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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Welcome To The Carnival

Think of a carnival and you think of lights, noise and a good show. You may also think of cotton candy and humongous hot dogs, but that's not where I'm going with this. There's a new kind of carnival that all bloggers should know about. It's called a blog carnival.

What is a blog carnival?

A blog carnival is where you get to show off the stuff you've been writing about in your blog. I only found out about these a few weeks ago when I was looking for new ways to promote my blog. A carnival is a collection of blog posts around a theme. In most cases you submit your own posts to the carnival or carnivals. There are carnivals for everything, it seems - dogs, cats, the kitchen sink, family life.

How do I get my post listed?

Submit it to the blog carnival of your choice, but make sure the content is appropriate. Almost all the carnivals have rules about what they will and will not accept, how old or new the post has to be and so on. There are two good places to start. First, conservativecat.com has a carnival submit form which makes the process easy. The page has a list of several blog carnivals, the deadline for submission and space to put in the blog post title and author, your email address and any comments. There is also lots of other carnival related information on the page. A second option is a similar list on blogcarnival.com. This makes it even easier to see the carnival name, category and due date for the next edition.

What happens next?

Once you've submitted your post, whoever is hosting the carnival does a roundup of the posts. An email is then sent out to all participants to let them know the carnival has been posted. This week I've submitted posts to the Carnival of Family Life and the Best of Me Symphony. In doing so, I've gained a few more visitors to some of my old posts. The carnival is hosted by different bloggers each period (whether it be weekly, monthly or quarterly), so hosting a carnival is also a good way to get traffic. I haven't volunteered for this duty yet, mainly because of the time needed to read and summarise all the blog posts, but there are a few bloggers who already do that here on WritingUp, so this might be a good move for them.

Final word

Now, I'm not saying I know everything there is to know about blog carnivals. As I said, I'm quite new to this. So far it seems to be working. Another benefit is that it can tell you who else is posting similar material and give you new blogs to visit. The more blogs you visit and comment on, the more comments and visits your own blog will attract. Seems like a good deal to me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Seven Effective Blogging Habits

I'm not sure I know the answer to what makes some blogs more successful than others. However, I do know what I get out of blogging personally. One part of it is about creativity; the other is about having somewhere to showcase my writing and to practice things that I'm working on. Anyway, I was inspired to write this post by Darren Rowse's Problogger project on the habits of highly effective bloggers. So here are the blogging habits that work for me.

Find Your Niche

I kind of fell into this one by accident. When I started blogging on WritingUp, I had no idea what I was going to blog about. Since I had some articles on freelance writing already written, I decided to see whether those could be turned into blog posts. Some people liked the posts, commented and I'd found my niche. It shouldn't have been a surprise that it's something that's so much a part of my life. That means I can almost always find something to say about writing or related subjects such as blogging and website development (for writers, of course).

Stay On-Topic

Once you've found your niche, it seems best to stick to it, most of the time at least. I know when I've written something that is seen as off-topic because there's a dip in the number of reads the post gets. Of course, writing a good title will help too. Choosing a title that relates to the theme of your blog or post will help readers realize what your topic is and how this post relates to it. I don't always get it right, but it's nice when I do.

Is Your Blog Read Or Dead?

If you want people to read your blog, you've got to give them something to read - and you've got to make it regular. For some people, this means posting at least once or several times a day. For me, it means posting a couple of times a week. We WAHMs don't have a lot of time to sit down and think of posts, let alone write them. But as long as there's activity on the blog, there'll be people reading it. Stay away too long and people are likely to abandon your blog for one that's got fresh content. Since people have lives that are offline (as well as online) getting a guest blogger is a good way to make sure your blog is updated if you have to be away. And with some blogging platforms like Wordpress, you can submit blog posts by email.

Extra! Extra!

Sitting around waiting for people to find your content can take a long time. Instead, take the content to them with headline animators from Feedburner, email alerts from Feedblitz, RSS feeds from whoever you choose. Submit your blog to directories and try to think of a description that will make people want to visit. This is my new one (Take two tbsp of freelance writing advice, add one tsp of SEO, one tsp of WAHM and a sprinkle of creative writing. Mix together to create Sharon Hurley Hall's WritingUp blog.) and I'll be uploading that to blog directories on my next round of submissions. Use pinging services like Pingoat to let people know you've updated your content. Also use the social bookmarking services to take your blog posts to a wider audience.

