Monthly Archives: February 2016

If You’ve Been Scared to Write Reviews…

If you’ve been scared to write reviews, you’re not alone.  I might puff out my chest and say “I don’t care what this creator or this company thinks, I am going to write this review anyway!” but the entire time my stomach is dancing and roiling in fear.  I have devoted entire blogs to reviews (or mainly reviews with snippets of interesting news as it comes available)/highly opinionated synopsi of products, mainly books and movies, and it never gets easier.  What if you write a review of a novel you just read and it was critical and not entirely glowing but based in fact and you are chased by the “Be nice!” crowd of authors?  What if the movie you started to review really didn’t work for you but you felt torn that you couldn’t handle giving a blatantly honest review and opening yourself up to heavy criticism but then the watered-down review didn’t go into enough detail to be helpful to potential viewers?  What if the latest toy (whether the traditional children’s toys or the grown-up gadgets) is getting praise by every reviewer but you?  I feel safe in stating that I’m not the only one who feels like this and would admit to it; other review bloggers have to feel the same kind of hesitation no matter how long they’ve been reviewing products.

You might be wondering how to handle your fear of writing a review.  Excellent question!  You can try different methods, including:

  • Before writing a review positive or negative, take a deep breath.  Getting centered and relaxed has nothing to do with the actual writing of the review, but trust me when I say that it puts us in a better place for when we settle in to write.  Of course we can write when we’re a bundle of nerves, but our writing is much stronger when we let go of those negative thoughts before putting our fingers to the keyboard.
  • As a “baby reviewer”-when you’re first starting out-you can keep the tone of any less-than-100%-positive review informational and non-emotional.  For example, instead of writing “This product sucks!” you might say “This product didn’t work like I expected.  Here’s why.”  Of course, you should avoid antagonistic phrases such as “This product sucks!” anyway, but the idea of keeping your review less personal remains.
  • Only write your reviews for products that you are well-familiar with.  You may still face criticism for being honest rather than praising (praiseful?), but your responses will be based on your experiences and you will be better able to hold your own should a debate arise.

The way that I handle my review-writing fears is to tell myself and my audience that I am writing the review for the  consumers, not the creators.  Everyone who makes a product is proud of it, I totally understand that. However, once the product is available to the public, there’s no guarantee that everyone will like it or it’ll work correctly.  An example:  When I was a little kid, I was often disappointed in my toys for not doing the things the packages advertised and I had to return them for false advertising.  Imagine a tiny eight year old going up to a customer returns employee and trying awkwardly to explain that this particular doll’s hair smelled “weird” (more technically, like it had been burned with a curling iron) or this other particular doll wouldn’t stand on its own.  It was embarrassing for everyone involved, to put it nicely.  During that time I wasn’t legally allowed to write reviews because of my age, which was unfortunate because consumers would benefit from hearing that the toys were “disappointing” straight from the source.  Whether you’re reviewing toys or various forms of entertainment media or whatever your review niche(s) are, think of your reviews in context of what would be most helpful for others to know so that they can decide whether the product(s) are worth their time and money.  I can’t stress this enough:  Reviews are for the consumers, not the creators.

Readers, how do you feel about reviews (reading them or writing them)?  Do you prefer reviews that only discuss the positive aspects of a product or do you want an honest, informative review?  Are you scared or hesitant to write reviews?  How do you handle your fear of review-writing?

Do You Worry About Accidental Article Plagiarism?

Well, do you?  I remember in my various English classes from first grade to my undergraduate super-senior year of college being informed about, warned against, and finally threatened about the consequences of plagiarism.  We professional freelance writers know that plagiarism equals copying another person’s work without attributing it to them.  The definition of plagiarism varies from culture to culture, but I believe everyone can agree that it’s best to either create our own articles or cite the sources we use if for no other reason than providing our readers with additional resources.  In short, producing our original work and/or source citing are the ideal ways to go.  But what about accidental plagiarism?

