Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lose Control: Traveling Alone With a Lost Passport in a Foreign Country (Life Changing Moments Series)

Traveling alone with a lost passport in a foreign country, Bernadette Ignacio found herself in a situation out of her control. In fact, Bernadette found her best way out of her problem was to simply lose control and surrender herself to the world around her. Bernadette is a burgeoning freelance writer and blogger based in the sunny, sometimes sleepy beach community of Ventura County, CA. Being from a small So Cal bubble-town, her life passion lies in exploring the near and far nooks and crannies of the world, and sharing her experiences as a travel writer. Her current blog babies are Words of the One, a weekly wisdom site with posts every Wednesday, and Bee's Stoetry, where she shares short story snippets and poetry from her many international misadventures. Learn more about Bernadette's never ending story at bernadettelynnignacio.com.


Bernadette Ignacio, world traveler.

Lost Passport

I should have been kidnapped...

Alone in the ripped apart pile of my life, I cried until I felt sick. Catching my breath, I tried to keep chunks from flying all over the mess I scattered on the airport floor that cloudy day in Cuzco. Bravery of doing this by myself backfired. There was no one to call, nothing else I could do, so I just hung my head between my shaky knees and cried some more.

Along with my passport I lost my senses. After sobbing myself dizzy, I couldn't think of anything. And without a passport, I knew I couldn't do anything. I felt the strange tingle of on-looking eyes. Hovering above me, stood a silver-haired man looking puzzled, yet empathetic. Glaring through tears, his white shirt glowed against weathered, tan skin. A shiny badge swung from his neck that led my eyes to his.

"What's wrong," he asked in soft, slow, accented English.

I felt a burn rise in my throat, and began to word-vomit my pathetic predicament in pathetic Spanglish, wiping snot away with my sleeves. He paused, asked me to take a deep breath, and looked at me the way a dad looks at his daughter after showing him an owie.

"Don't worry," he said. "My name is Mr. Alexander. I'm going to help you."

This is the moment when the girl agrees, gets snatched, and is never seen again. But I sensed no sign of stranger danger in his kind, old eyes. A small, weak smile cracked through as I surrendered a simple, "Ok."

Traveling Alone

The months that led up to the day I met Mr. Alexander couldn't have been more carefully planned. It wasn't until 48 hours before my travel troubles literally hit the floor did it all spiral downhill.

In June of 2009, I set out on an epic backpacking adventure to South America. As a 20-something, solo female with a frame of 120 lb., I was a walking target for another horror story abroad in the headlines. So I planned my travel days ahead with attention to detail I thought would make Howard Hughes proud. Travel Visas, check! Flight schedule, check! Monstrous backpack full of first aid sh*t, check! And most importantly...PASSPORT, CHECK!

First stop to the mystic top, Machu Picchu, Peru. Next, Cordoba, Argentina for a volunteer opportunity with orphans. Then, Brazil, where I would reclaim a love lost. Yup, I was out to open my eyes, race to romance, and change the world. And because I had my plans set in stone for weeks, I couldn't be stopped.



Well, my high horse of confidence got shot down the moment I landed in Lima. It was 12:49 a.m. in the pitch black of Peruvian night, when I finally fetched my "Green Monster" off the conveyor belt after an agonizing line through customs. Surely I couldn't walk foreign streets with no clear direction, bearing that thing on my back, holding a map. I needed a cab. With the first step outside, I got startled from scolds of taxi hustlers. I hastily chose the driver with the most trusted looking car. Off to Cuzco I would go come morning.

Two weeks flew filled with mythic memories fueled by bottomless cups of Macha, or as I called it, crack water. I connected with countless global nomads, but every day, someone moved on. On June 18th, it was me. So I thought.

No More Options

Six days prior I got a tip from a fellow traveler to book cheap flights through a website called E-Dreams. The catch, she warned, was slow service from the budget booking company. With a week to spare, I assumed I was safe. But worry built up each day I woke to a ticketless inbox. On the night before expected departure, I screamed on the phone overseas, demanding they send my ticket. With frustration of accents and office hours in Europe coming to a close, dread set in. Finally, I got a confirmation number. Still stressed and unsatisfied, I "slept."

I scrambled around the morning market like a maniac; Snack, cash, last minute souvenirs--Fetch the Green Monster, check-out, grab a cab, and race to the airport. Throwing a wad of Pesos at the driver, I ran to the check-in counter two hours before take off. A startled woman confirmed my reservation, and asked for my passport. Reaching into my day pack, I tried to produce it. To my unthinkable horror, my hand found only empty space. A travel nightmare come true.

I tore through my Green Monster in a panic to find it: nothing. With her guts gravely strewn on the ground around me, I collapsed. "I'm supposed to be on that plane! I'm supposed to help the orphans! I'm supposed to NEVER lose my passport!" My head spun with possible places it could've been stolen, or mindlessly left during my mad rush around Cuzco. With time to work, I decided to retrace my frantic steps.

Blitzing back to my hostel, I checked reception. They told me they didn't have it, but what they did tell me was more unsettling. Apparently minutes ago, the man who found it came to see if I was there. Tucked in the pages was a receipt from my stay. They told him I left for the airport, and my airline. He claimed he would try to catch up. Desperate to meet, I dashed back to the airport. Again, I sprinted to check-in with hurried hopes.The same confused lady said a man came, parading my passport. But alas, I was not there for him to find. We were chasing each other's phantom footsteps. Him in search of a hefty finder's fee. Me, my lost key to the world. I waited.

20 minutes passed, then 40, then, gate five closed for flight 918 bound for Cordoba. My $360 dollar seat flew away cold and empty. There were no more solutions, no more options for me to "fix it." At the mercy of my mistake, instincts said I should suck it up. But I could barely breathe. That's when Mr. Alexander found me.

