Review: Blogging From Paradise: How To Retire To A Life of Island Hopping Through Smart Blogging

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done a book review! I’ve been working on a Kim Stanley Robinson novel for the past 6 months–that will be coming eventually. I do want to start reading again–hello library (which I don’t leave so near to anymore, but whatevs, I have a car and bus tickets, don’t I?)!

Anyhoo. Last week, Ryan Biddulph of Blogging For Paradise contacted me for a book review. As I haven’t read an ebook about blogging in a while, I thought, why not? It’ll give me something to read and also some blog fodder. So I added Blogging From Paradise: How To Retire To A Life of Island Hopping Through Smart Blogging to my Dropbox.

Blogging From Paradise: How To Retire To A Life of Island Hopping Through Smart Blogging

So, okay, the cover is kind of meh. Picture of a tropical paradise, some text boxes. It looks like what it is: a self-published ebook. It’s short too: 67 pages and you’re done.

The first impression I had with the first few paragraphs wasn’t an overly positive one. The guy definitely needs an editor. But I didn’t let that stop me from finishing the book, despite how annoyed I grew with missing commas and then/than errors, and plenty of other things that could just easily be corrected with a second pair of eyes (and I write this to a majority of my students, who make no money whatsoever with the papers they write for me).

You know I’m a fan of depth. If you’re going to write a book, make it something worth my while. On this front, this book kind of fails. With 11 chapters for 67 pages, you don’t get much space for each.

But sometimes, a wide overview of something can be just what you need. It’s definitely not a step-by-step, follow my blueprint type of book. It’s more of a “here’s a general idea of what I did to be successful”.

My favourite chapters were the early ones: chapter 1 covers the kind of attitude you need to be a successful blogger, chapter 2 covers some common mistakes bloggers make, and chapter 3 effectively clarified for me how to define your blog topic. Which, on the moment, I actually needed for my Writefulness project.

Chapter 4 is also nice because, in the end, creating and connecting are the true keys to success. Not marketing, not SEO. Creating and connecting.

The rest (including the chapter on monetization) was really too thin for me. If you want more information on monetization, there are much deeper books you can get. This one just tells you that you can sell ads and your services when you become an expert. Which is obvious–at least to me. But a beginner might find this information useful.

As I am not particularly interested in island hopping (more like just living on one of them), the constant references to “living a life of island hopping in paradise” quickly became grating. The cover clearly expresses that, so I don’t think it’s necessary to weigh the writing down with constantly mentioning that the author has been to Bali and Fiji and Thailand and whatever. I think that it crosses the line between “inspiration” and “bragging” at this point.

So, my honest take on this? Don’t spend $13 on this book. You can get much better for less. Wait until there’s a special, or a giveaway, or something of the kind. I mean, I got Jeff Goin’s You Are a Writer for $2, and despite its faults, it was a great inspirational read.

But if you like Ryan’s content on his blog and you need something to kick your butt into gear to start blogging, and $13 is no chip off your shoulder? Go ahead, I guess. It’s your money.

This gets a 3 stars from me. Despite its faults and its high price, it still had some good bits of insight.

Disclaimer: I received this ebook for free from the author. All opinions are my own. Links may lead to affiliate programs.

From Where You Blog


Right now, I’m sitting on my couch, my legs outstretched. My lovely kitty Preeya is lying down between my ankles, purring and grooming. I have my laptop on, well, my lap.

Criminal Minds is playing on the TV, which tends to be something I watch when I don’t want to pay too much attention. Like when I blog.

That’s where my body blogs from. But pinning down where I blog from in my mind is another story.

Need vs. like

Some people blog because they need to. It’s their livelihood, their job, or sometimes their calling. Some people blog because they like to. They like to share their ideas, their thoughts, their experiences. There’s no payday for it, except for the joy of readers reading and people engaging.

It’s nice to feel accepted!

