Do You Need a Web Content Review?

Web Content Review

If you run a business, the chances are you have an online presence, including that all-important website. Creating great content that engages visitors and leads to sales or service enquiries can be a complicated process, especially since many SMEs have to take a DIY approach in order to reduce their running costs.

Undertaking a regular web content review can ensure you have all the components in the right place that make it easier for prospects to reach a decision.

Common mistakes businesses make

  • Not looking at content from the visitor’s point of view.
  • Including poorly written or ill-conceived content.
  • Over-complicating content just to fill space.
  • Not proofreading properly and having content that contains spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Overuse of keywords and keyword combinations that makes content difficult to read and damages search engine ranking.
  • Including unfocused content that adds no real benefit to the site or the user.
  • Adding on sections and content without thinking how this impacts on the rest of the site and its usability.
  • Making it difficult for users to buy your service or product by including too many hurdles.
  • Not updating with new content or checking that existing content is still relevant.

Benefits of a web content review

  • Get an independent review of your site content that looks at the whole picture.
  • Identify and weed out bad or irrelevant content.
  • Make your website more user friendly for visitors.
  • Explore new ideas for content that could improve user experience and generate more leads.
  • End up with a sharper, more effective website that does what you need it to do.

Getting some quick and coherent independent advice about how your content looks to the average visitor can help your business develop an online presence that packs more of punch. When you’ve worked so hard on a site, it’s often difficult to see the wood for the trees – you know the content so well that you stop seeing the opportunities for improvement. That’s why you need an honest web content review.

To finish off, here’s a short, punchy video on how to write good content.

How to Write Freelance Articles Quickly

freelance articles
//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Producing constant good copy can be difficult, especially when it comes to blog and article writing for the internet. The freelancers who succeed are the ones who can do it quickly, efficiently, and, most importantly, engagingly.

Here’s the Feckless guide to fast copy that doesn’t cut corners on the quality.

Don’t be so precious

You’re not writing the next War and Peace. Nor are you going to be hailed as the next Stephen King. Sometimes you don’t even get a polite thank for your efforts. Pouring over every word and examining every sentence with loving care may seem like the right thing to do but can cost you hours every week in lost time that could be spent producing more work.

Know when to stop and send your copy to the client.

Care about your subject

No one forced you to be a freelance writer. Take some interest in the subjects you write about even if its accountancy practices in Woolloomooloo. If you don’t care, people will notice. Whether it’s the latest Hadron Collider developments or how you choose a kitchen worktop, show some spirit. It counts for a lot in the big bad world of blog and article writing.

You will come across subjects that are as dull as dishwater (my personal favourite is the tax advantage of moving your business to Malta) but try to care.

Start with a little research

Research helps to set the ground for your article. As you become more proficient you will be able to spot the important title areas that can help structure your piece. You don’t have to delve that deeply into the subject area but you do need to light a path to follow. Mostly this comes from experience and an eye for the pertinent facts and you need to make sure you glean your information from a reputable site.

Break down your post with headings

You don’t have to use these in the actual post, but setting headings is a great way to speed up your articles. I generally use one for every 100 words or so to act as markers for the post I’m writing. It’s easier to write short chunks of text quickly rather than try to fill a whole 500-600 word article with one block of text.

Write quickly and with passion

Even when writing a review for a kitchen appliance, put some energy into it. Try not to stop, even when you reach a block, simply push on through to the end of the article. It should take you no more than 30 minutes to write a 500 word article if you have a good following wind and a clear head.

Have your spell checker on

They may not be perfect but having a good spell checker actually helps when you are trying to get blog posts out quickly. One word of advice: Don’t take them as gospel, especially when it comes to sentence structure. When you are writing quickly, editing can be a pain in the butt because you are often too close to the text – so take any help you can get to iron out those typos and spelling mistakes.

Review straight away

I say this because most of your ideas will be fresh in your head and for a subject you don’t know well this is important. It’s not a proof read for grammar and spelling, you can do that a bit later, it’s about ensuring the text makes enough sense to satisfy your customer’s needs.

Final proof

Depending on how long your deadline is then leave the text as long as possible to give you mind as much time to forget about it. That may well be only a couple of hours if your client is hungry for copy but the longer you leave, the fresher your approach will be. If you are short on time then try reading the text backwards to pick out spelling mistakes.

Client amends

Finally, your client may well come back with comments and criticism. It’s part of the job and shouldn’t be taken personally.

