Category Archives: Writing Tips

Tips and suggestions to improve as a writer.

Using Dictation Software to Write Fiction

Speaking your punctuation when dictating slows you down, but it is possible to do

So far I’ve only used dictation to write nonfiction. My next step is fiction. This becomes a little bit more complex, because we must speak our punctuation. And dialogue requires much more of it.

For example, here is how I would speak a line of dialogue when using dictation software. (To make this display for you correctly, I will pause the dictation and type this out.)

Here’s what I would say:

“Open quote would you look at that question mark closed quote she asked period”

This would result in the following appearing on my computer monitor:

“Would you look at that?” She asked.

If you never tried dictation, I’m sure this seems convoluted to you. However, I recommend starting with easier things that only requires basic punctuation, such as periods, exclamation points, question marks, and commas.To write using dictation, start with the basic commands and then gradually add others. Click To Tweet

The sentence-ending punctuation came to me quite easily, and I mastered them within a few minutes. However, for commas I needed some practice before I could remember to speak them.

Using parentheses, quotation marks, hyphens, and dashes require a bit more thought and a lot more focus. However, with practice these things almost become second nature, and over time they can begin to flow with ease.

However, I recommend starting with the basic commands and then gradually adding others as you become comfortable writing using dictation. Of course if something doesn’t display as you intend, you can always fix it in the editing phase.

Although you can use dictation software to edit your work, too, I don’t recommend it. In fact, I’ve never heard any writer who did. They use dictation to create their first draft and then go old school by placing their hands on the keyboard. However, the knowledge that you can use dictation software to edit your work will give some writers a cause for celebration, because typing is either difficult for them or impossible. Being able to control their computer with their voice will empower them to write with greater ease.

Editing aside, I encourage anyone who writes a lot or is serious about writing faster to give dictation a try. I suspect that, like me, you will quickly embrace it is a key technological tool you won’t want to do without.

12 Tips For Better WordPress Content Creation

Presented at the 2017 Grand Rapids WordCamp

Hi, I’m Peter DeHaan. Here’s a little bit of information about me. I’m a published writer. I’m a passionate blogger. I’ve written about 2,200 blog posts for myself and about 500 for other people. I’m a commercial freelance writer, a magazine and newsletter publisher, and a WordPress fan. I have fourteen websites for my business and my writing. They keep me busy. That’s why I’m here at WordCamp: to learn how to use my sites more successfully and maximize my effectiveness with them.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about in this session. So, let’s dive into the twelve tips for better content creation, the first point is… Discover the 12 tips for better content creation when blogging on #WordPress. Click To Tweet

1. Focus Your Content.

This is key, when I started blogging in 2009, I wrote about whatever interested me, and I was all over the map. The only person my blog would fully interest, would be someone just like me. I talked about politics, about the weather, and about my family. About holidays, and about technology—whatever. I had an audience, but they weren’t interested in everything I wrote. I realized early on, I had to focus my content.

Have a Vision: Develop a vision for what you want to accomplish with your posts or the blog on your website, and let that guide you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever switch. You can pivot later. But initially, to form an audience, you want to have consistent content, so they know that every time they go to your blog, they’re going to hear about A, B, and C and not X, Y, and Z and then to something else.

Be Consistent: Stick with that theme. And when I use the word theme, I’m not talking about a WordPress theme. I’m talking about a content theme. You want to have one consistent theme for your blog, so visitors will know what you represent and what kind of content they’re going to get when they come there.

Think Long Term: Make sure you have plenty of ideas before you start. I heard about one person who wanted to start a blog. He had a topic he was passionate about and really wanted to write about it. He wrote his first blog post and covered everything. He was done. His blog, even though he was very passionate about the topic, had one post on it. And he never wrote a second one.Before you start a #blog, make sure you have plenty of things to talk about. Click To Tweet

Make sure you have plenty of things to talk about. That doesn’t mean you can’t repeat concepts. You can rehash it, give it a different angle, or talk more in depth. Maybe summarized two things together. When you handle content this way, you tell your audience, “Yes, I can give you new content every time you’re here.” You don’t want to repost the same thing all the time and expect them to like that.

What you can do is brainstorm before you start blogging to make sure you have enough ideas. In all my blogs and all the work I do for my clients, I know what I’m going to write in the future. That’s why when I sit down to write, I don’t have to ask myself, “What should I write about today?”

