advice as a guideline. It depends on the jobs that you have got to get completed and how busy you are. Writing every day will certainly help you to feel more like a writer, but far more important is that you are happy with your writing life. You need to be comfortable with what you are achieving.

What are you writing at the moment? Are you finding it possible to write every day? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to Save Your Website

Have you ever done this?

Found a bright shiny website with whistles and bells, looking pretty and inviting.

So you decide to stay and look round. Then you discover that although it looks like it will be informative, the website content lacks something…you cast around for the word…what is it again? Oh yes, I know. It lacks INFORMATION!

Welcome by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr CC
Welcome by Claudio Matsuoka on Flickr CC

The content is lacklustre and the information is badly written, poorly punctuated and there’s a few spelling mistakes for good measure. There are some keywords, but they seem to have been sprinkled liberally rather than used sparingly and in context. Perhaps the owner of the website has written it for themselves, or perhaps they have relied on a web developer to write it for them. After all everyone can write, can’t they? We all learn to write at school. It’s just a matter of stringing a few sentences together and bunging it up on a website.

What’s the result of this cobbled-together content?

Visitors don’t stay around. If you’re selling something, then they may not bother to see what it is. They may proceed to buy, but then they were going to anyway and if they’ve seen it cheaper on another website then they won’t bother. There’s no interest to keep them here, nothing to learn and no real information that they can use.

What lessons can you take from this as a business owner?

  • Bright shiny websites are all very well, but it’s the content that keep people around
  • Everyone might have learned to write at school, but only certain people have kept in practice
  • SEO is an art which is learned. Just adding keywords here and there will not do the job of carefully crafted content which has been optimised for SEO
  • The website has ten seconds to attract a visitor’s attention. Give them something interesting to read and keep them for longer

Talking to a copywriter can help save your website. Organise your information, create interesting content on relevant subjects and your website will instantly improve. Copywriters can create landing pages to entice visitors further, sales pages to help pitch your products and informative articles which can help to sell for you.

If your bright and shiny website also has sparkly and exciting content to match, then your website visitors are going to come back again and again.

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter who specialises in making web content bright and shiny too. Contact her using the form for a personalised quote to save your website. 

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The Bitsy Website for Small Businesses

I have long been a fan of Enterprise Nation, the UK website devoted to helping small businesses. Recently Enterprise Nation added another website to its stable: Bitsy.

Enterprise Nation was always good for regular Twitter chat and had really helpful forums. Bitsy has take that community one step further and created a way of listing your business as well as joining a lively community and chatting about all kinds of issues whether business-related or not.

It is free to join the Bitsy community and as it is such a great resource, I highly recommend that you do so. The access to experts across the full business spectrum is amazing considering how long the website has been going. If you want to be listed as a seller, it currently costs £5 + VAT or you can choose to become a premium seller for £8 + VAT and list numerous ventures.

The website is growing all the time. It will be holding monthly web chats for members and there is Twitter chat daily on Monday to Friday. For the solo business person working from home alone, it offers a great sense of community.

If you want to link up with me through Bitsy, please feel free to do so. Let me know that you came from my website.

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter and editor available for writing gigs large and small. She is listed on Bitsy, but if you want to contact her through this website, then do use the Contact Me form.

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Organising Your Writing

Sometimes you have a large amount of information which you need to get in a document. It can feel overwhelming and be difficult to know where to begin. Spend a little while organising your thoughts which can help you sort it all out.

Organising your writing
stack by hobvias sudoneighm on Flickr CC

Sketch Out an Overview of Your Report

Start with a piece of paper and a pen or a blank document on the computer and begin to write down the aims of your work. What do you want to get out of it? Who is your document aimed at? Why are you writing it? Is it for a blog or an article? Is it a white paper or report? Then think about what kind of information you will want to include.

Make a rough list of the information that you consider essential to include in your work in the form of rough headings. If you have a lot of information, then you may wish to divide it up into parts and schedule regular releases of your work as a series of blog posts or reports. If it is to be one long document then divide it up into chapters and start each chapter on a fresh page.

