The Blog of John Hewitt

The Skills You Need to be a Freelance Writer

Writing skills aren’t all you need If you’re just realizing that your excellent writing skills could be put to good use on the Internet, and earn you some attractive cash, welcome! You’re about to have the time of your life as you explore being a freelance writer. But hold on – writing skills aren’t all you need. In fact, a lack of secondary skills is what sets many freelance writers…

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Successful Freelance Writers are Surrounded by Terrible Freelance Writers

It’s true. Successful freelance writers are surrounded by terrible freelance writers. Some of those terrible writers are even making a good living at it. You would be amazed at the number sub-par freelancers who manage to make money. Some of them make idiotic, easy-to-correct mistakes such as sending their proposals on scented pink paper, getting the editor’s name wrong or finishing their assignments long after they are due. Some are…

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Usability: Think in terms of scenarios

When you design a user interface, it helps to think in terms of the scenarios instead of tasks. A task is simply a major or minor event that needs to be accomplished. It’s important, but it doesn’t define the goals and circumstances that guide the user. That’s why it is important to think in terms of scenarios. A user scenario involves more than just task that is to be accomplished.…

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Usability: Surfing for User Comments

One of the benefits of the web is that somewhere in the Internet, someone is talking about you, or at least a competitor. This makes it easy to get feedback. You won’t be able to get active comments on your developing interface, but you can read comments about existing products and competitors. Some sites, such as Amazon.com, aggregate user reviews right there with the product listings. In other cases you…

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Usability: Brainstorming User Issues

Designing a good user interface on a tight budget is not an easy task. One of the things that quickly gets dropped is usability, and especially user testing. Ideally, any new interface should be deigned with input from and testing by potential users. Testing and input not only eliminate minor process issues, it also helps you clarify your whole project. When there is little or no budget for user testing,…

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Usability: People really don’t like surprises

People don’t like surprises. They especially don’t like to be surprised when they click on a link. A click surprise occurse whenever you click on a link and get something other than what you were expecting. In the e-commerce world this happens far too often. You click on an item you want to buy but instead get routed to a page full of different merchandise. You click on on “more information”…

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Usability: Do you want the data or the conversion?

Over at Usability Counts they ran an article a while back about how Expedia generated $12 million a year in additional income just by eliminating a single, optional field from their form. The field was confusing to customers and resulted in many people abandoning their transaction right at the end of the process, just because Expedia wanted a little extra information and people didn’t know what to put there. Expedia might have looked for…

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John Hewitt’s Writing Newsletter #8

Here is the web version of my newsletter. Feel free to subscribe. Writing Prompts Writing Skill Builder (A Quick Exercise) Write at least 100 words about a piece of clothing that you own or for some reason find interesting. Poetry Prompt Write a poem about giving away something you wanted to keep. Short Story / Fast Fiction Prompt Write a story in which a character must clean something. Essay /…

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How to Talk About Yourself in a Query Letter

A great article idea is the most important aspect of a good query letter, but it isn’t the only thing that matters. You don’t just need to sell the publication on your idea; you need to convince the publisher that you are the best person to write the article. Part of this process has to do with your overall writing style and the professionalism of your presentation. The other part…

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Nostalgia Punches Me in the Face

John Stewart is Stepping Down I just finished watching John Stewart announce that he is leaving The Daily Show. It was hard to watch him make the announcement. I am not a daily The Daily Show viewer anymore, but there was a time when I wouldn’t miss it. In a sense though, I had moved on, just as he plans to do now. His show became a challenge to watch,…

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Turnover, Freedom, and Standards

Turnover At work this week, we are losing one of my favorite and most relied upon coworkers. He’s a programmer who helped build and customize our customer help delivery site. It is a massive site for a massive set of products. Beyond missing him personally, I will miss his understanding of the giant ball of code that keeps our systems running. If you ever doubt the difficulty of this, spend…

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Eight Tips for Writing a Division Essay

The purpose of the division essay, also known as the classification essay or the division and classification essay, is to separate things into categories. For example, you might write about diseases that have similar symptoms, or about categories of comedy, or about the causes behind social unrest. The key to a division essay to discuss the differences and delineations between things that are in many ways similar or contribute toward…

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Fiction

Here are a few articles I’ve written about fiction writing. Plotting by Elimination What to Do Once the Crisis is Settled Maintaining your Novel’s Pace-Time Continuum Explaining the unreliable narrator Formatting a short story for submission to a potential publisher Creating a believable world Developing an idea into a novel How to Write a 50,000 Word Novel in a Month Deciding on a Narrative Voice There is no right way…

