6 Tips to Improve Your Writing

6 Tips to Improve Your Writing

6 Tips to Improve Your Writing
I know that as a writer, I want to constantly improve. I want my next WIP to be better than the last. I’m sure some of you do too. So, I’ve come up with some tips to improve your writing. Some of these might be obvious, but we all need to hear them from time to time (I know I do!).

1. Write

The most obvious of them all. But it’s probably the most important. You have to keep writing. If you are stuck, write. If you don’t feel like writing, write. You can’t get better at something without doing it.

2. Read

Again, another pretty obvious one. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Check out authors that are similar to you. See what they do well, and things that you might change. Use reading as a learning experience. If you can’t work out a scene, find a scene that accomplishes the same thing and see how they made it work. HOWERVER, I am not condoning copying or stealing stuff from other writers. I’m suggesting you look at their techniques and repurpose them to fit your needs. Please don’t steal – it’s no fun for anyone.

3. Watch TVs/Movies

This is along the same lines of reading. Notice the dialogue and the plot points. See what works and doesn’t work. Sure, these things might not translate directly to your novel, poem or short story, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t help you learn to evaluate those elements better. And learning to do that will help you as a writer.

4. Get Critiqued

Having an outside reader of your works can be one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, things you can do as a writer. Sure, it sucks to have someone potentially rip apart something you’ve worked hard on. But at the same time, if you are too close to something, you can’t see what really is or is not working. This isn’t to say that you always need to listen to everything someone tells you. Just take it into consideration.

5. Experience Something

Super vague, right? Well, if you have experience with something, you tend to be able to write it better (I’m not saying that you can’t write about something you are unfamiliar with – because that’s not true). Experiencing something can be a good exercise to go and do something and then write about it. If it’s something new that you haven’t written about before, it will help flex those writing muscles in ways they haven’t been flexed before. Flexing those writing muscles is always a good way to improve.

6. Write Something Different

Write outside your comfort zone. If you don’t blog, try writing a blog post. If you write Science Fiction, try writing Realistic Fiction. If you write fiction, try poems. Try anything that you wouldn’t normally write. It can open your eyes to a different perspective and help you write better in the future. Plus, it can be fun and great way to challenge yourself!

Find Your Audience on Social Media

Find Your Audience on Social Media

Find Your Audience on Social Media
We all want to use social media to connect with our readers. It’s a great way to be personable and thank people for being supportive of our craft. But how do you find them? Sure if you’re someone like Obama, users will come to you (he reached 1 million followers in under 5 hours). Not all of us are that cool, so we have to work a bit harder. Here are three ways to find your audience on social media:

Google Campaign URLs

No, this method isn’t directly associated with social media. But it’s an easy way to see where most of the traffic to your blog or site is coming from. Basically, what you do is create a URL using this spiffy tool that adds tags at the end of the URL. *Note: this only work if you use Google Analytics, so you should probably get on that

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 5.00.13 PMYou are required to enter your URL, Source, Medium and Name (below each in the form are examples if you need help). You use the created URL in your social media posts. Then, reap the benefits. When you are in Google Analytics, you can see the results in your Acquisition > Campaigns section by your campaign name. Once you click on one of those, you can see the Source/Medium AKA where your visitors are coming from (you can see mine over there).

So what do you do with this information? Well, if you are spreading your posts over lots of social media platforms, you can see which ones are working best (and sending the most traffic to your site) and cut down on the others. Really, you should be good at a handful of platforms and not do all of them just because they are there.

Twitter

There are a couple of great ways to find users on Twitter. One is to start following people who fit in your niche, and interact with them. For me, I follow a bunch of fellow writers, as I my target audience is writers and bloggers. Then, when they tweet and interact with others, I follow those people as well (after, of course, checking their bio and last couple of tweets to make sure I actually want to follow them).

Another way is to participate in Twitter chats (which I’m going to write a post about soon) and hashtags. There are plenty that are related to writing like #amwriting, #IreadYA, #writingharvest, #storydam (really, there’s too many to count). There are usually some great people lurking in those if you take the time to check them out.

