10 Ways to Up Your Writing Game

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If you have a message you’re passionate about conveying, you’ve probably already recognized the importance of good writing. As a social media and communication instructor I’ve been amazed at the array of writing levels I’ve come across in college classes. Some students (a very few) have such a challenging time getting the mechanics of writing correct, that I’m completely distracted from what they’re trying to convey to the reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writers like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Harper Lee, and Shakespeare have changed the world through their excellent writing. If we ever want to convince anyone of anything, we have to be able to communicate well.

So back to you. You have a passion. You have a cause. You have a business. You want to promote something

What can you do now, in practical terms, to inspire others to support it? 

I want to encourage you to focus on improving your writing game. Here’s ten ways to do just that.

1. Do Morning Pages. One of my favorite books on creativity is Julie Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book is chock full of wonderful ideas to get your creative juices flowing but her most formidable idea is to start each morning writing three full pages of unedited, stream of conscious writing. In her own words: “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” The more you write, the better you will get at writing.

2. Write 200 words a day. Make a habit of writing about aspects of your passion/work/message/thoughts/business every day. 200 words is a manageable goal (that’s about the length of a paragraph or two.) All it takes is about 200 words a day to begin to create a catalogue of content you can use for blog posts, social media updates, content papers, eBooks, workshop content, and eventually full-length books. A secret of creating great content consistently is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you want to share your message with the world.

3. Use Hemingway Editor. Ever wish you had an editor who could look over your writing before you hit “publish?” The Hemingway app analyzes your writing and highlights text that can be improved by suggesting you use a simpler word, use active voice, simplify complex sentences, etc. Give it a whirl. In fact, when I’m done writing this post, I’ll use it myself. 

4. Read Bird by Bird. Anna Lamott’s classic writing book is practical and inspiring. It starts off like this: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around mybrother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

5. Read On Writing Well. One of the most helpful texts I read in my journalism classes, Zinsser’s book has sold something like a million copies. Read it. You can start by reading my post celebrating his wonderful writing advice

6. Use active voice. Sometimes in our first swipe at writing something we have trouble getting to the point at the top of the sentence. Let me rephrase that. Get to the point at the top of the sentence. It can be hard but it makes for better writing. 

7. Draw readers in with an enticing introduction sentence. Make that first sentence pop. If you’re writing an article on a new coffeeshop write a first sentence that makes the reader feel like she is there. And if it’s a blog post make sure it clearly indicates what the reader can expect from the rest of the piece.

8. Edit ruthlessly. The quote has been attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King and Allen Ginsberg. We don’t know who said it first but we do know it’s a hard truth. “Kill your darlings.” Some of the most beautiful passages have to go. Serve the story. Serve your audience. Don’t preserve text just because you like it. 

9. Write like a person. This is a piece of advice I’ve stood by for some time. This separates the good writing from the trying-to-be-good writing. Write the way you speak. Yes of course you can be more articulate, more well-edited, and more clear (isn’t that one of the perks of writing over speaking?) but be sure you don’t sound like a robot, or a rambler, or (God forbid) a telemarketer. 

10. Write what you want to write. Maria Popova of BrainPickings is a big advocate of this one. If you think the topic will be interesting or helpful to your audience but you're not into it then don't write about it. The spark starts with you! You'll write more and better if you write about things that interest you. So don't be swayed by what you think you should write. Write what you want to write. 

These are my ten tips to implement for more effective written communication. They can be summarized like this: write a lot, read a lot, edit a lot. 

Do you have writing advice of your own? I'd love to hear it in the comments! 

How to Create an Editorial Calendar for Your Blog

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We bloggers are busy people. Blogging is something we love but it's far from our only focus. (Though that's the dream for a lot of us, right?!) So how can you make sure that your blog posts are topically on point and regularly showing up in your reader's inbox despite your busy schedule? Simplify things for yourself by creating an editorial calendar. Here's seven easy steps to knock out your editorial calendar and make sure your blog posts are getting written and you're hitting your goals. 

7 Steps to Creating an Editorial Calendar

1. Determine how often you will post. You've got to start here. What's a feasible goal for you? What is the minimum effective dose? Does your audience need to hear from you daily? Weekly? 2 times a week? 3? Determine how often you will post and which day of the week. 

2. Narrow down topics. Bloggers are people so naturally we like as much variety as anyone else! But your blog needs to be predictable to your audience. Giving your audience a survey of the Platforms of the Current Republican Presidential Candidates one week and then your Top 5 Reasons Hanson is the Best Band Ever the next week may seem fun and exciting but your audience likely won't trust you as an expert on both topics. And beyond that, they probably won't care about both topics. Remember: keep your audience in mind first! What is useful to them? 

3. Add contributors. Are you authoring your blog solo? Do you have a team? Plug your writers and their areas of expertise into your editorial concept. Make sure to communicate expectations to them and give them at least a week of cushion between their deadline and when you actually need to move forward with the post. 

4. Batch tasks. I take a half day every quarter to brainstorm blog post ideas for the next three months. Likely I've been reading and mulling over ideas that I can plug in right away. And another thing you can batch and knock out at once? A month's worth of posts. I prefer to write one at a time (I'm just a little ADD that way) but if you can sit down and knock out 4-8 blog posts in a day, you've potentially created content for a month or more. Avoid interruptions and knock out tasks all at once.  

