What makes a writer?

I’m a writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. I am fortunate enough to make a living at it.

Like many writers, however, I find myself defending my professional choices to those around me including clients, friends, family and yes, even myself. There have been times when I have found myself “hating” what I write or worse, not “writing” at all. Times when I question what I was thinking when I set out to be a writer and why I stuck with it this long. I’ve felt like a fraud because I wrote rather than doing. On the other hand when I did something rather than writing I felt like a fraud, too, because I let myself be in the moment rather than capture it on paper.

After nearly a quarter of a century and half my life I have finally come to the realization that almost every writer I know has experienced these same ups and downs and sideways and front ways and back ways for themselves. So what makes me and my ways different?

Nothing.

Oh the circumstances are unique to each writer as are the lessons they learn or don’t learn. The experiences, however, are pretty common. If you call yourself a writer and you haven’t had one or more of them yet, relax. You will. And if you still call yourself a writer when you get to the over side or better yet in the midst of them well then welcome to the club. You are not alone.

What makes me, or anyone, a writer isn’t whether they have been published or had their work produced or even had it read by someone other than themselves. A writer may not even earn any money from what they write. They may not ever finish a book, a script or even a haiku. They are still a writer. They may even be a successful writer depending on how they define success. Because for most writers it is the writing that matters. It is that act of putting words together on paper or on a screen that drives us and keeps bringing us back to what and who we are: writers.

Simple as that sounds, it can be hard for people to understand. It can be hard for us to understand. So the next time you find yourself wondering what the hell you were thinking when you became a writer remember this:

A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. (Leo Rosten)

To be a writer is to want to be understood and not be ashamed to admit it. To be a writer is to look for answers everywhere.In documenting our search, we discover what we believe is true and share it with others. To be a writer is to boldly go, not where other have not gone, but where they have been, see it with new eyes and find something different. To be a writer is to be brave and unique, especially when that is the last thing we think we are.

I am a writer. It is all I want to be. I am lucky. My words give me wings.

Famous last Blogathon Wordles

2013 Blogathon Wordle

One of the great things the WordCount Blogathon has introduced me, personally, to is Wordles. I was first introduced to these fantastic word clouds back when I participated in my first Blogathon back in 2010. Today I make use of these amazing pieces of word art in several ways.

This year’s Wordle is based on this blog. 2013 Blogathon Wordle

This article isn’t the only place you’ll see a Wordle based on Informed Ideas. I also used a Wordle as the cover image for my new Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJCHammond (and if you haven’t “Liked” me, please take a moment to do so, my Author Facebook Page is where I plan to share information about all my writing but especially my fiction and I hope to have some big news to share very soon!)

As great as Wordles are, they aren’t always as visual or as creative as I would like. So I played fast and loose with one, combining it with one of my favorite images to come up with the profile image on my personal Google+ profile. I’ve recently created a professional Google+ Page as well but haven’t used it much. My intent is to use Google+ for curating content about my interests outside blogging, but we’ll see. It’s still in the very early planning stages.

Since Wordles sort of visually sums things up, maybe I should sum up the last month and what keeps bringing me back to the WordCount Blogathon. Informed-Ideas.com was brand new when June began. Most, if not all, of the things I have achieved here is a direct result of the fantastic participants of #Blog2013 and the wonderful inspiration they and Michelle Rafter provide.

What have I accomplished? Well, in a single month, in fact in its first month, Informed-Ideas.com has been visited more than 660 times! The 43 (now 44) posts have generated more than 50 comments. And, most amazingly to me, 45 of you are following  Informed-Ideas.com! Thank you, everyone, for the support and encouragement! I’m looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.

Speaking of looking forward: What’s next for me and for Informed-Ideas.com? I intend to continue with the daily posting habit I’ve established this month. I also plan to build on June’s strong foundation by expanding both my Facebook and Google+ presences as well as working on my various RolePlayWriter blogs (on WordPress and Tumblr), which will include information bloggers and especially fiction blogger will find useful) and paying more attention to Informed Ideas for Writers, the Group I founded on LinkedIN for all kinds of professional writers, not just bloggers. In particular, I want to focus on you, my readers and fellow bloggers, and provide more of the kind of information that will help you succeed and, hopefully, that you enjoy reading.