Lose Control

Helping me onto my feet, he revealed his position as manager of the airline. He explained I needed to go back to Lima where the U.S. Embassy could issue a replacement passport. I showed him copies of I.D., and to my astonishment, he proceeded to book me a discounted flight for Lima 300 miles away. He assured that I was to have no issues.

The next step was going to the police for a theft report needed to present at the embassy. He asked if it was OK that he personally escort me there so he could translate my snafu in Spanish. Noticing my apprehension about the "personal" part, he suggested I might be more comfortable in my own cab (which he insisted on paying for), we followed him to the station. It all just happened.

Afterward, he asked if I had somewhere safe to stay that night. I mentioned my hostel, he knew it, and with the same hand-held steps, he returned me to my haven. After hearing my story, they let me stay for free. You see it all the time, a traveler with atrocious troubles. You never think it could be you.

Mr. Alexander handed me his card with that same stern, yet sweet look. "If you have any more problem, you call me OK.”

I wrapped my wimpy arms around him. Smiling, he told me he didn't want me leaving Cuzco with cold memories in my heart, and kissed my hand goodbye. With tears welling up in my eyes again, his beaming white shirt blurred away behind the big wooden door. On June 19th, I flew away.

It is hard to surrender when we truly believe all we have to be is strong. However, sometimes it's about letting go of what you think should be happening, and accepting what is actually happening. Life gives you these moments when it seems everything ought to be perfectly orchestrated because you've prepared so much. Though when left with no choice but to be held in the hands of the universe, it's possible that we be taken care of in ways we couldn't even dream.

The truth is, our concept of control is an illusion, and there comes a pivotal point when we can understand and embrace that. It's a point when giving up seems like the last thing you should do, but really, it's the only thing you can do to save yourself.

*****

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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is branding all about anyway?

These are questions I get often, "What is branding? What is a writer platform? Why should I care?"

I've covered the topic on here before, but that doesn't mean everyone reads every post--or that I do a good job of communicating my message in every post. So I'm going to tackle each of these questions in order.

What is branding?


The short and sweet answer is that branding is how someone communicates the image (and hopefully identity) of a product, service, or whatever. For instance, Kroger grocery stores have recently been branding themselves as a place that has shorter waiting times for customers at check out (image)--and they've been following it up (at least in Duluth, Georgia) by opening lanes on the spot to keep lines from forming (identity).


What sets you apart as a writer?

Writers might brand themselves as fast and affordable, but what sets many apart is their unique voices and/or subjects they handle. If I had to peg my own brand, I'd probably say that Robert Lee Brewer is an expert on the business of writing who also enjoys the art and craft of poetry. I might also take it a step further by claiming to be nice and helpful.

Branding is not about selling stuff as much as it is about effectively communicating who you are or what sets you apart from everyone else. In a way, I guess branding (whether for yourself, a book, or a webinar) is your USP (or unique selling point).

What is a writer platform?


A writer platform is a combination of tools that--when used effectively--help writers brand themselves. The writer platform is not used to sell specific products and services exactly; it's used to communicate who the writer is and build confidence in the writer's authority, whether the writer handles parenting topics or pens horror novels.

Recently, someone made a comment on one of the platform-related posts that a platform isn't useful unless you have a product to sell (a book, a webinar, a course), but I don't agree with that assessment completely. Sure, it's going to put more money in your pocket if you have something relevant and worthwhile to sell as you build your platform. But even that product would add to your writer platform; it's another part of your brand.

Writers start building a platform from day one by working on the craft of writing. Then, they build up the courage to communicate that they write when they're locked away from other people. Eventually, they start submitting their writing--and then, that writing starts getting published. All this adds to the momentum of the writer platform. Eventually, some writers find that their platforms are solid enough that people start coming to them with projects.

Why should I care?


Earlier today, I read an interesting article on Poynter about Forbes.com's contributed content model of publishing. It's having great results for Forbes, and it's changing the way journalists have to view their work and their way of earning a living. In the article, the author (Jeff Sonderman) writes, "If this is the future, journalists may need to prepare for living every day like a hustle — leaning on their personal brands and piecing together a multi-stream income. But then again, we were never in it for the money."

I've felt for a long time that the contributed content (or "entrepreneurial journalism") method is one of the most likely to succeed for publishing in the future. While I don't think every outlet will adopt this model, I think it's success with Forbes.com--in addition to the success of sites like Wikipedia--underscores how the traditional role of a "writer" is changing.

I think writers should care, because it will become increasingly dangerous and foolish for writers to build their brands around a book or a webinar or a course. Instead, writers would be wise to brand themselves as the product offering various services, whether that's writing an article, completing a book, leading a webinar, or speaking at an event.

Circling back to Kroger, the grocery store doesn't brand itself as a carton of eggs or a gallon of milk. Instead, Kroger is the helpful and reliable place you go to find eggs, milk, or a number of other things, and they'll get you checked out quickly.

If a writer has a strong brand, it won't matter if the future is in print publishing, e-publishing, traditional publishing, self-publishing, education, apps, or a combination of several products and services. What will matter is that customers (editors, agents, publishers, and readers) will know that you're the person to see about subjects x, y, and z.


*****

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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Write Write Write!

If you've been stopping by MNINB the past week and feeling disappointed I haven't been more active on here, I'm sorry. I'm in "crazy mode" for the 2013 Writer's Market Books--that last push before I can breathe (and start blogging regularly) again. I think I've put in 44 hours in just the past three days (and have to thank Tammy and the rest of my family for helping me to accomplish that).

For those of you who know my past history with working too much, don't worry. I've been making sure to get sleep this time around.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that everything is fine and the blog posts will be flying again in the very near future. In the meantime, I encourage you to write write write!