People who do this may look outside and see that it’s snowing. Then they write, “As I look outside my window, the snow is falling…” Well that’s a sign of a writer who has no idea what they want to say. Don’t be that writer.

Instead, develop a topic list so you know what to write about and what to focus on. But that doesn’t mean, that’s what will actually occur. It’s a starting point.

Sometimes I’ll start my blog post, but I realize it’s too long for one post. It can become two posts or maybe five posts. Or I’ll start with an introduction, but I weave over to another idea. Now I have a post on two different topics. By cutting them in half, one becomes a post for the day, and the other becomes a post for next week.

Make sure you have plenty of content ideas. If you don’t have enough to write about before you start, then widen your focus so you can encompass more things. If you have too much to talk about, then narrow your focus. Make it more specific.

The more niche you make your content, the more you can attract people. It’s going to be harder to find them, but once you find them, they’re going to stick with you.

2. Maintain an Idea List

As I mentioned, when we sit down to start a post, we don’t want to say, “What will I write about today?”

Always Look for Topic Ideas: If you have an idea list, you’ll always know what you can write about. The nice thing about that is if you have five things listed, you might look on the first thing and not want to write about that today. What’s the next thing on your list? Maybe, I’m inspired to write about that. There’s been times when I’ve looked at all the things on my list, and I don’t want to write about any of them. But a sixth idea comes to mind, and I write about it.

Having a topic list eliminates what’s called “writer’s block.” Now I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s a mental thing. Whatever job you’re in—let’s say you’re a house painter—and you get up in the morning and say, “I’m just not motivated to paint houses today. I’m not going to do it.” No, you get up, push through, and paint the house. The same thing with writers.

Pick Evergreen Topics: These are topics that play well today, next week, next month, and next year. They’re always in season; they’re evergreen. The reason you want to post them is to resonate with your audience for the long-term. When blogging about current events, news, sports, and politics—yes, those posts may go viral—but it’s not going to have a long-term effect on your traffic.Write about evergreen topics on your #blog to resonate with your audience for the long-term. Click To Tweet

I heard from a professional blogger who did an analysis of when he has posts go viral. He might have a traffic spike of hundredfold for that day. Two days later he’s back to his normal traffic, and he didn’t sell anything additional. He didn’t have more people sign up for his newsletter or his blog. That short-term spike had no business ramifications for him. The lesson is, don’t chase after viral content with trendy topics. Aim for evergreen content. (Yes, all my posts are now evergreen.)

If you want to occasionally write about current events, that’s fine. But realize that in a couple of days it’s going to be old news. In a week, it’s going to be out of date.

To define evergreen topics, look at what’s not evergreen: the things trending on Twitter. Those are not evergreen topics. This presentation is an evergreen topic. What I’m talking about today is going to be just as relevant now as in a year. In fact, I gave a different version of this topic three years ago; it’s the same outline with some different details. That’s an example of an evergreen topic.

3. Invest in the Title

Don’t Skimp: Don’t make the title an afterthought. Too many people write the title at the last minute, in a few seconds. They spent two to three hours writing their post, and as they wrap up, they realize they need a title. Then they just write the first thing that comes to mind, and that’s their title. A title is going to make or break your post. Give it a lot of thought. A title is going to make or break your #post. Give it a lot of thought. Click To Tweet

Find Balance: Make your title SEO friendly, but don’t make SEO your primary objective. Remember that you’re writing for people. You want to attract people’s attention, but you want to attract their attention and be SEO friendly, too.

I can come up with clever titles that will catch people’s attention, but search engines will not know what I’m talking about. I like to create a play on words, try to be clever, or make a vague reference to movies or books, but the search engines aren’t going to understand.

Write to people first, but keep search engines in mind. Therefore, use simple, straightforward titles.

Different Titles: Tweak the title to make a permalink. On WordPress, you can do that. You can have a title be one thing, your permalink may be something different, and your metadata title be a third thing.

Some platforms don’t allow you to do that. Whatever you pick for your title, it gets replicated in all three areas. In WordPress be sure to tweak your title. There was a trend that I call “long form URLs” for the post. It might be two hundred characters long, because the entire title was put into the URL. Don’t do that. Edit it. Make the permalink short and friendly for search engines.