Write Out Your Information under the Sub-Headings

Now you have a choice. If you are happy with your headings and ready to write, then write up your information under each heading. If you are going to insert photos, then you can show this with an asterisk for the time being. If you are still organising your thoughts and your information is scattered throughout your notes, then you can continue to write rough notes before writing up the information properly.

This may take two or three days depending on how much information you have to write up and how easy you find it to write. Some people are able to write easily and it flows, others find it much more difficult to think in writing. Take your time, be methodical and check that you have the information that you require.

Check Spelling and Grammar in Your Document

If any work is due for publication either on the web or in a document, then you will want it looking as professional as possible. Use your spellchecker and read your document out loud which will help you identify awkward sentences. You can also ask a colleague to look it over to check for glaring errors.

Once you are satisfied with your work, then it is time to publish. If you are using your work for blog posts, then schedule the posts, remembering to add tags, media such as photos or video and links. Apart from checking that the schedule goes ahead, your work here is done – apart from promoting the posts on blogs and forums with useful comments.

You might publish your work as a PDF or print it out as a report. If you are printing it out, make sure that you are certain as you can be that every error has been corrected. There is nothing worse than checking out your newly printed document and spotting an error on the first page!

Sarah Charmley is a freelance copywriter and expert in organising other people’s thoughts. If you would like to find out how she can help you with your blog project, then contact her through the form on the Contact Me page.

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SEO Basics – Choosing Your Keyword Phrases

Nutch robots
Image via Wikipedia

Keyword phrases help to define your blog and explain to the search engines what your blog is all about. If you want to lift your blog above others in the same subject, then it is important to get your keyword phrases right so that when customers search for a subject, then your blog is the one they find.

There are two aspects to choosing the correct keywords for your blog: the frequency of the search and the competition for the keyword. You can easily use the Google Adwords tool to search for your keyword phrase. Google Adwords will show you the volume of searches, based in your country for your keyword phrase. It will also give you an idea of the competition for the keyword, grading it as high, medium or low. It is a good idea to write down the information in a spreadsheet so that you will know which keywords will be the best for you.

Checking Out Keyword Competition and Volume

The competition tells you how many other people are trying to rank for that keyword in the search engines. It is generally best to look for medium-ranked keywords which a reasonable search volume. This is not an exact science, however and it is possible for low ranked keywords to have a high conversion rate despite reasonably low searches. It may be best to leave such experiments until you are more familiar with the process.

Once you have a list of keyword phrases that you would like to rank for, then try and work out a list of potential articles that could include one or more of your keyword phrases. I tend to do them in groups of ten. You can use forums, internet questions and the phrases themselves to help you work out a list of articles.

Write  a Natural Article Around Your Keyword Phrase

When writing an article, keep your chosen keywords in mind, but don’t overuse them. Write naturally, in a readable style about the subject, including useful information, bullet points and sub-headings. Once you have finished writing, then go back and check over your work. You are looking for an easy to read style with the words you are aiming for used four or five times over the work. The writing should be between 400 – 600 words. You can use your keyword phrases in the sub-headings and picture captions as well as in the body of the text. It should be obvious what the article is about, just not unnaturally stuffed with the words that you are trying to rank for.

Write Frequently

If you are able to write two or three posts, so much the better. A website will rank better in the search engines if content is added frequently and regularly. This blog is updated three times a week. Other blog owners prefer to post every day. You should at least aim for once a week, but bear in mind the more frequently you post, the more likely it is that your website will rise in the search engines.

Check Your Stats

Keep an eye on your website statistics and check regularly on the search engines to see how you are doing. You may have to adjust your keyword phrases if they do not seem to be working for you. Expect this to take a little time. The older the website, the more likely the search engines are to trust it.

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Keep Your Clients Happy and Your Business Booming

Image via Wikipedia

Finding good clients and customers is can be difficult. Small business owners have to work intensively for their leads and to gain new clients. The most important thing to do to make sure that all your hard work does not go to waste is to cultivate a relationship with your client and keep them for a long time.

This is not a hard thing to do, but it can take a little forethought and planning. Looking after your clients is a way of looking after your business so here are some ways to help you keep your clients.

