Rule of thirds challenges me unless I have a 9 grid overlaying the photo or viewfinder. Since I’ve never seen a viewfinder like that, I confess that these shots became rule of thirds after the camera lens had long since left the scene.
These shots look a little cloudy because dense fog covered the Woodlake Valley floor the day I took them. I should have had my portrait done out-of-doors that day. This woodpecker may have had trouble finding his worm. I prefer that he pecks at the ground instead of burying his acorns in my roof or pecking my siding.
Out to help me keep my yard bird-free, Cross-Eyed Kitty looks like a fierce hunter. In reality, this beautiful old feral cat heard me, and came running so I could take him over to my house to eat from Mama and Scardy’s bowl.
We know he’s at least fourteen years old, but he may be a lot older. He looks great, but pick him up, and he’s all hair and bones. He has the most beautiful blue eyes.
Cross-Eyed Kitty never acted feral. As soon as he comes near, he rolls over for a rub. I did not edit this photo as CEK took up exactly two-thirds of the picture if you don’t count his tail, which blends into the ground anyway.
Back home again after rescuing CEK from a hard hunting trip, I walked around the yard admiring the new blooms on the peach trees. Woodlake Valley boasts hundreds, no thousands, of peach trees which grow in large orchards with military-perfect straight lines. Pink and white blossoms make this valley fit for a spring festival. My husband’s sinuses do not agree.
For more Rule of Thirds pictures click the WP icon.
Don’t get me wrong, I love blogging and love my blogging friends. But I’m frustrated. When I’m busy, I spend my time on quickie social media and not my blog. I take a quick picture when I’m walking or driving, post it on Instagram, and maybe write a caption – BAM gone to all my social media accounts including WP. I don’t bother with my brand, floating like a misshapen cloud above the mountains, or edit, edit and re-edit only to find another error after I’ve posted!
Done. It takes two hours for me – at a minimum – to create a blog post – this small – that’s hard! (Granted I’m slow!)
I wish WP had a better way to share blogs, and here’s why.
In Facebook I browse through the comments, pictures and memes sharing likes or a quick comment. My wall is as cluttered as my work table, but I love it. If I want to find what you posted yesterday so I can copy it to my blog, I type your name in the search box, and bingo – your wall appears. I scroll through your stuff, take what I want, get to know you a little better, and I’m out. I’ve joined some groups, become friends with some, and those comments show on my home page. I don’t have to click to find them. For those of us with slow internet, every click means wait, wait, wait.
Twitter is Facebook on speed. I meet colleagues, new contacts, and post news. It’s not impolite to follow others first. Many people follow me that I don’t know. I check them out briefly, and speed read through news. I don’t engage much more than a star unless its Rosy, Al or Ann, my blogging friends, or I’m working my California Council for the Social Studies accounts.
On LinkedIn people have common professional interests. I like to endorse people I know, just to let them know I still think about them even when I don’t see them. I also post news. Like FB, it doesn’t take much time to browse. If I see something I want to read, I stop and read it.
Blogging, however, is where I get to know people well. We are friends even when we’ve never met. But commenting on blogs is more difficult because I have to click on each blog, and sometimes they don’t load or take my comment. If it takes too long I don’t get it done.
So it is laziness, or do we need all types of social media? So please join me on FB if you consider me a friend @ TC History Gal Productions, or one of the other social media.
The scenes as I walked along Millwood Drive took my breath away. Maybe if I stayed in shape… Eventually my husband picked me up and we enjoyed the warm photoshoot together.
While our eastern friends bury under mountains of snow, in Woodlake Valley we welcome a few inches of water on the valley floor and many feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It rained this weekend, and in December, so while we get the most wonderful winter weather in the world, we wish for more precipitation so our wells won’t run dry. I took these pictures December 27th a day after it rained. One rain yields instant green fields.
The mountains glowed with the snow. Don’t you love snow from a distance? I experimented with composition, and used the trees to frame the picture, but couldn’t get a Rule of Thirds picture that I liked. I cropped it in Photoshop, and I’m still not sure which way I prefer so I’ll let you decide.
I love this old barn. However, beautiful winter weather doesn’t insure eternal life even for barns. I wish I knew an interesting story about it. Maybe someone who reads this post will have some insight that I don’t. Or maybe someone will make up a good story. As we came back from taking the shots of the netted trees which was my goal for the day, my husband said, “I know the perfect place to take a picture.” We got to the barn, and he said “This is it.” What I had missed being so focused on using my zoom lens was that there was a path with no fence, and I could have walked up to the barn. How did I miss it? I’m so zoned in that I miss the obvious.
As the road curves following the sandy bed of Cottonwood Creek, rows and rows of netted trees appear on the east. Slowly the daylight ghouls creep up on a lone kid-tree trapped in the center of the row as he tried to run away. They raise their arms and close in for the big take-down. He should have stayed in line.
Netting provides protection for stone fruit trees from birds. The nets also prevent frost and insect damage. I don’t know how any fruit tree lives without its net. However, trees in most fields don’t have nets.
I shot this little tree with its see through gown, and thought it looked sexy. Vince disagreed and he thought eerie described it better.
From a distance smoke seemed to pour out of the top of this building. On closer inspection with a zoom lens, the building grew a tree. Probably if I had climbed over the barbed wire and snuck up behind the structure, the tree would have pretended that it was no where close to that building all along. I staged this picture with these photogenic pieces of dead wood that had nothing more to do than lie there and look pretty.
I wonder if this is the building Bob Hengst built with friends to launch their rockets.
A fallen ego maniac, I had the idea that because I am so old and have written for so long that I must know how to do what I do every day – WRITE — and be pretty good at it. hahaha Teachers think that, you know. In our defense, we have to or the kids would eat us alive. Frankly, we spend our whole careers learning to teach writing, so we should know something. But the truth is…
After tackling one new writing project after another….
First a blog, (I’m still learning new things every day.)
I braved a NaNoWriMo novel.
Carol convinced me to take a children’s story class, and I wrote several (almost ready) children’s picture book stories.
Then a local history book for Arcadia Publishing Co.
Now back to my novel.
…I admit there are a few many things that I don’t know. (duh!) Now I’m checking first with other experts to see what they say. Writing a Synopsis is a link to a Writer’s Digest page – links to several articles about how to write a synopsis. Here is a synopsis of my favorite by Beth Anderson.
Seven Sentence Synopsis
Write a sentence that tells what your book or article is about, and names the major characters.
Explain the beginning in one sentence.
The third sentence tells the end of the book. Don’t pull any punches here. Spit it out. The boy gets the girl. The gorilla dies. The tooth fairy drops all the children’s teeth into magic water, and they change into dentures.
Write a sentence about each major point of action in the story, and put those between step two and three.
That’s it. Step one, done.
Step Two – Write a One Page Synopsis
Use your same opening sentence, then describe the beginning in a paragraph.
Write two or three paragraphs describing the major points of action.
Finish with a short paragraph about the end of the book. Again, you don’t try to trick any readers here. A synopsis is to sell your book to a busy agent.
Step Three – Write a Three Page Synopsis
Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Tell, don’t show!
Step Four – Write a Six Page Synopsis
Add more action points and obstacles. Add secondary characters. Make sure the road-blocks get more obstacally as the plot thickens. Characters never come out unscathed until the end of the book where they emerge scratched and smiling, prize in hand, and not a hair out-of-place.
Step Five – Write a Twelve Page Synopsis
By the time you add more obstacles and action points, your book is finished. All that remains is to add the dialogue and describe the setting. The best part is you know how it’s going to end. Those pesky characters can’t sneak up on you and write their own script. Oops. They can? Yep, these experts say they can, so watch out. However, you have it pretty much in control.
Writing Is a Complicated Process Do you struggle when you have to take a writing test, or write a report?As a teacher/consultant writing essays was my forté, yet writing to a prompt is a complicated task. When I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity, either writing or grading essays for over 20 years. Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write. While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, they struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.
Definition of an Essay
Commonly essays fall into four categories : expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative. Essays convey information rather than tell a story, although they may use facts or short stories to persuade or convince readers to take action. An essay consists of three parts: an opening paragraph, the body, and the conclusion. Many teachers in our county use Step Up to Writing to teach this process to students and teachers alike.
An opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts.
Body paragraphs expand on the three or four facts, one paragraph per main idea.
The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.
Ideas Matter: Brainstorm and Analyze Before Writing
Step Up to Writing steps sound simple enough. However, even though the process is simple, fuzzy ideas swim in the writer’s head and often come out jumbled. Maybe the writer knows nothing about the prompt. Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt. I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline. If I can use the computer during the test or when writing for publication I search for a quotation and a definition or explanation of my topic. Most important: Make sure to answer the prompt.
Analyze the prompt or break it into pieces. Ask, “What DO I know about the prompt? OR How can I relate it to something I know better and still answer the prompt?”
Ask, “What can I write in a few paragraphs without repeating myself?”
Consider, “Who is my audience?”
Research , Research, Research
Writing to a prompt is difficult for many reasons. An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word and repeat it multiple times throughout the essay. Unprofessional essays often start and end with the words, “Today I am going to write about (prompt words)” This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that writers need to display more sophistication in their writing.
Wikipedia is fine for quick bits of information partly because each entry has a bibliography which the writer can also check. It is good to have more sources than just Wikipedia. I use Google, but there are other ways of getting information quickly off the internet.
Books and articles provide detailed information. Digitized books allow the writer to mark what he or she wants to remember and to sort out unnecessary information.
If time is not an issue, articles and scanned documents can be processed into searchable PDF documents using inexpensive or free downloadable programs.
When writers don’t have these options, note cards work well. I always note the title, author and page number, so I can go back and check my sketchy notes. I don’t take time to write detailed notes.
Highlighting works well on printed material that the writer can keep.
Post-it notes allow the writer to comment on materials and books he or she needs to return. Writers can color code these by book or article, topic, time period or any category they choose.
Weed Out All But the Most Important Information
Essayists can’t use it all. According to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the first step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When I write under pressure on a topic, use these techniques.
Brainstorm on paper. Lists, webs, and tables all work well.
Move to an outline. Find connections between the list of words. Sort them into categories. Writers may do this mentally, but it is more effective if they write it down. I use the old fashioned outline because it puts my thoughts into a hierarchy, most important first.
Match Writing Style and Vocabulary to the Task
Prompt writing is a formal process. Vocabulary, spelling, and style become issues. My blogging style is informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I attempt humor. Formal writing style differs in several ways.
It uses a more academic lexicon or vocabulary.
Sentence structure varies.
The tone is generally, but not always, more serious.
Each sentence starts with different words. For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words. If I have more than two or three of the same beginning word, I will change one of them. I will look at how many of the same words I use within the sentence as well. Word processing programs and the internet have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word constantly. If the internet is not allowed during an essay, use the scratch paper to free-associate synonyms.
Spelling is most difficult for me if the internet is not an option. When I can’t remember how to spell a word, I substitute a word I can spell.
Punctuation errors show up, and even though there are differences about how to punctuate. Study Strunk and White before you take a test, or take it with you.
Keep the Conclusion Uncluttered
Students, test takers, or essayists who utilize these tips will have a passable essay for any project, exam, job application, or work-related report, and become an expert in writing to a prompt.
If you can get away from it, fog is beautiful. This week Debbie Simorte, my Girls on Fire editor, asked me how the weather in Visalia could be sunny and foggy at the same time, like that was a Kansas City impossibility. When I drove to Los Angeles this weekend for a meeting, I had to drive almost to Tejon Pass before I found an example of what sunny fog looked like. Visalia had no sun that day, only fog. The freeway, I5 South, split the fog in half as it curled up for a nap against the mountains north of the Grapevine.
As I drove south, the light haze on east side of the freeway foretold of the clear skies awaiting me in Los Angeles. The beauty of the graduated fading fog enticed me off the freeway long enough to snap these pictures before I continued on my trip. I didn’t move much from one spot as I rotated from east to west to capture the entire scene for you.
My favorite feathering of fog
Tinkerbell should be in this picture somewhere sprinkling magical fairy dust in the mountain canyons. It seemed unreal to me.
The arc of fog needed a rainbow marking its border, but none appeared. It remained stark white. Fog tried to bar the sun from entering the valley. At about two in the afternoon the sun tried to burn a hole in the clouds as it had already done on the east side of the freeway. I couldn’t stay to see if it succeeded.
I stood behind the tree and tried to shoot up at the sun, but the effect didn’t please me.
I left the meeting at 4:29 PM the next day in a rush to get over the Grapevine while it was still light. Dropping into the Central Valley, the fog greeted me. It probably had never left. At at night fog no longer felt benign. I took this picture through my dirty windshield as I ripped through the fog approaching Bakersfield, I must have plowed the clouds away. On a closer inspection microdrops of dust on my windshield remained as a calling card of the fleeing mist. I look straight ahead. I could see clearly now. When I looked to my left, there it was. It hovered just off the freeway at a gas station ready to pounce on me again. Once Bakersfield’s lights no longer protected my car and me from the fog, the sky dropped puffs of translucent cotton air onto the road. My car became a vacuum cleaner sucking in white dust bunnies. The stronger the suction, the thicker the fog became. By the time I turned off the freeway onto a country road, I could see only three lines ahead of me. A car passed me going the other direction. I counted to six as I watched him in my rearview mirror, and poof, he was gone. Fog turned the roads I know so well into a strangers.
For those of you who have never experienced Valley fog, this is a taste of what the natives call “Tule fog.” How do you describe the fog in your area?
I consider blogging social media. Yet we need to use social media for people to notice our social media. Today I experimented with social mediadizing my social media. I don’t know how it will go, but here’s what I did.
1. I edited my WP page about blogging and added a page, “Marketing Your Blog.”
2. I googled hashtags for Twitter because people told me to include # hashtags after the messages so that they go to more people. Google found several blogs that had already done the work of finding hashtags for authors, bloggers, photographers, editors… I cut and pasted some hashtags onto my new WP page and credited the blogs. Easy peasy.
3. Then I told my twitter world all about my new page on WordPress that will help me to market my blog using hashtags. At the end of the link to my tweet, I copied several of the recommended hashtags. Hold on. I’m going to check my page views. Be right back… I’m back. (… means pause)
So far no one has noticed my new page, not one click, hashtag or no hashtag. But my Twitter account buzzed all day. I got 2 new followers, 1 person retweeted a post, two people wrote their own description and referred their followers to my post, and 6 people liked it. That was pretty amazing to me. Thank you Twitter friends. :)
While I’ve Twittered, I ignored my FB fan page, and I’ve lost one poor soul from my likes. Fell off my wall, like Humpty Dumpty and is probably lying in a broken gooey heap at the bottom of the internet somewhere dark and ignored.
Social media is like juggling. I get one media up in the air, and the others crash down on my head. It amazes me how many followers some of my Twitter-happy experts have. Into the K’s.
One tweeter published 200 more tweets than I did over the couple of years we’d both been tweeting, but listen to this – He had about 43K followers and I have 415. So I asked myself, am I tweeting too much? The less you tweet the better you feel, so don’t tweet yourself at every meal?
One self-proclaimed twitter expert said, “Tweet your posts two times a day because people might miss them otherwise.”
But If I do that I’ll end up with twice as many tweets as that 43K guy and have 418 followers, and he will tweet maybe two times and have 86K followers. (Not that I care, really, I think it is an interesting phenomenon.)
This is pretty boring to most of you, but elementary teachers birdwalk.
Yesterday, when I wrote the description of the house that I thought I asked you to describe, I obsessed about the angle of the downward slope of the roof. I drew it on a piece of paper, then I asked Vince to estimate it. Then I measured it with a protractor. He was right, 3 degrees.
Now does anyone honestly care that my fictitious character, Sarah Clay’s house in Girls on Fire has a roof that slopes from east to west by 3 degrees? I doubt it, but I probably spent 10 minutes trying to figure it out.
By the way. it turned out that the way I posted my pictures yesterday some of you Ralph thought I needed a description of this girl with her fingers crossed. He came up with some creative descriptions.
Tell me what you did this weekend. I hope you did something more useful yesterday than I did.
Write posts on Word. Save posts often. Will I never learn? I deleted a picture from my blog post, and the entire post disappeared.
Vince sells real estate. Yesterday I rode to Visalia with him to take pictures of places in my book I couldn’t remember well enough to describe. I am not good at writing riveting descriptions. I get lost on the cracks or shadows in the road, and miss the important details. Or my mind focuses on an imaginary conversation between me and a real person, two imaginary people, or me and someone imaginary, who might be real, but would never talk like we do. This takes so much of my attention that I probably should never drive. Vince asks me if I remember going places. Sometimes I wasn’t with him, so I have a good excuse for not remembering, but just as likely, I sat right next to him having an internal conversation.
Since I struggle with descriptions I rely on others to help me. George Pilling wrote a great book, A Walk Around Visalia. He’s told me what trees grow where, which neighborhoods my characters would choose, and what’s around them. He had a gorgeous picture of the house I pictured for Sarah. Yesterday Vince and I found it in person.
I spent about 20 minutes writing a detailed description of this picture. I ignored the cracks in the road. How would you describe the house picture?
I promise I won’t copy… OK, not without your permission.
The naughty words are from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Anne didn’t write me and tell me to cut my drafts, “shitty” or otherwise. In fact, she gave me permission to write them. My editor Debbie Simorte told me it was a good idea to delete them from my blog, for the same reason spammers give me.
“Your site is rife with errors.”
Excuse me, Ms Spammer, “rife with errors.” I have a few too many, I admit, but I think rife is harsh.
But Debbie agreed, even though she didn’t put it like that. Editors look at your site. If they see a Work in Progress (WIP), see it even has an acronym, they wonder if the rest of the story will be a WIP.
To the 10 faithful Girls on Fire world-wide readers, I apologise, but you’ve already read it anyway. So no apology needed, right? To the 3.05 billion internet users who hadn’t seen it yet, I’m sorry, but you will have to buy the book when it comes out.
Anne Lamott’s Stages of Drafts and Tips to Get Through Them
1. DOWNDRAFT: First draft – get it down
Avoid so much draft three – dental work – by setting your page the way publishers will want it – even if you are just practicing.
use only one space between sentences instead of the old-fashioned two. The best way to do this is to turn on the little button ¶ that hides in various places depending on what program you use. This magic button shows you how many spaces you have everywhere.
Write out small numbers. Just get in the habit while you are putting things down. It makes it easier later and it doesn’t slow down your spontaneity.
Sometimes in the middle of your editing you have to draft an entirely new chapter to fill in the holes. I did that today. Forgive yourself and with that chapter you are back to stage one.
2. UPDRAFT: Second draft – fix it up
Ask someone like you husband who never read a romance in his life to read it. His insight will astound you. You will learn how men think, and more importantly how he thinks. He will be really honest and say things like, “You can’t wrestle a washer full of water. Have her turn off the water like this. Come here.” Or “This sounds petty like she is making fun of the blind. Pick a different cause. Why did she say something stupid like that?”
3. DENTAL DRAFT: Third draft – check each tooth
This is a job for another pair of eyes. A very picky pair. This person finds errors that run between chapters like “Ted is 88 in chapter 2 and 89 in chapter 1.” Or “Why did Vanessa move away from Sarah’s into a hotel. I like her living with Sarah, but then you have to deal with her comments to Tani in Chapter 2.
This is where you also pick up the extra space between sentences, commas on the inside of quotation marks, and misplaced commas in general,
Eliminate passive verbs and redundant words
What I realized is that we weave a net when we birth fiction characters, just like life. When we edit one thing we may miss the other connections that one statement makes. You need those extra eyes.
That’s it for today. Thanks for the pictures, Google.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – funniest book ever. I can hardly get through this. I’m 17% done. I have written something since I was old enough to write. No pressure to publish, just love to write. Can’t help myself really. It just flows out. Anne Lamott can tell you exactly what happens.
“You sit down to write… what you have in mind is…a history of-oh say- say women. …Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. … After a moment I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia, and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer upper, and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia-if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together…”
Maybe you will be better at finishing this book than I am so far. As soon as I start reading, I have to write the same thing that happened to me only in a different way.
So I’m trying to get through at least one more chapter without stopping to write any more of her funniness.
HOWEVER, I’ve been on a writing roll since 12-27, but husband told me yesterday. I thought he meant 12:27, but that’s another argument. (minor, minor one folks)
The other day after rewriting Girls on Fire for at least four hours, I took a break to take the dog outside. The good news is that I had dressed. Many days I don’t change out of pajamas until I know I have to go somewhere, and now I hate to leave the house for any reason. But that day, I did throw on some jeans and a t-shirt I’d been wearing for a day or two.
My hair was still rumpled in a way only women with hot flashes understand. The straight bangs that used to be thin and straight are now fluffy in all directions. The back of my hair sticks out about an inch from my head then falls limply leaving a huge part the size of my hand in the back.
So I walked out on the front porch and waited for the dog, who I’ve ignored all morning, and who drives up but the Bing car. Maybe you’ve never seen the Bing car. It’s white with a black sign on the side that says Bing. On the top is a 5 or 6 foot pole, and on top of the pole is a camera(s). The Bing car drives down your road at about 30 miles an hour shooting pictures from all angles from the camera(s) perched on top of the car. The result will be pictures you can zoom down to see your street at any angle. I’ve always worried that one of these cars will shoot through the fence in the backyard when I’m skinny dipping at midnight so no one will see me. So far, until last week I’ve been safe, but last week the Bing car drove down my street.
I wouldn’t worry as much, but the picture that is up on Google has been there since we had our GMC motor home, which was about 6 years ago. So I’m obsessing that this horrible series of shots of my bad hair day will be up there for everyone to see for the next 6-7 years. What if I become famous? Will newspapers pick this up and publish it?
Now do you see why I’ve only read 17% of this wonderful book? You’d better read it yourself instead of waiting for a book review from me.
This question stemmed from a conversation I had with Leanne Cole, a blogging friend from Australia. We both scheduled posts and compared. Her audience grew and mine did not. I wrote about it in August 2013, and that article drew a large audience. I thought I would repost it, but it rambled. Looking back over the history of my blog gives this post a different perspective.
Over a three-year period my statistics remained consistent when I posted regularly. “How to” commentaries got the most traffic. However, when I experimented briefly with scheduling columns, the number of visitors dropped. In spite of the brevity of the trial, there are lessons to learn from my failure to increase traffic.
Weather – I blamed decreased traffic on the weather. Why not?
In Northern Hemisphere summers people have time off and are active outside and traveling.
In the winter and spring they are busy with holidays.
That just left the fall. I am a teacher. School starts in the fall. Teachers look for new ideas. My advice is to schedule topics in the fall.
Consistency – Consistency means that week in and week out the scheduled column appears. Forget what you read in #1, and don’t blame the weather.
Realistically scheduled pieces extend beyond a season, and seasons differ with international audiences.
Historically newspapers set the journalistic standard when they featured columns each week. Readers came to expect a certain type of writing, humor, or information from a columnist. Click here for a world-wide list of columnists.
Consistent blogging about topics requires knowledge, research, and interest. Readers look for fresh information on a topic of interest.
Topics – Topics must interest others as much as they do the writer to increase traffic.
Topics that work best stay within subgenres of the blog’s emphasis. In order for one writer to cover five topics credibly, they should relate their column to a theme: travel, photography, writing, book reviews.
Column titles need to hook readers yet be reliable and generic. Post titles with a surprise element generate readers. But with continuing material readers want to know what to expect such as “Dear Abby” or “The Rest of the Story.”
Writing quality – Writers have one shot at building a lasting audience per reader.
Quality writing takes time for 99.9% of writers. Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird gave me courage to fail at writing, and rewriting. Writers need to count in failure time, and match the number of columns they write to the amount of available time they allot to the project.
Poor quality writing repels readers, creating long-lasting effects on a blogger’s statistics.
It is harder recapture a reader’s interest with the same weekly column if the first one they read was poor. Posts are more forgiving.
Interaction with other blogs – This a necessary element for unknown bloggers, and most of us are unknown.
Blogging columns today have a different purpose than newspaper columns used to have because of the writer’s ability to interact with readers. It takes time to comment to readers who visit your blog. It takes more time to reciprocate and visit their blog and respond to their piece.
Writers who fail to connect with readers, will get few return visitors unless they are already famous.
Return visitors create the genre of blogging, and without them, why blog?
My 2013 conclusions:
“The moral of this post is that I will get around to changing my schedule eventually, or rearranging it, but I’m going to keep on and try to lose a few more viewers for a little longer. Then I’m going on a real push to get serious about blogging, and bring my followers up to at least 5,000, and my total views per month to at least 20,000.
However, before I do that, I’ve got to get my best-selling book written and published, and have a showing of my photography at a famous California art gallery. I’m also thinking about becoming a body-builder and I’m definitely going to start taking Yoga, so I can teach it until I’m 95 years old.
Gosh, I have so much to do before I retire for good. I’d better get going. First, I’m going out to lunch and shopping with Paula…”
My 2015 Conclusions:
My experiment failed because I did not know enough about five different topics to write off the cuff about them every week. I was unrealistic and narcissistic to think I could do justice to multiple unrelated topics.
My titles were not clear: “Sordid Stories.” The title had alliteration, but it portrayed a foggy idea. Sexy, Criminal, Gossip? My intentions were unclear. I tried to be funny, which did not work over the course of my experiment.
Be happy with the successful goal of going to lunch with Paula, or change your tactics.
Yesterday Christine Royse Niles from my home state of Indiana prompted the writer’s Facebook Group, My 500 Words, members to write lists. I couldn’t think of anything interesting to list until I read several posts in a different writers’ group.
It’s after 3:00 a.m. At this hour I’m not holding myself responsible for any typos or errors in writing, spelling or judgement. If you find a problem, read around it, and THEN tell me about it in a glowing comment. :)
P.S. I worked too hard to wait until morning – real morning to publish this. I can’t wait! :)
What we don’t teach students – and I did not know to teach – surprised me as I’ve studied how to improve my writing to publish my work. As a teaching consultant, I wrote constantly. As a teacher I thought I did a good job teaching students how to extend their thinking into writing. I taught them general principles that worked for both non-fiction and fiction writing. But I missed these EASY steps to make dialogue more interesting.
1. Add body language.
Body language, facial expressions, and unspoken communication constitute an estimated 70% of what people understand. But readers can’t see the characters.
Ask students to describe angry, sad, happy or worried. Include this description before or after the quotation.
Notice how the body language helps make the dialogue more interesting in this scene. Tani invited her friend Vanessa to move in with her after fire burnt down her house.
“You have problems, Vanessa, but at least you have Jesus.”
“True enough, even if I am not great about going to church.” Vanessa looked down and started picking at her split ends.
Tani changed the subject. Why don’t you come stay with me for a while, Ness?” She looked around living room, with lace curtains, and colorful couch. Everything was in its place. Tani pursed her lips together in a tight confident smile and tilted her head as she glanced from one side of the room to another.
Vanessa backed away from her a couple of steps. It’s sweet of you to open your home, but Babe, you would kill me after one or two nights! I’m not easy to live with. I would mess up your routines!”
“My routines are helpful!” Tani put her hands on her hips. “You’re just jealous because I can find things like my glasses and robe!”
“You got me on that one Tani.”
Twisting her hair, Tani broached the subject Vanessa shied away from. “We could go to that new senior singles group at church together if you stayed here for a while. You know I hate to go alone, and you are so friendly.”
In addition to the website, I google images and try describing them to get the right emotional effect.
What do these movements mean?
Websites like this help students (LIKE ME) describe body language for various emotions, and remind me what certain movements mean.
Silence speaks louder than dialogue. In counseling, as in the written word, silence carries the heaviest loads. Tension is palpable, and I would bet if you have not read Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, you will go check it out now.
“Does Eliza mean nothing to you?” Miss Rose rebuked him.
“That’s not the point. Eliza committed an unpardonable offense against society, and she must pay the piper.”
“As I have paid for nearly twenty years?”
A frozen silence fell over the dining room. The family had never spoken openly about Rose’s past, and Jeremy was not even certain that John knew what had happened between his sister and the Viennese tenor…
Add interruptions to dialogue. Barriers and interruptions also add tension to already tense situations. The conversation in the dining room continued. As readers we are still reeling from Miss Rose’s secret revelation when Isabel plays the next dialogue card.
“Paid what, Rose? You were forgiven, and protected. You have no reason to reproach me.”
“Why were you so generous with me but cannot be with Eliza?”
“Because you are my sister and it is my duty to protect you.”
“Eliza is like my own daughter, Jeremy!”
“But she is not. We have no obligation to her; she does not belong to this family.”
“Oh, but she does!” Miss Rose cried.
“Enough!” the captain interrupted, banging on the table with his fists as plates and cups danced.
Interruptions might also be people coming in at the wrong time. No one was more skillful at interrupting than Kramer. Dialogue with Kramer around never got boring.
Have students write dialogue as they normally would leaving plenty of room between each speech. Then have them go back and add one of these three techniques. They might do the same to another writer’s dialogue.
** History Teachers – try this to spice up a history lesson after reading a piece of non-fiction text. Have the students create a dialogue between important players in the event they are studying. Then have them go back and add in these techniques.
After retiring from over twenty years in education, I discovered that I’ve been writing dialogue incorrectly. Not only have I been writing it wrong, I taught it wrong. In my defense, I would not WANT elementary students to know some of these secrets.
To write great dialogue EVERYBODY fights – Yikes! As a teacher, I mediated fights all day. I hate fighting, but as an author, if characters don’t fight or at least disagree, it’s hard to tell them apart. Intensity can vary from teasing to screaming. I tried it.
Tani enjoys arts and crafts, home decorating, and shopping. Vanessa suffers from depression over losing her home to a fire, and starting over again.
“You need pictures.” Tani declared.
“I had pictures.”
They’re gone, Ness. Your place has no personality. Let’s go shopping.”
This wasn’t a huge fight, but it helped to set the scene, and made it a little more interesting than just saying. Vanessa had no pictures on her wall, and needed to go shopping.
From The Fault in our Stars by John Green, sixteen year old Green Hazel has terminal cancer, and her mother is trying to help her through depression.
“I refuse to attend Support Group.
“One of the symptoms of depression is disinterest in activities.”
“Please just let me watch America’s Next Top Model. It’s an activity.”
“Television is a passivity.”
“Ugh, Mom, please.”
“Hazel, you’re a teenager. You’re not a little kid anymore. You need to make friends, get out of the house, and live your life.”
“If you want me to be a teenager, don’t send me to Support Group. Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot.
“You don’t take pot, for starters… You’re going to Support Group.”
Cut out words especially off the beginning of dialogue. Teachers have to pull words out of elementary students to get efforts like. “I have a cat. My cat is gray.” We struggle to teach them to add adjectives, adverbs and connecting words to make their writing more interesting. Then teacher becomes a writer, and the word on the street is, “Less is more.” I tried this with my character, Sarah, who is always in a hurry. Even Vanessa improved with a few cuts to her tendency to wordiness.
“So, I thought it was just a gimmick at first,” she had told Sarah during their daily phone call the next day.
“Well, did you even check up ontheir credentials?” Vanessa had visualized Sarah with one hand on her hip and her eyes rolling.
“Of course, I looked them up online. I think they’re legitimate.” Vanessa played Spider Sol while they talked.
“Never mind, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it tomorrow. I’ve got a call. I’ll talk to you later.”
According to James Scott Bell, shorter sentences speeds up action. What do you think?
Use dialogue to reveal the unknown not the known. Dialogue is not an excuse to be redundant. Eliminate repetitive information. On the other hand, elementary teachers spend all day diverting disaster by repeating known information. I changed from teaching fourth to first grade. I was not ready for all the repetition I needed in my dialogue.
“Put your pencils at the top of your paper so I will know when you’re done.” Without this reminder, pencils might work as a drumstick, baton, or a sword.
“Put your pencils, down.” You think they learned it the first time, but looking around, you see papers with extra drawings, drawings on someone else’s paper, and in worst cases, drawings on the desk.
This is not the case for authors. They must not show something that either the readers or the characters already know. I crossed out “duh” words in my next attempt at dialogue.
Fred, four years Trixie’s junior, could move quickly when necessary, but not fast enough to avoid eight ounces of water that sprayed him from the waist down, when Trixie got mad during her birthday party.
The party’s chatter died suddenly to see how Fred would handle his soaking trousers. He stood up and undid his belt and unbuttoned his top button.
“Trixie, you got Fred’s pants all wet,” Fred’s girlfriend Edith said.
“Guess I’d better take these wet pants off!”
The crowd gasped in unison.
These seem like minor adjustments, but as I read over my manuscript, I found almost every conversation sounded better when I followed these spicy tips: provoke characters into fighting, cut their words short, and don’t use dialogue to repeat information everyone already knows.
Thanks to my new friends, Catherine and Irene who “liked” me on TC History Gal Productions. Hope others will join me as well even though there are no prizes that I know of besides getting better acquainted. :)
RESOLVED in 2015: Update my blog. I spent two days cleaning up my three year-old blog and incorporating what I’ve learned over the years.
Create Pages That Work
Only use a few (3-7) Main Pages, and create sub pages if you have lots of information. Examples might be: About, Start Here, Resources, (I had about 10 pages showing.)
Main Pages are short, but highlight your purpose.
Spend the most time refining your Aboutpage because people will go there first to see if they want to spend any time with you.
Don’t be afraid to borrow ideas from other people’s pages YOU liked, and revise them to make them your ideas. Did someone mention their dog, and you adore yours? Reinvent and include.
Invite viewers to your social media on your About page
Include contact information for readers to fill out, if your purpose is to build readership and/or sell products.
Publish with Social Media
Social media, even if you don’t understand it, builds statistics, and may build long-term readers. Establish social media accounts, such as Facebook Google +, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and invite your email contacts to build each platform. Set WordPress to link automatically to social media.
To build readership and relationships check your social media often and learn how to use it.
Join social media groups so you can send posts and pages to specific groups who would be interested in those topics.
Revise and Repost
After a few months, or years depending on how much you blog, reorganize your blog.
Update information on pages. Refer readers to search specific categories. Include lists of helpful blogs, books, and posts.
Revise your writing based on what you have learned about that skill from blogging. For example eliminate passive verbs and pointless adverbs like quite or really.
Copy the link of your revision and repost them on social media. Assuming that your social media presence has grown, it’s amazing how many people didn’t see it the first time, but now know you, and will visit it now.
Most of the photos above are compliments of my blogging friend, Ralph who entertained my teddy bear Manny for a month in Spain. Manny knows more about blogging than I do!
This post is a response to my annual report from WP. My stats lagged behind last year’s. I took long breaks between posts in 2014 while I served as CCSS president and later as I wrote Images of America: Woodlake. I think WP felt sorry for me and tried to encourage me, by telling me that I had “staying power.” So if you’d like some staying power, here’s my advice.
1. Write about what you know. A few years ago I worked on a state project to align writing and history social science. Editors modified the published version immensely, so I published my original along with a few pictures. I didn’t know what else to write when I started blogging. That article draws more views year after year than any other post. WP told me I have staying power and I should try writing similar articles to ones I’ve written in the past.
2. Analyze your stats. I had never heard of most of the ways people found my blog until I read my annual report. It turned out that a university professor’s site recommended that article. I need to apologize to many students mis-identified as SPAM. Who knew?
4. Write about what you don’t know. Even though WP told me to write more of the same, I have branched out into less popular posts. Writing cements learning. Every day I learn something new, and being a teacher I have to do something with it and not let it sit and rot in my brain. So I write about what I learn.
So what was your best post last year, and where are you and your blog headed this year? Wherever you go, have a great New Year blogging, enjoy the journey, and when you get to my blog, pull up a comfy chair and stay awhile! :)
I borrowed all photos except Kalev’s puppy picture. :)
Happy New Year!!! Are you celebrating yet or all done?
A few days ago a new blogger asked me for information about blogging. I remember life as a neophyte blogger. Blogging experts wrote in a foreign language, as did photographers. My blogging friends still help me learn new techniques.
1. Decide the Purpose of Your Blog – Is itfor you or for you AND readers? Remember you can change it later.
Are you a vanity blogger or commercial blogger? Vanity bloggers DO NOT selling products.
If you want ANY traffic, you want to increase statistics. To build statistics quickly experts teach that specific blogs draw more readers. True! Readers click in and out rarely leaving a comment. If the information is good, blog statistics climb rapidly.
Random blogs get less traffic, but attract like-minded readers who chat and build friendships instead of statistics.
Most blog readers prefer positive blogs to negative ones. Complaining housed in humor works, but most venters need a private blog. Cause-venting attracts readers, but doesn’t necessarily build long-term relationships. If something bad has happened to you, but your overall blog is positive, sharing makes you more human, but folks DO NOT want a constant diet of it unless it is VERY humorous.
If feedback is important to you, short articles (500 words or less) work better than long ones. Edit, edit, edit! Break long posts into chunks and publish them later.
If your blog teaches a skill, share what you learned AND what you thought about your learning, including your mistakes. People will get to know you, learn from you, and keep coming back.
Blogs NEED pictures even if you borrow images from Google. Daytime bloggers enjoy music, but songs and videos load slowly, and impatient blog surfers may give up. Sleepless bloggers with families won’t listen to your music at night unless they have a blog cave, or their families are deaf.
2. Label Posts with Blogging Categories
Organized people may start with categories, and then write posts.
Random bloggers like me start rambling, then determine what categories fit.
WordPress will suggest tags. Tags differ from categories, and help WWW readers find information quickly.
Categories help readers who come to read you find what you write about. They also help you find articles you already wrote about specific topics.
3. Label Pictures with Blogging Categories – rainy or snowy day projects!
Most of my picture titles started with the letters IMG. Poor labels filled my blog with repeated pictures, and used up my storage capacity. Edit using the scale changer. (Later, no hurry on that!)
Click on a picture to edit it and change the title using category names.
Use the text feature as you process your photos to write your name on the image. If you don’t, some malicious person might Photoshop your image and re-purpose it. I did not sign them at first as you can see with my killdeer, but who cares if she ends up protecting a lion in Africa and not her eggs in my driveway?
That’s enough for today because you need to go post your first post of the new year.
It is pretty scary to put your work out for the public to read and criticize. Part of the reason is that, while you want to make changes to make it better, criticisms alert you to the problems, but don’t necessarily tell you how to fix them.
These tips from Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland helped me get out of my rut. (The links are from Amazonsmile, which makes a contribution to your favorite charity if you register for it – Mine is California Council for the Social Studies, of course!)
1. Open with movement. She means this literally. Make the person get up, walk, run, sit – do something. In my first -345th draft I had started with description. I thought it was interesting, but then my husband is a realtor. The rest of the world was not fascinated or captivated, by knob and tube wiring, so this was a huge tip.
2. Open with conflict. Personally I hate conflict, but then I’m a little boring around the edges, AND I am not the protagonist – of course she has some parts of me, but the boring ones had better go by the wayside! So she is huffing off in her Mustang convertible after a little tiff with her dad! OH Yeah, I guess that’s not so different from my life – Dad’s just been gone so long I forgot. Maybe I’m not boring after all!
Create a mini-bio. I set up a table and added to it after reading each chapter in her book. One assignment was to analyze another author’s characters. Here is the table I set up, and my brief analysis of Macon Leary from the first few pages of Accidental Tourist.
Married then divorced
Ethan – deceased
Married to Sarah, then living alone
Writer of tourist books
Degree of skill at occupation
Characters feeling about occupation
hated traveling, loved writing
Lost a child, buried his feelings in habits
Routines for everything, rituals, depressing habits
For my own characters I added lines for:
favorite book or magazine, (I Googled what kinds of books each type of woman might be reading.)
a full description of an outfit they would wear, and
what motivates their actions – what do they want from the story and why – the back story.
This activity allows you to mix up your characters more easily. I made one of Vanessa’s conservative Christian friends bi-racial black/white and not white, whose mother was a dancer and singer in New York before she married. I gave another friend potty mouth – and low-cut casual clothes – totally unlike how I originally pictured either woman.
2. The final exercise prompted the writer (me or you) to insert body language descriptions between the lines of conflict dialogue. The main character may be honest or dishonest in his dialogue, but the body language has to be genuine. First I looked up body language for someone who is irritated on the internet. Then I rewrote the brief conflict between Sheena and Vanessa and inserted some honest irritation body language. It didn’t add many words, but I think it added some believability. It was so easy, I did the same thing for her scuffle with her dad.
So there you have it, my best tips for editing Chapter 1. Next, I’ll share Chapter 2 and then in a following post I’ll share additional tips I’ve learned as I read more. :) For you that are more into photography and non-fiction, thanks for hanging in there while I dabble in fiction. :) Happy holidays! :)