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A List of Essay Writing Don’ts

Topic / Research Don’t try to solve the mysteries of the world in an essay. Stick to topics that you can handle in the space and time provided to you. Don’t write about a topic you don’t understand. Pick a topic you can write intelligently about and take the time to research your topic before writing your essay. Don’t use web sites as your only sources. Read some actual books…

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Chapbook Publishing

What is a chapbook? A chapbook is a book that created by folding standard 8 1/2 x 11 (The size varies outside of the United States) paper in half so that you create a shape close to that of a common paperback book. By doing this, a single sheet of paper yields four pages of a book. You then bind the multiple pages together by stapling along the crease of…

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How to Create an Article or Blog Idea Log

Some writers know exactly what they want to say. They merely have to start typing and passion flows from them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they write well, but they don’t sit around wondering what to write about. Most writers, however, need a little prodding. Sometimes they have great ideas, and sometimes they stare at their computer screen waiting for something to come to them. If you fall into the second…

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How to Send an Effective Press Release

Capturing a publication’s attention can be a difficult task. You are competing against a variety of other people, causes and events. To win this competition you must do two things. First, you must gain their interest. Second, you must present your story in a professional manner that will make it easy for them to give you the coverage you desire. Here are some tips to help you send effective press…

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How to Write a How To Article

The podcast My podcast addresses some mistakes writers commonly make when creating how to articles. What is a how to article? A how to article helps the reader to accomplish a specific task. This may be a technical task such as loading a new computer application, a mechanical task such as changing the oil in a car, an educational task such as writing a research paper, or a more esoteric…

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What a freelancer should know before querying a magazine

Know the magazine’s submissions / writer’s guidelines The easiest way to find out what a magazine wants is to let them tell you. Many magazines post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find them online, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. A directory such as Writer’s Market can be helpful for your initial search, but don’t rely…

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Why they Rejected your Perfectly Good Submission

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell. ” A publisher’s rejection letter to Stephen King Rejection is an unavoidable part of the publishing world. If you want other people to publish your work, you are going to have to accept rejection and criticism. Some of the reasons writers get rejected are entirely the writer’s fault. These reasons should be obvious, but some people…

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Surprise! More Writing Articles

Howdy to my massive fan base. After my last missive, it would be odd if you suddenly started seeing a bunch of posts about writing again, wouldn’t it? It would? Ok. The explanation is that there are still a bunch of old articles that didn’t get back up on the site after it got hacked a while back. I had completely forgotten about them, but ran across them yesterday. So,…

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Changing Paths at PoeWar

I wanted to let people know what direction the site is taking this year so that they can make up their own minds about whether to continue following. I started this a long time ago. I first started posting articles about writing in 1993 at the wizened age of 25. That was over 20 years ago now. While it isn’t quite half my life ago, it is long enough that it feels like…

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Starting the revision process again

The process of editing a novel is a continual one. If you’ve been following the path I laid out here, you have done the following: Read through the first draft Performed a light edit Created a chronology Edited as you read Created an information guide Created a new roadmap for revision Added and revised scenes Edited with an eye towards continuity Had someone read and review your novel At this…

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Finding someone to read your novel’s draft

After you have finished editing and polishing the draft of your novel, you are going to want to get some initial feedback. This is for a number of reasons: A fresh perspective can often catch errors and problems that you can no longer see after looking at your novel for so long. It helps to you to identify what another readers pick up on in your novel. Quite often, they…

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Editing your novel with an eye toward continuity

Just as you needed to edit your first draft, you will need to edit your novel again after you have added and revised scenes. In most ways, your editing will be similar to earlier efforts, but at this point you are looking to make your draft as polished as possible. You will be showing it to someone else soon, and you will want them to see your best effort. You will want…

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Adding and revising scenes in your novel

When you begin adding and revising scenes for your novel, the process is a little different than writing a first draft. Your goals are different because at this point, you are filling in missing information and working within the constraints of what already exists. Your characters, tone and plot have already been set, and you are now either expanding on what you have or looking to make serious changes to…

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Creating a new roadmap for your novel

