In a Writing Rut? Plagiarism Isn’t the Answer

Hey, writing is hard even for professional writers. Nowadays everyone from established businesses to solopreneurs has to crank out blog posts, newsletter articles, social media conversations and more to build their audience. Most likely the focus of your business is on a widget or service that has nothing to do with mastering the skill of writing. So when those deadlines loom to get something new posted, cutting and pasting a great article (someone else wrote) into your layout might seem like the perfect solution. But it’s not.

The word for taking someone else’s writing and putting your name or your company’s name on it is plagiarism – which is another word for stealing. Writing is like any other product. It takes time to research the subject matter and tons of thought goes into crafting the message. So yeah, if someone’s writing is stolen they’re going to be upset.

Let’s look at three ways to create fresh content to broadcast to your followers. The best part is you’ll be proud of the content because you can legally call it your own.

Write it Yourself – This is a no-brainer. You’re the expert. We want to hear from you about what’s going on in your industry. Tell us about what you deal with every day and how your products or services are helping people out. If you’re having trouble coming up with things to write about check out my article on just that, “7 Tips to Finding Your Next Writing Topic.”

Hire a Ghostwriter – In this scenario, you can put your name on a professionally written article and take full credit for it. That’s because you hire a writer – and let them know that it’s going to be a ghostwritten piece – to write as if they were you. They’ll perform the magic behind the scenes to make you look great in front of your readers.

Link Up – This solution involves you (or your ghostwriter) writing an introduction to your topic of choice then listing one or more articles that you’ve enjoyed on this topic. Refer your readers to these articles with a live link and a short reason why you think they should read it – without giving away the heart of the piece. Then cap off your article with your words of wisdom.

These solutions enable you to create valuable resources for your readers without stooping to anything shady. If you’re looking for a ghostwriter you can find me hiding under my desk! Booo.

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Don’t Stink Like A Fish: 6 Ways to Keep Your Web Content Fresh


Browsing the web you’ll come across sites that look like they haven’t been touched since the day they were launched. A “What’s Happening” page full of events from three years ago or an attempt running a blog fizzled out after three posts point to abandoned websites. Visitors question if the business is legitimate or if they’re still in existence. If you want to engage potential customers and build an online audience you can’t let your content fester and stink like a dead fish.

Keeping your website current may seem challenging but it doesn’t have to be. The good news is you’re already making news as you grow your business. You just have to identify things to add to your site.

If you’re thinking that you haven’t done anything worth adding to your website in a while then it’s time to swim out the door and do something. Having a website should motivate you to stay active in your industry so you can have something to share with your visitors.

Easy Website Updates that Keep Your Business Swimming Strong

Front Page – The most visible web page of your site is a place to get to know you and your business. It’s an opportunity to display important or major new offerings, products, promotions or insights.

Event Page – Get out and do things – tell us where you’re going to be so your followers can come visit you!

About Me – Every six months to a year look this page over. I bet you’ve done something new you can add to this page to keep it current.

Credentials – Good job! You have a new certification, award, or license to enhance your knowledge and skills – Let your visitors know you’re serious about your business by updating this info.

New Clients + Testimonials – A strong list of people you’ve worked with and happy client blurbs always look great and build potential client’s trust in your brand. Keep this updated so we know you’re still making people happy.

Publications – Have you published an article on another website? Has someone written about you and your business? Keep an ongoing list of links to these publications on your website so we can learn even more about you.

Just by adding, updating or moving around information, you stir the water of your site and prevent it from going still.

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7 Tips to Finding Your Next Writing Topic

If you write articles for your personal, company or club newsletter or blog, it’s a good idea to keep a list of possible article ideas to pull from. Avoid the stomach sinking worst case scenario of having nothing to write about. Prepare yourself for your next article by keeping track of issues that come up in your area of expertise and/or industry.

I used # 7 to create this post. I asked potential clients in my networking group what they wanted to know about writing. One of them asked “How do I come up with a list of topics for my industry newsletter?” Check out the following steps for my answer.

If you want to keep track of ideas on paper consider also keeping an ongoing Word Doc file (or equivalent) to track web based publication links.

1) Find out what’s being said on Social Media (Twitter, LinkedIn) about your industry across the nation or worldwide. Cut and paste interesting conversation threads or links into your Word Doc.

2) Keep note of what issues YOU face throughout the month and how you handle these situations.

3) It’s okay to jot down the obvious issues in your field…your insider solutions may not be so obvious.

4) Listen to what your co-workers are chatting about and write down the issues they’re experiencing.

5) Ask your higher ups what issues your industry is facing as a whole.

6) Research what your competition is up to online.

7) What questions do your clients have that you can write about?

Give yourself some time before your deadline to go over your notes and highlight the most compelling issues and trends listed. Pick one of those issues to be this month’s article topic.

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Pooper Postage Required: Cut Typos Out of Your Writing

No no no no no that wasn’t my typo. I mean I wasn’t the one who wrote “pooper” when it was supposed to be “proper.”

Okay so here’s the story: I was working at a print shop when an order for thousands of return envelopes was placed. That’s what it said in the box where you’re supposed to affix the stamp. I mean I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t change it because that’s what the client ordered. So that’s what we printed. All two thousand envelopes had the word “pooper” on them.