And if you're not already, sign up for the e-mail updates in the upper right-hand corner. Then, you'll be notified when the advice and inspirational stories start flying again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Advice for Writers: 034

Here are this week's nuggets of knowledge!

Learning to Embrace My Limits, by Kristan Hoffman. Here's a little reassurance for writers who don't feel they're ready (or even ever want) to go pro. Personally, I spent close to 15 years writing before trying to get published, and I still considered myself a writer without making a single submission.

Why Self-Conscious Writers Are Doomed, by K.M. Weiland. Of course, if you are writing to get published, then it's good to have an idea of who your audience might be.

25 Ways to Earn Your Audience, by Chuck Wendig. Many writers think, "If you write it, they will come." However, that's rarely the case--even if you've written the most amazing thing ever.

4 Ways to Immediately Improve Your Book Marketing Efforts, by Jane Friedman. These are all great tips, including leaving the hard-selling to your blog or website. Hard-selling on social media just doesn't produce great results. At the same time, it alienates social media connections.

What I Learned About Writing From My Lunch With a Dead Woman, by Carol Tice. What I like about this post is that it gives a little more perspective than just write-write-write or promote-promote-promote. Worth a read by all creators.

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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:


Friday, May 18, 2012

Writing Blind: How Blind People Manage to Write

I'm so honored to have Maribel Steel on the Not Bob blog today. Maribel is a writer and blogger from Melbourne, Australia. She was diagnosed at 17 with a degenerative eye condition (Retinitis Pigmentosa) in the late 70s. She is the mother of four children and is currently writing a collection of short stories for publication. She was one of the judges two years running for Vision Australia's Dickenson's Literary Awards. Her other passion is music and Maribel works with her partner in their recording studio in her role as "big ears." For more stories from a vision-impaired perspective, visit: http://www.gatewaytoblindness.blogspot.com/.


Maribel Steel, Australian writer and blogger

Writing Blind: How Blind People Manage to Write


Have you ever wondered how a writer with vision-impairment or total blindness is able to operate a computer without seeing the screen? How do they move around in Cyber-space without cursing the cursor? How do they craft their work writing blind?

With patience and persistence like every other writer – and with a keen ear filtering the incessant dialog of a know-it-all computer program called JAWS (Job Access With Speech).

Bye-bye Braille


Gone are the days when Braille was the only option available at their fingertips. Nowadays, it is hard to keep up with all the technical advancements and handy gadgets that help them to function independently in a visual world. Fortunately technology today is so advanced, people like myself, with little or no sight can link with others through the World-Wide-Web.

As a vision-impaired writer I compose stories, store documents to folders, read and send e-mails, create posts for blogs and surf the Internet – all without being able to see the screen on my laptop.

Hello JAWS!


Once upon a time, in the dark ages I used an electric typewriter and magnifying glass to read and write with – but in 2000, my writing ability soared to new heights when I took part in a series of training sessions for blind computer users. This is when I was introduced to the 'guy' who likes to run the show, JAWS – a screen-reading program with a robotic synthesized voice.

He may lack a warm tone and natural human inflection but I will give him due credit for guiding me through the computer maze from start up to shut down. I don't even have to use a mouse – or a rat, or even a cute koala – because the keys on my laptop have been assigned special functions. It is remembering them all that is the fun part!


Maribel using JAWS

Learning How to Use Job Access With Speech


Like every new skill, learning all the correct keystrokes and finger commands was overwhelming. The hardest thing was getting used to the speed of the robotic mono-tone voice: left ear on my trainer's instructions, right ear on JAWS, my brain scrambled somewhere between the two.

After a year or so, the process became easier and more logical – JAWS was my inseparable office buddy: zipping through computer tasks which in return boosted my confidence as an independent writer.

No matter how rapidly I scoot around my files today, JAWS is right there with me, not missing a beat. So how does it all work?

Basically, for every single key I tap on the keyboard JAWS announces its name and function out loud. You could say I push his buttons and he takes it like a trooper! He announces streams of information like, "Menus…leaving menus. File…edit file…leaving file…not connected, wireless networks are available. Windows explorer, W. Enter – library documents …items…view…list box…Robert Brewer blog post …edit. Do you want to save your changes?"

My favourite one is when I accidentally tap the key to shut down JAWS and in a surprised tone he will announce, "Are you SURE you want to quit JAWS?"

Then there are special combinations of keys that will get JAWS to read one word at a time or one line or just one paragraph: he can jump around inside a web page, flick between open windows or announce selected text. It is like having a verbose parrot perched continually on one's laptop. JAWS will read lashings of codes and numbers not even present on the screen (so I have been told) and thinks it very helpful to read headings in my Inbox several times until I thump the Control key which shuts him up – but only briefly.

Sometimes, JAWS darts around open files and I have to work out which one he has disappeared into by striking the Tab key to find him again. (Maybe this is revenge for my earlier request to quit JAWS?).

He picks up most spelling errors and dares to offer suggestions for new words – thanks JAWS but that's not the word I am looking for.

How I Write Blind With a Computer


It is all very fine and wonderful – until I want to make friends on Facebook. Nope. For some reason, JAWS announces all sorts of details that make it impossible to know where he is and who's wall we are looking at? What happened to my helpful, chatty friend? Oh well, I guess it's good to know his limitations, he is 'human' after all.

And so, this is how I write blind with a computer – but there is just one last thing I would like to mention. As amazing as it is to be able to do all these things with JAWS, I still rely on my supportive family who take time to look over my work, attach photos to files and set default settings within documents. Because sometimes, you know, it is just easier than working with a chatterbox!

