“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”
“Travel becomes a way of life and a comfort zone”
By Caitlin Kelly
Broadside now has more than 13,000 readers worldwide, and adds new followers daily.
I enjoy blogging and really enjoy the wit and wisdom of those who often make time to comment — ksbeth, modernidiot, ashokbhatia, rami ungar, kathleen r and others. It’s gratifying to converse globally with such interesting people.
I also teach others how to blog (and write) better…
Here are five of the 30 tips I share with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.”
I teach blogging at Pratt Institute, a private college in Brooklyn, and love helping others to achieve their goals.
Broadside, almost six years old and with more than 1,700 posts, has been Freshly Pressed six times and cited for its “signature clarity and wit” by this fellow blogger, writing on multi-topic blogs.
I offer my webinar scheduled at your convenience; paid via Paypal, it’s $125 for 90 minutes via Skype or phone which allows time for your questions as well.
I also do individual coaching at $200/hour, with a one-hour minimum; please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!
I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will quickly pull in a curious reader.
Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in.
A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.
Think like an editor
When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)
Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?
Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?
Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted
All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast!
Woo me with a fab headline
Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy that edition. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.
Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!
Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short
Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)
HOPING WE’LL WORK TOGETHER SOON!
By Caitlin Kelly
Maybe you’ve been following this recent firestorm?
The one in which Salon, a popular American website, called The New York Times’ former executive editor Bill Keller, and his wife, Gilbey’s gin heiress Emma Gilbey, despicable?
Both of them wrote about cancer patient Lisa Adams, who has advanced breast cancer.
Lisa Bonchek Adams is a mother of three living with Stage 4 breast cancer. She blogs and tweets about what she is undergoing and the decisions she is making about her health; she does so frequently and to a large audience that’s rooting for her. And to a prominent husband-wife pair of journalists, she’s somehow offensive.
Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, published an Op-Ed in that paper today indicating that Adams, in spite of the image of positivity and strength she generally broadcasts on her social media platforms, is dying and doing so in a manner somehow undignified; Keller draws a comparison between Adams and his late father-in-law. “His death seemed to me a humane and honorable alternative to the frantic medical trench warfare that often makes an expensive misery of death in America.”
That “trench warfare” has, for Adams, included a variety of medical studies; Keller indicates that Adams’ personal decisions about her health, and her expressing herself online, somehow detracts from people who choose not to undergo experimental treatments or who choose to slip under with less of what is traditionally known as “fighting.” He even finds a Stanford associate dean who is willing to say that Adams “shouldn’t be unduly praised. Equal praise is due to those who accept an inevitable fate with grace and courage.”
Here’s an analysis piece from NPR’s blog:
the piece enraged a lot of Times readers, according to public editor Margaret Sullivan, that she heard a great deal of negative feedback, and who herself said “there are issues here of tone and sensitivity.”
Boy … you can say that again. By closing the piece with a piece about a dean who “cringes” at Adams’ alleged embrace of a “combat metaphor” (unsupported by any quotes from her own writing) and salutes those who show grace and courage, Keller implicitly suggests that to handle your disease as Adams has is one way to go. The other way to go is with grace and courage. And that’s very unfortunate.
Adams herself says that Keller, along with his wife Emma Gilbey Keller, who also wrote a controversial column critiquing Adams’ handling of her cancer (that was in The Guardian and has since ), have misrepresented the basic facts of her medical status, and Keller has already admitted he got the number of kids she has wrong. These disputes have been pretty thoroughly inventoried in a . And writers at outlets including and have been sharply critical of the need to explain to a cancer patient how to handle (and discuss) having cancer.
This is an issue I’ve thought a lot about — how much to write or blog about one’s illness or surgery or medical issues — and how much to never share beyond one’s circle of intimates. People, in my view, who are the ones who are most likely to have actually visited you and your family in the hospital or come with you to the chemo suite, perhaps.
One woman I know, barely, professionally, shared a lot of detail on Facebook about the effects of chemo as she was treated (so far, successfully) for breast cancer. But there was a lot I wish she had simply kept to herself.
She got a lot of emotional support, which I understand — why she craved it and why people offered it.
My mother had a radical mastectomy in 2003. She is alive. She has survived multiple cancers, including thyroid and a meningioma, a form of brain tumor.
In other words, I already live in daily fear of my genetic heritage and have little appetite to read anything about cancer.
That is not a judgment of people who do, but the effect of knowing too much firsthand already.