I have to admit that was a pretty funny mistake. We all laughed about it at the shop. I bet some of the people who put their stamps on that spot laughed too. This isn’t the kind of reaction businesses want, right? If you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to make sure your words are saying what you mean.

When I’m reading a Victorian novel (cause that’s what I do) and I run across an old-timey typo – a single word misspelled amongst hundreds of thousands – I forgive it. But when I’ve only got three words to read and one of them is dead wrong there’s no room to have understanding – because the meaning is totally shot.

Here are the steps I take to create typo-free text:

  1. Spell check – If everyone used it we wouldn’t have had the “covfefe” scandal. This is an especially important step for Social Media. You’re not writing a business letter but you are communicating with the public and a quick run through spell check could save you some embarrassment.
  2. Grammarly – Install the free version of Grammarly to Word. It helps out with punctuation, identifies when words should be compound words (water fall or waterfall) and also identifies word usage errors (“dancing in the isles” or “dancing in the aisles”).
  3. Read it out loud – After all the spell checks just go through the document yourself. You’ll be able to pick out choppy sentences and replace words for better ones. If you only have three words in your document look up each of them in the dictionary just to be sure you’ve got it right.
  4. Have someone else read it– Hand your document to a friend, family member or co-worker. Ask them to highlight anything that stopped the reading flow for them. They’ll be able to pick out things you gloss over.
  5. Hire a proofreader – If your document is super important hire someone to read it over and confirm that you’ve eliminated all of those pesky typos.
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Local Writers at the San Mateo County Fair

My Award Winning Short Story on the Wall

Yes go to the fair for sunshine, double stacked corn dogs, a block of curly fries melded into the shape of a fry basket, pig races and carnival rides but also consider stopping in at the Literary Stage. Yeah, the San Mateo County Fair held a mini writing conference sandwiched between the fine art and quilt displays inside the main exhibition hall the third week of June.

I was especially excited to visit the Literary Stage this year because I knew I had won two Honorable Mentions for my writing. Out of roughly two hundred submissions I made it to the acknowledgement level. Every piece of writing submitted to the fair was on display hanging on the walls of the literary area. While I was searching for my name I encountered a pleasant surprise. I found that the third piece I had submitted also won Honorable Mention!

Two of my pieces that won have been featured on this blog. Little Free Library, is a post about micro neighborhood book lending and A Decade of Imitation Fruit is a guest post on the topic of the literary journal I have been producing for the past ten years. A new short story based on a comedy sketch that I wrote, The Birthday Committee was also featured at the fair.

Winning stories, essays and poetry are put into an annual anthology Carry the Light: Stories, Poems, and Essays from the San Mateo County Fair. The publisher of the fair’s anthology, Sand Hill Review Press, works closely with local authors many of whom are also members of the California Writers Club San Francisco Peninsula chapter. CWC helps organize the Literary Stage and performs judging duties for writing entries. The anthology, publisher and CWC are great resources for writers in San Mateo County and beyond.

Darlene Frank’s Workshop, Photo by Eva Barrows

The Literary Stage hosts a variety of events for writers to learn about the craft of writing, authors to read their writing to an audience and an opportunity for readers to buy books from local writers. This year I caught my CWC friend Darlene Frank’s workshop on “Creating Your Most Powerful Writing.” For about an hour and a half Darlene outlined how writers can identify and execute writing with a clear purpose. It was fun to hear a fellow writer share their process and to take the time to think about my own writing in a supportive environment.

After listening to writers that I’ve come to know through CWC read from their award winning work at the Literary Stage author’s panel I am inspired to continue submitting my work to the fair. I hope to move up a notch next year and take home one of the big fluffy ribbons!

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Screenwriters Hook Up With Hollywood at San Jose Cinequest

Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows
Hammer Theater Center, San Jose CA, Photo by Eva Barrows

Cinequest’s ad on the Visit San Jose website flashed at me as I was cruising upcoming city events. I clicked over to Cinequest’s site and found that the 13 day film festival just began, running from February 28 to March 12. The festival will honor actors Jane Lynch and Fred Armisen for their bodies of work and screen 100 feature films, 150 short films, and virtual reality films in San Jose and Redwood City. During my internet search I discovered that the film festival was hosting a one day “Writers Celebration” for the budding screenwriter. I was lucky enough to find out in time and attended this past Sunday.

The Writers Celebration kicked off at the San Jose State University campus with two panels of entertainment industry insiders. The first session was a how to pitch and pitch challenge with movie and television talent agents. The winners of Cinequest’s screenwriting competitions pitched their story ideas in front of the agents and audience. Some presenters had flair and kept the early morning crowd’s attention while others went long losing momentum. The panel advised writers to stick to the main character’s story line in a pitch and highlight how the secondary story lines propel the main story. They also encouraged writers to be concise and use action to keep the audience engaged.

The second act of the Writers Celebration was dedicated to discussing the business side of getting into the entertainment industry. The four person panel included Carol Leifer, standup comedian and television show comedy writer. Carol wrote for the television show Seinfeld where she pitched story lines for the character Elaine. Carol advised that women are needed in the writers room because men can’t tap into issues that women face: such as “skinny mirrors” (where department stores create optical illusions) and Korean manicurists that speak about you to their co-workers in front of your face. Carol carries a notebook around with her at all times to get these funny observations documented. Since her reminder, I’ve jotted a few gems down myself in my “funny file.”

Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows
Cinequest Banner, Photo by Eva Barrows

The other members of the panel work in acquisition for production companies, Sierra Affinity (Entertainment One) and Grindstone Entertainment Group (Lionsgate). They named a few film and screenwriting competitions their companies scout for new projects: Sundance, Nicholl Fellowship, UCLA and SXSW. They also troll script rating systems, Blacklist, Script Pipeline and Ink Tip. The panelists advise that when a project is submitted to them they pay attention to catchy email titles and intriguing loglines, and if those aren’t there they don’t read the query.

The finale of the Writers Celebration festivities was a recognition ceremony at the San Jose Hammer Theater Center for the Cinequest screenwriting competition winners. Approximately forty screen writers filled the stage with ten writers in four categories: full length feature, short film, 60 and 30 minute teleplays. Some of the winners got to pitch their log lines to the audience and the audience voted for their favorites.

The Cinequest Maverick Spirit Award was given to accomplished director and screenwriter Jason Reitman. The award celebrates Reitman’s bold story telling choices in his work. Being the son of a successful director, it was important to Reitman’s to find his own path. When he started making movies he entered them in film festivals and caught industry attention. Reitman’s experience with film festivals illustrates that they are a great place to gain exposure and recognition.

The cost of attending the Writers Celebration at Cinequest, a mere twenty five dollars was well spent. I left inspired to keep up my “funny file” and look for outlets and opportunities for my own screenwriting. I will definitely keep Cinequest on my radar for further exploration next year.

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Public Library Indispensable For Career Changer

Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows
Belmont Library, Photo by Eva Barrows

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I forgot how great the public library is. When I didn’t have to research books and periodicals for college essays anymore I pretty much stopped going to the library. I bought books online and in bookstores, rented videos from Blockbuster, then Netflix and Amazon Prime. When my bookshelves overflowed with books I didn’t want to keep, I’d donate them.

I couldn’t continue with this lavish lifestyle of buying and dumping books when I started on my new journey to becoming a full time freelance writer. I found myself suddenly needing stacks of books to educate myself on my new business. I had to find out how to set up a WordPress website, how to get into the freelance writing marketplace, a refresher on journalism, how to write marketing copy and so on. I’d go broke buying all of these resources. So I drove the few blocks to my local library.

Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows
Statue of Readers, Photo by Eva Barrows

The local branch provided a great start to my quest for knowledge. It has current technology and business books. For a wider range of books related to the craft of writing, I turned to the online catalog that is connected to all of the other libraries in San Mateo County to order books from other branches to fill my knowledge void. The ordered books show up at my local branch in about a week.

Besides all of the technical how to books the library has, it also provides a comprehensive collection of current movies, TV, music and audio books. Listen up people! Go to your library and rent the recent release movies for free. Ok, not all libraries are alike. I’ve heard that some public libraries charge for renting new movies but it could still be a better deal than streaming them. Within the last few weeks I’ve checked out the current movies: Suffragette, Man Up, Brooklyn and the new Bridget Jones all for free…

I’m grateful to the San Mateo County Library network for assisting me in learning my new trade and keeping me entertained at the same time.

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Imitation Fruit Literary Journal: Guest Post at Yvette Keller’s Aspiration Blog

Come celebrate 10 years of Imitation Fruit Literary Journal with me at Yvette Keller’s Aspirations Blog. Yvette was curious to know the recipe behind the creative juices at Imitation Fruit and I told her all about it.

Cover Art by John Barrows
Cover Art by John Barrows
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Simple As That : Rewriting a Short Story

Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows
Fruit and Story, Photo by Eva Barrows

December 2014 – Wrote short story during an online writing class. Had particular goal in mind for characters but wasn’t pleased with outcome. Instructor said he thought story was fine and I was being hard on myself.

All of 2015 – Story hanging out in computer — All year. Wonder what it was like in there…

August 2016 – Thank god I found a writers critique group to be a part of. Story re-visited.

September 2016 – Kept essence of characters, moved the setting around, explored using different points of view and found the one that would show off the most interesting character the best. Edited myself as I wrote (slap on back of hand). Made my critique group read parts of story several times. (Will make it up to them somehow…chocolate?)

October 2016 – Agonized over ending. Complained at dinner table to husband about not knowing how to end story. Went back to desk, struck by lightning – premise isn’t what I wanted it to be, it was even better! And better yet, everything I needed was already there. Finished story and told husband. He said, “Really?!?” He didn’t understand how I could be in despair one moment then done with the story the next.

Currently – Waiting for next critique meeting to see what the girls think.

Next – I have some ideas about how to punch up the ending. Then I’m going to submit the sucker and get the story published. I hope it likes hanging out on paper better than stuck on my hard drive.

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