Tip: If you are looking to find when your audience is online (aka your followers), I recommend checking out Tweriod. It shows you when your users are typically online to help you schedule posts productively.

Google+

I know, many people are up in the air about what’s really going on over there. I don’t have those answers for you. What I do have is information about my favorite part of Google+ and that is the Google+ Communities.

These are specific groups that you can chat, discuss, and ask questions about almost any topic you can think of. For writers, some great communities to check out are Writer’s Discussion Group, Writing Resources and Blogging. What is particularly great is posting your blog posts in them (that is, if they are in the guidelines of the community). If you aren’t spammy about it and only post blog posts that are actually relevant to the people in the group, it can be a wonderful source of traffic (you may  have noticed it was my top campaign source for the time period I selected).

4 Ways to Perfect Your Setting

4 Ways to Perfect Your Setting

4 Ways to Perfect Your SettingThere are a couple of things that need time to mature and grow in your writing. One of those things is characters (which I’ve discussed here). The other, setting. It’s hard to say which is more difficult. For characters, they have to be realistic, but they don’t have to be an actual person (unless of course you are writing about someone who is a real person). You have the ability to take liberties and invent what you need to. Setting, on the other hand, either needs to be an actual place, similar to an actual place (which requires research too), or something completely created by yourself. For all of those scenarios, here are four tips to perfect your setting.

1. If you can – go there

It’s pretty self explanatory. For settings that actually exist, it’s probably best to physically go there. Then you can experience the place using ALL of your senses. Sure, you can use Google Maps street view function to see a place, looking at weather reports to feel it. But without actually being there, it’s hard to understand exactly what it sounds like, smells like, and perhaps tastes like (do settings have a taste?).

2. If you can’t go there – find someone who can

Like I said before, you can do all the research you want, but unless you are physically there, you’ll miss out on some of the aspects of the setting. Not everyone has the budget or ability to travel, so the next best thing is to find a buddy who lives there. Ask them the questions that you would have observed yourself if you could go. It might not be perfect, considering you can describe your own experiences, but it’s better than assuming or making things up if you are trying to describe a real place.

3. Be organized

Keep detailed notes of your setting, whether it’s a real place or something completely created by you. Make a map if it helps keep things straight (I created one and hung it on my wall!). Especially if your place isn’t real, keeping notes will keep your descriptions consistent. As you are writing, jot down ways you describe the setting so that you have reference material for later. Don’t wait until you are done to completely have a concept of your setting.

4. Be visual

Sometimes a map just won’t cut it. Sometimes we need more detail than a map can provide. But not all of us are artists (although I know I wish I was!). Think outside the box to find ways to convey that level of detail without forcing yourself to create something you don’t have the appropriate skills for. One thing I’ve done with characters and setting? Create them in Sims. Yes, the video game Sims. It’s cool to be able to see your world come to life – even if it is behind a computer screen.

The Basics of Google Analytics

The Basics of Google Analytics

The Basics of Google AnalyticsLast week I shared why everyone should be using Google Analytics on their blog – and not just built in analytics (like WordPress provides). Now I’ll break out some of the key metrics and terminology to get you started.

Audience

The first metrics you see when in the reporting tab in Google Analytics are your audience overview. I won’t be going over every detail, but just some tricky ones or ones that I find particularly interesting or helpful. Key things to look at that can help judge the success of your blog (or site) are:

Sessions: The number of times a user is perusing your site. A session starts when a user hits their first page on your site, and ends when they leave or are inactive for a certain period of time (default is 30 minutes, but this can be changed).

Pageviews: The number of pages viewed. There can be multiple pageviews per session, so every time a page is viewed, it is counted in this metric.

*Bounce Rate: This is an important one. Bounce rate is the amount of a user hits a page and leaves from that page without interacting with it first. But it can be tricky. See, if you have a blog on your home page (like I do) and have every post in full, a user can read three posts, spending 5-10 minutes on your page. However, if they don’t click anything and leave your site, it registers as a bounce – meaning the user has spent 0 minutes on your page. This metric may not be helpful if you have pages that don’t invite additional interactions or movement to other pages. In other words, having a high bounce rate may not always be bad, just misleading.

