How to write faster

Have you ever stared blankly at your computer screen, begging inspiration to guide your hands as you write?

You notice a stray comma in the first paragraph, so you fix it quickly. Then back to staring. You then see that you wrote “usually” twice in the same sentence. It only takes a second to change that, and then you’re back to staring. The introductory sentence could be better, so you rewrite that. Then you stare again.

Are you noticing a pattern?

In her YouTube video, “Stop Editing as You Write!” Eloise Knapp nails down the main reason authors take so long to finish their writing: constant editing.

Knapp created her video in honor of “NaNoWriMo,” or National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo.org, a non-profit group, challenged authors to write a novel in the month of November. Though the video was posted for NaNoWriMo participants, it has far-reaching implications for all writers.

Knapp encourages a near free-writing style, in which authors type out their work without editing. She asserts that ALL revisions should be made AFTER the author has finished writing.

Knapp remarks that editing during the writing process is highly addictive, particularly if it is a “quick-fix,” such as misplaced punctuation.

Yet these tiny revisions start to add up, and writers may accidentally spend more time perfecting a single paragraph than actually writing. While Knapp acknowledges that editing is invaluable and necessary, it may hinder writers from producing content.

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Basic editing skillz

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This brain of mine contains all sorts of information, including culinary skills (sort of), personal reflections, algebraic formulas and tidbits of gossip. But I really know reading, writing and revising. I have written a ridiculous amount of essays, articles, blog posts, resumes, cover letters, response papers, press releases, marketing blurbs and probably a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember right now.

Most writers don’t see themselves as great, or even good. I’m going to let you in on a secret, my friends: Your writing will never be perfect. There will always be something, however minuscule, that you could have done better. That tiny error, that you didn’t notice until after you sent it to your editor, will fester and inflame in your consciousness until you are eventually driven to drink your agitation away.

To others, your work is flawless. To you, it’s worse than Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” music video. 

There are far better writers in the world than me, but I have picked up a few editing tricks over the years that I will share with you.

  • Know your audience 

In the same week, I may find myself writing for a newspaper, a class or a magazine. Each publication has specific audience needs, so keep this in mind during your editing and writing process. If you write for multiple outlets, check to make sure your writing reflects the one you are writing for. You should also write for that particular publication’s platform. 1,000 words in a print news story, for example, is probably too much.

  • Use the tools available to you

This is an obvious piece of advice, but one that so many overlook. Many writing and editing tools are free, including online thesauruses and dictionaries. Spellcheck and Microsoft Word are also available through Google Docs. If you are a college student, MLA and AP stylebooks are available to you in print and online through your university’s library.

  • “Show, don’t tell” 

Instead of listing dry facts in the fashion of a machine gun, paint a picture for readers by appealing to their senses. What sights, smells and textures can you add to your writing? Make readers feel like they are in the story, not just reading it.

  • Review

Look at your story abstractly. Consider any viewpoints, facts or elements that may be missing. Are there any gaps that need to be filled in? Your writing should inform readers, not leave them with more questions than answers.

  • Experiment

Finally, experiment with your writing and editing techniques. You may find that listening to music while editing or writing in a coffee shop facilitates your process. Likewise, working in complete silence may do the trick. Rework your story to fit a new writing style, or read your work out loud. Discover your personal editing preferences through trial and error.

Find more editing tips here. http://prezi.com/hkqasdpieunj/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

Journalism and web metrics: A love-hate relationship

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It’s no secret that web metrics are playing a huge role in the media industry right now. Whereas journalists once strove to write the catchiest-sounding headlines, many now pack as many key search words into a headline as possible. Writers no longer want to report the most meaningful community issues, but the ones that will get the most online hits.

In “Confusion Online: Faulty Metrics and the Future of Digital Journalism,” Lucas Graves and John Kelly address the monumental differences among various methodologies for measuring web traffic. To phrase it mildly, many discrepancies, nay a chasm of discrepancies, exist among companies that provide measurement services. The authors provide some stupefying statistics from major measurement firms, Nielsen NetRatings and comScore. According to Graves and Kelley, comScore estimated that Washingtonpost.com had 17 million unique visitors in May 2010, while Nielsen NetRatings calibrated 10 million unique visitors for the same month. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a 7 million dollar difference. Both companies measured the same thing during the same span of time for the same newspaper. “Confusion” only begins to describe my feelings upon reading this.

