Friday, December 30, 2011

My Father is Running for President (in New Hampshire anyway)

So a little earlier this year, I learned that my father was trying to drum up some money to get on the Republican primary ballot in New Hampshire. Then, I learned he did register. Earlier today, my brother sent a bunch of links (included below) that covered a debate with the lesser known candidates.

Timothy Brewer, Republican primary candidate
and my father. Credit: Marc Nozell.

My brain has been trying to process the best way to handle this information on my blog for a while now, but I don't think there is a best way. In 2012, I'll be sharing personal stories on Sundays throughout the year. Some of those will involve my father--just as some of my poetry has involved my father--and that will probably help add context to our relationship.

In the meantime, enjoy these links about Republican primary candidate Timothy Brewer:

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Robert's Rules of the Road

As a telecommuter, I love (looooooooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvveeee) that I don't have to fight with traffic every morning to get to and from work. I just get up and start working--though, of course, this creates a whole new set of problems, including finding the "off" switch for work. However, even though I don't do regular battle with rush hour, I do go on long trips (500+ miles) more than the average bear.

Nothing like being stuck on the open road.

So here are my top rules of the road for tackling long trips:
  1. Pack the day before. Long trips are usually more successful with just a little preparation before hitting the road. This preparation includes packing any clothes, cell phones, toothbrushes, etc. It also includes food, so...
  2. Stock up before hitting the road. Fill your gas tank and hit the grocery store (where prices are cheaper than gas stations) for any snacks or drinks to help handle the long haul. If you want something healthy snacks, try packing a small cooler with veggies and fruit.
  3. Bring good music. If you prefer to drive in complete silence, then that's great: Ignore this rule. However, music really helps me pass the time and, believe it or not, some sections of the country have little to offer as far as radio stations are concerned.
  4. Have a means of finding alternate routes. Maps are helpful, but I've used my Droid Incredible a few times in the past year to help me navigate around horrible traffic, including an Interstate that was completely shut down for a wreck. Most welcome centers when you cross state lines offer complimentary road maps.
  5. Always be aware of the weather. Especially if you have a little leeway in when you can make the trip, be sure to check that you won't be driving through several lines of thunderstorms or a blizzard or something. Once again, I love my smart phone for storm situations. Earlier this year, I ran into some bad thunderstorms and wasn't sure what to expect. My Weather Channel app showed on radar that if I waited about 20 minutes, the nasty stuff would pass. So I stopped, refueled, ate some dinner, and then got back on the road.
  6. Fill up at 1/4 tank. Unless you know you're going to get several more chances to refuel, I recommend hitting gas stations whenever the tank gets to around 25% full. Usually, you'll still be good for a long time with a quarter tank, but I've had some nerve-wracking moments in the past in which the leap from one exit to the next was way longer than I would've expected. That said, if you stop for food or the restroom with half a tank left, do yourself a favor and top off the tank--just in case you get "in the zone" between that stop and the next.
  7. Everyone uses the restroom at every stop. Whether I'm traveling alone or with the entire Brew crew (four boys, one baby girl, my wife and I), everyone uses the restroom at every stop. Each stop can add 10+ minutes to the overall trip, so I try my hardest to make the most of each one. Related to saving time...
  8. Drive 5-10 mph over the limit. I don't advocate breaking the law (and anything over the posted speed limit could result in a speeding ticket), but this is the range I usually drive. The only times I've been pulled over for speeding have been when I break that 10-mile threshold--so this is my own personal calculated risk to save time. On a 500-mile trip, driving at an average speed of 70 mph comes out to 7:08 of pure driving time. Meanwhile, an average speed of 80 mph comes out to 6:15. So an extra 10 mph (on average) can save nearly an hour on the overall trip. Just remember: You can be ticketed for driving even one mph over the posted speed limit--so follow my example at your own risk.
  9. Give plenty of space. Worst trip ever (and only about 100 miles): I was the passenger in a car with a college roommate who gave about two feet of separation between his front bumper and the rear bumper of whichever car was in front of him as it rained heavily the whole trip. It would've just taken one small error on his part or the cars up front to kill or seriously injure us all. Please, please, please--whether the weather is stormy or sunny--give space between bumpers.
  10. Break up trip into segments. This rule is just one that helps me break long trips into manageable segments. After all, there's the physical endurance of a long trip, but there's also a psychological endurance--and segmented driving helps me overcome that.
These rules have served me well over the years, but there's a superstitious part of me that now expects to receive a ticket for driving three miles over the limit before running out of gas on the side of the Interstate and then (after refueling) getting into a wreck for tailgating in a blizzard.


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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Waking on Christmas Morning!

Merry Christmas! Santa Claus visited last night and left a lot of goodies for the boys and Hannah. Plus, Tammy and I got some gifts for them too. Reese is at his dad's, while Ben and Jonah are with their mom, so it's just the four of us this Christmas morning.

Reese will be joining us early this afternoon, and I'll be driving up to Ohio to collect Ben and Jonah tomorrow. I can't wait to have everyone together!

I've included some pictures from this morning below, and I may add more after the other boys have their moments to open presents. But first, I want to share an older poem that I included in my first chapbook, ENTER.


Ben can't find the man
he was playing with
just a moment ago.