Read All About It

Read other people's blogs, not just here, but everywhere. This will let you know what people are thinking and talking about and may give you inspiration for blog posts of your own. This post is a perfect example, as are the multiple writing challenges that make us all want to read and write better.

Keep On Talking

When you read other blogs, be sure to comment if you've found the post interesting or useful. If you have something to add to the discussion, that's even more useful. The best blogging has a community feel and you have to keep talking to maintain that community. That also means that you should respond to all comments on your blog. If you get a lot of visitors, you don't have to respond individually, but it's nice for people to know their voices have been heard.

Link Like Crazy

Here on WritingUp bloggers can use their blogrolls and bookmarks to keep track of the bloggers they read. They can also link to interesting posts in their own posts and use the trackbacks feature to let those people know about the link. If you're lucky, those people will also link back to you and you'll get new readers for your blog. But that's only one part of the story. The best way to keep getting readers for your posts is to link to them in other posts. After all, you're the person who's most likely to know if one of your blog posts is related to another.

These are the strategies that are working well for me at the moment. What blogging habits work well for you?

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Writing Week: May 15-21, 2006

The last week or so has been reasonably successful. I've written some more articles for InspiredAuthor. Also, I managed to take advantage of the Blogitive bonanza this weekend. Finally, someone's hired me to write up something on parenting. Wish me luck with that one, as the brief is not as detailed as I would like.

I've written a new children's story, which I made up to entertain my daughter one day. It needs some revision, but I hope to be able to submit it to a publisher next week. Not everything is rosy, though. My recent ghostwriting clientseems to have vanished, perhaps because he's short of money. I'll chase him one last time and then give up.

Here's what I've been writing and reading recently:


Writing For Free - Is It Worth It?
Break It Up: How To Write A Good Ending
Learn How To Proofread Your Writing

Sharon's Writing Lab

Would You Let Your Partner Choose?
Collecting My Memories
Soulmate Saga - Part 8: Wedding Plans


Another Way To Get Paid To Blog

Three good reads from WritingUp

Everything Fours Monster Index
Curses, Foursome Phenomena, and Perpetual Procrastination
The Writer's Life


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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Do I Blog Too Much?

When I started blogging, it all seemed very simple. I had one blog on my main website. I posted diligently every day and didn't get much readership at first. Then I came to WritingUp and everything changed. Whereas before I'd been blogging because I thought it was something I ought to do, once I joined this site I fell in love and despite the occasional glitches, I haven't fallen out of love yet. Not only was I able to write and hone my material, but I was also able to talk to people, get feedback and feel that I was useful. Is it any wonder I became addicted?

The result of my addiction was blogs on Blogcharm (which I've now abandoned), Bloggerparty (where I post sporadically) and WriteNiche (where I try to post a couple of times a week). So that's four blogs plus the site I'm developing at sharonhurleyhall.com. I think I may have stretched myself a bit too thin. I can now only post a couple of times a week on each blog; slightly more here on WritingUp. After all, I've still got other freelance writing to do and two topics to manage for InspiredAuthor. Is it just me - or is anyone else suffering from over-blogitis?

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm A Published Poet!

Remember when I told you to Feel The Fear ...? Well, I took my own advice and submitted a few poems to RITRO. The first of them was published today. It's called Rain.

I get no money but a great deal of satisfaction, mostly at having had the guts to go for it. And hey, it's only taken 26 years. What have you got hidden in your writing closet that you should give an airing?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ka-ching! (almost)

Last week I talked about whether Guru and Elance were really worth it for freelance writers. I concluded that they were not and decided to concentrate my efforts on Craigslist and other job opportunities. So far, it seems to be working.

This week, I've had emails from another paid to blog site (I'll tell you about that in another post - or you could search this one for a clue), a site that wants me to blog about freelance writing, and someone who wants me to write a parenting article and is prepared to pay decently for it. This week I feel as though my decision to go freelance was the right one. Whether I get paid or not (because I still could get scammed), there are at least a few people who think I can do a decent job and will pay me fairly. So, keep your fingers crossed; next week I might get paid.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Writing As Art - Update

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on whether writing could be seen as art. The answer from all of the WritingUp denizens was a resounding yes. I expected that, as there are some very talented writers here, including those who don't see themselves as writers.

Today I went to the final session of the course that sparked the question and to my surprise, someone asked whether journalism was an art. The audience were divided on this, because for most of the people there, tabloid journalism was about as far from art as you could get. However, they did say that the best examples of writing which touch and move people, which spark a response, have artistic merit. Nice of them to admit what we already know, don't you think?