New vs Returning Users: This is the little pie chart. It shows which users hitting your site have been there before, versus those who are visiting for the first time.

Acquisition

This next section gets a little more techy, but a bit more interesting. What I mean by this, is that it looks at how users are getting to your site. My favorite things to look at are under All Traffic:

Channels: This shows the types of places users are coming from to get to your site. Here are the default channels within Google Analytics:

  • Direct: Anyone who goes directly to your site by typing the URL in their browser.
  • Referral: When someone clicks on a link to your site from someone else’s. These will show you the URL of the site a user came from.
  • Social: Indicates that a user clicked on a link from a social post, whether that was Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Organic Search: A user found you through searching on Google, Bing or other search engines through unpaid search results.
  • Email: A user clicked on a link from an email and got to your site through that.
  • Other: Doesn’t fit into the above categories. For me, this shows when I use campaign URLs, which I will explain next week.

Referrals: Not to be confused with the Referral channel I mentioned above. Essentially, it compiles all referrers into one list, or simply the Referral + Social above.

Search Engine Optimization > Queries: This is a fun one. It shows you a list of search phrases/words a user put into a search engine that returned your site as a result that the user clicked on.

Campaigns: This section relates directly to the campaign URLs that you can create through Google. I will go more in-depth with this next week, but for now, here is a quick overview. You can put tags on URLs so you can lump a campaign that takes place during a full month in one place. So if I am having a 50% sale on services in March, I can see every URL I send out for the entire campaign in one spot, and then see it broken down across different parameters that you set.

Behavior

This section allows you to get a bit more specific with what a user is doing on your site. You can see the general metrics, and some other fun things, on an individual page basis.

Site Content: This is the area where you can see the page specific metrics. These are found under “All Pages” where you can search for specific pages. Landing Pages shows you pages that are the first hit on your site, while Exit Pages shows you which pages were the last a user was on before they left.

Site Search: Like the SEO queries from above, this shows you the stats on your site search, including search terms and general usage.

Events: This one involves some more set-up if you want to get super fancy with it. Events generally track what a user interacts with on your site. You can see how many times a user downloads something, clicks a link to go to another site, and other interactions. However, to see good metrics for this, you need to set up more advanced tracking for more specific interactions to your site.

If you are looking for more in-depth guides, you can check out what Google Analytics has to offer as far as tutorials, and even getting certified.

Time Away from Your Novel Is Good

Time Away from Your Novel Is Good!

Time Away from Your Novel Is GoodI’m in the editing phase of my WIP and it’s been a while since I looked at it. I had finished the draft over a month ago, started editing but wanted some more concrete notes on my characters before I continued. Now that I have those,  I’m back to editing and I haven’t seen my work for a couple of weeks. I was a bit worried, but I think it’s a blessing in disguise. Time away from your novel isn’t always a bad thing!

A lot of the time people say that you should “kill your darlings.” Because you know that sentence that you love so much, the one that you put in a lot of thought and effort? Well it doesn’t really work and you should scrap it. What makes this easier is not being attached to your novel. Not looking at your work for a couple of weeks helps that.

When I started editing, sure there were parts that were fresh in my mind that I didn’t like and knew needed fixed even as I wrote them. But there were other parts that I decided were complete crap and crossed them out with my purple pen (that’s right, I don’t use red, I use purple). There was even one part where I was trying so hard to keep in a sentence that I was spending nearly 15 minutes trying to manipulate preceding sentences just to keep it. I took a step back and realized, that sentence is great and all, but it’s not working. Then I axed it.

If you are having trouble editing, in that you feel too attached, seriously consider taking a step back. You may not have the luxury I had of taking a couple weeks away from it: deadlines are real. But even if you can take a day or even two days off from looking at it, I think you are better off. Being too close to your work isn’t good. Go take a walk, watch a movie, do something to get your mind off it, and come back refreshed. What’s the worst that can happen?

Still stuck with editing? I found this SUPER GREAT post by Briana Mae Morgan about when to stop editing. Because over editing is real and it sucks.

