Tag Archives: Writing

Words of Wisdom for the New Year and Thanks

Hello, Faithful Reader. As always, it’s a pleasure to have you here, in my little corner of cyberspace. I’ve always felt a little awkward with groups…my best moments are with two or three people at a time. This is why I love being able to write my little messages to you in this way, instead of with a video or in a chat room. I can imagine you and I, sitting together comfortably in a warm, cozy room, drinks in hand and a smile upon our lips, ready to discuss whatever comes to mind with candor and honesty. I’ve never wanted to be on TV or lecture to a hall full of students (though I have had to, from time to time). I’ve always wanted to have a conversation, to be intimate with individuals, each and every one. This has led me, throughout my life, to the written word. Reading is always a private affair, between author and reader, no matter how many readers there may be. The conversation is always one-on-one, and the only frustration the written word has ever given me is the fact that it can be so one-sided.

A minor digression on this frustration. Once upon a time, when I was living in Santa Cruz, California in the mid-nineties, I would go to open mic night at Cafe Pergolesi to perform readings of my poetry and short stories. I was homeless at the time, and this was the only method to share my scribbled longhand available to me. It’s very difficult for a person without an address and no access to a typewriter to submit their written work and, to be quite frank, I was in my late teens and, though I had already been writing for years, this was my distinctly amateur period. I had a long way to go, and I knew it, but I also knew that I would never improve my art without sharing it and getting some feedback. And that feedback was generally good.

However, it was just words in the air. There was no way, except in memory, to go back and hear those words again, and years later I had essentially forgotten how it felt. I had been too busy running my bookshop to write too much for several years, then I went to college. During that time, my ex-wife was very clear that writing was not an acceptable career. She felt the inherent lack of security, the possibility of never making very much money, and the sheer airiness about it all excluded it from the acceptable “real jobs” out there. She wanted me to be a professor instead, which she considered the most secure of intellectual professions.

This, combined with being treated like scum in the series of writing classes I was taking at the time, put me in a pretty dark place. The professor meant well. She was a literary fiction author with an MFA, and considered genre fiction of any type to be crude, low-brow profiteering. Especially horror, which she couldn’t stand. She had never read any good horror, of course, and had no clue that authors like Clive Barker, Chuck Palahniuk, and even Stephen King had done much to bring literary themes to horror and speculative fiction. Her idea of horror was slasher movies like “Friday the 13th” and her idea of science fiction was “Star Wars”.

This attitude, which I have run into again and again throughout my life, doesn’t normally bother me. I don’t understand what people get out of stories about a mother and daughter baking cookies, either, but apparently it’s a very popular theme among a certain type of reader and writer. But at this time the pressures I was feeling on all sides made me feel like aspiring to be the next Clive Barker was like a musician aspiring to be the next Vanilla Ice…inherently wrong-headed, immature, and stupid. But my inspirations just don’t lead to stories of the so-called “literary” type. Many of my premises come from dreams and visions, and none of these are “exploration of the family dynamics of three generations of wine-makers”. Instead my dreams and inspirations are always beyond the prosaic bits of normal human life. They are of miracles and monsters, demons and demigods, the fantastic, awe-inspiring, and horrifying. I simply can’t care about plots like that of “The English Patient” or “The Joy Luck Club”. I can understand what’s appealing in them. They are, like all art, an attempt to express aspects of the human condition. But that is not what inspires me. For me, the heart of my inspiration is in the extremes, the places where we go beyond the human to the divine, the demonic, the mystical…these are my dreams and visions, and there is no room for the normal, the average, or the banal in my work.

So I found myself unable to write what my professor could respect, and unable to address my ex-wife’s attitude towards writing as a whole. I was on the verge of giving up writing entirely. I was resolved to drop the class.

But then, late that same night, I walked down to the 7-11 to buy a pack of cigarettes. There was a line, and I noticed the cashier, a young man with tattoos on his neck, kept glancing up at me as if he recognized me. Santa Cruz is a small town, at least when it comes to locals (UCSC students are another matter), so I thought little of it…there was every likelihood he had seen me around town over the years. But then I got the register, asked for my smokes, and the cashier smiled and spoke.

“Hey, you’re Puck, right?”

I nodded.

“Didn’t you use to read your poetry and stories over at Pergs on Friday nights? Like ten years ago?”

I nodded again and smiled sheepishly. Like I said, that work was pretty amateurish, and I was read to be made fun of for foisting my bad poetry on the world.

“You were really good. I liked your stuff a lot.”

I was stunned. All I could do was stutter out a thank you. Then came the moment of truth.

“Are you still writing?”

“Well…” In that moment I had to make a choice…and I hope to this day I made the right one. “Yeah, yeah I am. Going home to work on a new short story right now.”

And I did go home and write that story, and while my professor didn’t like it (I remember a comment about the “almost loving” way I described a murder within it), the rest of my workshop group did. And the comment given by one of those readers, after reading just my first scene, was “Wow…you’re like a real writer.”