Effective Title Formats: For your title, here are some effective formats you can use:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Provide a solution
  3. Give a “how to,” such as “How to grow your email list.”
  4. State a number of tips. That’s what I did for the title of this presentation: “12 Tips for Better WordPress Content Creation.”

Use these formats. People like them; search engines like them. You’re grabbing their attention right away with the title, so don’t skimp on it.

When I write a post, sometimes I start with the title and then write the post to the title. Other times I start with the concept, write the post, and then write the title last. Sometimes I have a great title, but my post veers off in another direction and doesn’t quite match the title. Then I go back and tweak the title.

But I always give attention to the title. I’m not going to skip that step. Some people say that 50 percent of the effectiveness of your post is going to reside on the title. Give the title some deliberate consideration.

4. Use Categories and Tags Wisely

This tip may be something you all know about, so I’ll go through it quickly.

I think of my blog as a file cabinet. Categories are the drawers in the cabinet, and tags are the file folders in each drawer.A blog is like a file cabinet. Categories are the drawers. Tags are the file folders. Click To Tweet

Categories: I see too many blogs where the category is “uncategorized.” This tells me they were lazy, or they don’t understand WordPress categories. This doesn’t help readers or with SEO.

Avoid uncategorized; always use a category. I’ve heard experts say you want three to eight categories. If you only have one category it doesn’t mean anything, because it doesn’t differentiate your content. If you have too many categories, you confuse readers. I like to have between four to six categories. I also like to list my categories on my sidebar. That way if someone reads a post they like, they click on the category and read more posts just like it.

Categories, also help with SEO. I configured my permalinks with my category as part of the permalink. It combines the website, category, and shortened title the comprise the URL. And this helps SEO.

Tags: Tags are more for people. If they read a post and see a certain tag on it, for example, WordPress, and they click on that tag, they get more posts about WordPress. Experts say to aim for no more than forty to fifty tags on your blog. But one of my blogs has 1,400 posts. As a result, I’ve exceeded that number of fifty tags out of necessity.

Periodically, I look at my blog and ask, “Is one category or one tag being overused?” If that’s the case, I split it up and divide the content into different categories or different tags. Or if a tag isn’t being used at all or only has one entry, then I move the post to another tag. A tag with only one entry accomplishes nothing for your readers, because when they click on it, they get the post they just read and nothing else.

5. Make it Easy to Scan.

Most people reading blog post do not read them, they scan them. And personally, the longer the post, the more I scan. We’ll talk more about post length later, for now, here are some tips to facilitate scanning.Make your #blog posts easy to scan, because most readers will scan it. Click To Tweet

Bullet Points: Bullet points are a way to slow people down and let them get your key elements.

Numbered Lists: Another tip for scannable posts is using numbered lists.

I often get the question, “When do I use numbered lists and when do I use bullet points?” The key differentiation is if you state a number in your title, then use a numbered list. If your introduction cites six items, then use a numbered list.

If you haven’t promised a number, then use bullet points. That’s the main guideline. Some people say to not use more than five bullet points, because then it becomes confusing to readers. Try to keep the number of bullet points short. However, I prefer bullets over numbered lists, because it seems everyone’s using numbers.

Subheadings: I use subheadings to make my key points stand out. I also like to make my subheadings bold, so readers can easily see them. That moves us to the next tip to make for scannable content.

Bold: Sometimes I have a post that has no bullet points, no numbers, and no subheadings. Then I go through and bold certain phrases within the article. Readers can scan from bold, to bold, to bold. And in a few seconds, they know the gist of the post. Some people don’t like that, but I find it works very effectively.

A guiding principle, is making no more than 15 percent of your post bold. I have a friend who blogs, and over half of her post is bold, because, to her, everything’s important. But you can’t scan it. If you have a 600-word post, then no more than 90 words should be bold. That’s a good goal to shoot for.

Things to Avoid: Avoid underline because it looks like a link. Avoid italics because it’s harder to read, especially on a screen.

6. Limit One Point per Post

Having one point per post is very important. Some people are stream-of-consciousness writers, where they start talking about A and then they morph into B. And then they see something that sounds interesting, so they talk about C. Then they need to wrap up their post, and they end with a different statement that doesn’t relate back to the beginning. Aim for one point per post. That doesn’t mean you can’t have subpoints, but each subpoint needs to support the main one.

