Free Essay Contest Grand Prize $3,000

Enter Real Simple’s 9th annual Life Lessons Essay Contest for a chance to win a $3,000 grand prize.  Your essay will also be published.

This year’s theme: What was the most dramatic change you ever had to make? Your entry can be up to 1500 words and should describe a life-changing event, how it happened and what the lasting impacts have been.

Read the full description and contest rules here.

Contest deadline is September 19th, 2016.

Writing a Great Hook

writing great hooksDo you fear your content is not delivering results? How do you ensure your writing can grab a reader’s attention and  hold it long enough to get your message across? It’s all in the “hook”. Master it and your readership and conversions will increase – guaranteed.  Writing a great hook is the most important writing skill there is.

A hook is useful in all forms of writing. It consists of the first sentence or two which tell a reader to “drop everything and pay attention to this!” Of course, the hook accomplishes this indirectly by evoking emotion, asking a question or instigating an action.  Hook writing is also an excellent way to customize search engine results and make people click through to your content.

The first step to developing a hook that works – know your audience. For example, a blog post is more informal and conversational, but if you are writing a marketing proposal for a major corporation; you would obviously want to avoid being too casual.

Next is understanding the goal of your piece. Are you solving a problem? Sharing information? Trying to get people to buy something? Your goals also determine the type of hook to develop.

Once you know the goal of your piece and your audience; you can create a hook that speaks to your customer.

Solving Problems

If your article provides a solution, immediately state the problem and invoke feelings of empathy for the reader. Let them know you understand just what the problem is and how it feels to have that challenge. This develops an immediate connection and sense of trust.

Example:  Do you have problems falling or staying asleep? Does your mind race uncontrollably, keeping you from being able to relax and enjoy a restorative sleep? You’re not alone, according to XYZ study from the Institute of Sleep Research, millions of people struggle with insomnia caused by stress.  Fortunately, SleepEasy has been designed to help relieve the anxiety that keeps you lying awake, watching the minutes tick by.  Wouldn’t it be great to fall asleep peacefully and stay that way until morning? With SleepEasy, you can be well-rested by tomorrow.

The hook above appeals to your reader’s emotions, lays out the problems, cites an expert source and names a solution all in the opening paragraph.  It also appeals to the chronic impatience of most people by stating this problem can be solved today.

If your piece is informational? Sometimes opening with a question is best. Ask your reader something thought-provoking.  Your reader likely has ideas in mind already, but will want to see how their notions align with yours. Questions pique curiosity and draw people in.  We all have an innate desire to see if our line of thinking matches others.

  • “Have you ever wondered why…?”
  • “Do you ever feel..?”
  • “How do you handle …?”
  • “Have you considered…?”
  • “Did you know…?”

The questions above all pique curiosity.  Once you have done that, then state what your piece is about.

Use Captivating Words

Use captivating words and for Heaven’s sakes don’t be boring…. “In today’s article I will discuss..” zzzzzzzzzzzz Don’t make it about you! ALWAYS write for your reader – no matter what type of writing you do!

Make that intro pop.  Solve a problem, ask a question, pique natural curiosity.  If it suits your brand, start with a controversial statement (not recommended for most, but it does make people read!)

So, there you have the basic components of what makes a great hook. Practice makes perfect and this is one skill you want to hone.  It will benefit you in every aspect of your career, from marketing yourself, to pitching queries to editors and more.

Did I miss anything? What are your tips for creating great hooks?

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A Simple Foolproof Tip to Persuade Your Readers

persuade readers tips

Need a foolproof way to grab your reader’s attention? It can be easy to get lost in a sea of other writing, so little things like trigger words make all the difference.

Here are a few words to use more because it will ensure that your readers are more compelled to act – whether that means buying products you are endorsing, or simply reading more of your work.

Your words should incite emotion: 

Empower and Overcome – are two great words to encourage others to resolve a problem for example.

Learn to trigger empathy.  Express frustration with “tired” or “exhausting” – things people can relate to when faced with stressful situations.  These should be followed up with the very solutions your post or product provides.

Make your readers take action with words like “now” or “hurry” – see how those words evoke a sense of urgency? This is known as a call to action.

Appeal to the laziness in all of us with words like “Easy” and “Quick”.

Tap into your reader’s natural sense of curiosity with great headlines and opening hooks.  There is a reason “click bait” works.

Of course, there is a lot more to the science of choosing the right words. The good news? You can learn this art in-depth and improve your writing by reading this hub: How to Write Words That Captivate Your Readers

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Defeat Career Killing Bad Writing Habits

defeat bad writing habitsThere are several bad habits that may be sabotaging your writing career.  Fortunately, as with all bad habits, acknowledgement and being proactive can help you overcome them.

Do you have any of the following self-sabotaging behaviors or beliefs when it comes to your writing?

Procrastination

It comes in many forms: avoidance, distraction, and the worst of all – waiting for inspiration.  If you always find yourself waiting to be inspired; you’ll never do enough writing to reach your fullest potential.

Your muse is like a muscle; it grows with proper feeding and regular exercise. 

How to Defeat Procrastination

Even if it goes against your free-spirited nature; develop a schedule.  Create a set time of day that you write, or if you need more flexibility, write in specific time allotments.  There is a great

I use a great free desktop timer. It’s non-intrusive and sits in the bottom corner of the screen.  Set it for 15 or 30-minute intervals.  During that time, you should only write – no editing, researching, or other distractions.

This is both diet and exercise for your muse.  When you do this, you become a faster, better writer.

Distractions

Do you find yourself constantly distracted, stopping to check email and social media multiple times per day? When you are trying to get words down, are you suddenly compelled to go do laundry or some other task?  Distraction is probably one of the biggest hurdles to writing for most freelancers.

When you are trying to get words down, are you suddenly compelled to go do laundry or some other task?  Distraction is probably one of the biggest hurdles to efficient writing for most freelancers.

Defeat Distractions

Kill the habit of checking social media constantly.  If you use Firefox; consider the free addon I use called “leechblock”.  It’s very effective and versatile. You can set what sites it blocks and when. You can make it easy to override or set it for the “nuclear option” that you can’t undo – so tread lightly :).

This little add-on is a major life changer.  If you don’t have a quiet office setting; invest in a set of noise cancelling headphones.  I like my dual-purpose headphones that can be set to cancel noise or not.

You Edit While Writing 

If your inner critic becomes a drill sergeant every time you sit down to write, is it any wonder why you struggle with speed and quality?

This is a bad habit pushed in traditional writing classes and it’s one of the hardest to break.  When you liberate yourself from this mindset; you’ll see your writing improves beyond your wildest imagination.

How to Defeat the Overzealous Editor

Give your inner grammar Nazi a set time and place.  Free write often. Once your ideas are all spilled out on the page, then allow your inner editor to go in, clean it up and organize.  This is how you get both halves of your brain to cooperate, instead of do battle against each other.

I cover this in greater depth (for free) here: Simple Exercises Guaranteed to Improve the Quality and Speed of Your Writing.

Paralyzing Perfectionism

Writer’s are usually their own worse critics.  Do you find you compare yourself to others constantly? Do you feel like your writing will never measure up, so you use that as an excuse to not put in the effort?

If so, you aren’t alone.  Creatives tend to have this issue a lot.  Sadly, this defeatist mindset leads to a lot of undiscovered talent.

Beating Perfectionism

There are some things you can’t ever fully rid yourself of.  Knowing and understanding this is the key to beating self-sabotage in all areas of your life.

When people wait until they aren’t afraid of failure (which is what perfectionism is at its core); they never move forward.  Why? Because fear is a part of life.  It cannot be beaten into submission; it is conquered by developing positive new habits and working around it.

Self-Sabotage is a very real struggle for so many and it comes in many forms.  You can learn more about how to defeat all the habits, beliefs, and behaviors that are holding you back here:

Both are hubs I’ve written on the psychology of self-sabotage and learning how to overcome it and live life on your own terms.  Enjoy!

Like this blog?  My aim is to help other writers thrive.  If you have any questions or suggestions for topics you’d like me to cover, please feel free to comment or contact me.

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These 10 Simple Tricks Will Instantly Improve Your Online Writing

10 writing tips to improve writingIf you develop content for websites or write on a blog; you depend on people sharing your content.

In order to grab readers and hold their attention, it’s important to remember a few key concepts that are less about what you write, but more about how you present yourself and your work!

It’s hard to gain followers, get social shares and to compete with the millions of other articles out there. Here’s how to get an edge!

1. Have passion for your subject.

Share a few personal stories as they relate to the topic. Let’s say you just love to knit. It’s a hobby you know well and

Let’s say you just love to knit. It’s a hobby you know well and have learned through trial and error. You decide that a niche blog might help your business. Your passion and expertise matter and they need to SHINE through your writing. Fortunately, when we are passionate about a topic, that enthusiasm usually shines through.

2. Illustrate what you are talking about!

If you write tutorials, don’t just share a still shot here and there with lengthy explanations. Pull out that iPhone and do a few short video examples. It will clarify your point, make your content more search engine friendly and keep your readers coming back for more!

3. Look at your page.

Don’t just edit the writing, look at the layout. Are the paragraphs short enough to be easily viewed? Long walls of text are hard on the eyes, particularly on mobile devices.

Do you break up your text with bullet points, the periodic call out or even tables to break everything up into easily digestible chunks?

4. Vary your sentence lengths and read your work aloud before posting.

It helps immensely if readers find your writing to be engaging. A large part of readability is the rhythm of sentence structures. Short sentences are great. They should be used alongside longer sentences like this to create a more melodic flow. Short sentences are ok. They can start to sound choppy. Be sure to break them up. (see the difference?)

5. Use a good image to make your content more likely to be shared.

Infographics and eye-catching title graphics are often shared on social media and can bring in a great deal of traffic.   I also share writing on HubPages.

All of my hubs have great title graphics. That, combined with top-notch content have brought me more than 2.5 million page views. Approximately 60% of that traffic is from Pinterest.  Flipboard is another up and comer that generates great traffic to my articles because of strong images.

6. Write for your reader – not yourself.

When you are writing online content; you are there to entertain, answer a question or solve a problem for your reader. If your reader is unsatisfied, it doesn’t matter how well you write; you will fail.

7. Expand your horizons!

I am currently moving out of my comfort zones and learning to develop online courses that use video to supplement my texts/lectures.

It’s a big stretch for me, but with challenge comes growth. As an online writer; you want to reach as many as possible. Find different venues to do this.

8. Allow your work to be critiqued by other writers and accept the critiques with grace.

I see writers on many forums who ask for help, but then refute every helpful tip they are given. If you remain defensive, you can’t be objective enough to be successful. I wish I had been more open to asking for critique when I was new to writing. That being said, unless it is asked for, don’t be a critic! 🙂

9. Share, but do NOT spam.

One great way to get your work seen by like minds is to join social media groups on Facebook and Google+. Be sure when you join that you are a full participant and not merely there for self-promotion.

Share good works that others have written and they will be more inclined to share back. If you find your work is rarely or never shared; it may be time ask for a critique.

People are picky about what they share and will only share the best stuff as it tends to be a reflection of them to their peers. Would you share something rife with grammatical and spelling errors; or not visually appealing?

10. Let your personality shine through your work, but don’t make it all about “I”.

When you address your readers, it should be addressed to them. That doesn’t mean you can’t interject personal stories here and there to highlight a point. Do this, but don’t overdo it.

Your reader isn’t there for your autobiography; they are there to learn something or be entertained. If your anecdotes are not educational, remove them from the piece. The harsh truth is as a reader, I want to learn to make those muffins, not hear about your kids or your pets.

So, there you have it.  Ten tips that are guaranteed to improve the quality of your content.

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