Am I being overly ambitious? Perhaps. But one thing this blogathon has taught me is that great things are possible as long as you are willing to work for them. I’m willing to do the work so I fully expect to achieve great things. What about you?

Wednesday’s Word: Free

Annoyances turn into hidden treasure

Free is an interesting word, which is why it’s this week’s Wednesday’s Word.

According to the good folks over at Merriam-Webster, the definition of free (paraphrasing here) is:

  1. Having the rights (both political and legal) of a citizen and not being under the control or domination of another.
  2. Self-identified in the sense of being able to choose for oneself and not determined by any influences other than its own nature or being.
  3. Lacking something.
  4. Unrestricted anything but especially trade.
  5. Having no obligations.
  6. Unfastened.
  7. No charge or cost.
  8. Not part of something else.
  9. Inexact or not literal.
  10. Open to all comers.

That’s a lot of meaning to cram into four little letter and one little word.

Most of the time when bloggers talk about free, they are referring to the cost (or lack thereof) of something like an ebook or a webinar (we admit it, we love freebies ourselves) or unrestricted speech or expression. But it is worth pausing a moment and contemplating the other meanings of free.

Annoyances turn into hidden treasureIf you do, you may wonder how such an important word has become devalued itself. When, for instance, did free become a “bad” word with connotations of worthlessness? Unrestricted has, perhaps, always had something excessive and potentially dangerous about it but a spirit that cannot be dominated and determines things for itself is central to being a blogger, a writer, an artist, a musician or virtually any type of creative and thinking individual.

Maybe it’s time to start defending free rather than dissing it. People of a certain age will raise eyebrows at that thought, implying it smacks of communism or socialism or anarchy. People even older than those eyebrow raisers would probably counter with the simple fact that those willing to surrender their freedoms for security deserve neither.

They are both right.

That’s what free means.

Wednesday’s Word: Beta

EditingThis is one word every blogger should know and use. A beta, in the parlance of RP is a reader. Not just any reader, mind you. Usually the beta is the first person to read a blog after the author(s).

A beta does much more than just read. In many ways, they are both a proofreader and an editor. Their job is to catch typos and other technical errors from misspellings to the wrong use of homophones (ie peaked rather than peeked). They also provide feedback to the author about the post though they do not edit it per se.

Whether or not the word beta ever passes your lips or fingertips, a beta is someone every blogger can use. It’s amazing the difference another pair of eyes can make when it comes to providing quality content for your blog. In fact, a beta should go hand in hand with spellcheck, grammarcheck and your SEO assessment.

Why not just call them a proofreader or editor?

For many bloggers, especially those just beginning their blogging career, beta sounds less intimidating than either Editor or Proofreader. Also, both editors and proofreaders are professional titles which implies they would like to be paid for their services. Beta stems from RP and fanfic and while some betas are very talented and extremely good at what they do, they are not always paid. In fact, if you are friends with another blogger you might want to ask them if they will be your beta and volunteer to be there’s, just remember, you may have to explain it first!

Writer vs. Blogger: Who are you?

blogging tools

Wednesday’s Word isn’t just about a job title. It’s about who you are and how you see yourself and your career. It’s also about the keywords you use to attract and sell others on your work or company. So it’s important that you know whether you are (or want to be) a writer or a blogger or something else entirely.

Writer

A writer is someone who develops written content. That content can be for just about anything from ads to films to books to television to periodicals to websites. It’s a very broad career category that nonetheless is forecast to grow slower than many other professions between now and 2020 according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook produced by the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite this, it seems like more and more people are calling themselves writers every day. What do they mean?