*****

Pro Dictation Software
Since Maribel has such a glowing endorsement of JAWS, I'd definitely suggest checking out the link above if you're looking for a great program to help for writing with a visual impairment. However, if you're now interested in dictation software (as I admit I was) after reading this post, then you may want to check out the Philips Digital Pocket Memo with Speech Exec Pro Dictation Software. For writers who aren't always able to sit down and type, this software affords them the ability to speak their writing and transfer it onto a computer.

Click to continue

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Near Death Experiences: Why I'm Thankful My Near Death Experience Kept a Little Distance

Yesterday was my second oldest son's ninth birthday. I can't believe he's already that old, and I also can't believe it's been three years since I survived my own near death experience--an event that is still as mysterious as it was when it happened three years ago on May 16, 2009.

The world is filled with near death experiences. My father once shared his own tale with me by claiming that he floated over his body, saw the doctors, but couldn't communicate. That event has since plunged him into an obsession with creating a device that would allow body-less spirits to communicate with the living.


There's my son, Jonah, who turned 9 yesterday.

For myself, I don't feel compelled to move in that direction, though that event has definitely helped guide many of my decisions since I fell down, quit breathing, and turned blue in front of my wife, my soon-to-be sister-in-law, and my youngest son (while watching Twin Peaks, no less).

My Near Death Experience


So, here's how everything went down. We were all watching Twin Peaks when my phone rang. I jumped up to answer and heard my mom's voice on the other end. We were all planning to head over to my ex-wife's house to celebrate my son's sixth birthday. Anyway, we said a couple things to each other, and that's when I started to feel tunnel vision and lost consciousness.

From my perspective, everything went black. There were no lights. There was no floating over my body. Just a big nothing. (Note: I want it to be known I consider myself a Christian, so I'm not arguing for or against the existence of anything. I'm just sharing what I experienced.)

Eventually, I began to hear a frantic voice. Then, I could see my wife, Tammy, looking into my eyes. I could tell she was very worried, and I tried to to get up--but I couldn't. In fact, I could barely move. It was like my entire body was paralyzed--or like it had fallen asleep.

Stop Breathing, Turning Blue


From Tammy's perspective, I got up to answer the phone. Then, I sat down on the couch behind me and in one motion laid down. Then, I started snoring loudly, which is what cued her in that something was wrong. Eventually my breathing stopped altogether and--right before her eyes--my skin was turning crayon blue.

My soon-to-be sister-in-law called 911, while Tammy worked on me to get me back breathing. While she didn't have a stopwatch out to "time me," both are pretty sure that I'd quit breathing for at least a few minutes. Brain cells begin to die within five minutes of no oxygen to the brain, so my life and ability to function normally were hanging in the balance while I experienced nothing.

Tammy kept blowing into my mouth until finally I started breathing again. Even then, my eyes were open, but I wasn't home. So she kept "talking" to me until I found my way back to her.

No Answers, But Still Thankful


Over the course of the next month, I was put through a gauntlet of tests in Ohio and Georgia by a variety of specialists, including cardiologists and neurologists. I wore a heart monitor day and night--calling in suspicious codes (even in the middle of the night) whenever it beeped. I intentionally made myself hyperventilate for a neurological test (talk about weird). And I went through more than a dozen other tests.


Three years ago, I spent the weekend in a hospital bed.

Cardiologists were convinced it was neurological. Neurologists were convinced it was cardiological. Eventually, I ended up with no answers and a prescription for extra strength Vitamin D.

Without any answers, I felt like a ticking time bomb. The least little jump in my heart rate could send me into a panic. But eventually, that passed. I've learned to move on with my life, and I'm actually very thankful.

That moment, as horrible as it was, helped me realize what I was doing to myself. I was pulling all-nighters, letting myself get overly stressed out about work, and staying locked inside every day. I was truly lucky that I didn't have a similar event when I was home alone (with my 6-month-old son). If that had been the case, this blog post probably wouldn't exist.

So when I start pulling my hair out about work or bills or "a million things to get done" in a short amount of time, I now have my near death experience to draw upon for strength and patience and perspective. Nothing's so important that it's worth killing myself over. I can take a deep breath, relax my shoulders, and remember I'm alive.

*****

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Check out these other posts from the Blissfully series:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Overcoming the Fear of Failure: You Can Beat the Odds to Find Happiness (Life Changing Moments Series)

Today's guest post looks at the process of overcoming the fear of failure to find happiness and comes from Susan Craig. I love this post, because it totally nails "the odds" of anything, whether it's getting published, finding a job, landing the perfect girl (or guy), or whatever. Many people use the odds as an excuse to "not try," but that only plays into the hands of "the odds," and well, I'll let Susan tell her story. Susan is a writer, parent, photographer, scientist, and pizza-lover. Her passion is writing romance. Her day job is teaching college biology, and in her spare time she loves her family and takes photos of plants, critters, and scenery. Check out her blog at http://bysusancraig.wordpress.com.


Susan Craig, Making Her Own Odds to Find Happiness

Overcoming the Fear of Failure: You Can Beat the Odds to Find Happiness



Trying to make my dreams come true seemed an overwhelming task until a statistician taught me how to beat the odds.

I Was in Over My Head


At 36 years old, I was beginning graduate school—not in a user-friendly discipline like sociology or education, but in hard science, where graduate school is a full-time enterprise: total immersion. I was the last person accepted into a cohort of 12 first-year students that faculty considered to be the crème de la crème of the current crop of biology graduates. The other 11 had been trained at the cutting edge of science, had the energy of youth, and were experienced in research.

I, on the other hand, had a degree in education (a B.A., yet) that was 14 years old and could claim not one whit of research experience. My previous life revolved around raising children and teaching elementary school.

How on earth had I gotten in? Somehow, by Divine intervention perhaps, each of my scores on the Graduate Records Exam was above the 90 percentile range. Apparently that was relatively unusual. So, on the last possible day, I was informed that I would be given a chance.