I had a client for a renewable energy company recently who wanted a technical article about solar cells written. A few weeks after it was written someone posted a reply over mistakes in the article (it happened to be a competitor of the gentleman in question) so I needed to rewrite. It happens. One of the first clients I wrote for came back to say that my style was a bit too glib for her business blog and asked me to rewrite. I did so and I’m still writing articles for her a year and a half later.

Client amends are part of the business – you aren’t going to get it right 100% of the time.

Of all the tips included in this little blog, probably the most important is not to be so precious. It’s something that writers are naturally prone to and generally leads to procrastination. Being less pedantic doesn’t mean you don’t care, far from it. If you want to succeed and get enough business to earn a living then you need to be able to write your freelance articles quickly. It goes with the territory.

Feel free to leave your owns tips on how to write freelance articles quickly in the comments section below. In the meantime, here are a couple of alternative takes on writing that all important blog post:

How to Write an Awesome Blog Post in Five Steps

How to Write a Blog Post in Just 30 Minutes

Handling Customer Complaints on Social Media

Customer complaints

I made a complaint recently against the AA (the breakdown service not the self-help group for alcoholics). Now, they’re not bad people but they had taken a considerable sum of money out of my bank account and sent me into overdraft meltdown – I was waiting for money to go in but it wasn’t going to cover the whole amount that had been siphoned off so ruthlessly.

As you appreciate, being a freelancer that filthy Dinero stuff tends to come in drips and drops rather than a big monthly flood.

Anyway, I called them up and complained and they cancelled the deal but said that the money would take 4 to 5 days to get back into my account. I wasn’t happy about that but there was nothing practical to be done so I waited. Five days later I found the money still hadn’t been refunded and so I took to my normal default position and posted about it on social media.

It’s a nasty habit, but sometimes it pays off.

This is really the point I want to make, about companies that handle customer complaints on social media, or not as the case often tends to be. I tweeted something snarky about the AA and, as with many organisations nowadays, their Twitter help desk responded fairly quickly asking me for the details via DM so they could look into it for me.

Now, I’ve had this before, but I live in perpetual hope. Don’t we all? We hope that our rant into the Twitter-verse will get some positive result like the refund of money, an apology, the end of the world as we know it. Mostly in the past I’ve DM’d and got feck all out of the company in question. It seems their social media response is about damage limitation and appearing to do the ‘right’ thing in the eyes of any followers that may accidentally pick up on any errant tweets.

I wasn’t expecting much.

Fair do to the AA, though, an hour later I got a call from their head office, a very nice person, apologising for delay – my refund had been processed and it should go through in the next few days. I grumbled ruefully some more as my master plan for indignation at being ignored had gone awry and complained about bank charges and that I was a lowly freelancer etc etc.

Then the complaints bod quite skilfully and without any prompting managed to confuse me by offering £50 towards those bank costs which threw me because, when I do get through to someone, I normally end up dealing with a drone who doesn’t want to take any responsibility at all. The upshot is that the money was refunded shortly after and a couple of days later I received a cheque for the bank charges.

To complete my side of the bargain, I tweeted to my several thousand followers again that the AA actually do a pretty excellent job with business complaints – it’s only fair, after all.

A Quick Guide to Customer Complaints Success

My point is that this is how complaints on social media should be handled. Not only is it advertising for your business, it’s also an opportunity for you to show that you have good customer care credentials and can sort out problems quickly and efficiently. The AA did it in an exemplary fashion and rightly should be commended. Other companies are, unfortunately, lagging behind.

Some of the mistakes businesses, both big and small, make are:

  • Sending out automated responses to complaints or detrimental tweets.
  • Failing to follow up on complaints.
  • Failing to resolve said complaint to the customer’s advantage.

Now I know that the last one may well get a few alarm bells ringing in businesses across the land. I had a valid complaint and there was no particular reason why it couldn’t be sorted out to my advantage. I got my money back and a nominal amount to cover the bank charges incurred. The AA kept a customer happy and I wasn’t left out of pocket.

But what if the customer doesn’t have a valid complaint and still slags your business off on social media?

Here’s the problem: I have a sizable Twitter account with around 25,000 followers most of whom are real (give or take a few harmless bots). That means, as a customer, I have a certain amount of leverage. If I was unscrupulous, I could essentially use that account to lose companies I didn’t like business. People respect what I say (to a certain extent) and often retweet what I post. Those 25,000 followers can help me reach hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions in one go. That goes way beyond the old word of mouth of yesteryear where complaints had a much more limited reach.

There’s no doubt that it’s a problem for businesses of all sizes but having a coherent policy for social media and handling customer complaints can go a long way to making sure that the best is made of the situation. On the opposite end of the scale, a complaint successfully handled can also provide good, and largely free, advertising for a company.

