Saturday, December 19, 2015

Building Your Online Home

In today’s high-tech world, a writer’s presence online is the key that can potentially unlock publishing opportunities. And although it’s not an end in itself, it’s not only a start but the keystone in creating your online persona.

Your Web site will be a resource for your readers and the media that’s available at any time. Through it you’ll be able to showcase your work and the writing services you have to offer. Sounds great, huh? Unfortunately, too great.

As you use the Internet each day, you come upon and use a variety of Web sites, all with slick layout and striking images. So naturally when you imagine a Web site for yourself, you visualize one like those you see every day. What you don’t realize is that many of the sites on the Web have been designed by professional Web designers. Normally, sites like these can cost a $1,500 or much more to create, depending on the site’s complexity.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a site that reflects your style and shows off your writing to your advantage. Since you probably don’t have a lot of money to spend on your site, you have two options—using one of the free Web site services or building your site yourself.

Before you can think about building a Web site, you’ll need to purchase a domain name, the Web address of your site. What you choose for your domain name is important, as it will guide visitors to your site. As a writer whose name is associated with your product, it’s important that it contain your name. Also, you should purchase a .com address since that’s the most common and the one that most visitors will search for. However, if the .com version of your URL is already taken, you might consider adding the word “writer” after your name. As with Email addresses, any little change, even a number, will enable you to purchase the .com URL. Avoid buying the .net and .org extensions of your URL. Sellers tell you that if you don’t, someone could use your name and take away potential visitors from your site. Since your URL features your name, that’s unlikely, unless if very common.

Your domain name should cost no more than $20 a year. It’s registered with ICANN, the international organization that controls Web addresses. Once you purchase it, no one else can use it. You will have to renew it every year or for multiple years, but if you purchase it along with hosting services, you’ll usually get it for a substantial discount.

After purchasing a domain name, you’ll need to find a host for your site. is one of the largest and most dependable Web hosts. Don’t let the name fool you. The company offers all sorts of Web products and provides excellent service, as well as guaranteed uptime. An economy Windows-based site with 10 GB of space (more than you’ll ever need) costs about $7 a month. And the company periodically offers generous discounts.

If you’re not yet published, then you should consider one of the free hosting plans available on the Web. These free sites use shared URLs, so you won’t be able to use your own domain name. Instead, your name will become part of the host’s domain name. However, a free site will give you the opportunity to try out your Web content.  Unfortunately, all free Web services aren’t created equal. All use templates to create pages, but not all make it easy to transition to a paid site when you’re ready.

One of the most popular free services is Blogger, run by Google. Another is WordPress. Both were developed to service bloggers. Every single screen on the Internet is a Web page. An entire site is also referred to as a Web page. It’s a bit confusing. So if you start out doing a blog, you could potentially turn it into a site. GoDaddy includes WordPress as a product within its hosting package, so all you’d have to do is transfer the hosting to GoDaddy from the WordPress site. Blogger, on the other hand, cannot be transferred. Also, with free site services, you won’t be able to access Web site traffic statistics in order to see what’s working or not on your site.

However, don’t think because you have a free hosted site that no one will find you. If you promote your URL enough—even a shared one—they will. In the case of Web sites, patience is definitely a virtue.

The other option is to create your site from scratch without templates. While there are Web design programs available, all demand at least a basic level of computer expertise to fully customize your site—to decide fonts, colors, and layout. Customizing your site is critical for your long-term career planning. That leaves you in a catch-22 situation.

A compromise would be to sign up for GoDaddy’s “Web Site Tonight” package. You’ll pay a hosting fee, but you’ll also get templates to use to build your site. The service is limiting, however, and cannot be transferred to a regular hosting package. You’d have to begin all over again without the templates. But you may be able to create a business-like site if you use the templates and such wisely. Don’t kid yourself. It will never look like the slick sites you use every day.

Next Week: Designing Your Web Site


Friday, December 11, 2015

Writing in the Fast Lane

Speeding up your writing doesn’t mean you should write faster but instead quicken the pace. Your readers will thank you for it.

Your writing most likely has a slower pace—the speed at which a reader reads it—than it probably should. This is the result of what you learned in school. Traditionally, most academics believe that the longer you make your sentences, the more intelligent you seem. That’s why the majority of textbooks are such slow reads.

Ernest Hemingway learned this same writing style when he was in school, but when he began to write professionally, he realized that it slowed down his writing. Throughout his career Hemingway experimented with style and, like any professional writer, constantly learned new techniques. This style persisted in most of his writing and changed the way many writers work today.

At the core of Hemingway’s style were short sentences. And while he’s known for simplified, direct prose, most writers don’t know that he worked hard for these effects and that he had a reason for using them—clarity. When he wrote for newspapers, clarity was his objective. Even today, newspapers continue to use a clear, direct style. USA Today took this style to a new level by producing tight, clear text that could be read in a much shorter time, most often with a person’s morning coffee.

Hemingway wrote sentences that were straightforward and clear so that his readers could understand the points he made even if they were skimming quickly through his articles. You, too, can achieve a similar clarity by writing shorter, more direct sentences. This is especially helpful to keep in mind when rewriting your work. Don’t hesitate to break up long complex thoughts into bite-size morsels for added readability. But clarity wasn’t the only reason for Hemingway’s brevity.

