Monkey See, Monkey Do

monkey

Image credit: realtimeshortstories.wordpress.com

Now don’t get excited. We aren’t suggesting writers are monkeys. Or that writing is as simple as a game of Simon Says (which, actually, can be quite challenging for the easily-distracted participant). But, at times when you want to elevate your craft, it helps to see what your colleague next to you is doing well. And perhaps emulate those behaviors. Or just suck a bit of wisdom from that experience for yourself.

With that in mind, we turn to Writer’s Digest column “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.” We like this feature because it’s not the “7 Ultimate Tips for Success,” which is sure to be a disappointing and incomplete list. Rather, it’s real wisdom from writers who are in the trenches. Here are a few excerpts from recent columns that we thought were particularly relevant to our DMS community:

A.B. Westrick, author of Brotherhood:

Voice is all about having the confidence to claim the page. I used to think “voice” meant opening a novel with a character who was super strong or engaging, sarcastic or kick-ass, funny or idiosyncratic—whatever the trait, it was in your face. I thought this awesome “voice” would hook readers and keep them turning pages. But whenever I tried to write such a “voice,” it sounded forced. I’ve since come to realize that’s not at all what “voice” means. Rather than pertaining to a character, “voice” pertains to the writer and the writing. It has to do with a writer’s confidence to claim the page—a confidence that comes from knowing the characters inside and out, believing in their story, and daring to tell it as honestly as possible. The writer must believe that s/he was meant to tell this story, or that this story called to him/her, or that it’s the story only s/he can tell. The qualities of confidence and honesty in the writing will grab readers and hold them fast, infusing the manuscript with “voice.”

Writing is more passion than talent. My dad used to say things like, “So-and-so got stuck behind the door when God was giving out the [insert talent here]” … brains… or athleticism… or whatever. I grew up thinking that writing was a God-given talent, and my failure to produce perfect pieces off the top of my head was proof that the Big Guy hadn’t bestowed this particular ability on me. But I couldn’t stop writing. I had a passion for it, if not the talent, and eventually I came to realize Dad’s little quip had its limits. Writing can be learned. There are techniques. It’s an art, a craft, a discipline, a practice. There’s a lot to be said for the wisdom of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the idea that we need to put in the hours. Sure, talent is nice, but if you’ve got talent, you risk falling into the trap of believing that writing comes easily. It’s not easy. It requires butt glue. Perseverance. Focus. Talent will tease you, and passion will propel you toward success.

Read A.B. Westrick’s full column here.

Kim Fu, author of For Today I Am A Boy:

If you meet a writer and you like their work and you like them as a person, never let them go. Maintain that friendship at all costs. Across time and geography. Support them in everything they do. Celebrate their every victory (even if it coincides with your loss) and mourn their every loss (even if you were the winner). Offer them feedback, send them relevant submission calls and job postings, buy them drinks, let them sleep on your couch. A network of good writers who are also good people — reliable collaborators, strong editors, fun and sympathetic friends — will advance your career and enrich your life more than anything else.”

Read Kim Fu’s full column here.

Want to see what other talented writers have shared? Visit the “7 Things I’ve Learned” columns here.

Things My Studio Bio Won’t Tell You

Credit: oceanworld.tamu.edu

Credit: oceanworld.tamu.edu

Name: Ben Team

Location: Atlanta, GA

Years in the Studio: About one year.

Sections I write for: Pets

I’m usually working hard, but when I’m hardly working, you can find me…

Relaxing with my beautiful wife, or learning something new about the natural world. The wife and I are huge Atlanta Falcons fans, so 16 times a year you can find us on the couch, drinking beer, eating fried food and screaming at the television.

If I had to describe my work in three words, they would be….

Much too wordy.

If I ruled the world for a day I would…

Establish vast areas of protected habitat. In addition to coral reefs, rainforests and other high-profile habitats, I would protect the lesser-known habitats in danger, such as the Sahel in Africa, the Sandhill habitats of the US Coastal Plain and the Everglades.

