5 Super Easy Ways To Improve Your Writing

Like most people who make a living by stringing together sentences, I’d like to improve my writing.

But I also like to go to parties, road trip around America, and catch up on Empire.

What. to. do.

Lately, I’ve been trying to toe the line between proactive self-improvement and cutting myself some slack.

Want to improve your writing without devoting two hours a day to free writing? These tips are for you.

1. Improve your writing by listening to writing podcasts while you do other stuff

As I’m assembling a salad or grilling a quinoa burger (or eat a giant bowl of popcorn), I’m listening to I Should Be Writing or The Writing Show.

Don’t worry about taking notes, don’t pause the podcast if you have to pop out to put in a load of laundry. Just 80% listen. Have faith that if an idea is good enough, it’ll stick. If doesn’t stick, you’ll probably encounter someone else talking/writing/tweeting about it in the near future!

2. Get inspiration by reading authors who write the way you (would like to) write

If you write for a living and spend a lot of your free time reading, you might do the same ridiculous thing I do: inadvertently start writing like the book you’re reading.  I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. In fact, if you look carefully you can probably tell which blog posts I wrote while reading Annie Proulx.

But I’ve decided to stop fighting it and start leveraging it. I have enough awareness of my own writing voice that I know a (much more talented) kindred spirit when I read them. So if I’m going to be writing like the people I’m reading, I might as well be reading people whose writing gently nudges me closer to a better version of myself.

Because I’ll never, ever be able to write like Paul Harding
“And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it.” 

But there is some hope that someday I could write like Bill Bryson
“As my father always used to tell me, ‘You see, son, there’s always someone in the world worse off than you.’ And I always used to think, ‘So?”

Of course, I’m not going to strictly limit myself to humorous, first-person writing but in those moments when I’m aimlessly casting around for something to read, I’m making an effort to choose people whose style is like a much, much better version of mine.

3. Upgrade your skills by keeping a writing ‘swipe file’

In the marketing world, a swipe file is a collection of tested and proven advertising and sales letters. YAWN.

My writing swipe file is a document on my desktop that consists of links, paragraphs, words, and turns of phrase that have caught my fancy. It’s the sections I’ve underlined in novels and copy-n-pasted bits from blog posts that made me laugh out loud.

If I’m looking for inspiration or trying to phrase something better, I paw through this file and I usually emerge wittier and better prepared.

4. Jump start creativity by reading outside your area of expertise

If I’m not careful, I could spend the next five years of my life reading blogs, first-person humor essays, and Oprah magazine. If you’re keeping track, all of the above are written in a pretty similar manner, using pretty similar writing voices.

Let’s stretch our boundaries and read outside of our comfort zones: academic essays, long-form investigative journalism on a topic we know nothing about, pieces that have been translated, things written by people who are very, very different from us. We will learn things by reading these pieces.

5. Enhance your writing by letting it rest + then printing it out

I am consistently floored by the difference a good night’s sleep makes. In the harsh light of day, what seemed witty and tight seems try-hard and exhausting - or maybe vice versa!

Whenever possible, I like to let my writing ‘rest’ for at least 24 hours and then print it out and edit it by hand with an actual pen. Not only is this incredibly gratifying, it’s nice to hold the thing you created in your hands rather than just staring at yet another screen.

Weird suggestion: find a brightly colored pen that’s a joy to use. I love this pen - it has 88 five-star reviews on Amazon!

Now I’d love to hear from you writers! How do you improve your writing without making writing-improvement a full-time job?

P.S. The DIY writing retreat I do every month that has totally revolutionized my life + business

3 Little Tweaks That Are Making A Big Ol’ Difference

three tips for online business
“Shut UP. What? I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. UGH. My online life will now be divided into Before I Figured That Out and After.”

These are the sorts of things that you want to say over a coffee with a fellow self-employed type. So let’s spend the next five minutes pretending we’re at Nina’s (in that weird little elevated section with the two chairs) nursing our lattes. Imagine me leaning in and telling you the little, surprisingly effective tweaks I’ve been using, with awesome results.

1. Adding P.S.’s to my blog posts
Like other things I suggest to clients, I realize this sounds like a copout. BUT IT TOTALLY ISN’T. Adding a P.S. is a proven copywriting strategy and it’s a great way to integrate internal links to related content. I know a lot of people use plugins that automate related posts but
a) those create more visual clutter than I’m interested in
b) they don’t show up in RSS feeds, where 90% of my readers are

And when you go a’ searching for those old related posts, use it as an opportunity to optimize, beautify, and re-promote ’em.

2. Relabeling every photo I download and use in a post
I have lots of sources for photos - YAY, Unsplash, Flickr Creative Commons (sorted by ‘most interesting’) - and when I download them, they’re frequently titled something like “177nadlid01.jpg.”  Which, shockingly enough, is not very SEO-friendly.  So if it’s a photo of a Florida tiki bar, I title it that way. That means my photos are much more likely to show up in Google image searches, which leads to more traffic, and (hopefully) more sales.

photos-in-twitter-feed3. Using images in my Twitter feed
Every time I publish super visual blog posts (like my Real Life Style Icon interviews, Mini Travel Guides, or anything food-related) I take the time to create a Twitter-specific graphic to include in my tweet. It increases click through by a lot (super specific measurement) and helps your tweets stand out in a sea of mundane updates and hashtags.

As a head’s up, make sure you resize your photos to 440×220, or you could end up with an awkwardly auto-cropped photo.

What little things are you doing that are making a big difference? Share your insights in the comments!

P.S. Did you know that when you sign up for my newsletter and send me your URL, I’ll give your site a once over and send you three, specific-to-you suggestions to make your online space more polished, trafficked, and money-making?

8 Ways To Make Online Networking Non-Gross + And Even Enjoyable

This guest post comes to us via Maria Ross, creator of Red Slice, brand strategist, speaker and author who believes cash flow and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Maria’s latest book, the 2nd edition of her Amazon best-selling book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget launched on April 1. For your reading pleasure, below is an adapted excerpt, which includes insights and tips from the author of I’m at a Networking Event-Now What???, Sandy Jones-Kaminski. 


Networking. Ugh. For those of you rolling your eyes at the thought of making idle luncheon chitchat or tooting your own horn a bit, consider this: Since brand is all about every touch point and experience people have with you, making connections and networking is a vital component of your brand-building strategy.

Few business owners realize that networking—in-person or online—should actually be a marketing budget line item and something you schedule into your weekly plans.

When engaging in social networking online, come at it from a place of generosity and mutual benefit, not a sales angle. Try to present yourself online as you would at an in-person event. You’d never just meet someone for the first time, shove your business card in their face, and ask them to buy what you’re selling, would you? While there are some people that do this, it’s not the best way to boost your brand perception! Be human and be consistent online with your brand, just as you would offline.

You can use social networking platforms to follow up on connections you make in person to reinforce your brand. When you meet someone at an event, exchange cards and invite them to connect with you through social media. If you do this, they are more inclined to click through to your profile and learn more about your business and brand than if you’d sent an email with a website link. Make sure you take the time to create a polished profile that reflects your brand.

Here are eight tips for achieving online networking bliss:

1.  Follow up online with offline contacts
When you meet offline, immediately connect with key contacts through online social channels, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ to keep that connection fresh and avoid spamming.

2.  Personalize the note
Do not send invitations to connect on a social channel without personalizing the message. Say something meaningful! Remind them how you met or compliment them on their website.

3.  Give before you get
Think about a connection you can make for this person that benefits them. Surely there is someone you know who might make a good client, partner, or mentor.  Be generous and share.

4.  Acknowledge people who acknowledge you
Try to acknowledge @mentions or Comments when you can, especially those on a blog post or group discussion you’ve started in social media.

5.  Participate in online groups
Many social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook offer online groups. Try different groups on for size and see which ones fit. Keep your active groups to a manageable number, maybe just 2-3 per platform. Test them out and if they are not working for you, leave the group. Remember to spend some time listening and reading posts or searching for key terms first to get a feel for the vibe before you jump into conversations.

6.  Follow experts and other thought-leaders
With many social media channels, you can follow people to whom you are not linked, whether they are famous or not. Share their valuable content with your connections rather than always using your own cntent.

7.  Don’t join too many peer groups
This is true for both online and offline networking. While it’s important to network with peers, collaborate and gain support and referrals, remember not to join too many groups filled with your competitors!

8.  Stay clear and true to your brand, and the right people will find you
Staying active in group conversations is a great way to get your name out there so that reporters, bloggers, and other media influentials in your space can find you. And if they are in your groups, be sure to comment on their posts as well. If you do, this makes it less of a “cold call” if you ever want to pitch them later on.

As with any other part of your brand-building plan, you must recognize the need to put in networking time.  This will be valuable time you bill to yourself. While it’s a different form of marketing, networking reinforces your personal and professional brand. Remember, when you work for yourself or a small organization, you don’t have a million-dollar budget behind you to promote the brand. You are the brand.

How do you feel about networking? How do you do it in a way that feels good to you?

photo by craig garner // cc // via unsplash

10 awesome links (and 1 video) for smarty-pants small business owners

Good advice from Steve Jobs: get rid of the crappy stuff.

I just abandoned the Facebook page for Yes and Yes. Are we the ones who are actually ruining social media sites?
A long-time problem of social networks has been that the bad feelings they can generate are greatly disproportional to good ones. In strict terms of self-motivation, posting something and getting a good reception feels good. But most of Facebook use is watching other people post about their own accomplishments and good times. For a social network of 300 friends with an even distribution of auspicious life events, you are seeing 300 times as many good things happen to others as happen to you (of course, everyone has the same amount of good luck, but in bulk for the consumer, it doesn’t feel that way). If you were happy before looking at Facebook, or even after posting your own good news, you’re not now.

Well, this is insanely helpful! 50 ideas for things to put on social media.

If you’re writing an ebook, the title is (obviously) incredibly important. Here are three ingredients in a best-selling book title.

I’m obsessed with this WordPress theme.  Gorgeous!

I conduct all my True Story interviews over email, but I still found these interview tips to be super helpful.

Want to write a bestselling book? (Who doesn’t?) This post is full of a million tips and resources.

Would you like to email someone who’s incredibly busy? Here’s how to get their attention.
Nothing drives people crazier than an email where someone sends over a lot of information but doesn’t say what they’d like you to do. I often respond to those immediately by asking: What do you want me to do?
Do you want me introduce you to someone? Do you want me read your blog post and give you feedback? Do you want me to respond with whether I’ll be able to attend an event? Be clear and say it explicitly up front.

If you’re creating images and updates unique to each social media platform (which you should be) here’s a great sizing guide for every platform, ever.

Yes!  10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered.

Annnnnd a blog post that’s a note-to-self for me: how to switch off when you work at home.

What good things have you read recently? Leave links in the comments! 

How To Choose What To Blog About + Make Money At It

“Well, it’s a lifestyle blog for smart, funny women. So you’re allowed to read it.”

(Finger guns, awkward winking)

This is something I say 3-4 times a week when I meet strangers and tell them what I do. (I only recently stopped following “I’m a professional blogger” with “yesthatsathing.”)

If they’re interested, I go on to tell them how I wanted to create a space on the internet that didn’t pigeonhole women and combined smart, interesting things (like career, travel, self-development, finances) and less serious stuff (cats, cheese, cute outfits).

As much as I love it, I realize that Yes and Yes doesn’t really fit into a neat, tidy blogging category. Is it a travel blog? What’s going on with those True Story interviews? Did you seriously write a post that’s just photos of animals smiling?

While it’s true that I frequently publish things simply because I think the internet needs to know about sleeping bag skirts and homemade oreos, there’s definitely a method to my madness. If you’re in the process of developing an editorial calendar for your blog, here’s a behind-the-curtains peek at my on-going post series and why I started them.

Post Series:
Real Life Style Icons
How often: once a month

  • I want to introduce my readers to new blogs + support interesting, thoughtful content
  • These posts remind us that there are heaps of gorgeous, stylish humans in the world and we come in lots of different packages
  • When I interview other bloggers, they (hopefully) link to the post on their own blog or social media. I send traffic their way and they send traffic my way. Win/win!
  • If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll pull affiliate links for clothing items featured in the fashion blogger’s outfits - like this. Remember, you need to disclose when you’re using affiliate links - my disclaimer is in my blog footer.
  • After asking their permission, I compiled my interviewees’ best, most clever style tips into a free ebook, which I used to get 1,000+ fresh newsletter subscribers!
  • Style posts helps diversify my content and make my blog appealing to more advertisers
  • It adds more ‘Pin-able’ content to my site. Pinterest runs on fashion, food, and craft posts - which I don’t post very frequently. This interview series changes that!


Post series: Mini Travel Guides
How often: once a month

  • Share local + expat insights into cool travel destinations
  • Introduce my readers to other blogs and writers
  • Benefit from guest poster’s traffic when they link to the post
  • Remind readers that I wrote two travel ebooks and if they like these posts, they might like my ebooks!

PicMonkey Collage

Post series: Read // Eat and The Kitchen Globetrotter
How often: once a month, each

  • Introduce my readers to other blogs
  • Benefit from the bloggers’ traffic when they link to the guest post
  • Diversify my content
  • Post more ‘Pin-able’ content
  • Stuff my face with great recipes, drool on my keyboard


Post series: Network of Nice
How often: once a month

  • Support my readers in making awesome things happen
  • Build community
  • Close the karma circle
  • Differentiate myself from other blogs


Post series: Web Time Wasters
How often: every Sunday morning, at 6 am

  • Introduce my readers to awesome new blogs
  • Give my readers cool things to read on a Sunday morning - a time that’s usually ‘dead’ on the internet
  • Non-sleazily network with the people I’m linking to
  • Insert affiliate links to cute things I would/will/have purchased
  • Promote conversation about interesting or thought provoking things that I’m linking to
  • Empty my favorites folder, already!


Post series: True Story
How often: Every Monday at 6 am

And that, friends, is the ridiculously transparent, somewhat mercenary break down of my seemingly directionless, lifestyle-ish blog. If this level of steely-eyed strategy doesn’t terrify you (or even appeals to you) you can hire me here.

Now you tell me!  Why do you post what you post? What’s your strategy?

photo by death to the stock photo // cc

How To Take Gorgeous, Sale-Making Product Photos

This guest post comes to us via Jessica Hammond, a photographer, writer, and lifelong equestrian. She loves demystifying photography, reading CanLit, and steeped tea with lavender honey. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook!

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetPicMonkey Collage

I’m an avid tea drinker. Prairie Berry loose leaf oolong, caramel roobios, blueberry pomegranate white, run-of-the-mill orange pekoe … You name it, I steep it with lavender honey. Being a photographer and a self-proclaimed tea geek, I’m easily enchanted by mugs, teacups, and ceramics to host my delicious nectar into a personalized drinking device. Sure, I own several plain white mugs, but I enjoy my tea the most when it’s steeping in something handcrafted and special. 

I’m not the only one who loves handmade cups and mugs. While I haven’t got a clue how to make them, I can spot a good one a mile away. As most Etsy shop owners know, that first impression is a key indicator on your sales, engagement, and overall shop’s success. For folks who are looking to amp up their game and reel in the real tea geeks, I’ve got 3 easy steps to achieve great product photography in your Etsy store!  

 1. Know your product, know your message
For now, we’ll stick with the tea drinker’s wet dream: the perfect ceramic. These are handmade items (a huge genre of shops on Etsy distinguish themselves as handcrafted or homemade) that have their own message. Photography is, whether we like to admit it or not, an artistic expression. Photography is also one of the biggest ways in which Etsy shop owners have to show off their impressive work. Poor photographs reflect poorly on the product, as well as the effort that has gone into them.

As the maker of mugs, you know your product like the back of your hand. Tea and coffee and the people who drink them are looking for warmth, looking for taste, and they’re looking for an addition to their interior style. They want to display their mugs proudly, along with their stash of looseleaf and herbal teas. They want to be photographed sipping away on their winter chai as its steam curls in the air. The message your photos need to convey, then, are something like warmth, and taste, and style. Things like comfort and intimacy could also play into your message.

2. Build your space
Not many of us have home studios, large umbrellas, and a range of external flashes. That’s okay. You’re a handcrafted tea cup creator, not a photo studio! Whether you’ve got a dSLR, a point-and-shoot, or an iPhone, couple that with your kitchen counter, floor, and a big window? You’re ready to take some photos, my friend.

One of the most important points to remember about product photography is to make it intentional. Whether you want your product to be isolated and on display, or surrounded by complimentary items, images, and symbols, is entirely up to you. But either way, you have to make that decision.

Start with a few test shots, focusing in on your product. Review the photos and see what’s distracting your eye — are there odd shapes or out-of-place colours in the background? Does the isolated tea cup look lonely and dejected all by itself, or regal and stylish? There’s no requirement stating you need to take The Perfect Shot the first time you do. Mug maker, remember?

 3. Set your scene
Don’t be afraid to get stylish. You don’t sell cookies and sugar cubes? That doesn’t mean you can’t include them in your photo! What goes better with tea than sugar, or honey from a label-free jar on a comb, or a splash of milk, or cookies?

Carefully placed piles of loose leaf tea would also compliment your tea cup nicely! When you figure out your message, and you decide what sort of space you need to build, pull together your elements. Maybe you want a collection of wildflowers in a clear jar on the table. Whatever you deem fit, make sure it adds to the scene. Great inspiration for setting the scene would be magazines like Kinfolk, stylist and blogger Beth Kirby, blogger Kelsey Brown, and blogger Sarah Kieffer.

If you’re an Etsy shop owner, you know that first impressions are a key indicator on your sales, engagement, and overall shop’s success. Because of this, you want to make sure you:

 1. Know your product and know your message. Picking keywords to describe your product will help you understand your message!

2. Build your space. Whatever you do, make your space intentional!

3. Set your scene. Once you know your message and you’ve built your space, set up your scene using the appropriate style!

Do any of you guys sell physical products?  How do you photograph them?  Share any tips in the comments!