5. Brainstorm headlines. When you are clear on the kinds of posts you will write--my post categories are around social media, writing, marketing, productivity, creativity and goals--you can begin to flesh out post ideas that fit within each category. Don't overthink it. Just, stream of conscious, write down as many post ideas as you can. Then review them and refine them to put them into words that are the most intriguing and "clickable." 

6. Plug headlines into your calendar. Once you have a good solid list of post ideas, plug those headlines into your calendar on the days you're committed to publishing new content. Be sure to spread out the types of posts throughout the month so there's a nice variety. I really like the Excel calendar template but you can also use a desk calendar, a planner or even your Outlook or Gmail calendar. 

7. Schedule weekly time to write. Habits are wonderful because they eliminate troublesome decision making. If you know that you write every Wednesday morning from 7:30-9:30, you don't have to look at your calendar each week and ask yourself "when am I going to write?" When Wednesday rolls around you don't have to ask yourself if you should make time for it. The decision has been made. Plug in meetings with yourself on your calendar. It's an unfortunate truth but blogs don't write themselves!

If you've ever been stumped at your laptop or just stared at your screen because you couldn't figure out what to write about, an editorial calendar may be the perfect solution to help guide you on the path to consistent blogging.

Do you already employ some tricks to make sure you blog regularly? Share em in the comments! 

5 Lessons I Learned from Viewing 4000 Pieces of Picasso's Art

Me and "Picasso."
Me and "Picasso."

Well friends, JC and I returned to the states on Sunday after a little over a week in London and Barcelona. It was an incredible trip that was jam packed with tours, museums and imagining what life was like in the shoes of some pretty influential, awe-inspiring people. Our days in London and Barcelona had us pulling back the curtain on the lives of Winston Churchill, Paul McCartney (and the Beatles), Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí.

Today I want to share with you some of the lessons that stood out to me as I toured the Museu Picasso de Barcelona. The museum has a permanent collection of over 4000 pieces created by Pablo Picasso. The pieces are organized chronologically so we saw how Picasso's style evolved over the years, step by step. The first section was a collection of paintings Picasso created when he was about 14. The first thing I noticed?

1. You don't become a world class artist without starting with an unusual amount of natural talent. 

"Man in Beret" by Picasso, age 14
"Man in Beret" by Picasso, age 14

2. Talent must be cultivated. Picasso started formal artistic training with his father at age 7. He was enrolled at Barcelona's School of Fine Arts at age 13. And he never really stopped learning. In 1900 he moved to Paris, the art capital of Europe. He was influenced by many other artists and continued to grow.

3. Picasso was prolific. Picasso clearly did not just paint when he "felt" like it. While I saw some 4000 of his works at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the total number of art works he created in his lifetime has been estimated at 50,000: 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings, many thousands of prints, and tons of tapestries and rugs.

4. Evolution is integral. Picasso's style greatly evolved from the time of classical realistic paintings in his teens to his blue period (in which he only painted in blue shades for three years) to finally arriving at the cubism he is famous for creating. Change can be scary but it's important to grow.

"Science and Charity" by Picasso, age 16
"Science and Charity" by Picasso, age 16
Mother and Child, by Picasso age 23
Mother and Child, by Picasso age 23

5."Bad artists copy, good artists steal." -Picasso One of my favorite portions of the collection at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona was a series of 58 paintings Picasso worked on for an entire year in 1957. Picasso went deep analyzing and riffing on the famous painting Las Meninas by Diego Velásquez. Picasso donated the entire collection to the museum--the only complete collection in one place today.

This is what Picasso said about it: "If someone want to copy Las Meninas, entirely in good faith, for example, upon reaching a certain point and if that one was me, I would say..what if you put them a little more to the right or left? I'll try to do it my way, forgetting about Velázquez. The test would surely bring me to modify or change the light because of having changed the position of a character. So, little by little, that would be a detestable Meninas for a traditional painter, but would be my Meninas." -Picasso, 1950

Las Meninas by Velasquez, 1656
Las Meninas by Velasquez, 1656
Las Meninas, by Picasso age 75
Las Meninas, by Picasso age 75

Creativity and contribution may not come from a completely original piece but rather a new take on something older. Maria Popova said it so well: “Creativity is combinatorial: Alive and awake to the world, we amass a collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other existing ideas — that we then combine and recombine, mostly unconsciously, into something ‘new.’ From this vast and cross-disciplinary mental pool of resources beckons the infrastructure of what we call our ‘own’ ‘original’ ideas.”

I was awash with inspiration walking through the halls of these great museums seeing the work that has far outlasted the lifetimes of the people who brought these great creations to life. I've come back from vacation just a little more determined to leave something useful or inspiring behind one day. They certainly did life on purpose. I want to as well.

Have you ever encountered a performance, piece of art or history that made you want to take action yourself? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

5 Lessons I Learned on Writing from William Zinsser

William Zinsser
William Zinsser

 

This week one of my literary heroes, William Zinsser, passed away at age 92. He penned the definitive guide to writing nonfiction: On Writing Well. I first picked up the book in college when it was assigned by a journalism professor. Today I want to share with you five lessons I learned from Zinsser's work along with some of my favorite passages from that book. So much of it has impacted my writing style and influenced who I am as a writer today.