The point of this long digression has been to explain why you, Faithful Reader, are so important to me. While my work hasn’t been loathed since I started writing professionally, I have hit plenty of setbacks and snags. I’ve been selling stories, but between my health problems, my wife’s health problems, and the collapse of the economy in general, I haven’t been selling enough. I have had some pretty dark times, and in a prior era I may have just given up. I love to write, and without it I go a little crazy, but that love can’t withstand everything the world throws at it without some help, some other person who has faith that the bad times will end and the work and pain will be worth it. Writing is a solitary business, and years ago I felt very alone, to make my way or break without any connection to anyone else.

The internet, with its ubiquitous option to comment, has changed that, and allowed me to engage in the back-and-forth dialogue that I require, and most of all…it stays right there. I can go back and read comments again and again when I am in a rough patch. I can go to my Facebook page (have you liked me yet?) and see the old comments. I can always remember, even when my feelings are hurting and I can’t believe it, because it’s there forever.

So I want to thank you so much, Faithful Reader…each and every one of you. Without you I couldn’t hang on, and if I ever manage to grab the brass ring of true literary success, I am always going to remember you. Every novel and every collection will have you in the acknowledgements, because none of this could exist without you.

Now, for the words of wisdom.

This isn’t the New Year I celebrate. I’m a Samhain baby, conceived then, born in Summer, and in love with the Autumn my whole life. But I do want to offer the purest piece of wisdom I have ever learned to all of you as you begin the new calendar year. It’s from my favorite novel of all time, “Imajica” by Clive Barker. This novel changed my life in many ways, and I am rereading it now in preparation for writing the second draft of my own dream-inspired magnum opus, “Beatrice: The Girl Who Would Be God”. I hope that you can gain as much from these lines as I have.

“…everything you learn is already part of you, even to the Godhead Itself. Study nothing except in the knowledge that you already knew it. Worship nothing except in adoration of your true self. And fear nothing except in the certainty that you are your enemy’s begetter and its only hope of healing. For everything that does evil is in pain.”

Look at these words. Study them. Apply them. They are truth, even if they were couched in the lie of fiction. And to all my fans and friends and Faithful Readers, past present and future: Happy New Year!

Let’s talk about fear.

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (TV special)

Image via Wikipedia. This is what our monsters have become.

Hidey-ho, Faithful Readers! I know I have been pretty silent lately, and I beg your forgiveness. As many of you know, last spring I woke up in hideous pain, and it turned out I have a degenerative spinal disease. Since then, I have been trying to deal with pain management and the emotional/mental fallout of being permanently disabled in my early thirties. Slowly but surely, I have been getting a handle on all of this and recovering from the depression and anxiety set off by all of this. I am writing again, and the promised novels, poetry, and short story collection will be coming along…just more slowly.

But while I wanted to reassure my readers and fans that I haven’t died, disappeared, or retired, that is not the point of this post. What I want to do right now is talk about fear…fear in all its forms, flavors, and textures. I want to talk about fear because I feel that the horror genre, as a whole, is suffering from major problems right now. I watch every new horror movie that comes out, mainstream and independent. I also read a lot of the new work coming out and watch the so-called horror TV shows. And I have to say, we have a problem, Faithful Readers, and that problem can be summed up in a single question:

When was the last time you were scared?

I don’t mean scared of not being able to pay the rent or put food on the table. We are living in a period of economic and political instability, and if you aren’t anxious about those issues you either aren’t paying attention or have specifically chosen not to engage with these fears. I also don’t mean the fear of getting robbed in a bad neighborhood or that your spouse/partner will leave you. I mean real fear. Terror. The kind of fear that makes reality itself slip sideways and makes you lay awake in the dark, terrified to move lest “they” realize you’re there. Horror. Terror. Awe. Real fear that used to be the kind of thing writers like myself were trying to tap into.

I can’t remember the last time I was truly afraid in this way. I get glimmers of it every now and then, but those glimmers never come from what the so-called professionals are putting out. Horror movies now are either pathetic remakes of movies from 30 years ago or attempts to make “safe” horror…horror that entertains, that makes us laugh, but does not induce us to sleep with the lights on or question our priorities in life. Horror used to not be safe, remember? Horror used to be able to change us.

The only places I find horror capable of causing these sort of frissons, of inspiring this sort of instability in our personal realities, are the least professional works that exist: the genre of internet media called “creepypasta”…bits of stories and lore patched together on usenet, forums, blogs, and through ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). These works, especially the ones that end up creating an entire mythos unto themselves (check out the Slender Man mythos or “Ben Drowned” for examples of what I am talking about), actually inspire real terror, real fear, as do the blogs and forums that are (ostensibly) telling people’s true stories of interaction with the paranormal (check out From the Shadows, one of the best paranormal blogs I know of, for examples). Indeed, these two genres, the “true” paranormal stories and the creepypasta, overlap…it’s difficult to know what is real and what is meant to be fiction sometimes. And this, of course, leads to a better scare.

It seems to me that the horror genre has gotten stuck in old fears. People in the movies and stories react almost like caricatures of people, rather than resonating with the depth and complexity of real human beings. The fears the stories take up, vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like…we’re not really afraid of these things. We romanticize them, we reinterpret them, we do any number of things, but it’s pretty safe to say that the stand-by monsters of horror simply aren’t frightening anymore. Serial killers aren’t frightening anymore. Possession isn’t frightening anymore.