What’s the purpose of your post? Have a vision for what you want to accomplish. Do you want to communicate information about a topic? Do you want people to sign up for your newsletter? Have a goal and write with that goal in mind.

If you don’t have a purpose when you write a post that means that your post is without purpose. And that means you’re probably going to be that 75 percent of bloggers who creates content no one ever reads. And you don’t want that. You want to be the 25 percent that gets read. Write to accomplish an objective.

What’s the main idea you want people to take away from your post? Have one key takeaway. I use the plug-in “Click to Tweet” where you pre-make a tweet for them, they can click on it, and it automatically goes to their Twitter feed. I put my key point in the Click to Tweet box. That’s what I want them to walk away with.Write your #blogpost with one idea in mind from start to finish, including the title. Click To Tweet

Write with one idea in mind from start to finish, including the title.

We’ve all heard about clickbait, and I think some people make their title clickbait. And when their post doesn’t support that, it disappoints people. Make sure everything is consistent as you develop your post.

7. Aim for the Right Length

There’s a lot of debate about the ideal post length. I understand Google needs at least 200 words to be able to index a post. Even though some popular bloggers sometimes have shorter posts—and people just love it—I don’t know how SEO really works in those situations. But if you have a big following, SEO doesn’t matter as much.

I think 300 to 500 words is ideal for most readers. I seldom read a post over 500 words. I just don’t want to invest the time to read it. No matter how much I like the title, no matter how much I respect the author, the idea of reading more than 500 words overwhelms me. I don’t like that.

What about longer posts? You hear people talk about long-form content. A thousand words, 2,000 words, 5,000 words. [This post clocks in at 4,300 words.] I’ve heard about one blogger with a 20,000-word blog post. That’s the length of a short book. I’d rather write a short book than a long post.

Longer converts better, with more readership and more engagement. But if you’re writing a 2,000-word blog post to have four times the engagement, I’d prefer to write four 500-word posts and get the same amount of interaction. Plus, that would give four pages people can land on. That’s my personal perspective.

Look at your audience. If your audience is busy professionals, they’re probably not going to tolerate a long post. They will more appreciate a 300-word post. Learn how to hook them on the first line, give meat on the second line, and end with one call to action. Keep it short and sweet. They’ll read it; they’ll appreciate it. That’s my opinion.

8. Remember Metadata

A lot of bloggers don’t bother with metadata. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand it or because they’re too busy.Don't forget to add #metadata to your blog post. Search engines need it to do their job. Click To Tweet

Title: You want your title tag to be sixty characters. I heard someone who says fifty-seven, I don’t know why. I usually hear sixty. If you make it longer than sixty, it will probably be cut off. And that’s not good, because it won’t give people a clear idea of what your post is about.

Also, you have sixty characters, so use them. Don’t make a ten-character title, because then you have real estate you’re not using. Use as many of the sixty characters as you can.

Description: The post description is for your reader and for search engine optimization. For your description, you have 160 characters. That’s where you can sell your post to someone who finds you through search, so make it good.

The way I write, often my opening paragraph or my concluding paragraph is a great place to copy to use for my 160-word description. Sometimes I need to edit it. Sometimes neither of those work, so I write a new description, but make sure your post description sells your content to a person who sees it on search results. Sell them so they click one more time to read your post. And if you just automatically use the first 160 characters of your post for your description, but it doesn’t put hook the reader or it doesn’t compel them to click, then you wasted your effort for that post.

Keywords: The last thing is keywords. Google has said for a couple years that they ignore keywords. Yet some SEO tools still have a place for you to enter your keywords. I’m compulsive, and I can’t ignore that empty spot, so I’m going to put in some keywords. But don’t spend much time on it. I give myself about thirty seconds.

I use dictation to write the first draft for my posts. Then when I finish, I speak the keywords, which takes me about ten seconds. Then I copy, paste, and they’re there.

If you think it’s a waste of time, don’t do it. But don’t fixate on it either. Don’t spend a lot of time doing research or anything like that. Just get something in there quickly that reflects your post.

SEO Plugins: There are two popular ones. All in One SEO is what I use. Yoast SEO is another one that other people use.

