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Amateur Advice: How I Manage my Personal Brand

I have a confession. Before I created my public online presence, I creeped. I read some blogs and kept my eye some twitter feeds. I looked at some facebook pages. I came to the realization that I would not buy a vast majority of these author’s books. I came up with the things that made such a negative impression on me and immediately began working on ways to avoid making those same mistakes.

Note that this post is a bit longer than my Personal Blogging Rules mandate. Forgive the rule-bending.

Now. The things that make a negative impression on me.

1) “Selling” me. I really dislike it when the last 5 twitter updates are all “Buy my book” posts. It reminds me of walking down the street and being handed a leaflet. I don’t even look at it. I put it in the next garbage bin I pass.

2) Writing in the third person. Jeremy D Powell does not like this. He thinks it has the bitter taste of self-importance. He also thinks it is a bit deceptive and manipulative.

3) Borrowing someone else’s work/credibility. This one really bothers me. Its the post that basically frames someone else’s blog post. The blogger will have an intro. Then they post the entirety of someone else’s post. This is cheating, plain and simple.

These are the big 3 sins for me in an online presence. In order to avoid these things and create a positive personal brand, I try to do the following.

1) Provide content rather than advertisements. Readers are usually picky. They are investing their time and money in the books that they read. I think that it is a much better strategy to let potential readers get to know my voice through my online presence than yell, “I HAS A BOOK!” I try to keep that in mind when I write my posts. When I have something of substance to sell, I will create an optionally viewable page on this blog. If I have been successful in building a personal brand, that will be enough.

2) Always write in first person. I hate feeling snooty, so I avoid the third person. I also think that my position doesn’t lend itself to mandating action on my reader’s part, so I avoid the second person.

3) My work is always my own. If I like someone else’s post, there is usually a handy share button that I can use. This drives readers to their site where even more goodies are in store for them. This builds the goodwill of both the original author and the reader towards me. I become collaborative instead of predatory.

In the end, the rules come down to that one Golden Rule. I will do unto others what I would have them do unto me. The things I dislike, I will not replicate.

–Jeremy

Do you agree? Disagree? Chime in! I love to consider your coments. I have been wrong a time or two.

Amateur Advice: How and why I get rid of adverbs

Before I delve into this post, I want to apologize to adverbs.

I don’t have anything against you guys. I use you all the time in my day-to-day communications. However, when I am editing my writing, you guys have to ride the red pen out of my work. Sorry.

In my first draft, I don’t worry myself over word choice, pacing, grammar, or any other of those details. If you have read my earlier post, you know that my first draft is usually written by hand to eliminate distractions and turn down my internal editor. A first draft’s goal is to get the story out of my head, and onto the page. After I get the story out it is time to do my first edit.

The first edit happens during the transition from paper to computer. During this step, I am looking for problems in the structure of the story. I tend to change things for pacing or plot-logic reasons.

The second edit is where I start aiming at those pesky adverbs. The problem with adverbs in fiction writing is that they turn down the intensity of your sentence. If the verb needs a modifier to describe the action, I probably chose the wrong verb. Choosing the right verb speeds up the pace of the story and gives the reader a more clear image.

The specific things I look for when I am hunting adverbs are: “-ly” words, “very”, and the “to be” verbs. Keying in on these instances help me eliminate the majority of unnecessary adverbs in my writing. I replace them with better verbs or a rephrased sentence that more clearly conveys my story.

–Jeremy

 

What are your thoughts on adverbs? Do you have a special way of dealing with them? Please, let me know!

Amateur Advice: My Personal Blogging Rules

I am pretty new to blogging. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you how to get thousands of views, I only have a couple hundred. I can’t tell you how to optimize your blog for search engines or build anything that requires HTML coding. What I can tell you is what I enjoy when reading blogs. These same things are what I try to replicate in my blog.

Keep the posts short. I really don’t want to have to wear out my scroll wheel when reading a post. That being the case, I try to limit my post length to about one monitor’s worth. If I have something to say that may take more space, I consider breaking it into multiple posts.

Maintain a consistent theme. When I visit someone’s blog, I like to have a good idea of what I will be reading about. Some days I may be in the mood for some self-publishing tips. Somedays I might just want to read some random funny posts. Whatever the case, I like the idea of being able to confidently pick the blog I will spend my limited reading time on. Therefore, I limit my posts to 3 topics: Amateur Advice usually relating to writing, Vignettes, and some random short tidbits.

Less is more. This goes hand in hand with your post’s length. Your blog should be easy to navigate. I should be able to intuitively find what I am looking for without much hunting. I try to replicate this by keeping my blog neat and tidy with minimum visual noise.

These are  the guidelines that I use to make my blog. They may not be the right guidelines, but they are mine.

–Jeremy

What guidelines do you use when crafting your blog? Please, feel free to share!

Amateur Advice: How I bring my short story characters to life

Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning introduces the reader to characters, setting, theme, and the central conflict. The middle places the protagonist in dire circumstances. The ending reveals how the protagonist either overcomes, or is overcome by, the conflict — depending on whether the story is comic or tragic.

When writing a short story, all of these elements must still be present. Where a novel gets 75,000 words or more, the short story gets 5,000 to 10,000, and that’s on the long end of the medium.

