A Poem for the Word Nerds

Loving words has a way of making you unsatisfied.

Today, I was sent this poem by a fellow editor, who seems to understand exactly how I feel sometimes. And in turn, I thought I’d pass it along to you all, in case you ever come across a moment where English punctuation is insubstantial.

Appeal to the Grammarians

by Paul Violi

We, the naturally hopeful,

Need a simple sign

For the myriad ways we’re capsized.

We who love precise language

Need a finer way to convey

Disappointment and perplexity.

For speechlessness and all its inflections,

For up-ended expectations,

For every time we’re ambushed

By trivial or stupefying irony,

For pure incredulity, we need

The inverted exclamation point.

For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,

For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift

Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,

Or felt love or pond ice

Give way underfoot, we deserve it.

We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,

The child whose ball doesn’t bounce back,

The flat tire at journey’s outset,

The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.

But mainly because I need it – here and now

As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio

Staring at my espresso and cannoli

After this middle-aged couple

Came strolling by and he suddenly

Veered and sneezed all over my table

And she said to him, “See, that’s why

I don’t like to eat outside.”

One Editor’s Favorites: Sources, Research, & FREE SUBSCRIPTIONS

Lost for ideas of where to read about writing? Feeling like you’ve fallen behind on content strategy trends and such, because Buzzfeed is just too EASY to keep reading instead?
I’ve been there. (Heck, I still feel like I’m there! Tell me more about how I can transform a stool into a flower pot, Buzzfeed DIY!) But over the spring and summer of this year, I’ve started to take stock of my favorites in the content strategy/freelancer space, and I thought I’d share with you all.
Some of these resources are things I found to do my full-time job better. Others are things I picked up for personal reasons. But I can’t imagine life without them now, and I hope you’ll enjoy them, too!

1. Contently/The Freelancer

Contently is a source for online media workers, like writers and graphic designers. Their portfolio service (which is free!) is one of the best out there, in terms of ease of use and search engine friendliness. Having a portfolio where links to all your digital work lives is so important, even if you already have a website or blog (which is a great idea, and I’m happy to discuss with you if you’d like!), or you use Twitter a ton.
Contently also has a daily subscription email (free!) all about being a writer today, called The Freelancer. A lot of it is directed towards people already working as freelance writers professionally, but it’s so important to learn early about the culture of writers, how business is done, and how to get new skills/experiences. I read The Freelancer every day.

2. Freelancers’ Union

Freelancers’ Union has a fantastic blog, designed with professional freelancers in mind—and they share regular interviews with innovators, which is a big plus. They also have a really amazing founder, Sara Horowitz, who’s killing it on Twitter, too.

3. Feedly

To keep everything all in one place, I use Feedly (on my desktop, and also on my phone). It’s an RSS reader that allows you to select websites you want to track, so you can read the NYTimes, Jezebel, Vox, Slate, Grist, and Everyday Feminism, all in one place.
Lots of fun to try out, and free!

4. Google Trends

As you’re trying to decide on articles in the future (and as you’re writing SEO, if you ever do that professionally), Google Trends will become your best friend. You can type in search terms and find out what related terms people are searching, how popular the term is (and has been, over time), etc.
Also free.

5. Google Alerts

Google Alerts are so easy to set up—and once you’ve done that, you can get a personal email (sent daily, weekly, or whenever news happens) that gives you top hits for specific search terms. I’ve put in my own name, and topics I care deeply about (company titles, etc.)—and it’s helped me find article topics, keep tabs on important news mentions, and make sure I’m aware of relevant stories.
Google Alerts is free, as well!

6. Always Subscribe

This may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me at first: if you’ve found a website that you like, get on their mailing list: it’s the easiest way to keep tabs on what they’re doing and saying. (And of course, it’s also easy to get yourself off their list, if you don’t like their email newsletters, or you’re getting too many emails, etc.)

7. Content Marketing/Content Strategy Resources

I say this all the time: CMI (Content Marketing Institute) is always useful for learning more about content strategy and the professional industry of content storytelling. That’s definitely true (and I’m excited to chat more with some of you about the webinar this afternoon!), but I have a few more options for you, if you really enjoy CMI’s resources:
Seth Godin (THE voice of marketing)

Content Strategy for the Web (a book—can’t recommend this enough!)

Hope these resources are useful for you all! Anything I missed that I should be checking out? If you come across others, please feel free to send them my way. I’m always up for new tools and tricks!

