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Jon is a freelance web content writer and runs

Be a word jedi mind ninja

I’ve been known for quite some time as a bit of a wordsmith. I have a knack for coming up with the right words at the right moment. It’s partly a gift (I won’t lie) but partly a result of practice, too.

I cut my teeth on poetry. With poetry, the way I might write on this blog or on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t fly. Poetry demands original language, interesting imagery, and, above all, conciseness. A typical poem may have fewer than 200 words, and you’ve got to intrigue, inspire, and move people. It’s a quick shot of emotion or insight. It’s a snapshot of something we can see, touch, hear.

Over the course of a few years, I wrote hundreds of poems and read hundreds more. I experimented with different styles, different forms, different points of view, and wasn’t afraid to blast my creations to the blogosphere in the early days. I studied literature in college, then went back for grad school to study it some more.

I tried to blend poetic principles into fiction, personal essays, and even academic essays (the success of which depended entirely on the professor’s tastes). I learned to feel the cadence to language - the combination of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. I learned about repetition and unusual connections or word combinations that startle people into paying attention.

What does poetry have to do with blogging?

Kevin Gibbons wrote a good article on Search Engine Watch about content marketing. Google, which still dictates the way we optimize our websites for search engines, has made it increasingly difficult to be ranked well by going out and gobbling up backlinks. Google wants natural links - links that are created by people who love your content so much that they need to share it. Getting natural links, though, depends on the quality and relevance of your content.

Relevance depends on you. Between you and me, you’re the one who can know if your blog posts are relevant to your chosen niche. But good quality writing? Now that can be taught.

See, if content marketing is going to become more important, than content itself has to fit the bill. Good writing that captures your audience’s attention and keeps it throughout the length of your post is difficult but attainable.

Good writing is more than good grammar

What I often find is people talking about grammar when deciding what makes for good writing. Yes, it’s true that you should know how to punctuate properly. Yes, it’s also true that you should know the difference between active and passive voice.

Active voice: Billy hit the ball

Passive voice: The ball was hit by Billy.

In active voice, we place the subject of the sentence before the verb, so that Subject does Verb. In passive voice, the subject follows the verb, so that Verb is done by Subject. Passive voice shows less power and is generally avoided.

This is just a small part of good writing, though.

In creative writing, we talk about pacing and rhythm. With prose, we add sentence and paragraph length; with poetry, line breaks. They all pertain to the same idea: variation is key.

The fastest way to lose readers is to bore them. At minimum, you can counteract this by changing up the lengths of your sentences and the lengths of your paragraphs. Also change up the way you write your sentences. If you start several sentences the same basic way, then switch some of them around so they have a different feel.

The trick is to write the way you talk, but not to write the way you talk. Easy, right?

In other words, we all like writing to have a natural, conversational feel, especially online. But we really don’t talk that well many times. My spoken grammar is too often pitiful. I will break grammar rules when I write, but only because I know that I’m breaking them. I’ve proven my ability to write flawless prose. The habits of my spoken grammar, though, are not as intentional. Plus, we speak with slang or we ramble - all sorts of problems that we don’t want to introduce into our writing.

You want conversational but not sloppy. Attract your readers with personable prose, but don’t look stupid in the process.


In search of a win

On April 18th, I finally learned what so many others have felt over the past several years when I lost my job. The hollowness that takes over, the feeling of having my legs kicked out from underneath me.

I had just transferred from my firm’s Harrisburg, Pa., office to the Orlando, Fla., office. I thought I was a hot-shot paralegal that the firm wanted desperately to keep. Five weeks later, I was told they didn’t have enough work to keep me, and they eliminated my position.

Although I had already been laying the foundation for a freelance writing career, losing my job so suddenly amped up my motivation. I threw myself headlong into research, writing, planning, blogging - everything I could do to catapult myself into freelance writing stardom and, surely, a legion of clients climbing over each other for my services. How naive.

Success rarely happens quickly. We all love the newsmakers, the headline kings and queens who grab a hot idea and make it big overnight. But enduring commitment might be the only predictable precursor to success (if there’s any at all).

I didn’t have time for a gradual ascent. I wanted success, and I wanted it now. My girlfriend suffered through my late nights at the computer, neglecting her and focusing obsessively - maniacally - on becoming a full-time freelance writer. She would joke about how I’m married to the computer, but she really wasn’t joking. She was speaking truth to me that I was unwilling to acknowledge.

Finally, I realized that I wasn’t just demonstrating a fevered entrepreneurial spirit. I was searching for a win. I had felt defeated when I lost my job. I had felt like a failure who had to move back to Harrisburg and inhabit, once again, my room at my parents’ house.

Twice, I almost gave up on my freelance writing dream because it didn’t seem to be “working.” That’s two times in a month and a half. I wanted a win so badly that I wasn’t willing to give myself time to make something that can last.

I categorized this post “off topic” simply because I’m writing from the heart, but it still applies to anyone trying to build a blog or take a business to the social networks. You may be searching for a win, too. Maybe you don’t get much traffic or your sales have waned. Maybe you think you can turn it around overnight. The simple fact, though, is that you likely won’t.

Social media marketing takes time, too. Blogging takes time. We’re past the age of distant advertising and are firmly entrenched in a new era of social networking, of customer relationship management (CRM) in buzz-speak. Success is more dependent on building trust, a relationship with your readers or customers that grows over time. I thought I could start a blog and people would declare me the next great American writer, but I forgot that (a) I’m probably not the next great American writer and (b) people don’t know who I am yet. Until they know me, they won’t trust me. Until they know you, they won’t trust you, either.

For me, the answer is simple. Refocus on finding a full-time job and continue building this business on the side. Take the pressure off. It may not be the dream life I want, but if I’m only fixated on the fast cash-grab, then people will notice. That was never my goal anyway. My short-term goal is to build long-term relationships.

I would love to hear your stories of needing a win - what happened, what you did, and what you learned from it.

Bing’s new social search

Bing’s soon-to-be-unveiled social search brings more Facebook integration that we’ve seen before. I love that you’ll not only be able to see friend recommendations, but you’ll also be able to make posts directly on the search. That’s functionality that actually makes sense.

I posted more thoughts here.


Watching someone do something amazingly stupid.