Welcome to Pen & Prosper

Welcome to Pen & Prosper
"Required reading" for today's smart writer. As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Daily Blog Tips, Write to Done, Technorati, WOW! and other popular sites.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Art of the Rant...How to Get it Right!






"Shout, shout, let it all out. These are the things I can do without!"--Tears for Fears

Let's face it.
Unless you qualify for sainthood, or have had a life that resembles a fairy tale, someone or something has pissed you off, caused you to say a silent prayer and count to 10...It happens to the best of us. The worst happens.
We start our day off with positive meditations, divine inspirations, then someone has the nerve
to disturb our "nirvana."  Are you feeling me here?

It could be the "jerk" that cuts you off in traffic.
A supervisor who is less than Super!
An opportunistic relative.
A client who is clueless.
A previous partner who gives us the "pink slip."
Someone who is insensitive with their words.
"Don't it make yo' brown eyes blue?"

I've been there. Done that. And I feel your pain.
And like the typical writer, you want to pen your thoughts for others to read, and as a form of release.

But, there's a right and a wrong way to do it, Charlie Brown. And here's why...

A rant that is not properly executed can make the writer look bitter, immature, unprofessional or even silly.
How do I know? Because I've read them!

Still with their ability to unravel our reputation, rants remain a popular read for the following reasons:

  •  Others like to know that they are not alone in their misery.
  • People can relate.
  • Some rants are very entertaining and even enlightening.
  • They sometimes express what others wish they had the ability or courage to say.
  • It can cause us to appreciate the beauty inherent in our 1st Amendment rights.
I believe that a good rant is like a good bottle of wine: it should be stimulating, tasteful, and allow you to relieve stress.

Accordingly, here are a few dos and don'ts you'll want to observe to make your next rant resonate with readers. 

DOS
  • Keep it clean. Rants that are laced with profanity and put-downs rarely appeal to readers.
  • In the words of Elvis Presley, "Don't be cruel." Observe tasteful boundaries. Especially when dealing with clients and relatives.
  • Remember that once it hits the Internet, it's pretty permanent. So before you "vent" make sure to sleep on your thoughts for a day or two. If you still feel the same way, then it may be worth taking the risk.
  • Make rants relevant to your readership.  For example, a blog on writing may "discuss" rejections from editors, or gripes with social media, or a bad experience with a book signing.
  • When possible, apply humor. It typically makes folks more receptive.
  • Give us some take-away value. What can we learn? Perhaps you decided to "take the high road" despite being ticked off. Or there's a universal lesson we can apply, or a mishap we can avoid.
  • Make rants reasonable. In other words, don't complain about the world being overcrowded, or the fact that babies cry too much. Duh?

DON'TS

  • Don't forget that your rants can have consequences. To you and to othersHere's a case in point. Some years ago, a teacher got fired for expressing his views about the "ghetto parents" at the school he taught, through his personal Blog. Some might argue that it was his right to express his opinion; still the people within his school's community didn't take too kindly to it. Their "vents" and complaints caused him to ultimately lose his job. Be forewarned. The hide you save may be your own!  
  • Unless your Blog is purposed for rants and controversial commentary, don't overdo it. "All things in moderation." A person who "always" rants is typically perceived as either angry, or limited in his conversational skills. You're better than that.
  • Don't post public rants for things that should be dealt with in person.

With the holidays coming along, and family gatherings, I can feel a few rants "brewing" already. :-)
How about you?

There you have it, folks.
Your turn.
Agree or disagree?
Voice your views on the rant...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

An Open Letter to Future Writers...


Personal Note:
I recently received an Email from Bob Clary of Webucator, requesting my participation in the "Teach Your Talent" Project.

Flattered of course, I agreed to contribute by penning today's post. I hope you enjoy it.
As I believe it is virtually impossible to teach all the complexities of writing in a singular session, I opted instead to provide "instruction" in the way of a personal letter to future writers.

Whatever your level, I hope that it inspires you and moves you to "the head of the class."