The greatest risk I ever took was…

Leaving my job as the executive director of a nature preserve and taking the freelance plunge. Particularly, because I am not like so many others writers, who are in love with language, and eager to write about virtually anything. I am a blabbermouth who loves nature, and is trying to get a handle on punctuation.

I am saving up for…

A piggy bank. I also have my eye on an exquisitely fancy coffee can though, so we shall see…

Apps for Freelancers

While we love the apps that help us waste time (Ahem, Candy Crush), we thought it best to turn our attention to some that would make the freelance juggling act easier.

Image credit: tvvj.wordpress.com

Image credit: tvvj.wordpress.com

Luckily, Mediabistro.com asked nearly 100 freelancers what apps and software they used, and made this handy infographic to share their findings. They came up with the 25 most popular apps and programs freelancers used to connect with others, manage their time and, hopefully, create better products as a result.

The survey also touches on some emerging programs that you may not have heard of yet, but have the potential to make a big impact on your time and money. So check out the article, and start putting some of these handy tools in rotation.

It’s Grammy Week… and We’re Still Writers

This Sunday, January 26 music fans and celeb-mongers alike will have their eyes (and ears) on the 56th Grammy Awards presentation. In honor of this celebrated award show we decided to pay homage to those rare and lucky devils who are blessed with BOTH musical and literary skills.

Barbara Kingsolver

Credit: theguardian.com

Credit: theguardian.com

Known for writing The Poisonwood Bible and more recently, Flight Behavior, Kingsolver was also an accomplished pianist. She studied classical piano, went to DePauw Univeristy on a piano scholarship and played for the Rock Bottom Remainders until 1994. I guess we can assume she decided that tapping a different set of keys was more to her liking!

Alice Cooper

Credit: ultimateclassicrock.com

Credit: ultimateclassicrock.com

The phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” has never seemed more apropos. Perhaps the most shocking thing about shock rocker Alice Cooper, who infamously (and terrifyingly) brought boa constrictors, electric chairs and guillotines on stage, is that when his black eyeliner comes off, a golf polo comes on! In his book, Golf Monster: A Rock ‘n’ Roller’s 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict, Cooper rather eloquently details his love of golf and how it helped him get sober (Get it? 12 steps…?) in his younger years.

Leonard Cohen

Credit: Leonard Cohen

Credit: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is a character who truly can be described as an artist — novelist, poet, songwriter, musician — the guy does it all. His first fiction novel, The Favourite Game, was published in 1964 and the musician, who’s popularity continues to span generations, continues to receive accolades for his work, including 1993’s, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs.

Josh Ritter

Credit: villagevoice.com

Credit: villagevoice.com

Indie singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is a pretty mellow guy whose lyrics make you think and his 2011 novel, Bright’s Passage produces similar results. Stephen King noted in his New York Times review that “At its best, Bright’s Passage shines with a compressed lyricism that recalls Ray Bradbury in his prime…,” — not bad, eh?

Louise Wener

Credit: weheartmusic.typepad.com

Credit: weheartmusic.typepad.com

In 1988 U.K. Brit-pop band, Sleeper broke up, giving front-woman, Louise Wener some extra time to explore other interests. Don’t feel bad, the band already achieved serious success — eight top 40 hits and even make an appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack. With that under her belt, Wener focused on writing, publishing four novels: Goodnight Steve McQueen, The Big Blind (aka The Perfect Play) The Half Life of Stars and Worldwide Adventures In Love and an autobiography, Different for Girls: My True-life Adventures in Pop (aka Just For One Day: Adventures in Britpop).

We want to know!: Have you mastered a musical instrument as well as the English language? If so, what?

Stick to Your Resolution with STRONGER

If you’re anything like us, you probably made a resolution this year to get in better shape and you’re already watching your gym shoes gather dust in the closet. Well, our friends over at LIVESTRONG.COM have something that might help.

