Monthly Archives: July 2015

20 Best Tools For Writers: Add To Your Bookmarks!

best tools for writers

Writers today are spoiled. There are apps for everything. You can get your grammar checked, your work organized, receive writing prompts and blog ideas. You can even indulge in caprices like writing against the falling red maple leaves of Kyoto or savoring the clackety clack of an old fashioned typewriter. Branch out and discover new horizons in modern writing. There’s an app for all your needs and desires.

Here are my latest favorite writing tools:

Goodnotes 4 is the latest version of the famed digital ink app. If you like to handwrite, but don’t want to type out your handwritten pages later, this is the app for you.

Words U. It’s an app that increases your vocabulary subconsciously. As you write text messages, it takes common phrases and replaces them with more advanced vocabulary words. Ex: help = succor, sure = indubitably, food = comestibles. The perfect vocabulary builder- and what writer couldn’t use a good vocabulary?

Blog Topic Generator. If you’re stuck on blog topics, these guys can help. I typed in “writing novels” and got these gems: “The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Novel Writing”, “20 Myths About Writing” and “5 Tools Everyone In The Novel Industry Should Be Using”. Subscribe to get a year’s worth of blog topic ideas customized to your brand/specialization.

Daily Page wakes you up every morning with a new writing prompt. Write your response to the prompt and either file it away privately or parade it before the other subscribers. Great for times when you’re lacking for ideas or to help you create a daily writing practice.

750 Words is a challenge offered to you and taken on by nearly 300,000 writers. The app tracks your writing habits over a month, marking which days you wrote, how long you wrote for, how fast you wrote, what time you started, etc. It also measures the themes and mood of your writing. You get points for meeting the daily quota and can compare your points to other people’s points too.

Writefull allows you to select parts of your text and check it against three language databases: Google Books, Google Web and Google Scholar using easy-to-read stats. You can also alter your text and compare the new and old versions to see which one has more results.

Blogo is the newest in blogging. Its platform allows you to manage all your blogs from one dashboard. It has a photo editing app, an offline version and syncs with Evernote.

Ghost.A new open source blogging platform whose claim to fame is its simplicity. Elegant formats, easy-to-use, allows for multi-user blogs. Blog away in style.

Haven is a virtual writer’s den with elegantly designed backgrounds to inspire writers. Write against a background of falling red maple leaves in Kyoto or burn the midnight oil against a backdrop of night-time in Berlin and more. And if that weren’t already pretty awesome, they also offer help choosing themes to write on, plot twists ideas, and, my favorite, classical literature excerpts that have to do with your chosen theme.

Hanx Writer. If you like the sound of typewriters but don’t want to start lugging one around like your hipster friends, try this app. Its virtual typewriter provides you the audio of an old-fashioned typewriter as you type, but without having to sacrifice the convenience of your modern laptop, tablet or phone. And, as a bonus, it was designed by Tom Hanks.

Reedsy is an online network that hooks you up with editors, book designers and marketers. You create an author profile and get connected to high-quality publishing freelancers. It’s had good reviews and quote requests are free.

Scrivener is an application designed to help you organize long writing projects like novels and dissertations. It offers many tools:

  • A virtual cork-board.
  • Quick-reference panels so you can quickly pull up other documents and research when needed.
  • An ebook publisher for when you’re finished.

Grammarly is currently the most popular and reputable editing app on the market. It runs a check for over 250 grammar mistakes on your text, has a contextual spell-checker and gives you grammar lessons to help you avoid errors in the future. You can use it for emails and social media posts as well.

iA Writer Pro is a text editor plus. It’s many features include:

  • A totally blank screen to write distraction-free.
  • Focus mode that allows you to see just one line of your text.
  • Highlights adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions and conjunctions.
  • Night mode with a black screen and white type to save your eyes if you’re a night owl.
  • Syncs with Dropbox and iCloud.

Writepls is a selective collection of articles on writing and publishing. The topics span from “The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living” to “Guest Blogging Strategies that Helped Grow 36,733 Email Subscribers”. It can also help you craft the perfect email and offers advice from George Orwell to boot.

On Writing. The much-lauded memoir about writing from one of the most prolific and successful authors of all time, Stephen King. King bares his writer’s soul for your benefit. Read it for inspiration, a laugh, a cry and a kick in the bottom to get to work on your writing.

Let’s Get Digital. A writing manual for the digital age by David Gaughran. If you want the world of online, indie and self-publishing revealed, this is the book for you. It explains tactics and options to empower writers in our brave new tech world.

Penflip is a collaborative app for writers who want feedback on their work. Your readers post comments and make changes to your text which you manage. All revisions are stored, so no worries about losing your work.