This poses a challenge to me as a writer when trying to create nuanced characters and plots. It is a constant struggle to make my writing clear and concise enough to convey my ideas while still remaining within the format. There is a process that I use that helps me overcome this, though.

1. Begin with a stereotypical character. This allows me to set a template in someone’s mind. Within one paragraph, I can associate my character with a given stereotype that may take pages or chapters in a novel. Generalities exist because they are generally true. I use this to my advantage. For example, the social perception of an athelete is someone who is physically gifted, but lacking in mental capacity. By allowing the reader to form this opinion on their own, I can skip quite a bit of characterization. This saves my word count for showing the reader how they are wrong about the character.

2. Allow your plot to develop your character. In a short story, my characters and plot really have to form a symbiotic relationship. I simply do not have the word count to use the same bag of tricks a novelist uses. By using an easily recognizable template, it allows me to play with the readers perception of the character. I can guess what the reader will think of my character, and what they may expect my character to do. Armed with this information, I can sculpt my plot to surprise and entertain the reader by preying on their preconceived notions.

3. Subtlety is key. I try my hardest not to tell my reader what to think about events or characters in my stories. I try to allow my diction to lead the reader to assumptions and revelations about them. Instead of telling my reader that my protagonist athelete is really smart, I might try to find a way to squeeze in a reference to the completed crosswords he has in his room. Instead of telling the reader that he wakes up a 5am to work out, I may mention that he woke up late drooling on a book. The idea is to subtly shift the reader’s perspective from the template to your character.

The whole goal of this process is to allow the reader to retain the 90% of the character that fits the template, while delving into the 10% where your character differs. This saves wordcount that you may be tempted to spend on characterization that does not add to the plot. The plot, then, can be more robust and engaging because your words are freed from unnecessary obligations. In the end, the short story is all about my economy of words.

–Jeremy

Disagree with my process? Have something to add? Feel free to comment on how you bring your short story characters to life.

Amateur Advice: How I create my plot

Plot is very important to me as both a reader and a writer. I expect the plot to reveal things about the characters in the story. I expect the author to craft a plot that forces change in both the characters and world that I am glimpsing. This is far easier said than done.

It annoys me when I read or write a story that does not build towards anything. It is like walking through traincars, but never knowing where the train is going or why. That is why I go to great lengths to make sure my plot is always pointing towards something; always acting as a device to allow the reader to analyze my characters. I do this by writing with intention.

I always make a plot outline. I am definitely a planner. This step would be natural to me, even if I wasn’t obsessed with plot like I am. This serves as a guide to me while I am writing — it helps me line up my scenes and characters. It allows me to build suspense and forshadowing, because I already know what is coming.

I limit my outlining to major plot points. I believe that spontaneity is important, and even necessary, to a story that makes me want to revisit it again and again. In order to allow myself this spontaneity, I do not plan all of the small details. I find that once I have an understanding of the characters and the overall plot and theme, the details set themselves in place. I do not care what route I take between point A and point B, only that I arrive at point B.

I attach theme and intention to the plot outline. At each major junction that I have written in my plot outline, I attach a reason why. I try to attach the overall reasons why I would stop at that junction in the story, and not let the train move on to the next station. Every stop must do one of three things.

1) It must reveal something about the characters.

2) It must forshadow a future major plot point in the story.

3) It must shed additional light on a previous plot point in the story.

If I cannot find a way for the scene to do one of these three things, I remove it from the outline.

I find these steps helps me bring focus to my story and characters. I want to write the kind of story that I would enjoy reading. What kinds of things do you do to help your story stay focused?

–Jeremy

Amateur Advice: How I push myself to write daily

“Write every day. It doesn’t necessarily matter if it is good. Just write.”

If you have spent any time at all reading blogs on the writing process, this piece of advice will be extremely familiar. It seems to peek mockingly at me from every “Top 10 tips” list that I read. I find it difficult to write daily. I work. I have a wife and a daughter. I have to sleep sometime. However, day by day, I am getting better at taking the time to write.

It isn’t that I don’t want to write. It isn’t even that I feel like writing and my family are mutually exclusive. No, my problem is on a much smaller scale. I get distracted. I reach some small break in my flow, and suddenly I am ready to check my twitter feed or facebook or favorite websites. I’m sure that I am not alone in this.

My answer is to go old-school. I bought some decent pens and a nice notebook, and I actually write. I find this to be extremely helpful for me in my quest for writing discipline. I think this happens for a few reasons.

1) There is no twitter feed in my notebook. There is no internet. It is just me and the scritching of my pen on paper.

2) I can actually see my progress. I feel much better about my writing when I can turn pages. It just seems more real to me than a word count — I feel like I’ve made progress, and that helps me come back the next day.

3) It turns off my internal editor. Being a passive-aggressive perfectionist, all those squiggly lines really get on my nerves. I spend time reorganizing my words when I should be spinning new ones. By writing in a physical notebook, it is so much harder for me to edit my work, and leads to wasted writing time. My editor can come out when I transfer my first draft to my computer.

Writing daily is still a struggle. Every day, I must remember that above all, writers write.

If you have any tips that help you stay organized, please share them with me. As a Hopeful Author, I welcome all advice.

–Jeremy

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