Those of you who contribute to LIVESTRONG.COM already know that this is the go-to destination for people who want to build their own healthy living success stories. Well, that process just got a lot easier thanks to STRONGER.

Stronger2STRONGER is a series of ten 30-minute workouts hosted by top celebrity trainer Nicky Holender. His routines will help you get amazing results in only 30 minutes by focusing on short, high-intensity exercises that force your body to increase your metabolism and get the results you want faster.

Even better, you don’t need weights, you don’t need hours of free time, and you don’t need to leave your home to do it. Perfect if you’re a Studio Editor squeezing in a workout during your lunch hour (really, there’s a group of us here in the office who meet up every day).

The 2014 STRONGER Challenge just got started a week ago and already the workouts have already been viewed over 100,000 times. So if you’re looking to get in better shape this year, head over to LIVESTRONG.COM today and check out STRONGER.

10 Things My Studio Bio Won’t Tell You

Linda's grandchildren, ages four and six, at her house for Christmas.

Linda’s grandchildren, ages four and six, at her house for Christmas.

Name: Linda Ray

Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Years in the Studio: 5

Sections I write for: AZ Central, Chron, Nest, The Woman Nest, Global Post, Opposing Views, Zacks and eHow Business.

1. I’m usually working hard, but when I’m hardly working, you can find me…

Visiting my grand-kids in Charleston, playing the drums at the local drum circle, meeting with friends, watching TV with my husband or playing Scrabble against the computer

Credit: bluedreamer27.blogspot.com

Credit: bluedreamer27.blogspot.com

2. If I had to describe my work in three words, they would be….

Write about anything.

3. My favorite websites to waste time on are…

TV Guide and Facebook.

4. The difference between writers and editors is…

Writers create, editors tweak those creations.

5. If I ruled the world for a day I would…

Give everyone a million dollars.

6. I couldn’t make it through the day without…

Coffee and my higher power.

7. The greatest risk I ever took was…

Marrying a man I barely knew.

Credit: Readwrite.com

Credit: Readwrite.com

8. You’ll catch me saying this phrase far too often …

I wish I had more time.

9. What is your theme song for life?

Everybody is a Star

10. My favorite movie of all time is…

The Way We Were

What’s In An Introduction? … Everything.

intro_blog

Four seconds.

That’s how long social media marketers claim you have to get someone’s attention online. Actual statistics about web reading vary by study, but their overarching message is loud and clear: First impressions matter more than ever.

Like a job interview or first date, an Introduction is your first and best chance to make a lasting impression. Online readers are often intrigued, but they’re always non-committal. It’s your job to convince them that it’s in their best interest to stick around.

This is not an easy task. To craft a successful Introduction, a writer must strike a delicate balance between flash and substance (a catchy opener will always fall flat without a later statement of purpose). Finding that balance is a challenge for any writer, because it’s a skill more than a talent, a way of training your brain that must be practiced like musical scales.

We put our Demand Media Studios heads together and pooled observations from thousands of edited articles and dozens of years in journalism – to create the essential cheat sheet for creating a successful Introduction.

Here are a few teaser tips, but don’t miss this invaluable cheat sheet in the Writer Resource Center in the Training Camp section here!

Grab the reader’s attention immediately with a killer opening sentence. Go for the jugular with the very first sentence. In journalism this is called a lede, and it’s crucial that you hook your reader with it. Don’t waste time on the vague or obvious. Write targeted opening sentences that provide the reader with context, so he immediately understands the article’s focus.

“Having the right rain jacket can make the difference between an average trip and an enjoyable trip.” (The Best Rain Jackets)

Why:

It’s not the sexiest opening line ever written, but I immediately understood the stakes. I wanted to keep reading to make sure I had the “right” jacket.

Not So Hot:

“Paris is the capital city of France, known for its museums, cathedrals and rich culture.”