Allow me to illustrate with examples from my own blogging adventures.  So one cool thing about BlogJob is that many of my writing friends have a blog to discuss freelance writing and news from the world of writing.  I have learned so much about writing from reading their blog posts and honestly they often serve as my inspiration.  That is where I worry about engaging in accidental plagiarism. Sometimes more than one person will cover the same topic.  It’s true that you can’t plagiarize an idea, but what happens if they wrote something, you were inspired by it, and along the journey of writing your blog post you said very similar things?  Is that accidental plagiarism?  Furthermore, what about using writing forum topics to generate full blog posts?  Sometimes a short forum post lends itself to a blog post that further explores the question.

The ins and outs of plagiarism are much more complicated than “Don’t copy someone’s work without giving credit for it.”  Appropriate source-citing methods depend on whether you are summarizing (using your own words but giving an overview of what the original author said), paraphrasing (using your own words but giving examples from what the original author said), or quoting (directly writing what the original author said in quotation marks with a full reference).  That, by the way, was my paraphrasing from OWL Purdue’s article “Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting“.  While OWL Purdue is the ultimate English guide website in general and it suggests useful class projects on plagiarism, it is lacking in explaining how recently popular media such as blogs are affected by plagiarism. It doesn’t give information on how bloggers can be inspired by each other’s content and write on the same idea and whether that’s plagiarism or not.  While we could give our blogger friends a shout-out via providing a link to their post or forum topic when something they write prompts something we write, OWL Purdue doesn’t specifcally have information on how to do that type of source-citing.

I now turn the question of the moment-“Do you worry about accidental plagiarism?”-to you, readers.  How do you handle your concerns?  For example, do you write your content and reference the peope and posts that have inspired you?  If you aren’t concerned, why not?

One Blog or Many Blogs?

A user on BlogJob asked a very important question about blogging.  Their question was specifically about BlogJob, but is relevant to any writing platform that allows you to create as many blogs as you want.  “What is the benefit to keeping more than one blog?” the user asked.

I happen to run multiple blogs (at least five that are updated regularly) because I can.  This is not snark; I have at least five interests (niches) that I can write in at least once every week and additional blogs for subjects that interest me and will eventually come up.  In addition to keeping various subject-specific blogs, I like to keep some blogs more personal and some blogs more news/opinion based.  For example, Newsgirl Tells the World! and The Language Log allow me to give facts (supported by news articles) as well as opinions. These blogs have more linked content and images. Meanwhile, Lovely Lovely English is a more self-reflective blog where I talk about subjects that directly impact me. Having many blogs allows me to explore topics as needed while keeping them organized, which I consider a form of professionalism.  Another reason that I would advocate for keeping multiple blogs is that it allows us to move from one blog that was relevant during a certain time period but no longer represents us to a current blog while keeping the old blog for posterity.  Of course you can keep a single blog current through creating and emphasizing posts that update your readers on your views and values, but it’s much easier to have one blog for “the old you” and another blog for “the current you”.

Most of my blogging friends limit the number of blogs they run, in some cases down to one personal blog and one news-related blog.  They might like the simplicity of having one blog to maintain or they start out with one blog for one niche and even as it expands they keep the one blog.  If it works for them, who am I to judge?

You may want to start with one blog because:

  • If you are not sure how much you want to blog, you may want to experiment with a single blog.
  • Until you know what niche(s) you want to cover, start with one simple niche.
  • If you think your blog will become a mix of topics but in one umbrella subject (Ex: current events) you can separate the various subjects by categories.  One blog can still be organized.

…But then you may want to develop niches and create many blogs because:

  • There are some subjects you want to regularly focus on.
  • You need the organization that multiple blogs provide.
  • You can leave blogs that are no longer relevant to you while maintaining the content for readers.
  • Setting up a new blog is fun.  While this has nothing to do with the professionalism aspects of blogging, it is a point worth considering.

If you’re still unsure of whether you want one blog or many blogs, ask yourself what purpose you want your blog(s) to serve.  The good thing about blogging is that you aren’t married to your first ideas of what your blog will be.  You can always change your mind as you get more into blogging.