Why You Should be Using Google Analytics

Why You Should Be Using Google Analytics

Why You Should be Using Google Analytics
Analytics are a wonderful thing. I use WordPress for my site, and there are some pretty decent metrics you can get from what WordPress offers. But that doesn’t mean that you should only be using those analytics to measure your site. You should also be using Google Analytics.

Why look at analytics at all?

In general, analytics can provide you tons of interesting things about visitors hitting your site and what they do there. Among other things, you can see phrases they used in search to find your site, how long they spend on a page, which pages users typically leave from….it’s really endless.

But with those, here are the main two reasons why you should be looking at analytics:

  1. Analytics help show you when things are working well. By having predetermined goals you will be able to see how well your posts or marketing tactics are preforming.
  2. Analytics help to see where you can improve. If you are just looking at analytics to say “sweet! I’ve gotten x number of visitors!” then you aren’t doing analytics right. You can utilize metrics to see things that aren’t working and try to improve on them. For example, if one post is doing particularly well, try to replicate some of those things into other posts that aren’t preforming as well.

But do I really need Google Analytics?

Not necessarily – but if you think you can get by with just WordPress’s built-in stats – you’re wrong. There are tons of robust analytic programs out there, but I like Google Analytics. It’s free and there are TONS of tutorials out there to allow anyone to understand how to use it to their advantage.

Here is a quick comparison between WordPress stats and Google Analytics to help you see why it is a huge advantage to utilize both:

WordPress stats Google Analytics
  • Shows you what links visors clicked (something that requires additional set-up in Google Analytics)
  • See views of the author of your site
  • Shows number of comments by authors of your site and visitors of your site
  • Shows your total number of followers
  • Allows you to create goals (when someone fills out a form, visits # of pages, etc.)
  • In-depth information around user including specific city, language, browser, etc.
  • Real-time stats show active users on your site
  • Robust information on how users get to your site, including where they came from (social media, organic search, email, etc.), campaign tracking (more info about these in a later post), etc.

As you can see, both have some great aspects that the other does not. WordPress plays very nice with Google Analytics, so it’s worth spending some time setting it up! One thing to note – you cannot add Google Analytics to a free WordPress.com site (which I find super sad!). If you want to set up Google Analytics on your purchased WordPress site, here’s a pretty friendly how-to guide from wpbeginner.com. If you just want to know what plugin to connect the two (which is the recommended way), I personally use the plugin “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP.”

New Blog Schedule

On Wednesday I took part in the Twitter chat #createlounge and it was one of the best Twitter chats I had ever participated in. I learned a lot about blogging and actually came to the realization that my niche wasn’t actually what I thought it was.

I ended up creating an editorial calendar – a.k.a. a schedule of upcoming posts so that way I actually had important things to share with you all.

With that in mind, I will be posting regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. About what you might ask. Here’s the plan:

Mondays: Lauren’s Lessons Learned. These will be posts about random things I have learned, whether it be about digital marketing, writing or life in general. They will be focused around something that will hopefully allow you to gain some insight too.

Wednesdays: Digital Marketing. This is where my niche lies. I’m going to post information, tips, tools, etc. with a writing lens. If you are a writer, aspiring author (like myself) or blogger, these will help you learn about marketing yourself in the digital space.

Fridays: My writing journey. As I mentioned, I’m an aspiring writer, and I love blogging about the ups and downs of that journey. I started this blog by writing about my first ever NaNoWriMo attempt, and plan to continue sharing my experiences with my writing process.

Utilizing Pinterest for Blog Promotion

Utilizing Pinterest for Blog Promotion

Utilizing Pinterest for Blog Promotion

I tweeted yesterday about one gripe I have about blog posts.

Let me elaborate. I use Pinterest mainly to store information that may not be useful for me now, like posts about querying, that will be helpful in the future. In general, Pinterest a hub for information that I think is or will be helpful. What is unhelpful is when I come across a post or article that has no images associated with it. It doesn’t allow me to save this information how I want to – with a clear image to remind me what I’m pinning.