5 Lessons I Learned on Writing from William Zinsser

1. Edit. Edit. Edit. "Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it's beautiful? Simplify, simplify."

2. Don't get bogged down by worrying about what the reader will think of you. "If they doze off in the middle of your article because you have been careless about a technical detail, the fault is yours. But on the larger issue of whether the reader likes  you, or likes what you are saying or how you are saying it, or agrees with it, or feels an affinity for yoru sense of humor or your vision of life, don't give him a moment's worry. You are who you are, he is who he is, and either you'll get along or you won't."

3. Talk like a person. "Never say anything in writing that you wouldn't comfortably say in conversation. If you're not a person who says 'indeed' or 'moreover,' or who calls someone an individual ('he's a fine individual'), please don't write it.

4. Read good work. "Make a habit of reading what is being written today and what has been written by earlier masters. Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I'd say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it."

5. To be great you must be intrinsically motivated. "If you would like to write better than everybody else, you have to want to write better than everybody else. You must take an obsessive pride in the smallest details of your craft. And you must be willing to defend what you've written against the various middlemen--editors, agents and publishers--whose sights may be different from yours, whose standards not as high. Too many writers are browbeaten into settling for less than their best."

If you have an interest in growing as a writer I heartily recommend you read On Writing Well. These are just a few nuggets from a 300-page work. I'm so grateful that Zinsser took the time to write this book and that he will live on through his writing for generations to come.

6 Ways to Combat Writer's Block

6 Ways (4)
6 Ways (4)

Maybe you love the idea of blogging but the idea of writing on a regular basis seems daunting. Have you ever started a blog and abandoned it? Or told yourself you'd blog weekly and then, whoops, 4 months go by? I get you. Today I want to share a few ideas for writing consistently whether you're writing blogs, articles or the great American novel.

1. Keep a notebook (or notes app on your phone) nearby at all times. When inspiration strikes jot it down. I can't tell you how many blog outlines I've created while running on trails. They may be inspired by a podcast I'm listening to or just come together when I link two separate ideas I've been mulling over. They always go in my notes app and they eventually show up here.

2. Set aside a Creative Think Day once a quarter. Every three months (or more often if you're lucky) hammer out as many ideas as you can possibly think of. Don't feel overwhelmed--we're just talking headlines or key concepts. No need to stress over the finished product or what your five points will be. You're just gathering stones.

3. Put yourself in your readers' shoes. What are their pain points? What can you help distill for them? What are the consistent questions you get asked both online and off line? This is your starting point. Your writing should be of interest to you but it should always have deliverables for your audience. You are serving them.

4. Take the ideas you've aggregated and plug them into an editorial calendar. And just like that, you've got a plan for the next several months. The next time it's time to publish a post, you're not starting from scratch. You already have an idea you've been mulling over. Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

5. Read up. Ideas come to those who are voraciously digesting other people's thoughts. A ton of what I write comes from an idea that I formulated after reading other people's work.  Samuel Johnson said, “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

6. Sit in the chair. The least sexy of all the tips--sometimes you just have to sit there until you create something. The disciplined habit of showing up is half the battle! If you want to write consistently you have to make it a priority. Sit there until you create something. Listen to Maya Angelou: “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

We all wrestle with what to write from time to time. Having a strategy in place to combat those times will always help you get pen to paper. Do you have your own tips for overcoming writer's block? What is your biggest writing challenge?  I'd love to hear what you work most to overcome and how you do it.

The 4 Measurements of Marketing

THE FOUR MEASUREMENTS OF
THE FOUR MEASUREMENTS OF

Several months ago I got to sit down with one of the brightest, most energetic marketing minds in technology, Elisa Steele. Steele's resume is nothing to sniff at. She has served as Corporate VP and CMO of all consumer applications and services at Microsoft, including brands such as Bing, Internet Explorer, Lync, MSN, Outlook.com and Skype, among others. She was also CMO at Skype, Executive VP and CMO at Yahoo!, and Senior VP of Corporate Marketing at NetApp. Since my article on Elisa went to print she has now graduated from CMO to CEO of Jive Software. Elisa is really inspiring. She got into marketing by way of sales by way of spending her summers scooping ice cream as a teen. It all started because she was just really excited about putting a smile on customers' faces.

Steele wrote a manifesto of her view on marketing called "Fast Forward: The Four R's That Matter in Marketing." I want to share her "4 R's" with you today.

The Four Measurements of Marketing

1. Reputation

How are people viewing your company in terms of giving back and doing the right thing in the world? What is your reputation as compared to that of your competitors? What specific aspect of your reputation is trending over time, and how can that trend be affected?

2. Relationship

How are partner relationships doing? Are they producing results? How can we make them better? Are customers garnering value from our product so they are inspired to tell the world about their success and help others learn from their experience?

3. Reach

How do you define your target market segments, and how much reach do you have within those? Of the reach you have today, what is your penetration rate? Is your penetration rate growing? What strategies are effective at increasing penetration and what strategies are not?

4. Revenue

How is marketing driving growth for the company? Are we supporting sales channels as effectively as possible? How is our database health? What are the conversion rates? How are we doing on sales leads?

Steele has used these marketing check points to ensure that her team is achieving the right goals. Do you have your own sign posts that you check in with regularly to make sure you're headed down the right path? 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article originally published in Forefront Magazine here.