Don't misunderstand. I wanted to be there. It was my dream to become a scientist. But I felt like I'd been thrown into deep water, and the only hope was to keep kicking madly away until I learned how to swim. Less than a week into the program, we were informed that we were required to apply for National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships. We would fill out some forms, write a personal essay, and design a research project to submit. I was totally out of my depth.

There Was a Better Chance of Winning the Lottery


The word on campus was that no one ever actually got a fellowship. The faculty just thought it was good practice for us to apply. You had a better chance of winning the lottery. That eased my fears a bit, until I spoke to my advisor.

Some of the other first-years had been told by their mentors to waste as little time as possible fulfilling the application requirement. That sounded good to me, but not to my advisor. He made it clear he expected a quality product, "your best effort." Eager to impress him, I worked hard, polishing my essay and proposal until they sparkled—or so I thought.

Try Again


When I brought my work for review, he was not impressed. "Try again," he ordered. "Keep it simple and straightforward."

Back to the drawing board.

Next time, he grunted and told me to have the post-doctoral trainees in the lab critique it to "help polish up the language." So I went to Pat, the lab numbers guru, who also had a reputation as an excellent writer.

No luck. He was too busy to look at my work. So I shopped it around the lab. Every time someone agreed to take a look, the papers came back to me bleeding red with snide remarks and comments. I was falling behind in my other work, as I spent hour after hour trying to please my critics.

At last the day arrived to send off the application. Grateful that the end was near, I printed a fresh, clean copy of the last draft and slipped it into the envelope. Just as I was about to seal it shut, Pat strolled into the student office. "Did you still want me to look at that?"

No, my mind screamed. I want to mail it and be done. "Yeah, thanks," said my traitorous mouth, and I pulled the sheets out.

After a 15-minute eternity he came back, smiling. "I hope it's okay that I marked on these." I saw streaks of red like open wounds on the once-pristine pages.

"It's fine," I lied.

The Moment of Truth


Pat nodded in acknowledgement and left. That was my moment of truth. I wanted nothing more than to crumple up those sheets and throw them away. Or stuff them into the envelope, red and bleeding as they were. We were required to enter, not to win.

As I struggled with myself, the door to the office opened and Pat stuck his head back in. "Funny thing about statistics," he said. "The odds of an outcome only apply to the group, not to the individual." He nodded his head at me and left.

Puzzled, I sat down at the computer and began making revisions—again. Half an hour later, I carefully locked the office door, then printed out a clean copy of the application and sealed it immediately in its envelope. Racing to the post office, I got it stamped with 40 minutes to spare.

It took weeks of hard thinking before I understood what Pat had said. If there is only a 10 percent chance of success in a venture, this does not mean you are at the mercy of random chance. It means that 90 percent of the group will give up, hedge their bets, or hold back from giving the task their all.

The Odds Tell You How Many People Put in the Effort Required


For the individual, success or failure with any specific task is clear cut. Either you make it or you don't. And success is always determined, not by the odds, but by a combination of work and ability—heavily weighted in favor of work. In essence, the odds just tell you how many people in a group were willing to put in the effort required to succeed.

Is this simple? Yes.

Is it easy? Not in my experience. I've always found it difficult to make myself actually put forth my best effort.

Is it worth it? Only you can answer that question.

So, did I get a fellowship? Actually, yes, I did. All the hard work paid off. But the part that meant the most wasn't the funding. It was learning how to beat the odds.

*****

Put Extra Work Into Your Query Letter!

Just as with Susan's example, a little extra work on improving your query letter can create an amazing results for your writing career (and your bank account). During the 4-week Writing the Query Letter course offered by Writer's Digest University, writers will learn how to dig deep and turn out query letters that get results.

Click here to get a seat in the next query letter course.

*****

If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.

*****

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*****

Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Death of SEO: The Atlantic Magazine Turns Away From Search Engines

As an editor with the Writer's Market Books for more than a decade, it's my job to keep tabs on how thousands of publications are evolving. However, I admit there are a few that mean more to me than the rest. After all, I'm also a fiction writer and poet under my editor suit. And one publication I've been following for the past few years is The Atlantic.



When I was in the writing program at the University of Cincinnati, most of my fellow writers (and professors, for that matter) focused on getting published in one publication: The New Yorker. However, I've never been too interested in The New Yorker. No, my aim was always focused on The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers.

So I was saddened years ago to see how much The Atlantic was struggling and that it's future really was hanging in the balance after decades of unprofitability. In fact, the publication seemed to be heaving a hail mary pass by trying (a then innovative) digital first strategy that included taking down its pay wall.

New Strategies
Miraculously, the gamble payed off. The Atlantic has gone from a red ink enterprise to a very profitable company with a mixture of offerings, including print, digital, and events. And now, the publication is striking again by openly stating that The Atlantic has turned their backs on SEO.

Scott Havens, SVP of Finance and Digital Operations at The Atlantic explains, "Truly [our writers] are not really thinking about SEO anymore. Now it's about how we can spin a story so that it goes viral." Then, he goes on to add that they're more concerned with amazing content than meta-data and boring (SEO-enabled) headlines.

If Not SEO, Then What?
The Atlantic has not abandoned SEO for nothing. Instead, they are focused on sharing content that has good odds of being shared by those who read it. Or in other words, content that is written to "go viral."

Another way to look at The Atlantic's shift in strategy is that they're choosing social over search. With Google changing its algorithms regularly, including a shift to a more social-centric search, this new shift in methodology seems to make sense on the surface. But no SEO at all?

This or That
Maybe the article was an oversimplification and The Atlantic is still paying attention to SEO--just not letting it dictate content. Or maybe they've really abandoned SEO altogether and are relying on social media to pick up the slack. Maybe the future of digital is that writers and companies have to choose this or that. But I'm not buying it yet.