I understand that if you use one and want to switch to the other, there’s import-export tools that lets you migrate your content. You can imagine with me having a blog with 1,400 posts, that if I switch SEO plugins, I don’t want to have to rekey all the SEO information. I want to be able to move content from one to the other. And depending on who you talk to, some people like one plug-in over the other. From what I gather, they’re pretty much comparable on what they accomplish and the way they accomplish it.

9. Engage Readers

Schedule Content: You want to have a schedule. When I started blogging, I was doing it whenever I felt like it. Sometimes I felt like blogging five times a week, sometimes once a week. Then I hit a season where I dwindled to a couple times a month.Set a #blogging schedule, and then stick with it no matter what. Click To Tweet

Set a schedule for yourself: at this time, on this day, every single week, I’m going to publish a post. It keeps you disciplined, and it lets your readers know that something will be there. The last thing you want is for someone to come to your blog and see your last entry was a year ago. They’re gone. They’ll never come back.

Offer Options: Allow them to subscribe by email or use an RSS feed. This is not as important now as it used to be, but for people who want to consume content these ways, make sure you provide the options for them to do so.

I have blogs I want to follow, but I don’t have a way to subscribe by email, which is how I consume content. I can bookmark it, but I’ll never come back. I can sign up for the RSS feed for me to check later. But when I do check, there are so many things there that I get overwhelmed, and I just skip the whole thing. Make sure you provide an easy way for readers to consume the content of your blog.

Ask for Comments: If it’s aligned with your business purposes, if you want engagement with your audience, you need to ask for comments. But if you don’t intend to respond to them or are too busy, then don’t ask for them to leave their thoughts.

Respond to Comments: When you receive comments, respond to them. It doesn’t have to be long or profound. But let them know you read and understand what they said. You just can’t say, “I agree,” or give a thumbs up. Let them know that you read what they said.

Seed Commenters to Get Started: If you want to engage with readers on your blog, ask some friends to leave comments for you. That way you can have a couple of comments on every post. This will encourage more people to leave comments and engage in your discussion.

Make Commenting Easy: Provide a simple way for people to share their thoughts about your posts. Sometimes I have to jump through hoops to leave a comment. I type up a response but can’t figure out how to log into whatever tool they’re using for comments, so I ditch what I wrote. I like to be able to leave my name, email, web address, and comment. Click, I’m done.

10. Pictures and Graphics

Use relevant pictures and graphics on every post. This helps you capture people’s attention. Make sure you add SEO to your graphics. You can use licensed graphic content, attribute content, or avoid content. I prefer to develop all my graphics inhouse. Use relevant pictures and graphics on every #blog post. Click To Tweet

I heard of one blogger who got graphics from a creative common site, but someone had placed a licensed image there. The blogger took the image, thinking it was available for use. Then they received an $800 bill from the owner of the graphic. The blogger wasn’t happy.

If you want to make your own graphics—which I recommend—use Canva or Pic Monkey, both have free versions and are easy to use.

11. Add Links

For internal SEO, link to past posts, I’m pretty good at remembering to do that.

From older posts, link to new content, I’m not so good at remembering to do that. But both helps with SEO.

Minimize off-site links. There are different schools of thought about off-site links. You can tolerate a few, but keep them to a minimum.

12. Proof and Publish

Beginning bloggers often make one of two mistakes.Avoid these two mistakes that beginning #bloggers often make. Click To Tweet

Avoid Perfection Paralysis: One is they want perfection. They write a post. They think about it. They proofread it the next day, tweak it the next week. A month later, they still haven’t posted it, because they want it perfect. But they’re never going to have perfect. Write it, proof it, and publish it.

Don’t Hurry: The other thing is they rush. With only a few minutes, they dash off something quick and click publish. They haven’t proofed it or done anything to optimize it. And that doesn’t help their cause either.

Use a Scheduler: Consider scheduling posts in advance to take off the pressure of doing things at the last minute. I schedule my post one week, up to a month, in advance.

And that’s it. I just got the warning that my time is up. Thank you for listening. I appreciate your time and attention. Thank you.

[This is an edited transcript of Peter DeHaan’s presentation at the 2017 Grand Rapids WordCamp. Here are the slides. The video recording of the session didn’t turn out, but a recording of the same topic from 2014 is available. The content is very similar.]