If you want to know more about handling customer complaints on social media then take a look at this article from Concept 5.

How to Write Better in 2015

Write
//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Writing, as we all know dear friends, can, on occasion, produce an explosive, passionate outpouring of meaningful words that takes the reader’s breath away. Other times it produces the kind of drivel that fills books like 50 Shades of Gravy and earns you a pay cheque of several millions and the derision of your indie writing peers who all wished they had written it first.

In truth, it’s rare that any of us write a perfect piece of prose first time. At best that work will need a little tweak here and there, at worst a complete rejig or whatever the digital equivalent of screwing up a piece of paper and sending it across the room in a fit of pique is. If you’ve ever written something whilst half-cut on red wine then you’ll know what disappointments generally await come the morning when you do a read through in the sober light of day.

The trouble with writing is that most of us have a day job. That means about 8 hours a day for five days a week is taken away from our valuable writing time. If you have a family there may be meals to cook, driving to be done for Tommy’s new tennis obsession, floors to be cleaned, parties to attend, bondage and kinky sex scenarios to work out before the weekend, all of which steal time away from your dream career as the next JK Rowling.

Finding time to sit down and write is pretty hard under these circumstances and even those brief stolen moments working on your next manuscript can be fraught with interruptions that scupper your efforts to work productively.

You may in contrast have too much time to write. In fact, you might have so much time that you often waste it. I’ll do it a bit later. I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll get on with it next week! The opportunities for procrastination are everywhere and, if you’re not careful, another year will have gone by without you producing anything much of substance.

So if you want to make 2015 your best year for writing, then here are the Feckless top tips to help you do just that.

Write.

Oh, did I mention? Write.

Oh? Are you watching EastEnders? Write.

Found a lump on your testicle that could just be a bit of old chewing gum but may be something more sinister? Write.

The time honored guide to writing – to write, you have to write – is about as useful as a gaggle of professors riding to apocalyptic oblivion on a poop filled kite. Apparently you have to write about a zillion words before you become ‘competent’ which is a highly apocryphal mantra that some poor wastrel, who never got published, wrote and everyone thought was pretty neat.

And copied. And copied.

Until it became truth.

In the last year I’ve written around 750,000 words, which equates to roughly three books and I still haven’t got a novel to speak of. In my defence, this has been done freelancing for blog sites as eclectic as how to keep your photocopier clear of jams, where to buy the best solar panels and how to cure your anal itching without putting a fecking gun to your head.

I’ve done my time, where’s my GODDAMN book…

Takes deep breath, scratches ball (yes, singular), and carries on drinking wine…

The truth is…YES THE TRUTH IS…that to write something that is successful you have to have something to write. You need a story. And you have to be writing it for a reason.

Your guide to writing success this year?

STOP WRITING IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY.

And let’s face it, most of us don’t…

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Twitter Timing for Beginners

twitterOkay, I have some news: Not everyone keeps the hours you do. Shock and awe baby, it’s the truth. The problem is this old world of ours is spinning through the cosmos and that means, for the sake of our collective sanity, we elect to use time zones.

That means if I get up at 8am in the UK, in China they’ve already been up 7 hours and in New York they’re still catching those zeds because it’s 3 in the morning. Time is a tricky thing when you’re messing around with the blessed Twitter.

One of the best times to get hold of people is when they are on their daily commute, particularly now many of us have smartphones and have forgotten the art of conversation. So if I tweet now, I’ll catch all those yawning, bleary eyed commuters in the UK who can’t be bothered to talk to the person sitting next to them.

But in the US they’re mostly still asleep so my message isn’t going to get through. It will probably be missed by those snoozing Yanks. The best time to get them will be in three or four hours’ time when they’ve had their decaf and cream cheese bagel.

And, yes, I do know Twitter is banned in China. But what if I want to catch the commute in other Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, or Hong Kong (and yes I know it’s a principality rather than an actual country)?

  • Generally, when timing your tweets you need to consider two things:
  • The location of your target audience.

When they are statistically more likely to be viewing their Twitter stream.
For example, take a look at Kissmetrics infographic on tweeting in the US of A.

It’s not all about catching people on their daily commute. In the UK, Twitter usage rises between 7pm and 8pm during the week but is at its highest often over the weekend. Wait! That’s not strictly true. If you are tweeting B2B then it’s different – the optimum time is during working hours, you know, when people are actually at work.