Newsrooms rely so heavily on this technology. We market to advertisers based on these numbers. We often alter our editorial practices, our stories, as a result of this data. And yet, it’s so unreliable. There is little standardization in this field. Even basic nomenclature is beyond standardization. It seems assessors cannot even agree on the definition of a Unique visitor.” The irony of journalists revering accuracy in reporting, while simultaneously using potentially inaccurate traffic data, is not lost on me.

Hold your hats, guys, because I’m about to completely contradict myself. C.W. Anderson’s “‘Squeezing humanity through a straw’: The long-term consequences of using metrics in journalism” discusses the issues with journalism metrics, yet she also reflects on the positive aspects of web metrics. Anderson includes a quote from “Washington Post” executive producer Katharine Zaleski: ” There’s news we know people should read — because it’s important and originates with our reporting — and that’s our primary function…But we also have to be very aware of what people are searching for out there and want more information on…If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our jobs.”

Anderson is right. Journalists need to publish relevant stories, but they should also be aware of what readers want to read. Web metrics can help us accomplish this goal by indicating which stories readers are most interested in. Anderson argues that metrics can be a good thing for journalism after all. 

Anderson also suggests that heavy reliance on traffic data removes the human element from reporting. She asserts that “in our rush to capture audience data, we run the risk of oversimplifying the notion of informational desire. We run the risk of squeezing humanity through a digital straw.” Essentially, we shouldn’t look at our readers and see only numbers. Connecting with them as humans, and not data, is an important facet of our jobs and frankly, what makes us journalists.

It seems that the biggest problems with web metrics are as follows: 1. There are little, if any, standardized methodologies for measuring web traffic. This causes major discrepancies among analytics providers and may not present an accurate portrayal of data. 2. Relying on online data so heavily removes the human element from our reporting.

We need to find a balance in our usage of web metrics. It has obvious implications for journalism, good and bad. It’s an extremely powerful tool that we have much to learn about. Heading forward, we need to standardize our measurements, remember our humanity and proceed cautiously.

Trash TV is my everything

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In a previous post, I hinted that I may be slightly addicted to coffee. Only one thing supersedes this addiction: trash TV, baby. If you need the skinny on Pretty Little Liars, Ravenswood, Being Human, Ghost Whisperer, the X-Files, Vampire Diaries, the OriginalsDracula or the Mindy Kaling Show, I’m your girl.

When a friend recently asked me to suggest a new television show, I started running through my list of favorites. I quickly became disturbed at how many show were on this list. Is it possible to be addicted to television? Apparently, yes, it is.

And then I started to ruminate more deeply on the pros and cons of watching so much TV. Surely this can’t be good, I thought. So I carefully observed my own viewing habits.

What I discovered: When I get home in the evening, I turn on the television. When I wake up in the morning, I turn on the television. I watch episodes while eating, while dressing and while putting on my makeup. After extensive self observation, I noticed that I wasn’t paying close attention to these shows. Mostly, they were just on in the background.

I guess you could say that TV is my life’s soundtrack. To give you a sense of the breadth of this matter – I’m watching television right now.

Maybe I should feel worse about this, but I get so much done with television on and acting as background noise. I do a plethora of writing while in the throws of a Grey’s Anatomy marathon. If I write in silence, I hear every noise, from the dog barking down the street, to the faucet dripping, to my kitten scratching on his kitty post. Somehow, the distraction of television drowns out all other distractions and keeps me trained on the writing task at hand.

So, with these new realizations in mind, I will proudly re-watch episodes of Once Upon a Time and Modern Family, all while pounding out my next article. It’s time I embraced my addiction. Continue reading

Super Bowl commercials 2014

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Okay, guys. Confession time: I don’t care that much about football. There. I said what cannot be unsaid in the deep South.

Super Bowl Sunday is just another Sunday to me, with the exception of my boyfriend Brad hopping around in excitement all day about the impending game. I mean, I’m happy for him. Yet no matter how hard I try, football – especially NFL football, is just not my idea of a good time. I do, however, thoroughly enjoy the accompanying entertainment during half-time and, of course, the intermittent commercials.

Armed with the full knowledge that millions of people will be viewing the game, the top companies in the country present their wittily funny and heart-rending ads that they spent so much money on.

So, in an attempt to get on board with my football-friends, I have decided to rank some of 2014’s Super Bowl commercials by level of humor, cleverness and coolness.

6. The Doritos Commercial No. 1

In comparison to last year’s Doritos ad, this commercial fell far short of my expectations. This year’s commercial featured a loud-chewing goat. After three consecutive years of extremely funny Super Bowl ads, I can say that, without a doubt, the anticipation was much sweeter than the actual commercial.