Be Polite

The way you treat other people says a lot about you. Treat people nicely – all the time, not just when they are potential clients. Try not to get pushy about sales, chill out and relax and make sure that you maintain the same easy tone when writing emails as well as on the phone. It is incredibly easy to be misunderstood on email, so make sure that your emails send out the information that you want them to, professionally and with courtesy.

Return Calls Promptly

There is nothing worse than sending an email or leaving a phone message and being left hanging. This is especially important if someone is waiting for important information. Try and get back to clients promptly with information as soon as possible. This can be difficult if you are waiting for a third party to come back to you. Even so, you should keep your client informed as to what is going on and do your best to press your person to get back to you asap. Keeping communications open keeps your clients happy.

Establish Project Parameters

Know exactly what it is your client wants. This applies particularly to businesses that offer a service such as copywriting and web design. Some business people ask clients to fill in a questionnaire to help explore their needs for the project.

Deliver Products and Services Promptly and on Time

This is one of the most important things that you can do related to customer service. If you can consistently deliver your work on time, or deliver your products quickly, then you will get a great reputation and recommendations from other people. When estimating service times you should include extra time to make sure the work is done.

Ask for Customer Feedback

If something went wrong, then you need to know about it. Encourage your customers to talk to you about your services and products. Hopefully you’ll pick up some nice comments and references. If something went wrong, then make sure you put it right.

  • 5 Smart Ways to Find Clients (blogs.sitepoint.com)
  • The caveat of a happy client. (xemion.com)
  • Client Retention is Easier with This 5 Step System (bettercloser.com)
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Using Apostrophes – its and it’s Part 3

Photo on Flickr by mag3737

In the first post on Apostrophes, we looked at using them with plurals and singular nouns to show possession. The second post looked at using apostrophes with contractions. This post will examine a simple little word, yet the apostrophe is often used wrongly in it.

Its or it’s?

Do you know which is which?

In this case, the answer is simple – disregard the possession rule. So if you have a sentence:

The dog lolled out its tongue.

This is correct. You do not need to put an apostrophe in because you do not need the apostrophe to show possession of ‘it’.

However:

I love going to Spain. It’s a great place to have a holiday – lots of swimming pools and sunshine.

In the case of this sentence, ‘it’s’ is actually a shortened form of ‘it is’ – a contraction. So you will need the apostrophe.

In short when deciding whether to use ‘its’ or ‘it’s’, you need to know whether the word is showing possession or if it is a contraction. Only use the apostrophe if a letter is missing.

Try these out just for good measure. Is the apostrophe right or wrong?

The horse was lame in one of its hind hooves.

It’s OK you don’t need to explain it to me.

The house was old and ramshackle: it’s whole outward appearance was one of neglect.

Its dangerous to go water-skiing when the red flags are out.

Did you get it right?

The horse was lame in one of its hind hooves. – CORRECT

It’s OK you don’t need to explain it to me. – CORRECT

The house was old and ramshackle: it’s whole outward appearance was one of neglect.  WRONG – NO MISSING LETTER.

Its dangerous to go water-skiing when the red flags are out.  WRONG – ‘ITS’ IN THIS CASE IS SHORT FOR ‘IT IS’ SO IT SHOULD BE ‘IT’S’

Using apostrophes can be easy once you know how. This concludes this series of posts on apostrophes.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by mag3737

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How to Write Good Copy – Landing Pages

Photo on Flickr by Janos Feher

A landing page is where an advertising link should lead when it has been clicked. Your landing page should not be the same as your homepage. Your landing page should be designed to induce visitors to become customers in as few clicks as possible.

Here are my top five tips for a landing page:

1. Make the product simple and clear. Include photos if appropriate and a good description.Include all the information that the customer will need to know about the product.

2. Include a clear link back to your homepage.

3. Tell your visitors how purchasing this product will solve their problem. Give them a good reason to click on ‘buy’.

4. Make your buying and checkout processes as easy as possible to go through. Provide a variety of ways for customers to pay including Paypal, credit cards and pre-paid cards.

5. Make sure that your visitors can access store policies including shipping costs and return policies, preferably in a new window so that they do not transfer away from your buying page.

