5 Reasons to Refine Your Writing with Masterclass

How-to Articles

I’ve recommended online learning platforms before, but never with such vigor as I do with Masterclass. Although it may sound like a made-over TED Talk, it cpuld help you explore another side of writing or pull you through the trenches of a long, creative project. These lectures delivered by journeyed professionals could be the spark you need in your hackneyed writing routine or help you rediscover meaning in your work.

Among the better reasons to at least try it, it’s only 180 for an annual membership, half of what any single writing class would be, and will expose you to at least four different semesters of classes.

3 Reasons Why Your Blog is in Google's Gutter: SEO Tips and Tricks

3 Reasons Why Your Blog is in Google’s Gutter: SEO Tips and Tricks

How-to Articles

Let’s face it. You have an audience out there. Getting a larger audience for your blog is a slow, gradual process—I only have a small lot of you! But as a freelancer, I’ve been on and off in the marketing game, optimizing blogs and their contents for higher search results in Google. Although no one has it down to a science, implementing SEO (search engine optimization) tricks is a vital step to making sure your blog doesn’t go down in Google’s gutter.

I normally focus on productivity, the creative process, and writing in writing these how-to articles. But every now and again, it’s important to turn away from the copy of Hemingway, face the overwhelming sea of audience members, and consider what they want from your blog. Here are some SEO tips and tricks to consider as you develop your content plan (and yes, you should have one!).

1. You Don’t Have Anything Useful on Your Blog

Example: You have posts like “Weekends on the Oceanside” and “Lemon Twists and Raspberries,” but none that help your audience in any way whatsoever.

It’s tough when you’re a creative writer because you’ll often produce work that is intrinsic. It’s not a stepping stone for people to get anywhere—it’s supposed to be enjoyed, savored. And that’s awesome. But what will get readers to your blog? Listicles. What else? Listicles upon listicles. Why? They’re easy to read and take virtually no time to skim through.

Some examples of listicles from my own blog are “3 Surprising Sources of Inspiration for Your Writing” and “In the Artistic Trenches: 3 Ways to Be Creative Daily“.

Listicle titles ideally include prime numbers (humans, for whatever reason, “prefer” these). They’ll use words like tips, hints, ways, reasons why, etc. They will have a key phrase: in my examples, these would be “sources of inspiration for writing” and “ways to be creative daily,” and the key phrase will be repeated 3-4 times in the body of your post. They will be between 600-900 words in length, well researched, and include links to other posts on your blog. SEO optimized posts aren’t exclusively listicles either—as long as your post incorporates the elements described above, it should be good to go.

It seems boring. It probably will be. But your readership will thank you for it.

SEO Optimized Post Titles: “5 Ways to Use Descriptive Vocabulary in Short Stories” or “5 Unknown Tips for Writing Better Poetry”

2. Visually, Your Blog is Comparable to Original Flavored Oatmeal

I think this sort of goes without saying. I have always thought that the visual presentation of reading material was important. When people were advising me not to judge books by covers, I scoffed and told them I definitely would judge it by the cover. How you present the material is kind of like your opinion about it. If a waiter brings you a scratched up plate with burnt eggs and a sparse portion fried potatoes, you also kind of judge the way the restaurant represents itself, right? Your audience members are your diners in a restaurant. And if doesn’t look appealing, they definitely will not be coming back.

When I see blogs where there was little CSS styling done with stretched out, pixelated images and an outdated website layout, I shamelessly walk away.  On WordPress, a domain is pretty cheap—just 100 dollars annually. This is a small price to pay considering you also get CSS styling tips that allows you to practically design your website completely.

The color scheme should fit the tone of your content, and you should always have at least one compelling image, ideally several, for each post.

3. Your Posts are Published at a Reasonable time in… China

WordPress. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Each of these have their own “peak traffic times” for many different reasons. But here’s what you can rule out: posting in the middle of the nightAnd as a night owl, trust me, I have made this mistake, snuggled up in bed hoping I’d see likes and comments in the morn’, waking to find a resounding nothing. The ideal posting time for blogs is the following:

  • Mondays at 11am for more views 
  • Saturdays at 9am for more comments
  • And if you’re going to post outside of these time ranges, just don’t post before 6am or after 6pm

I have a few closing remarks. All of the posts on your blog don’t have to be fine tuned for SEO success. The idea is to have at least one or two a week that a) are posted at peak times, b) meet SEO writing requirements, and c) are visually engaging and appealing. Although you may feel like you only want to service your creativity on your blog, I’m sure your flash fiction, poetry, and memoirs will thank you for the company.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

3 Surprising Sources of Inspiration for Your Writing

3 Surprising Sources of Inspiration for Your Writing

How-to Articles

Out of the many reasons to be a writer, there is still one that has not made the list:

“Being a writer is incredibly easy.”

It is never easy–particularly if you’re doing it right. Although, when asked how he came up with such creative ideas, Neil Gaiman may have put us to shame when he replied: “I make them up. Inside of my head.” But, inspiration can be the most challenging part. Maybe it’s just all the technology in the air, numbing us to real, human experiences, or we’re too critical of ourselves, too depressed, or maybe we just are some boring f***ing people.

I will not indulge you with a writing prompt (unless… you want one) because the problem lies with you. So, here are three surprising sources of inspiration for your writing so the creative cup may over-poureth.

1. Take an Online Course or Audit a Class

I used to think online education platforms like Rosetta Stone were dull and lame. But this was when I was 16 years old with no actual life experience. Now that I juggle clients, jobs, a residual social life, and some kind of scrappy sense of a “dream,” they are a god sent. I’ve taken a writing class to brush up on style guides on Coursera and watched a litany of Ted Talks that changed my life (about a hundred and one times over). These are great in a crunch. If you have time, try to audit a class at your local university.

The reason? They say that having an open attitude and an intellectual disposition is one of the key personality traits of creatives (Kaufman). If you’re experiencing a creative block in writing, try studying something other than writing — forensic psychology, history, a language — you know, like a topic that isn’t aware of itself. You will be surprised by the connections and flood of new material.

Besides, education cracks your brain open like an egg, whether you like it or not. The result? Sweet creative yolk.

2. Take a Long Walk and Keep a Log

Ever since I read The Philosophy of Walking, I’ve gotten very “meta” about my walks. It kind of made me realize none of my “great inspirations” came while I was sitting, staring, and trying to force their inception. Granted, there is the necessary “crunch” time–when you’re researching, drafting, etc.–but the nice, steady pace of a long walk seems to yield forth the labor’s benefits.

When we intentionally go “on a walk” for its own sake and not just to get somewhere, we shed our egos. We are maskless. We can stow away our mind’s habits, our shallow desires, and take a peek at what’s underneath. Usually, there is at least one gold nugget waiting for you.

Don’t let short-term memory get the better of you–take note of it before it goes down the gutter, ideally minutes after your stroll is complete.

3. Less is More? Not Really — More is More

A writer I met at a literary event passed along an invaluable rite of passage for a writer:

“I didn’t really learn to write until I gave myself permission to write badly.”

Part of this is writing in sheer volume. Imagine all of your mysterious, wonderful ideas are locked inside of a junkyard in your brain. Your inner critic, the voice that nags ans edits you, stands guard. You like to sit there, reason with the inner critic, tell them what “kind” of a good idea you’re looking for in the junkyard. You know, just start a conversation. What you really need to do?

Sucker punch your inner critic in the face. Open the gate to the junkyard like it’s a dam. Let all of the junk come out. Write pages and pages of useless garbage full of spelling and grammar errors, overused stereotypes and devices, egotistical indulgences, and the like. And you’ll notice that “BIG IDEA” will come out of the scraps. If you don’t believe me, remember that Maya Angelou wrote and published 165 poems. We only remember a few–the classic, “Still I Rise” and a few others.

So yes, be open to all possibilities and projects–and you may cringe at the majority of them, but it’s a small price to pay in this endless, creative life you’ve chosen.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

3 Vitally Important Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

3 Vitally Important Charles Bukowski Quotes for the Depressed Creative

Cultural Commentary, How-to Articles

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

I have watched creative people go to places with no exit. It’s called depression. It never gets easy: there’s no icing, fluff, or extra stuff to be served on the side that will make it more than a horrid, seemingly everlasting entree. You call for the waiter to take it back; the waiter never comes. There you are, staring at this pitiful meal with a shitty garnish on the side. Just add the fact that you’re a writer, musician, or painter, and now you’re a stereotype. Cue the sad trombone.1

The Bukowkski poem you see above, The Laughing Heart, is a conquest over deadening misery. Pity. Loathing. I have never seen such hope coming from easily one of the most depressing writers of modern history. Bukowski’s early life was characterized by loneliness and abuse. His former veteran father tried swaying him to zealous patriotism and American ideals. He had severe acne which alienated him from his peers in high school. He spent ten years as a drunk on skid row in Los Angeles and started writing seriously after contracting a bleeding ulcer from excess alcohol consumption. He is a scorched, beaten up SOB, but not without a note of redemption and light.

Yet our modern portrayals of creative people are cartoonish and bland. They don’t touch mental illness with a ten foot pole. No longer are artists the martyrs of our society, exiles living in depravity, familiar with crippling depressions or brutal living conditions. They’re not rebels or deviants. Movies like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl; RENT; stars like Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham, and other poster-people of the “quirky creative” type make art and suffering seem… safe. Fun. Charming. (Maybe this is because contemporary, real-life artists play it safe.)

In my experience, artists who take their work very seriously are familiar with ditches, valleys, and prolonged suffering and despair. It’s essential to be brave in this way, but also to never let it destroy you as it has destroyed other famous artists. Bukowski, a depressed creative himself, makes the shitty sound hopeful and inspiring in the following three vitally important sound bytes.

1. Lifedance

The area dividing the brain and the soul
is affected in many ways by
experience –

Some lose all mind and become soul:
insane.
Some lose all soul and become mind:
intellectual.
Some lose both and become:
accepted.

Remember to be wary of feeling “accepted.” It feels great until you realize you’ve lost parts of yourself or your work to be considered something to everybody else. You should be especially cautious if you want to create something, because that something will always be new and different if you’re doing it right. You’re inherently taking the risk that people will turn their nose at your work. Instead of this becoming a preoccupation, let your work become a product of your mind and soul. Otherwise, why do it?

2. Blessed with a Crappy Life

I was blessed with a crappy life, that’s all. A crappy life to write about. A lot of writers they get famous at 22, 23 and then…they’re in the “literary world.” They’re going to cocktail parties. And nothing’s happening but…that. So then, they’re on the manure pile.

Bukowski said this in an interview a year before he passed away. When he was 23, he stopped writing and dropped out of the community college. He worked crappy jobs at a dog biscuit factory and the post office. By no means did he live an exhilarating or even outrageous existence. No matter how mundane, droll, or crappy you perceive your life to be, remember just how much beauty and humor can come of it.

3. Depression and Sleep Can Rejuvenate Creative Juices

I have periods where, you know, when I feel a little weak or depressed. Fuck it! The Wheaties aren’t going down right. I just go to bed for three days and four nights, pull down all the shades and just go to bed. Get up. Shit. Piss. Drink a beer down and go back to bed. I come out of that completely re-enlightened for 2 or 3 months. I get power from that.

I think someday…they’ll say this psychotic guy knew something that…you know in days ahead and medicine, and how they figure these things out. Everybody should go to bed now and then, when they’re down low and give it up for three or four days. Then they’ll come back good for a while.

Easily, over-sleeping is a surefire sign of depression (though humans have, contrary to popular belief, the ability to hibernate). Research shows that sleeping more than 10 hours will likely make you feel more miserable. Yet Bukowski had a point in that sometimes, when you fret over what you should do, maybe it’s best to do nothing at all. Let your subconscious work on the grind. Let it chew on the ideas for you. If you have to force creativity out, why do it? The answer is: don’t.

Light travels faster than anything, so it won’t be too long that you spend in the dark until you see it once more. Keep doing things differently if that one thing isn’t working. Even if you’re afraid your creative pursuits won’t do you justice, that they won’t be perfect or even any good at all, let yourself fail. Then see how you feel.

Footnotes

1. The idea of the suffering and pitiful artist is a deeply ingrained one. So much so, we might conceive it as a conceptual metaphor: creativity = misery?

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Who am I?: 5 Ways to Approach to Narrative Voice in Poetry

Who am I?: 5 Ways to Approach to Narrative Voice in Poetry

How-to Articles

Rhymes are fun and cool. Don’t think so? Go back to school!

Ok, sir. Is there anything else you’d like to rhyme? All good? Great.

You might think that rhyming is the coolest and indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than unearthing a rhyme that felt like it was just waiting for you throughout the whole stanza. We may think other aspects of poetry rule the game such as imagery, structure, symbolism, but you may be one of the very many poets who overlook the use of narrative voice in their prose. If we go back to what a poem is, we’d realize what a mistake we’re making because a poem is really a drama completely driven by the narrator. A novel needs 200 pages, complete with characters and story structure. A poem needs one. But the effect and the conflict? It still all has to be there in your magical poetic stew, whether it’s three lines or three stanzas.

Deciding who your narrator is and what they want is just as pivotal as in any other form of expressive writing. Whether you decide that your narrator is… well, you, or someone else, here are five sources of inspiration and counsel to help you develop a narrative voice.

1. Read Poems Inspired by Ancient Myths

Ancient myths are not only ripe with hypnotic images that dredge up our psychic angst, they are also amassed with powerful characters and perspectives that constantly bump up against one another. Take Prometheus, who was condemned to have his insides eternally consumed by a hawk. If prose could be uttered from his mouth, what would he say to anyone who could hear him? Consider mythic beasts and their ravenous natures and languages, such as the Chupacabra in Latin American folklore who terrorized the local natives. Pick a powerful character and think, in prose, from their perspective.

The reason why folklore and myths are so effective is that they set up dramatic tension in a simple, imaginative, and incredibly evocative fashion, just like you should be doing in your poetry. Looking through the lense of a story such as these will guide narrative voice along its rightful path.

2. Read a Vocabulary Builder 

The same narrator who says “It’s in the dire pursuit of the best possible fiscal consequences that we’ve decided to convene” is not the same one who says “I came to get that cash back in my pockets, yo!” Understand what word choices you want to make and stay consistent. If you’re hungry for more antiquated words like “bereavement” or “amaranthine,” then make sure to also research the language used in and around that same time period.

3. Think About the Context

Besides what’s being said in the poem, think about where it’s being said. If your narrator is an investigative reporter writing from a small desk in some unknown corner of the world trying to write a coded message in prose, think about what that room is like. Is it humid where they are? Is the room miserable, accompanied by cracks in the walls and stained carpets? Maybe your adjectives are sparse here, your lines just a little shorter than usual. If you are the narrator, still think about the context in which you felt the need to write this down. Were you on a bus on the way back from an ex-girlfriend’s house? Or do you want the poem to describe the intense argument you guys had just minutes before?

Of course, we all know the poem itself. But to bring it into life, we must give it a context.

4. The Impact of the Poem on the Narrator  

How does the poem effect the narrator? As you go through, do the stanzas impart more sorrow, making the tempo slow down a bit in the third stanza? Or does the energy keep building as the poem goes on, acting more like a time bomb? Feel free, if you so wish, to make the poem sound spoken. This might mean a fumbling “Well” or “Oh” every now and again or an unnatural break in rhyme scheme.

No one wants to read a poem that sounds like it was written impersonally for a fortune cookie!

5. Narrator’s Motives

Last but not least, why in the world are you writing this poem? Seriously, why do we care? Unless you feel you know this answer and woven this into your narrative voice, it won’t be a great read. Trust me, I can say my least favorite poems of my own were ones that ignored this question.

A poem will never be just for “release.” A poem is begging for something from its reader, so you better be sure you know why it’s worth reading. Is the poem a warning? Is the poem meant to destroy something? Is it meant to charm or fool us?  What kind of change are you trying to inspire in your readers and why?

These are just some of the ways to get started on narrative voice for your next prose piece. Remember that while your work may contain beautiful imagery and structure, these aesthetic elements will be easily overlooked. Ultimately, it’s the messenger that’s responsible for making this beauty a real, felt, dramatic thing.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

In the Artistic Trenches: 3 Ways to Be Creative Daily

In the Artistic Trenches: 3 Ways to Be Creative Daily

How-to Articles

You’ve woken up today and see a very fancily written “Once upon a time” at the top left of an otherwise entirely blank piece of paper. It’s been there for a year, and you call this “decent progress” on your novella about…what was it again, you ask? Let me help you: “Once upon a time, there was an artist who failed to wage the necessary war against their lazy and relaxed tendencies that consistently holds them back in most, if not all, of their pursuits.”

You’re going to start being creative. Daily. Here are  three ways to make it through the artistic trenches and come out on top.

1. Talk to Yourself

I’m sure you’d cringe if you thought about how many hours of your life is spent getting from one place to the other in your car: in 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic on their way to or back from work.1Anyone who says this isn’t another form of human waste is doing themselves and the world an injustice: this is untapped time for the creative mind, my friend.

Think about that long, lonely commute to work. Instead of listening to the radio (or even ridiculously trying to curl your lashes with the risk of poking your eye out or causing a major traffic accident), try having a conversation with yourself about your creative projects and recording it with your phone. Psychological studies that verify the benefits of “self-talk” therapy–you create a distance between you and your thoughts in the process. Giving yourself a fresh perspective could really get the creative juices flowing, and you’ll develop your “self-editing,” being able to weed the good ideas from the bad.

If you’re a writer, talk about your thoughts to give them a little rubber and bounce. Challenge yourself, explain it, list off alternatives. If it’s a visual project, you can engage in a similar process. For just about any other form of art, it’s just a great way to generate inspiration.

Worst case scenario, you look like Jim Carrey in Me, Myself, and Irene.

Couldn't find the GIF I wanted. This one's better.

Couldn’t find the GIF I wanted. This one’s better.

2. Be Curious. Complacency is Death. 

If “living” to you is going about the daily routine, seeing the same thing, and thinking the same thoughts, then you wouldn’t fit what I define as living out an artistic lifestyle. What happens in the creative process is a deconstruction and regrowth, creating the new from the old, and a consistently curious disposition in life will reinforce this architecture of an artistic mind.

Being curious involves breaking the automaton of your mind that keeps your imagination trapped like a glorious and defeated beast. In Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius, Erik Wahl  says of the relationship between the two: “In our early years…curiosity ruled our senses. Enthusiasm ignited our actions. We did not fear what we did not know – instead we thrived on the process of discovery.We were endlessly creative.” These discoveries can lead to a dramatic unfolding: the epiphany that drives a story arc or an innovation in craftsmanship.

In being curious, you move from the surface of what “is,” what you think is true to why something is. For the visual artist, they may ask what make us drawn to contrast? How does contrast show up in our daily lives and how can it play a role in my paintings? Or for the writer, think about your rote assumptions of people. Man, that barista who serves you every morning is a grump. Try asking yourself: what’s the story of that somber glare as they froth the milk for your latte?

So. Questions. All the time. No exceptions.

3. Every Day, Try One New Thing

You, thinking about having to make more of an effort.

You, thinking about having to make more of an effort.

Alright. This one’s pretty difficult. But listen, it’s not about going sky-diving every day or pursuing novelties to the point of keeling over from an adrenaline rush. This “thing” doesn’t have to be a particular activity, meeting new people, or reading the next up and coming online publication. Maybe you decide to say hi to someone who looks lonely as they’re walking down the road. Maybe you try and talk to the lone wolf at work and eventually discover that he is a samurai on the weekends, or better yet, that he’s from Florida and henceforth has lived out many wicked and disturbing episodes of life. Maybe, you just take a new street to work and see some new houses.

In reality, we can’t all book a trip to Kenya and have this incredibly moving seance with the local elephants. We don’t have the financial capacity to even try to emulate the experiences of Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, a book I personally refer to as” White Lady Takes a Trip to Ingratiate Herself in Foreign Customs Only to Make the Same Mistake that Built Up to Her Life-Crippling Existential Crisis in the First Place.” So, while academic research has shown that people who have new experiences more often retain more positive memories and emotions, you don’t have to do a “new thing” in the lavish and excessive way Elizabeth Gilbert did. I mean, do you really want to?

Our lives are not so easily uprooted, nor do they change that much. Stability, although illusive, is really a beautiful part of life that should be tended to like a magnificent garden. But just remember: there are probably an infinite amount of ways to look at a single rose. And when you’re on the threshold of a new perspective, you’re that much closer to making your next masterpiece.

Footnotes

1. Dooley, Erin. “Here’s How Much Time Americans Waste in Traffic.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.