Your Turn: What Do You Like (or Not Like) About Twitter?

The social media site Twitter is becoming the go-to platform for many

Your Turn: What do you think about Twitter?I’m on several social media sites, but the one that I use the most and am the least confused by is Twitter. I’ve grown a following, tweet and retweet regularly, and engage a bit with my followers.

Twitter is the one social media site where I’m enjoying some traction. Once a day I spend time to schedule most of my tweets for the next day, but I also tweet some things on the fly. And on most days I invest a few minutes to interact with followers and find more interesting people to follow.

I view Twitter a lot like broadcasting. Though only a fraction of my potential audience will see what I tweet, the possibility exists for anyone of them to read my tweets if they’re looking at the right time (quite unlike Facebook). I think that’s why I’m growing fond of Twitter.

If you follow me on Twitter, I will follow you back.

Your Turn: In the comment section below link to your Twitter account or leave your Twitter handle.

What do you like or not like about Twitter?

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Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?

We need a realistic view of our history to plan a reasonable vision for our future

Was 2016 Your Best Year Ever or an Epic Fail?My wife sometimes says I view things as though my glass is only half-full, that I’m pessimistic. I counter that I’m simply being a realist, but the truth is I’m not sure who’s right. Perhaps a bit of reality resides in both perspectives. So it is in viewing my past year as a writer.

As such, I share two perspectives:

Best Year Ever:

  • After years of talk, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. What a great experience.
  • I wrote two novels, the second one in about three weeks. (I’m still editing them both.)
  • My work as a commercial freelance writer really took off this year, with more clients, more work, and more income—all new records.
  • I grew my Twitter followers from 2,400 to 11,500, surpassing my year-end goal of 10,000. I’m enjoying good connections and engagement there.
  • I took LinkedIn seriously and made 100 posts to a growing audience of 2,300, which more than doubled in 2016.

Epic Fail:

  • I didn’t publish a book this year.
  • I didn’t win any writing contests.
  • I wasn’t published in any anthologies.
  • I didn’t accomplish my number one goal for 2016. (Which is now my number one goal for 2017.)
  • Work/life balance continues to elude me. (It’s even harder to achieve when you work at home.)

I could reasonably adopt either of these two perspectives as my primary view of 2016. While it’s easy to dwell on disappointments, missed goals, and wasted opportunities, a better outlook is to focus on what went great this year. Though I might need to reread this post to remind myself, I can truly say that 2016 was my best year ever, and I look forward to 2017 being even better.

As you review 2016, I encourage you to celebrate the mountains and not allow yourself to wallow in the valleys. Though everyone is at a different place as a writer, no one had a flawless year and everyone has something to celebrate. Focus on these things as you move into 2017.

May it be your best year ever.

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Your Turn: What’s Your Favorite Social Media Platform?

Social media is a great way to connect with others and share content

Your Turn: Tell Us About Your WebsiteLast month we started a new feature here on Byline where we end each month giving you a chance to share with our community. We started with an opportunity to post a link to your website or blog. And if you missed that, it’s not too late to add yours to the list.

This month please share your favorite social media platform and link to your page or profile. I’m also curious what you like about it.

Remember, each time you share a link you let others know about your online presence and increase the odds of a search engine, such as Google, recommending you in their search results.

So in the comments section below, please link to your page on your favorite social media site. Why do you like that platform?

What to Do When You Hit the Wall

When our carefully constructed world of work comes crashing down, follow these steps to reconstruct it

What to Do When You Hit the WallWriters are often amazed at the amount of writing I do on a daily and weekly basis. They ask how I manage to consistently stay productive. Part of it is my stage of life, part of it is discipline, and part of it is illusion. The reality is I seldom feel like I am doing enough of the right things and that I am careening through life trying to juggle five items, while I’m only capable of three. I do this as I speed on a motorcycle…in the dark…without headlights. Then I hit a metaphoric wall, and everything stops. Okay, maybe this is a bit hyperbole, but you get the point.

Hitting the wall happens to me on occasion. This time it was a combination of over-commitment, too many deadlines, excessive optimism about my productivity, family priorities, time away from the office, and a strange sickness that required me to sleep more and robbed me of my concentration. It was like a house of cards, carefully constructed and most tenuous. My house of cards imploded. Kaboom!

