Look To the Western Sky

A blog about single life as a parent & the dreams of a writer by Margo L. Dill

Tag: writing tips

7 Easy Design Tricks Digital Writers Need To Know

I’m very excited to introduce you to Kayleigh Alexandra who wrote this amazing article below about ways to make your digital writing look fantastic and make it easy-to-read. This is a great post for anyone who blogs or who writes for the web. She also included some great links. One of my favorites is in the last section–alternatives to Canva. I use Canva, and I didn’t know there were alternatives! Anyway, I hope you find this useful.

Take it away, Kayleigh! 

Writers usually like to write — the clue is in the name — but the work of a digital writer is a far cry from the tapping-at-a-typewriter demands of yesteryear. It’s great having the option to be a digital nomad, yes, but content for the web (or at least digital publication) requires significantly more polish to meet the demands of readers who are capricious and rich with alternatives.

Now, some enjoy the design element to today’s copywriting, but others find it a significant obstacle that slows their progress and leaves their work looking weak relative to that of comparable writers — something tremendously frustrating to those who’d prefer to be judged by their textual output.

But worry not if you’re in the latter camp: maintaining solid design fundamentals doesn’t need to be so arduous. In this piece, we’re going to cover 7 easy tricks you can start using right away to make your digital writing work much smoother. Here we go!

Draw from your inspirations

Light bulb image credit: Pixabay

As a writer, you’re no doubt used to consuming the written word as fuel for your efforts. You gather up high-quality books, articles, and scripts, then melt them down and use the material to forge something new and different. However, you might not have thought to apply this kind of process to any design elements — you may not have even realized that you do it.

I’m quite certain of this, because I didn’t know when I started writing that I was drawing from my inspirations. The ideas had lingered in my head and jumbled together to the extent that I’d forgotten where they came from; so when I remixed them for my copy, they felt spontaneously drawn from the heavens.

When you find yourself struggling with design elements for your digital writing, do yourself a huge favor and visit some sites that do similar work. How do they structure their pieces? What shapes do they use? See what things you like and dislike; then use that information to reach conclusions about how you can design your content.

Split your content into sections

Start at the start and end at the end — that’s how I wrote to begin with, and it has its advantages, particularly if you like to get into a stream-of-conscious kind of flow. But it doesn’t suit digital writing, for the most part. When you barrel forth with no plan, the text you produce will be lacking, and the design will be incoherent.

Consider the importance of digital writing being digestible. You’re not addressing someone settling down in an armchair to read a novel, after all, but someone probably looking for fast information in a standard format, so they don’t need to put time into parsing anything.

Make this easier by laying out your sections before you get too deep into the writing. Note down where you’ll need headings and subheadings, then establish paragraph themes, and perhaps throw in some elements, such as bullet points or quoted highlights, to mix things up. Splitting your time evenly between sections will ensure that you don’t end up with an opening that’s longer than the rest of the content.

Embrace the space

Negative space is vital for digital content, whether it’s consumed on a mobile device, a laptop, or even an ebook reader. Not only are screens not as comfortable to look at as text on paper, but you also must accommodate for the required interface — the reader can’t physically turn a page, for instance.

If you have a habit of producing dense copy, try going through your first draft and spacing things out. Just split up your paragraphs wherever it makes sense to do so. You might dislike the notion of a one-sentence paragraph or the prospect of having any inconsistency, but long paragraphs are a tough sell in digital formats.

Even in this piece, aimed at writers, I’ve tried to keep the paragraphs under control. Readability isn’t something to be taken lightly!

Answer questions

Question marks image credit: Pixabay

Journalists have long had the five Ws of who, what, when, where, and why. Reducing stories to these essential components allows them to write very quickly while giving the reader what they’re invariably looking for. And though digital writing doesn’t need to stick to that rigid format, it does help greatly to address reader questions as a structuring technique.

If you’re stuck trying to puzzle through a content design, try setting out questions as headings. For an article called “The Beginner’s Guide to Cheese”, for example, you might write down “What is cheese?”, “What types of cheese are there?”, and “Where can I get cheese?” as your opening questions. Having these questions to answer will keep your copy very focused, and leave you with clear segments perfect for piecemeal digital consumption.

Use complementary colors

Even if you don’t believe in the countless color associations designers like to talk about, you can’t deny that color is important for design. Light text against a light background isn’t going to prove very effective, for a start, and using clashing colors throughout your design will likely end up giving the reader a headache and eliminating their interest in reaching the conclusion.

To find some complementary color selections, try sites like Paletton or Coolors — they’ll allow you to pick a color and immediately identify several others that will work well alongside it. Spread those colors throughout your design, and you’ll establish a nice sense of consistency.

Include relevant stock images

We’ve covered the importance of negative space and stylistic features such as bullet points, but you can (and should) also spread things out by including relevant images. Visuals are eye-catching and give the reader brief chances to let their attention slip a little before returning to the relative complexity of the text.

And while you shouldn’t rely on them for important images (because they’ll make your work look very generic), you should absolutely make use of all the free images available online. Note that I’ve distributed some simple images through this piece. Here’s an additional tip: if you use Google Docs, you don’t even need to visit free resource sites, because you can find and insert copyright-free images directly through going to Insert > Image > Search the web.

Use free design tools

Tools image credit: Pxhere

Tasked with creating something more visually rich like a featured image or an infographic, you may find yourself torn between reaching out to a dedicated (but expensive) designer and spending a lot of time trying to manually cobble something together — but this is a false dichotomy, all thanks to the wonders of online tools.

Canva tends to attract the most plaudits, but there are numerous great pieces of design software to be found and used for free. With drag-and-drop functionality, templates and helpful tutorials everywhere you look, there’s really no reason not to give this trick a try, even (or especially) if you have no design-related knowledge whatsoever.

Well, there you have it: 7 easy tricks to make the design work that comes with most digital writing significantly less stressful. Do a lot of research, use all the resources of the web, and build content simple enough to read on a mobile — not too hard!

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups, a site with a goal of giving through growth hacking. Stop by the blog for news and insight about startups and charities from across the world, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.

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From The Muffin: A Marketing Exercise That is a Must for Your Critique Group

One of my freelancing jobs is to blog on WOW! Women On Writing‘s amazing blog, The Muffin. If you’ve never checked it out, you’re missing out on a great resource–there are posts about the writing craft, writing tips, interviews with authors/agents/editors, inspiration and motivation, marketing ideas, and more. Today, I blogged about a marketing exercise everyone in a critique group could do. It starts like this…

In the past week, I’ve had two Editor 911 clients ask me to write marketing materials for them. I had edited the manuscripts for both of them, so I was familiar with their work. One client asked me to rewrite her Amazon book description, back cover material, and bio, so that her Amazon page popped when people found her book by doing a search on the book site. The other client lives in New York City and has an opportunity to present a minute pitch in front of a panel of writing professionals. She was having trouble narrowing her entire novel into a few words pitch that would make it stand out from everyone else’s. I love doing copywriting like this, and both of these writers hired me because they were too close to their work to do it themselves.

This led me to the idea that this happens to writers all the time! It happens with query letters and synopsis, which is commonly known and discussed all over the blogosphere. But it also happens with marketing materials–website copy, book cover copy, taglines, pitches, and more. However, many writers are poor, and so they can’t hire someone to write this material for them. Also, if the copywriter is not familiar with the writer’s work, she might have to charge more than if she was because it would take longer to review the work first before writing the marketing material.

But my thinking cap was still on!

To read the rest of the post, which includes steps for your critique group to follow to complete the marketing exercise, click here. 

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Stay at Home Writer? How Not To Become a Hermit

When you’re asked by a new acquaintance what it is that you do for a living, and you say that you’re a writer, you can almost hear the cogs turning in their brain and you can visualize the images that flicker into their mind. Immediately, they picture you at a desk in a dimly lit room, sitting behind a laptop. There’s something slightly sinister about the scene of the reclusive writer, a la The Shining. While all work and no play doesn’t send you quite as cuckoo as Jack Nicholson, the life of a writer can be solitary; and finding the time to venture outside of your four walls can be tricky. However, you must resist the urge to become a hermit. Take a look at these ideal activities that will see you up and out of the house and enhance your writing.

Book Clubs

It may sound a little cliche, but it’s true that the more you read, the better the writer you become. As you read reams of novels from umpteen different genres, writing styles, vocabulary and literary devices flood into your subconscious. If you’re able to link up with a local book club, you can network with fellow book enthusiasts. This new network of friends can be a great support if you ever suffer a bout of writer’s block or if you just fancy popping for a coffee after a hard slog on your penultimate chapter.

Courses

Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you can’t undertake professional qualifications related to your field of work. Research local creative writing courses in your area. You may find that there’s an evening class at a local college; or if you fancy something a little more formal, you could even enroll in a literature degree. If you feel that your English credentials are already top notch, you may want to branch out and take a look at studying something else that is wholly unrelated to writing but will keep your CV looking relevant. The latest top of the range VBA training classes or SEO introductory courses will keep your IT skills up to date, just in case you ever want to enter the world of full-time employment again.

Visit Schools

If you’ve been lucky enough to have had some of your work published, try and make links with some local schools. It doesn’t matter whether you write for children or adults, local education establishments will relish the opportunity of having a published author to engage and enthuse their students. You could take samples of your work, run a workshop, or create a school text in conjunction with the children. Sometimes, you are paid for these school visits. Make a name for yourself in this field, and you could effectively supplement your income from writing.

Becoming a writer is very much a vocation. The hours are long, you need supreme self-motivation, and the rewards aren’t instant. However, if you stay committed and break up some of your long spells at the laptop, you won’t ever run the risk of becoming the stereotypical writing recluse.

contributed article

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Ditch the Notebook! Get the Writer in Your Life Something Great for Christmas

If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve received dozens of notebooks and journals over the years; if you’re the friend or family member of a writer, chances are you’ve bought dozens of them too. Although there’s nothing wrong with a good notebook (in fact they’re pretty great), they aren’t exactly a surprising gift, which kind of takes the excitement away.

So, maybe it’s time to ditch the notebook and get the writer in your life (even if that’s you) one of these great gifts for writers instead:

A Subscription to Novlr

Novlr is an online writing platform created by writers for writers. It makes planning and writing a novel a whole lot easier with features like split chapters, offline backup, writing stats, and ebook publishing capabilities, which means the aspiring author in your life will love it. It’s very reasonably priced, too.

Aqua Notes

Aqua Notes is sort of like a notepad, so you’ll have to forgive me, but it deserves inclusion because it is so much more awesome than the average Moleskine. Why? Because it’s completely waterproof and you can hang it in the shower. Every writer knows that their best ideas tend to come at the most inconvenient moments, but with Aqua Notes, those shower inspirations don’t have to be lost forever!

Postcards from Penguin

Penguin Classic books are iconic, so you can bet that the writer in your life will appreciate being presented with Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in a Box, which showcases some of the most beautiful and most important book covers in history, and serves as a good place to write important notes and messages. Check it out here to get some idea of how fantastic a gift it really is. Simply beautiful!

A Fountain Pen

Instead of buying them the notebook, why not get them a pretty fountain pen instead. Sure, it might seem just as unoriginal as a notebook; however, writing with a fountain pen makes you feel something a bit special. Also, if you look for the best fountain pen under 50, you’ll quickly see that you can buy some beautiful pens that will impress. They’ll also last a lot longer than the average notebook, too.

A Kindle

Writers love to read, which means that their homes tend to be taken up with lots of hefty tomes, and they have trouble meeting the baggage limits when they travel. That’s why, if they aren’t adverse to technology, buying them a Kindle (or any eBook device really) is sure to be a winner. Buy a pretty cover for it and perhaps add a gift card, so they can start buying some of their ‘To Read” list in digital format for a Christmas package that they’ll be delighted with.

A Literary Tote Bag

If they have a favorite classic book and you know what it is, chances are you’ll be able to find a tote bag printed with the cover, and that will make a pretty special gift. 

If you ditch the notebook for any of these suggestions, I guarantee you’ll have one happy writer come Christmas morn.

(contributed article)

 

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Unofficial Writing Week: Let’s Look at Blog Posts

If you’re a writer, most likely you have a blog OR will have to write a blog post for someone else for promotional purposes.

I did a series on WOW! Women On Writing a few months back about tips for writing good blog posts. Here are some excerpts and links to the rest of the articles, if you are interested.

ALSO, if you haven’t had the chance to enter to win one of Claire Gem’s supernatural novels or her new writer’s help book, The Road to Publication, you can enter on this post until the end of the weekend.

Post 1:

3 Tips to Title Your Blog Post and Draw Readers In:

You’ve heard time and again from articles, blog posts, and conference speakers that titles do matter, and you’ve probably spent countless hours coming up with titles for your prose. Here’s another point to consider about titles: the titles of your blog posts DO MATTER too. I feel like they are even more important than for an article or book, especially if you are tweeting and Facebook posting about your blog to draw more traffic. I have been WOW!’s social media manager for years as well as blogging for the Muffin. I also have my own blog and have done guest posts on several sites around the blogosphere. Your title needs to tell readers what you’re writing about–cute and clever doesn’t work well for a blog post. Here are three tips to help you create a good title to draw readers to your blog and keep them coming back:  1. Put a number in your title (if that works for your post):

To continue reading this post, please click here.

by orangeacid (Flickr.com)

Post 2:

How to Write the First Paragraph of Your Blog Post: 

Blog posts are important when used as marketing tools, freelance income, and editorial expression. To reach your audience online, connect with them, and get them to read an entire blog post, you have to begin with an opening that either gets right to the point (like this one), makes them laugh out loud (not like this one), or reaches them on an emotional level. This is not much different from what you’ve learned about article writing. However, with a blog post, you have a fewer number of words to catch your readers’ attention because they’re probably in skimming mode, until something catches their eye. (Have you seen the way people scroll through social media apps on their phones at top speed?)  Here are some beginnings that work well and why:

To continue reading this post, please click here

Post 3:

4 Ways to Close a Blog Post:

On the last day of 2016, it’s only appropriate that I close my series on blogging …with blog post endings. WOW!’s executive editor Angela said in a recent comment that she sometimes had difficulty with blog endings; and it seems if a person covers beginnings, she should also cover endings. So here we are saying good-bye to 2016 and discussing how to say good-bye to your blog post readers, too.  1. A Question If you want to see a good example of ending a post with a question, then please see just about any post on the Muffin written by Crystal Otto.

To continue reading this post, please click here

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