Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Getting Started: Becoming a Blogger

I never imagined myself as a blogger. In my mind, when I decided I wanted to be an author (longer ago than I'd like to admit) I saw myself writing novels and living off of my royalties. There are a lot of people out there that do that. Sadly, I am not one of them. I'm that guy who is living plan B.

Plan B

Don't get me wrong, plan B ain't all that bad. I'm a high school English teacher in a small town, so I get to work with language and immerse myself in the great writers from around the world. I even push the envelope a little now and then by including contemporary authors without approval . . . I know, I'm a rebel.

To be honest, as great as plan B had been for me, it's time I reach back to plan A and make something of it. I need to feel fulfilled in life; I need to feel like I have done something I can be deliriously proud of. Teaching is a noble profession, and as teachers we are constantly shaping minds and changing lives. I'm not even being hyperbolic with that. As much as I love doing it, I want to change my life.

Becoming an Author: Step 1 - Blog

Everything I read about becoming an author talks about setting up mailing lists and getting your name out there. One of the best ways to do that in the current digital age is to begin blogging. Scratch that, one of the best ways to do that in the current digital work is to develop your platform, and a part of that is blogging. 

In my reading, I've been able to determine 3 Starting Blocks to Blogging:
  1. Add Value
  2. Predictable Schedule
  3. Easy Formatting
This is by no means a comprehensive list, I'll be going into more detail as my research continues but here's an overview of someplace to start.

#1 Add Value

I put this as number one because it seems to be the most common piece of advice for anything that is put out there in the world, particularly writing. If you want someone to give you their time, be sure that they're going to get something out of it. Value your reader's time as much as you value your own. No matter the content, make the five or ten minutes that they've generously given you worth it.

For me, I'm going to become published, and I'm going to have people read what I write. I know this is going to happen for me because I'm going to make this happen. I also know I'm going to fail a few times. You can use my failures to avoid the same mistakes yourself. Save your own heartache by experiencing mine.

#2 Predictable Schedule

This one I've already failed at. Oops. My last post, was a lot longer ago that I had intended, but in my defense a lot has happened. Still, keeping a standard schedule is always recommended, although in this world it can be very difficult to accomplish. I recommend that you start slow, try once a month once every other month, but keep it consistent.

I had dreams of doing a weekly blog, that clearly is not my thing. My last post was what, back in April . . . Well, chalk that up to foible #1.

So here is my claim: I will try to get this blog going at least once a month.

I should really decide on a day (first Monday, second Tuesday sort of thing), but I'm going to start with just trying to get one a month done.

What I've read is a good rule of thumb, is to write several blogs at once, save them, schedule the releases (most blog sites let you automate that if you want). Once you have a back-log or three posts worth (which I do not) you're set to let the blog go live. Those three give you a buffer if you have a tough week.

#3 Easy Formatting

Make things easy for your reader. Large blocks of text can be difficult to scan through for your modern reader. Know your readership, Reddit users mark things with TL;DR if they get too long. I know from teaching that while teens are capable of reading long stuff, they shy away from it.

If you're writing for a professional audience, things will be different, but for mass consumption follow the KISS principal . . . Keep It Simple Stupid.

Use headings, images with captions, proper spacing. Most of all, don't just blather on.

In honor of being brief . . .

I'm going to end things here for now. There is more I've found on marketing a new book since I made my declaration back in April, and it seems to point away from blogging and social media for best results. I'll get into that next time. 

Until then . . .

Keep Writing!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Time to get serious about blogging - Developing a Writer's Platform.

Hey there, I know I've been away from this for quite some time. Turns out I'd fallen down the dark and wordless hole of life . . . some good, some bad, some just me screwing around. My lovely wife and I have been developing our family: two beautiful kids, a dog, a house that is *STILL* under construction, and plans upon plans of a world free of debt, worrying about bills, and living paycheck to paycheck.

Her plan to get out of this is to keep plugging along. We're both public school teachers. She has a masters; I have a doctorate (and the student loans to match). I'm not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel using her method. So there's my method . . .

Lottery Tickets . . .

except I have really friggin' bad luck, so that's not really panning out either. Plan B . . . I've always wanted to be an author. Like the type that can make a living from his writing. I'm not going to be the next Steven King or anything, but I'd happily settle for . . . well one of those people you can remember title of the book, but can't place the authors name . . . I know, I have big goals. So I fire up the computer, open a document file and type away. There's a problem though . . .