I blog for quite a few reasons. I do blog for a living–actually it’s what I enjoy doing the most!–but I also blog because I enjoy it (would I be writing this otherwise?).

I also blog for the main reason writers are writers: I am compelled to.

Why do you blog? Do you have something to share, do you do it to practice your writing, do you want to build a business?

Find the right place

Finding the right place–physically and mentally–to blog from is something that happens over time, with practice.

From agonizing minutes watching an empty screen or procrastinating on Facebook to being able to write anything on the spot requires thousands of words and hundreds of hours.

But even then, sometimes it might still be difficult to write. Ask me about the last year–I wrote and wrote and wrote, and yet didn’t write anything for myself, because whenever I got home, I was too tired, too empty, to write anything.

All I could manage was some food, TV, and an early night.

Even though I had the right place–the couch or my office–I couldn’t find the right mental place to get any writing done.

But practice anyway

Here’s the hard truth, though: unless you want to stagnate, plateau in your writing, you need to keep writing anyway.

Write anything. Write on napkins and on the back of receipts. Keep a notebook for when you wait for an appointment who’s late (I did that just yesterday). Write a journal, even if it’s just one or two pages per night (my goal is usually three but never less than one).

I recently started playing the flute again. It’s been awkward and humbling. I was very good, but I’ve been away from the instrument for 12 years, which means that I can barely finger my way through a piece.

But that didn’t deter me from getting lessons. I was ready to start from the beginning again, and to simply get better with practice.

Because writing is such a mundane activity, even experienced writers sometimes feel like they have to get it perfectly out the first time. But like I can’t currently play the kind of stuff I used to play 12 years ago, I can’t possibly expect a bestselling novel on the first draft (or any finished novel at all), despite my wide writing experience in other genres.

If you’re new to this blogging thing, it’s the same idea. You can’t do it perfectly if you’ve never done it before. Sure, writing experience helps, but blogging is a genre just like novels or poetry are genres, and you need specific practice in it. You might have a leg up if you’re a good letter writer or enjoy writing fiction, though.

Have concrete goals

It’s easy to say, “I’ll just blog whenever”, right? Yeah, I said that pretty much every week in the last 8 months or so. Obviously, not happening!

However, I could keep up with blogging at my job because I had a set (although self-determined) amount of blog posts to produce. And it worked. I produced, sometimes a week ahead of time. And I always had something to write about.

So, I’m going to carry this lesson with me as I begin, in earnest, my freelance career. (And by earnest I mean that freelancing isn’t just something I’m doing “in the meantime” anymore, but rather my career choice.)

I now have a concrete daily financial goal. I have a personal blogging goal too. And plenty of other goals that I might talk to you about, sometime.

To where this blog goes

This will remain my personal blog. Book reviews, thoughts, maybe some more educational stuff, personal essays. (I need to get better at writing those.) I’ve joined a zendo, so maybe I’ll talk about sitting too. (It’s a lot harder than you think.) As mentioned above, I’m playing music again. (I wonder why I denied myself this pleasure for the last decade.)

I’ve been thinking of starting a vlog, too, but I don’t know what I’d do with it aside from another channel for personal rants–so I’m open to topic ideas!

And, of course, for those who have been sticking around even though I’ve been silent, thank you. I’m grateful for even a single pair of eyes reading these posts.

When Writing, Be Gentle With Yourself

Gentleness by Cornelia Kopp

There are so many reasons to be hard on ourselves. We need to work more, to spend more time with our family, to focus more on our health. Employers, friends, family and society demand more and more of us: more attention, more focus, more multi-tasking, more time. They say “always be better, stronger, faster than you were yesterday so you can reach your goals and make a life for yourself.” The times tell us to be aggressive with ourselves, to never take no for an answer, to always look for the bigger thing, the better thing. We should never be satisfied with what we have and always strive to have more, do more, be more.