Here is what I do when I hit the wall:

Pause: The first thing I do is put some things on pause. Exercise is one. Reading is another. Social media is a third. All are important, but none are essential. I can put them on hold for a few days.

Scale Back: What activities can I reduce? I don’t need to listen to as many podcasts as I do. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by what I’m not getting to, I merely pare back the quantity, unsubscribing from some and skipping episodes of others. I also curtail my TV watching and entertainment.

Eliminate: To make my writing life sustainable, I also look for things to eliminate. At one time I had five blogs, each with a different focus and strategy. A few years ago I stopped posting on two of them and just now stopped a third one.

Say “No”: I like to help people and don’t want to disappoint anyone. But I need to remind myself that sometimes declining requests is in my best interest or I’m of no help to anyone.

Reprioritize: If five things are a priority, then nothing is a priority. What is the one truly important thing in this moment? I do it and then move on.

Restore a Buffer: When new opportunities arise I try to squeeze them in. Before I know it, I’m living a life with no cushion. I need to re-establish some buffer to leave room for the unexpected – because surprises do occur.

A few months ago, I saw my wall looming. I took action to protect myself, such as scaling back the frequency of one of my newsletters, saying “no” to some new opportunities, putting one critique group on hold, and curtailing the amount of time I invested in Twitter. These were all good changes, but they were not enough. All these corrections did was delay the inevitable.

Today I am reconstructing my work and my writing life, striving for balance, sustainability, and a saner schedule. It will take time, but I will bounce back – hopefully with fewer projects and less stress.

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How to Always Know What to Write When it’s Time to Blog

Maintain an idea repository to jumpstart your creativity every time you sit down to write

How to Always Know What to Write When it’s Time to BlogEach week I create several posts for my blogs. I also compose posts for others (content marketing). In addition, I need to produce columns for my various publications. At a minimum, I write five new pieces a week, sometimes upwards of ten.

Yet I seldom struggle with what to say. I always have at least one idea waiting for me when it’s time to write, usually many. Here’s my process:

  • Keep a Running List: For each blog, client, or publication, I have an idea file. Sometimes I note a concept or a title. Other times it’s the first line or even the last. Occasionally there’s an anecdote to serve as the focal point for me to package. Then there is a bulleted list, the result of a quick brainstorm session during a moment of inspiration. Such is the case with this post.
  • Look For Fresh Ideas: Life and living provides a treasure chest of ideas. We merely need to recognize their value when we see them. This takes practice, as well as discipline. Reading provides creative fodder for me, too, as do podcasts and especially movies. The key in this, which I learned the hard way, is to seize these gems as soon as I see them. Trusting my memory has cost me too many good ideas.
  • Retain What You Can’t Use: Sometimes a piece doesn’t develop as I expect or I need to skip a thought or go in a different direction. Other times I need to cut a section. I always stuff these untapped nuggets into my file for another day.
  • Build on Feedback: Some people comment on posts. Others email me their thoughts and questions, and a few react in person. Each source of input provides the potential for a future piece, which I add to my list.
  • Tap Your Muse as You Write: Perhaps the most common source of inspiration occurs during my writing process. As I develop one piece, other gems for future posts pop into my mind. I stop writing immediately and capture them in my idea file. This happens with about half the pieces I write. Sometimes I receive multiple ideas in succession. I eventually use most of them.
  • Bonus Tip: Sometimes when it’s time to write, I simply ask myself, “What do you want to write about today?” Without even peeking at my list of ideas, another concept pops into my mind, and I can’t help but develop it. This saves all the ideas in my file for another day.

I polished this process over time. First it was to minimize frustration over lost ideas; then for the sake of efficiency. But now it has become necessary for me if I am to meet all my commitments and make my deadlines.

Do you use a variation of an idea file? What process do you use to generate ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How to Enhance Your Posts With a “Click To Tweet” Box

Last month I added a new feature to my blog posts. I look for an interesting tweetable phrase relating to my topic and then place it in a box using large font. It stands out and gets reader’s attention. It looks like a callout in a magazine. (Magazine publishing is my day job.) In the corner of the box it says “Click to Tweet.” The goal is to make it easy for people to share the post on Twitter.

I’m happy with the results. It makes the post more visually appealing, and people do click to share it.

One thing, however, has surprised me. Several readers have asked how I did it. They really like it and want to add one to their blog.

