Author Archives: Steve Aedy

7 Fabulous Ways to Improve Your Writing Style

While writing style is ultimately crafted through time and experience, this post focuses on the 7 most fabulous of fabulous ways you can improve your writing in a more focused and productive direction rather than through mountains of trial and error.

writing style

1. Create Your Writer’s Asset List

Regardless of how long you’ve been writing, from one day to one lifetime, sit down and compile a list of all your assets as a writer. The exercise is about providing perspective that oftentimes is lost to those who don’t approach these things systematically.

Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What kinds of essays/papers have you written before? Keep it simple, but do give yourself a visual representation of everything you’ve accomplished.
  • How fast are you?
  • What are your grammatical strengths?
  • What are the defining characteristics of your writing style presently?
  • What are you the best at writing?

2. Cut, Clip Shave and Destroy

It’s called “killing your darlings” and the practice is valuable beyond words. You start to see how much of your writing is fluff and filler. You begin to see how to write more directly, rather than being overly descriptive or beating around the bush because you’re unsure of yourself.

Write a paragraph about something, anything will do.

Then, go through it word by word and get rid of EVERYTHING that isn’t absolutely necessary to make the point and keep the sentences cohesive. Once you find the core, then you can sprinkle your own twists on things that reveal your style.

3. Take Any Focus off of Yourself

Are you writing for yourself? That’s like an educational speakers speaking to hear themselves talk. It doesn’t resonate well and sends many of the wrong signals. Who are you writing for? What’s the point? What’s the end-goal? Your writing style is expressed most naturally when you aren’t trying, right? Take the focus off yourself and put it elsewhere, thereby allowing your style free reign.

4. Regard the General Intonation of Your Writing

Rather than trying to look at style in a compartmentalized fashion, pay attention to the overall vibe or intonation of your writing. Remember, the vast majority of human communication is through intonation, or how we say things, not what we actually say. Most of the time when we talk about writing “style” we’re really referring to your intonation. Address is from that angle to streamline the process.

5. Study Writers

Try studying writers outside your comfort bubble. Keep in mind that these authors are processed goods. That paperback is the commercial literature equivalent to a Twinkie. They’ve been heavily edited and proofread by people that make insane amounts of money. Their personality is like iron.

Go for someone, anyone, above your age with TONS of personality. Want an example? Ok, try Russel Brand, or perhaps Matt Taibbi. You can’t expand style without new, foreign and alien input. Pay special attention to any genre that makes you uncomfortable, because there’s likely gold in there for you.

6. Actually Study the Science of Creativity

If you study the science of creativity you’ll see that you probably have far more of it than you might think. If your style seems stagnate, you need to sit down and take a look at how creativity really works. #5 touched on it, but you can take it much further than that.

Creativity comes from quasi-random “mutations” (if you will) when two really unrelated or oddly paired things meet. Put yourself and your mind in places you’re unfamiliar with on a constant basis and then absorb tiny bits of info. This will shape a truly fabulous writing style.

7. Make Rephrasing a State of Mind

Isn’t style the ability to take a dry sentence and turn it into something more engaging? Isn’t the ability to take a dry sentence and inject your own personality into it? With that being said you should make it a constant background practice for your mind to rephrase and reword things you read in passing or directly.

If you devour a post that blows your mind because of the style, then rewrite it in your own words. If you read an advertisement that impresses you, then rewrite it. The more you practice taking things and molding/shaping them in your own voice, the more your own style will reveal itself and evolve.

What about you? What writing tools are you willing to share? There are so many different takes on this subject, probably as many as there are students. Some tools and tips work better than other, so out with it! What are your top 3?

8 Persuasive Writing Techniques to Make the Story Appealing

Whether the story is fictional or not, there are less well-known persuasive writing techniques you can use to make it more appealing. Sometimes all it takes is a little reminding and boom, just like that new ideas come on like cerebral wildfire. In this article we’ll look at eight reliable methods you can use to compel your readers into deeper personal involvement.

persuasive Writing Technique

#1: Almighty Propaganda

Not to get dark or anything, but look at how well certain governments and corporate bodies throughout modern history have used propaganda to persuade the masses do any number of oddball things.

  • Are you adequately repeating the theme of the story in different ways?
  • Are you creating characters that deepen the story by reinforcing your point, or pull it apart?
  • If you need the reader to feel or imaginatively see something, then it bears repeating.

Listen, the facts are in ladies and gentlemen: if you repeat a theme, a moral or even a marketing slogan to someone through a story about ten times over a short period you’ll imprint it within their minds. Say the same thing, show the same scene, or make the same impression in a series of different ways like creative and subtle propaganda.

#2: Provide Reasons – Anything Will Do

Give the readers good reason they should continue on with the next paragraph, buy the product, get involved with the character or even take you seriously as a writer. One of the most powerful words in your reason-arsenal is “because.”

Why because? Who because? When because? What because? Everything needs to have because after it in one way or another for readers to buy into whatever story you’re selling. And here’s the key, your reasons don’t technically need to make sense.

Of course in non-fiction this is situational, but for sales copy and fiction writing in general the reasons just need to be good enough to persuade, right? Since most human beings are persuaded emotionally, there’s a big grey area in the reasoning department.