Hilary is a freelance journalist, a bit of a marketing geek and blogger. Say hey on Twitter @hilarysutton.

The 20 Essentials: What Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs for Success

Over the years,  I've learned in my work as a solopreneur that success of course takes determination, creativity, guts, faith and talent, but there are also a bunch of other things that every solopreneur should be using or doing to achieve great things. Here's my list.

20 Essentials Every Solopreneur Needs to Succeed

1. Website. If you're a solopreneur, I hate to break it to you, but if you don't have a website, you don't exist. Services like Squarespace and Wix make it possible for you to easily create your own. 

2. Twitter presence. Every solopreneur needs to take advantage of this social media platform. It is an ideal platform for anyone who is seeking to leverage their expertise. 

3. A desk with a ton of space. I got this desk from World Market a few months back . It almost doubled my work space. It's been GREAT. Bonus: it was also easy to put together.

4. Google voice number. If you're a solopreneur this saves you from using your minutes on work-related calls. Get that free Google voice number and let them call your "office line." 

5. Buffer app.This let's you pre-schedule social posts with regularity. I'd skip it for Facebook but it's perfect for Twitter and Linkedin. 

6. Pocket. This digital bookmark lets you save pages you'd like to look at later. If you strive to be a content curator around your given area of expertise, this is a great way to save content that you can share later.

7.Tweetdeck(or Hootsuite if you're into that). Every solopreneur needs a way to manage multiple accounts at once. I like Tweetdeck best to glance at my Twitter feed, notifications, lists and sent posts all at once. 

8. An optimized Linkedin account. If someone is searching for someone like you, will you pop up in their search results? 

9. About.me page. It's too easy not to use. Get one. 

10. Solid headshots (and other professional photos for your website and social media would be great too.) 

11.  Wordpress blog. For SEO purposes, for customization options, for credibility--you need a self-hosted Wordpress site. 

12. A lunch break. Get out of your office. Unplug. Go for a run, heck a walk will do. Get some sunshine. Then get back to work. Solopreneurs can easily never stop working. That's why you need to be intentional about time off.

13. A clear list of what only you can do and what can be outsourced. Are you terrible at bookkeeping? What about answering emails? Scheduling things? What about tending to your plants or housekeeping? Could you plausibly use independent contractors so you can focus on the strategic items on your list? Figure out what you can outsource and outsource it. 

14. A group to connect with on the regular—whether it is a remote team, a book club or a business professionals weekly gathering, you need to be in community. 

15. The 4-Hour WorkweekBuy this book. Read this book. Apply the principles.(See #16.) Your life will be better for it. Guaranteed. 

16. Batch similar tasks. Let's save the decision-making brain power for what really matters. In the meantime, how bout you do all your blog writing at the same time once a week--heck, once a month. How bout you do your grocery shopping only on Sundays? Shifting your focus throughout the day is tough on your brain. Shift less. Focus more.

17. Track your time. Afraid you might be wasting too much time on a given vice? Track your time. It doesn't have to be a complex process. Just jot down how you're spending your time throughout the day on a notebook next to your computer. Do you keep to your schedule or do you diverge? Worth investigating to see if you're maximizing your time.

18. Give yourself a cut off for how much time you will spend on social media (or video games or online shopping or TV or etc etc etc) each day. You know how you're prone to waste your precious time. Be a drill sergeant on yourself. You won't be mad at yourself for it. 

19. Do not disturb button on your iPhone. Find the button. Embrace it. Every text message and email doesn't have to be attended to at the moment that it is received. Be a good steward of your time, energy, attention and brain power. If you're easily distracted, employ the power of "do not disturb."

20. Designated time off. In addition to taking a lunch break or exercise break mid-day, I encourage you to make sure you have long periods of time off each week. A Sabbath was invented for a reason! Give your time to rejuvenate, refresh and recalibrate. You'll be more effective the following week as a result.

Well, there's my list of 20 things every solopreneur must have to be successful. It's not comprehensive though. What would YOU add to the list? 

Hilary is passionate about helping people create work and lives that are wildly fulfilling. To learn how she may be able to help you, contact her here.

Top 5 Memories of 2014 & HSL Around the Web: December

My Top 5 Memories of 2014
My Top 5 Memories of 2014

Wow, here I sit writing to you on the last day of 2014. What a year it has been! My top 5 highlights of 2014 that come to mind are: performing in Mary Poppins, attending the Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder after-Tony party with Spotco in Rockefeller Center, visiting Charleston for the first time, running the Virginia 4-Miler, and traveling to California in October.

Work has been incredible this year. I worked a lot of hours but I've seen really solid results. HSL Creative has grown and transformed and so have I. While reflecting on 2014 is fun, I'm way more jazzed about looking forward to 2015. This is a big year. I'll be focusing a lot of my efforts on working as a brand journalist with Pursuant, a fundraising agency. My goal with my work with Pursuant is to help the nonprofit clients we serve share their exciting and moving stories, whether it's through a video, a blog post, a magazine article or even a podcast.

My work with HSL Creative will continue in the form of consulting, strategy and workshops. Our first workshop of the year is Blogging for Business at Toolry on January 17. It's $50--a steal--for the knowledge and practical help you'll walk away with.

More on the excitement of 2015 in my next post. For now a look back on all the places I've been published around the web this month. Happy Holidays!!