At this point, you are ready to perform a comprehensive reevaluation of your novel. Until now, the draft of your novel has been too rough for clear evaluation. Distractions such as grammar, spelling and chronology make it difficult to honestly evaluate your work. If you’ve been following the steps, you should have a relatively clean and readable copy of your first draft and plenty of notes. You should be able to…

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Sample information guide for your novel

This is a brief example of an information guide. There are no hard and fast rules for information guides, so feel free to customize this to fit your needs. Spelling and Usage This is a place to put down any special words or jargon that the characters use. Acronyms: OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder D&D: Short for Dungeons and Dragons, a game played by many of the older characters when they were…

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Creating an information guide for your novel

What is an information guide? An information guide is a much like a style guide. A style guide is a set of rules and guidelines for a publication. Typical style guides focus on issues such as grammar, usage, spelling and capitalization. When creating a guide for a novel, however, there many additional things to keep track of such as character names, character histories, plot points, place names and descriptions. This…

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Editing your novel as you read it

This is the more traditional approach that people think of when they think about editing a novel. The process is relatively simple. Consult the notes that you’ve been assembling and think about what you want to accomplish. You might want to reorder your notes so they fit the chronology of the novel. Begin at the beginning. Start reading and editing the novel from page one, working your way through to…

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Creating a chronology for your novel

Some people might have written their novel in chronological order, from start to finish in a straight line. If you were lucky (or good) enough to do this, then you might be able to skip this step. However, even a novel written in chronological order should at least be examined for opportunities. In your original draft, you may have meant for your protagonist to discover a sack of money shortly…

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Performing a light edit on your novel

The initial step in turning your first draft into a novel was to read your novel. The goal of this reading was to absorb what you had written and get some ideas for moving forward. The general rule was that you were to limit yourself to simply reading and taking notes, resisting the urge to edit even the grammar and the misspellings. Resisting the urge to edit can be very difficult…

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Reading through your draft

You’ve written the first draft of a novel. You may have done this as part of NaNoWriMo, or you may have done it on your own over months or years. You may have finished it yesterday or five years ago. Whatever the case, you are now looking for a way to make it better. You want to turn that first draft into something great, or at least something publishable. This…

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Writing an Action Outline

Outlines Make it Easier to Track Complex Events An action outline is a point by point outline of the events that you intend to have happen in your story. The action outline serves as a roadmap for your plot. It demonstrates to you how your plot will be driven forward. It helps you to think about how an action taken in chapter two might result in an event in chapter…

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Are Your Characters Well Spoken, or is it Just You?

How Articulate Are Your Characters? Most writers are articulate. Because they work with the written word on a daily or near daily basis, and because they have a love of language, most writers express themselves well. Just because a writer is articulate, however, doesn’t mean that a character should be articulate. Adjusting your language to suit a character, especially in dialog, is vital to creating a realistic depiction of that…

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Building Better Novels Through Conflict

Are your conflicts important and interesting? It is no secret that conflict drives stories. The conflict may be clear and specific (a meteor is going to destroy the planet!) or understated and perhaps not even overtly discussed (Ed feels like a failure). Whatever the case, conflict is at the core of any story. Something should be or absolutely needs to be resolved, and dealing with that conflict is what the…

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How Good is Your Bad Guy?

The Hero is Defined by the Villain The NBC show Heroes has a lot of problems. It never quite lives up to its potential for a number of reasons. There is one thing I love about the show though. I love Sylar. Sylar is the bad guy. Occasionally you get the feeling that he would like to be a good guy, but deep down he is bad. His essential flaw…

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Plotting by Elimination

Master the Possibilities When you start a novel, the options are virtually limitless. A character can go in almost any direction. As the story progresses though, all of those options should fall away until the only option left is the conclusion. Think of your story as a tree. In the beginning, a tree is just a seed, and it can grow in many directions, both up and down. As you…

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What to Do Once the Crisis is Settled

Is this the End? Every story has to end. The most important thing that has to happen before a story ends is that the central conflict of the story has to be settled. The protagonist wins. The protagonist loses. The protagonist realizes that she has both won and lost. Whatever the case, the crisis is settled. What then? Say a Little or Say a Lot? In movies, you frequently see…

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How Setting Influences Story

reception, the bridesmaid reveals that she and the best man had drunken fling the night before the wedding. As they head off on their honeymoon together, the bride and the groom must work through this crisis or their marriage will end before it has truly even begun. This is a story that could happen virtually anywhere, and at almost any time in history. It could be a comedy, melodrama or…

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