A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 1

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and so it is once again time for the ISWG Blog Hop. I would like to thank Alex Cavanaugh and also the other members of this wonderful group for making this possible and for the support they provide. Special thanks to the co-hosts of the January 3, 2018, posting of the ISWG:  Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

 

One of the most challenging steps for an insecure writer is putting your writing out there for reviews and critiques but it is also one of the best things you can do to help your growth as a writer. Conversely, giving reviews and critiques to other writers is also one of the best things you can do for your own writing skills. Giving reviews can help you develop your analytical skills and apply those skills to your own writing.

The most significant experience that helped me begin the process of overcoming the fear of putting my writing out into the world to be read, reviewed, critiqued, criticized, loved or hated was agreeing to be a beta reader for another writer. The writer was young and it was the first novel for this writer. I’m not sure if the writer was male or female so I’m just going to use the pronoun she for simplicity. She lived a half a world away but with the internet, I now know authors and writers all over the planet.

She was having trouble finding beta readers for her WIP (work in progress). I had no experience with being a beta reader at that time but I’m an avid reader, I’d written several novels, and I’d taken novel writing classes from successful authors. So, I thought, why not agree to read her book and I volunteered.  I also found several groups of beta readers and gave her the names and links to the groups. She ended up with about two dozen beta readers.

I received the manuscript and after reading the first two chapters, I wanted to jump out of a window of a very tall building for agreeing to do this. I slogged through 8 more chapters because I had made a commitment. At that point, I just gave up. I had read calculus textbooks that elicited more emotion. I tortured myself for days wondering how I was going to give her feedback on her novel without being a total jerk.

By putting myself in her shoes, trying to see the story through her eyes, and by assuming she wanted honest feedback on how to improve her work, I eventually found a method that worked in this case. I was thanked profusely for being the only beta reader that gave her useful feedback. I was told that the other beta readers that bothered to respond came back with responses like “looks good” or “sounds fine.”  Not being able to get useful and helpful reviews and critiques is an issue I’ve heard from a number of writers. I’ve decided to write a short series of posts regarding this issue.

This experience helped me to understand that I had to overcome some of my insecurities about putting my writing out there for reviews if I wanted to take another step in improving my writing.

 

Notes of interest:

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the next IWSG Twitter Pitch Party – Thursday, January 18!
With hundreds of agents and publishers, this one will be ten times bigger than our first event.

To read blog posts from other members of The ISWG use this link because the HTML code doesn’t work on my site:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

 

Writing Through the Insecurities

In “Journal of a Novel,” John Steinbeck wrote, “I know it is the best book I have ever done. I don’t know whether it is good enough.” I’m no John Steinbeck and never hope to achieve the status he did as an author, but even he had insecurities about his writing.

Maybe my insecurities are justified. That’s one way to think and going down that particular rabbit hole is where I find myself too often. I constantly have to ferret out all the voices in my head that tell me that the last sentence, the last paragraph, or even everything I’ve ever written is just drivel. It somehow makes me feel better, and not so alone, knowing that even John Steinbeck struggled with such insecurities.

For the past few decades, most of my writing has been technical, nonfiction, or novels. I recently made the decision to pursue my passion for writing novels once again. I never tried to publish my last two novels and I’ve told myself for years that I was just happy with my accomplishment. The truth is that my insecurities held me back and have kept me from writing another novel until now.

Since I made that decision, I’ve set aside some of my reading time for articles and books about writing.  One of the suggestions I’ve read from numerous sources is that novelists should give flash fiction and short story writing a shot. Each writer gave lists of reasons for doing so, but the one that caught my eye was that it could stimulate creativity.

I was very insecure about this new fiction form. How could anyone pack a story of any interest into such a compact space? I gave it a whirl anyway with a lot of starts and stops. I didn’t count how many times I edited it.  Then I finally posted it on a website where I knew it would get serious reviews. I was terrified and expected to be shredded. I felt vulnerable and exposed.

I was torn between wanting to see my reviews and never wanting to even check them, but humans are inherently curious and curiosity won the battle. I had to see what kind of “train wreck” I had written. I was so shocked when I read my first reviews that I thought there must have been some mistake. There were genuine critiques of my story, but my aggregate rating was 4.5 out of 5 stars.

So, to all of the insecure writers out there, tell the negative voices in your head to shut up. Do it every time they try to sneak into your thoughts. I have to do it constantly. Remember that even John Steinbeck had insecurities and most importantly keep writing.

Maybe I’ll try poetry next…….Nope! Not a chance!