I've seen first hand on this blog the power of social and the power of search. Call me crazy, but I think a writer can learn and understand the concepts of SEO and apply those principles to amazing content. If changing a word in the headline from "great" to "best" means the difference between showing up in 100 searches a month or 1,000 searches a month, then I think that's worth knowing and using.

At the same time, I think content should always lead the way, because that's what people care about--and it is what people share. As Bob Cohn, the editor of The Atlantic Digital, says, "We're not writing for machines. We're writing for humans."

*****

Here's a great book on writing for social media!

Popcorn Content: The craft of writing short-form content for social media
by Nick Usborne

I've been a fan of Nick's writing ever since I read Net Words about a decade ago when I first getting my bearings online. For instance, I subscribe to his Excess Voice newsletter, and you should too. It's free. Anyway, Popcorn Content shares Nick's professional insights into making social media have the most impact with the least amount of investment--so that we can be social and get away from the computer, smart phone, tablet, etc., from time to time.

Read Nick Usborne's Popcorn Content today!

*****

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*****

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Advice for Writers: 033

Let's see what I could find this week.

Dare to Suck, by Keith Cronin. It takes a lot of courage to suck, and the rewards can be...well...rewarding. Seriously.

The Death of Blogging and ... Blogging, by Julianna Baggott. For those of you who question whether blogging is a good or bad thing, here's a post to help muddy the waters even more.

Writing & Illustrating a Picture Book for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (Part 1), by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Inkygirl (as Debbie dubs herself) is going to chronicle the entire process of creating a picture book for S&S--from the initial idea development to the finish line. It promises to be a very intesting series, especially if you're not familiar with how picture books are made.

The Best E-Publishing Resources, by Jane Friedman. I don't think there's anyone who has a better understanding of the best online tools for writers than Jane. In this post, of course, she's focusing on e-publishing.

9 Steps to Take When You Loathe Your Own Blog, by Ryan Barton. Anyone who's spent enough time blogging runs into this problem, and Ryan shares some strategies for overcoming the self-loathing.

Poem Types: A List of Poetry Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer. I don't usually link to my other blog, but it would be a crime if I didn't share this post that includes more than 30 poetic forms. For any poets out there, this is a post that should provide hours of poeming fun.

*****

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*****

Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Poetic Saturdays: 16 Poems

It's been six weeks since my last Poetic Saturdays post. However, I've been plenty busy writing poems on my other blog--so it's all good in the hood. In fact, I've shared at least 32 poems over at Poetic Asides since my last Poetic Saturdays post on MNINB. That's enough for a chapbook, you know.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the first 16 poems below.
I'm guessing next Saturday will bring another 16, but that's still a week away.

*****

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Check out previous Poetic Saturdays posts:

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Is a Writer Anyway? Time to Change What It Means to Be a Writer

I don't know about you, but I've been questioning what it means to be a writer over the past few years--and I'm not talking about whether to label a writer an "author" or "content creator" or "letter assembler" or whatever. No, I've been questioning what the responsibilities of a writer are.


What the Heck Is a Writer Anyway?

Jane Friedman's post (Distinguishing Between Straight-Up Advice and Paradigm Shift) today helped me figure out how to start getting my thoughts more organized on my blog about this topic. Many writers--and I can be guilty of this myself, though I try not to be--see platform and writing as two separate selves: Often, writing plays Dr. Jekyll to the platform-building Mr. (or Ms.) Hyde.

But I've increasingly come to feel that writers should not slice themselves into pieces (see my 8 jobs of modern writers). Instead, writers should embrace that platform-building goes hand-in-hand with writing, just as freelance writing is not possible without making writing pitches and proposals (or filing taxes after you start raking in the money).

Think More Creatively


Here's the thing: I feel like many writers (and yes, I've been there too) make assumptions about what it means to be a writer. Or they feel like they know what it means. Then, when they hear about the new definitions of being a writer, they want to do one of two things:
  1. Argue the new definitions. They want to fight against the change that is happening in the publishing and media industry. They'll say things like, "Well, I don't think people really want to read digital books," or, "I want to shop in a real bookstore, not on a website." By the way, I can totally relate with those feelings, but it doesn't change what's happening.
  2. Quit writing altogether. All the changes are like a wrecking ball to the image of what writers imagined for themselves when they decided to become writers, get published (in book and/or magazine print format), and have a bookshelf full of printed writer validation. This wrecking ball leaves some writers with nothing but a huge void that overwhelms them into quitting (or keeping their writing to themselves), which is unfortunate.
As writers, we're supposed to be creative types. So it's always a shock to me when other writers are so close-minded to what being a writer could mean. I think all writers would benefit from applying their creativity to not only their words--but also to what their words could end up becoming.

For instance, Alexis Grant recently shared her thoughts on the newest way to make money as a writer. She explains how she's used digital products to earn more revenue as a writer.

Then, there's Carol Tice. She's created an entire freelance writing community that pays her to help them grow as writers and make more money freelancing. She delivers results and content in a way that's unique and effective. Isn't that the epitome of creativity?

What Is a Writer?


I suppose we've all got our own definitions of what a writer is. It's like defining the term "love." Sure, you can find the definition in Webster's, but what it really means is unique to each of us.

That said, I hope more writers begin to expand what it means to be a writer in their own definitions. Not because I want writers to take on more responsibilities or get side-tracked by duties that aren't purely writing. Rather, I want to see more and more writers break free of the shackles of what a writer has traditionally been expected to accomplish and earn.

In the new world of writing, the most creative writers will not only find new ways of telling stories; they'll also create new ways to reap rewards from their creativity--making money that writers today assume is impossible.