3 Quick Tips for Judging Whether or Not to Use a Source

Writers, I know you’ve had this problem.
You’re searching around for a source—a statistic, a quote, anything to back up your argument—and you come across something that looks okay.
But is it? How do you know? Who’s to say whether this source is worthwhile?
This is the life of a writer. It’s SUCH a problem in today’s media—anyone can say anything online, and it’s not always clear how to judge an article’s usefulness. I consider myself a skeptical person, but I really do love finding a good source, and so when I’m on a tight deadline, everything starts looking like an acceptable source. (BAD BAD BAD)
I’m sure many of you have experience in this area, but here’s what I try to ask myself. These 3 questions have saved me when it’s 2AM and I need to finish a research paper on zero sleep. (They’ve also been great for when I’m just reading online in general—media literacy for the win!)

1. Can I find the same information elsewhere?

Ideally, on a more trustworthy site.

2. How many links does the article use?

If they’re a newspaper, they likely won’t have many third-party links immediately visible within the article. But if they’re quoting a statistic, they better have the source to back it up (ideally, a link to a trustworthy website!), or you shouldn’t use this article as proof of anything.
If you’re reading a personal blog, always, always, always look at their sources. Where are they linking you to? What does that tell you about what the blogger believes? Do they link to other places at all? If they don’t, then it’s probably an opinion blog, and that means it’s probably not a great unbiased source of information.

3. What does my gut tell me?

If you feel uncomfortable about using a particular link in your story, don’t use it. Simple as that.
A few red flags to be aware of: Is the website loaded over with ads? Is this a personal blog? Does it look like this writer or website is being paid to advertise to you? Does that fact the writer shared look like an opinion?
Are you being asked to believe something that seems incredible? Does the writer make several uncorrected spelling errors, or is it impossible to find out how to contact the writer? You want to have transparency in all you do, as a writer, so if you can’t see where a “fact” is coming from, you should question it pretty closely. (That’s not to say it’s a lie, it’s just an unsupported fact! Which, as a writer, is just as bad to use in an article.)

Remember, if you have serious concerns about an article or link, always feel free to ask. (Ask the writer, ask your teacher/professor, ask a friend, ask me!) There’s no shame in getting clarification, and it’s better than telling a lie in a story. You want your reader to trust you, so taking the extra few minutes to do your research is always worth it.
What are your favorite rules for writing, researching, and gathering sources? Let me know in the comments!

On Collaboration, or Why I Love Teams of Writers

Writers may be tough to work with. But I’ll tell you one thing about writers that I love more than anything else: their spirit of collaboration.

Currently, I run the day-to-day operations of an online publication, writing and editing articles and recruiting for/managing our team of freelance writers and designers. One of my major responsibilities is handling our editorial brainstorming meeting, held weekly.

I’ll be honest: this meeting is one of my favorite parts of this job. It’s a chance for the editorial team, fellows, and contributing writers to touch base and discuss the content strategy, and how that will play out in articles during the week and in the month to come. Although we meet during the workday in the office, writers from all across the US have joined in, both in person and via conference call/video chat. Not all writers attend, but some do—we have a healthy balance between new blood and regulars each week.

Unlike in college, where we sat down in class and tried our hardest NOT to speak up, these meetings are full of energy and life. I don’t take credit for this: the writers who we’ve found (and who have found us) are so willing to pitch in, speak up, and share ideas and thoughts as they come. It’s a collaborative process; I start the meeting with a list of topics, and we run from there. And what happens most often is that we never make it fully through the list of topics, and we’re always short on time—writers are sharing their opinions, being respectful but challenging, and keeping the conversation alive with limited required input by me or by other staffers.

All that to say, I feel tremendously lucky to be working with such a group.

As a person, I’m greedy about stories: I want to be the one to tell them.

But as a writer, I know I can never tell every story. I can’t even tell most stories: there’s someone more experienced than me who could do it, and would likely give a better performance. But I can tell some stories just the same, and there’s no problem with writing something, even if someone else’s is better.

For what I can’t write, I can encourage others to write.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no fan of plagiarism, and I believe strongly in letting each writer have first access to the stories they bring to the table. But I also feel that an article (especially an article written from a personal lens) is often stronger with a little verbal editing, and a little group discussion.

Seth Godin said it perfectly:

“It’s one of the things I’ve always liked best about being a professional writer. The universal recognition that there’s plenty of room for more authors, and that more reading is better than less reading, even if what’s getting read isn’t ours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an infinite game, one where we each seek to help ideas spread and lives change.”

Writers share, support each other, and push each other towards goals. And that’s a near-universal fact about writers that’s wowed me since I was young.

When I was in elementary school, my mother took part in a writers’ group in our area town. I have vague recollections during that time, but I do remember going to local book festivals and having my mother know several of the authors there. I felt like she was in some sort of secret club.

My love affair with writing isn’t just about the sometimes-frustrating process of writing, editing, rewriting, and publication. I don’t write in a vacuum. I write for myself, I write for others, I write to have a place at the table, and a spot in that universal club. I feel welcome there—and you should, too.

More reading is better than less reading—and more writing is better than less writing.