Why not? Well, I have a number of theories, and I’m always creating new ones, but the main reason I think these things aren’t frightening anymore is that they are predictable. We have seen them so much and so often that they just don’t scare us. Cthulhu was on South Park and has been made into plushy toys. The most popular vampire of the modern era sparkles in the sunlight, goes to high school at over a century old, and really just wants to be loved. The most popular werewolf is not feared…he is idolized or romantically desired. The zombie is being deconstructed, and we have begun to see movies and shows where zombies are likeable, lovable, funny, and most of all…not scary.

Now, as a writer of speculative fiction of all three types (horror, fantasy, and science fiction), I find myself in a difficult situation. The book that made me want to be a writer was Stephen King’s The Shining. I read it in the first grade (yes, yes, not the best parenting in the world, I know) and I knew, right then, that I wanted to be a writer, and specifically I wanted to be a horror writer. I wanted to be able to inspire the powerful, cathartic terror that changed me forever. Later, I fell in love with other genres and I have written in all of them, but my first love was horror. I wanted to scare people. Not make them laugh, nor make them feel reassured of the moral order they were raised with (horror with a happy ending?). I didn’t want to give pre-teen girls a metaphor for their burgeoning sexuality (or instruct them in how to be a passive, codependent willing victim of abuse…I’m talking to you, Meyer!). I wanted to scare the crap out of people. I wanted them to come out of reading my work forced to view the world differently. I wanted to turn their reality on its ear and leave them screaming.

But how, in the modern era, can I achieve that? The monsters have been used and abused so much that they have turned into inversions and subversions of themselves. The monsters have become metaphors for misunderstood emo kids and fundamentally immature (hence why Edward can fall in love with a teenager and go to high school without it seeming like what it is…creepy pedophilia far beyond Lolita). They stole the monsters that used to plague our nightmares and turned them into ways to sell breakfast cereal.

So what I want to know, Faithful Readers, is this: what scares you? Not a little bit. Not “creeps me out”. Not funny-scary or sexy-scary. Not a metaphor for the insecurity of adolescence or unfamiliar sexuality. Real, unremitting, terror. The sort that, if you were forced to face it, would leave you a drooling, collapsed mess, not inspire you to wear a “Team Edward” t-shirt while writing fan-fiction about the “ultimate bad boy/girl” who changes to a goody-goody because of your pure love. This is the sort of fear I want to hear about. I want to hear about the thoughts, images, and ideas that make death seem like a pleasant release. I want terror.

So tell me. I’m going to leave this post up for a while, so everyone sees it. I want to hear what makes you scream.

For All You Aspiring Screenwriters Out There: All The Scripts You Could Want

This is a great site I just got turned on to by Camden Carr over at Cine-a-Craze:

MyPDFScripts

How do most veteran screenwriters respond when asked how someone can become a better writer? Usually by stating the obvious: write often and read a lot.That said, we exist so that burgeoning screenwriters and filmmakers everywhere have a free resource that provides them with the highest quality screenplays available on the internet. That’s a bold statement, you say? Well, that’s because this site is about quality and not quantity. We want screenplays that look like screenplays. Why? Because we write screenplays. Because we study screenplays. Because we know what a properly formatted screenplay should look like, and John Boy’s 352 page digitally converted script in 32 pt. Arial Bold isn’t it. That’s why we only provide PDF formatted scripts, because they represent the most accurate representation of a tangible script, which we feel is crucial when studying the craft of screenwriting where so much emphasis is placed on structure and page count.

Every script available on this site has been double-checked to ensure quality, stripped of extraneous non-essential information, and file sizes have been reduced when possible.

The site covers a whole lot, so get to reading!

MyPDFScripts

How to Write For Video Games Part 1: World Plotting

Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, a singl...

Image via Wikipedia

As some of my faithful readers from the old days at thePuckWrites may remember, I wrote the story, quests, and designed the classes for an upcoming online game called Ghostees!. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, and since I know that many young creatives feel drawn to games (I know I do) I thought I would do a series about what is necessary when writing for a game.

For the purposes of this series, we are going to assume your game is a role-playing game because these require the most writing. If you are writing for action or strategy games, you will need to tighten up your dialogue and plot a great deal, but you have much less to worry about in the long run because there are fewer possibilities. While in an RPG each decision and will have different possible results, your average FPS or RTS has only two possibilities: live or die.

How to Build a World

Your client or boss has a basic idea of what kind of game she wants. A number of other titles are thrown at you as examples. Genres are considered and abandoned. Finally, all that will be done for you is done, and you have to create your world plot. Now what?

A world plot is the story that the player, whether with others in an online game or alone, has their story take place within. This is the background history of the world, the basic conflicts at work in the big picture, and the basis for your general quest progression. An example is in Warcraft: the storyline originally comes from three real-time strategic games and was adapted for World of Warcraft. This background story defines the locations of gameplay (Azeroth, the Outlands) and establishes the basic factions (Human, Orc, Undead, Night Elves, Dwarves, etc) and their various conflicts. Additionally, the events of the prior games established even more history, defining new conflicts and specific enemies.