*****

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*****

Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Knowing What Is Best: The Value of Another's Perspective (Life Changing Moments Series)

The following story from Kelly Williamson is one that speaks to me personally, though I'll refrain from giving away her story since she does an excellent job of presenting it herself. Kelly is an assistant principal at an elementary school, a new position she took after teaching for 10 years. She's always loved to write, and for much of her life considered writing a hobby, working on short stories, picture books, and personal narratives for her own enjoyment. As a teacher, she shared much of her writing with her students. She's always had the philosphy that a writing teacher has to be a writer first and use that material as a way to exemplify the process for students. Kelly's family is currently dealing with the effects of her mother's sudden mental breakdown and refusal to seek treatment. Her mother's complete change in personality has been a tragic loss, and this experience has drawn Kelly into writing with a passion greater than she's ever felt. Learn more about Kelly via her blog, http://kellyannwilliamson.blogspot.com/.


Kelly Williamson, mother/daughter

Christmas morning at our house has always been joyful, even when my husband and I were first starting out and had little extra to spend. For me, it’s never been about the gifts but having time to enjoy and appreciate special moments with family. The anticipation of seeing my children walk into the living room to gaze at the wonders Santa has left usually causes me to lose sleep on Christmas Eve. This year, I lost sleep, but more because of a painful realization that this Christmas was going to be difficult. Waking up that morning, I had no idea how right I was to dread the events about to play out.

Several days before Christmas, my mother was hospitalized in a mental health facility for the second time in as many months. The pain of that reality consumed my family in the days leading up to the holiday, but we were all doing our best to preserve what we could for the sake of my two children. They would miss the big turkey dinner at my parent’s house and all the festivity that went with it. The day would not be the same, but we had to try. My mother had made it clear: She did not want to see any of us, but we had a plan, and we were ready to put on brave faces for the sake of the kids. Then, the phone rang.

A Decision to Make
The sound of my mother’s voice was comforting, though her words were agonizing, “I know I said I didn’t want to see you today, but this is my favorite holiday. Can you come see me? I want to see the kids.”

My husband was in the shower, readying himself for the day, when she called. “Who was that on the phone?”

I explained to him that she had called and wanted us to bring the kids to see her. I told him how she had a room set aside for the visit. He looked down at the floor, and I knew I was asking too much, yet there I stood, asking. As he looked me in the eyes, I could see the mix of emotions he felt at that moment. It was hard for him to see me in such pain, and he had done everything in his power to help me through this tragedy, but this was more than he could give.

“I cannot let you bring the kids there. That is not a place for them, and certainly not on Christmas Day. You can go, but the kids are staying with me.”

Giant tears rolled down my cheeks, raw from the sheer amount of time spent crying over the last several weeks, but I knew he was right. I had never been inside the hospital, and I had no idea what to expect. I was apprehensive about going myself, afraid of what I’d see. My head knew he was right, though my heart was torn apart.

We plodded our way through the day, making a few stops before ending up at my sister’s house for dinner. Dad wasn’t going to join us for dinner or presents; it was too painful for him, but he’d be there later so we could ride to the hospital together. My daughter, old and perceptive enough to get the gist of what was going on, asked if she could come with us to visit. I hugged her and told her she couldn’t, and as I peered over her shoulder, my sister nodded in agreement.

I could feel my heart pounding as I saw Dad’s headlights pull into my sister’s driveway. I once again approached my husband, asking if he was sure the kids shouldn’t go; it was Christmas, there was a room set aside. He was steadfast in his position, and I did not push.

As Dad came into the house, his face revealed the kind of day he’d had. “Ready?”

We grabbed our coats from the closet, and I had trouble making eye-contact. I knew he was wondering, and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

“Are the kids coming?”

“No. It’s not the place for them.”

“Okay, let’s get going. She’s expecting us.”

No Turning Back
As we drove, the car was mostly silent. At one point, my dad asked how the kids were doing. My sister mentioned how my daughter had wanted to come with us. My dad replied that we probably should have let her come, and my heart splintered into pieces. As we pulled into the parking lot, I was second-guessing my decision. Should I have tried harder to convince my husband? I felt paralyzed in the car, but I managed my way into the building, my heart beating out of control.

The buzzer sounded, and I saw her through the narrow window in the door, hair done up and wearing a festive red sweater. She smiled when she saw us, but I could see the look of concern as she came closer to the door.

“Where are the kids?” Her face was distraught. “Are they coming?”

“No, Mom, they aren’t coming. It’s been a rough day on them. They don’t understand what’s going on.”

She stormed down the hall and around the corner to the community room, where she sat at the head of a long table. We took seats around her and tried to make small talk, but she wouldn’t look at us. She was rummaging through a bag, pulling out papers and making piles on the table. She started talking about this being yet another disappointment, and we should not have even come. We tried to engage her, but she wanted nothing to do with us. She told us to leave, and my dad and sister led the way toward the exit. I lagged behind as she packed up her papers. I wanted to explain to her why I couldn’t bring them, that I was sorry she was struggling, but she brushed by without a glance in my direction. She escorted us to the door, and I had broken down at that point. Finally, she looked directly into my eyes.

“Thanks for ruining my Christmas, Kelly.”

With that the doors opened, and some EMT’s rolled past us with a disheveled man strapped to a gurney, obviously a new admission to the unit. The doors closed behind us, and I wanted to rush back. Why was seeing me not enough? Couldn’t she see that the kids didn’t belong in a place like this? Instead, I crumbled in the elevator, sobbing harder than I had in years.

It Was the Right Choice
That was over four months ago, and I will say that it took me a long time to get over what happened on Christmas Day. Being in the position of having to choose between your mother and your children is an impossible one, but we all thank our lucky stars that my husband had the clarity of mind to make the right decision. I was so emotionally involved that I was not capable of making the best decision.