Building trust is key to getting visitors to convert to customers. By making your policies transparent and making it as easy as possible for visitors to buy, then you have a big advantage over your competitors. Getting good traffic to your website is important, but encouraging a high proportion of people viewing your website to commit to buy is the most important part for your business.

Photo Credit: Photo on Flickr by Janos Feher

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A Quick Style Guide

When you are producing your piece of writing for a client, it is best to be consistent with grammar and spellings, particularly when using headings. Here are some of the most common things to look out for.

Headings

The beginnings of words in a heading should be capitalised unless they are small words such as ‘and’, ‘is’ or ‘of’. It is sometimes helpful to bold the heading to make it stand out from the rest of the text. Make sure that if you decide to do this, that all the headings are capitalised and in bold.

The Main Body of the Text

Start with your opening paragraph which sums up what the article will be about. Keep it short and succinct. It does not need a sub-heading over it – in fact your first sub-heading should be at least one paragraph in.

If you are writing for the web, then keep paragraphs short and to the point. There should be two to three paragraphs underneath each heading and of course they should be relevant!

Consistency, Checking and Counting Words

Photo by Martin Hagberg and used under Creative Commons licence

 

When you are writing your first draft, then just get the ideas down and let them flow. Write until you have finished, Then go back over it and read through. Check for spelling errors (be aware of the differences between American and UK spelling and use one consistently throughout). Also keep an eye out for grammatical problems and check out the word count.

Clients are usually very definite about the amount of words used in a piece of writing, but it is important to write in a focused way on the topic. Beware of fluff or filler. Take out any words that are unnecessary, read your work aloud to check for flow and ensure that your sentences are short and to the point rather than long and wordy. This makes them much easier to read.

End your writing with a strong point or call to action. Revise it again and again until you are happy with it.

Finally when you think your work is done, put it away for at least 24 hours before getting it out and reading it again. The distance is important: it allows you to view your work with fresh eyes and improve it.

Consistency and care is the key to producing strong work which you can be proud of and which is more likely to please your client and bring in more work commissions for you.

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Applying for a Writing Job

Photo on Flickr by Soapbeard

You’ve checked out the jobs boards, you’ve trolled the best sites and you’ve found a job that you are reasonably confident that you could do. Now what?

Now get up the confidence to apply for it! No job ever applies for itself and if you don’t try then you will never know if you could have got it. Here are a few pointers when applying for a writing job.

Send Your Best Writing


This sounds obvious, but its amazing how many writers don’t think of it: if you are applying for a writing job, then you need to write at your best. This is not a time for spelling mistakes or glaring grammar errors!

If you are applying to a job advert, then read it carefully. Some employers put instructions in the ad to ensure that applicants have read it thoroughly. Follow the instructions: if they ask for a CV then write a CV. If they ask you to call, then call; email then email. If they ask you to put “buckaroo” in bold in the middle of your CV, then do it! (They were probably testing you to see if you read the application thoroughly or not!)

Email as though You Were Writing a Letter

If you are applying through a jobs board, then the first contact is likely to be an email. Although these are usually informal, it will do you no harm to approach this as though it were a formal letter. Begin with ‘Dear’ and the client’s name and end with the appropriate ‘Yours Sincerely’ or ‘Yours Faithfully’. It sets you out as a business-like person. It creates a good impression and sets you out from the rest.

Explain why you are suited to the job and why you should be considered for the role. Keep it brief and relevant – no major life stories here. At the end of the letter, say that you look forward to hearing from them and sign off.

Include Contact Details

Make sure that you include full contact details so that any prospective employer can get in touch with you quickly.

Leave your email for a while before sending it (some people recommend 24 hours – but give it as long as you have got). Read it through again and correct any errors. Reading out loud will help.

Attach your CV if required. Send the email. Jobs boards usually have a closing date, so you could have a week or more to run before notifications are sent out. Keep an eye on the site to see if the job closes early.

If you have written on speck, then you may get a reply quite quickly. It may be “no thanks, I’ll keep you on record”, in which case keep applying to other people.

If you got the job, congratulations.

If there is no answer, don’t wait on it forever – get on with the next application. As previously stated: the more applications you send in, the more likely it is that you will get a ‘yes’.

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