They can mean almost anything, however, successful writers will often define themselves even further as copywriters, screenwriters, authors, grantwriters, technical writers, journalists or, you guessed it, bloggers. Each of type of writer has their own particular skill set, focus and career path. There are similarities and overlaps, which is why some writers do a little bit of everything. For the most part, someone who says they are a writer is saying they are a generalist capable of creating written communications for a variety of audiences across a wide range of media.

Blogger

A blogger is a specialized type of writer who produces content for online audiences. Their work is intended to be read on a screen and in many cases interacted with directly.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Labor) includes bloggers with reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts, a profession whose occupational outlook appears to be declining through 2020.

This classification gives the impression that all bloggers write about news and report on events as they happen. It also implies that the information they provided is short and not intended to be relevant for very long. This is misleading. Bloggers, like writers, produce a wide variety of content including technical materials (how-to articles, online help, wikis) and even fiction! Since it is almost impossible to remove any content once it has been posted or published online, what a blogger writes will be around much longer than the work of other types of writers. It may not be relevant, but it is likely to exist in perpetuity. What’s more, many bloggers write in the first person, something most reporters and other types of writers do not.

So the next time someone asks what you do, take a moment to think before claiming the title of writer or blogger. Not because you are not entitled to use either, but because you may be both and much, much more!

#WordWednesday Past pleading for pled

dictionary words, vocabulary

dictionary words, vocabularyWe’re kicking off a new regular feature (and hashtag) today: #WordWednesday. Words are central to blogging and indeed to communication in general. They are, arguably, what sets us apart from every other species on the planet. Using words well is what sets professional writers and communicators apart from everyone else. #WordWednesday celebrates words and encourages everyone to use them well.

The first Wednesday Word is pled.

Pled is the past and past particle of plead which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means to make an emotional appeal or to present and argue a position, particularly in a public context or legal proceeding. Indeed, it was while reading an article about Rebekah Brooks pleading not guilty to phone hacking charges that I stumbled across pleaded. Pleaded is one of my pet word peeves. I just want to take a red pen and correct it every time I see it, leaving the content looking like it had been mauled by a bear or a shark.

Unfortunately for me, it appears that pleaded is taking over as the past tense of plead in the modern vocabulary on both sides of the pond. Pleaded is a real word and there are instances when I would agree it is proper to use it such as in front of an infinitive or with direct speech. Where pleaded annoys me the most is when it is used to describe a plea entered in a court of law, not because it is an incorrect use of the word but because it doesn’t sound right.

“So-and-so pleaded guilty” just sounds horrible. “So-and-so pled not guilty” flows much more smoothly from the tongue. It reads better as well. For some reason the double-d sounds of pleaded is just jarring. It’s a minor chord played, often repeatedly, during a symphony in a major key. The dissonance it creates in an otherwise well-turned phrase, sentence, paragraph or article is all the more annoying because it is unnecessary.

The past tense of other words containing a long e before d have not taken on the dreaded “ed”. No one says a person bleeded out or that they feeded the dog. We say a color bled all over another shirt or that the babysitter fed the kids before bedtime. You would think that pled would just be the natural choice when talking about the past tense of plead. Why then do so many people insist on using pleaded? More importantly, how can I get them to stop?

Star Words

Because words are an integral part of the writer’s craft, not to mention their greatest passion, here’s a look at the not-of-this-world origins of some beloved words.

The Dish

Kory Stamper notes how sci-fi influences our vocabulary:

Many words have their origins in science fiction and fantasy writing, but have been so far removed from their original contexts that we’ve forgotten. George Orwell gave us “doublespeak“; Carl Sagan is responsible for the term “nuclear winter“; and Isaac Asimov coined “microcomputer” and “robotics“. And, yes, “blaster”, as in “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

The genres also reintroduce or recontextualize already existing words:

Savvy writers of each genre also liked to resurrect and breathe new life into old words. JRR Tolkien not only gave us “hobbit”, he also popularized the plural “dwarves”, which has appeared in English with increasing frequency since the publication of The Hobbit in 1968. “Eldritch”, which dates to the 1500s, is linked in the modern mind…

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