7 Unmissable Blogs for Writers and Marketers

The key to strong writing is plenty of reading. Plan to waste some time on the internets today? Make that time productive by checking out some blogs that’ll help you improve your craft.

Copyblogger

Copyblogger is THE go-to blog for copywriting tips, tricks and best practices. Rooted in WordPress, the company features a slew of different tools for content marketing. But the content on the blog features some of the best stuff for writers. It goes beyond copywriting to cover content marketing, blogging, SEO and general communications.

Content Marketing Institute

The brainchild of content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi, the Content Marketing Institute is one of the web’s premiere resources for up-to-date how-to content. Beyond knowing their craft, it’s important for writers to understand the vehicle they’re driving with their writing. CMI does exactly that. BONUS: You may see some of my own writing popping up here in the near future. Stay tuned.

Problogger

Everything you need to know about blogging, organized in one place. Copyblogger is an extremely popular resource for bloggers of all shapes and sizes. It’s all about visibility and making money at Copyblogger, where you’ll find tons of resources on how to do both effectively.

Cracked

Where to start with Cracked. If you need an intellectual, fact-based and hilarious break from work, Cracked never fails to deliver. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the resources on this list simply because it doesn’t offer tips for writers. I think it’s a strong study for writers looking for applicable examples of strong publishing on the web. It’s a great place to find some inspiration and get a good laugh.

Make a Living Writing

Carol Tice is a successful freelance writer who shares tons of great insights on freelancing through Make a Living Writing. Another great feature of this blog is her guest-blogging policy; submissions that get published earn $50 for their work. That’s a breath of fresh air in a world where your guest posts will get you squat.

Men with Pens

Men with Pens is a great resource for freelancers and copywriters alike. It contains similar material to blogs already mentioned on this list, but you’ll find a unique flair here.

The Rant

The Rant is entertaining writing laced with informative content. Not your typical writing blog, John Carlton’s personal vehicle for sharing insights is still a great place to learn from the best.

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How To Prioritize Big Rewards Over The Little Ones

The human brain is a complex masterwork of evolution. It’s also a total bitch when it comes to exercising those writing muscles.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to writers. If you’ve ever held down an administrative gig — or practically anything that involves a computer — you’ve done battle with your stubborn brain before.

Two men breakdance-fighting their brains in the forest, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For creative types, however, your brain’s compulsion to do everything except what you want it to do is especially strong. It craves an activity that requires it to process and store information. What you want it to do is pull up archived information to influence the creation of something new and previously unknown to it.

As a result, you’ll find yourself drawn magnetically to Facebook, YouTube, news sites, blogs — anything that takes you away from the task at hand. We’ve pointed out in the past that these types of mental stimulations cause little shots of dopamine in your brain.

It’s All Hyperbolic Discounting’s Fault

One of the most difficult tasks in my daily life is seeing the future good in everything I do. In fact, humans are hardwired to take the cheap thrill. It provides immediate rewards and, as a result, often destroys the bigger rewards that you see in your mind’s eye but never truly pursue.

This is a human behavior called hyperbolic discounting. We want the smaller rewards now. Our modern culture of pleasure-on-demand doesn’t help things, either. As a result, we tend to ignore the bigger rewards available to us down the road if we could just focus on the damn blank page.

Hyperbolic discounting results in procrastination and a failure to reach those big goals we envision in our minds’ eyes. The more we procrastinate, the more we reward ourselves for that behavior, causing a Pavlovian response that reinforces it.

Classically Conditioning Your Way Out of the Rabbit Hole

To rise above hyperbolic discounting, we have to condition ourselves to focus on the bigger future benefits. You’ll need a bit of self-deprecation and a shitload of discipline. Up to the challenge?

It actually isn’t all that challenging. Simply reward yourself every time you take positive steps towards long-term goals. Maybe you’re writing that book that will break you to the mainstream one day. Give yourself a daily goal of 500-1,000 words. The first time you reach that goal, reward yourself by taking the rest of the afternoon off, grabbing a beer, watching your favorite movie — whatever gets your juices flowing.

Have a nondescript beer on me, courtesy the righteous and forthright tap that is Wikimedia Commons.

Setting daily goals and channeling the discipline you require to meet them is another way to focus on the future. Planning ahead, your rational brain can set out a successful path for you. It’s in the heat of the moment that we tend to lose sight of our goals. That’s why scheduling your day is such a powerful way to find success as a freelancer.

Start off by making a to-do list that includes your daily goals. Build those into separate weekly and monthly goals. Put a little order to the chaos and you’ll find yourself more motivated to go after those big rewards.

Why It’s Important for A Writer to Keep An Open Mind

Recently, audiences across the nation were enthralled by my post on cultivating creativity. Now, I’d like to talk about one of the strongest factors in creativity.

Open-minded people are hard to come by. Many of us try to be more open-minded on a daily basis. But we all have bias. As humans, we tend to put too much weight on first impressions. We make judgments based on those impressions, closing ourselves off to further contact and experience.

Wait, what does this even mean? These are just masks glued to a wall! You call that art?