I find this litany exhausting to the extreme. It implies that people have no limits. I tells us that if we’re not improving every day, we’re not really doing anything worthy at all. But is there a point where we need to–where we have to stop and recognize our limits? I think writing is the perfect space to start being gentle with ourselves.

No perfection needed

Think of writing as a sibling of thinking. Do you always expect perfect thoughts from yourself? Of course not: thoughts often come half-formed, not quite complete. Take this post, for example. I started thinking about this topic as I decided to give myself the space and the time to be a bad writer. I decided to be gentle with myself as I learn to write fiction. This post is not perfect–it’s actually not as clear, logical or convincing as I believe it should be. But it comes from somewhere deep, somewhere real, so I hope that the ideas shine through.

After a year of not writing, after a year of struggling to get words on paper because I was afraid to be bad, I told myself that I would allow myself to be bad, that I would allow myself to be a beginner again. I like being in the state of “bad-ness”, of being in a place where discovery, learning and improvement. By improvement, I don’t mean the “I must be perfect at everything” improvement that I express in the first paragraph. I mean improvement of a more gentle kind, of a kind that’s less obsessed with productivity and more interested in fulfillment.

The state of perfection is a static, lifeless place. When you are perfect, what else can you do? The state of imperfection, the state of “bad-ness”, has so much more potential, so many more possibilities and directions.

So bad it’s good

When writing, allow yourself to be in a place of bad-ness. This is where the best thinking happens. This is where the heart reveals itself. It’s when you let go of all the expectations placed on you by teachers, superiors, and most of all yourself, that you are free to express yourself with the words that are right for you. It takes courage to lay our own thoughts bare and to face ourselves in writing–many a time did I make myself cry writing a truth that I did not want to admit to myself. But these are also the most powerful words you will ever write.

Give yourself the chance to be bad. Give yourself the opportunity to mess up. Be gentle with yourself as you explore your inner world for blog posts or personal essays or fiction. Find a way to shut down the voices in your head that tell you “this is crap” at every period. Reading the truth is better than reading polished but empty prose. Being authentic is better than being perfect.

What do you value when you write? Listen to your thoughts as you type or scribble. What comes to your head? Are the words harsh and judging or gentle and encouraging?

Some ways to be gentle

Here are some ways I have developed to be gentle with myself when I write:

  • Freewriting. I love freewriting because I can completely let go of judgement and of expectations. Freewrites never see the light of an audience. It’s a warm-up for your writing muscles.
  • Describing your “watcher”. Novelist Gail Godwin calls it “the watcher”, the person who is there telling you how bad you are at writing, the person judging your word choices and your comma use. Take a few minutes to describe your watcher. Give it shape and life. Then put it in a mental box, out of sight, as you write.
  • Stopping the whining. I will admit: I am an inveterate whiner. Read my journals and you’ll find pages upon pages of complaining, whining and feeling sorry for myself. And then one night I saw that this was not doing me any good. Venting once in a while is fine, but complaining as my only writing outlet impoverished my thinking. Now instead of whining, I grab on to a thought or idea and, like meditation, go back to it when I lose my way. It’s done wonders for my thinking… and my self-esteem.

Being gentle with yourself is good for your soul and good for your writing. How do you stop the harsh voices from getting in the way of your writing? I’d love to know how you allow yourself to be gentle!

READ: From Blog to Book Deal by Srinivas Rao and David Candrall

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from one of the authors.


I’d never heard about BlogCast FM before, but when Srinivas Rao, co-author of Blog to Book Deal: How They Did It, contacted me to review his book, I got on the podcast right away and found a wealth of interviews from bloggers across the world who made a splash one way or the other.

The title of the book describes exactly the content of the book: “how they did it”. It’s not a how-to guide to getting a book deal. It’s not a step-by-step system to write posts that will get an agent’s attention. You might learn things, but it may not actually be about book deals.

The book is short and contains interviews from bloggers like Ramit Sethi, Chris Guillebeau and Jenny Blake, among others. But the two I found myself most interested by were Julien Smith and Jeff Goins, despite the fact that I didn’t really like either of their books.