 

The North American Solar Eclipse 2017

and some most unusual photos

 

Preparation for the Solar Eclipse

After waiting 38 years for today’s solar eclipse, I’ve been anticipating this astronomical event for months.  I planned to travel to the 70 mile wide band that would experience the total eclipse but circumstances arose that made this trip impossible for me.  However, the eclipse would be 73% where I live and I was determined to enjoy what I could.

I researched the appropriate glasses for viewing and ordered a set recommended by the American Astronomical Society well in advance.  I gave the extras to friends and family who also wanted to witness this fantastic event but had not thought about it far enough in advance.  There was no place to buy the glasses locally and I was so happy that I had gotten extras to share.

3 days ago the weather forecast predicted 40% cloud coverage here and 20% chance of rain.  I was disappointed in the forecast, but I tried to remain optimistic.  The odds were still in my favor.

The Waiting was Over

I jumped out of bed this morning full of excitement.  The eclipse would begin here at 11:46 am, reach the 73% maximum coverage of the sun at 1:16 pm and be over by 2:45 pm.  I looked out at the sky and there were a few clouds,  but not many.  Things were looking great!

I finished my morning routines and gathered together the things I needed to make my trek out to my friend’s farm.  I live in an apartment complex surrounded by buildings and trees that would obstruct the view and she has wide open fields, perfect for viewing.  I had 2 pair of the eclipse viewing glasses left—one for each of us.

Disappointment or Success?

As I drove, I noticed the cloud coverage increasing.  I finally reached the farm and the cloud coverage had gone to about 80%.  “Meteorologists!”  I muttered to myself.  “What other job could get by with being wrong so much and still keep their jobs?”  I was getting a little frustrated.

We both looked at the enormous dark cloud separating us from the sun.  I muttered a few choice words and we decided to go inside and watch the photos coming in from Idaho on the TV coverage.  The eclipse had reached totality there and the photos were incredible.  The diamond effect the footage showed as the sun began to reappear were gorgeous and something I’d never seen.  I gasped at the beauty.  I have to admit the clear blue skies I noticed in the background, as the totality ended in Idaho, sparked a twinge of envy.

We walked back outside to see if there were any changes in the cloud coverage here.  I peered through my protective glasses up at the sky.  I saw nothing but black.

Suddenly I began to notice a dim light appearing.  As I watched, a small break in the clouds appeared and then a clear view of the sun emerged.  I was so thrilled.  The moon was at about 15% coverage of the sun.  I think I yelled I was so excited.  It was only visible for a few minutes, but we had gotten our first view of the eclipse.

Yay!

On TV, I watched as Nebraska experienced totality and afterward I noticed the clear blue skies in the background there.  This time I was still so psyched after seeing our first view here in Texas that the feeling of jealousy was gone.

We got a few more breaks in the clouds and were able to catch a few more minutes of viewing here and there while we were approaching the maximum coverage we would experience here- 73%.  We began to watch for sunlight and the appearance of shadows on the ground as we viewed the live coverage on TV.  When we noticed these, we would scurry outside for another view of the eclipse.

About 2 minutes after the partial eclipse had reached its maximum, the clouds began to break up and we were able to watch the rest of the eclipse without any issues.

It never occurred to me to take any photos of the eclipse after the articles I had read.  My friend had read some other articles on taking photos that suggested we could take some with our phones using selfie mode. That way you didn’t have to look directly at the sun.  I decided to give it a try.  I pointed my camera over my head in the direction of the sun or what I hoped was the right direction.

In order to see what we had really captured in our photos, we took them inside to evaluate them.  They appeared to be disappointing at first glance.  Upon closer inspection, we saw some very interesting artifacts in the photos and I want to share a few of them with you.  I saved the best photo for last.

In spite of the changes in plans and all the challenges with the cloud coverage, it turned out to be quite an exhilarating experience.  I’m already looking forward to the “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse on Oct. 14th 2023 and the next Total Eclipse on April 8th 2024.

 

Some Most Unusual Eclipse Photos

 

picture 2 (4)
First attempt at eclipse “selfie”
picture 2 (5)
Artifact from 1st photo
picture 1 (5)
Artifact from 2nd photo
IMG_20170821_135016_edit (2)
Artifact from my friend’s photo

 

 

 

Avoid the 3 Biggest Mistakes I Made Starting a Blog

So you want to start a blog. Almost everyone is on social media:  a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram, Snapchat and multiple others.  So why not a blog?

There is no reason not to have a blog. Many people do, but you may want to avoid the mistakes that I’ve made.

When I started this blog almost a month ago, I made quite possibly every mistake imaginable in starting a blog.  But I just want to tell you about the 3 biggest mistakes I made and hopefully how to avoid them.

1.  Determine your motivation for blogging before jumping in the deep end.  What do you want to accomplish with your blog?