Another reason too use shorter sentences is for dramatic effect.  In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” when the lead character is nearing death because of a gangrenous leg, Hemingway writes: “All right. Now he would not care for death. One thing he had always dreaded was the pain.” Here the short sentences have a cumulative effect, pounding home the idea that the hero is nearing death. Try to achieve a similar effect in your writing by stringing together a series of short sentences when you want to stress a point or add dramatic punch to your prose.

Still another use for short sentences is to add variety and music to your writing. Hemingway often mixed longer and shorter sentences for a more rhythmic effect. In The Old Man and the Sea, he told his readers the thoughts of the old fisherman: “Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. How many people will he feed? he thought.” The first sentence contains two conflicting thoughts: the old man’s sorrow for the fish and, in contrast with this, his continued determination to kill it. The next sentence suggests the old man’s motivation for fishing, namely to get food. The change in sentence length lends a musical quality to the writing and adds pleasing variety.

So how else did Hemingway speed up his sentences? First, he chose shorter words  and second, he often omitted commas.

Although Hemingway used commas in his writing, he often achieved his greatest technical innovations by omitting them in compound sentences. A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses. The clauses are usually joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction, such as and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet. By far the most common coordinating conjunction is and.

An example from The Sun Also Rises. The narrator is hoping to see the bulls run at Pamplona, Spain. Joining a crowd of spectators he rushes ahead with them to the bullring. At this point Hemingway speeds up the pace: “I heard the rocket and I knew I could not get into the ring in time to see the bulls come in, so I shoved through the crowd to the fence.” The absence of a comma before the word and increases the tempo, conveying some of the feeling of being in the crowd.

But omitting commas can sometimes make sentences confusing, so you don’t want to overuse this technique. But when you come to a section of your story where the action needs to move at a quicker pace, you may wish to try Hemingway’s trick of speeding up your sentences. Follow these tips and you’ll be writing in the fast lane.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Learn Something New

All writers tend to get stale over time. Most are rule-followers. They’re the ones who turned in their homework on time in school, played clarinet in the marching band, didn’t have premarital sex. As adults, most writers play it safe. They drive defensively, wear sunscreen, eat right, and consult experts before making big decisions. For the most part, they don’t take risks.

The primary goal of any writer is to produce work that resounds with authenticity. We must create detailed non-fiction that holds our readers and exciting fiction that leaves them spellbound. And taking the safe path won’t always cut it. Comfort zones hold writers back both in life and in their work.

Ernest Hemingway definitely took chances. He was cut down by a hail of bullets in World War I, recovered and skied the Alps, hunted lions on foot in Africa, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, and fought fish as big as him in the Caribbean.

British writer Rebecca West took to the streets of London to advocate for women’s suffrage, probed the guts of Yugoslavia to write her nonfiction masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, covered the Nuremberg Trials for The New Yorker, and risked arrest while exploring the slums and prisons of Johannesburg to report on apartheid.

Both used their experiences to prime their creativity. They actively sought to learn new things, not only to keep their writing fresh but to make them better and more interesting persons. To keep from getting stale, you need to learn something new.

Though a glancing acquaintance with something is often all you need to extrapolate accurately when writing fiction, most fiction writers today do extensive research to make their locations and their characters come alive. It goes without saying that non-fiction writers, to get what they need for their articles and books, need to do detailed research. Sometimes, they even have to learn all about a subject before they can write intelligently about it.

There are lots of ways to learn—and not all of them involve school. The idea that taking a class is the only way to learn comes from years of schooling. But the whole world is a classroom, and today, writers can go anywhere by searching the Internet.

But let’s start with the obvious. You may want to take a class to improve your writing skills. Professional dancers continuously take classes to improve their skills. Most writers don’t. If you write non-fiction, what about taking a class in short-story writing to learn how to write in scenes and add new dynamics to your work. If you write fiction, why not take an article writing class. You may find being limited to the facts a challenge.

And how about taking a class to learn how to use your new digital camera effectively in your work. Digital isn’t at all like 35mm, no matter how much camera manufacturers and many professional photographers would like it to be so. The new technology opens up a whole world of visual possibilities.

You can also learn a foreign language or learn to search your family’s history in a genealogy course. And while you can learn the basics of any subject in a class, it’s not a means of intense study. Only you can provide that.

Travel is a great way to learn about other cultures. By observing other cultures first hand, you’ll develop a better understanding of how everyone fits together on this planet. But it may also offer the opportunity to develop a new specialty or a chance to expand on a subject you currently write about. You don’t have to go to the extremes that Hemingway did, but you should learn to see other cultures in depth. Avoid traveling with a tour. Instead, go alone or with a friend or spouse. Focus on one culture—don’t hop from country to country, culture to culture. Experience unusual things while there. Go off the beaten path.

If you can’t afford to travel much, take advantage of Google Earth Street View. With it, you can plunk yourself down just about anywhere to get the feel of a place. Perhaps you want to create a walking tour of an historic district, but it’s been a while since you’ve been there. Google Earth has probably been there much sooner. Viewing your route with it will jog your dusty memories and give new life to your writing.

Lastly, learn from experience. You experience new things every day. Some of them are so small that you don’t pay much attention to them. But everyone has some major experiences. Learn from them by viewing and analyzing them as a writer. Learn first, then put what you’ve learned into words.