Draft is a complete collaborative editing package. Besides the standard collaborating and sharing features, it has:

  • Cloud service.
  • Publishers to almost anything (WordPress, Tumblr, Ghost, Svbtle, Blogger, Twitter, LinkedIn and more).
  • Transcription tools.
  • Presentation features.
  • Simplification button.
  • Analytics.

Ulysses is one of the most popular text editors for writers of all stripes. It’s simple and streamlined, and allows you to write in various designed formats. Though light-weight, it still gives you all the editing features you could ever need. iCloud synchronization and doc exportation in many formats round out the package.

Tips For Breaking Into Freelance Writing

how to start freelance writing

If you’re looking to enter the freelance writing market, then there are many factors to consider before taking the leap. How do you get jobs? Where can you market your skills? How do you charge for your work? How much can you make? Freelance writing can be rewarding and lucrative. Or, it can be frustrating and the equivalent of slave labor. The difference between the two is the amount of preparation you put into your new career. Here are some tips to help you start freelance writing:

Define your niche

If you’re hiring a writer for an education blog, who would you choose: a writer who specializes in writing about education or a writer who writes about sports, coding, Japanese cuisine, fashion and education? While it may seem like a good idea to branch out and explore writing about all your different areas of interest.

In fact, the best way to start freelance writing is to define yourself as an expert in a specific area. The more focused your writing is in the beginning, the easier it will be for you to market yourself in that niche. The more you write on one subject, the greater your credibility becomes. Being a jack-of-all-trades isn’t the best way to catch the attention of publishers for a nascent freelancer. Focus on one area and see what that yields first.

What do you offer?

Are you the fastest content writer on the web? Can you meet crushing deadlines in a single afternoon? Are you a highly skilled researcher who unearths credible and interesting facts that defy the skills of other writers out there? Have you written any viral posts? Are you considered a thought leader in a certain area? Start to think about the market value of your skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a gaggle of writer friends, ask them to help you define these skill areas. Writers are great at identifying other writer’s strengths.

Start a blog

If you don’t have any published work to show, then write a blog. It’s the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get published and start building your credentials as a writer. Make sure your blog is focused on your niche. If you have a blog with a lot of posts, you may want to include links to your most successful or most relevant posts when sending out writing samples.

Get a website

If you have a fair amount of writing to show off already, then it may be worth investing in a website. A writer who has invested in a website has also invested in their professional life as a writer. It’s where you’ll include samples and links to your writing, highlight your skills and include testimonials and reviews. You’ll also list your rates there.

Learn to pitch

This is the essence of freelance writing and it’s the difference between a successful freelancer and an unsuccessful one. The more you pitch, the better you get at it. Pitching is about the math. Keep sending out pitches and don’t stop. It may seem intimidating at first or perhaps you’re scared of rejection. Overcome those feelings, and they will completely evaporate when you get your first ‘Yes’.

Tips for a good pitch:

  • Do research and craft your message to reflect the style and concept of the site, journal or magazine you want to be published in.
  • Be specific and brief. Long-winded pitches will probably not be read until the end. Make sure the most important information is in the beginning of the pitch and that it captures the essence of your idea.
  • Let them know who you are and where they can find out more about you by including links to websites, blogs and other published work.
  • If you don’t hear back after two weeks, send out a brief follow-up message, summarizing your initial pitch.

Decide how and how much to charge

This can be the most confusing part of breaking into a freelance writing career: how much should you charge? How should you charge: by hour or by piece? Do different kinds of writing demand different prices?

Luckily, Writer’s Market publishes a fee guide for writers. It’s one of the most useful price guides for writers out there. There’s also the question of when you should charge. You should definitely receive a payment before you start ghost-writing a book. However it’s common to get paid after the work has been delivered for web content and print articles.

Don’t accept low wages for your writing. It won’t be worth it financially and may demoralize you. Many websites offer abysmally low wages for articles. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Hold out for the higher paying jobs. They’re out there. Accepting low wages is kind of like ending up flipping burgers at McDonald’s when you expected to be head chef at a Michelin starred restaurant.

Be financially prepared

Make sure you set realistic goals about your potential earnings as a freelance writer. It’s possible to make six figures as a freelancer, but it takes time and dedication. And you probably won’t be earning this your first year in, nor your second. If you’re trying to take a serious step into a new career as a freelancer, it’s best if you have some savings set aside while you climb the learning curve.

In the beginning, you’re more likely to have trouble charging clients or getting paid. You will also go through some awkward phases where you take on too much or too little work and your income may feel a little bit like a roller-coaster. With time, you can start to smooth out the fluctuations and have a stable income.