I get my medical tests and keep a careful eye on my own body and that of my husband.
I’ve already stared down plenty of doctors and Xrays and seen too much and heard too much. I saw my mothers’ very large brain tumor on the Xray and had to give informed consent for her; here’s the piece I wrote about it for Chatelaine, Canada’s largest women’s magazine.
Who am I to complain when I, too, have written these sorts of stories? They can, I know, be helpful to others and provide comfort to the ill and to their families.
A friend my age died of cancer in January 2006 and several men in my apartment building are currently fighting cancer.
It’s not that I don’t care about people who are ill. It’s the reverse. Instead, I find myself worrying about people I do not even know.
For me, that’s not the best choice.
I have really mixed feelings about this sort of thing — none of which suggests I’m right.
How do you feel about someone sharing a lot of very graphic detail on-line about their illness?
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s sometimes easy to forget that attention is a gift. We’re all busy, tired, distracted.
So when readers come to Broadside — for one post, or several — I know it’s a choice.
It’s been amazing and inspiring for me to “meet” people from around the world here, even just from reading your gravatars when you sign up to follow. Several of you have become good friends, from London to L.A.
Newest followers include a dancer/choreographer and playwright from Tel Aviv, a retired history teacher in Florida, a country singer from Nashville, and a suburban mum in Britain.
You are one seriously diverse audience!
I appreciate your comments, and especially so when you finally decide to join the conversation — I know many of you lurk, silently. Please weigh in!
It’s been a new privilege to start teaching and coaching, and the response has been terrific, with students coming from Australia, New Zealand, California, Virginia and other spots. Working with Skype is great, as we can see one another and exchange ideas and laughter. The other day, I waved to three small children in Adelaide as their mum and I were about to start a session. So fun!
Selfishly, coming back to teaching and coaching has also offered me a needed and welcome break from the usual routine of pitch/sell/write/revise. As a full-time writer, I’m an intellectual production line of one — the old brain gets tired!
It’s been great to leave my apartment, meet new clients face to face and begin to expand my teaching to other places. It looks like I might be teaching at NYSID, my former school of interior design in Manhattan. I really love teaching, and I’ve missed it. It’s fun to share my skills and help you meet your goals.
Writing well isn’t easy!
For some odd reason, people now think it is or should be or want it to be.
Great writing is really the end product of clear, focused thinking: about topic, tone, voice, diction, rhythm, intent, mood. It has many moving parts, and until they spin together without friction, you’re more likely to hear the nasty grinding of gears than the smooth humming you’d prefer.
So, dear readers, and those of you placing in your trust in my skills to teach and coach you, you’re very much appreciated.
By Caitlin Kelly
For those of you who follow Kristen Lamb’s blog, I’m giving a 90-minute webinar this Friday, October 4, at 6pm Eastern.
It’s called “Learn to Think Like a Reporter” and will offer lots of practical tips from my 30 years as a journalist, 20 years writing freelance for The New York Times and my three staff writing jobs at three major daily newspapers, the Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News.
You can sign up here.
If this is too late, I’ll soon be posting a list of my own upcoming webinars, including that one, and will give you plenty of time to choose one (or several!), tell all your writer/journalist friends, and sign up.
Writing — what we read here or elsewhere — is merely the end product, the visible, finished material emerging from a long process that really begins with an idea or a dream or a vision of something. Many people who say they really want to write well and be widely read and maybe even well-paid for it sometimes focus a lot of wasted energy on the wrong things.
They fuss over the font on their blog or their SEO or how to find an agent or what their book cover looks like.
It’s much more basic.
Here are five qualities anyone who wants to write well — and find a large readership — needs:
To publish your work requires tremendous trust. First, in yourself, that you have something worth hearing and have the skills to express it clearly and compellingly. Second, in your audience — that there is an audience out there for your work. Third, in your agent, (should you wish to publish traditionally). Fourth, in your editor(s). Fifth, journalists must also, (with open eyes and a healthy skepticism of “facts”), trust their sources, and their editors and copy editors.
You have to trust in your skills and experience to see you through, even when you’ve never tackled a subject or genre before. It’s like anything else — you can’t grow unless you push yourself into new and untried areas. Given the nature of journalism and publishing right now, being able to move quickly and persuasively into new ways of using your skills is essential to earning a good living.