Here are a few choice quotes from their interviews.

Julien Smith:

The content has to be not intellectually interesting, but emotionally compelling. That is probably, I guess, my edge.

Jeff Goins:

When you’re not willing to compromise and do whatever you really need to do and say what you really need to say–that’s when you really start to find your voice.

Most of the book was quite interesting to read because it’s about different bloggers’ experiences. It’s like a behind-the-scenes of successful Internet people. There’s a lot of talk about “how to be successful” in blogging, and despite the fact that reading this book won’t make you successful in blogging, it will certainly give you an idea of what people have done to become so.

The book fulfills its non-promise, and that’s something I can appreciate. Too often we get swayed by books that seem to have the secret to something, only to let you down by not delivering the promised content. This is a pitfall that Blog to Book Deal has avoided, and I really appreciate that. It sticks to what it knows: interviewing bloggers and getting to the heart of the topic.

If the blogging world interests you and you’re curious to know about how easy (or hard) it is to get a book deal from a blog, 7$ isn’t wasted on this book. It’s also full of little thoughts on blogging itself, or on voice, or on being extraordinary, a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

How To Get More Followers on Tumblr by Elizabeth Benefiel

It’s been a while, but I have reviewd a few web- and blog-related books in the past year such as Clout, Content Rules and Audience, Relevance and Search. As a blogger and student of content management, I’m always interested in ways to improve my writing, blog appeal and followers and to learn about new platforms.

The owner of a popular Tumblr blog called 11 questions, Elizabeth Benefiel has written a short e-book (it took me about an hour to go through it) aptfully titled How to Get More Follwers on Tumblr.

Given its length, the book is understandbly concise and is divided in 12 chapters with extra resources at the end. The topics covered go from how to set up a Tumblr blog to finding a topic, establishing relationships with other tumblrs and using apps to enhance the experience.

Because it is so short, I was not expecting much depth from this book. The target reader seemed to be someone who has absolutely no experience with blogging and social media, as most of the advice and ideas presented in the book are very, very basic. It’s a good choice if you’ve never blogged before and have never been around Twitter or Facebook, but if you have any experience in today’s Web 2.0, you’ll find most of this information obvious.

Benefiel uses screenshots (some are missing, however) and clear instructions whenever she’s dealing with a technical thing. But unless you have really no idea what you’re doing, you’ll find those instructions kind of useless. Maybe it’s just my own affinity with technology that makes me feel this way, but I can’t imagine that many people interested in Tumblr who don’t know what Twitter is or who can’t set up a blog on a platform as easy as Tumblr.

However, I really appreciated her tips on how to choose a Tumblr URL (and therefore title). She lays out some rules about what works well and what might attract readers. This information might be useful to potential tumblrs who find themselves stymied by the lack of good URLs available.

This is a useful little book if you are completely new to blogging; however, if you are more experienced, you might want to look into books that offer a bit more depth into content strategy and web and social media marketing.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

Do you use Tumblr? Do you have tips on how to increase your following? Share them in the comments!

Live to Write, Write to Live

This post is my entry to Make A Living Writing’s contest for a one-year memberhsip into the Writer’s Den.

***

I live to write.

Writing
Photo by Gregory Wake

I write a lot. I write on my blog, and I’ve written for other blogs. I hand-write a journal every night, and type at least 750 words every morning. I love everything that’s related to words: books, dictionaries, text editors (I have at least 5 different writing programs on my computer). I can write in two languages. If I’m confused, I write. If I’m happy, I write. If I’m sad, I write. If I’m elated, I write. When something doesn’t work, I write about it until I figure out how to make it work; when something works, I write about it to remember what I did.

I’ve been told for years that I write well. I’ve written literally hundreds of essays, proposals, summaries and other academic-related documents. I’ve also written thousands of words of comments on students’ writing as a teaching assistant for a writing course.