Now examine how all of this world plotting works to create the rest of the game. Once you have your world plotted you have a place for the player’s characters to be from, groups for them to both identify with and have conflicts with, and a set of larger plots for them to take part in as their characters become more powerful. In the case of WoW, their world plot has given them an almost endless supply of material for expansions, quests, races, classes, and locations. So when first conceiving your world plot you have to take all of this into account.

So what does it take to make a good world plot?

Consistency

Your world plot must be consistent in its history and rules. This doesn’t mean things can’t change, but it does mean they have to change for a reason. In the plot of Warcraft, the orcs went from demon-worshipping necromancers bent on destruction to tribal warriors profoundly concerned with honor and loyalty. The game mechanic that drove this decision was a desire to make  players better able to identity with the orcs and to render the duality in Warcraft, which had before been about good and evil, a bit more ambiguous. This was a money-decision…they wanted more sides and races so they could attract more players. However, in-game they made sure to justify the change using information from the game lore. Always make sure the events in your world plot are consistent, because contradictions make for a weaker story and a weaker game.

Fertility

A good world plot is defined enough to make writing quests easy but flexible enough to give birth to new sub-plots, creatures, and NPCs. More content will be the cry you will hear from happy project managers, supervisors, and players, so if you wrote yourself into a corner you are screwed. You can’t have there be a single big bad boss, because then you have nowhere to go when your players beat that boss. You can’t have the whole world divided up between two factions and then introduce a third as the project leads you. A closed story, however easy it becomes to build your conflict and plot your quest progression, is a mistake. Instead, build worlds where there is plenty of information to add depth, but plenty of unknowns to leave yourself room for expansion.

The game Mass Effect does this perfectly: the main storyline is truly epic, with a plot spanning millennia. However, the world plot of the game allows for new races, locations, sub-plots, and now a sequel to branch off convincingly. This is because the world plot of Mass Effect is open…its basic premises define it without limiting it. Do likewise.

Tropes and Atmosphere

Tropes are repeating motifs that exist in stories. They are things like “the haunted house”, “the wise old man”, “the lover lost and regained”, and so on. Specific genres have specific tropes, so science fiction has the monster that turns out to really be a man and horror has the man that turns out to be a monster, and both of them, once identified by the audience, can be predicted. However, tropes are useful; they are like cliches in that they sort of work. The secret is not to avoid tropes, but to use them sparingly and well to create an atmosphere that guides the expectations of the audience. You can’t lead them by the nose, but you have to let them know there is something to be led to, otherwise they will get bored.

In a game, tropes are often used to establish the kind of game you are playing. A science fiction game like Fallout 3 will use different kinds of monsters and plot devices to characterize what sort of story it is than Oblivion, another RPG made by the same people using the same engine. An easy way to figure out your tropes is to think about the monsters and locations. While Dead Space and Silent Hill both feature themes of isolated locations with visually disturbing enemies, and both are indubitably horror games, they use the “abandoned town” vs the “abandoned ship” motif to characterize their genre. This example is meant to be obvious, but tropes can be very subtle (and should be!), and also illustrates the proper use of tropes: tropes characterize and establish atmosphere, they are not a replacement for real characters and stories. In your world plot you must use tropes to quickly and easily create the player’s expectations and allow them to see what kind of game they are playing, but avoid simply using generic tropes as your plot points.

Stay Tuned!

That’s it for this installment. Next in this series we will cover lore writing and the details of how to write good background stories. Please feel free to ask questions on world plotting or add pointers of your own below.

Earn Some Money and Notice at the New Docstoc

Docstoc is a neat little site for sharing professional documents, which puts the focus on essays, studies, transcripts, and articles. From the site:

Docstoc is the premier online community to find and share professional documents. Docstoc provides the platform for users and businesses to upload and share their documents with all the world, and serves as a vast repository of documents in variety of categories including legal, business, financial, technology, educational, and creative. All documents on docstoc can be easily searched, previewed and downloaded for free.

Docstoc functions as a sort of YouTube for documents, but the simple fact is that while videos are entertaining and can even be informative, documents are about business. Docstoc has sample contracts, forms, and other “getting things done” documents that will save you time and effort. You get to help publicize your work, as well, with no upload limits and a maximum file-size of 50 megabytes. They have desktop applications for uploading in bulk and allow you to store and preview your documents without sharing them.

Revenue-Sharing

Docstoc recently added some features that makes them far more attractive to writers in new media who want to add to their income stream:

Offers you a way to profit from the documents you upload. Simply sign up for DocCash and we’ll split the revenue generated by the Google Ads that run alongside your documents. Earn recurring and passive income from your documents, and get a check sent to you each month.

That’s right, Docstoc has decided share their add revenue with users. Sign up for a Google Adsense accounts, sign up for the DocCash feature, and you can get paid. This feature is not related to the license on your document, so even if you have put your work into the public domain or licensed it as Creative Commons, you an still make ongoing money on the ads running alongside your work.

This is a great program for writers like me, who sometimes write things that are more scholarly or functional. The demand for such material from online publishers is pretty low, simply because the odds of “A Treatise on Implied Definitions in Paraconsistent Logics” going viral on Twitter are pretty low. Docstoc provides a market for such pieces, allowing writers to collect residuals on work that would otherwise go unwritten or sit in a slushpile somewhere.