Timing can get complicated, especially if you have fans or customers all over the world. For an interesting overview of several media including Facebook, Twitter, and email, take a look at the BufferSocial breakdown of the best times to engage.

While it can be a pain in the rear end, getting to grips with timing your social media contact can help improve your visibility, increase the likelihood that your message will be shared, and generally, boost your popularity.

Indie Author: 5 Myths You Should Ignore

indie authorSince the rise of t’Internet, indie authors have been doing their stuff, scratching away with their quills and pots of jet black ink, getting it out there, and largely pretending they are writers. The same goes for photographers, painters, indie film makers, and fashion designers.
In fact, anyone with a hint of talent can now access the web and make a success of themselves. It’s as easy as logging on and writing a few lines.

Add in a fine Merlot and you’ve got the perfect recipe for being a literary superstar.

1. Indie author = Sad git who can’t get published

Back in the day (you know, way back when writers wrote under the flickering light of a candle or two) it was common practice to self-publish. It was only in later years that publishing houses came along and decided they would be the ones to choose who was worthy or not. Just because you don’t have some ponce in an office validating your work, doesn’t mean you’re less of an author.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re any good either.

2. Indie author = no chance of success

Okay, so you’re probably not going to sell millions of copies and become a world renowned scribe. But then most writers never get that chance and who wants to be famous anyway? There are, however, a growing number of writers who are making a reasonable at their chosen profession. They may not be earning the big bucks but they’re pulling in a sustainable salary, either to complement the day job or, for a lucky few, as their main income.

The trick? Good Story x Effective Social Media Marketing = Success.

Who are doing it well? I refer my friends to Amy Cross and monster aficionado Jake Bible.

3. Indie author = no one wants to read

Not true. There’s a growing audience out there for indie authors and it’s not just amongst the writing fraternity. E-readers are at their most popular and people can download what they want from a range of sites. Pique their interest and they’ll give you a go, whether you are famous or not, conventionally published or not.

4. Indie author = you have to sell yourself cheap

No you don’t. This is the big bug bear of many reasonably successful indie authors. If you want to give your book away, fine. But it’s so much better to charge a reasonable price for your work. Giving it away says: “Hey, this stinks, but go ahead and read it anyway.”
Value your work, charge the right price and be happy.

5. Indie author = It’s all down to luck

No, it’s down to hard work, research, and a host of fruitless endeavours that add up to something. If you’re not putting in the effort, stop trying to be an indie author and take up basket weaving instead. If you’re no good at basket weaving try pie eating contests. And if you don’t like that, maybe you should consider multiple murder or painting yourself the colour of sky.

Indie isn’t about luck. It’s about finding out how the whole thing works and applying that to your style and content. If you put in the hours, someday you’ll get something out. I’m not saying you’ll be the next JK Rowling, but you may just start to make a living.

Bad SEO Can Damage Your Site

Bad SEO links kill trafficBad SEO can make you jump up the rankings one minute but then drop like a stone the next. The Feckless Goblin explores why so many small businesses opt for the cheaper option and get into trouble.

There are people who believe search engine optimisation (SEO) is dead. There are those that don’t. There are those who think SEO is all about keywords and are too idle or too in love with the concept to let it go and there are those who have long known that it is a little more complex than that.

There are those who wouldn’t know a Google algorithm if it stood up and kicked them in the toosh. Oh, yes, they mention it to their clients every four or five seconds, but they don’t have a clue what it is or what it does. Yes, I’m talking to you Bad SEO man (or woman) with your penguin stuffed up your shirt and list of keywords written on your arm.

Here’s the first tip for your business: BEWARE, SEO IS EASY TO BLAG.

To Blag: v. meaning to get by clever talk or lying.

For businesses trying to do the right thing and maximise their brand presence online, it is tempting to put your trust in the first SEO expert who comes along. Unfortunately, there have always been some worrying trends in the world of SEO and the people who are catching the brunt of it are SMEs who don’t quite know what they are looking at.

The Simple View of SEO

There are particular keywords that relate to your business. If you put those keywords in your web content, Google will wet its pants and throw you, with a scream of “LOOKY-SEE”, to the top of the search engine rankings.

This is largely a bunch of old tosh. If an SEO expert is telling your business that all you need is to stuff in enough keywords and your ranking will explode, then take out a gun and shoot him or her.

Want to know why? SEO is more nuanced than that. If you want to take an alternative view, SEO as we know it, or has been popularly presented, has been dying out for a while now. Take a look at this article by Parker Schultz in Marketing Weekly and you’ll begin to see what I mean.