#3: Consistent Upward Climbs

Rollercoasters are awesome, but they’re also mentally exhausting. If you want to drive readers nuts and have them begging for a CTA (call to action), then build your story with steady unchanging upwards momentum. Think about it from a psychological perspective.

How much of human society is based on consistency? The power grid, entertainment, the work force etc. We’re mentally programmed not to come across as inconsistent. So, consistency needs to be woven into the fabric of your persuasive writing.

#4: Lavish Readers with Social Proof

Social proof is about tapping into another engrained trait – need for acceptance. Whether we want to admit it or not, we like to do what everyone else is doing. A simple example is, pretend you have a choice between two items of equal price and quality. One has customer testimonials extolling its virtues while the other does not.

Which one do you think roughly 8 out of 10 people go with? Now, those testimonials could be completely false. It doesn’t occur to us to check their validity. Once you learn to recognize social proofing you begin to see it in all of the most powerful writing, regardless of genre.

#5: Parables, Allegories, Metaphors & Similes

You could throw Myths in that list as well. This is the stuff that drives the human mind into frenzy. The trick, and the challenging part, is to make them original. How many creative, funny and ironic comparisons (simile) can you make between a mouse and a man?

Metaphors get complex ideas across in a digestible way, through story. They make direct connections in indirect ways. Allegories are tough. Try making one of those up. Think about Plato’s timeless “Allegory of the Cave”.

There is perhaps nothing more powerful than the proper and effective use of these tools. You can dramatically sweep minds right off their feet and into your arms (see what I just did there?). Study them and whenever you can, use them.

#6: Appeal to the Human Animal

Objectively, human beings are beings just like any others, at least in a physical sense. We’re governed to certain degrees, by instincts. These instincts go back hundreds of thousands of years. Jealousy, envy, acceptance into the tribe etc. When you really want to grab someone, grab them tribally. We all intimately understand the concept of “tribe.” Modern tribes are everywhere!

#7: Unrestrained and yet Structured Insanity

Go crazy. Do the unexpected and throw a few proverbial BIC lighters into the fire when no one’s looking. Upset the tribe. The key is to only allow true chaos to reign momentarily. If you sustain it too long the writing will thin out and all connection might be lost. Structure the insanity.

#8: Get Psychological

Last but not least, when your writing needs to evolve go psychological. It’s all psychological regardless really. Become the captain of that ship rather than the guy up in the crow’s nest. As the writer, you’re in control of the rudder of your story, not the audience. Use their minds as your persuasive sails.

Have you created your own story? Do you have any tips for writing with persuasion?

Who Invented Writing and What It’s Becoming

If you want the super-detailed high-brow answer to who invented writing equipped with links to volumes of collegiate historical data, then by all means visit the Wikipedia entry. Otherwise, this article is designed to provide a more concise view and then get straight to the modern conceptions of writing.

who invented writing

We’ll begin by defining “writing” as symbols (letters/words) that are used to convey something. With that said it becomes clear we could go all the way back to the first cave dweller to draw on the cave wall, or in the mud.

How did it happen? Was it the protein in our diets, ancient astronauts, cold Darwinian evolution or benevolent Gods? Let’s try not to get lost in abstraction too soon. Writing happened because over a really long period of time humans developed a more and more complex way to communicate with one another.

We developed writing systems so that more people could talk to each other in an easier to understand and efficient way. Writing began as utility.

What Writing Is Transforming Into

Now, here we are in the very early 21st century technological era. First graders today have a completely unique view of what writing and human communication is.

  • Books have become eBooks.
  • Reading is now synonymous with browsing, web surfing and eReading.
  • An increasing portion of all global communication happens in a digital realm.
  • Facebook updates can change lives or begin careers, while Tweets can start or stop social revolutions.

Most human beings are bombarded by advertising and marketing signals over a hundred times a day in tons of different forms. The first thing many millennial folks imagine when the subject of writing is brought up is the blogosphere.

We’re headed towards a near future where one single search engine company commands and acts as the gatekeeper to the brunt of human knowledge. Where the first place the new generations turn to for answers?

How People Become Writers Today

Think back just 10 short years ago, maybe even less and consider what it was like to become an officially recognized, published and professional writer.

  • Right now, if you wanted to you could open up a word processor, jot out page after page of nonsense, slap a snazzy cover image on it and self-publish it on Amazon as an ebook. Then, you could call yourself an ebook writer.
  • You could set up a blog, start blogging and call yourself a blogger. The titles was recently used in the halls of the US Senate and White House.
  • You could sign up for free to any of the online freelancing websites and call yourself a copywriter.
  • You could hop online and study endlessly on how to be a writer for absolutely no cost from your bedroom, or on a beach somewhere using a laptop and a wireless connection. Ivy league college now offer advanced “open-source” writing classes.

Is traditional or conventional education even required anymore to be considered a writer? Are writing classes even necessary? You could call yourself a social media writer and compose updates, tweets and blog comments for people and businesses.

What a writer is now and is becoming is a completely new and unique thing from any other time in human history. You could publish something online, that should it go viral, would possibly be read by people across the globe within minutes, or hours.

The Emergence of Viral Writing

To get an inside perspective of where modern writing is headed, we need only look at it from the standpoint of professional web writers. A new profession really, that’s only just begun to spread. However, already the demand for folks that write specifically for web-audiences is prolific.