I have come to a realization lately . . .

I don't know the first thing about becoming an author.

Sure I can write, words on the page aren't that hard after all. I've developed a habit of writing at least twice a week. I'm hoping to carve out another day, but with two small kids, that's not all that easy to do. I'm sitting on a 100k word manuscript (which is crap and will probably never see the light of day) and, as of posting this, 65k works into my second manuscript. So the words come without much of a problem, but everything I've read or listened to lately about publishing and being an author has talked about marketing, not writing.

I'm not a marketing expert . . . 

I never wanted to be one, and I'm willing to guess if you're reading this neither did you. I don't have an answers for you . . . not yet anyway. I will however invite you to come on this journey with me while I figure out how the heck to make this writing thing pay off. 

Every time I read about one of those "5 Strategies" posts or the "Make Money With Writing" posts, they're always from people who have figured this stuff out, and honestly a lot of them are people who have been in or studied business. I studied Literature and Teaching, neither of these talk about how to sell stuff. 

What I haven't found yet is the person who is going through it now, trying to figure it out now (probably because people like me don't even have the questions to ask yet). 

Here's my promise:

I'm going to figure this marketing thing out. This developing a platform thing. This publishing thing. And this writing thing. I'm going to do it because I want to do it, more than I want to do just about anything (except hug my kids). 

When I was eleven, I joined the Boy Scouts and decided I wanted to become an Eagle Scout. I had my Eagle Ceremony back in 1997. When I was in high school, I said I wanted my doctorate before I turned 30. I earned my Doctorate in Educational Leadership with a focus of Curriculum Design and Instruction back in 2011 (same year I got married), only one year shy of my goal. Now I'm saying that I want to be a published author with a readership by the time I'm 45 . . . That gives me seven years to figure this out.

I will do it. If you want to join me on this journey, I'll do what I can to help you do it too. Ask me questions, challenge me, and tell me your challenges. Put my research skills to use while I, a novice who doesn't even know what I don't know yet, explore and win at this whole getting published thing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Developing Effective Interview Questions

Photo credit: asgw / Foter / CC BY
While I was still in college (eons ago), I worked for the college paper first as a reporter, then a section editor, advertising manager, and finally as the editor in chief. During that time I interviewed everyone from the police chief (because he wouldn't let his officers talk to me) to the Dean of the college. I learned a ton about developing interview questions while I was there, but as I approached the next evolution in this blog, I found myself stymied.

I want to begin a series of author interviews, but, given that I went to school (as I said) eons ago and haven't interviewed anyone for anything other than a job for quite some time, I was at a bit of a loss as to where to begin.

Being a part of the 2015 #platchal, Robert Brewer's blog pushing us in the direction of interviews was a huge help (check it out), but I felt that I wanted a little more.

I hit the web for a little down and dirty researching and here is the basics of what I found.

1: Simple

My high school English teacher used to always tell us that when we wrote stories we needed to kiss (not kiss as in smoochy-smoochy, but KISS as in the acronym Keep It Simple Stupid). In honor of her, I'll keep this list simple too . . . just three things to keep in mind.

We're not talking ask stupidly simple questions like "What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

(Well, I guess if you're a fitness blog that could be a solid question . . . but I'm not, so for me that'd be pointless)

When I say simple, I mean you need to make sure that you're interview questions are specific, meaningful, and few. Yup, don't ask a ton of pointless questions unless you want to be annoying, then I guess ask all the pointless questions you want . . . just don't ask me to be interviewed.

Most places I've read say to keep the interviews between 5 and 10 questions long. Remember that the people you're interviewing have lives and work too. They can't spend all day dealing with your questions despite the fact that you know all 55 questions are interview gold . . . like the Best! Questions! Ever! Keep in mind you might be just a little bias.

Five fine tuned, pointed questions are so much better than a slue of slop spooned out of the google fueled internet interview question generating machine.

Which leads me to my next point . . . 

2: Interactive

Not like full contact interviewing on the gridiron or chasing them down the street like some demented track star interviewer as they flee from you and your crazy notepad. People don't like that . . . How do I know? . . . eh, er . . . let's not go there right now . . . where was I?