I don’t need to learn how to write. In fact, I teach others how to as my main occupation. What I would love to get from Writer’s Den, however, is how to use this talent to make a living writing for others.

Don’t get me wrong–I like teaching. It’s meaningful work that lets me share my knowledge and help students succeed in their academic and professional careers. But I feel that I need to write professionally to be a well-rounded and knowledgeable teacher. The more I know about writing in different situations, the better I can teach my students.

In academia, writing is easy. It’s sollicited. Teachers ask you to write, and then spend a lot of time reading and commenting on it. You don’t get money, but you get grades. It’s gratifying and makes you feel valued when you do well.

But the world of professional freelance writing is the other way around. Writers have to sollicit people to write for them. They have to negotiate compensation. Some writers literally spend years begging for someone to publish them, to give them a chance and to prove that they can move readers to buy, or subscribe, or simply to read more.

I know how to write–but I don’t know how to reach those people who would gain the most from my talent. Learning the ways of professional writing and publishing is something I am willing, and ready, to take on, and the resources offered and shared by the Writer’s Den mothers and members are perfect for this new stage in my writing education.

I will be an active, involved member of this community. Sharing thoughts, ideas and tips with other writers is an essential part of our work, and I have a lot of thoughts, ideas and tips to share from my own experience as a writer and teacher of writing.

Everyone dreams, at least once, about turning their passion in their profession. “Choose work you love”, said Confucius, “and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I want to stop working, and start living. I choose writing.

In other words, while I already live to write, I also want to learn how to write to live.

Anabelle will return shortly

Some quick news before I go back to work:

I have a Steampunk Expo post waiting down the line, but this week I am overwhelmed with grading, so it will have to wait until I’ve handed all my grades in.

My friend Julian will provide a review for Svengali (which I won’t be able to see) on Friday.

Have a great week everyone!

5 PR lessons learned from a viral blog post

"It ain't viral" by AJC1 on Flickr

Going viral is social media’s version of the 15 minutes of fame. Content creators work very hard to have their content picked up by influencers, widely shared and widely viewed. Writers, photographers and videographers work for hours on end to attract, retain and influence visitors. It doesn’t have to be for money either; sometimes it’s about issue awareness, or simply retaining a loyal readership.

While a lot of people work their butt off to produce viral content, it doesn’t always happen when and how you expect it, and unless you’ve lived through it once, you’re never really ready for it. In preparation for your own viral content, here are five lessons I learned from a post of mine that went viral.

1. Going viral happens mostly by chance

No matter how much excellent content you put out, none of it will go viral without the right mix of mostly chance elements. You need to post your content at the right time, and have the right people pick it up. By the “right people”, I mean of course important infuencers in your field.

You can increase your chances by carefully watching the habits of your field’s influencers and your target audience and by identifying the best time to post or share your content. But in the end, you can’t control whether or not your inflencers will pick it up and share it.

2. Once viral, you cannot control the conversation

One basic lesson of social media is that content creators no longer have control over the conversation that their content will produce. Sure, you can moderate the comments within your own channel, but whatever is said on other channels–Facebook users sharing, Tweeters tweeting, or comments on blog posts that refer back to you–is out of your direct control. You need to let go of the idea that can control everything that is said about you.

You can do one of two things: worry about what people are saying everywhere and try to control the conversation on every channel, or you can let go of it and let it run its course, focusing on what you can control. In any case, trying to control a conversation by either shutting up or over-moderating is always a bad PR strategy because it suggests fear, guilt or a skeleton in your closet.

3.  Be gracious and admit faults

People will disagree with you. Some will find cracks in your content, criticize faults and mistakes. That’s fine. Admit them and move on. Desperately trying to hold your ground will only make you look desperate to, again, control what others are saying about you.