Okay, here’s my first serious gripe of the day. I was asked to write some blogs for a site recently. The owner said he had got someone to sort out the SEO, they’d produced a report and it suggested having regular blogs.

Fine. That’s a good start, isn’t it? Blogs are good nowadays. Doesn’t everyone say so? They’re top of the marketing to do list.

Then I read the report.

It was brevity personified and not too revealing (contained a few typos as well) and included a very short list of keywords that I could have produced in a few seconds without any research. The suggestion was that the proposed blog articles should utilise these keywords. The sweeping naivety of the report got me wondering.

I read the website content that was already there. It seemed to me that whoever had written this rubbish was intent on getting that narrow set of keywords in every sentence, sometimes twice, more often than not at the expense of coherent prose. It looked like it had been written by a four year old who had been asked to practice using certain words by their teacher.

Now get this: The person who had issued the SEO report said that he expected there to be a ‘significant’ improvement in ranking within the next week or so. Not only did this make my heart sink but it also made me worry about what else this person had been up to in his capacity as an SEO expert.

The kind of SEO this person was up to has given it a bad name and hastened rumours of the demise of the industry. There is a reason why this kind of bad SEO has been consigned by more diligent marketers to the garbage bin of online faux pas. Not only does it not work, when people do visit your site they will be presented by the most appalling written content.

The result: Are you going to buy something from a site that is poorly written? Are you going to trust them with your credit or debit card details? Do I really need to answer that?

Why Businesses Opt For Bad SEO

So, why do people offer a service like this? And more importantly, why do businesses buy into it?

There are those who provide an SEO service but have never bothered to update their skills. They live in the past where keyword stuffing was a valid, if slightly unseemly, practice. There are others who know it is wrong and still do it because it is easy and people are still willing to buy.

I’ll quickly diverge here and just mention link building in an attempt not be too one dimensional. There’s no doubt that quality links to your site are a good idea. The important word here is ‘quality’. Linking is a whole industry in itself and has led to some real bad SEO spamming practices.

Take this advice. If someone offers you ‘quality’ backlinks on the cheap, run. Run as fast as you can. Check the video out at the end of this piece for more information on why and how you should be building links, especially if you are a start-up business.

Anyway, back to the point. Businesses buy into bad SEO primarily because it is cheap and, on the surface, sounds like a good idea. It’s easy to sound knowledgeable about SEO and many businesses get fooled.

But it’s also laziness on their part. You can find out the basics of SEO and then make a valued decision about what you are getting for your money. There are plenty of good articles and videos out there that are easy to understand and will give you an informed platform to start off from.

The worrying thing is that there are so many of these people still about, giving internet marketing a bad name. In the end, it comes down to a number of individuals who don’t care about the service they offer. Outsourcing to freelancers is taking off big time; it’s useful, especially for SMEs on limited budgets.

And it’s often something businesses spend too little time thinking about.

I’m not one of those who says SEO is dead. Keywords have their place but they are only a small part of a more complicated process that involves combining good content, sound site structure, and linking it all that into social media.

And it takes time and hard work to put together.

Too often cheap and bad SEO is being used to attract visitors without regard to the integrity of the content. In other words, the SEO is overbalancing the content. It should be there to complement your site, another facet of your online persona. It is not the be all and end all of online marketing.

Do something for me small business person: Before you settle on someone to do your SEO, take a look at this short video from SEO MOZ. It explains clearly the aspects of SEO that you should be looking at and nurturing and those bad SEO practices that you should be avoiding.

It may end up saving you and your burgeoning business a lot of heartache.

My Business Blog is Dull

my business blog is dull

The answer is probably yes. Maybe. Almost certainly. If you’re asking ‘Is My Business Blog Dull?’ then you already know the answer. You wouldn’t be asking the question, if you didn’t think it wasn’t. Right?

See what I’m doing here? I’m asking you a question.

Even more, I’m asking you to think.

I’m not just listing 10 reasons why X or Y is true. I’m involving you. I’m…I’m commm-uun-icating.

10 reasons why your last 10 blogs have been pointless.

  1. They’re dull.
  2. They don’t engage.
  3. They’re written without enthusiasm (They’re dull).
  4. You don’t see it as important.
  5. You don’t realise it’s important.
  6. You don’t have the time.
  7. What? You don’t have the time for your clients?
  8. You run a niche business, there’s not much to talk about.
  9. You really, really don’t have the time?
  10. I just plug a link of my product on Twitter. 5 times a day, on auto.
  11. I’m having a nervous breakdown, leave me alone, why dontcha!