Earning Gift Cards With Lucktastic

Yes, you can earn gift cards with the application Lucktastic.  It isn’t a quick earner by any means-I can vouch for that because a year later I’m still trying to accumulate enough points to redeem for my first-ever gift card-but there are payoffs to sticking with it.  For those of you who have never heard of Lucktastic, it is a scratch and win game application.  Think of it as the lottery.  The difference between Lucktastic and the lottery is that on Lucktastic you may not win a money prize but you can build up tokens to redeem for gift cards.  I can’t stress it enough, however, that Lucktastic is s…l…o…w for redemption and may not be for everyone.  If you’re still interested, here’s some tips and tricks.

  • Play at least one card every day.  This will guarantee that you earn additional rewards on a daily basis.  Some of them are entries into million dollar contests (which personally does nothing) but sometimes you get extra tokens or money.  I have personally won three .50 entries.
  • Make sure you play your “Highest pay!” cards everyday because they are 20 to 30 points each.  If you don’t have much time in a day, at least play these two.
  • Set a notification for the daily bonus card.  It won’t give you a significant boost, but even six or so extra tokens helps.
  • Watch videos.  They’ll be predominantly for application games, so even if you’re not a fan do it anyway because you don’t actually have to watch them.  Just let the video run from beginning to end and you’ll get your points.  Right now there are videos worth 5 points and 10 points, but note that the amount of points can fluctuate.
  • If Lucktastic is offering any deals for playing their promoted application game of the moment in exchange for tokens, give it a try.  Most of the advertised games are fantasy/strategy worldbuilding and fighting games, such as their current promotion Game of War.  Even if you hate these types of games, you can bank 2,000+ tokens just by downloading it through Lucktastic and playing it for a few days (or so).

People have gotten frustrated with not winning money from their scratch and win cards and have given up on Lucktastic.  I play it for the eventual gift cards.  If I do win some amazing monetary prize, that would be the sprinkles over the smoothie, but I never count on it.  If you are patient, give it a try!

Self-Censorship of Your Articles

When you settle in to write a new article, do you self-censor the subject matter or your opinions of the subject matter?  Of course there are restraints according to the rules of the website or publishing company, but I mean do you self-censor what you write about even if it doesn’t violate the publishing guidelines?  This topic is inspired by a BlogJob post from 2015 when a new user wanted to know what sort of topic restrictions the website has, and the best answer was that bloggers can write anything as long as it’s not offensive.  This is the perfect summary and a good rule of thumb for publishing on any medium, but I was left thinking “What does offensive really mean?”

  • One of my areas of interest (niche, in technical terms) is horror media.  If you follow my blogs The Creepy Reading Corner and The Creepy Viewing Corner or my status updates on the BlogJob group “We Love Horror Movies!” you know that I talk about the good and the bad as well as news in the world of horror.  My subject matter may be offensive to some people just because of negative stereotypes or (unfortunately) very real experiences with some type of horror media.  I may offend readers just by mentioning the names of books or movies that we have both/all seen, even if I don’t go into the gory details.
  • I cover the current US events in my blog Newsgirl Tells the World! and I don’t shy away from discussing politics.  I know that people who are on the opposing side of an issue can find it offensive to hear anything that disagrees with their view of events, regardless of how it is written. Admittedly more controversial, I post screencaps of Facebook conversations to show that they happened.  There are mixed views on whether we should blur or cross out the names of other people.  At the moment I choose not to because Facebook’s default profile settings and article commenting options are public and if people don’t set their posts to be seen only by those they choose, then there’s nothing that says they can’t be shared via screencap.  Some people find this offensive.
  • I often talk in my personal English blog Lovely Lovely English about trigger warnings and why I’m against them.  Some people find using their trigger warnings in the articles without giving a trigger warning is offensive.  Some people find it offensive that I am against trigger warnings.

Since you can’t prevent every reader from finding something offensive, you may need a different way to self-censor content.  My recommendation based on how I write is to check in with yourself about your article before you hit “submit” or print it out to send to a publisher.  If you are having second thoughts about your work, that is a good sign that something you wrote needs some edits. Note that sometimes your second thoughts are about editing for spelling and grammar; this doesn’t equal self-censorship.  Self-censoring would be if you change your arguments to be less polarizing or if you soften your stance at the end by writing “These are my views, but I welcome reader input.”

Readers, I’m curious to know if you self-censor your blog posts or articles.  How do you decide whether you self-censor or not?

Setting Weekly Writing Goals

My dad is a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) method to life organization.  He doesn’t currently act on the principles of it, but he has the CD version of Getting Things Done and it’s always playing in his car. I have had it up to here with the repetition of the same CD over and over (redundancy intended) but I’ve been considering if the GTD method could be applied to writing. Ultimately the GTD method can be summarized as “Set your goals, review your goals, and meet your goals.” For plotters, those of us writers who need structure our article writing and on a larger scale in our method of writing, there are some valuable lessons from David Allen’s GTD method.

I won’t go in depth on the Getting Things Done method specifically (although if you’re interested feel free to leave me a comment requesting a book review or something and I’ll see what I can do). Instead, this setting weekly writing goals is based on the very general summary of GTD and, I assume, other life organization plans.

Set your goals

I’ve learned that setting long-term writing goals on Monday is immensely helpful in pushing me to “Just write!” every day of the week. I’m a semi-plotter in that I need to play with my article ideas before putting fingers to keyboard. I don’t need the complete end product in mind before starting, but I need to see that it works before I put effort into it. On a larger scale, I may not have a specific point goal or artcle number goal (Ex: “I will write 10 articles by Friday!”) but I want to be able to confidently say “This week I will do some serious writing!”

The key question now is, do I write down my weekly goals or not?  I recommend writing them down in some form, whether it’s on a piece of paper or as a status update on your favorite social media website.  I use BlogJob’s status update section to write down my weekly goals because not only do I see them, but so can everyone else who visits BlogJob.  It makes my weekly goals seem more serious, putting them in the public domain.  No matter how you choose to write them down, the reason it’s recommended to have a way to physically see them is that they’re out of your head and you can read them every day.

Review your goals

The weekend is a good time to review Monday’s writing goals and determine if they were met or if next Monday requires different goals. There’s different ways to approach this.

The Getting Things Done method has many steps on doing the review, leading to all unfinished goals being categorized based on importance of accomplishing them.  I think it’s more helpful to review all the unfinished goals by making snap decisions on whether they’re worth accomplishing later or if they can be killed off.  In my experience, snap decisions are more effective than mulling things over because you have reasons for your immediate thoughts (even if you don’t know what they are) that can get lost with further thought.

A note: Reviewing your weekly goals and deciding which products you keep doesn’t necessarily mean you have to immediately complete those goals.  I often move my writing goals from one week to another week, and often not even the following week.

Meet your goals

In the end we writers want to have various projects completed so we can delete or cross them off our weekly goals list.  However, as I said above, it’s not a bad thing to shift your goals around. Meeting your goals doesn’t have to be immediate as long as they are met eventually.

So…The Getting Things Done method is not my favorite organizational method, but I am using some of the key principles from it for my writing goals.  My question for you is, how do you set your writing goals?  Are you inspired by currently-popular organizational methods or have you created your own?

Should You Write When You’re Inspiration-Drained?

All writers struggle with whether they should write something, anything when they’re inspiration-drained.  If we never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard unless the inspiration was pulsing through our bodies in just the right way, we would never write anything.  This is why experienced writers tell new writers “Just write!”  On the other hand, what quality of writing do we produce when we “Just write!”?  This is not to say that beginning an article as a stream of consciousness is a bad idea for regaining inspiration, but “Just write!” doesn’t always equal publishable quality.

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer for whether we writers should pump out a product when we’re inspiration-drained.  I’ve read arguments for and against.

In favor of “Just write!”…

  • If we have determined that we are professional writers who use the art of writing for income, we can’t get paid without delivering on a product.
  • “Just write!” doesn’t necessarily mean “Don’t edit!”  Using the stream of consciousness method is an excellent way to generate words or phrases that can later become part of the writing.  We can first list or journal some ideas without worrying about them being publishable at the moment and then return later to delete or cross out the ones that are 100% unusable.  Of course we can “Just write!” and edit that work.
  • One idea often leads to another idea and so forth.  “Just write!” is a way of quickly encouraging idea generation.

On the other hand…

  • Not all professional writers have a strict deadline for producing work.  Writing for a blogging website like BlogJob is different than writing for the local newspaper in that on BlogJob we set our daily writing goals.  If we want to take the time to plan out our next project so it begins on the right foot, we can do just that.
  • Sometimes being inspiration-drained literally means we have no idea what to write next.  It’s hard to build a stream of consciousness page if we don’t even have our first idea.
  • This one frequently impacts me.  If we have committed ourselves to posting at least one blog a day about products we like or have an interest in, we can’t write unless the products are there.  I write about Kindle book deals, and while there are always some sort of deal, not all of the products are worth recommending.
  • There are two types of writers, plotters and pantsers.  Maybe you’ve heard of these terms in context of novel writing.  Plotters like to know how their story is going to begin and end and do various pre-writing activities to thoroughly know their world.  Pantsers write whatever sounds good at the moment.  Even article writers can be plotters or pantsers.  Sometimes it’s more enjoyable to “Just write!” as a pantser, but sometimes it produces a stronger end product when we plan it out like a plotter.

I tend to be a semi-plotter in that I want to know what I’ll be writing and have some ideas before putting fingers to keyboard. Sometimes I don’t write as many blog posts as I should because the ideas just aren’t there.  How do my fellow writers deal with writing while being inspiration-drained?

Content Blog Readers Like

I don’t claim to know what every single blog reader likes from their content, but there are general consensuses that make good rules of thumb.  Readers are most attracted to articles that have a mix of pictures and written content.  They prefer medium-length posts around 500 words (give or take 100 words).  While blog readers are overall more forgiving of minor grammar and spelling errors, they insist that the topics have been thoroughly researched.  Bloggers that link to additional websites to give readers more information are more credible sources.  Finally, blog readers like opinionated writers but there is a line between being opinionated and talking down to readers.

From the beginning of my adventures in blogging, I knew that the key to creating content that blog readers are drawn to is blending visual and written content in the post.  I still struggle with finding and using images, but I realize that images can emphasize the story you are telling readers.  Consider news aggregate websites such as BuzzFeed.  While BuzzFeed is not a blog, it is an ideal example of how to blog in that its articles are filled with images as well as the written version of the story.  Occasionally BuzzFeed will post a long essay reviewing the important stories of the week, more often than not downers about war injuries and disasters.  Readers need details of the events by reading the blurbs to know who is involved, but there’s additional meaning in the accompanying pictures.  Even blog posts that do not focus on hard-hitting current events and social problems can benefit from images.  If a blogger is telling the story of their chaotic morning, a picture of something that happened earlier in the day brings the point home.  If a blogger writes about the latest gadget they purchased, a picture of what the gadget is and what it does shows readers why they might want it or conversely why they should avoid it.  The images don’t even have to be pictures; I like using YouTube videos when I talk about movies that I’ve watched or would consider watching.

One problem that bloggers can struggle with is how long to make their post.  I like writing long posts that describe everything about the topic I’m writing, but other bloggers will say that readers want bite-sized articles that they can read and then move on with their day.  The word count recommendation I’ve heard is anywhere from 500 to 700 words, preferably closer to 500.  The logic behind shorter articles is that even readers who are interested in the subject matter want to get the important information and go.  Because the responses are mixed on appropriate lengths of articles, I pose this question:  What do you as a blog reader prefer and why?

Blog readers as a whole are more forgiving of grammar and spelling mistakes (unless they are egregious and cause genuine confusion) but they insist on accuracy of the topic.  Accuracy can be as simple as making sure that any links are current or as complicated as conducting investigative journalism to back up bold claims.  I appreciate it when my readers tell me there’s a bad link so I can correct it in some way, even if the correction is an editor’s note at the top of the blog post stating that the link is still there to show that there was once a website there but it is no longer working.  I admit to struggling with investigative journalism, but just yesterday on February 14th 2016, I questioned a major company’s decisions on what movies to carry in stores or online and if there was censorship involved.  My next step is to contact the company and get more information so I can post an update.  If a blogger does make a bold claim, it’s so important for them to follow through on it and make it clear that this claim is speculation.  Readers want credibility and honesty from their blog articles.

On a related note, one way that bloggers can boost their credibility is to provide links to additional articles about whatever topic they’re writing on.  This works best when the topic is on current events or when reviewing a product.  I wouldn’t expect a blog post about someone’s day including links to anything.  For more “newsy” blog posts, citing sources via linking shows that the blogger wants to know more about their topic and is sharing their findings with their readers in addition to source citing being required.

The final thing that blog readers like is when the blogger knows the difference between informing them of something versus talking down to them.  Opinion-based blogs are the most likely to struggle with this.  We blog because we have opinions and want the world to know what they are, but sometimes in expressing our opinions we become preachy or condescending.  I admit I am guilty of this frequently (probably even in this post!).  Definitely let me know when I’m overstepping my bounds.  The more I research good blogging etiquette, the more I get confused on how opinions become overbearing.  Readers, what are your limits?

You *Can* Make Money Online But…

I am so frustrated by people that spam websites with ads for fraudulent money-making services online.  Maybe you’ve seen them if you’ve been on news aggregate websites such as BuzzFeed or social media versions of newspapers such as Huffington Post: “I just lost my job and my parents are dying and my best friend ran over her boyfriend with her car and I’m so sad…but look at me making $500 every day!  You can too!  Just follow this link that clearly leads you to a website that will steal your identity and leave you worse off than before!”

A screencap of someone advocating for an app called Checkpoint.

A screencap of someone advocating for an app called Checkpoint.

A screenshot of someone who claims you can make big bucks quick.

A screenshot of someone who claims you can make big bucks quick.

The truth is that you can make money online, but (yes, there’s always a but) it isn’t going to be $500 every day and it will require effort and ingenuity on your part.  My own successes have been legitimate but limited and I would absolutely advocate that if you choose online money-making, you must  keep in mind that it won’t be a steady income unless you are ready to work dedicatedly and view it as a serious job.  From 2015 and onward I can honestly recommend using BlogJob as a writing platform and Clixsense as a Pay-to-Click but only because I have cashed out multiple times.  With BlogJob, I have only cashed out at $25 for my PayPal deposit and I remember them taking out a few dollars as a processing fee.  It’s not a terrifyingly high amount, but know that even if you cash-out at $25, you won’t receive the full $25. With Clixsense, you should know going in that the first time you cash out, they will send a physical check so that once you receive it you have to type the routing number into your profile.  After this, you will be sent money via PayPal or the other online banking institutions they have partnered with.  In addition, I highly recommend that when you reach Clixsense’s minimum cash-out amount of $10, keep building up your money because they will take some of it as a processing fee.  processing fees for both of these places are the biggest kicker, but since you do get paid then what’s a few dollars or a few cents?

The problem with using the internet for money-making is that, as the spammy, scammy ads on social networking prove, you have to be alert and know when you’re being scammed.  I never trust anything that promises to make you *insert a ridiculously outrageous amount of money* if you first pay them *insert a reasonable amount of money.  You shouldn’t have to pay money up front.  It’s similar to what I’ve been told about student scholarship, loan, and grant applications-If the company wants you to pay them to receive information or submit your information, run away screaming.  My fellow bloggers have experienced other signs of questionable online businesses (admittedly, not all businesses that are related to money-making).  If you can’t find information about the company promising to make you money, it’s better to write it off as a scam than to lose time, energy, and money.  If the business’ “About Us” page is nothing but praise for them, run away.  If you check the business’ ratings on Alexa and they are getting negative ratings, check out the reviewers’ comments and proceed with caution.  If an individual representing the business is rude or pushy towards you, whether it’s a scam or not, it is not worth your time.  I promise you that it’s going to feel like sometimes all of the time you spend with online money-making is going towards finding an appropriate platform for you and I promise you that sometimes you will feel like none of it is worth it.  This is why you have to be dedicated.

One thing that has helped me considerably as a blogger is becoming an interactive member of BlogJob and learning tips and tricks from my fellow bloggers.  Even if you’re not a blogger, you can search for a group of others who are interested in the same money-making techniques you are.  Many Pay-to-Click websites have forums and Facebook is a great place to search for.  It’s not a time-drain to take a break from your online work to socialize with others who are in your situation.  Of course this is taking a break from the very activity that will make you money, but it’ll help you maintain your sanity and blow off steam if you need to. We online money-makers need these breathers!

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