I’m pleased to say it is very easy to do. It’s so easy, in fact, that I wonder why I didn’t do it years ago. It is a WordPress plugin called…wait for it…“Click To Tweet.”

It takes seconds to install and setup is quick, with just one setting to configure: your twitter handle.

Here’s how to use it: when writing your post, position your cursor where you want the tweet box to appear, click on the Click To Tweet icon in the tool bar, and enter your tweet. It’s that easy.

How to Enhance Your Posts With a “Click To Tweet” BoxWith Click To Tweet I spend about ten seconds more per post, and the result is an effective and professional looking layout.

In addition to Click To Tweet, a quick search revealed some other options as well:

  • Better Click To Tweet
  • Click To Tweet WordPress Plugin
  • Tweet This
  • Twittee Text Tweet
  • Tweet Prompt Box

I’ve not tried any of these other plugins, but there are possibilities to consider if you want something different than Click to Tweet.

Click to Tweet is a quick way to add value to your blog posts.

Have you ever used one of these plugins? What plugins would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Can You Write a Book in a Month?

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens each year in November. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel, or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel, in just one month. (Why they picked November, a 30-day month with a long holiday weekend, is beyond me.)

The idea intrigues me, but since I’m not a novelist, I’ve never tried it. Some year I will.

Can You Write a Book in a Month?Despite never participating in NaNoWriMo and not being a novelist, I think I understand the allure. As I mentioned last week, I’m on my own writing quest; 85,000 words in ten weeks. Two weeks into it, I’m exhilarated with my writing. I’m sure the same feeling often hits NaNoWriMo writers.

Writing a large number of words every day, without fail or excuse, requires discipline. It means grabbing every moment of my allotted time to write. Distractions are not permitted. Email and social media are off limits. My wife gives me quiet.

It also requires focus. Keeping my eye on the goal, I write with intention. With laser precision I type words to make sentences to form paragraphs for the various sections. Chapters birth with regularity.

My ballooning word count electrifies me. I want to write more. Even when it’s time to go to work, I wish I could keep writing.

It’s also stressful, but a good type of stress, a productive, fulfilling stress.

Though I fully expect my pace to wear thin as my quest continues, knowing the prize waiting for me at the end of the road will spur me on. A finished book looms as my reward.

I suspect the same thing occurs for each NaNoWriMo writer.

What are your experiences with NaNoWriMo? Will you do NaNoWriMo this year? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

When Your Post Goes Viral: 4 Tips For Survival

As writers we all want more people to see what we write, right? If we have a book, we want more people to buy it, and if we blog we want more people to read it and comment, right?

Be careful. Last week I heard about two bloggers whose posts went viral.

The first case occurred a year ago, with over a million views and almost 1,500 comments. The writer touched a nerve. Some loved his post; others hated it. However, the attention his post received earned him the attention of publishers, and he turned his post into a book, which went on sale this month. Though the result was good, the path was rocky.

Another blogger had a post go viral earlier this month. Though I don’t know how many people read it, they left 644 comments – so far. Most agreed with her, but a few took exception. Of the comments I read, I saw two trends:

A few women, from the right, took issue with one line in her post, while many more (all of whom were men) attacked her from the left and derided her “narrow” point of view. I use the word narrow because I don’t want to repeat the name calling they resorted to. Those who hated her words were often quite mean, and some attacked her personally.

Both bloggers were caught off guard by the response. Here’s what we can learn from their experiences:

Our Audience is Different Than Society as a Whole: For the most part, the people who regularly read our blogs like us and agree with our message. Their comments are most always kind and if they disagree, they do so politely. We have formed a nice community; civility is the norm. However, this is not the case with everyone else, the folks who don’t know us and are swept into reading one post gone viral.

Our Words Will Offend Some People: We write because we want to touch readers. While we hope to inspire, encourage, guide, or entertain our audience, this can’t happen all the time. We will offend some people. It is inevitable. If we try to avoid causing offense, we end up with bland words that accomplish nothing.

When Your Post Goes Viral: 4 Tips For SurvivalPeople Can Be Mean Online: With the protection of distance and anonymity afforded online, otherwise nice people can de-evolve into spewing inhuman invective. I suspect in most cases their issues are not really with the blogger but are a response to their personal failings or deep hurts. Haters are often damaged people.