5. The M&M’s Commercial

This commercial rocks in the sense that the red M&M sings Meatloaf’s early 90s “I’d Do Anything For Love” song, which is basically comedic perfection. Making an inanimate object animate is always funny, not to mention the ridiculous sexual overtones in the ad. It’s greatest failing, however, is redundancy. It is simply an extended version of an older commercial that most television viewers have probably seen before.

4. The Doritos Commercial No. 2

Points to Doritos for having a second commercial, which was much funnier than the first. In its second commercial round, there is bro-mance, parent humor and even cross dressing. Though it was still not Doritos’ best ad, it did include an everyman type of humor.

3. The Microsoft Commercial

What a tear jerker. Featuring physically handicapped individuals of all ages, this commercial demonstrates how what looks like a disadvantage can instead turn out to be an advantage with the help of technology. The sad and intense music also inspired some bittersweet feelings within me. Though I know it’s advertising at its best manipulating my emotional psyche, I still love it.

2.The Taco Bell Commercial

In a word: “awesome.” This commercial ventured into the realm of the bizarre, I will say. Its main plot point involved a group of elderly retirement home residents, who snuck out to participate in clubbing, drinking, random tattooing, illicit sex and, of course eating Taco Bell. Eventually, the old timers snuck back into their retirement home. This ad is great for juxtaposing stereotypes of young and elderly individuals.

1. The KIA Sorento Commercial

The Sorento promotion brought to the table a cerebral sense of humor, which I greatly appreciate. A little boy asks his parents how babies are made, and the Sorento comes to his parents’ rescue. This held a cuteness and a cleverness that all viewers could enjoy. Most importantly, however, it did not go overboard.

There you have it folks, the moderately priced and moderately commercialized KIA Sorento wins! Until next year…

Networking and Food Blog South

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Amidst the aromas of spinach cream crab cakes, fried buffalo blue cheese cream oysters and white chocolate glazed bread pudding, I found myself again. As I filled my plate while contentedly humming “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” I looked around at the vast array of attendees.

While its titillating cuisine remains at the forefront of my memory, the 2014 Food Blog South convention offered participants a myriad of opportunities.

Though I consider myself more of a journalist and less of a food blogger per se, volunteering at this event opened my eyes to a niche world I never knew existed. I had heard whispers of food blogging pursuits, but I had never witnessed its power in action.

Hundreds of people gathered in the poshest area of Birmingham to discuss publishing, multi-media platform writing, tips for digital tools and much more. Through the sheer power of networking, all of these people came together to celebrate and promote an art they personally loved. That is amazing.

Even Southern Living showed up to mingle. I couldn’t help but think, “Bloggers did all this?” Yes, ladies and gentlemen. They absolutely did. Because there is one thing these bloggers did better than blogging: networking. These guys all knew each other personally, through social media or through word of mouth. In a way, this conference made me view blogging itself as a form of networking with others. Many attendees were widely successful in their field, and they each had this in common. Thankfully, I have recently taken up blogging myself.

The dangers of Reddit as news

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The platform site Reddit has become an increasingly popular source for news. Reddit is a content aggregation site where anonymous users can “upvote” or “downtown” original content or content already existing on the internet. Upvotes push posts toward the top of the site and make them more visible to users, while downvotes push posts toward the bottom of the site, where they are less visible.

Reddit often contains left-leaning content that appeals to the male demographic. Informal and formal news articles are uploaded to the site. Videos, memes, gifs, chats and other content are also uploaded to the site, which tailors itself to users’ preferences based on upvotes and downvotes.

Reddit is attractive to users for a variety of reasons, including its easy navigability, entertainment value, personal preference settings and the sheer fact that it posts the most interesting news (according to audiences’ upvotes and downvotes) items first.

Reddit contains a massive amount of information pertaining to a vast array of topics. Reddit is widely known for its immediacy in posting news, often besting more formal news outlets in this category. However, its news also contains inaccuracies on occasion. Perhaps one of its biggest blunders to date was its misidentification of multiple bombers during the Boston marathon bombing.

This presents a problem. A large number of users are getting their news from Reddit, which may include incorrect information. Potentially thousands of people are being misinformed via Reddit news.

Were more formal sanctions placed on Reddit, it may lose its unique quality of laid back entertainment and easygoing atmosphere.

However, perhaps labels could be applied to postings to indicate which news stories are blogs, editorials, credible and objective news, etc. Users may continue to take faux news at face value until some measure is taken on Reddit or they are informed that not every posting may be legitimate.