Okay, so that’s eleven. Let’s make a point. It’s not write, write, write. It’s engage, engage, engage.

You need to write something meaningful. Think you can do that? No? No.

See, the problem is this: You have to keep your business face on and you have to make sure that people know that you are serious and that you are…well…just like every other provider in your business.

You’re nothing new.

We hate being different, don’t we? We hate being contentious. We hate stepping over THAT line. We hate being the one to peek over the parapet and say: Hey, you know what? I might…I just might do something different.

How many words do you think there are in the blogosphere? At this particular moment in time? I’m wowed by that question, more than I’m wowed by the fact that my Word autocorrect just corrected the word blogosphere (meaning there is actually a word and I hadn’t just made it up).

Know what that means?

Someone had the audacity to make it up. Someone thought, we don’t have a word for this, so I’ll create one. Here it is guys. Blogosphere. The sphere in which a blog exists.

Back to my point.

How many words? To read? How many do you think? If there are 10 x 500 word blogs written every minute….sheeze, Louise…where’s that calculator? That’s a lot, right? A zillion gadzillion million billion. How much of that stuff do you think is good? And by that I mean how much of that stuff is ever being read? Most of it, I bet, is sitting in dusty corners of the internet, unloved and unappreciated.

Be honest, how many people are visiting your business site and reading the blog? Chances are, for most businesses, the number is a big fat zero.

Here’s the point: A well-sourced, engaging, regularly updated business blog can enhance you as a respected source of valuable information and drive traffic to your site. Combine that with a strong social media presence and you have one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools on the planet today.

My business blog is dull. Damn right it is.

What are you going to do about it?

 

10 Ways to Boost Your Writing Skill

writing skill

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

We all want to be better writers, right? We all want that wow! factor when words and ideas come together in perfect synergy to make something meaningful and, dare I say it, beautiful. Your writing skill lies at the heart of all this.

You may have the greatest idea in the history of storytelling but if you don’t have the skill set to match, you’re scuppered. If you’re serious about being a good writer then you should always be trying to better your skills. It’s part of the dark process, the pain that we endure every day to make ourselves heard.

I’m going to run past the “writers write” tip. It’s been used so many times over the past gazillion years you should know it by heart. To get better, you have to write…yah-de-yah-yah…

Think for a moment that your writing self is a thing, hidden, wrapped in stone. Your process of discovering who you are is a process of chipping away that stone veneer and revealing what lies beneath. Sometimes large chunks of rock will fly off and reveal more than you ever expected, or hoped for; most times it’s tiny chips and flakes.

It’s a long process. This writing business. It hurts and it doesn’t come ready made.
These writing tips are not in any particular order and some may be useful and some not.

Tip 1: Read outside your comfort zone

I struggle with poetry in a lot of ways. Sometimes I don’t see the point of it and other times I really don’t understand what is being said. Which is the point of this tip. Poetry is way outside my comfort zone so my thinking is that it’s good for developing my writing skill.

Perhaps I just don’t like poetry. I have the same problem with Shakespeare. I really want to get to know him but I find him tedious.

And then I discovered a truth. Poetry needs to be listened to, not read. For me anyway. Benjamin Zephaniah is doing a programme on BBC at the moment about the legacy of Dylan Thomas in the Welsh poet’s home town of Swansea. Poetry makes more sense to me and elicits more emotion when it is read to me. I had the same issue with the The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner until I heard it read by Richard Burton.

Shakespeare only makes sense to me when I see it acted. On the page it appears dull and complicated, but when it’s up on a stage being spoken by talented actors I suddenly understand.

Reading outside your comfort zone promotes a greater understanding of language and its usage. It doesn’t only encompass literature that is ‘foreign’ or difficult to comprehend and dissect. It includes other genres that you might not have an interest in. Stepping into brave new worlds helps change perspective on your own writing and gives you new ways to develop your writing skill.

If you read, write and breath horror, then pick up a romance or some chicklit (seriously!). If you like thrillers then try something in science fiction. Step into Chekov or Joyce rather than pick up that latest instalment of Game of Thrones. Similarly, if you read classics, opt for something more modern and less of a brain tease.

Diversify your reading and you will further develop your own writing skill.

Tip 2: Walk and increase creativity

Exercise is good for the brain. Writers are often sedentary creatures, hunched over their desks, scribbling away to the detriment of health and good posture. A simple walk can help you be more creative. The Daily Mail recently reported that people are twice as creative if they are taking a walk in a park. Actually, according to the study they were quoting, it’s the exercise that promotes the creative thinking process rather than the location, but you get my drift.

I come up with most of my best ideas when I’m out walking. The trick is to take a notebook with you and jot the stuff down when you have a humdinger. My problem has always been that the idea that seemed so good up there on the mountain was suddenly diffused by the time I gott back to the car.

So notebook, pen, write it down when it occurs.

Doing some intense aerobic exercise just before you sit down to write also helps the creative process. All those endorphins and stuff, they say. Or maybe it’s just the extra oxygen being pumped to your brain. Try it. See what happens.

Tip 3: Write something different

You know how it is, trawling through your latest tome, struggling to keep the plot going, debating whether to have a glass of wine or two or three. It’s difficult. So why not start a fresh page and write something completely different? It often helps to get the cogs rolling again.

But this writing something different tip isn’t just about changing tack to get your juices rolling. Writing out of your comfort zone, like reading out of your comfort zone, can add another dimension to your writing skill. Never written a love scene before? Then do one now. How about a science fiction story if you have only ever written Westerns? Drop into a different genre or, more importantly, adopt a different style. If you like to cram your work full of description opt for something spare where every word counts.

Even better, write a news story or a blog post or something that’s not fiction at all. Changing the way you approach your writing can help you develop new skills and see new ways of doing something.

Tip 4: Write just dialogue

Honing the skill of writing dialogue is one of the most neglected areas amongst many indie writers. It may look simple but actually it’s one of the harder aspects of the dark arts.

“Why?”

“Because people simply don’t practice it enough.”

“Why?”

“Because they think it’s easy.”

There are plenty of how to guides for writing good dialogue but the only true way to develop your writing skill in this area is to practice, practice, practice. Cut out the extraneous descriptive content and just concentrate on dialogue. The more often you do it, the more competent you will become.

“Why is good dialogue difficult to write?”

“Because what is not said is often more important than what is said.”

“That sounds difficult.”

“Yup.”

“Is that it?”

Practice may not make perfect, but practice in this case certainly will make you better. If you want to see how dialogue really works then download some scripts from great films and read them carefully. Then watch the film. Then practice. Then take up juggling.

Tip 5: Build your vocabulary

I’m not talking about using big words in your novels and bamboozling your readers with over complex descriptions. Your writing skill depends on you being able to use the right word for the right moment. Most of us have pet words that we use over and over again.

Building your vocabulary is about finding alternatives that will give your writing a greater richness.

If you’re like me and new words have difficulty in staying between the ears (it’s an age thing, I think) then keep a notebook and write them down. Refer to your list when you settle down for bed at night and try to imprint those pesky words onto your memory.

Widening your vocabulary is perhaps one of the most important tips for developing your writing skill and there is no excuse except laziness for not doing it.

Tip 6: Develop your critical skills and learn to edit

As a writer you need to be able to stand outside your latest blockbuster and evaluate it critically. It’s a difficult skill to learn and some people are good at it, others not so much. The thing is, if you are an avid reader, which you should be, you are probably doing it already and have been for some time when you read other people’s work.

It’s a lot more difficult, however, when we come to look at our own stuff. I’ve written before on how to read like a writer and it’s one of the most important things that you will have to learn to do if you want to be a proficient scribe.

Buy some books on editing and do some remedial work on long forgotten prose that you have written. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the services of a professional editor once you are ready to publish but it does mean that you shouldn’t negate all responsibility.

The power of your book is in the rewrite and editing once you have completed that first draft. There are apocryphal stories of people who have written a perfect first draft and gone running straight into a publishing contract – that is not you. I’m fairly certain of that. Unless you’ve sold yourself to the Devil.

Tip 7: Embrace different mediums

Photography, painting, drawing, music, sculpture, they are all different mediums that can help you make sense of writing. Using the brain creatively is not just about sitting at your keyboard each day. Taking a step away and trying something else that uses your creative mind a little differently can add a new dimension to your writing skill.

Take up another creative hobby and become good at it. Work those creative muscles till they scream with joy.

Tip 8: Become a different person

Visualising yourself as a completely different person is more difficult than it sounds. We always bring who we are to the person we are trying to create (if that makes sense). It’s something that takes practice but can lead to great insight for character development if you can, indeed, step into someone else’s shoes. Mostly it comes down to changing the way you think.

Have a go at this: Pick someone real you are not getting on with, maybe a work colleague or boss who has not been too nice to you recently. See the world from their point of view. See yourself through their eyes and be as critical as you like. Like most things in this list, it’s something that takes practice.