The HSL Creative Blog
Announcing the HSL Creative Blogging Workshop
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

The Clutch Guide Blog 6 Tips to Avoid Becoming the Grinch This Christmas

Forefront Blog A Leader's Mentor

Lynchburg Business 9 Secrets to Improving Your Website Content

The Digital Drip Pursuant Gives Back: Repairing Wells Through Global Aid Network
Happy Holidays from Pursuant

And I also launched a side project that brings fairytale and superhero characters to life for children's events and parties in Virginia: Enchanting Entertainment Company. Check it out!

Hilary is an entrepreneur, musical theatre performer, and a brand journalist with Pursuant. Connect with her on Twitter

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur: 10 things for that person who you fully expect to take over the world one day

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur

If you have a hustling, creative, self-starter in your life, my guess is that they would go nuts for any of the following items on this list. Happy Holidays!

1. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Full disclosure: one of my latest podcast obsessions is #AskGaryVee. The main thesis of JJJRH is that though communication is still key, context matters more than ever. It’s not just about developing great content, it's about developing high-quality content that's perfectly created to blend in on specific social media platforms and mobile devices. Anybody who has something to promote online should read this book.

2. Subscription to Audible.com. We're all busy here. Why not get a subscription for that busy person in your life and let them read while they exercise or drive? The Audible subscription includes one audiobook per month. Perfect!

3. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. This New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller was written by one of my favorite bloggers and podcast hosts, Michael Hyatt. Recently, Forbes magazine named him one of the “Top 10 Online Marketing Experts To Follow In 2014.” In this book Michael unpacks how to let the world know about your incredible message by building a platform that gets you noticed.

4. Premium Skillshare subscriptionSkillshare is an online community where you can take classes from some of the country's leading experts. Topics range from building a logo to starting a business. It is one inspiring place. Plus, Seth Godin even  lectures here.

5. Fast Company. This magazine has gotten my wheels turning about trends in technology and business many a time. Fast Company inspires a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders who are actively inventing the future of business. When I look through the pages of Fast Company I see role model after role model. This magazine will inspire and challenge your entrepreneur.

6. A photography session. Every aspiring entrepreneur, thought leader or creative needs professional images on his or her website and social profiles. In today's image-focused social landscape, pictures are everything. To say they will enhance your online presence is a gross understatement. (Photographers I've worked with and love: Foster & Asher, Adam Barnes Fine Art Photography, Billy B Photography, Deb Knoske, Ty Hester)

7. The 4-Hour WorkweekThis book has had maybe more of an influence on the way I work than any other book I've read in the last five years. In its pitch the 4-Hour Workweek says Tim Ferris will "teach you how to escape the 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich." Well, I can't say I've quite joined the new rich yet, but Ferris' book is chock full of helpful ideas to help you do more of what matters and less of what gleans you a less valuable pay off. This is a GREAT book.

8. BluehostSo web hosting is not a sexy gift, you say? It IS! I say. Your creative knows he/she needs a self-hosted site to really run with the big dogs and show the world he/she is serious about his/her endeavor. (This very blog is moving to a self-hosted site in January.) Sometimes its hard to make that initial investment. Give them the gift of Bluehost and do it for them.

9. Success MagazineThis subscription was actually not one I sought out for myself; my dad got me a 2-year subscription last Christmas. Oh how I love it. I appreciate that the stories are not dumbed down for the multi-tasking millennial generation. They are long and in-depth. In addition--my favorite part of the magazine--it comes with an audio CD with in-depth interviews based on the focus of the magazine that month. Just last night I was listening to an interview about significance. It has challenged and inspired me on my drives more than once. Well worth it. 

10. Creativity, Inc.  By Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, Creativity, Inc. was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal. This book takes you behind the curtain at one of the most innovative companies of the 20th & 21st centuries. Forbes said it "just might be the best business book ever written.”Listen to Forbes people.  

There you have it! If you read this and see items that you'd love you might ought to reshare it as a helpful hint.

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How to Write a Blog Post That Actually Gets Read

How to write a blog post that actually gets read
How to write a blog post that actually gets read

Picture this: a friend shares an article on Facebook. The title sounds interesting so you click on it. About a paragraph in you realize it sounds familiar. Wait--this post was circulating around the Internet a solid year ago. And you clicked on it then too! Here it is making the rounds on news feeds all over again. Has this happened to you?

This is a prime example of why blogging is arguably the most effective online marketing tool a company can use. A well-written, engaging, informative post can live on and attract new readers (and maybe some who've already read it once), new site visitors and potential customers for months and even years after it has been written.

So how do you write a compelling post that gets shared again and again?

How To Write a Blog Post People Want to Read

1. Make it digestable. Keep paragraphs short; three or four sentences are perfect. A reader should be able to glance over the entire post and not feel bogged down in any given paragraph. They should feel like they can read the entire post in two minutes or less.

2. Keep it between 300 and 700 words. Shorter is not always better but longer is almost always worse. There is no more distracting technological medium than the web so make sure your posts are concise so the user actually reads it from start to finish. If it’s not incredibly sharp they will move on to the next article before finishing yours.

3. Include an image. Photos draw readers into the story you are telling. The image should help you tell your story better. You can get stock images online or grab your smartphone and take them yourself.