  • They don’t need to have any classical writing education whatsoever. In fact, these days it’s uncommon for celebrated web writers to mention their educations at all.
  • The primary goals of their writing is to sell, inform and entertain but many of the conventional rules of writing no longer apply.
    Standard web articles are meant to be easy to scan, and present comparatively bite-size chunks of data.
  • Non-fiction is shrinking at a rapid rate. The majority of people who buy non-fiction online get them in small packages roughly 10-25,000 words which not long ago would have been the average length of a single chapter.

The history of writing and where it’s going is an incredibly complex subject. Right now there’s an extreme lack of attention being given to how writing is transforming. And, along with it, us. What will people think of writing in 2020?

What will it mean to be one at that time? With video and mobile technology advancing so quickly, will there come a time when the written, or textual word is irrelevant?

How to Write a Story Plot that Doesn’t Suck

No matter what kind of writer you are or want to be, mastering the plot can seem like an uphill battle. Life is a plot. Everything is a plot, but don’t let the complexities confound you. The formula of plots can be broken down into smaller more bite-size chunks of information that are easier to digest.

In this post we’re going to go over a list of traits that you’ll find in every truly noteworthy plot. These help to provide some structure. Then, the second half of this post lays out 6 steps in sequence that while brief, pretty much provide the bullet-point perspective of plot writing.

Writing a story plot

Specific Authority Signals of a Good Plot

This list isn’t all-inclusive by any means but it covers the bases. These 8 thinks are common to all memorable and engaging plot.

  • Niche: Every piece of prolific writing was written for specific type of person, or for niche of people. Plots shouldn’t be designed to try and please everyone. Plots don’t have a one size fits all formula. Each genre presents its own set of rules, codes and expectations that must be met for general approval.
  • Theme: Likewise, all great writing revolves closely or loosely around a theme. Like a dog on a chain. No matter how far the chain stretches, the dog is always fixed into a certain environment and cannot leave. You could even call it a background theme if you want, but don’t confuse it with the setting.
  • Structured Chaos: One of the most impressive plots to hit the contemporary world would have to be The Matrix trilogy. Each of the three can stand alone. They all have every base covered and there’s tons of structure, but the sense of reality is constantly blurred. Find the niche, tether them to a relevant theme, and then add some chaos into the world they inhabit.
  • Conflict: This is plot writing 101. Nearly all of the celebrated plots involve conflict.
  • The Onion Influence: Let the plot unfold one layer at a time. With each peel the tension, conflict, emotional involved and investment should increase. Furthermore, try to influence their bodies the way peeling or cutting a fresh onion can (tears!).
  • Characters: Characters need to be specific, memorable and possess their own unique quirks. Never ever short change characters, but don’t bog down the plot with too much character development either. Think of it as a tiny step beyond a “need to know” basis.
  • Setting: A third of the plot is dictated by where it takes place, regardless of how many different locations are visited.
  • Presence: If the plot were to magically transform into a human being, what kind of presence would they project? Strange question right? Seriously, what kind of vibe is being created by the plot, and is it under your control?

6 Practical Steps to Composing a Righteous Plot

Now, let’s move on to the six step process of putting together a solid plot outline that you can use to craft a great piece of sales copy or perhaps a work of fiction.

  1. Purpose & Desire: What is the inherent desire of the plot, and what is the purpose you have in mind for the reader? Now, every viable plot either solves a problem, answers a question or attains some kind of goal. Coming to terms with the overall goal of your plot is the first step. Each events leads towards it. Every word is a step towards that goal.
  2. Destination & Consequence: If the goal is clearly in focus you should be able to know what the conclusion is going to be before you write the first word. The conclusion is the destination; the culmination. This is your second step. Something to keep always in the background of your mind is, what will be the overall consequences of this plot?
  3. Requirements: What needs to happen to get you from the beginning to the ending without getting lost along the way? What are the requirements to meeting your goal and reaching the conclusion? Drafting these out and thoroughly understanding their place in the plot is your next step.
  4. Intermittent Forewarnings: The next step is to strategically think of forewarnings you can place throughout the story that either subtly or obtrusively warns the reader that the conclusion, or climax is coming. In a way, you could imagine these forewarnings as consequences as well. They are the direct result of the journey reaching close to its end. They don’t have to be either good, or bad just indicative.
  5. Sacrifice: The last step is coming to terms with the price/prices that must be paid for reaching the goal. Sacrifices must be made. Powerful plots draw readers in and involve them. Goals must be obtained. Answers uncovered. Problems solved, but everything comes with a price in life.

This should help, but ultimately it comes down to thorough planning and organizing your plot as you hash it out on paper, or on screen.

How to Write a Conclusion that Satisfies Your Reader

Conclusions, how to write them in such a way that your reader feels grateful, thankful, relieved and satisfied…dare I say privileged?

While it’s impossible to please everyone, there are methods writers have been using for some time now that may be of assistance. Whether you’re a novelist, journalist, student, internet marketer or blogger it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows how important conclusions are, and readers carry certain expectations with them when they arrive. They expect to be satisfied.

How to Write a Conclusion

We’ll begin with the most powerful tip first and then work our way down the list.

Tip #1: Consume 10 Amazing & Relevant Conclusions

Go out and get ten of the most prolific works relevant to whatever subject you intend to write about. Be specific and go straight to the contemporary title holders. What niche are you writing in and for? Who is your audience and who do they feel are the authoritative wordsmiths?

