Resource: web sites for journalists

I’ve posted about writer websites before, but I like to refresh my list. I visit these so regularly that it hardly occurs to me to share them, but here are a few of the sites I rely on to keep up with the writing industry or scan job postings for interesting freelance opportunities:

D.B. Scott’s Canadian Magazines blog: http://canadianmags.blogspot.ca/

– recaps industry news Masthead Magazine which provides industry news, lists jobs, and includes a handful of columnists Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs: mostly job postings but occasionally some interesting profiles

The Storyboard (produced by the Canadian Media Guild): http://www.thestoryboard.ca/

– features some profiles, industry news, and a blog roundup)

Masthead Online: http://www.mastheadonline.com

– the site for Canada’s magazine about magazines offers both industry news and job postings

Jeff Gaulin: http://www.jeffgaulin.com

– the site created by one guy that’s turned out to be the place for posting jobs in the Canadian magazine industry

Media Job Search Canada: http://www.mediajobsearchcanada.com/job_browse.asp

-similar to above

Quill and Quire’s site: http://www.quillandquire.com/job_board

– the site for book jobs in Canada, courtesy of Canada’s book industry magazine

Freelance Writing Jobs.ca: http://www.freelancewritingjobs.ca/

– as the title suggests

Mediabistro: www.mediabistro.com

– Some good columns/gossip, also a good source of US job postings

Writing Book: Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Lamott coverYet another great writing book that I picked up a while ago and finally got to reading: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Inspiring reading about the lifestyle of a writer with a side dish of sympathy/empathy.

The wonderful title comes from when her father was consoling her kid brother on being overwhelmed by a school project about birds and got him to get moving on it by saying “just take it bird by bird, buddy, bird by bird”. Nice metaphor for tackling a novel.

Here’s a quote from her chapter “Shitty first drafts” so you can see what I mean:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that god likes her or can even stand her.

Web site copy

I wrote about my SEO discoveries recently, and starting to write about web writing made me realize it’s just too big a topic. It warrants its own post.

Writing and re-writing web sites is something I’ve done regularly as a freelancer, and is quite a distinct skill from other types of writing.

Now I also teach students how to write for the web, which has helped to clarify my advice on the topics. Here are a few tips:

  • Focus on snappy writing and short sentences. Use active verbs and scannable chunks of text.
  • Use elements like subheads and bullets to break up the text. Images boost interest too.
  • Incorporate keywords related to the business and the topic of your article. This can also go wrong, as over-keywording your site makes for stilted, ickily sales-oriented writing, so be careful.
  • Demonstrate perfect spelling and grammar. Does this need to be said? Of course it does.

SEO and a lesson learned

SEOWeb design was a big part of my past history as a writer. My first job was working as Online Editor at Saturday Night magazine back in 2000 before Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was really a thing. Search engines were barely a thing (Lycos anyone? HotBot?)

I also designed over 35 web sites for other writers in an earlier phase of my business, before I decided to focus exclusively on my favourite skills of writing and editing. I taught myself HTML using that bible HTML for Dummies, started coding in notepad, and eventually adopted Dreamweaver as my tool of choice.

Before tools like WordPress, clients used to ask me all the time how they could update their sites themselves, and there were few answers back then.

I also used to try and educate clients about a little something called SEO, which helps search engines better find and list your web site. When I was building sites, few people cared about SEO. Now everyone knows about it.

WAIT. STOP.

The last time I wrote a post about SEO a couple of years ago, I started by this point to give some advice and best practices. I thought I still had knowledge to share. Then this past year, I attended a seminar on SEO, as a refresher I thought. Not so. Turns out, everything’s changed.

Okay, not everything. But most things. In my day (said the reeling oldster), elements like metatag keywords were the highest priority. Now I learn they’re hardly relevant anymore. The nice-to-have title and image tags are now essential, and analytics is where it’s at (I had gathered that, but my eyes were opened in terms of what to pay attention to).

Keyworded content is still a thing, but you must be careful there too, to balance engaging writing with your SEO aims.

Some things do remain the same: Google is still queen. But no tricks to fool Queen Google, she’ll find out.

Ditto, I think, the fact that SEO is a starting point, not the end. I’d always stood by the idea that a website is nothing without promotion, these days via social media, but also, I think through your email signature, and even the humble business card.

And keep your knowledge up to date by attending a seminar occasionally, so you’re not spreading around five-years-old advice in appropriately.

I hate grammar

GrammarOMG did I just write that headline? It’s a terrible thing for a writer to admit.

So many writers and editors live to catch typos and bad grammar, but that’s always seemed like vigilantism to me. I end up feeling sorry for the poor writer who might be embarrassed by the error. One of the best grammarians I know recently used the wrong principle/principal in a document and I know it was unintentional.

Then again, I still smile when editor friends post pictures of street signs with missing apostrophes or menus with typos.

I am decent at grammar, but almost unnaturally so because I was of the generation (sounds like we are up to a few generations now) that didn’t really cover the topic very well in grade school or high school.

As a result, my understanding of French grammar is much better because I learned it as a language. I can recite verb conjugations, am very familiar with the Bescherelle and what verbs would be irregular, and can even identify some of the genders of nouns (although that is the first to go when you get out of practice).

But when I began to teach grammar is when I really had to boost my skills: I was terrified of explaining it to my students. I would watch tons of videos on YouTube by English teachers (there’s some helpful stuff out there) and practice practice practice myself.

Did you notice how I spelled practice as a noun there? I really should have made it a verb. That’s the kind of fussy grammar rule I force myself to internalize and pay attention to as an editor. But I can never be forced to enjoy it.

There, I said it.