4. Make the purpose of the post clear from the start. Being coy does not work in online writing. If you do not make the point crystal clear in the first few sentences you’ve lost your readers.

5. Don’t throw away your headline. The most important part of the post is the headline. Make your title compelling. This is your chance to draw your reader in with a tantalizing question or a promise. Pay attention to the kind of headlines that catch your eye online and adopt similar habits.

6. Get comfortable in your voice. Your blog posts need to sound like you at your most polished, well-organized, and confident. Include personal stories. Be authentic. Your blog will resonate with people when you write with honesty and candor.

7. Finish with a question or call to action. Give your readers an opportunity to respond whether it’s by answering a question or clicking through to your website. Never simply end a post with a concluding thought. Give your audience an opportunity to engage. That is the beauty of this technology: the two-way conversation.

Blogging is one of the greatest opportunities to create lasting content on the web. When done well, blogging is an incredible tool to use to establish credibility, build a personal brand, and increase web traffic.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to blogging?

HSL Creative Around the Web: September Roundup

Are you enjoying the subtle chill in the air? I'm not sorry to see September go. October is on the way! And what month is better? It's that time again where I share some places I've been around the web over the past 30 days. HSL Creative turned One! So we had our own little birthday party in the way of a countdown post. If you missed it take a look and enjoy our most popular content over the last year!

I got to celebrate the changing of the seasons over on the Clutch Guide with a fun post that includes eight of my favorite quotes about autumn.

I analyzed how the powers of social media and nostalgia combined to bring back Surge, the sugary soda from the 90s.

I also got to interview Wolfbane Productions' Artistic Director Dustin Williams for the fall issue of Clutch. I had the pleasure of working with Dustin two summers ago on a play called FOXFIRE.

I also wrote several pieces for Forefront Magazine that haven't hit the airwaves yet: an interview with Cracker Barrell's head of HR, Beverly Carmichael, Achievers' General Counsel Lisa Haugh, Mark Stone, CIO of Texas A&M University System, as well as Lynchburg's own Kathy Clay for the winter issue of Clutch.

As always thanks for keeping up with HSL Creative. And remember: your story is begging to be told.

My Top 12 Posts in Honor of HSL Creative's First Birthday

My 2nd birthday.
My 2nd birthday.

I’ve had a stunning revelation: HSL Creative, in its most recent incarnation, is officially ONE year old!

Cue the streamers, candles, and of course cake (my favorite.) In honor of our first birthday I thought I would share a countdown of the 12 most popular blog posts from the last year. (Get it? 1 for each month?)

Over the past year I’ve shared observations on social media trends, productivity hacks, career advice, information about our services, and even personal reflections about not living in a major city or overextending myself. So I give you the top 12 posts of our first year as voted by your clicks. So take a look, check out the ones you may have missed. And thank you, thank you, thank you for coming on the journey.

CHOCOLATE CAKE ALL AROUND, I SAY!

Here’s to year 2. Cheers.

12. Finding Margin: Confessions of a Wayward Blogger Whether you're an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home parent, or an employee of a giant corporation, there are always priorities and choices to make. And sometimes we have to say "no" to good things in order to say "yes" to great things.

11. 7 Hacks for Shaking off the Blahs and Getting Out of ProcrastiNation I have a war within me: lazy person vs. driven person. That conflict can easily manifest itself in procrastination. Here's some ways I combat it.

10. How to Launch Dual Careers I'm a passionate advocate of kicking the status quo in the face. If you are a soon to be college graduate, an early career professional, or just know in your gut it's time for a change, this post gives you the first steps to making the move to dual careers.

9. 10 Secrets to Getting Started in Freelance Writing If you've wanted to get started freelance writing but you're not sure where to begin, this post gives you tips on how to get paid to write.

8. 6 Reasons Someone You know Did the #ALSIceBucketChallenge Why the heck did the Ice Bucket Challenge raise over $100 million? How did that happen? Here's some reasons it worked amazingly well.

7. 10 Social Media Resolutions to Adopt This Year Need a cheat sheet for social media etiquette and smart habits (like knowing your privacy settings)? Here ya go.

6. 10 Ways I've Made Life Easier for Other Businesses, And How I Can Help You Too Don't really know what all we do here? Here are some of the most practical ways that organizations and individuals have used HSL Creative services in recent months.

5. 9 Surprising Things I Learned When I Met a Client in Person Bottom line: in this incredible digital age where I (and many other people!) make a living by never seeing anyone in person--the face-to-face communication remains irreplaceable.

4. The #1 Reason I Feel Ok Even Though I Don't Live in a Major City My industries are media and the arts. Of COURSE, I have a desire to be in a major city where patrons and potential clients flock. But here's why I think this small city life has been GREAT for me and my career.

3. 6 Ways Grad School Launched Me into the Career of My Dreams Grad school gets a lot of flack in creative fields. "It's not worth the money," they say. "You're avoiding the real world," they say. Well, I say it was the exact right move for me. Here's why.

2. Will You Do Anything Social Media Free This Year? Do you ever feel like you've become a little too attached to your technology? Do you twitch when you accidentally leave your phone in your car? Have you never left your phone in your car because you always make certain it's on your person? This one's for you.

And drumroll please...the most popular post of the last year is....