Don’t over-moderate by erasing every negative comment. I personally delete mean-spirited comments or those that personally attack the writer or other commenters, but well thought-out, constructive criticism stays. It’s the only way that the conversation can move forward. It’s also a great way to appear gracious and, most of all, open to new or different ideas.

4. It’s not about you anymore

In the end, a post going viral is so for two reasons: it’s controversial or it’s entertaining. If your content is merely entertaining, you don’t have much to worry about; a controversial post, however, may become bigger than your original intent. The story may reflect others’, or call up emotions that have nothing to do with you as the writer.

When this happens, you need to realize that the post is not so much about you anymore. A viral piece of content is often one that reflects other people’s experiences (or opinions that others may violently disagree with), and as such becomes a kind of torch-bearer for many who have not told their stories. As the content producer, you should respect those stories, if they are shared with you. Such a reputation is a great asset in the online world.

5. Grab the opportunity

A viral post from an otherwise unknown site is a great opportunity to bring attention to other pieces of content. While a lot of people will only come to see you out of curiosity, genuinely interested readers are likely to click on your links, home page and other pieces of content. Make it a point to use this door to lead new readers into the heart of your content.

Having a viral piece of content can also bring you opportunities to produce guest content on new channels. If the channel is right and fits your overall content and goals, go ahead. Always request full attribution and links back to your own site, but most ethical channels will offer those to you by default.

Virus 2
Virus 2 by Anna Biskit on Flickr

Have you ever produced viral content? How did you manage it? Please share your viral lessons in the comments!

New Direction

Along with all the soul-searching happening right now, I’m rethinking this blog. I need to go back to my intellectual habits, and so this blog will become a bit more personal as a result.

Direction

Things I am not: a foodie, a socialite, a journalist.

I like food like everyone, but one, I can’t afford restaurants (money-sucker that those are, especially here) and two, I’m really not that interested.

As I have explained earlier, I’m also not a socialite. I’m an introvert, and it’s high time I assume and embrace that. Thanks to Introvert Power, I’ve realized that there is beauty and worth in solitude.

I’ve thought about journalism, shortly. I gave up because one, I already owe way too much money to do a second MA and two, I don’t think I need to do another degree to be able to write. I just need to write more, in different genres and about different topics.

Things I am: a reader, a thinker, a writer.

During my Christmas vacation, I spent at least three days in a row just reading all day, sitting down on the couch with L. There’s something about this shared but individual experience that made me realize that I’ve been keeping away from books for way too long, maybe because I was exhausted from them when I came out of my PhD.

I like to think. I like to reflect on things I read and learn other points of view and develop arguments in my head. I love being challenged with new theories and concepts. This was the great thing about graduate school. The not-so-great thing was having to regurgitate it all way too fast and in prescribed format, but that’s another story. Anyway. The buzz of this fall kept me too distracted from thinking.

And writing is part of my thinking process. Without writing, I can’t figure out my position on an argument or an issue. I can’t work through the kinks and knots in my mind, as Peter Elbow would call them. So, giving up on the job market is a way for me to go back to writing. And this single realization, right here, right now, makes me want to write so much.

I don’t know what this blog will look like in a week or even a month from now, but I do hope you’ll stick around. Your insights are always appreciated!

November 29th is Pay A Blogger Day

First, let’s watch this nifty little video:

Yep, today is Pay A Blogger day. A lot of us (including myself) could be spending our time finding work or new clients, reading books or hanging out with friends (or watching TV… sigh). But we choose to spend this precious, non-renewable resource to inform, touch and entertain you, our reader. Some of us even spend money on wine and food so we can review it for you!

So, if you are an avid blog reader, think about rewarding your hard-working blogger with enough money for a coffee, or something. The Pay a Blogger Day website describes many ways to do so. I personally take cheques, cash, paypal (ask for my email!) or you can click the awesome Flattr button at the bottom of this post, which will lead you to a platform where it’s easy to give any amount you want (anonymously too!) to your favourite bloggers.

I know which bloggers I will be paying today… How about you?