I gave starting a blog about five minutes of thought before I jumped in. I was clueless. To a large extent, I still am. My advice would be to put some serious time and effort into thinking about your motivation, your reason, for starting a blog.

Do you have a business you want to support and promote? Do you have something you want to educate the public about like finance or investing? Do you have interesting stories you want to share? Do you want to entertain? Do you want to inspire?

Take some time to determine what your real passion is and let this guide the direction of your blog. It’s okay to have more than one passion, but a great post should either entertain, educate or inspire.

When I started this blog I thought I wanted to be a freelance travel writer, I like to travel, but I love to write.  I thought freelance travel writing would give me the opportunity to make some money doing what I really love, writing. After getting more familiar with what freelance travel writing is really about, I decided that it was not for me. Most freelance travel articles in publications are dry, boring lists.

I want to write compelling stories, I like writing novels and I’m passionate about many issues.  Dry borings lists is not one of them.

By that time, however, I had already started this blog. OOPS!

 2.  Put some time and research into determining your domain name.

There are an abundance of articles available on how to choose a great domain name in terms of SEO. I’m not a Tech geek so I can’t really offer any advice on that other than to do your research.

The advice I can offer is that it’s a good idea if your Domain name reflects your blog content.  There are exceptions to this rule.  Some bloggers use just their name and for people recognized in their field, that works out well for them.

I really made 2 mistakes in choosing my Domain name but I’m going to give myself a break because they both fall under choosing a Domain name.  Since I’m not focusing on travel writing, Journies with Liz really doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore.  Drats!  Also, according to experts, the cutsie misspelling of journeys is a big mistake in terms of SEO.  A month ago I didn’t know what SEO was.

It’s worth spending more than a few minutes in choosing a domain name.  I certainly wish I had!

 3.  Do some research before choosing a blog host.

The things to keep in mind when researching a blog host are customer support, functionality offered and price.  I didn’t do any comprehensive research before I set up my blog other than a cursory look.  To put it very bluntly, this option was cheap and I was broke.  The functionality as well as the customer service is very limited. For example, Bluehost offers 24/7 customer service where WordPress.com may get back to you in 2-3 days.  That’s just an example and not an endorsement.

These are the 3 biggest mistakes I’ve made in setting up my blog, but I’ve made numerous more.  I’m sure that these won’t be my last and I’m learning more every day.  If you’re thinking about starting a blog, I hope this will help you avoid some of these mistakes.  If you are already an established blogger who took the time to do things right, (and actually bothered to read this) I hope you’re laughing your head off.

This is certainly a journey!  Not the type I intended to be writing about, but a journey after all.

Oh the Mistakes I’ve Made

When it comes to starting a blog, I’ve made every mistake in the book.  I just jumped in with my eyes wide shut.  I’m working on a post detailing all the mistakes I’ve made and all the things I’ve learned the hard way.  I’ve learned a lot about blogging and a lot about myself.  So please stay tuned for my next post.

 

Soul-Searching

I’ve done a lot of thinking since my last post.  After getting halfway through my travel writing class, I realized the class was all about content marketing.  I do want to be a travel writer.  I just don’t want to focus on content marketing.

I delved into copywriting (now called content marketing) a couple of years ago but when I realized what it was really about I just couldn’t do it.  I suppose someone has to do it. It just isn’t going to be me.

After much soul-searching and internet researching, I decided that travel blogging is the path for me.  I dumped the old class.  Then dove right in to a blogging class and a travel blogging class.

I said I needed a break in my last post. Hell, I screamed it.  What I really needed was a new direction.  I’ve been working my butt off on my new classes.

To my fellow bloggers, don’t you enjoy being able to control the content of your own blog?  No word limit restraints?  Not having to plug someone else’s product or service unless you want to?

In a previous post, I wrote about all the travel articles I was reading and that I found most of them bored me to tears.  Can you guess why?  Those articles were nothing but content marketing.  They didn’t tell a compelling story.

I started this blog with a post called New Beginnings.  Funny thing about new beginnings sometimes there are some sharp turns along the way.

What do you think?

Information Overload

“Do this, don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?”

—- Signs (Five Man Electric Band)

 

I’ve been working through my course, reading travel articles, reading articles about writing travel articles and reading travel blogs.  I’ve even been reading blogs about blogging.

It’s just information overload.

Top 10 this….

Best 10 that…

101 places to…

Articles that are sales pitches for more articles.

Links to other links to yet other links that finally end up at a price tag.

I need a BREAK!

I’m not a young person just starting out.  I have a lifetime of experiences and adventures that I want, no–that I need to write.

For now what I need is to stare at the sky and watch some hot air balloons float by on their way to somewhere else.