But creativity is heavily rooted in open-mindedness. Neuroscientists have tested the connection. After all, creativity requires new ideas. And new ideas aren’t often the product of a closed mind.

Cynicism and Aging: How Do We Curb It?

Part of the challenge of staying open-minded is age. It follows naturally that the more experience we gain, the more firmly rooted we become in our beliefs. Getting older and growing cynical pretty much go hand-in-hand.

Have your parents changed their political affiliation over the course of your life? Does your stubborn uncle think technology is the downfall of America? The older we get, the harder it is to adapt to change. After learning and relearning ideas, technology, social norms and the like for years, your brain eventually gets to a point where it says “Enough’s enough!”

These factors and more lead to a natural decline into closed-mindedness. The best ways to avoid this are to challenge yourself and make changes on a regular basis.

Of course, staying open-minded is a conscious decision in itself. Prioritize it above other firmly-rooted beliefs and it’ll help you keep your creative flair.

Stay In Touch with the Weirdness

A little weirdness lives inside all of us. It’s what makes us truly unique as human beings. Sometimes, you have to suppress that weirdness to make friends, get a job and live a normal life. Highly intelligent creative people recognize that the best way to express weirdness is to channel it in outlets.

Too weird, scale it back!

Of course, you can’t let that weirdness get away. That’s what separates the leaders and the followers. Some people stay in touch with their weirdness and are more open-minded as a result. Others get dry and cynical. Whatever happens, you must not only hang onto it but nurture it as well. To accomplish this, consider things like:

  • Take an introductory class on something you have no experience or interest in
  • Watch a show you’ve vowed never to watch (as long as it isn’t Jersey Shore)
  • Try to learn a new language
  • Perform some mental gymnastics regularly (like these exercises)

Keep it weird, my friends.

5 Reasons Freelancing Sucks Ass

Courtesy Eloquent Science.

Yesterday, you were treated to some of the positives of the freelancing experience. As previously mentioned, freelancing is a double-sided coin. To keep a positive spin on the post, I’ve included possible solutions to each of the 5 reasons freelancing sucks ass.

1. Self-motivation is tough. Ever had trouble scrounging up the energy to leave the house? Take a shower? Make your bed? Put pants on? If you’ve ever been unemployed (or just really, really bored), you probably understand that the power to create your own schedule can also be the undoing of your schedule. It’s great to have that freedom, but there are days when self-motivation is tough.

Solution? I try to solve this problem by visualizing benjamins. I’m not some greedy, money-grubbing bastard. But everyone likes a little extra cash. Because your income is tied directly to how much work you do, you can use this fact to kick your own ass into gear.

2. Taxes. Taxes are perhaps the single worst wake-up call in the history of freelance writing. As a freelancer, you’ll love getting massive paychecks with no withholdings. The problem? You’ll have to pay those withholdings quarterly or at the end of the year. Of course, you can write off a world of new expenses. But that comes with hours and hours of administrative and accounting work.

Solution? Pay diligent attention to your finances. Be sure you’re putting away at least a quarter of your monthly earnings every month. Work with a professional accountant as soon as you go freelance so you know what to expect based on your state’s tax laws. SAVE EVERY RECEIPT.

3. Less social interaction during the day. Freelancing doesn’t exactly imply psychosis-inducing loneliness. Still, you’re going to have fewer meaningful interactions with a human throughout the day than you’re used to working in an office.

Solution? Get out of the house or apartment a couple of days a week. You’ll exercise your social skills buying coffee. You’ll surround yourself with other people at the library or a coffee shop.

4. More distractions. Sometimes, the opposite of having no motivation is having too much motivation. If you’re trapped in your house or apartment all day, you’re bound to think of things that need to be done around the house. Errands are a popular way to distract yourself from working. Whatever the activity, you’ll find things you’d usually save for nights and weekends to do during the day.

Even working for too many hours can become a hassle. If you’re a super-awesome self-motivator, you may be tempted to work into the night to get that paper.

Solution? Make a to-do list and take distractions one at a time. There are positives to having the day to yourself; if you can stay disciplined enough to take care of business in piecemeal, you’ll be able to keep yourself on schedule for work. Plan night activities with friends to keep yourself from becoming a workaholic recluse.

5. Access to alcohol. Let’s face it: writers tend to enjoy the drink. It’s inevitable that you’ll hear the call of that six-pack in the fridge before the day is done, especially if you’re working with stressful clients.

Solution? Simple. Don’t stock your fridge with booze. If you’re aching for a beer after work, force yourself out of the house or apartment. The convenience factor lowers, reducing the chances you’ll start to get your drink on too early in the day.

5 Reasons to Go Freelance Immediately

Courtesy SummerBrew Films.

Freelancing is a double-edged sword. But it’s a lot of fun and games. You take the good with the bad. In this case, let’s take a look at the good. Here are 5 reasons to go freelance immediately.

1. Make your own schedule. I’ve riffed on this one before. Freelance includes the word ‘free’, which makes it the most ‘Merican occupation in the country. You’re free to define your own schedule. Work all day and all night. Or don’t work at all. The power is in your hands.