Jonah rolls across the floor
covered in blankets
and trying to eat
anything near his mouth.

Ben's afraid Jonah
ate his man
but Jonah's not talking--

his mouth now full.


Christmas Tree!

Santa left Will a bike...

...and a stocking!

Mommy and Daddy got Will some presents, including...

....Darth Vader Transformer...

...and Chuck and Friends.

Obviously, he loves his bike helmet as much as (or more than) his bike.

And Daddy wasn't the only taking pics. Mommy and Hannah were too!


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Check out previous Not Bob posts to appreciate the Christmas spirit:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Put a Plan Into Action: And The 2012 My Name Is Not Bob Editorial Calendar

As a creative person, I'm often excellent about devising a ton of ideas on everything from characters for my stories and poems to products and services for work. My problem--or better word challenge--is often putting these ideas (some good, most bad or mediocre) into action.

Here's my process from idea to action:
  1. Store the ideas. I'm constantly dreaming stuff up, and I store all my ideas on paper and Post-It notes. I find that if I don't write my ideas down, I usually lose them forever. So I always keep pen and paper on me or near me. (And I get out of bed to jot down ideas if needed.) 
  2. Collect the ideas. Some ideas immediately turn into a poem or a blog post. But many are collected in myriad notebooks I keep. I own many notebooks that are stuffed with ideas that will stay there--waiting for someone else to breathe life into them.
  3. Outline the ideas. Not all my ideas are immediately developed or disappear. Some of the more complicated ideas sit and collect steam. I often revisit my notebooks and realize which ideas seem to have more staying power. For these ideas, I will eventually create an outline to help me put the idea into action.
  4. Develop a plan. Once I have a somewhat developed idea (thanks to my outline), I develop a plan for executing that idea. Sometimes, it's as simple as writing a blog post. Other times, I might have to develop a proposal or--in the case of this blog, I've created an editorial calendar for 2012 (see below).
  5. Execute the plan. This part of the process is most often the stumbling block for me, and it's usually how I know if I'm really devoted to the original idea or not. If I'm really passionate about an idea but still have trouble executing the plan, I usually find that I've either skipped or short-changed a step earlier in the process.

Anyway, I used the process above to make a plan for the My Name Is Not Bob blog in 2012. Here's the current editorial calendar, which will go into effect starting on January 1, 2012:
  • Sunday--Blissfully. I plan to share a different personal story from my past on every Sunday. Some of the stories will be delightful, others will be nightmarish, but they'll all be me--and they'll all be true.
  • Monday--Advice for Writers. I started getting into a rhythm sharing the best advice for writers from various online sources on Mondays. I plan to be even more consistent with this feature in 2012.
  • Tuesday--Platform Advice. Since I feel strongly that one of the most important elements to writers' success in the new landscape of publishing and media is an exceptional platform, I plan to share a weekly feature on how best to develop this tool for success.
  • Wednesday--Life Changing Moments. Of all the features I'm planning for 2012, this is the one I'm most excited to share, because it will be completely guest post driven. Each Wednesday, a new person will share one moment that changed his or her perspective on life. Some of the first posts will be written by the likes of Jane Friedman, Collin Kelley, Nin Andrews, and Scott Owens.
  • Thursday--Successful Writers. Currently, I'm imaginging this slot will include interviews and guest posts from writers who have and still are experiencing success with their writing pursuits. I imagine this slot will include success stories from poets, novelists, bloggers, ghostwriters, business writers, and more.
  • Friday--Make the World Better Today. Two main objectives are driving my 2012 editorial calendar: helping writers find success and helping to make the world a better place (through sharing my own stories and the stories of others). This Friday slot will share tips on how to make the world better immediately. My hope is that eventually this will be at least partially guest post driven too.
  • Saturday--Poetic Saturdays. I plan to use Saturdays to share one of my poems and also link to some of my favorite online poetry of the week.
If you'd like to offer a guest post for 2012 (or be interviewed), please click here to learn how you can participate. I think I'm pretty easy to approach and work with, so don't be afraid to bounce around some ideas. The days which I'll need the most help will likely be Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, though if you think you have a great story for Wednesday, I'd like to hear that too.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My 2012 To-Do List

Earlier this year--the first day of the year actually--I posted My 2011 To-Do List. I'm happy to report that I accomplished two (and a half) of my six goals. I published a collection of poetry (actually two), helped my Tiger Cubs have a great year, and I did pay off all my credit cards--but then we had Hannah and now we're back in a position of paying down our debt. So it goes.

The reason I'm not bummed that I only had a 33% success rate is that I can try again in 2012, and I'm an eternal optimist!

Here's my 2012 To-Do List:
  • Make 300+ Not Bob blog posts. In 2009, I posted 23 times; in 2010, I made 61 posts; and this year will probably finish with around 180-ish. With a spiffy editorial calendar I've been developing for a few months, I think 2012 is going to share some of the best Not Bob posts ever.
  • Eat healthier and exercise regularly. I think one of my problems with achieving health-related goals in 2011 is that I quantified the process. As a result, I either put off certain tasks because I "still had time" to get them later, or I gave up completely because "I was out of time" to hit certain numbers.
  • Run a half-marathon. For 2011, I wanted to run a marathon. However, training for a marathon is a huge (and overwhelming) process. In 2012, I'm going to shoot for an easier objective with the hope that if I can check this off my list that I'll be ready to take the next step in 2013.
  • Help Den 2 Cub Scouts have another great year. My Tiger Cubs are now Wolves, and they'll be Bears by the end of 2012. As in 2011, my goal will be to help them achieve their goals, learn more about the world around them, and have fun in the process.
  • Pay off all credit cards. As I mentioned above, Tammy and I actually accomplished this task at one point in 2011, but then, we had Hannah and were forced to stretch our financial resources a bit through the end of this year. However, we're in a great position to check this off the list in 2012--and keep it crossed out going forward. Then, we can focus on eliminating all our other combined debts.
  • Assemble a full length collection of poems. In 2011, I published and sold out two poetry chapbooks. In 2012, I'd like to at least assemble a full length collection--and for extra credit, secure publication for it.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

6 Tips for Writers to Own the New Facebook Timelines

Like it or not, Facebook is going to be changing how profiles work and look again--in the very, very near future--and you have two options. One, you can wait for the changes to happen to you and be completely unprepared for them, or... Two, you can carpe diem your way into a slick timeline today.

Don't wait to cross over to the new timelines. Check out mine here.

Don't wait for the new Facebook timeline to happen to you. Instead, proactively take it on now. It'll make the whole process of interface change less traumatic--and this is coming from someone who has written a blog post on the effects of interface changes on users.

Personally, my first impression upon seeing the new timeline design was, "Ugh! Looks cluttered and MySpace-y. Total, absolute yuck!" However, after hearing from other first adopters about how cool it was, I decided to give it a try over the weekend--and I actually think I might like it better than the past few Facebook "upgrades."

How to Get Started
To get the whole process moving, follow these simple steps:
  1. Log in to Facebook.
  2. Type the word "timeline" in the search box in the top center of your home page.
  3. Select "Introducing Timeline," which should pop up as you complete step 2.
Once you're on this page, you can view samples, read more on the process, and even watch some video on the whole timeline process. But the best thing to do is to just get started playing around with it.

Don't worry! The timeline won't go "live" until you click the Publish button.

Quick Tips for Managing Your Timeline
I admit that I'm still figuring things out and playing around with my own timeline, but here are some tips I've already picked up from trial and error.
  • Pick an interesting cover image. This image will kind of act as the header image for your new timeline profile page. It's a horizontal image, and it's much larger than your profile pic. Most folks have been choosing landscapes and/or other non-people images, and I think that's a pretty good rule of thumb for getting started. However, don't be afraid to try something else--just realize this cover image is pretty important for setting the tone on your whole timeline/profile page.
  • Shuffle your apps to match your preferences. For instance, there are little boxes for your Friends and Photos next to other information about you. But I swapped out the default Map that was displaying with Notes. And you can be sure I'll be playing around with it more to see if something else is even more appropriate.
  • Check out all your posts. For some people (like myself), this sounds like an almost impossible task. But it's possible. Maybe just try to tackle one month's worth of posts per day. It might take a month or three, but you'll eventually get through everything. While you're checking things out...
  • Hide inappropriate or boring posts from your timeline. In fact, since photos are so easy to find, I've been hiding posts about downloading images. To do this, hover over the right side of any post, click the "Edit or Remove" button, and click "Hide From Timeline." On the other hand, you can also...
  • Highlight super important posts. To do this, hover over the right side of the super important post and click the "Feature" button, which looks like a star. I've done this for the month of December on my timeline for some of the more popular NOT BOB posts.
  • View As a random Facebook user. It helps to know how others will view your timeline to make decisions about how to edit it. To do view as a random Facebook user, click the dropdown just below your cover image on the right side and select "View as..."
As others have pointed out to me, one nice feature about the timeline is that it makes the process of finding older posts easier. I mean, the pre-timeline profile isn't the easiest to search for older posts. This one allows you to go back by month, year, etc. I'm not saying it's the greatest social media profile interface that will ever be created, but I'm starting to think it's not a step backward either.


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Advice for Writers: 013

Here's some advice for writers I've collected from around the Internet. Believe it or not, there's still a lot of it being dispensed during the holiday season.

The Big Mistake of Author Websites and Blogs, by Jane Friedman. This post reveals a big mistake that many authors make regarding their use of websites and blogs. A must-read!

25 Things Writers Should Know About Rejection, by Chuck Wendig. Sometimes to overcome a fear, you have to face it, and that's exactly the purpose behind this post. Rejection really isn't so bad; everybody's doing it. And it's the risk you take to find success.

Copyblogger Editor Admits to Sleeping With Readers and Recommends You Do the Same, by Jonathan Morrow. This post is written for copywriters, but it's really relevant for all writers. In fact, it's one of the more important skills a writer can develop.

Why Writers Must Make Themselves Easy to Contact, by Chuck Sambuchino. This is not a skill, but it is one of the most important tasks a writer can complete to help foster success: Make yourself easy to find, discover, and contact.

Increase Your Story's Suspense With Breadcrumbs, by K.M. Weiland. Another nice little vlog (video blog post) from Weiland. If you'd rather read than view your advice, don't worry; she always includes a video transcript.

Perfecting Prose - What I Learned From Being a RITA Finalist, by Karen Witemeyer. The author of A Tailor-Made Bride shares what she's learned from the process of being nominated for a RITA for Best First Book.

The Pippi Longstocking Guide to Freelance Success, by Carol Tice. Tice has extracted 7 takeaways for freelance writers from watching the original Pippi Longstocking movie with her daughter. See? You can find insight anywhere if you're really looking.


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Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Secret to Being Awesome: Attention to Detail

Nearly 12 years ago, I started interning at F&W Publishing (now F+W Media) and made instant fans of my work that helped me get a part-time paid editing gig while I finished college before earning a Production Editor title (and full-time job) after graduation. My secret to success wasn't due to any kind of special talent or magical powers. Instead, it was my attention to detail.

For instance, the editor of Writer's Market at the time (Kirsten Holm) loved me because I actually returned neatly straightened stacks of paper in neatly straightened stacks--and in order. To me, this seemed like a no brainer approach to working, but...that's not how many others worked.

Please and Thank You
Aside from straightening stacks of paper, I also say, "Please" and "Thank You" without thinking. It's just part of how I'm wired, and I believe that's a good thing--even though I do get joked at some times for saying "Thank You" when the cashier completes my order at fast food drive-thrus.

I'm always surprised when people make comments about how I'm the only person who says "Please" and "Thank You." These small details in communicating with people really make them feel better. Take the time to include them, and you're suddenly super.

Asking Questions
One thing I made a priority when I started working for F&W way back when was to always ask questions when I didn't understand something--even if I felt like I was exposing myself as being stupid or a pest. My reasoning is that I'd rather learn how to do something the right way (and make sure I was doing it the right way) than to make guesses and totally screw up my tasks.

As a result, I always emphasize the importance of asking questions to people who work with and under me. I'm almost always disappointed with the work done by people who never ask questions, because they try to guess their way to perfection--and usually guess the wrong way.

Other Ways Freelancers Can Be Awesome
Asking questions, saying "Please" and "Thank You," and even returning neat stacks of paper are great ways for freelance writers to go from being "a dime a dozen" to being "awesome," but there are some more common sense ways to elevate your awesomeness:
  • Read and follow submission guidelines. Seems easy enough, but you'd be surprised how many writers do not know how to follow detailed instructions for submitting their work.
  • Follow up (politely). Some writers don't know how to follow up, others don't know how to do so politely. Freelancers who can be polite and follow up always earn a gold star in my notebook. Sometimes a quick follow up helps the editor as much as the writer--and a polite one benefits both parties.
  • Meet deadlines. I usually build in a buffer period for my editorial deadlines, because many freelance writers have this bad habit of asking for extensions. While I am usually able to accommodate (because of my buffer zone), it's the freelancers who hit--or beat--their deadlines who earn awesome points from me.
  • Do your research. Whether you're researching the best markets for submitting your work or learning obscure details for an assigned article, writers who can roll up their sleeves and do some top notch research (and then effectively use what they've learned) are often zen masters of supreme awesomeness.
  • Be organized. Know where your past contracts are. Keep records of where and when you've made submissions. Keep receipts for expenses and invoices for collecting payment from editors. The organized freelance writer is the awesome freelance writer.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Is the Right Answer for Writers?

For almost 12 years now, part of my job as an editor has been to dispense advice to writers on the best way to do X or the most practical method of accomplishing Y. Since I wanted to be a teacher in high school and college, it's a part of my job that I've always loved.

Should I or shouldn't I?

At the same, my advice is only one view. Other editors have different preferences and ways of handling submissions than I do. Some editors are more demanding or particular. Some editors communicate more; many communicate less.

So when I share my answers on how to handle situations, I do it from my own experience and from the experiences that have been relayed to me from other editors and agents. I believe 100% in the advice I share, but I'm also always looking for views and strategies that are different than mine. You should too!

Instead of searching for THE right answer, search for YOUR right answer.

Listen to the advice of experts like myself and my Tweeps to Follow List, but use your own gut to determine the best path for you. If you're in a situation that seems like a bad idea and everyone else says it's bad, then you should probably follow everyone's advice. If you're in a situation that seems like a great idea but nobody told you to go that way, don't hold back from cutting your own path.

It's your writing career, and if you want to find success, there are going to be times when you need to make decisions that can't be easily answered on a "10 Tips to Handle X" list. When it comes to these decisions, follow your gut and try to be brave. Use your brain, but don't let it "reason" you into avoiding an opportunity. If it feels right and you can't find a legitimate reason not to try, then go for it.

Successful writers are those who are not afraid to fail and who learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. So I'll say it again for emphasis...

Instead of searching for THE right answer, search for YOUR right answer.

You may not always succeed, but I doubt you'll be disappointed with the overall results.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Fix Stalled Camera on Android Smart Phone

I love my HTC Droid Incredible, but there have been a couple occasions in which the camera has stalled. Basically, it just quits working and gives a black screen. The first time it happened, I couldn't back out of the camera (like I usually do), so I just shut the whole thing down--hoping that re-booting it would fix the problem--but the camera would still stall when I would try opening it. Arrrgghhh!!!!

But it's happened twice to me now, and both times I used this same solution. Hopefully, these steps will help anyone else who runs into a similar problem.

How to Get Home From the Stalled Camera
  1. Click the Home Icon on your phone.
It's as simple as that. I always use that back arrow to back out of programs and onto my home page. So I totally overlooked the obvious solution. However, this does not fix your camera.

How to Fix Your Stalled Camera on Android
  1. Click to Restart your phone. Unlike just selecting Power Off, the Restart close all apps before restarting the phone--and that appears to be the secret to getting the camera working again.
So this is one of those rare how-to posts that require just one-step instructions. Crazy, huh?


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Most Popular NOT BOB Posts for Writers 2011

From the birth of my first daughter to self-publishing (and selling out) two poetry chapbooks (and so many other great events), 2011 has been a really great to me in so many ways. I know I've still got a few very big weeks left, but I wanted to go ahead and collect the most popular NOT BOB blog posts for writers of 2011.

The two most popular posts are actually lists:
  • Best Blogs for Writers to Follow. This list needs updated, because some of the URLs have changed, but it does include some very good blogs for writers to check out. Look for the updated list in the beginning of 2012.
  • Best Tweeps for Writers to Follow 2011. This is my second annual list of great tweeps for writers to follow on Twitter. It's still relatively new and very useful.
The lesson here is that there's nothing more popular than shining the light on your fellow writers and publishing folk.

Beyond these lists, there were 20 writing-specific posts that rose above all others. Here are the 20 most popular NOT BOB posts for writers in 2011 (in order):
  1. 11 Google+ Tips for Writers. It's still fresh and new, but it's the emerging social network at the moment. In fact, I'm looking forward to learning more about how Blogger and Google+ are going to work together later this week.
  2. The 8 Jobs of Modern Writers. This post is less than a week old, but it's already skyrocketed to the top of this list. And the comments are as valuable as the post.
  3. 11 Tips for Writers to Find Success. I posted this list to celebrate 11/11/11, but it is interesting that two of the top three posts have 11 tips.
  4. LinkedIn Tips for Writers. The more professional social networking site, I've found that each recommendation I've received on the site has made my entire week.
  5. Impact of eReaders on Writers. I wrote this post in the first half of the year and already so much has changed in the publishing world.
  6. Social Media Etiquette for Writers. This post shares the simple basics of social media etiquette, including things like not being a pest and following the golden rule.
  7. Revision Tips for Writers. It's one thing to write good, but to write truly great, writers need to be able to revise good as well.
  8. Speaking Tips for Writers. Over the years as an editor and poet, I've been blessed with quite a few opportunities to speak and listen to others speak. This post collects some of what I've learned.
  9. Negotiating Tips for Writers. I wrote this post from the unusual perspective of an editor--and no, I didn't advise writers to always take what an editor offers without question.
  10. Are You a Specialist or Generalist? This is one of my question posts for writers, but it digs at an important question that will help writers figure out for what type of writing they're best suited.
  11. Build a List for Success. From making lists of goals to submissions, lists are often an important tool in the successful writer's toolbox.
  12. Don't Wait for X to Do Y: Platform-Building Traps for Writers to Avoid. This post has, perhaps, the longest title of any post on this top 20 list, but it's only because it has a subtitle.
  13. How to Deal With Problem Editors. I'm sure there are times when even I fall under the problem editor category. After all, we're still human--well, most of us anyway.
  14. Quick Tips on Submitting to Literary Magazines. I cover the what, when, where, why, who, and how in this post.
  15. Top 5 Pitch Tips for Writers. These are five areas that I've found as an editor could use some attention from many writers.
  16. How to Protect Your Writing From Natural Disasters. It doesn't happen often, but losing all your data is devastating. Don't let yourself become a statistic in this area of the writing life.
  17. Top 5 Creative Writing Tips. This was my first real post for writers of 2011, so I'm glad to see that it just snuck onto this list.
  18. Two Rules for Successful Writers. They are simple, but they're also effective.
  19. Why Writers Should Care About SEO. For those who don't know, SEO is short for search engine optimization. This post tackles why it's important for writers to understand.
  20. Just Write Something! What a perfect post to round out this Top 20 list. After you're done reading about the writing life, be a writer and just write something.

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Check out the Top 3 Not Bob posts unrelated to writing:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Meaning of Baptism for Our Family

(Note: This post is a little different for me. While I do get personal on here, I don't normally talk much about my religion or faith--and I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon. My philosophy is that everyone has their own path to follow, and this is mine. So please read this post with an open mind and heart, or don't read it at all.)

Yesterday, I mentioned that 2011 brought a few firsts in my life. I also mentioned that another first would happen today, and here's what happened: Tammy, Reese, Will, Hannah, and I were all baptised together as a family and individually as Christians.

After being members of the Duluth First United Methodist Church for around a year now, Tammy and I decided the time was right to express our faith through baptism. As one of the sacraments given to the church by Jesus Christ, baptism is an essential to salvation for Methodists, though people are not saved by baptism alone.

Growing Up Outside the Church
I grew up outside the church with a few connections on the inside. My grandparents would take us from time to time. A couple friends across the street would bring us along a couple times while we were in elementary school. I remember going to Sunday school and then sneaking off to get candy at a nearby gas station.

As I grew older, I only seemed to move even further from God. I remember having conversations in which I argued against the possibility of God in high school. In college, I seemed to only find more ammunition in my campaign against God and Christianity in particular. I remember even thinking that organized religions were the same as faceless corporations that are riddled with greed and corruption.

Then Something Changed
My first wife has grandparents who are members of the Methodist church in Southwest Ohio. I can say with certainty that Ann and Freeman James of Lindenwald United Methodist Church played an important role in my faith journey. In fact, they still do.

They encouraged me to get out to church and invited me to attend an Alpha Course program with them that lasted 3 months. I took this course in early 2003, so it took these early seeds--when my mind and heart was open--to make me question my worldviews over the next eight years.

Or maybe I should say that even with these early seeds, it took me more than eight years to get where I am today.

So What Happened After That Course?
Within two years of taking the course, my first wife and I separated (with the intention of getting divorced), I found myself in significant debt, and I had to move into my father's house. Plus, I felt like a horrible father (because of the impending divorce) and a failure in many ways.

It's times like these that you really have to dig deep into yourself, and I found myself starting to write poetry with abandon--in a way I had not since my college days. I started running and filling my spare time with work. There were days that I felt like the world was going to end, and there were days that felt like they had unlimited potential. I was all over the place.

Around three years after the separation, Tammy and I started getting involved. Much like myself, she'd grown up around but not exactly in the Baptist church. Neither of us had been baptised or attended with any regularity.

Then Things Got Serious
Actually, that's an inside joke between Tammy and I, but we did get serious enough to meet each other in Ohio (where I lived) and Georgia (where she lived)--and Tennessee (where my grandma lives). When we met in Tennessee, we went to my grandma's little Baptist church next to the lake, and we've been there a few times since.

When we decided to get married on 8/8/08, we asked my grandma's boyfriend to marry us (and last year, he married my brother David and my sister-in-law) in Tennessee. He had a talk with us before and after the ceremony about the faith element involved in marriage, and I think that meant a lot to both of us.

Will dressed for his baptism.

So over the next couple years, Tammy and I talked about checking out a church, but it's scary. Especially for me, I almost felt like it was too late for me to join a church, because I wasn't baptised. Though part of my brain knew this was wrong, another part just felt like I had to be raised in the church to be a part of the church.

Duluth First United Methodist Church
I first started going to DFUMC on Monday nights--not for church, but for Cub Scouts. Last year, Reese started Cub Scouts, and I volunteered to be the den leader for Den 2 of Pack 420. I'm on my second year now, and it's been a fun experience. But it was this initial involvement with the church building that eventually prompted Tammy and I to try attending a few services.

It didn't take long for Tammy and I to decide that we liked the atmosphere, the people, and the leaders of DFUMC. One thing I appreciate about the Methodist church in general is that it's very open and inclusive. This church in particular seemed (and still seems) even more so. So we joined the church last December.

Hannah excited for her baptism too!

Since we've been members, we've continued with Cub Scouts; we took a United Methodism 101 course that helped us learn more about the history, beliefs, and structure of the Methodist church; we enrolled Will in a Christian Beginnings preschool class (which he loves!); and this morning, we were baptised!

We've had a great year of growth as a family and as Christians, and we intend to continue our development together as a family. Baptism is only one rung in the ladder, but it's an important enough one that I felt it was worth sharing.


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Saturday, December 10, 2011

What I Got Out of Self-Publishing

I pulled off a few firsts in 2011. Last month, I grew my first moustache. In June, I had my first daughter. And in April, I self-published my first chapbook of poetry. Then, I did it again in September. (Tomorrow, I'll have a new first, but I'll leave that for tomorrow.)

My first chapbook--fresh out of the box.

The process of self-publishing my first poetry collection was scary. Since I limited my print run to 101 copies, I wasn't worried about the financial part, but I was very afraid my announcement of a self-published poetry chapbook would be met with the sound of crickets.

The Announcement
Without a title or an official line up of poems, I made the announcement a year ago. As you can see in the link, I did have a publication date, price, and a way for folks to pre-order a copy. And then, crazy enough, people did start pre-ordering copies. I could breathe a sigh of relief.

A week after the initial announcement, I sent along some updates (the line up of poems). A couple weeks after that, the collection had a title: ENTER. Each new announcement brought in more pre-orders, which is so much cooler than crickets.

The Release
I'd been considering self-publishing a collection for a few years, but the time just never felt right. Then, a perfect storm of events conspired to make April 1, 2011, the perfect time to release a collection. First, April is when I run the April PAD Challenge on Poetic Asides (my poetry blog on, which is when I prompt hundreds of poets to write a poem a day through National Poetry Month.

At AIPF, I read poems and made great connections.

Second, I had two events scheduled for the beginning of April. On April 1-2, I spoke at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference in Northern Georgia. On April 7-10, I was a National Feature Poet at the Austin International Poetry Festival in Texas. For both events, I led workshops and read poetry.

So like I said, it was a perfect storm of events to promote the collection right from the release date.

The Results
The collection officially released on April 1, 2011. Before May 1, 2011, all 101 copies had been claimed. Two were lost in the mail, but the rest found their intended targets. I earned a little money, but more important were the connections I'd made with readers--one connection even led to me reading for the Houston Poetry Fest's "Out of Bounds" event in October.

I loved hearing from readers who received their copies. Some sent simple notes that said they loved reading the collection--and that meant a lot. But then, some sent detailed comments about specific poems they liked best and why. At the end of the day, it all added up to a huge helping of validation--and that's the number one thing I got out of the self-publishing process.

In September, I followed up ENTER with ESCAPE.

Lessons Learned
After publishing my second collection in September, I think I have learned a few lessons about self-publishing, though I'll add that every self-publisher has a unique situation. For instance, not everyone is publishing a limited edition poetry collection.
  • Develop an audience first. I've always felt the urge to share my work. In high school, I would fill up composition notebooks with poems and pass them around for fellow students to read (and let me know which they liked best). But I had to exercise extreme patience--almost 20 years worth of it--before the time felt right for selling out a limited edition poetry chapbook. If you don't have some sort of audience, you may be facing crickets.
  • Get the word out before publication. For both collections, I started getting the word out as soon as I knew I was going to move forward on them and hit a specific publication date. This helped motivate me as I went through the process of formatting the manuscript, finding a printer, and other activities. Plus, I could use pre-orders to motivate others to pre-order and/or purchase copies.
  • Keep excellent records. Since I had a limited edition collection of 101 copies, I simply made a list with 101 entries. Each entry received a name, an e-mail address, payment received, method of payment, and mailing address. This came in extra handy with the second collection, because I could give return readers the same number for ESCAPE they received the first time around for ENTER.
I plan to have at least one more limited edition chapbook self-published in 2012, though I don't have a publication date set for that yet. Then, I may try experimenting with self-published e-books--and, of course, sharing the results here.


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Friday, December 9, 2011

Good News for People Who Love Good (and Cheap) Music

My wife Tammy found that Iron & Wine's album The Shepherd's Dog is available for just five dollars on Amazon. We already own it--in fact, we watched a private show recently--but that got me searching for other discounted albums on Amazon.

Album that got this list started.

Believe it or not, you could get all 10 of these albums for less than $50 (as of the writing of this post anyway):
  1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, by Neutral Milk Hotel. This is one of my all-time favorite albums, and it's inspired more than its fair share of poems over the years.
  2. To the Sea, by Jack Johnson. I guess we'll keep things close to the sea, but Jack Johnson is one of those guys who I can listen to at any time during the year and long to be on a beach--just hanging out.
  3. I Told You I Was Freaky, by Flight of the Conchords. Speaking of New Zealand--we were, right?--these two guys always crack me up. They're funny and, apparently, freaky.
  4. Loud, by Rihanna. And speaking of freaky--which I think was actually mentioned just a moment ago--Rihanna is about as freaky as it gets. But beyond all the freaky, there's an amazing voice with some incredible beats.
  5. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, by OK Go. This OK Go album includes some of my favorite songs by the band, including "End Love" and "This Too Shall Pass." 
  6. Till the Sun Turns Black, by Ray LaMontagne. Notice how I did that? Got you looking at the blue sky until the sun turns black? Okay, silly, but still, Ray's follow-up to Trouble is great.
  7. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, by Modest Mouse. Another one of my all-time favorite albums--and "Black Cadillacs" is one of my all-time favorite songs--which I guess dooms music to be discounted. This one has also inspired its fair share of poems.
  8. Kid A, by Radiohead. And as long as I'm talking about albums that are great for writing, this one is one of my favorite writing soundtracks. Just throw it on and let the words flow.
  9. Lungs, by Florence + The Machine. "Kiss With a Fist" and "Dogs Days Are Over" highlight this album, which is kind of like an anthem--a loud anthem.
  10. X & Y, by Coldplay. I've heard all the Coldplay albums, and this is my favorite. Plus, it has one of my favorite love songs ever, "Swallowed by the Sea." 
This isn't my all-time top 10 list, but these are all great albums that can be had for $5 or less right now. So get over and grab 'em before the prices shift back up.


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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The 8 Jobs of Modern Writers

Writing is a funny business. You get into writing because you love it. Then, you love it so much that you want to make a career out of the writing. It's possible, but as you pursue your dream of becoming a full-time writer it becomes apparent that there's more to being a writer than just writing.

In fact, I think I have narrowed down the scope of being a writer to eight jobs. Plus, I've included two extra jobs for those writers who are always in pursuit of extra credit. These jobs are the hats a writer must wear to find success as a freelancer in today's publishing/media environment. Not every hat will fit perfect at first, but writers should play off their strengths and work to improve their weaknesses.