Example #1: If you’re an Urban Fantasy writer with a thing for Vampire love triangles and eBook series, then go straight to the top 10 in Amazon’s “free” bestseller list. There are always new big hitters in every genre on the Free Kindle Boards. Wait, they’ve got 500 reviews? What are their conclusions like and what are their readers saying about them?

Example #2: If you’re an online affiliate marketer (where conclusions and final calls to action mean success or failure) then it’s simple. Who are the best affiliates for any given product? Find the 10 most highly rated affiliate articles in Google first page search results and devour them. How did they build up to the end? Why did they get such an incredible amount of comments and social media engagement?

This exercise conveys truths and experience to you that nothing else can compete with. It’s experimental knowledge, rather than something purely conceptual. The trick is sticking to your genre or niche, so you can clearly see what’s working.

Tip #2: Connect the Dots Backwards

Steve Jobs was one of the men who brought this concept into the tech-savvy culture. Start from the end user-experience, the ideal model, and work your way backwards. The Academy Award-winning screenwriter and American novelist John Irving is known for beginning all of his novels with the last sentence.

Why not start from the ending and work your way backwards? Now, Mr. Irving certainly doesn’t write novels in reverse. But, when it comes to wire-framing and mentally outlining what you plan to accomplish, you can feasibly make the first thing you write the last line, paragraph or final scene.

  • The deeper and more real you make it, the more powerful your overall perception of the total task will be. With the ending always completely in focus, everything else is influenced.
  • Become the reader and feel what you want them to feel. See what you want them to see. Visualize it until you know your exact destination.

Tip #3: Progressively Deepen Involvement & Connection

Some might argue that by the time readers arrive at your conclusion over half of the heavy lifting should be done. It’s about effectively building momentum at a rate that neither bores nor mentally fatigues them.

  • Objectively, where does the conclusion really begin? It’s hard to say when you get to thinking about it. Especially if you begin your work with the last sentence.
  • There are countless writing techniques at your disposal to deepen the reader’s personal, imaginative and emotional investment in the writing. Use and personalize them.

See your writing as a step by step process that should consistently and systematically build up tension. Conclusions are always where readers know they’re headed. They just don’t know what to expect. Speaking of which…

Tip #4: Give Them the Unexpected

Professional public speakers are the first to tell you that it’s the presence they leave on the stage when they’re done that makes all the difference. For most of the people in that audience, the last few minutes are the ones they’ll remember the longest. Those and the first couple.

Drop some intellectual napalm out of nowhere! Set fire to what, by design, you had them expecting. This is either going to sway them so deeply they’ll bow at your proverbial feet, or they’ll ash out, cursing, wailing…and they’ll never forget what you wrote for the rest of their lives.

Either way the impression is solidified. If that’s one of your goals, similar to a public speaker’s, then this is definitely a reliable method to consider.

Tip #5: Whenever Possible, Make Closure Bittersweet

Obviously this won’t apply to everyone, but whenever you can add a little pinch you should do so. Bittersweet is closer to reality. It seems more authentic. We crave closure, hope for the best, but understand that oftentimes even the most amazing and fulfilling closure can come with a price.

5 Persuasive Writing Techniques: Creative Confidence

Writing itself, whether fiction or otherwise, is a persuasive art. Right this moment you’re either being convinced or persuaded into moving onto the next sentence, or not. The persuasive ability of this informative web article is directly linked to the value you expect to receive.

You desire to be a more persuasive writer. You yearn to feel creative juices churn inside, and confident in your ability to lead readers from one sentence, subtitle or bullet-point to the next.

Persuasive Writing Techniques

Below are 5 persuasive writing techniques that will undoubtedly help you cover some ground.

Technique #1: Concentrate on Beginnings & Endings

The most persuasive parts of writing are typically located at the beginning and the end of things. Things like chapters, sections or lists. That initial 10%. Come in swinging and go out with a roar (of a dreadful whisper). Taking the liberty to illustrate this point, you’ll see that the first and last words of the sentences below are highlighted.

  • Analyze your writing bit by bit to see if there are words in the beginnings and endings which could be removed or replaced.
  • Jumpstart certain important sentences/parts with a more exciting word, one that asks the reader to become more mentally involved.
  • Strike the fine line between being imaginative and being absolutely to the point and direct.

Don’t go nuts with this technique. All that you need to do is make yourself more aware of how you begin and end your messages. You’ll start to build a connective framework that links things together in a more persuasive way.

Technique #2: Persuasion is Action

The vast majority of the decisions we make in our day to day lives are based on emotion. Actually, when you get right down to it, the lion’s share of all human culture is based on pure unrestrained imagination.

  • Remember that many of us are programmed to expect entertainment whenever we put our faces in front of a “screen.” People read using tablets, laptops, smartphones, iPods, desktops, eReaders etc. All the same things they use for entertainment.
  • To entertain the imagination your writing must move, act, travel, perform and do. The connective tissue and focus on beginnings and endings help you take the reader somewhere.
  • Make your writing travel. Go somewhere. Do something. Be something. Even if you’re just writing product descriptions for Cowboy hats. If you want to persuade people to buy that hat, take’em to a rodeo!