But doing this often and as honestly as possible will help your writing skill when you come to flesh out your fictional characters. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

Tip 9: Warm up with a short, sharp burst of writing

Often the problem us writers have is getting ourselves in that chair and starting to write. We experience despair, fear, anger. We procrastinate. We stare into space. We can often do anything but write.

The trick is to begin. If you are having trouble getting down to the business of writing, open a blank page and speed write without thinking for 10 minutes. Think of it as a warm up exercise to loosen the cob webs and get you back on track.

Tip 10: Move forward, not back

If you’re like me, going back to stuff that has already been written is a comforting thing to do. It can also be a waste of time. I’m not talking about when you set out to edit and refine your first draft, I’m talking about getting stuck on what you have just written. Writers, as far as possible, should always be pressing forward. It’s the only way we get things done. If the editing can come later then leave it.

For the moment just write, write, write.

Advance as much as possible, shield of destiny in one hand, pen in the other. Push on and you will find yourself being more productive than you ever thought.

Some last thoughts on writing skill

If you think creative writing is easy then you are probably doing it wrong.

If you believe that your writing skill is honed to perfection now that you’ve completed a few novellas, then you are wrong.

And if you have ever spent more than half an hour staring at a blank screen, scratching your vitals and chewing your nails anxiously…you’re a writer.

If you have any extra tips then add them in the comments section below. Alternatively, if you found this article useful then please spread the love and share it on one of your media platforms.
//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Blog Maintenance for Beginners

blog maintenance and broken links

A good blog maintenance regime can save a lot of trouble

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Like most things, your blog needs a little tender, loving care once in a while. Most of us are so focused on adding valuable content that we often don’t pay much attention to what is already there.

Here’s the news: You need some blog maintenance. We all do. Blogs aren’t static things, you see. Stuff changes. Example: I recently checked my site for bad links. There were 23. So for all of you who think blog maintenance is not for them, think again. Here are a few tips to get you going:

Is your site mobile friendly?

This is one of my bugbears at the moment. You see an interesting link on Twitter, click it and it goes onto a site that has not been set up for smartphone. I use my Samsung mobile to access the web quite a lot, so I know – a large number of you haven’t set this up yet.

It makes sites difficult to navigate on mobile, especially if you add in one of those floating social media panels (which if you have one – stop it, please, they are annoying). There are plenty of plug-ins available that can convert your site to something more user friendly when people view it on smartphone. All you have to do is install it, the rest is done for you.

Want another reason? Smartphone usage has exploded in the last few years. According to the Business Insider, 1 in 5 of us own one and it’s fast becoming the tool of use for online shoppers and browsers. It can be viewed on the move, see, and people love it. You’re losing out on valuable readers if your content is not mobile friendly and too difficult to read.

Blog maintenance – broken links

blog maintenance typos

Typos can often be embarrassing

Checking your old pages for broken links is a must do piece of blog maintenance. Not only is it annoying for the reader when a link goes straight to a 404 page, but it’s also bad for your search ranking.

There are a couple of programs that can seek out bad links such as brokenlinkcheck.com which is free, or you could do it for yourself manually, though for large sites this could take a while.

But do it, you must.

Similarly, check that none of your images have disappeared. This, more often than not, happens when you have transferred a site to another url, as I found to my dismay recently. Replace when you find it, don’t leave that blank image-not-found space.

Update outdated content

Things change. Yes they do. Read through your content and check that it’s still accurate. Is that book you were promoting still for sale? Are those top tips posted two years ago still valid? Or do they need updating? It’s also a great way to spot any typos you may have missed first time around.

Delete posts that have no purpose

When I transferred from Blogger to WordPress a couple of months ago, I kept 100 of the 147 posts I had written. The rest just weren’t relevant or useful anymore.
If you have stuff that serves no purpose, be brave and delete it. At the very least, update it.

Don’t forget the sidebars

Many bloggers have a blog roll, a list of sites they have as favourite links. Sometimes people choose to give up and delete their beloved site or haven’t updated it in a long while. When you do your blog maintenance, remember to check your sidebar links.

Schedule time for blog maintenance

Ideally, spend a couple of hours a month checking out your blog. Have a list and work through it diligently. If you find broken links, change or update. The same goes for everything else.

It might seem laborious, but blog maintenance is a necessary process. Remember, it’s your window to the world and it needs to be as good as it can be. Your first run through may take a while but if you keep a regular date for blog maintenance after that it should be an easy, pain free process.

Have I missed anything out? Let me know in the comments section below.

If you found this article on blog maintenance useful, please take some time to share it with your friends. Thank you for spreading the fun.

//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Tagged , , , , , ,