Thinking About My Blog

Sometimes it's difficult to keep the writing momentum going. With all the writing I'm doing for InspiredAuthor and other sites, I don't have as much thinking time as I used to. Plus, there's the not so small matter of my very active toddler. Thinking time is essential for writers. Good ideas often need time to percolate before being put on paper or sent out for public consumption. This is not true of everything, of course. Sometimes writers just have to write to meet a deadline. But for many of us, having the time to think and polish is essential. The posts I do here are a mixture. Some of them I've thought about, drafted and let sit for a couple of days. Others have come straight out of my head onto my blog. But in most cases, it's the ones I've spent more time on that you've liked the most. Have a look:

Most read blog posts

10. Alphabet Soup 335
9. Keeping Track Of Your Writing 353
8. Do You Give Good Headline? 385
7. The Color Question 423
6. Three Months Of Blogging 445
5. Freelance writers - four reasons to get on the net 497
4. Read Em And Weep 552
3. How I Get Paid To Blog - UPDATE 560
2. WritingUp Alphabet 648
1. How I Put My Site On Steroids 875

Most commented blog posts

10. Do You Give Good Headline? 26
9. SHH Blogwatch 28
8. Read Em And Weep 29
7. Without Word: Free Online Tools For Writers 30
6. Alphabet Soup 31
5. How I Put My Site On Steroids 32
4. Do You Know Your ABCs? 32
3. The Color Question 36
2. How I Get Paid To Blog - UPDATE 42
1. WritingUp Alphabet 72

Compiling these lists was an interesting process, because I realised that people don't always comment on the posts they like. (That shouldn't really surprise me, as I don't comment on every post I read.) And some of the ones that I personally like best don't feature at all. Looking at what people are reading and talking about is instructive for bloggers and writers so they have some idea of what the audience wants. This is a key element of good, targeted writing. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Guru and Elance: Are They Worth It For Writers?

I've been doing some reassessment of the way that I spend my time - and something's gotta give. Last July I signed up with Elance. I very quickly realised that if I wanted to have a shot at any decent jobs, I needed to move up from the basic level. As I had a bit of money in the bank, I decided the risk was worth it. I upgraded (at a cost of about $25 a quarter) to the next level - for which I received the princely (NOT) total of three free leads a month. Anything over that, I would have to pay extra for. OK, I thought, I'll give it a go. What did I get from that signup - zip, zilch, nada, bupkes (can you tell I like that phrase?). I was invited to bid on one project, bid on a couple more, but mostly couldn't believe how low some people were willing to bid for a skilled writing job. I mean, 100 SEO-optimized articles for $100 - come on!

I cancelled my Elance membership and moved on to Guru. Straight away I liked the setup better. I had to spend more time setting up my profile and resume, but the project notifications system worked well (with daily update emails) and there seemed more guarantees that you would get paid. Furthermore, for the about $80 a year (the exchange rate worked in my favour), I got 100 leads a month and MUCH better projects to bid on. The way the jobs are presented is better, with a lot more detail in most cases - and the site layout it good.

I've had some success with Guru (a couple of leads that turned into small jobs), but I noticed a few things.First, many of the jobs were the same as the ones posted on Elance. Second, there were still people expecting a lot of work for not very much money. Third, it was still almost as hard to convert a project invitation into actual paid work.

I've paid for Guru, so I'll keep my subscription going till it runs out in December, but I won't be renewing. The time I spend trawling through the job listings could be better spent on craigslist - another good source of job leads - or developing my website, which is where a lot of enquiries are coming from these days. Looks like my promotional activities have paid off.

So that's my take on Guru, Elance and work exchanges in general. Unless someone can point me to one that works, I'm not going to pay for leads any more. After all, one of my best opportunities has come from blogging here at WritingUp. I know how I'd rather spend my time.

Thanks for reading.

PS. I'm thinking of a new description for this blog when submitting it to blog directories. See what you think: Take two tbsp of freelance writing advice, add one tsp of SEO, one tsp of WAHM and a sprinkle of creative writing. Mix together to create Sharon Hurley Hall's WritingUp blog.

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Saturday, May 6, 2006

My Writing Week: May 1-6, 2006

I've had a busy week - and for once, I'm all out of inspiration for today's post. So here's a round up of what I've been doing this week on my other blogs and the sites for which I write. I've also included a brief list of the posts that have recently caught my eye on WritingUp.