Technique #3: Re-envision Creativity as a Science

Professional web-based article writers have no clue what “writer’s block” even is. In the same way someone who’s never smoked in their lives has no conception of a “nic-fit.” Imagine pumping out 50 articles in one week at 500-800 words long…on 10 different subjects at least 3 weeks of every month.

In case you’re wondering, in that scenario we’re talking about 25,000 to 40,000 words a week, or roughly 100,000 words a month. We’re just ball-parking here. The idea is that “creativity” is more of a science than an art when you don’t have the luxury to sit around wasting time on some hypothetical “writer’s block” phenomenon.

  • Write first, ask questions later.
  • Study up on how to “Kill your darlings.”
  • Once “creativity” is no longer perceived as something you cannot control, it turns into a switch you can flip on or off at will.

Technique #4: Create Character of Your Ideal Reader Beforehand

This is a big one and it goes for most forms of sales, fiction and non-fiction writing. Before you compose something that’s meant to persuade, create three mental prototypes of your ideal reader.

  • Who exactly are you persuading and what exactly is it you want them to do, experience or feel?
  • Create a male and female version of your ideal reader, regardless of whether you’re writing about beer or bras.
  • This exercise in and of itself is going to make you 10% more persuasive even if you give it 3 minutes of thought before writing the first word.

Sounds simple, right? 90% of the writers who are, have been or ever will fail to do this.
They focus on why they’re writing, what they’re writing about and in general who they’re writing for. Many probably know what they want the reader to do, but they don’t REALLY try to become the reader.

Technique #5: Compose Mountains of Advertorial Copy

The question is this: if it takes roughly 10,000 hours of “practice” before we can claim to have mastered something, how much writing does it take? How much persuasive writing equals 10,000 hours of practice?

No one knows for sure, but let’s go back to that hypothetical article writer from before in our discussion. Would it be unreasonable to say that someone could claim to have mastered article writing if they wrote 10,000 of them? That’s a round estimate figure of 5-8 million words.

On, how many subjects? It boggles the mind. The point is that the #1 best way to become a prolific and profound persuasive writer is to start writing and don’t look back.

How do you manage to persuade the reader? Do you think these approaches could work for you? Let us know in comments!

Teaching ESL students to write in English

ESL students come from very different countries, from all walks of life. Some of them have been in America for a while already; others are fairly new to the country and its habits and culture. It’s important to acknowledge the fact they differ not only from “the” American but also from their classmates. Discussions in the group may run into a dead end street since not every student is used to speak his mind.

ESL_students

Familiar topic

When teaching them to write in English you might want to start with a topic they are very familiar with and that is not hard to write down. Topics like ‘what did you do this weekend?’, ‘describe the celebration of a birthday’ or ‘what did you watch on TV lately?’ are simple and don’t ask too much of the student in regard of composition.
Tell your students to never ever first do their piece of writing in their own language and then ‘translate’ it into English. Emphasize they should think in English and therefore write in English. Once they get tangled up in translating from their native language into English, they are sliding down at top speed.

Be positive

When you give feedback it is best to keep that positive. Search for the good things in the piece to give your student some self-confidence. Then you can point out some faults but never sum up all of them. Concentrate on the major few; you can deal with the others at another time. One step at the time does the job. You want your students to come back to your next session, right?
Also keep in mind your student might be in awe of you. You are the authority he has to listen to. That’s the way he was raised. This difference in culture does not have to be an obstacle. You gently point out your criticism; when you ask whether he has understood, use so-called open questions. A simple: do you see what I mean? can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ without you knowing whether he really understood. In many cultures is it not done to say ‘no’, especially to someone higher in hierarchy. A question like: please sum up what I just told you, will force the student into actually giving you an answer that tells you something.

Keep it simple

There are many more tips and tricks to teach ESL students to write a good piece, a cover letter or an essay in English. As a teacher you have to keep it simple and build from there, and you need to have a lot of patience. Your ESL students may not understand the simplest rules and may not be used to the American way of communicating. But once they have taken their first hurdles it is a rewarding experience for both you and the ESL students you teach.

20 Laziest (But Effective) College Life Hacks

Study may sometimes try to get you down and leave no time for anything else! So what should you do? Here are some tips to hack your college life and enjoy it to the max.

lazy

1. Get Stuff Done! You know the drill – you sit down to seriously work – for real this time! – on that paper that’s due on Tuesday. Three hours later you’ve gone through another four levels on a FaceBook game, commented on a status update from your ex, watched a video of a pug jumping up a set of stairs and gotten into a bit of a flame war with someone on a message board. Self Control and Cold Turkey are here to help. These web based programs let you enter a list of websites or programs that are off limits for a certain amount of time. Just load in the website addresses and program names, set the timer and Bingo! You won’t be able to access any of them – or turn off the blacklist – until the timer is up.

2. Lending out a Book, lecture notes, MP3 player or anything else you actually want to get back one day? Snap a picture of your friend with the item about to be borrowed. Set a timer on your phone for when it’s supposed to be returned.

3. Are the charging wires for you MP3 player, phone, tablet, e-reader and laptop turning your desk into the land of spaghetti? Grab a box of medium or large binder clips, attach them to the edge of a shared table or desk and thread each charger end through the wire handle. They’ll keep the ends sticking up and ready to use and keep them from slipping back into the tangle of cords.