Here are the 8 jobs of modern writers:
  1. Writer. Believe it or not, the writing should always come first. If the other seven jobs ever start to overwhelm you, remember to fall back on the writing. That's your bread and butter as a writer.
  2. Editor. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that someone else can correct all your mistakes. Sure, an editor will help improve (or at least alter) your writing, but that's only after your work has been accepted. Your job as a writer is not just to string words and sentences together; it's to string the best words and sentences together--with a minimum of grammar and spelling mistakes.
  3. Copywriter. Jane Friedman wrote a great post about why this is important over at Writer Unboxed. Copywriting skills are needed for everything from writing query letters to bio notes.
  4. File clerk. Once your writing is great and your query skills pay the bills, you need the ability to keep accurate records. The site I edit offers a submission tracker tool, but writers need to also keep track of bills, payments, and expenses--for tax purposes. It's not fun for most people (raising my hand), but it's essential to freelance success.
  5. Negotiator. Here are my negotiation tips for writers--from the perspective of an editor. Put them to good use. For tips from the writer's perspective, check out this post by Carol Tice. You don't have to be super pushy to be a good negotiator--sometimes all you need to do is ask.
  6. Accountant. This is sort of related to number four, but money complicates everything and needs an extra level of care. If you're trying to make a business out of your writing, you'll need to keep receipts and accurate records of payments, expenses, bills, etc., that are related to your writing. If you go to a conference, that's a business expense, including the hotel, mileage, etc. Learn more in the 2012 Writer's Market, which has a great piece on this subject by full-time freelancer Sage Cohen.
  7. Marketer. Most writers don't want to think about this job. After all, many are introverts. Then, there are the extroverted writers who actually want to move this ahead of the writing on the list of jobs. However, I think the writing always comes first, but writers have to build a platform. It's essential to building your brand as a freelance writer and making you visible to potential opportunities.
  8. Speaker. Speaking of introverted writers, I'm sure most are spitting their coffee all over the computer screens in disbelief that I would include number eight as an essential job of modern writers. However, it's true. Many of the best opportunities (both for platform building and making money) for writers moving forward will involve speaking. You don't have to be the best speaker ever, but speaking is a skill that you work on and can improve over time. Trust me, I used to think it was impossible, and I still get nervous, but I am much better now than I used to be. Click here for a few of my tips on speaking.
These are the jobs that make my essential list from what I know of the publishing landscape and how many writers have found success in the past decade. However, I do have a few other "extra credit" jobs as well.

Advocate. Writers should be advocates for their own work but also for the work, rights, payment, treatment, etc., of other writers. If you see a writer banging his or her head against a wall looking for a door that only you can see, please direct them to the door. Educate them on negotiating rights, keeping accurate records, and building a platform. What benefits one writer benefits all of us.

Connector. Connected to being advocate, writers can help others and themselves by acting as connectors. That is, connect people who can benefit from each other. If you're offered a job you can't take, don't just say, "No thanks." Try to recommend someone who's more qualified or available. This helps the two parties who were connected and helps you, because they'll suddenly be advocates for you and your goals. Remember the golden rule.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything? It wouldn't be the first time. Share your thoughts below.


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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Are You Open to Failure?

Many writers (and people in general really) spend a good deal of time trying to find success. Everyone has a different idea of what success means--in fact, some aren't even sure what success means. And many writers have varying views on how to achieve success. The most successful writers seem to have one trait in common--a willingness to fail.

Are you open to failure?

Every writer finds rejection; not all find success.

Prevent Defense
In football, there's a type of defense that many teams employ near the end of the game if they're winning. It's called prevent defense, and the joke about prevent defense is that it prevents the team with the lead from winning.

How the defense works is that it sends a lot of defensive players downfield to prevent the big play. The problem that usually occurs is that an offense will then just throw shorter passes to get downfield in smaller plays. By trying to "play it safe," a defense actually puts itself in a dangerous position.

Are you open to failure? Or are you working so hard to PREVENT mistakes that you're also preventing success?

Finding success in writing can be a bit like playing poker. There is a certain level of luck that factors into finding success, but the most seasoned poker players seem to win more than they lose despite the fact that everyone gets the same 52 cards to play.

Then one day I heard one of those all-star poker players--I wish I could remember which one--say something profound. I'm paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of, "You can't win if you're afraid to lose." His point was that you have to be willing to take risks to find success in poker. The same can be said of the writing life.

Are you open to failure? Or are you waiting for the perfect hand before you lay down your cards?

Pays to Play
While I don't often have a lot of time to follow specific updates from people on Facebook and Twitter, I do jump in and out of the stream daily. My favorite status updates are the ones in which people share their successes. It's easy to "like" someone else's success.

Recently, the poet/editor/teacher Jessie Carty shared this status update on Facebook: Sent all my pending poems out and one was accepted for publication! Pays to play ;)

Emoticons and exclammation points aside, this was a super status update. Not only did Jessie share her success, but she gave a little inspiration for other writers by reminding them an important lesson: It pays to play.

Are you open to failure? Are you willing to play?

Two Writers
Finally, I just want to tell the story of two writers. Both writers loved writing and were the same age, been writing the same amount of time and with the same dedication. One submitted her work everywhere and found a lot of rejection over the years but a few successes. The other spent his time perfecting his craft over the years and never submitted his work. He wanted it to be just perfect before it went out the door.

Eventually, the two writers meet at a grocery store or laundromat or something. Definitely not the post office, because the other writer never submits his work. Anyway, they get to talking and realize they're both writers.

The other writer asks the one writer what she's accomplished, and she says, "Well, I was published in X journal and Y magazine, and I have a book coming out next fall. How about you?"

The other writer looks down at his feet and answers, "Nothing."

It's impossible to find success if you aren't open to failure. Are you open to failure?


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