Full API

For all you code-monkeys out there, Docstoc also has a full API, which allows you to build your own applications for the document-based social sharing network:

Most functionality available to a user on the site can be accessed through the API. The API includes functions for registering new members, uploading, downloading, updating, and searching for documents, manipulating a member’s folder structure, and setting up ads.

Community and Fans

Finally, for those writers who enjoy social media and the benefits of social networking, Docstoc has all the normal features you would expect. You can subscribe to users, add friends, tag documents, and add reviews and ratings. There are widgets and tools for sharing documents through networks or posting on your own profiles and blog, and there is a strong community of writers and infophiles that welcomes new members.

Share Your Experiences and Links

If you have used Docstoc and have any comments on their service, I want to know! Feel free to also comment with links to your profiles and documents…we do-follow our links! Great pieces will get reviews here on WriteNewMedia, so get yourself some free traffic and, if you have DocCash activated, a chance to earn some money.

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5 Incredible Superhero Fan Videos You’ve Never Seen

One of the most exciting examples of new media is the video revolution. Thanks to cheap technology and social media sites like YouTube, it is possible for people to create and distribute shorts, movies, and even full series as compelling as anything on mainstream television or in the theaters. A lot of the people involved in the projects get recruited by agents and headhunters, but even for those that don’t get “discovered”, this is a great way for independent scriptwriters and other creatives to see their vision come to the screen.

There are some amazing talents at work in these videos, and because of how much information is out there, a lot of it gets lost in the shuffle. Everyone has seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, but some comparable writing (with admittedly lower budgets) slips through the cracks. Most superhero films made by amateurs are just mashups of other movies, but these five are real winners, created (almost) wholly from scratch.

Enjoy!

Grayson

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQyfQ7RMOXs&w=480]

Batman is dead and Dick Grayson, the original Boy Wonder, is investigating his murder. With appearances by heroes and villains from all over the DC universe, including Green Lantern, Batgirl, and Superman, this trailer to a great comic book movie that never got made is a testimony to how far an idea, a little cash, and some serious costuming can go. This is some especially fine scripting because so much has to be conveyed with no real dialogue. As anyone who has tried to write a play or script can tell you, having to convey your story in images and motion is very difficult. Grayson is an amazing piece. It will never get made (Robin in a movie is a hard sell since the nineties), but we can hope. A few scenes in Grayson fall flat because they were poorly executed scenes (Commissioner Gordon for the intro was a risky choice, I would have gone for Alfred) but overall it works very well.

World’s Finest

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtXD2HR5jgw&w=480]

All you comic fans out there know exactly what that title means: Batman and Superman, together. And that is exactly what you get. This movie probably will get made; it’s just too good to pass up, and it will make a killing in the theater even if it is awful. Until then, this trailer is pretty damn good. There is a lot more dialogue in this one, and it’s important to note how the writers used characterization in dialogue to empasize and bring out the minor characters while allowing Batman and Superman to work off of their costumes and movements. Every moment Lois is in a scene she is talking, and they manage to throw in her nickname for Clark Kent (Smallville) without it seeming forced. While the scene choice and physical work is not as heavy as in Grayson, World’s Finest certainly makes up for it in dialogue and direction.

Green Lantern

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIyx09htG8U&w=480]

This one actually is getting made right now, but this video is not related to the movie. Here we have no dialogue at all and it was mostly done with 3D modeling and bits of footage from movies, so the creator had to imply his tale through his choice of images. We see that he deals with this by creating tensions and quickly switching from one establishing shot to another; anyone familiar with the Green Lantern comics and cartoons will be able to put together a possible plot just from the imagery of the Guardians of the Universe and Sinestro alone.

Son of Batman

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFScW8zvIM0&w=480]

This one is a little dark. OK, it’s a lot dark. The next one is funny, I promise. As far as the writing…you aren’t going to get much better; this scene is taken from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. For those who haven’t read the book (you should), it takes place in a dark, dystopian near future where Batman is old and tired, Superman is a tool of the government, and a gang of vigilante punks have taken up the cowl…in a fashion.

Batman Gets Pwned

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks8PZ8X6Yo8&w=480]

Told you the next one was funny. Respect the funny…writing funny is hard.

Suggestions

If you make videos or can recommend good videos, I want to see them. They don’t have to be about superheroes, but it helps!

Free eBook: Shua Peters’ and Jacob Morgan’s New “Social Media for Authors”

I love to plug great content that is overlooked, and Josh “Shua” Peters and Jacob Morgan have given us gold so that I, thePuck, can in turn pass on to you. Their ebook covers both of my pet subjects (writing and social media) and addresses issues like:

  • What is social media?
  • When Should I get Involved?
  • Why Should I get Involved?
  • Where’s the Action?
  • The Tools

The best part is the tools sections, where Shua and Jacob give a quick and simple run-down of the major tools of modern social media promotion focused towards authors. They cover:

  • Blog
  • RSS Readers
  • Twitter
  • Twitter Search
  • Google Alerts
  • Google Analytics
  • Red Room (a social network just for authors that they are managing to share with you before me! See how awesome they are?)
  • and more!