4. Setting your alarm for an especially early class? Change the alarm to a song you can’t stand, set the volume to max and then toss it across the room before you go to sleep.

5. Need a cold beer or soda, like, NOW? Make the most of your study break with a cold drink. Wrap a wet paper towel around your drink can or bottle and pop it into the freezer for 15 minutes. You’ll get an ice cold drink without having to wait.

6. Your parents just told you they’re coming over and the whole place smells like dirty feet? Tape a few dryer sheets over your air conditioner or air vents and turn them on. The place will small amazing in no time.

7. Don’t throw out that Post-It note quite yet! Pop motivational or flash card post-its all over. Once the test has passed, run the sticky side between the rows of keys on your keyboard to get out dist fluff and whatever else gets stuck in there. You’ll have used them to help prepare for your exams and you get a clean keyboard too!

8. Tired of marketing emails clogging up your Inbox? Filter by the word ‘unsubscribe’ and you’ll catch them all. Just move them to your Trash or set your filter to do it automatically.

9. Getting ready to haul your textbooks, DVDs, games or other books down to sell them to a student or secondhand store? Use a rolling suitcase instead of cumbersome boxes. They’ll be easier to transport and you won’t have to worry about the box falling apart.

10. When you need to copy a direct quote from the internet into your paper, use Ctrl+Shift+V to paste it into your document. You’ll copy the text but all the internet page formatting will be stripped away.

11. Get some quick sources for your paper by grabbing a definitive book on the subject. Flip to the back and go through the book’s bibliography – instant source list.

12. Make the most of Office Hours. Hitting up professors during Office Hours can help you get a better understanding of the material and it also makes you more memorable to the instructor. You’ll stop being thought of as a student number and start being remembered as that clever kid with all the questions.

13. You won’t need to buy textbooks for every class. Not every professor insists you buy the recommended textbook. Check with former students or email the professor directly before the class is set to begin and ask if the textbook is mandatory.

14. Check out international versions for textbooks. Often, textbooks printed as International Versions have the same content, just on lower quality paper. The price is typically less than half of what you’ll pay at the student store but you will have to order them online and allow a longer delivery time.

15. Grab your gum. Chewing gum – particularly minty gum – has been shown to boost focus and concentration.

16. Go old school when it comes to notes. Writing notes and brainstorming by hand helps you to retain information better than typing on a computer. Go back to pen and paper to outline a paper, make notes about a chapter or brainstorm for thesis ideas.

17. While you’re at it, take notes for someone else. Taking notes that someone else will need to understand will force you to take better notes in general. Being able to explain a concept to someone else will force your brain to process the information more thoroughly.

18. Need to get practice exams for a class? Enter “site:edu [subject] exam” into a search engine to get old exams to practice on for classes you find especially difficult.

19. Underpromise and overdeliver. When you’re planning out how to tackle studying, get your part of a group project done or finish a paper, give yourself plenty of time and set small, realistic goals. Give yourself more time than you need and you won’t end up with deadline jitters.

20. Get rid of your phone! When it’s time to buckle down and study out your phone on silent and leave it in another room. Text messages, phone calls, status alerts and breaking news can all wait for an hour.

Fighting the Blank Page: Kamikaze Writing Mode

We all know it. We all hate it. That darn blinking cursor won’t move on its own. And when we find ourselves in the position where we desperately need it to move, it won’t.

Writing under pressure is one of the bloodiest, most soul-eviscerating activities. Really, it is quite messy.

It also happens to be a situation few writers can avoid. Some (sadist) say we should actually embrace such tension-filled occurrences. After all, we are tested during moments of pressure. How we respond to the pressure is a choice. And it is the choices we make that become the foundation of our character.

Author James Bilkey said, “You never will be the person you can be if pressure, tension and discipline are out of your life.” You may come out of the situation with some bumps and bruises, but you’ll still be standing.

So, if it is the choices we make that define our character, how will you choose to handle your next pressure filled writing project?

First, Proof That It Can Be Done

It may feel like you are the only person in the world who has been forced into such a precarious position. It may feel totally unfair, unjust and downright mean for someone to ask you to church out exceptional content under such circumstances.

Guess what. You aren’t alone. You are not the first person to write under pressure. Nor will this be the last time you are asked to do so.

Perhaps all you need is a little encouragement – proof that it can be done. Not only can it be done, it can be done well.

  • Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in two weeks.
  • Ed McBain spent about a month on each of his earliest novels.
  • Erle Stanley Gardner wrote for more than a half century and produced more than1,000 books. In fact, he churned out four novels, eighteen novelettes, two short stores and five articles in 1939 alone.
  • John Creasey wrote more than 500 novels in 47 years. In a single year (1939), he published 38 novels.
  • Georges Simenon wrote 10 novels in 11 months. His goal was to write a novel in 11 days. In total, he wrote 220 novels
  •  John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath in five months.
  • Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick in six months.
  • Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in six days.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days.

Now that you know it can be done, let’s take a look at how you can make it happen too.

How You Ended Up in This Situation

There are various reasons why people find themselves in a stressful writing situation. We are going to take a look at the top three reasons why a writer might feel pressure to compose: the need to earn money, bouncing back after a major life event, or facing a very tight deadline.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #1: Writing to Earn Money

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky was a Rusian novelist, short story writer and essayist. He was also a gambler.

Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment in an attempt to pay off his debts. Unfortunately, the staggering amount he earned wasn’t enough. He had to ask his new wife to sell some of her possessions to cover the rest.

After placating his debtors, Dostoyevsky fell right back into old habits. Just three weeks after venturing out on their honeymoon, he had to wrap things up early. Dostoyevsky had gambled away all the couple’s money. Returning to his typewriter, the poor, broke writer churned out the first 100 pages of The Idiot in just 23 days.

Many people use their pen as a money maker; writing is not a new career venture. However, some writers need to earn more than just the average pay check. They need extra money and they need it now.

This is a very harrowing situation to find yourself in. The pressure is intense and the need to produce results can sometimes be a life or death situation. At times like this, drastic measures need to be taken.

If you don’t have any time available for frivolous things like writer’s block or procrastination, try this intense writing app. Write or Die encourages writing by punishing your attempts to be idle.

Based on the idea that a tangible consequence is more effective than an intangible reward, Write or Die offers negative reinforcement. Studies show this method strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is undesirable.

What kind of punishment is dreaded by a writer under a strict deadline? The Kamikaze mode of the Writer or Die app has the answer – keep writing or your work will unwork itself. After just a few seconds without activity, the app will begin to delete words. These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (time is up or you’ve reached your desired word count).

Not everyone falls into the category of stressed, broke writer. Sometimes, there are other reasons why we feel stressed.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #2: Bouncing Back

Often times, it is difficult enough to force yourself to write when things in life are going well. Even if you feel emotionally happy and ready to work, the muse just won’t come.

When you are in the midst of a stressful or upsetting life event, it seems downright impossible to put pen to paper. After all, how are you supposed to think about a blog posting when a loved one has just died? Is it possible to write a witty newspaper column after learning you have cancer?

So what can you do?

1. Don’t feel guilty.
As long as you aren’t neglecting the person or thing that needs attention at that moment, you have every right to attend to your own needs. You don’t need to feel selfish because you are getting your work done in the midst of chaos.

In fact, it is almost necessary for you to return to work. If writing is what makes you feel like your old self, you might need to write in order to regain a sense of normalcy.

2. Schedule time to think.
This new life event is probably dominating your thoughts. You dwell on the situation all day and perhaps all night. As a result, you haven’t given any thought to what you are supposed to be writing.

Make an intentional effort to sit and think about your writing task. Try to block everything else out of your mind. Don’t succumb to mindless activities like watching TV or Facebook stalking. Instead, use that time to think about how this recent event could enhance your writing.

3. Remember why you write.
This major life event has probably taken over your life. You may think it ridiculous to add even more to your to-do list; you have enough on your plate without the task of writing.

However, if writing is your heart’s passion, it won’t add to the stress – it will take the stress away. You’ll probably feel relieved to be engaging in a very natural impulse.

Maybe you don’t have excess stress or sadness in your life. Maybe you are just facing the pressure of a run-of-the-mill deadline.

Writing Under Pressure Scenario #3: Facing a Very Tight Deadline

Deadlines are a fact of life. As a writer, you can’t escape them and by now, you have probably grown accustom to them. However, some deadlines are tighter than normal.

When you find yourself facing an extreme deadline, consider the following tips.

1. Do your chores first.
It happens without fail; the moment a deadline rears its ugly face, you feel the overwhelming need to procrastinate. Whether you have an uncontrollable urge to clean your home from top to bottom or you absolutely have to take the dog for a walk, we all have procrastination triggers – random things we do instead of writing.

Be aware of these triggers and complete those tasks before you sit down to write. Think of it as procrastinating in advance. Once you sit down to compose, you’re mind will be clear and you won’t have an excuse to stop.

2. Know where you can and can’t work.
Ray Bradbury once said he used to write on his typewriter in the living room. The radio would be on and his mother, father and brother would all be talking at the same time.

Not everyone has the mental focus to compose under such conditions. More often than not, we need a quite, distraction free environment. Of course, it is impossible to find the perfect spot to write. And according to E.B White, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a quite place to write. If you are truly under the gun, you might consider checking yourself into a hotel for the weekend. On Friday night, take your favorite snacks to sustain you and work until check out Sunday afternoon.

By removing yourself from your regular environment, you greatly reduce the chance for distractions.

3. Define your task.
Don’t blindly jump into a writing project. Take the time to think about your topic and the purpose for writing.

4. Do some chunking.
Chunking is the process of taking a large task and breaking it up into smaller, more manageable projects. When we are faced with a writing project, it often seems insurmountable. The pressure we feel leads us to engage in some self-sabotage in the form of procrastination.

However, if you have a list of smaller tasks, they seem more manageable. For example, you could chunk your writing project like his:

  • Research the idea
  • Contact and interview experts
  • Write a rough draft
  • Revise and polish draft
  • Submit final product

The more intimidating the project, the more you need to strategize your time. Calculate how much time is available to complete each step. Don’t forget to include a few breaks. This lets your mind breathe between tasks, making you fully focused on completing the next one.

Once you have established a timetable, stick to it. If you hit a trouble spot, skip it. When you come back to it later, you may find you can remove it entirely.

Don’t stop working until you have met your goal. Jack Kerouac said writers should place the desk near the bed with a good light. He suggested working midnight till dawn and getting a drink when you get tired.

Susan Sontag said, “Once something is really underway, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little.”