Oh yah, interacting with people is important. *News Flash* Right?

Too often you see interview questions that are stock questions sitting in the little bag of interview tricks (especially in this day and age of internet interviewing). Email the interview questions, the other person types out their answers, then you just put that slop up there.

I have nothing against interviewing online. Email and the web have allowed us to connect and contact so many more people. That's awesome, really truly awesome. Just because the interview can't happen face to face doesn't mean it has to sound that way. Make your interview questions conversational. Provide a little of the reason, as if you were sitting down in a bar or coffee shop somewhere talking face to face. This can help you interviewee feel more at ease with the process and lead to longer, more involved answers.

You're setting a tone for the interview. Make it a comfortable one. Also, that opens up for a follow-up question or two down the line if needed.

3: Purposeful

Have a direct purpose in mind when asking for an interview. Even better, have questions already developed (or at least drafted) before asking for the interview. 

What I mean by have a direct purpose is simply know why you're interviewing who you're interviewing. If you're interviewing an author for a writing blog (as is my goal), then you want to focus on . . . *spoiler alert* writing! 

Shocking I know, but it's not always that simple. You could interview someone on their writing, writing in general, advice to writers, a specific book or series, a specific aspect of their writing . . . the list goes on. 

What you don't want to do is ask all of it (that simplicity thing again) or ask about something wicked controversial . . . like say their stance on the upcoming presidential election. You may be curious, but it has nothing to do with your blog (unless you blog about politics or some weird blog about random people's political leanings)


developing effective interview questions
Photo credit: m_shipp22 / Foter / CC BY
Looks like I accidentally I made the list into an acronym, SIP (Simple, Interactive, Purposeful). How many bad puns can I make out of that . . . let's see . . .

SIP with your interviews.
Take a SIP from the knowledge of experts.
Dip into the pool of experience and SIP.
Drink coffee, SIP your interviews.

Okay, okay . . . that's enough. I'm done. 

(Minor confession: I rearranged the list after I wrote the post to get it get the acronym, so it was kinda by accident)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Live your story!

I'm not recommending that mystery writers go out a start committing crimes or horror writers begin to worship satan.

The phrase was something that come to mind yesterday as I read yesterday's October Platform Challenge being put on by Robert Brewer from Writer's Digest. Couple that with the fact that my Daycare provider was down with pneumonia, and I was going to be staying home with my daughter. 

She hadn't slept well the night before (so neither did I), and we were both a bit grouchy for it. The thought of staying home, knowing that she would be taking 100% of my attention all day was a bit frustrating after having a total of 2 hours sleep the pervious night. (It may make me sound like a crappy human, but those who've been in my shoes know that frustrations happen with toddlers.)

And so the birth of . . .

Daddy-Daughter Adventure Day

Instead of groaning over having to stay home, I decided that we would have an adventure. Now granted she's a toddler, so adventure would be a bit of a strong word for me, but to her it was a grand adventure. 

We hiked through the wilderness (Mt. Tom State Reservation), bringing along trusty and stalwart Sir Archibald Von Foxington III Esq. (my daughter's stuffed fox) for protection. We scaled boulders (rocks) and climbed a tower that overlooked the whole world (all of Western Ma). She loved every second of it. There were times when she was scared; there were times when she fell and bruised her cheek (bad daddy); there were times when Foxy was lost on the trail, and we had to go back to rescue him. Everything was new for her . . . and through her, for me. I saw the world in a new light.


Thus I (created? used? . . . I'm new to tweeting) #liveyourstory as a reminder that writing isn't about rehashing old plots you read about. Writing is about seeing the world through the eyes of your characters (who by all rights are alive for the first time ever, experiencing everything fresh). 

I remind my students every day that writers didn't exist in dusty libraries, they led full complicated lives. From those complications came their plots and poems. It's in the dirty places of life that we find our best stories.

"It's in the dirty places of life that we find our best stories. That's tweetable . . .

And so, #liveyourstory, to me is a declaration reminding myself that when you approach the simple with the mentality of an epic adventure, you can see the plots that surround you every day. If you live your life with purpose, you will never lack a story to tell. Want to tweet this one?


Go. Get out and experience life. Tweet it. Write about it. #liveyourstory

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Worst story lines ever!

Rachelle Gardner is having a writing competition to develop the worst loglines for the worst story you can come up with. I decided to try my hand at it. 

So, here goes the worst detritus my mind can come up with at this point. (I included titles here, just for kicks.)
Photo credit: Kurayba / Foter / CC BY-SA

Ermine Apocalypse

Trapped in the frozen Siberian wasteland, a team of five intrepid ermine scatologists discover nano-technology in an ermine den setting off a chain reaction turning whoever touches it into a blood-thirsty human ermine hybrid; now the remaining two scatologists must put aside their failed romance to save the remaining ermine population and the world.

Dixie Cup Blues

A charlatan palm reader who moonlights as a stock-boy at a discount grocery store discovers he has the power to stack Dixie Cups with his mind and must come to terms with how the use of his newfound power has destroyed his relationship with the morning grocery clerk, the only true relationship he ever had.

What do you think? Best sellers, right?

Throw some of your own here in the comments (but posting here isn't the same as entering the contest, so after you post them here, be sure to go to the actual contest and post there too) . . . they're kinda fun to come up with!


Struggling to come up with your next great writing idea? Check out Story Crafter.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Story time . . .

Photo credit: Doug Beckers / Foter / CC BY-SA
Now that the cooler weather sets in, and Halloween creeps steadily around the corner, I start thinking about having fires and telling stories.

Because I'm both a writer and an English teacher, the art of storytelling has always been very important to me. So important in fact that I create a quick game to make storytelling around the campfire (or on long car rides) all the more fun.

Story Crafter

Everyone has a story to tell . . . it's only a matter of whose story is the best.  Story Crafter is a unique storytelling game that you can use by yourself to break through the scourge that is writer's block or in a group to see who is the best storyteller. 

In this competitive storytelling game, you can challenge your friends’ creative powers in head-to-head competitions or challenge yourself to get your own creative juices flowing!
Bring Story Crafter with you camping for amazing campfire tales, or take it in the car to make those long trips fly by.

This can be a great activity for a creative writing group or class or a really fun dinner party activity. 

Genre Cards

There is a total of 12 different Genre cards. Each gives a different challenge by forcing the player to think outside their common genre. This helps to expand the writer's bag of tools by helping them practice a variety of genres which may allow for some improved cross-genre writing.

Junk Drawer Cards

The 30 different junk drawer cards are split up by point value. These are random elements to incorporate into your story during the telling process. This is how you earn points in the game. The more elements you 
incorporate, and the more difficult the element, the more points you earn. 

Story Starter Cards

The final group of cards is a set of Story Starter cards. These cards give you sentences to begin your story with.  Story starters are very useful for those who may be just discovering the art of storytelling or those who are simply stuck on what to do next.

Get your copy now!

Check out Story Crafter from Broken Table Games and tell your story.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's all about the challenges

As you know, I'm currently involved in the October Platform Challenge over at Writer's Digest.

We're into day seven, and though I have yet to complete the daily assignment, I'll make a comment or two about it now, and complete it before I turn in for the day.

Day 6: Twitter

We were asked to create a twitter handle that was as close to our byline as possible. That being said, the same issues surfaced as did my issues with the domain. (I have a very common name.)

Luckily, I was able to at least get something close (if a bit presumptuous) . . . @eajohnsonwriter

It was the best I could do. That being said, I'm not very good at tweeting. I feel the need to come up with something sagacious. Oh well, hopefully I'll get a bit better as I go along.

Day 7: Tweet

So today, we're asked to respond to 3 tweets . . . embarrassingly enough, I hadn't thought about that. 

I figured the goal of getting your name out there was getting your own words out there, when there is really so much more to it than that.  

I'm a bit taken aback with myself that my ego (which is know to be overgrown a bit anyway) would look at twitter as a way just to get my ideas out there without paying homage to the ideas that helped me get to where I am. 

Touché, Robert Brewer, thanks for the good advice.

Next Month's Challenge

I officially went in for next month's NaNoWriMo (and even got a colleague to think about giving it a shot too). More on that to come, but until then, I'll build up that platform . . . maybe a railing would be a good idea . . . I wonder what OSHA would say?