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

Remember that we write for people and not computer algorithms

People have different opinions as to the ideal length of a blog post. When I first started blogging almost ten years ago, I heard you needed at least 200 words for search engines to be able to learn enough information about your post to categorize it. Then the minimum length jumped up to 300 words, with the warning that shorter posts would not be indexed by search engines.

For years that was my goal, to write a post at least 300 words long. In some contexts I still shoot for that. However, many of my clients want content that is at least 500 words long. This seems to be the new standard, if such a thing exists.

Despite this there are supporters of 800 to 1200-word posts, with some people advocating 1,500 to 2,000. On the extreme, we have people producing longform content. Their goal is 5,000-word posts and even longer. I even heard of one person producing a 20,000-word post. That’s the length of a short nonfiction book. If I write 20,000 words, I prefer it be in a book and not posted online.

So, this begs the question: What’s the right length for a blog post?A blog post should be as long it needs to be to cover the topic. Click To Tweet

One answer is as long as it needs to be to cover the topic. No less and no more. If you need to start padding your word count to hit a target length, you’ve lost sight of the goal: the reader.

Another answer considers your target demographic. For example, if you’re writing to busy business people, then keep your post short and succinct. No matter how interested they may be in your content, they’re unlikely to read a longer post because they’re unwilling to invest the time to do so. And even if they try, they are likely to be interrupted before they reach the end, and the chance of them getting back to it to finish it is slim.

Of course, if you’re writing for a specific website, then you better hit their word-count target. The same applies if you’re writing for a client. The client is always right, even if you disagree.

The key consideration in all this is to remember that when we write, we write for people, not search engines or computers. Yes, we must keep the SEO algorithms in mind, but they are secondary in importance to producing great content that readers read.

That’s always been my goal, and I encourage it to be yours, too.

(By the way, this post is 430 words long. I think the length is just right.)

Use Dragon Speech Recognition Software to Write Faster

Celebrate the benefits of using your voice to produce your first draft

A couple years ago I heard about authors using dictation to write the first draft of their books. Although intrigued by the idea of using speech-to-text software to write, I dismissed it as impractical. However, as more and more writers extolled the virtues of speech recognition software, I decided to test dictation for myself.

Aside from the promise of being able to write faster, there’s also the realization that by using my voice instead of my fingers for my first draft, I save my wrists from the hint of strain that sometimes plagues me.

Google Docs: For my initial test, I sought a no-cost evaluation. Accessing Google Docs from a Chrome browser presents the option for “voice typing” under the tools tab. Its basic command set results in a short learning curve. Within minutes I wrote my first blog post using dictation. Even with my first attempt, I realized the time-saving benefits of dictation.

To achieve increased accuracy, I bought a USB headset, which helped quite a bit. For a couple months I continued to use the voice typing feature in Google Docs to do my first drafts. Then I would copy the results into Word for editing and proofreading.

Dragon: My next step was to get serious with dictation, and I bought the highly recommended Dragon dictation software. All the basics I learned using Google Docs applied to Dragon. However, Dragon with its vast degree of power and flexibility also carries with it a more detailed command set and with it a longer learning curve.

Though I’m still learning some of Dragon’s more powerful capabilities, I’m already seeing great results with the parts of the software I am using. In fact, I like using dictation so well that it seems a chore to type out my words.Using dictation I can write my first draft in half the time. Click To Tweet

Overall, I have reduced the time it takes to produce a first draft by at least 50 percent, possibly up to 75 percent. I must point out, however, that I do have to spend more time editing the words when I dictate. Overall, I presently have about a 33 percent increase in output when factoring in the time saved with dictation and the time added for more editing.

I’m sure that as I continue to use dictation, my speed and efficacy will further increase. I can’t wait!

UR Turn: What’s the Best Writing Advice You’ve Ever Heard?

We’re wise to learn what we can from other writers who have gone before us

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...This blog is about writing and publishing. I share what I know in the posts, and you share what you know in the comments. Our monthly segment, UR Turn, allows us to focus on this. We can learn from each other.

In addition, we can also learn from other writers through their blogs, podcasts, webinars, and books. Plus, we can read magazines about writing.

Over the years I’ve learned a great deal. I strive to apply what I learn. Then I share the results.