5 Reasons Teachers Should Start Writing a Blog

why teachers should start blogging

Are you thinking about starting your own teacher’s blog?
You know that digital technology is sweeping classrooms on a global basis, creating blended learning environments. And you also know that to stay effective as a teacher you need to embrace some of this technology.
For many, the problem is knowing where to start, how to initiate and integrate these new systems into the classroom. And while most of us are now comfortable with using a smartphone and personal computer, unless you’re a hardcore geek, the idea of massive technological setup can seem intimidating.
It’s not that you’re a closet Luddite, it’s just the idea of learning an entire new system can feel a bit overwhelming.
So, rather than thinking you’re going to have to learn code, be a social media guru, and invest decades learning how to run complicated software programs, focus instead on sufficiency. Set a goal of learning what will be sufficient to create your own blog. Or, in teacher terms ‘just enough’. “[Teachers] need [to learn] ‘just enough’ to help them complete a curriculum-related or instructional task. Anything beyond this is wasted effort.”
And blogging can be a simple and gentle way to get more comfortable with technology in the classroom. For taking steps to create a blog, this post from Teach Junkie 24 Steps to Creating An Awesome Teacher Blog is a good place to start.
So, let’s explore 5 good reasons teachers should start blogging.

1. Blogging is Efficient.

A common area of resistance for many teachers is the thought that blogging will take up too much time. But in truth, once the initial setup is done and you’re familiar with the platform, blogging is an efficient and effective medium to communicate with students, parents and other teachers.
You can use a blog to:

  • Organize and consolidate all of your files, links, research data and multimedia sources in one place. And of course, you can keep private pages for your eyes only.
  • Share students work within an online community for collaboration, reviews and peer critiques.
  • Communicate in a two-way flow with parents. You can post classroom lessons and curriculum online as well as class progress, events and activities, so that parents are always in the loop. And parents can add their comments to your posts as well – or you can set a dedicated email address for private communications.
  • Post classroom and homework assignments, schedules for upcoming tests and review material. This means no excuses of ‘not knowing’ when projects are due, and are helpful for students who are absent.

This post from Angela Watson on Blogging Tips for Teachers is a good read for practical advice on setting a schedule, how to pick a theme, niches, etc.

2. Collaboration and Extended Reach.

Today’s EdTech tools such as blogging allows for a broader range of collaboration between students and teachers as well as between teacher and teacher. It’s a great way to share what you’ve learned with other teachers, and to learn from those with a bit more technical savvy – as this very informative post 50 Ways EdTech Benefits Teachers and Students from Tom Vander Ark demonstrates.
And, as an integrated tool in blended learning, blogging can also enhance “communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and digital responsibility/citizenship.”
Blogging also facilitates expanded influence for “professional learning networks across districts and around the world.”

3. Blogging Builds Voice.

For aspiring writers or teachers of drama, English, journalism etc. blogging is a very effective way to develop their “voice”, one of the key qualities in becoming a better writer – and thus, a better communicator. Critical for being a good teacher.
But it can also be the voice of social consciousness. Anyone who works within the parameters of public service knows how difficult it can be when trying to effect positive change. Blogging allows us to take our concerns into the public arena – as Susan Bowles did when she refused to give the FAIR test to her kindergarteners. Use this tactic with discretion of course. Park your post in ‘drafts’ and sit on it overnight; or consult with your peers or superintendent before publishing.

4. Use Blogging as a Learning Tool.

Setting up a blog, learning how to use it, composing original content and curating information is a great way to teach language, writing and editing skills in the classroom. And getting students involved with their own in-class blog also teaches them how to interact in a public platform with integrity and respect, and develops good “digital citizenship skills.”
This post by educator Susan Lucille Davis offers a step-by-step process on Blogging Basics for setting up a classroom blog.

5. Blogging Gives Perspective.

Let’s face it, just like our students, we don’t always behave in the classroom the way we’d like to.
Events unfold, buttons may get pushed and then we assign meaning to those events based on past experiences. These meanings then color our thoughts and feelings which may be expressed in a manner somewhat less our usual high level of professionalism.
Blogging can be a safe environment to gain perspective on what’s happened by creating a space for reflection; as the act of writing itself helps to clarify and refine our thoughts for objective examination. In situations that are unusual or create uncertainty, the professional should “reflect on the phenomena before him…” The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to spend time exploring why we acted as we did”.
In short, blogging helps to create distance so we can see the situation clearly – it helps to keep us sane!
Well, there you have some good reasons to start blogging – as well as some teacher recommended resources to make your entry into the blogosphere easy and successful.