Why:

Introducing the topic is great. Introducing the topic with a string of generic observations is not. Use the Substitution Test: If you can swap in another noun for the subject, your Introduction is too vague. (This statement could apply to any major city in Europe, for instance. Or to Mexico City, for that matter.)

Know Your Audience with Demand Insights

As a DMS writer, you know where your article gets published online. But once it’s out there, how do you know if people are reading it? Well that’s where Demand Insights comes in.

Demand Insights is a brand new tool available to DMS writers. It’s a visual dashboard that will tell you everything you should know about your audience, from how many views you’re getting to which articles are the most popular.

DemandInsightsSounds great, right? But now you’re probably wondering what you should do with this information. Here are a few tips from us:

  • Share your popular articles. Use your Audience stats to help build up your readership. Share your most popular articles on social media sites like Google+, Facebook and Twitter to keep the conversation going.
  • Target your audience. Is one site making up most of your views? Maybe your next couple of assignments should be for that site if you’re more popular there. You can do the same type of focusing by seeing which of your sections are most popular.
  • Track your performance. See how you’re doing compared to the Studio average or where you were at last month. You can see if your articles are gaining in popularity or if you’re losing readers and adjust accordingly.

Access your own Demand Insights by visiting the link on your Work Desk or by clicking here.

We prepared an info sheet with additional information you should know about the Insights tools. You can also send individual questions and feedback to us directly at DMS.Social@DemandStudios.com.

10 Things My Studio Bio Won’t Tell You

Eric's cat  BW. Eric says of BW, "Us old cats like to hang out together."

Eric’s cat BW. Eric says of BW, “Us old cats like to hang out together.”

Name: Eric Bank

Location: Maryville TN

Years in the Studio: 3?

Sections I write for: Business, Science

1. I’m usually working hard, but when I’m hardly working, you can find me…

In the kitchen, cooking up something tasty.

2. If I had to describe my work in three words, they would be…

Precise, accessible interesting.

3. My favorite websites to waste time on are…

The Huffington Post and Scientific American.

Credit: bestclipartblog.com

Credit: bestclipartblog.com

4. The one thing I wish I could do well, but can’t is…

Play the piano.

5. The difference between writers and editors is…

A matter of preference — both require sharp skills.

6. If I ruled the world for a day I would…

Introduce universal health care.

7. The greatest risk I ever took was…

Switching from biology to computers. I was about 2/3 done with an MS in biology when I discovered I didn’t like spending time in the lab. I switched to the business school, and things worked out pretty well.

8. I am saving up for…

European travel. We’ve been putting it off for some time.

9. What is your theme song for life?

Comfortably Numb — Pink Floyd

10. My favorite movie of all time is…

Blazing Saddles

 

Find Your Niche and Stay There

Credit: Grasp.com

Credit: Grasp.com

For years now people, especially writers, have been fretting about the future of journalism. The arrival of the internet has undoubtedly changed the game and savvy journalists have adapted. One major way according to several news outlets, including  is through perusing one niche area instead of writing about everything under the sun. Our own DMS studio drives this observation home — our writers write what they know and write it well. While many contributors do write for more than one section, by and large each section, from technology to pets has a core group of expert journalists that hone in on one niche and master it.

Paul Garabowicz, Senior Lecturer, Associate Dean and Director of the New Media Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, explains in his article “The Transition to Digital Journalism,” that, “The Internet has exponentially increased the economic viability of publications that serve smaller audiences interested in particular subjects.” Following suit, the Sacramento Business Journal delves into the possibility that daily newspapers providing a general scope of things far and wide is obsolete. To stay competitive and compelling — covering specific topics incredibly well might be the only answer to journalistic relevancy in the digital age.

The non-profit digital magazine, Grasp, recently delved into the future of journalism and came up with similar solutions. Niche publications and niche journalistic know-how is re-defining how both print and digital media outlets function.

So, stay the course DMS studio writers! Turns out, you’re ahead of the curve.