1. 5 Lessons We Can Learn from the Most Retweeted Selfie of All Time Did you retweet it? Do you know exactly which one I'm talking about? What makes us take part in viral activity online? These are a few of my observations from both academically and professionally studying people and their social media habits.

There ya have it! My 12 most read posts of the 1st year of HSL Creative. Do me a huge favor and comment here or on Facebook or Twitter with some feedback on what kind of posts you'd like to see more of in the future. I'm listening!

HSL Creative Roundup: August

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.15.04 PM

August is winding down and quite frankly I'm ready for pumpkin EVERYTHING, how bout you? It's been an incredible month of writing, rehearsals, going to weddings, running and of course analyzing our social media practices. This month I had fun curating a list of my favorite places in Lynchburg for the Clutch Guide blog. I had a female college freshman in mind when I was writing it. What do I wish I had known about the Hill City when I first moved here? Boom. I created this list.

I also spent some time on the blog chatting about the different ways I work with other businesses, thought leaders, artists and nonprofits. My purpose is simple: I want to help other people reach their goals by supplying a plethora of services within the writing and social media realm. So here are 10 ways off the top of my head that I do that every day.

And finally I couldn't help but analyze the crazy impactful viral marketing campaign that has raised over $80 million to combat ALS. Here's where I explained why it worked so well.

I hope you've had a great month as well!

10 Ways I've Made Life Easier for Other Businesses, And How I Can Help You Too

Photo by Foster & Asher
Photo by Foster & Asher

Here in my one-person studio, I do a lot of different things for a variety of other businesses. Today I want to share with you some real-world examples of what I do for my clients. I'm sharing this because it's not unusual for someone to ask me, so what is it exactly that you do?

I'm sharing this today because I'd love to meet a need for you and to simplify or enhance your work.

1. Creating or revamping web copy for freelancers, entrepreneurs and other start-ups. I've helped make website copy sparkle for several individuals and businesses who don't view themselves as "writers." 

2. Outsourcing press releases. These businesses have needed to get news out about the exciting things happening at their organization. They didn't have a full-time staff member dedicated to communication so they opted to hire me to do basic PR. This has been a really great value for them as they don't pay someone a full-time salary but they get what they value most.

3. Brand strategy consulting. Setting up several rut-busting brainstorming sessions has helped clients bounce ideas off of a creative mind and get an outside perspective. I love rolling up my sleeves and figuring out how to solve problems. 

4. Outsourcing company e-newsletter production. Again, companies who prefer to hire out their communication needs on an a la carte basis have utilized this service. 

5. Writing company annual reports. I tap into my journalism roots when helping a company craft its annual narrative to share with its constituents. I love crafting short articles and stories that tell the story of what has happened in an organization over the last year. 

6. Writing a one-page biography for a professional. I've done this for singers, actors, people with political aspirations, and even people who are embarking on a motivational speaking career. They've told me again and again "it's just so hard to write about yourself." So I step in. 

7. Social content scheduling, maintenance. Some businesses just don't have the bandwidth to create, schedule and maintain their social media presence themselves. I've done this at various levels--from just uploading and scheduling pre-created content to crafting new messaging and scheduling it. 

8. Social brand engagement. Some brands get so much engagement from fans they can't keep up with it all on their own. I step in and make sure the "two-way" communication between customers and brands is happening. 

9. Outsourcing blog writing. I have a few clients who simply don't have the time to write blogs every week. I help them craft excellent communication that lives on and continues to bring traffic back to their website long after we hit "publish." 

10. Editing important letters to constituents. Some correspondence needs a professional writer's touch. When an organization was undergoing some changes that had a sweeping impact, I helped craft positive messaging.

Those are just ten ways that HSL Creative has helped meet the needs of other businesses over the past six months. Whether you need help simplifying your load or you need help enhancing your output, HSL Creative may be just what you need to tell your story.  

Drop her a line if you'd like to make your life easier by outsourcing your communication or social media needs. 

HSL Monthly Roundup

HSL

HSL

July came and went in a BLINK. Hello, August! Whether or not August is in fact fall (ok, it's not), it sure feels like it around here. Students are beginning to trickle back to this college town and rehearsals have begun at Alluvion Stage for our fall production of the Little Mermaid. July was a writing filled month over here. I've begun freelancing with Forefront magazine which has me picking the brains of business executives in a variety of industries. Though the articles won't be published until the winter, I wrote four profiles this month in addition to the pieces you can take a look at right now:

HSL Creative Blog 9 Surprising Things I Learned When I Met a Client In Person
10 Secrets to Getting Started Freelance Writing

The Clutch Guide Endstation Theatre Company presents Always, Patsy Cline
3 Tips for Feeling Confident in an Unknown Situation

Kicker Hail the Conquering Hero: Tim Howard!
Kickstarter Potato Salad
Malaysian Airlines Shot Down over Ukraine
Meriam Meets the Pope
Turkish Women Laughing

Have a fantastic month!

10 Secrets to Getting Started in Freelance Writing

Coffee
Coffee

One question I get asked with some frequency is "so how did you get started writing?" You may be interested in pursuing freelance blog or magazine writing but don't exactly know where to start. Though I started with a degree in journalism, I submit that it's certainly not the only way to launch a career writing. Here's ten steps to take that I've seen work:

1. Start a blog. This is your first stop on the road to getting paid to write. Blogging gives you full control of what you will say and how you will say it. Show the world what you can write and what you're passionate about saying! The world is your oyster. The blog is your step one.