She wanted them there, and if it had been up to me they would have gone, and that would have been wrong. An environment like that is highly unpredictable, and they could have seen or heard things that could have been frightening. They would have seen a man strapped to a gurney. On Christmas Day. I would have regretted that decision.

In life, when things get emotionally charged, there is no substitute for the perspective of someone less involved. Emotions can cloud our judgment, they can prevent us from seeing clearly and making wise judgments. From this devastating situation I have taken this lesson, it will guide my way into the uncertain future, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

*****

If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.

*****

Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.


*****

Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to Build (or Improve) Your Writer Platform in 30 Days

There are several ways to build a writer platform. There are even more ways to improve your writer platform after you've built your foundation. In April, MNINB readers set off on a 30-day challenge to build and refine writer platforms. I'm happy to say the results were excellent!


Building a Solid Writer Platform Requires the Right Tools.

In fact, here's what just a few participants said after completing the platform challenge:
  • "I learned a lot. My favourite task was the editorial calendar and coming up with a daily task for the month of May. These are two things that I plan on doing for months to come." --Rena J. Traxel
  • "I had a blast, and learned a lot. Most helpful (and most painful) for me was kickin' my butt to add more social media sites. And along with that, your blessing to back off on those that didn't blow wind into our sails. ... In a word, NB? This has been PHENOMENAL!" --Anne Kimball
  • "This challenge has been by far the single most beneficial experience of my social media and writing life. As many others noted, some of the tasks were ones I had already completed but much of this information was brand new." --Blyth McManus
  • "This challenge moved me farther and faster than I ever would have on my own. Without the support and guidance, I probably would have given up (or just not known to do) some of the tasks involved. It's been invaluable--thank you!" --J.B. Everett
  • "Seriously, this has been great. My favorite part was pushing me to interact with other bloggers by offering a guest post and asking for an interview. I never thought I was 'big' enough in the writing world to take those steps. You showed us that no one cares how big you are." --Sarah Negovetich
Good stuff, right? And anyone can take (or revisit) this platform-building challenge now for free by using this blog post.

How to Build Your Writer Platform in 30 Days


Here are the steps writers can take to build their writing platforms in 30 days. While using this post as an outline is helpful, I must emphasize that clicking on each link and reading each post thoroughly will provide you with so much more information and insight into how to complete (and optimize) each day's task. Also, go in order if you can help it, because it's in a certain order for a reason.
  1. Define yourself. There are questions every writer should ask before building a platform.
  2. Set your goals. Goals provide you a purpose and a finish line. A smart writer has long-term and short-term goals.
  3. Join Facebook. Even if you're already a member, this post shares some tips on how to improve your use of the popular social media site.
  4. Join Twitter. Again, optimization tips are included for Twitter users.
  5. Start a blog. It's sounds like an important step--and it is--but it doesn't have to be painful. In fact, starting a blog is easy.
  6. Read a post, comment on it. Most importantly, link back to your own blog. This post includes strategies for leaving thought-provoking comments that will help you build connections.
  7. Add share buttons to your blog. Even if you already use share buttons, you may find you like these share buttons better. At least, that's what other platform participants claimed.
  8. Join LinkedIn. With optimization tips.
  9. Respond to at least three Tweets. This task is vital to building a social media routine that actually involves you with your online connections.
  10. Do Google search on yourself. You might be amazed (or embarrassed) at what you find.
  11. Find a helpful article and link to it. Part of being social effectively is being helpful--and not just in promoting yourself.
  12. Write a blog post and include call to action. What's a call to action? Find out in this post.
  13. Link to post on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. In this post, we focus on the value of linking your social media profiles to your blog and vice versa.
  14. Join Google+. Yes, another social media site. It's called a challenge for a reason.
  15. Make three new connections. If you want extra credit, go for five.
  16. Add e-mail feed to blog. Your blog may already offer this, but it's important to building traffic and keeping readers engaged.
  17. Take part in a Twitter conversation. For instance, the MNINB crowd meets on Tuesdays using the #MNINB hashtag.
  18. Think about SEO. SEO means search engine optimization, which itself means making it easier for people to find you on Google, Bing, Yahoo, and/or other search engines.
  19. Write blog post. Part of this challenge is building routines.
  20. Create editorial calendar. This tool is one of the most important for improving the content on the MNINB blog. Many platform-building participants loved this post.
  21. Sign up for social media tool. Many social media super users swear by these social media tools. This post discusses options.
  22. Pitch guest blog post. Don't have any experience? That's fine. You can pitch relevant blogs anyway.
  23. Create a time management plan. Smart people realize that time is often more valuable than money. Learn how to manage that precious time.
  24. Take part in a Twitter conversation. Again, the #MNINB hashtag is especially busy on Tuesdays, though there are plenty of other writing-related (and not-writing-related) hashtags out there.
  25. Contact an expert for an interview post. This post includes tips on how to contact your preferred experts.
  26. Write a blog post and link post to social networks. What once was spread across two days is now done in one. Welcome to optimizing your time and efforts.
  27. Join another social media site. Whether it's Pinterest, Goodreads, RedRoom, or something else, keep the pedal to the metal on the social media hopping thing. Plus, here's how I handle social media sites.
  28. Read post and comment on it. Routines are good, especially when you're connecting with other like-minded bloggers.
  29. Make a task list. Time to get thinking about next month. Don't let your momentum completely stop on Day 30.
  30. Let me know what you think. After all, I like to know what's working, not working, could be improved for my challenges. Hope this one rocked your socks off.
*****



Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author
by Chuck Sambuchino

What I value the most about Chuck's latest book is that it covers all aspects of platform building (and for all genres). So while this book thoroughly covers online platform (in fact, it contains some Not Bob content), it also covers speaking gigs and shares actual case studies.

*****

Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.


*****

Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers: