I’m a HUGE fan of anything that will spark creativity, storytelling, and basically just get me unstuck in my writing. Even though I primarily write non-fiction, sometimes taking an hour or so to work on a fiction piece can just get the words flowing.
And sometimes just THINKING about fiction stories will do it!
Just so we’re 100% clear: I think fiction is way harder than non-fiction. I have the greatest respect for fiction authors. And since my video project is within a week of being completely finished, I’m rapidly running out of excuses to avoid starting the novel.
So when I got an email from Writer’s Digest saying that they had these little six-sided dice guaranteed to get your writing juices flowing, I was all in.
They are very similar to a tool I made a million years ago called a story machine. Basically you come up with two decks of index cards, one with occupations and one with situations. Pull a card from each deck and whamo! write a story about it. The problem was that I had to come up with the ideas for both decks of cards. AND, after playing with it for a while, it wasn’t really a “random” story. It just wasn’t easy enough to create permutations.
Enter “Writer’s Blocks”
There are four six-sided cubes:
Green – genre
Orange – plot twist
Red – protagonist
Blue – plot archetype
Sounds pretty straight forward, fun and easy, right?
At first glance, I really REALLY liked the idea. Especially the since the protagonist cube has a non-human! (Hello dogs and birds and even inanimate objects!)
Here are the challenges:
1. The pouch the cubes come in is so tiny that they just barely fit inside
2. There’s a “key” on a teeny weeny piece of paper
3. The key isn’t printed anywhere else; you can’t find it on the website
And the key is pretty much critical to using the cubes. Otherwise, you have to remember exactly what “Hero-MA” means or what rolling a “rival” on the blue cube stands for.
I LOVE the idea of these blocks. They’re small, have a TON of ideas that can be created and completely generate lots of ideas.
So I’ll be scanning the key into the computer so I have it when the tiny piece of paper makes it inevitable break for freedom. And I’ll be transferring the blocks to a larger pouch that can fit the four cubes AND the instructions.
Here’s a link where you can get the Writer’s Blocks. They make a GREAT gift!
I know we’re all looking for ways to keep our blog content updated regularly. Regularly updated information keeps readers coming back, shows the world that you still exist, increases search engine visibility, and of course, can provide content for books later on. But the ongoing question is always HOW do I create all that content?
A great way to keep your blog fresh is to post content that is relevant to your industry RIGHT NOW. Here are five ways where you can be sure that you’re “in the loop” for what’s big in your industry right now.
1. Google Alerts
Set up a Google alert for a keyword in your industry and have it deliver the content once per day. My trick here is to tell Google to give me EVERYTHING from every source it can; not just what Google deems “important”. This gives me insight into what is happening globally, in local markets, and far beyond the blockbuster news stories.
A word of caution here: your alert will ONLY be as good as your keyword! My keyword of “publishing” returns me TONS of results every day but only a small portion of the results are relevant. After a few weeks of scanning the articles, I was able to narrow and refine my alert’s keyword.
2. Troll Facebook
Now, before you tell me “But Kim, all my people hang out on LinkedIn” (or Twitter or Google+ or WHATEVER) just trust me on this one! Because I can pretty much guarantee that your competition or the biggest player in your industry has a presence on Facebook. So scan that fanpage regularly for what are they posting about what is happening in your industry. Then, you can follow the news back to its source to get the full scoop or do some digging about contradictory positions.
It’s okay to let somebody else do some of the research for you! Plus, they’ll also be sorting for what’s important and letting the fluff go by. Just be careful that you’re not just copying somebody else’s media strategy or opinion about what is breaking news!
3. Subscribe To Industry Magazines
Online or offline, your industry will have a few key magazines. The real gold here isn’t always in the current editions but in the archives. As a subscriber, often you can access older issues for free or low cost. What you’ll see after a while is a pattern to when they’re timing their articles. So when you start to see that pattern of “They always have an article about THISandTHAT in March” then you know that this is a seasonal topic that you can research ahead of time and be ready to jump on board.
By the way, any regularly published industry “publication” will work. In addition to subscribing to two writing magazines, I also get three email newsletters about writing and publishing. Authors aren’t super big into podcasts since we like written words but if we were, I’d listen to the podcasts as well.
4. Get On Press Release Lists
Specifically the press releases for the key players in your industry. For my outdoor recreation business, I’m on the press release list for the local National Forest. For publishing, I read the press releases from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Instead of waiting for the story to break in a huge publication and then cover it later, I get the information at nearly the same time the biggest news outlets do.
Here’s the ninja move though:
Instead of JUST posting the press release to your blog (which can be okay) you can insert your expert opinion about what the update MEANS. For example, my article Why Traditional Publishing Isn’t Fair is based off an article I found but I didn’t just republish the article. I gave my expert opinion about what it means to us as independent authors.