Don’t Defend Ourselves: When attacked, we need to suffer in silence, not stoop to their level. Our friends will defend us when needed. We must be content with that.

Remember, we write for others to read our words, and we need to be prepared to handle the fallout when their reaction isn’t positive. If we persist in writing, it will happen sooner or later.

Have you ever received an unexpected response to your writing? How do you handle mean comments from readers? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Does the Thought of Marketing Your Book Make You Squirm?

This blog is about writing. An important aspect of writing is marketing what we write, first to get it published and then to get it read. I don’t talk much about promotion because, like many authors, I don’t like to do it; I don’t even want to think about it.

Robin Mellom's book Perfect TimingWhen Robin Mellom told me she was thinking about self-publishing her next YA book, Perfect Timing, I encouraged her to do it and promised I’d help get the word out. Thankfully it’s much easier to “market” someone else’s book than your own.

Here are some easy steps we can do to promote another author’s work (which we can later apply to ourselves when the time comes). Consider these seven options:

Blog: We can blog about the author and the book. This can be direct or indirect. Even a brief mention with a link can help. We can also post a review of the book on our blog.

Amazon: We can review the book on Amazon. While every author wants five-star reviews, a book with only five-star reviews is suspect, so give an honest rating. Perhaps more important than the rating is the actual review itself and especially the headline we give it. If you spot another review that is favorable, mark it as “helpful” so more people can see and read it. More Amazon reviews mean more exposure to prospects by Amazon and more people likely to buy the book.

Goodreads: On Goodreads we can first flag the book as one we “want to read.” Then, as we read it, we can post our progress. When we’re finished, we mark it as “done.” Each of these steps shows interest in the book and helps other Goodreads readers to discover it. Of course, we can also write a review on Goodreads. Some book-marketing gurus think Goodreads is more important than Amazon.

Facebook: We can make status updates about the book and the author. For example, “I can’t wait to read Robin Mellom’s new book Perfect Timing” or “Perfect Timing was a real page turner.” Of course include links and even the cover. We can also follow the author; then “like” or comment on his or her updates. With Facebook, the more likes and comments an update receives, the more people who will see it.

Twitter: We can tweet about the author and the book. Use their Twitter handle and book hashtag. We can also follow the author and retweet their tweets. All these efforts increase their reach on Twitter.

Pinterest: Technically with Pinterest we’re only supposed to post our own images or ones we have the right to post, but what author would object to us pinning their cover? The more places it appears, the better.

In Person: Although we think about using social media for marketing, we can also go old-school and talk about books in person with our friends and family.

Try some of these options to help your friends promote their books. Then when it comes time to market your own, it will be a bit easier.

(And please check out Robin Mellom’s new book Perfect Timing.)

What Do You Do When You Don’t Want To Write?

I strongly recommend writers write every day, or at least most every day, according to a regular schedule. This is a great ideal, however, what happens when we don’t feel like writing? Here are some tips I use to keep me writing every day:

  • Sit Down and Write Anyway: If I don’t feel like writing, I often tell myself, “Too bad, do it anyway.” Then I sit down and start typing. Soon I am writing, moving my project forward.
  • Remember Your Deadline: Having a due date or commitment is another strong motivator. Nothing makes my fingers fly as much as having a submission deadline in a couple of hours or a promise I made to have something done the next day.
  • Switch Projects: Working on the same project day after day is sometimes necessary, but it’s also tedious. If writing seems like too much of a chore, work on a different project for a day or two, even a week. Then move back to the first project, refreshed and ready to go.
  • Reward Yourself Afterwards: Give yourself a small reward after you’ve written so many words or invested a set amount of time. Work first; play later. One warning: if your reward is food, use it sparingly.
  • Change Venues: Some writers need a periodic change of scenery. Try a different room in your house, go to a coffee shop, or work outside. A different environment can provide the incentive to write. (This one seldom works for me; I need a specific environment to write well.)

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of doing something else first to “get in the mood.” Email, Facebook, and Web surfing are all evil distractions that keep us from writing. Cleaning the house, doing dishes, finishing the laundry, mowing the lawn, organizing files, and backing up the computer are all worthy tasks but which impede writing.

If our writing is important, we need to make it our priority by writing even when we don’t feel like it.

Which tip works best for you? What else do you do when you don’t want to write?