Must-Dos For Improving Your Essay Writing Skills

how to improve essay writing skills

Most writers could stand to improve their essay writing skills. That’s because essay writing is an art honed over time and with practice. Though some people may be naturally good at writing, a good essay is more than that. It requires a tight, well-defined thesis, and a developed argument that’s simply stated and uses credible research to back it up. And of course, the artistry of writing requires precise vocabulary, transition words and active voice.

If you’re in need of some improvements in your essay writing, here are some areas to focus on:

Read more

One of the first things you can do to improve your essay writing skills is dedicate more time to reading. The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different styles of writing. Eventually, you’ll identify qualities that you want to adopt in your own writing.

Do research before you write

It’s important to do all of your research before you write. You should take notes while doing your research, but the actual essay writing should only come later. Make sure your ideas have had time to mature enough before you start trying to put them together.

Be patient and take things one step at a time. If you’ve done all of your research and taken good notes, the arguments you’ll use should be fairly easy for you to define. Rushing into the writing process prematurely can mean you have to change your arguments as you come up with more research. This will make for a jumbled essay in the end.

Avoid repetition

Writers often make the mistake of repeating the same word or group of words too many times in their essays. This causes boring reading. Use a thesaurus to see what other words you can use to capture the same idea. If there is no replacement for the word(s) you’re writing, try using third person pronouns more often (he/she/it/they) or abbreviations for long titles.

Example:
The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation met in January to vote on whether or not to allow a mining company do a land survey on their reservation. The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation voted against granting permission. The mining company attempted to file a law suit and the Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation held a meeting at the city hall.

A better version:
The Council of Elders of the Cherokee Nation met in January to vote on whether or not to allow a mining company do a land survey on their reservation. They voted against granting permission. The mining company attempted to file a law suit and The Council held a meeting at the city hall.

Cite facts, statistics, dates and expert opinions

Using numbers and statistics gives credibility to your argument as well as creates an impact. Which of the following statements has a stronger impact?

There are far fewer polar bears in the Yukon today than there were a few decades ago.
Vs.
The population of polar bears in the Yukon has been reduced by 1,000% between 1980 and 2010.

Citing the opinions of experts in the field also allows the reader to trust the rest of your observations.

Example:
The devastation of the polar bear population in the Yukon is one of the most severe of any species on the planet.
Vs.
Dr. Sheffield from the University of Toronto gave a speech at a convention on wildlife conservation where he lamented that “few places on the planet have suffered such severe loss of a single species as in the Yukon.”

Improve your vocabulary

The more words you know, the more variety of words you can use in your essays. Simple math. A more ample vocabulary can provide you with the tools to write more interesting essays. It can also help you acquire a higher level of precision in your arguments. For example, if you’re writing about bee-keeping, you could use the word “apiculture” which is the technical word for bee-keeping.

If you’re writing about religious cults, you could use the word “indoctrinate” which means “teach a person or group of persons to accept a teaching uncritically”. Precise language helps you economize on explanations.

But know when to keep it simple

Writing with precise language is one thing. Showing off is another. Don’t litter your essay with sophisticated vocabulary words. Don’t use “insouciant” when you could use “indifferent” or “turgid” when you could use “tedious”. You don’t want to force your reader to reach for the dictionary every few sentences. The majority of readers wouldn’t bother. You want your essay to be readable to the layperson. The feature of your essay is your argument: if you present it simply, it will be easy to grasp. And that’s one of the goals of good essay writing.

Use transition words

Transition words are key to guiding the reader from one argument to the next. They help improve the essay’s readability and flow.
Some transition words to incorporate in your essays:

  • However
  • Furthermore
  • Moreover
  • Nevertheless
  • Also
  • Including
  • On the other hand
  • In spite of

Check out this site for a comprehensive list of transition words and when to use them.

Use active verbs

Writers often fall into the trap of using passive voice in their essays. Try using active voice instead. It’s more direct and gives more life to your sentences.

Example:
The research done on nuclear energy has left many questions still unanswered.
Vs.
Nuclear energy research still has many questions to answer.

The last surviving member of the Terena tribe had died the year before.
Vs.
The last surviving member of the Terena tribe died in 2014.

Use a writing app

Since we live in the digital age, there are apps that can tell you how your essay can be improved. Try one or all of the following:

Hemingway – highlights problem areas of your essay with color coding for things like passive voice, adverbs, complex sentences and more.
Grammarly – advanced spell checker and grammar checker as well as plagiarism detector.
ProWriting Aid – checks for grammar, style and readability.