5. Create The News
I know a ton of business owners who regularly submit press releases to their local papers or to distribution services but who NEVER post the content directly on their website! Or if they do, it’s buried under a Media tab. If you’re the one doing something newsworthy in your industry, toot your own horn and tell people about it.
Remember that the style and format for a press release is far different than a blog article! You can either post the press release directly into a blog article or you can take the same news and repackage it to fit the style and tone of your blog.
A word of caution about tips 1 – 4: be sure that you are fully vetting any source materials you use. You don’t want to perpetuate bad information or run the risk of looking like you didn’t do your due diligence to make sure that the facts are accurate.
It can take a lot of time to sort through the news. Even if you don’t end up using the information on your blog, it’s never wasted time because it helps you have a “big picture” look at your industry.
It’s the middle of February. Technically, we’ve only been in tax season for two weeks since we couldn’t even START until January 31. But I’m already planning my after-tax-season reward. (My family owns a tax practice, in case you’re wondering why I mention tax season!)
What does this have to do with writing, publishing, or blogging?
Because my after-tax-season reward is a five-day long backpacking trip along the Verde River. And I’m already starting to collect notes for the book I’ll write after the adventure!
Let me tell you about the trip so you have a frame of reference. Ben (and Pete-dog) and I are being dropped off at the bridge at Perkinsville Ranch the afternoon of April 16th (Wednesday). Our pull-out point is 23 miles upriver at the bridge at Old Highway 89. This happens to be the headwaters of the Verde River. Since it’s such a long trip, I’ve already started getting in shape to be hauling a 35 pound pack up hills and around bushes. Oh, by the way, there’s no trail! I’m calling it the bridge-to-bridge trip and have been boring the tax clients to death talking about it!
So what am I doing differently about this writing project than any other project? Well, first off, even though this is a non-fiction project, like most of what I write, it’s a very different type of project because I’m planning a memoir of sorts about the trip. It’ll be non-fiction insomuch as that the trip actually HAPPENED but I want to write it with all the tension and story arcs that usually accompany fiction.
- There will be characters: me, my boyfriend Ben, his dog Pete.
- There will be tension: hopefully just the type with weather, flora, fauna, and sore muscles.
- There will be change or growth in the character: I’m a different person now than I’ll be at the end of the trip.
Staying true to my non-fiction, how-to loving roots, I’m also planning on incorporating a bunch of backpacking tricks and tips that I discover both in the planning stages and once the trip is underway. And I know what I DON’T want the book to be like: boring! I’ve read a few memoirs recently that were set during really fascinating periods in the authors’ lives. But the narrative reads more like a grocery list than an exciting adventure.
While on the trip, I’ll be sucking it up and hauling the extra weight for a journal and writing utensils. (I’m not an ultra-light backpacker, by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t usually pack extra stuff either!) I’ll be taking lots of notes; not only about what happens (facts) but also about the “other” stuff, the emotional side of the journey.
Then, when I’m at home, I’ll weave the more factual, how-to information, into the narrative of the trip.
I’m sure you’re wondering by now how am I going to make this relevant to you, right?
Let me ask you this: have you been engaged with my story so far? Have you imagined what you would do if you decided to undertake this adventure? Maybe you’ve thought about just how much a 35 pound backpack weighs. Or what sleeping in a tent for four nights would feel like. Imagining what you’d take to eat.
By telling you something personal and letting you help me dream-build about my trip, I’m engaging you into my article.
Rather than just a boring article that says:
Use personal stories, client examples, and metaphors to help your clients engage with your content.
I’m illustrating the concept by explaining about my trip.
But I want to caution you to always keep the end in mind. The goal of this article is to illustrate how using a story can help your readers engage with fact-based materials. However, in my excitement about my trip, it very easily could have JUST turned into an article about this upcoming trip. And while that may be interesting to some, it really has nothing to do with the focus of my business.
Always keep the end in mind but use personal stories to help your readers resonate with your message, learn more about you as a person, and engage with your content. There’s a saying in network marketing that is 100% applicable when you’re writing:
Facts tell but stories sell.
Stories can be about you personally or about the results or successes that your clients have achieved. When you interject more of your personality into the article, your readers feel like they know you and you become more of a real person. This really increases your know, like, trust factor.
So try it in your own writing. Instead of just relating the facts, open yourself up and really share with your readers!
And if you’re interested, I’m resurrecting an old blog of mine, TieYourBoots.com, to hold my pre-trip articles. These will be along the lines of planning, ideas for packing, products that I’ll be evaluating for the trip, etc.