5. Just get it down.
Get words on the page. Humorist James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

If you spend time worrying about every little world, you will simply heighten your anxiety level. You’ll distract yourself from the overall purpose and hinder the larger goal – which is to finish on time!

6. Use unorthodox methods.
Ray Bradbury once said, “When I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find many typing rooms with typewriters. However, you can find plenty of people willing to charge exorbitant fees to use their services.

Find a coffee shop that charges for their WiFi. Go to a computer lab at the local university and pay by the hour to use their computers.

If you know you are throwing money out the window, you’ll be more tempted to make the unreasonable spending come to a screeching halt as soon as possible.

7. If all else fails, use stimulants.
There is one time a caffeine addiction comes in handy – and that is when you have to write under pressure. If a harmless addiction to a stimulant isn’t handy, reach for a common sugar high.

These caffeine-high and sugar-rush states of being are the cure for writers block. Plus, they are responsible for eradicating mundane, boring writing.

If you tend to lean more towards healthy mental stimulation, try exercising. The endorphins you receive after just a brisk walk will be magical.

Looking Towards the Future

If you really want to get good at writing under pressure, you’ll need to practice. After all, practice makes perfect. Learn to navigate the big stressors with ease and your next writing-under-pressure task will be a cake walk.

While you are practicing, be realistic about your capabilities. Don’t be negative with yourself. No matter how hard you try, you are bound to miss a deadline every once in awhile. Unexpected setbacks creep up and cause delays.

When this happens, it is important to stay positive. Don’t think of yourself as a failure. Ask yourself why you didn’t meet the deadline. See if you can pinpoint a way to prevent it from happening again. What can you do differently in the future?

Don’t let negative thoughts like, “Why did I even bother?” creep in. Instead, think, “At least I tried. I’ll do better next time.”

No matter why you find yourself in a stressful situation, head this advice. Susan Jeffers says: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

84QGKZ3RUQKB

Are You Still a Good Writer: How Not To Get Outdated

The great folk singer Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” You may not need a weatherman, but a good writer always knows which way the wind blows. Journalists, creative writers, copywriters, essayists, academics, researchers know how to write about contemporary issues in a succinct and engaging manner.

This isn’t as lofty as it may sound; you don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to be a strong writer. Similar to keeping physically fit, to keep “writing-fit,” you need to regularly practice and hone those writing skills and take on new challenges that allow you to explore writing in new, exciting ways.

Here are some simple tips that will help strengthen and keep your writing fresh and contemporary.

writer

Keep a blog

In the past decade, the Internet has blossomed to become one of the most accessible and useful resources for writers. Keeping a regular blog on a favorite topic—let’s say, a blog about cooking or a blog on running—is an easy way for you to write on a daily basis and to build up your writing and research skills. Nowadays, you don’t need to be a CSS or HTML expert to use attractive blog platforms (for example, try your hand at WordPress.com or Tumblr). You can have a sleek, sophisticated-looking blog in less than half an hour. As an added bonus, you may also receive regular feedback — and compliments —  from an audience-at-large.

Review blogs

Spend some time each week reading what others are saying about the craft, as well as the business of writing. Being a strong fiction writer versus being a skilled copywriter demands two different set skills, and popular niche websites like Copyblogger, The Write Practice, ProCopyTips and K.M. Weiland include everything from writing prompts to practical advice related to the workplace. Whether you’re a creative writer or copywriter, these blogs will give you a good sense of how good writing is being defined by a larger writing and reading public.

Show your work

You won’t be able to say much about your writing without someone telling you what they think about your work. Rather than just trusting your instinct or the opinions of friends or family, go out on a limb. Show your work to another writer, a mentor, a professor or a professional colleague whom you trust and respect.

Take a writing course. Create a writing group.

Even the best writers need to brush up their skills. If you’re a professional writer looking to build new skills or review a set of skills you already have (let’s say, you are a copywriter looking to create a more sophisticated copy ad portfolio), taking a class every once in a while never hurts. Check out the writing classes offered at your local college or community-writing center. Mediabistro, an extensive online resource for writing professionals, also provides a wide range of courses for novice and experienced writers alike. A class not only helps you strengthen your writing skills, but it also gives you a group of writers and an instructor who will give you critical feedback on your work.

Another option is to form a writing group with three to four other writers. Set a realistic schedule, whether this means meeting once a week or once a month. Almost every writer will tell you having a trusted community to share work with is critical in keeping them accountable and “in the loop.”

Know your social media

Although this might not seem instantly important or obvious, keeping abreast with social media as a writer is important for several reasons. Most major publishers and news sources have a Twitter and Facebook account. Increasingly, innovative and well-circulated writing is being done exclusively via the Web. Think Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings; the Huffington Post; the Daily Beast. If being a strong, contemporary writer means having a pulse on what engages the public today, it also means keeping updated with the way the world communicates. You don’t need to regularly tweet or post Facebook statuses, but keeping connected with social media can help you become a more savvy and knowledgeable writer.

Publish

Even experienced writers bite their fingernails when it comes to sending out work to their favorite journals or publishers. It’s never easy, but if writing is a labor of love, being published in a forum that you respect is one of the most gratifying experiences you can have as a writer. It not only says that you are a good writer, but it makes your work accessible to a wider audience of readers and in the process, gives you a healthy boost of confidence.