The ebook is free (as in beer) and you can read it right here, on Shua’s site Shuaism (which you should subscribe to) or at Scribd (which you should have an account on, as Shua and Jacob will inform you) here:

Social Media for Authors

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Three Online Portfolios to Promote Your Writing

A bit ago I wrote on getting paid and my old friend Dustin over at Voodoo Knickers noted that I made it sound like getting paid is the end all, be all of writing. This is not the case at all; the astute readers among you will note I am not getting paid to blog here or on the Social Media Philosophy Project, and that my writing appears in various places on the net in the form of guest-posts and commentaries. I am also extremely active in social media and the online technology scene and am constantly putting out content of various types, all for free. Why do I do all of this? Well, it got you here, didn’t it?

As my colleague Brett Borders put it in the comments to this post:

The web is ultra-competitive and with 30,000,000 free channels for people to surf… they’re eventually only gonna be able to focus on the ones that are the most unique and interesting.

This is blunt but true. To make it in the new digital world you have to be able to get people to notice you. While social media is a great way of doing this, eventually that client or editor is going to want to see something you have written, and “7 Ways the Terminator Could Fail #terminator #fail ‘shortened link’ PLEASE RT!” isn’t going to cut it. You are going to need a portfolio, and you are going to want it public. While you can host it yourself like I do, that isn’t always an option for a starting writer, so what you need is a good site where you can host your portfolio and get noticed. Here are three sites where you can display and promote your writing online.

Behance Network

The Behance Network has a truly remarkable range of creative talents on display. They cover just about every field you can imagine and their site is very sharp and professional. From their site:

Behance is a company that designs products and services that empower the creative world to make ideas happen. Behance is founded on the principle of “Productive Creativity.” Too often, great ideas never materialize. Creative people are rarely lacking inspiration; rather, they lack effective processes and tools to make their ideas happen. The Behance team studies exceptionally productive people and teams working in creative fields. We document the methods and resources that these productive creative professionals use to push their ideas forward. We then develop products and services based on the best practices that we discover through our research.

Behance allows users to create groups called “Circles” and follow other users, similar to most social networks, but differentiates itself through its overall feel, where it tries to pull the mystique of the gallery and museum into everything they do. The work there is highly visual, but their writing section is nothing to sneer at.

Redbubble

Redbubble is a great site and up for a Webby. While they are very focused on visual design, art, and t-shirt designs, they also have a creative writing section that allows for a fast-moving, very Web 2.0 delivery. From the site:

RedBubble is a vibrant global community of people with creative interests. It’s something different for each of us:

  • a place to share the illustrations you create at night,
  • a forum to seek feedback on the story you’re writing,
  • a creative antidote to the day job,
  • lunch break entertainment,
  • a gallery to inspire,
  • a marketplace to buy and sell unique works of art and,
  • a place to be inspired by like–minded people.

RedBubble is a forum for self expression, an inclusive art gallery and a supportive and welcoming community.

While they don’t let you sell your writing, they have a great following and your writing will get seen. The community and quality of the work varies more than Behance, but that is part of the appeal of the site, which provides an more modern, anarchic online atmosphere.

TalentTrove

These are the underdogs of the list, an up-and-coming site who I was originally a bit leery of but grew on me as I delved. TalentTrove, like Behance, does a whole lot, providing just about every kind of creative amateur or professional a venue for their work. From their press kit:

TalentTrove.com is a unique platform that fuses characteristics of social networking communities and media sharing websites to form an all encompassing talent portal completely devoted to artists. Users of TalentTrove.com are provided a space to showcase their talent(s) and be heard and seen worldwide. The nature of TalentTrove.com supports an environment where people can collaborate and find other like-minded users, all the while presenting themselves to scouts and talent agents who are utilizing the site to find the next big star. A user’s homepage (called their MyStage) serves as a virtual resume where they can upload four different types of media: audio, video, images, and text.

Their site is slick and fast, full of social features, and they have started holding contests to promote the work of their users. They are also a truly international site, with users from all over the world, so for those of us (like myself) who find interaction with a lot of different personalities and ideas necessary for creative work, this might be just the site for you. They are bit younger than Behance or Redbubble, so don’t expect them to be getting a Webby or hitting the Techcrunch50 this year, but keep an eye on them, we could hear a lot of good things in the near future.

Go forth and promote yourselves!

Your homework (yes, there is homework; editors administer the exams!) is to go out, to either these sites or some other, and make your portfolio. Post the links here and the best work will get a review on thePuckWrites (paltry reward, I know, but the best I can offer). Now get out there!

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Four Sites to Sell Your Writing Online

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Ll...

Real writers get paid.

You hear me? Remember this, always. Want to know when you can call yourself a writer? The first time you get paid to write. I know this sounds mercenary as hell, but think it through. Carpenters get paid. Plumbers get paid. Surgeons get paid. Only in the creative fields do we say that someone can (and should) pursue the field, with all of the effort and study necessary to do it well, simply for the love of it, without expecting compensation of any kind. Too many of us help other people make money with our writing for free. This is unacceptable.

Hemingway got paid.