Great Gadgets For Freelance Writers
How To Negotiate The Best Rate For Freelance Writing
Tips For Successful Proofreading

Sharon's Writing Lab

Want To Read Something Beautiful?
My Daughter Is Growing Up
Seeing My Name In Print
I Found Out What A Truck Rack Is


Mother's Day Dilemma
Shakespeare Never Had To Work Like This

Three good reads from WritingUp

How to Promote Your Book/Website/Blog Free and Increase Hits
What Moms Know
"Good heavens!" he ejaculated. "How many ways are there to say 'said'?"


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Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Why Writers Should Use Social Bookmarking

As writers, we spend more and more time on the Internet, whether we're researching articles or story ideas, looking for work, or just browsing for fun. As we do this, we often find information or websites that we think will be useful later. The old way of doing this was to use your bookmarks or favourites to keep a list of these places. You could even use scrapbooking tools such as those built into Opera or available for Firefox to keep notes on useful pages. But these tools mimic an old style of working, which is not as intuitive as it could be. Enter social bookmarking.

What Is Social Bookmarking?

Social bookmarking is a way of bookmarking the sites/posts you like on a website. The 'social' part is because the bookmarks are usually public. You can also see whether anyone else has bookmarked the same sites. If you're interested, it shows what interests you share with the rest of webkind.

How Does It Work?

It's fairly simple. You need to sign up for a social bookmarking site (these include Blinklist, Blogmarks, del.icio.us, Furl, Kaboodle, ma.gnolia, Simpy , Spurl and Wink, to name just a few. Other sites which work on a similar basis are reddit and digg, though these seem to be for submitting stories of interest rather than keeping track of your web life. You can then drag a little button to your browser toolbar which allows you to add pages to your public bookmarks list. On some of the sites, such as Blinklist, my personal favourite, you can keep some bookmarks private (which means that in theory you could use it instead of your offline bookmarks (after all, you only need them when you're online, right?)

Getting The Best From Social Bookmarking

The key to using social bookmarking is tagging. Tagging is using single words or phrases to describe the links you are posting. If you were to tag this post, for example, you might use the tags: social bookmarking, writing, writer's resources. If you thought it was important, you could even use the name of the author as a tag. The key is to keep tags simple, so they can apply to many things. And they don't all have to be words in common use, either. For example, I have a 'myblog' tag to help me find the posts I have done.

The other way writers can improve the usefulness of this tool is to use the notes and comment fields when they tag pages. This is a good place to put an excerpt of the page (some of the services do that automatically) or notes about why you thought it was useful in the first place.

Finding Information

Your profile on the social bookmarking site contains a list or cloud of the tags you have used. Click on these to see all the sites that have been tagged in a particular way. Want to do a more complex search? Easy. Put the terms you want into the search box on the page, and magically a list of all the items with both tags (such as 'freelance' and 'writing') will appear. In many of the bookmarking services, you also get a list of related tags you can click on.

As a writer, I find this a great way of keeping track of information and I use it more and more. What I've learned, though, is that it's only as useful as the tags you use. When tagging, I try to think of three or four words that describe the page, but I don't always get it right. Typos can really mess up the system, too. (The other day, I discovered that one of my tags was 'r' - I still don't know what I intended to type.)

Other Benefits

Social bookmarking is also a way of bringing additional traffic to your site as there are many users who look at the 'what's new' page and decide what to click on. An easy way of tackling social bookmarking is to use Onlywire, which WriteWay has written about in his blog. Once you've signed up, this will submit to all the sites except reddit and digg.

Minor Annoyances

Not all the sites tag in the same way. Some accept single word tags separated by spaces, others accept phrases separated by commas, which is far more useful.

Blinklist Is My Favourite

As I've said above, I like Blinklist and now use that almost exclusively for my non-traffic-seeking bookmarks. Here's why:

  • I imported all my offline bookmarks and del.icio.us bookmarks very easily and it created a set of tags based on my bookmark folders and tags
  • Searching is easy and it gives me a tag cloud.
  • I can star favourite tags or links (like in Gmail).
  • It's lightening quick to add pages.
  • It automatically takes a snippet of the page when I Blink it.
  • It doesn't allow duplicates.
  • It's got a clean, uncluttered interface.
  • I can keep some bookmarks private - handy for bank login pages and the like.

screenshot of Blinklist