2. Get more monies. When you’re locked down at a company, higher pay isn’t an easy thing to come by. With freelancing, you determine your own net worth. If the potential client doesn’t want to pay you what you’re worth, you find someone who will.

3. Expand the breadth of your portfolio. If you’re writing anywhere other than an agency, you’re focused on one topic. It’s great to become an expert. But if you’re stuck in a market you don’t particularly enjoy, it’s difficult to move elsewhere with a narrow portfolio. Play around in other fields until you land on something you love.

4. Break your chains. Reporting to clients can be a hassle at times. Still, you’re ultimately your own boss. No more corporate drama. No more managers looking over your shoulder. Break free from your cubicle. Explore your new space.

5. Become a mercenary. Don’t like where you’re at? Move on. Find the highest bidder. Take part in a commission program. Write about a new market. Try to sell articles to your favorite magazines. Your world is a gyrating glowworm of opportunity.

Cultivating the Creative Mind

What’s happening with creativity?

A fair question, is it not? It’s suddenly lost on Hollywood. You won’t find it in the widening gulf of politics. Today’s popular literature literally shuns creativity. Everyone is rehashing the same old ideas. And there are no twists.

You could make an argument for creativity in tech development. But then again, aren’t we just pushing ideas that require us to think less? Is that intellectual evolution?

This guy could have created you out of existence with a snap of his fingers. (William S. Burroughs, circa some time after a heavy heroin binge)

As our collective knowledge grows, it’s become clearer that the constant stimuli surrounding us are killing our creative juices. We have the answers at our fingertips. Thinking is unnecessary. When faced with a blank page, today’s writer is super efficient. Unfortunately, most of that efficiency comes from borrowed content. It’s a necessity sometimes. But as a writer, it’s important to exercise your creativity from time to time.

Take a second to breathe. Here are some simple ideas to get your mojo back.

Disconnect. Every time you interact with technology, you’re shooting up. Kick the habit for a day or two. Go the old-fashioned route: carry a notebook and a pen and jot down ideas for later.

Read. Sit down with a good book, a magazine or an honest-to-god newspaper. You’ll find it’s a lot easier to process information when you have a single focal point.

Escape. The traffic. The late night drunks. The texts and calls. Get out of the city. Go enjoy the outdoors for a bit. And remember to bring that good book (and notebook) with you.

Simplify. If you’re like me, you have 50 browser tabs open. In addition to 33 documents. Add Skype, AIM and Gchat to the list and you’re going nowhere fast. Close everything and put Microsoft Word into “focus” mode.

Exercise. It’s taken me a long time to finally get into this. But I’m surely reaping the benefits. Exercise is an important part of getting in tune with your body and clearing your head.

Mute. I’m a gigantic music geek, but it can add a layer of overwhelmingness to your brain. Turn it off and work in silence for a few hours so you can focus.

Additional reading: check out this recent article in Fast Company for psychological perspective into the world of the creative process.

5 Lessons Professional Writers Can Learn from Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick is a timeless classic published way back in 1851. It’s perhaps the most enduring work of American literature.

One thing’s for sure: writing was a lot different back then. Perhaps an attempt at ‘life imitating art’, the book itself is a beast of white whale stature.

The camera catches Mr. Dick off-guard. Picture circa 1851.

Moby-Dick is still read for a reason. And there’s plenty that writers can learn from the masterpiece. Assuming the right interpretation, of course. Having just finished it, I will now debase its literary prowess by relating it in terms of the lowlier professional craft of writing. Check out 5 lessons that professional writers can learn from Moby-Dick.

1. Easy on the adverbs. If there’s one thing Melville isn’t bashful about it’s his use of adverbs. Today’s writer should use adverbs sparingly. When overused, they tend to slow down the reading process. This is especially true for ‘-ly’ adverbs. Flowery language found a niche in the writings of Melville’s era. But there are better, more succinct ways for today’s writer to create a clear depiction.

2. Vivid description sets you apart. When Melville isn’t using his adverbs, he’s launching into long bouts of vivid description. In fact, he sets aside entire chapters for description. The length won’t appeal to the contemporary reader. But the sheer vividness and enthusiasm of them compels. You can learn a lot about painting a lifelike picture from Melville.

3. Obsession can be bad. Actually, this one is kind of the moral of the entire story. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale brings about his doom. What’s your white whale? If you obsess over perfect writing, you’ll never finish a piece. Revision is necessary up until a point. But obsessing over that revision can lead to hours of useless changes and edits.

4. Submerge the ‘I’. I’ve written a bit about this before. Taking the ‘I’ out of your writing helps establish more credibility. Of course, Moby-Dick starts out with the famous line “Call me Ishmael.” But as the story rolls along, you get more and more detail about the events occurring around Ishmael, rather than those happening to him.

5. Have no fear. Seriously, you’re afraid to say, write or publish something? These guys manned tiny little boats and watched agitated whales swim from the depths to attack them! And sharks! Christ. What I’m saying is the only way to make a splash is to jump right in. Don’t be afraid to try something new in your writing.