Walk into a bookstore or library — and look around. There are millions of books already in print. In addition to every other form of media out there, from Twitter and Pinterest to movies, TV and video games, these books are competing for your readers’ time and attention. Whose work is currently selling most, to whom, and why? Whose work has lasted for decades or centuries or even millennia and why? Asking readers to give us their time and attention means acknowledging those who have done it so well for so long.
We don’t have to ape them, but the marketplace of ideas is a very, very crowded one.
And yet…If you can’t summon the confidence in your voice and ideas and analysis, why would anyone else? If you lack confidence in your skills, take classes and read great writers and see what they do so well. Do whatever is necessary to develop the skill to tell your story. Then do it!
Also have the confidence that your material may have valuable iterations in other paid media, from film and television to theatrical productions to ideas you haven’t even imagined. Re-define “writing” as “intellectual property” and you will start to look at your work very differently, and protectively. (A ferocious agent and skilled entertainment attorney are key to this step.)
You can’t be an intelligent or useful journalist without empathy — whether you’re interviewing a politician, a welfare mother, a billionaire banker or a criminal. You have to be able to imagine how the world looks and feels to them and care deeply enough to ask them thoughtful and probing questions. Same for writers of fiction, whose characters must live and breathe for us as readers.
What to say, and how to say it and in what detail? There’s no standard metric, no safe dividing line or blinking yellow warning light on our computer or notebook to warn us when we’ve moved from terrific to boring. We choose every word and then we must commit to it, even after the 10th or 20th draft. It has to go the printer! Editors are waiting. Readers expect to hear from you.
Decide what you want to express and get on with it. The only people who can call themselves writers write — they don’t just talk about writing.
I’m finally reading (and loving!) this book, a classic, by Howard Zinsser, “On Writing Well.” It’s funny and filled with fantastic advice. Here are his five tips.
What do you think are other qualities a writer needs most?
I wish you all the best!
Excellent health, steady income, many cups of Earl Grey tea, glorious sunsets and ferociously enveloping hugs. Whatever your dreams may be, I hope you’ll take the first (or second or fifteenth) steps toward attaining them.
For those of you who have not yet read my Welcome or About page, I’m Caitlin Kelly, a New York-based author and journalist, who writes frequently for The New York Times. Some of my journalism, and my two non-fiction books, are here. I grew up in Canada, and moved to the United States in 1988.
My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” will be published in China — !! — in March.
Broadside continues to grow daily, with a variety of readers that leaves me gobsmacked — high school students to seniors, Spaniards and Australians and fellow Canadians and Indonesians, a Ghanaian charity, a pastor-to-be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a yoga teacher from Cobourg (coming to take your class later this month!), a journalism professor from Iowa, a photographer from Perth, an immigration attorney from Houston, a Jordanian medical student, musicians and artists and writers and moms-of-six. More than 3,300 people have joined so far.
I met Michelle, author of The Green Study, in Minneapolis in October, and hope to meet Elizabeth, who writes Gifts of the Journey about her life in rural England, and C, moving to London, and author of Small Dog Syndrome, in England this summer.
Mrs. Fringe and I have a coffee date in a few weeks as well; a thank-you to her, to Rami Ungar and to C. for their comments, (which my annual tally from WordPress tells me makes them the most prolific here.)
More comments from those who’ve yet to speak up, please!
We’ve enjoyed much lively, intelligent debate here, and I’ve really appreciated your input. With so many readers worldwide — especially when I blog on American political or economic issues — we have a chance for some serious dialogue.
In a global economy, the smartest choice we can make is to connect across borders and ideologies and truly try to understand how the world looks to others many time zones away.
Please email me, or comment here, on what you’d like to see more of at Broadside (or less); one reader has suggested interviews and Q and A’s with some of the interesting and accomplished people I know in various fields, which is a neat idea, so I’m working on that. Also, possibly, more reviews of cultural events (books. shows, art) I think you’d also enjoy.
I’m also always looking for amazing blogs to follow — please share a few with us that you find consistently fab? What do you love about them?
My professional hopes for this year include selling two new non-fiction books, creating a woman-only, invitation-only conference next fall, working with a new assistant, telling more interesting stories and doing more well-paid public speaking.
Personally, enjoying as much time as possible with Jose, (as we head into our 13th year together), some travel (Newfoundland is on our list, as is Paris and London), deepening my friendships and staying healthy. My father is still super-healthy at 83, so we’re heading north to Ontario this month to visit him and see dear old friends.
What are some of your hopes for 2013?