2. Get a copy of the Writer's Market. Pore over it. This annual volume is the bible of freelance magazine writing, poetry and writing contests. It also has a collection of great, informative articles all about the business of writing. You can fork over the money for it or just spend some time at your local library.

3. Offer to guest post on other blogs in which you can provide relevant and helpful content. Can you think of a blog or a website that really resonates with you? Look for their contributor guidelines. Some sites won't pay but if you have a good looking blog with compelling content and a great idea for a post, they will give you a shot. Look you're collecting portfolio pieces already.

4. Master the art of the query letter. This is your pitch. The magazine industry has its own nuances. Make sure your ideas are relevant to the magazine. Show you've read it and you like it. Then pitch.

5. Read On Writing Well by William Zinnser.

6. Get YourName.com. I have several friends in the business who regret that some other joker got their name (ie janedoe.com) before they did. This is a just a good rule of thumb for anyone. Buy your name's URL at GoDaddy just in case. My dad always said: "better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it." A website provides a great opportunity to point potential editors to check out several of your clips in one place. You have full control over this corner of the internet that has your name on it.

7. Spiff up your Linkedin page. Make it clear that you're a writer. Add keywords that people who might be in search of a freelance writer would use when looking for one. Consider eliminating positions you've held that don't add helpful or interesting context to your work story. Yes, I left the fact that I once swept hair from the floor of a salon off my Linkedin page. Gasp.

8. Read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

9. Do your research on the people in your network that are in the publishing business. And when I say "network" I don't mean "people you follow on Twitter." I mean people who you know that would be glad to pass your name along to the proper person. Let friends and family know this is the direction in which your career is headed.

10. Keep writing.

Have anything to add to the list? Comment away!  

Dichotomies in Career and the Craft

I've noticed several dichotomies in my approach to work lately. I wanted to share them with you because perhaps you can relate. Stream of conscious-style here they are: Hustle and Margin.I'm passionate about hustling to make an impact but I'm passionate about making sure I have margin in my life. How do I work hard to make an impact and also have breathing room? 

Thriving on working with others. Thriving on working alone. I absolutely love creating a story on stage with a creative team and cast but spending my days alone in my sunny home office are irreplaceable. So am I a person who likes to work on a team or work alone? 

Energized by working hard all day. Energized by doing nothing productive all day. Lately I've worked so hard for so many days in a row nothing has been sweeter than watching 3 episodes of the Today Show *in a row.* (God bless that DVR.) Why is it that sometimes doing nothing productive at all makes me just as happy as having a killer day executing my passion? 

Aspiring to influence. Aspiring to seclusion. Part of me wants to leave a widespread legacy. Part of me wants to live acres away from my closest neighbor. Is it possible to be both influential and enjoy privacy in this reality show/social media platform era? 

Being moved by the roar of an audience. Wanting to avoid the crowd after the show. Nothing is more moving than an audience that shows appreciation at the end of a performance. But sometimes nothing can be more uncomfortable than milling about amidst the audience afterward. Why is it that chatting with patrons and taking in their kind words can be so uncomfortable after I've just braved looking like a fool in front of them en masse on stage? 

Do you have dichotomies in your work? Does any of this resonate with you? I'd love to hear your perspective.

6 Ways to Improve Your Website Content

The content on your website is integral to the success of your organization. Here are six considerations to make your website content really wow your audience.

1. Start with passion. You’ve created a service or a product or a business. This came from your head--you’re probably pretty jazzed about it. So let that come out in your writing! Don’t be afraid to geek out on your work, life’s purpose, or calling. Passion is contagious so let that come out in your writing. What is it about what you’re selling that is AWESOME? That bit needs to be all over your website.

2. What makes you special? This is a key aspect of stellar website content. You’ve got to say what sets you apart from the competition. Imagine you’re sitting with someone over a cup of coffee explaining your company. How do you phrase it? Articulate what makes you unique.

3. Get specific. Stephen Sondheim once said “God is in the details.” And he was right. Copy that jumps off the page is specific, sharp, and purposeful. Don’t be generic. Be incredibly specific.

4. Use imagery. Images are powerful. Think of the image painted by Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream" speech. Dr. King was a visionary who moved his audience to action through words. What potential you have to do the same my friend.

5. Find the story. A couple of years ago I read a life-changing book by Dan Pink called A Whole New Mind. Dan explained that every brand now is not only responsible for communicating what they are selling but also crafting a story that draws their audience into the excitement of the organization’s mission. Starbucks isn’t just selling coffee. They’re selling the Starbucks experience. And they did that through fantastic storytelling.

6. Talk like a person. No, really. Sounding “professional” is not code for sounding automated, dry, or robotic. Nobody wants to read that. People will connect with your brand when you sound like a person. That means be conversational. Think about how you would explain your company if you were chatting about it at happy hour. Often times people are congenial and articulate in person and sound like an alien on paper. Don’t do that.

If you tap into these six suggestions I guarantee your writing will communicate your message better. If you’d like me to review what you’ve written, edit it, rewrite it or if you’d just like to hand it off to me altogether get in touch by filling out the "Schedule Consultation Chat" form on the right side of this page.

Your story is begging to be told.