Today’s UR Turn question is, what’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?The best writing advice I’ve ever heard is to write every day. Click To Tweet

For me, the answer is easy. I’ve repeated it here many times. It is simply to write every day. Doing this changed my life and my career as a writer.

Now it’s your turn.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

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What Are You Willing to Give Up So You Can Write?

Being a writer requires giving up other things, and making it a priority requires sacrifice

It’s been said that some people really don’t want to write, they want to have written. They want to see the results, without putting in the work. Yet writing requires effort and that effort necessitates that we prioritize the things we do.What Are You Willing to Give Up So You Can Write?

It seems everyone I know is too busy. This includes writers. We struggle to find time to write. Yet by adjusting our priorities, we can make the time. What will you give up to get there?

If writing is important to you, if having written is your goal, what will you sacrifice so you can write?

Television: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t watch TV. I try to keep my viewing habits in check, but I still spend too much time watching TV. Though this often happens late in the evening when I’m too tired to write, I also know that if I watched less TV I would have more time to write.

Social Media: The lure of social media distracts many writers from doing what they need to do. They sit down at their computer to write but decide to check Facebook first. An hour later they haven’t written a single word for their project, but they have read lots of updates and made a couple posts themselves. Next they slide over to Twitter or LinkedIn or Goodreads or Pinterest or whatever else beckons them. They never get around to writing. Scale back on social media to ramp up writing time.

Sleep: I’ve heard of many writers who give up sleep to find time to write. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it, because if I’m tired I have trouble writing or at least writing anything worthwhile. Yet I am disciplined to get up early in the morning and write, when I could roll over and sleep for a few minutes longer.We need to make some sacrifices, or we’ll never have enough time to write. Click To Tweet

Recreation: Another consideration is the things we do in our leisure time. Call this rest and relaxation. While taking time to rejuvenate ourselves is wise, too much recreation only serves as a distraction and offers no additional benefit.

Relationships: Another area is relationships. Since many writers are introverts and in some cases, recluses, be careful about giving up relationships that are meaningful and helpful. Yet some relationships aren’t beneficial. We may persist out of habit or guilt or obligation, but instead of adding to our life, these relationships suck the life from us.

It’s been said that we become a composite of the five people we spend the most time with. We need to make sure we’re spending time with the right people and avoid relationships that warrant less attention or no attention. This then becomes found time to write.

It’s wrong to assume we need to give up everything to write, but we do need to make some sacrifices or we’ll never have enough time to write. Even worse we may never even start.

UR Turn: Have You Used Dictation Software to Write?

Authors who use dictation claim a much higher writing speed

UR Turn, Help me finish ths post by sharing...I’ve recently been experimenting with using dictation to write and bought a USB headset to reduce dictation errors. So far I’m excited with the process and anxious to get better at it. To accomplish this, I’ve bought Dragon speech recognition software and will begin using it.

What are your thoughts about dictation?

Have you considered it? Did you try it and give up?

If you do dictation, what software and hardware do you use? What are the benefits? What advice can you offer?What are your thoughts about dictation? Click To Tweet

Please share your input in the comments below.

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Why You Need a USB Headset for Dictation Success

A quality headset reduces dictation errors

USB Headset for Dictation SuccessLast week I shared my first steps at using dictation as an alternative way to write. To test dictation I didn’t invest any money in software or hardware, as I merely wanted to do a proof-of-concept before I spent any money.

I used Google Docs, a Chrome browser, and a cheap analog headset that plugged into the audio port on my computer. Though a less-than-ideal configuration, it did confirm that dictation was a viable solution to creating first drafts. Given this arrangement, and the fact that I’m new to dictation, I wasn’t discouraged with my accuracy rate of about 80 percent.

Of course, I wanted better. The first step was to try a different headset. However, going from a wired headset to a wireless headset made things worse. So I ordered a mid-range priced USB headset. I’m using it today, and my accuracy rate is increased to the low-90s. I’m elated over this progress.

My next step is to buy Dragon software, a highly recommended dictation tool for writers. With this, and once I train it to my voice, I expect my accuracy rate to go even higher. Of course, my productivity will increase with it.With dictation you have to speak your punctuation marks, but it’s not a hard skill to learn. Click To Tweet

With dictation I had to learn to speak my punctuation. Google Docs includes six punctuation phrases, which we need to speak to make them appear on the page. These are period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, new line, and new paragraph. (I understand Dragon software has a greater array of commands.)