There are two problems that revolve around this: bad images or no images. Bad images can be managed by me, I just have to make sure my text in the pin is helpful. But when there isn’t any image? Well, guess what. I’m not coming back to your blog even if I do find your information valuable because I have no way to save it with the rest of the posts I want to revisit.

But this tweet sparked something – not everyone knows the basics of Pinterest. With that in mind, I’ll go through some of the most simple things to understand how it works, and how to make your blog compatible.

Read More

Blogging 101

Blogging 101

Blogging 101
Recently I’ve seen a lot of different commentary about blogs and figured now is as good a time as any to put in my thoughts. Here are my tips/random musings about blogging. Maybe they will help you. Maybe you’ll think they are stupid. Regardless, here they are:

Keep It Simple

To me, blogs should be an easy read. I shouldn’t have to stumble through complicated prose to understand a blog post. I want a post to be conversational and simple in style not necessarily in content. This doesn’t mean you should create short simple posts, but that your writing should be clear and concise.

I should also mention that within keeping it simple, I don’t you should stick to one topic or “easy” topics. Because that’s something for you to decide. (Hell, I have a mix of writing and digital marketing posts here). And if your topic is more complex or complicated, it can still be somewhat conversational without losing a serious tone.

Do It For Yourself

One of the most asked questions I see is how to get started. If you are blogging for yourself, then just set one up and start. When I started this blog, I didn’t care if a single person read it (I swear to you, I actually thought that!). All I wanted a place to share my thoughts, and if someone was interested in what I said, that was just an added bonus.

Now, if you want to blog to start a business or do so more professionally than how I started, then you should probably be a bit more calculated than I was. However, you should still be doing it for yourself. If someone else is forcing you to blog about something you don’t care about (outside of a job, I guess) then you probably shouldn’t be blogging.

Set Your Own Rules

To the same effect as my previous thought, don’t look at someone else’s blog and copy it. I don’t necessarily mean content, although your posts should be your own thoughts, but in structure. I know people who blog every single day. I know people who have schedules and post regularly on specified days. I know others who just post when they feel like they have something to post about. Don’t box yourself into anything that doesn’t feel right, just because you see others are doing it.

But there are some guidelines that can be helpful if you follow them. Like making sure your blog is Pinterest friendly or ways to get more comments (from the lovely Erika Madden).

Those are my thoughts/tips on blogging. If you want some more opinions/advice, I would recommend reading I Gotcher Blog-Writin’ Advice Right Here by Chuck Wendig.

 

What are some tips you wish you knew when you started blogging?

Organization: A Key To Writing

Organization: a Key to Writing

Organization: A Key To Writing
One thing I’ve been pretty bad with when it comes to writing my novel is organization. I have a sweet TARDIS journal I got for secret santa a couple years back that I tried to use. Only it was hard to keep flipping back and forth between pages, and my character list/chapter organization changed so much that it was all over the place. It came to the point where I just didn’t use it anymore. Now it’s proof of how much my WIP has grown, but I still need a way to keep everything organized…

What I did was search the good ol’ internet for ways to document my characters so I could at least describe them better (because I tend to be light on the descriptions to begin with, and when I don’t remember everything about a character, that diminishes even more).

I found one chart that seemed to work well for my main characters here. There are a couple areas that were missing though, like hair color, race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. But it worked until I realized that I didn’t need that kind of detail for my secondary characters.

Minor Character ChartNow that I knew what I wanted and what worked/didn’t with the other chart, I just created my own! It’s mainly focused on appearance/personality as I didn’t feel it necessary to come up with too much back story for most of the minor characters.

I feel much better now about my character organization, to say the least. I’ve even decided to use pencil to fill out the charts in case I realize that I needed to alter something for things to fit better.

But that leaves some other areas open to improved organization: setting & terms. I’ve created a map of my setting which I reference almost every time I sit down to work on my WIP. But I need something more for the physical appearance.

For terms, I’ve attempted a sort of encyclopedia before, but it just turns into twice as much work when I sit down to accomplish anything.

With that, I’m asking for your help. Do you have any nifty tricks to keeping setting or terms organized? Something better for characters? Leave a comment!

%d bloggers like this: