"Learn more. Earn more." Required reading for today's smart writer! As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati and other award-winning sites.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Should Writers Write the Way They Speak...?

As chance would have it, (or maybe serendipity), I ran into a young lady some time ago, at a creative function, who was an aspiring author. We hit it off right away.
In the hopes that we might collaborate on future creative projects, we exchanged information.
Excited to learn more about her background and her future events, I looked up her site to check her out, days later. What I found was impressive.

She was obviously educated, accomplished, talented, and eager to build a platform and make a difference. There was just one problem.

Her "About Me" page came across more like she was applying for a prestigious position, as opposed to connecting with readers and having an online "conversation."
She used lofty, 100 dollar words, when $5.00 words would have sufficed.

Don't get me wrong; I do believe that the words she chose to express herself on her profile were no doubt a part of her everyday vocabulary, given her credentials. Yet the language was cold and impersonal.
Not at all like the friendly and engaging woman I encountered upon meeting her.

But, it's a mistake that many bloggers and aspiring authors make.
Which begs the question...
Should you write the way you speak?
The answer is yes. And no.

Allow me to elaborate here...

In my professional capacity, I have had the opportunity to pen pieces for an array of different publications and projects. From academic articles, to blog posts, to columns and social commentary, to reviews.
My language, tone, and approach are dictated by related factors. As should yours.
Accordingly, here are some things you'll need to consider in deciding how to best use your "writer's voice":

  •   Informal or formal project?
When I sit down to craft my blog posts, I typically write very informally. I want folks to feel as if they're sitting in the same room with me, perhaps over a cup of tea or a glass of Merlot. With this being the case, I write as the mood hits me, or as the creative process leads me. You'll read everything from fragments, to Ebonics, to Pig Latin, to a little Spanish, to the King's English. And I will, from time to time, end a sentence with a preposition, thank you very much. :-)
Word up!  But, when I'm writing for a corporate client or an article for academia, I am more "poised" and conventional in what I present. You should be too.

  • Who is your audience?  
Are you writing a book for kids? A blog post for other writers? An instructional guide for employees? A speech to be delivered at a graduation? It's all relative. That's why knowing your audience is one of the cardinal rules of writing. The more you know about who your audience is comprised of, the greater the chance of tailoring your words to that readership and resonating with them.

  • What is your purpose?
Is it to entertain? To rant? To educate? To raise awareness of an important cause? Your purpose will ultimately determine your word choices, the type of information you share, your level of "intimacy" with readers, and the delivery.

  • What's your communication style?
Some folks are naturally inclined to be funny, while others may come across as more serious and low-keyed. By all means, when the situation dictates, "do you!" Speak naturally.
A case in point would be Dr. Phil. I love his colorful expressions: "That dog ain't gon hunt." And his frequent use of the words "y'all" and "ole boy." He comes off as someone who knows his stuff without being "stuffy."
I find that in a world with far too many imposters and fakes, being authentic has real value. Just make sure it's appropriate and applicable. Meaning, just because you may use four-letter words around friends, doesn't mean that you should adopt this philosophy for your blog. Keep it real, but be realistic.

Your turn.
What's your take on this topic, so to

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Class Clown" Graduates to Successful Comedy Writer

Remember back in school when "class clowns" were frowned down upon?
Teachers would warn you, (if you were one of them), that you were headed for a life of trouble and limited career options? Well, it turns out...not always. Not for everyone.

Meet Jonathan Savitt. A comedy writer and entrepreneur who seems to be "laughing his way to the bank" these days. Read on to discover more about his unconventional path, and how you can infuse your writing with more humor.  This piece has been a while in the making, so without further ado... 

Q.  Can you tell us a little about who you are and your writing background?

Absolutely. I’m a recent graduate so I feel I’m at the perfect age where I’m young enough to be doing what makes me happy without a stigma attached, but old enough where I can legally drink. So, yeah, life is good. Beyond that, I think my writing background really is who I am. It’s really what I focus most of my time into because it’s my passion - It makes me happy. I actually didn’t develop an interest for writing until I was about twenty, so a couple years ago in college.
It started from short one-liners on Twitter, once people started to positively respond and I started to gain a following I thought, “Hmm, maybe I can do more with this.” From there, it was pretty discouraging. I faced a lot of rejection because I didn’t have a portfolio or really any notable experience. I really had to reflect on how I was unique and how I was going to provide value for audiences. Once I started to further understand my tone and style I was ale to get my first piece published in“College Humor.” From there I did more consistent writing for some other larger publications and started to get paid for my work – that was a cool concept, getting paid for having fun, essentially – but money has never been a motivator for my writing.
My first big “break” I like to say was last year when I was brought on as a writer for MTV News in New York (where I currently contribute). Many more people were reading my articles and I was able to show my personality more. From there opportunities like Thought Catalog, Huffington Post, and some other projects presented themselves – it’s almost like a snowball effect.
Q. In this day and age of "political correctness" and protocol, how do you maintain that delicate balance of making people laugh without offending anyone? Or is it even a consideration in your comedic approach?
Yeah, I think it’s definitely in my mind. With the prominence of social media these days, you really have to expect that there will be comments about whatever or whoever you are writing about. I assume anything I write is permanent. I mean, look at what happened to Trevor Noah with his Twitter account when he was named Jon Stewart’s replacement.
That being said, I think a delicate balance, as you put it, is the perfect mindset. A big part of my humor is touching on societal issues and current events, so it’s important to me to talk about, what I believe, is the truth and bring these concepts to light for others – to make them aware of all that is going on, though not intentionally in an offensive way. Instead, in a way that initially makes them laugh, and then think and reflect. I’m not the type of writer or comic that is going to go out of my way to offend people, that’s not my style (though I definitely have). However, on the other hand I think being blind to situations that are so present in our lives is just as bad, so the answer isn't to just avoid certain topics. It’s all about balance.
Q. What advice would you give to other writers who would like to infuse humor in their blogs or other creative projects?
I am a huge advocate of humor. I think it’s just such a humanizing aspect in so many ways and can go a long way in creating a connection with your audience. But my advice would be don’t force it. I think the more important lesson is play to your strengths. If you’re funny then humor can go a long way, but there are also a ton of other writers out there who do things that I could never do and who have a style that wouldn't work for me. When I write I try to transfer my personality onto paper. Almost like I’m having a conversation rather than giving a lecture.
I try to be real – I think that’s the takeaway.

Q. If you had to compare your life to a popular sitcom or TV character, what or who would it be?
I love this question. It’s tough. This question is the most stressful part of my week. I watch a lot of Netflix. I might be a Ted Mosby type from “How I Met Your Mother?” Ya know, I tend to take risks and put myself in uncomfortable situations. Sometimes this results in some awkwardness, but I love that. I never like to be too comfortable. I’m also single, so there’s that (wink wink). I was a big fan of“How I Met Your Mother,” for a while (until I wasn’t) and I just view Ted as a nice, down-to-earth, funny guy who isn’t afraid to take risks even if they result in failure. OK, I have a little Barney Stinson in my personality, too.

Q. How would you complete the following sentence: Success is------?
Controlled discomfort. For sure. Looking back, almost every moment in my life that I have been proud of has stemmed from feeling some sort of discomfort – though in a way that makes me grow as a person. And these times spent out of my comfort zone have led to happiness, which is the ultimate goal, right? Now, what happiness means to various people, that’s a completely different story. Happiness can be measured by money, or profession, one’s family, or how many Oreos you can eat in one sitting (17). I’m not here to argue your definition of success or happiness, however, I do believe that taking a trip outside your comfort zone often results in both.

Thanks, Jon. It's been a pleasure having you with us here at Pen and Prosper.

Jon Savitt is a comedian and writer who has work featured on popular sites such as: Huffington Post, MTV, Thought Catalog, College Humor, and Buzz Feed.
Connect on Twitter@SavittJ

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Discover the Joys of Journaling...

The other day, while watching one of my favorite cooking shows, a chef shared a rather unusual "technique" that he feels enhances his meal preparations.

Much to my surprise, this culinary cutie revealed that he keeps a Kitchen Journal where he records his experiences with new recipes, products, variations and substitutions on ingredients, and the results of general experimentation in his "kitchen laboratory" for future reference.

Novel idea, I thought to myself. I would imagine that it allows him to save time and be more strategic in his cooking approach.
Which got my thoughts to "brewing," in terms of the usefulness of journaling, particularly for today's writer.

For as long as I can remember, I have kept one off and on.
My stash is comprised of big ones, little ones, ones without locks, ones with, lined pages, blank pages...red, pink, yellow, blue, black, multi-colored...well, you get the idea here.

What I've discovered is, not only are journals great for chronicling matters of the heart, they're terrific for capturing emotional growth, spiritual struggles, childhood memories, future dreams, travel adventures, conversations, observations, quotes, and other slices of life. This can eventually morph into essays, articles, memoirs, poems, and other creative pieces. Which can ultimately get you published and paid!

And I should know. My journal "scribblings" have found their way into several chapters of Simon and Schuster's popular anthology for women, "Chocolate for a Woman's Heart," while others served as the foundation for columns, commentary pieces, and heartfelt letters.

How about you?

Here are a few different types of journals I've logged in and maintained over the years:
  • A Creative Journal--To brainstorm and outline ideas
  • A Financial Journal--To record writing expenses and spending patterns
  • A Blessings Journal--To remain mindful of all the positive aspects of my life
  • A Relationship Journal--To "listen" to my woes, and avoid becoming a nuisance to my friends, to record special memories, to laugh and cry on paper 
  • A Home Journal--To keep up with repairs and scheduled maintenance for things like the furnace, gutters, etc. and to document my experience with certain companies and service providers

Besides being therapeutic, journaling can help to shape and mature your writing, and combat periodic writer's block.

"Try it. You might like it."

Curious to know...

Do you journal?
Why or why not?
How does it enhance your creative process? Do tell...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Tribute to Mothers **Happy Mother's Day

Where would any of us be without them?
They are our role models, our "rocks".

In fact, so crucial to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development, that their importance has been chronicled in various creative treatments, for centuries.

From book tales of Mother Goose, to the madness portrayed in the hit movie, "Mommie Dearest," to the popular song, "I'll always love my momma."

Accordingly, I'd like to take this time to salute all mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, and
mothers-to-be, for your endless sacrifice and all that you do.

This bouquet is for you!

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers, and prayerful remembrance to those who have gone before us.

Curious to know...What's your favorite book, movie, poem, play, quote, or song that addresses motherhood in some way?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Ways to Stay Focused to Finish Those Projects!

One of the biggest challenges for writers today, with the Internet, social media, and the many "Ripley's- believe-it-or-not" things that beckon for our attention in the daily news, is staying focused.
Take for example, this week.

I wanted to check out the LinkedIn profile of a new client, for a project I'm working on, so I embarked upon a little research.
In so doing, I discovered I had received dozens of requests to add people to my network, since the last time I signed in.
Fascinated with their profiles, I ended up getting distracted, and spent way too much time on something that basically yielded no return on my investment.

Then there are the guest posts, book reviews, and "let's stay in touch" emails that must be explored and processed.

Factor into the equation, that as creative individuals, most of us have a natural and healthy curiosity.
We want the scoop on who's doing what, why and where.
After all, there's sure to be some story, interview, or essay potential in there somewhere. Right?

And did I mention the allure of Spring? Oh my!

..."Meanwhile, back at the ranch," you've got client work that requires your attention.
Bills that must be paid. Assignments from editors that compete to be completed.
Dreams you've been dying to pursue.

All the more reason you need to keep your eye on the prize and stay focused! There is too much at stake not to.


1. Make a list.
Lists provide structure, and often serve as visual reminders of the tasks you need to complete on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Another alternative that is equally effective is the online calendars available for scheduling "things to do."

2. Set Goals.
Any game plan that is not accompanied by concrete, clear goals is often just a waste of time. For example, this summer, I want to complete two books I have been working on for myself, and one for a ghostwriting client. Knowing this helps me to govern my time better and to "budget" accordingly.

3. Recognize that "time is money."
It's okay to goof off a little. Go to the beach. Spend time gossiping with your girlfriends.
Kick back to a good flick and indulge in a little chocolate treat. You deserve it.
In fact, sometimes the best way to actually be productive is to allow ourselves to be periodically immersed in outside things (and interesting folks) that can feed our creativity.
But set time limits. Then get back to work.

4. Disconnect to go the distance.
Truth is, some distractions we can control; others catch us off guard and take us off course.
But, I find that when I need to be fully focused and in the moment, it helps to take the phone off the hook and disable all the electronic devices that ring, beep, chime, and toot to get our attention.
The world will survive without you for awhile.
Trust me on this one. :-)

5. Get a Goal Buddy.
People use them in everything from working out at the gym, to studying for school, to creative projects. Simply put, a Goal Buddy keeps you accountable. It can be a relative, a friend from church, a neighbor, or a fellow writer. The idea here is to share your aspirations and to keep each other motivated and moving forward.

If you suffer from the "Next shiny object syndrome" these timely tips will help you to keep things in perspective and concentrate on things that matter most for your career.

Now that I've shared my thoughts here, care to share yours?
Leave a comment...:-)

Friday, April 24, 2015

How I Lost Business and "Earned" Greater Respect!

I fired a client the other day.

As I carefully crafted an electronic “pink slip” terminating our relationship, I had mixed feelings when I hit the “send” button releasing my email.

Initially, there was a sense of sadness in severing our ties; yet I found great relief.
... Conflicted, yet determined to no longer be compromised.

As with any relationship, there were flashbacks of fond memories of the magic of times past. You know: the phone calls, the reminders of the good things the partnership produced and how we were both enhanced by it. How it made me feel special.

Five years was certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Still… there was the undeniable, nagging realization that over time, I was being devalued and taken for granted.

No matter how much I tried to romance this client by “cutting deals,” offering discounts, working at their convenience, and giving more of myself, the less I got in return.

In striving to be “cheap” and accommodating, ironically, I felt cheap.

All the while, I was unaware that there was another “offering” I provided that actually proved to be pretty costly in the exchange: I was selling my self-respect.

In the “AH-HA” moment that unfolded, The words of Dr. Phil played in my head like a movie soundtrack: “We teach people how to treat us by the things we accept.”

It was time for a paradigm shift.

Here’s the moral of the story...

So often we hold on to relationships, (personal and professional) long after we’ve “lost that lovin’ feeling.” Toxic unions. Relationships that fail to honor our gifts, our time, our experience, our needs. Or those of which we’ve simply outgrown. Relationships that leave us emotionally and financially “in the red.”

We do it out of obligation, out of familiarity, out of fear.

We ignore the “red flags,” the gut instincts, the lessons that experience grants us.

We hesitate to throw in the towel because of the sweaty equity we’ve invested.

We think we’ll have less.

But there’s great validity to the expression, “For every sacrifice there is a gain.”

Sometimes discarding something becomes necessary to declutter the chaos of our lives. When we abandon “stuff” that no longer serves us well, we often gain greater clarity, greater purpose, greater passion and greater self-respect.

Writers and entrepreneurs in particular, need to embrace this simple but profound principle,
as we pen pieces for publications and people that compensate us months, years, down the line, or sometimes not at all.

And how many of us, (somewhere in our creative careers) have toiled for content mills that paid us “factory-worker wages” for advanced skill sets and our college degrees?

What has been resoundingly clear amidst all the madness, is there is an “Art” to teaching people how to treat us.

And the quicker you master it, the more "advanced" you'll become, and the better your quality of living will be.

With this in mind, here are a few guidelines to govern future relationships, and help you to become smart about your art!

And the good news is that this works no matter what genre of writing you’re in (ghost writing , copyrighting, corporate writing, or blogging).

Don’t be bitter, be better.
Anger is a wasted emotion that adversely affects your health, your focus, and your time. Instead, use that energy as fuel to ignite your next project. That cheating boyfriend can become the villain that gets knocked off in your working novel. That difficult editor that doubted your ability can be the “naysayer” that takes your work to new levels.
“Don’t waste the pretty.” 
That’s a saying that the best-selling author of He’s not that into you” used to often share with women who had been burned due to poor relationship patterns. Translated here? Align your time, “beauty” and talents with clients that “get you” and appreciate the value you bring to their project. Of course, you can’t convince others of your worth until you recognize it yourself.
Communicate your expectations early on.
Things like how you will handle last minute requests, project revisions, late payments, or terminating the working relationship. Put it in writing. Be clear. Address the journalism’s 5 Ws for optimal results.
Put a premium on your time.  
Plumbers do. Why shouldn’t writers?
In his book “How to Win at the Sport of Business” Mark Cuban, the billionaire shark of the program Shark Tank, tells us “"How wisely you use your time will have far more impact on your life and success than any amount of money.” Take inventory. How much time are you spending on trying to collect from clients that don’t pay on time? Or trying to cultivate new business through social media circuits? As a wise man once said: “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make cents.”
Retrain your brain.  
Stop living in a poverty mindset…subscribing to the starving artist mentality. Sometimes it comes at a great price. If you’ll accept “crumbs” from others, that’s what’s likely to be on the menu.
Exit with dignity. 
If a relationship has to be ended, do it with class and maturity. Even in situations where there were “creative differences” and disagreements, burning bridges is rarely prudent.
Keep in mind that in the “art” of teaching others to treat us well, we should lead by example.
Thoughts here?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Announcements:This Just in...!

Greetings, Pen and Prosper readers,

As with many of you, the ushering in of spring has also "ushered" in an array of things to be added to my "to-do" list.  Clients' projects, yard work, spring cleaning and purging, yada, yada, yada. :-)
With this being the case, I'll keep today's post brief but substantive.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section, to get your thoughts, as always.

Now, here's the 4-1-1...

  • A special thanks to each of you for your readership and ongoing support. I am happy to announce that Pen and Prosper has now reached over a quarter of a million pageviews! Yay! If you've been checking out the goods here, I hope you'll become a valued member of my "community" by joining through Google's Friend Connect, or subscribing to my email updates.  A special "shout out" to all my new followers! Welcome! It's great to have you here.
  • It's not too late to participate in this month's National Poetry Celebration. For more info and opportunities, be sure to check out  www.Poets.org.
  • There's an interesting Call for Submissions for an anthology about music. Do you have a story, poem, or creative piece that addresses how music sings to your soul? Or an engaging tale about the role music has played in an important life's event? Stories of Music will pay $200.00 to  selected contributors for a book project that is slated to be published in fall of 2015.  Sounds like "music to my ears!" Here's the scoop at Stories of Music
  • On April 17th, I am happy to announce that I am being featured in a guest post at Women on Writing. If time permits, please stop by and check it out. Have a short piece of 500 words or less, that deals with the writing life? W.O.W. would love to share your wisdom, creative experience, techniques and helpful tips with their reading audience. Each Friday, they publish writers from various genres in their "Speak Out" section. Visit W.O.W. for additional details.
  • I'm "Tweet on you!" I have re-joined Twitter, after a brief hiatus. If you enjoy my work here, I hope you'll continue to "follow" me on my writing journey via Twitter, where I'll share great links on writing, food, fun projects, creative gigs, and my various passions. Connect @Penandprosper1. Hope to see you there!
  • Jen will be "out of the building" for a brief break. I'll see you back here on or around April 27th. Please feel free to leave comments in the interim. It's always good to hear from you!
...Until next time, have a blessed time!