I was amazed to see how quickly I got used to saying these punctuation codes. After only a few sessions, they flowed quite easily.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now the focus is on the headset.

I needed a better one. My old analog headset, which didn’t work so well, cost about $20 some seven years ago. The wireless headset I tried, which also plugged into my computer analog port, was even older.

The recommendation to minimize dictation errors is to use a USB headset. This has a digital interface instead of analog, which allows for better volume consistency for dictation.

With my analog headsets, I would frequently get warnings that the software was having trouble hearing me. When this happened my error rate increased or the recording stopped. Once I switched to the USB headset these problems went away.

The USB headset I bought was a mid-range product. With shipping it cost less than $50. The result of my increase in dictation quality was worth the investment.

I’m now pursuing dictation with even more excitement, and the introduction of professional dictation software should help make the process go better and faster. I can hardly wait.

I’ll share more once the software is installed, and I begin using it.

Until then, happy writing.

Should You Use Dictation to Write?

Writers claim to dramatically increase their writing speed by speaking instead of typing

Write faster, try dictation.In listening to podcasts and reading blogs, I’ve heard a lot about writers using dictation. This intrigued me. There are two reasons why I wanted to try dictation instead of typing when composing my first drafts.

Why Diction?

Increased Speed: The most attractive reason for dictation comes from the promise of increased output. Some writers claim to hit speeds of up to 5,000 words per hour when using dictation. Though I have no expectations of hitting that number, the idea of creating content faster really intrigues me.

Protect Wrists: The other reason I’m curious about dictation is for an alternative to typing to reduce repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, there are times when after too many days of logging too many hours of typing that my wrists grow tender. When this comes it’s too late to do my wrist exercises to minimize the impacts of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Being able to speak my words instead of typing them provides an alternative data-entry method. And it’s always good to have a backup plan if for some reason I must ease up on my typing. In fact, concern over tender wrists is one reason why I take a break from writing on Saturdays. I want to give my wrists a rest from the daily strain of typing.

Why Not Dictation?

However, despite these two benefits to spur me forward, there have also been three reasons why I was reluctant.

Voice Strain: My first concern is voice strain. Perhaps because I don’t have a reason to talk much throughout my workday, I find that it’s very easy to strain my voice. Sometimes even giving a half-hour presentation will be enough to cause my voice to falter. An hour is about as much as I can speak without going hoarse. Perhaps with practice I can extend this time, but I’m not sure.

Speaking Quality: My next concern is the quality of my speech. My diction is not great. I can pronounce the same word different ways and pronounce different words the same. This presents a problem. However, my speaker-independent smartphone seldom misunderstands my verbal instructions, so I’m no longer as concerned. And with professional dictation software that I can train to learn my voice, I could minimize this potential problem even more.

Writing Style: The third reason I was hesitant to try dictation is that my speaking style is different than my writing style. I feared that I would spend too much time editing my dictated words that I would negate the time savings from using dictation.

Conclusion

Despite my apprehension, the allure of increasing my writing output and saving my wrists was enough to cause me to seriously consider dictation. But before I spent money on software and hardware I wanted to do some testing before making an investment.

Without spending a penny, I did just that. When accessing Google Docs through the Chrome browser there is a dictation feature (go to “tools” and select “voice typing”). For hardware, I used a standard headset I already had. Though this was not the ideal test, it would be enough to let me see if dictation held potential for me.

I’ve tried it, and I liked it.Even though I’m new at dictation, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. Click To Tweet

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been writing all my blog post and articles using dictation. Even though I’m new at it, I’ve already realized an increase in writing productivity. And as I get better, I expect an even greater boost in output.

Next week I’ll share more about my process, and how I’m moving forward with dictation. But for now, I wanted to share my initial thoughts so you could consider dictation.

Until then happy writing.

(By the way, the first draft of this 650-word post took me under ten minutes using dictation; typing would have been at least 45 minutes.)

Don’t Overreact to Writing Trends

Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years

Don’t Overreact to Writing TrendsI still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”

The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.

Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)

In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.

Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:

“What do you mean by that?” she said.

It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.

Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.

I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.

Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading. We need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore. Click To Tweet

In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.

As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.