Show me the money.

I have already covered places to bid for freelance writing jobs, and I stand by what I said there, they are great sites and allow you to bid on some good jobs. The problem is that you have no way to assure yourself of an income on your terms and schedule. You may or may not win the bid, and there are people out there willing to write for next to nothing on those sites, ready to underbid you. Sometimes you just need the cash, sometimes you don’t want to deal with the bidding, and sometimes you already have things written that you can sell, and you need places where you know you can get paid.

Associated Content

Associated Content allows users to both submit articles for them to make an offer on and puts out calls for specific articles for writers to claim. From their site:

AC’s platform enables anyone to participate in the new content economy by publishing content on any topic, in any format (text, video, audio and images), and connects that content to consumers, partners and advertisers.

Downsides: The pay is very low. Upsides: You get traffic payoffs from them, so if your articles do well you will get ongoing payments. This site is perfect for the beginning writer who just needs to get some credits under their belt.

Bright Hub

Bright Hub focuses on tech and science articles and has a set payment per article. You apply for a contract with them and then join a team of writers working within a specific channel. From their site:

With an expert writer network and an active community of life-long enthusiasts Bright Hub provides a level of technology transparency rarely seen in high tech. The team of writers and managing editors utilize deep domain expertise to focus on creating valuable information for both novice and advanced consumers. With a content inventory of thousands of science and technology articles, software and hardware reviews, buyer’s guides, blog entries and forum discussions, Bright Hub is able to provide readers with a dependable resource to make informative technology decisions.

Downsides: You have quotas to meet and the editors can be demanding. Upsides: Bright Hub is solid, dependable work, you can work in multiple channels (though you end up having multiple editors, each with their own expectations and personality), and you are able to set your timetable by their schedule. While it is not going to make you rich, writers can make a full-time living from Bright Hub if they are motivated.

Demand Studios

Demand Studios is a subsidiary of Demand Media, and is a bit of a cross between Associated Content and Bright Hub. You apply for a position and once you get your contract you are able to claim or suggest articles from their internal menu. Each kind of article has a set price, and you claim and write what you want. There is a limit to how many you can claim at a time, but that limit increases as you write for them regularly. From their site:

Demand Studios enables talented freelancers to create valuable content, reach an audience of millions and earn money. Qualified content specialists can take part in the process, from making high-quality titles to editing finished content. We currently employ writers, filmmakers, copy editors, transcribers and title proofers, and we offer unique promotional opportunities for experts in all disciplines.

Downsides: Sometimes articles take a long time to get approved, meaning you can’t accept more assignments; this can really mess up your working timetable. Upsides: Demand is another low paying but dependable writing gig. You know you can make money there whenever you need to, and you can, once you can claim enough articles at a time, make a living from them.

Constant Content

Constant Content is a clearing house, allowing people to purchase and sell online content among themselves. Writers can sell different rights to their work to content publishers hungry for fresh content. From their site:

Constant-Content is a consignment shop for articles and pictures. Publishers can peruse the archive of articles, find the articles that they are looking for or use our system to reach out to authors and publish a request for new articles on your topic. Keeping content fresh on any site can be a lot of work, especially if you’re aiming to post new content very regularly. Constant-Content has a massive archive of articles and a community of writers who are keen to fulfill your content needs.

Constant-Content is unique in that we do not allow search engines to index our articles. As a consequence, when you purchase a unique or full rights license for one of our articles you can be certain that you will be the first on the Internet to post this article and you will receive the benefits of having unique, interesting and link-worthy content.

Upsides: You can get paid much more, sell work you already have sitting around, and get your work published all over the web. Downsides: Your work might not sell at all.

Tell me more.

I know there are a lot of other sites out there, these are just the ones that I like best and think are the best way for starting writers to establish themselves, get some credits, and most of all…get paid.

What about you? Tell me about your favorite sites to sell your work and I will feature them in a later post and give you credit.

Update (4-5-09)

It seems that Associated Content doesn’t pay out to non-U.S. residents. You just get traffic residuals.

Who is eligible to be paid?
You must be at least 18 years old to be paid by Associated Content. If you are also citizen or legal resident of the United States, you are eligible for both Upfront and Performance Payments. If you are not a citizen of legal resident of the United States, you are only eligible for Performance Payments due to U.S. tax regulations.

How very self-centered of them. I would like to apologize. I know that a lot of my readers are outside the US (that’s right, I’m watching you! *peers around*) and I don’t want to lead you wrong. My job is to help you get your career as writers going, and a non-paying client is exactly what I am trying to steer you away from. So please be advised:

Associated Content only pays residents of the United States of America. Non-US writers should seek other entry-level markets.

Special thanks to my buddy Mark Dykeman for the tip. He’s written for Louis Gray and Mashable and is an overall smart guy who says smart things. Check him out over at Broadcasting Brain or follow Mark on Twitter.

  • New Revenue-Sharing Content Site: Bukisa (onlinepublishing.suite101.com)
  • How To Find More Ghostwriting Jobs (ghostwritinguncovered.com)
  • Are You A Greedy Writer? (ghostwritinguncovered.com)
  • A Freelance Writer’s First Experience With Elance (danaprince.blogspot.com)
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Skills That Pay The Bills: Copywriting, SEO, and Blogging

a typical office day

Hello, intrepid readers. We are going to shift gears a bit in this post and address an issue that is always near and dear to my heart: money. This is not to say that I am obsessed with wealth, but I certainly enjoy being able to live comfortably and enjoy my hobbies, which as a geek can include expensive gadgets, video games, and lots of media. So how does a writer in the modern era get paid?

Copywriting

Copywriting (also known as business writing) is the art and science of creating text that informs, attracts, and sells, all at the same time. To write good copy, you not only have to be a good writer, but you have to understand your audiences and what will drive their purchasing. Your goal is to sell something, and in order to do that you have to understand how your readers will react not just to the content of your words, but their appearance and tone.

Necessary skills:

  • Write in many tones and voices, from warm and friendly to cold and technical. You must get over the notion that you are selling your art and thus must maintain your own authentic voice. While this is true for fiction, poetry, and other creative writing, copywriters must be able to catch the tone and voice that will most effectively represent their client’s interests. Read, listen to, and watch advertisements of all kinds and you will hear many different voices; practice writing in all of them.
  • Understand visual cues. Words are visual, and by purposefully arranging how they meet the eyes  you can make certain impressions without changing a bit of your content. By creating symmetry and asymmetry in your copy (lining up your text and formatting it such that the lines “lead” the eyes of the reader to each important phrase) you can emphasize certain points over others, line up “question and answer” blocks around explanatory copy, and create a general impression of casualness, formality, friendliness, or whatever impression is needed.
  • Be a good researcher. Clients will vary, and you will often need to be able to learn a great deal about a given industry, company, product, or service with very little notice. Make sure you have resources bookmarked and ready to do research on just about anything. This includes niche sites, academic sites, and government sites; Wikipedia, for all its glory, just won’t cut it.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Writing in the online world requires at least a basic understanding of the principles of SEO, including keyword research, competition evaluation, and link-building. Understand, it will seldom be your job to define and entire SEO strategy for a client, but in order to create good online content you have to know how to make sure it can be found and will compete against other similar content.

Necessary Skills:

  • Understand the principles of search. Search is a weird field, in concept and in practice. In theory, it’s just math; search engines index content and use various algorithms to return that content in reply to corresponding searches. And if language, meaning, and knowledge were a simple affair, that would be enough, but they aren’t. We categorize things, use synonyms and conditionals, come up with neologisms (new words), and generally make things very complicated (and very interesting). We teach the search engines what words mean, and in turn the search engines teach us how to ask for what we are looking for. I can’t even begin to cover the necessary knowledge to really understand search, but I will list several resources for learning the basics of search and SEO theory at the end of this post.
  • Learn how to use keywords and keyword phrases without sounding forced. Learn how to research commonly searched keywords and phrases and pepper your writing with them appropriately. Don’t stuff them, don’t use keywords unrelated to the content, and don’t just reuse the same one over and over; use synonyms and related terms.
  • Produce quality content. Realize that keyword use is just part of the battle, what we call a “necessary but insufficient condition”. You have to use well-chosen keywords, but quality content that will attract links and traffic is the rest of the equation.
  • Be generous. Link out often to other blogs and sources, and always make sure your anchor text (the text that you make the link) is actually associated with the content you link to. Try to go for deep links (links to pages inside a website rather than to the frontpage) and when you reference ideas or content from other sources, make sure to credit them.

Blogging

Blogging is big business…for a few. This money comes from advertising, direct sales, and the attraction of jobs. The decision of how to monetize your blog comes down to how much traffic you get and what your niche is. thePuckWrites is monetized by being a sort of virtual resume…I blog about how I do things so that others can learn how to do them, which showcases my knowledge and writing, while making sure a few select pieces of writing are available to show my range, plus a resume and a contact form. Since my blog is set up this way, I attract both writers who want to learn and employers who want to hire. You might also consider blogging for hire…companies may pay you to blog regularly for them, or you could join a blog network or multi-user blog that pays per post like BrightHub. These kinds of jobs can vary a great deal in price, so make sure you are getting paid what you are worth.

Necessary Skills:

  • Picking a good niche. I know a lot of bloggers, and some of them blog about things that no one would ever want to read about regularly. Some industries and subjects, no matter how necessary for society and life, will not draw an audience. Pick a niche you know about, but pick an interesting niche you know about; you might sell toilet paper, but no one wants to read about toilet paper, whether it is making, selling, or using it.
  • Writing for a wide audience. Don’t be a snob. Use language that everyone will understand and if you must use special jargon, explain what you mean without being condescending. Remember, most people do not write for a living and thus it is not their job to know all the $0.50 words. You are not special, better, or smarter because you know what deontological means or can use gerund properly in a sentence, you are just specially trained in your job like others are specially trained in their own. Don’t be an ass.
  • Discipline. You need to update regularly, research new posts, and promote your work. Quite frankly, it can be a huge pain. Depending on your revenue model, you might need to update as often as several times a day. Good scheduling and productivity is a must.

Resources

Copywriting

SEO

Blogging

What Else?

These are my skills that pay the bills, what are yours?