Dear Future Writers:

Many moons ago, a Chinese quote stated: “May you live in interesting times.”
It seems prophetic in a way, when we consider the exciting dynamics that shape today’s culture.
It’s the 21st Century and these are indeed “exciting” times. Like Star Trek travelers, “we have dared to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
 
Think about it. The Internet and social media have revolutionized the way we communicate and connect. We are privileged to be able to learn from and interact with people across the globe through new technology, interactive mediums, and even “Tweets” from your “Peeps.”
We’ve witnessed a Black man in the White House, traditional marriage is being redefined, and we’ve embraced many “firsts” in the way of education and health reform.
What a wonderful time to be a writer! Everything is changing and evolving.
What does this mean for you? As a writer, this amazing era provides a smorgasbord in the way of food for thought. There are endless opportunities to "sample," experiment, examine... to create, to grow.
To chronicle what you see, what you hope for, and what you would like others to see through your life’s “lenses.”
 
Though each writer has to chart his own course, I’d like to share a few tips to provide fewer detours as you travel.
  • Keep a journal and keep it with you. You never know when or where inspiration may hit you.
  • Remember what your English teacher taught you; but don’t be afraid to break a few rules. e.e. Cummings did.
  • Study the “old greats” (Twain, Shakespeare, Tolstoy), as well as your contemporaries. The wedding tradition of “something old, something new” definitely applies in writing.
  • Believe in yourself. Writers have to deal with criticism on an ongoing basis--from readers, editors, reviewers; self-confidence is a must, if you are to go the distance.
  •  Read. How are you to know how to engage an audience, spin a phrase, or evoke emotion, if you have not experienced it first-hand? Reading sparks the imagination and feeds the soul.
  • Pay it forward. When you make it, (and no doubt you will), take the time to nurture the talent and dreams of others who seek to follow in your footsteps.

And last but not least, create with care. Your words are as much a part of your legacy as your Sunday dinners. They have the potential of impacting thousands of people for many years to come. Future generations may indeed be studying your work in a classroom--along with other literary greats. You just never know…

Sincerely,

Jennifer Brown Banks 


This post is dedicated to Bonita Bennett, of Harbon Publishing; for taking the time to make a difference in my career many moons ago.
 

 





Sunday, October 5, 2014

4 Benefits of a "Well-Branded" Blog

Today's savvy writer recognizes the importance of creating and launching a blog as a promotional tool, to help build their platform and their bottom line.
And the evidence is overwhelming.

According to WPvirtuoso.com, there are over 152 million blogs on the Internet. Additionally, it is reported that a new blog is created somewhere in the world every half a second!
Representing an array of topics, themes, niches, causes, genres, and life experiences.
But, here's where things begin to get sticky.
A considerable amount of bloggers' efforts end there.

In other words, many fail to publicize their sites through guest posts, article marketing, social media forums, or even something as simple as including it in the signature line for outgoing emails.
Word to the wise: it defeats the very purpose of having one.
It's like being "all dressed up with nowhere to go."
Perhaps it's even you.

With this in mind, let's explore some of the benefits of a well-branded blog in enhancing your writing career and your online image. Shall we?

1. It helps you to work smarter, not harder.
That's right. A well-branded blog makes you as hot as "Bieber fever." What does that mean and how does that translate? Instead of "pounding the virtual pavement" for work, ad opportunities, speaking engagements, and creative collaborations, many times people will come to you. Here's an example from a recent Email:
"Jennifer, I just love your blog. I'm wondering if there might be some interest in presenting at one of our upcoming workshops?"---Cynthia Clampitt, President of Midwest Writers Association.

2. It helps to establish and enhance your expertise.
Wendy Burt, author and P.R. executive, formerly gave her blog the clever title "Ask the Query Queen." Simple, effective, and easy association here. If you had to describe your brand, what would it be?
A good place to establish it is with your blog's slogan or tagline.

3. It serves to distinguish your writers "voice" above all the online "chatter."
Think about this for a minute. I'm sure you'll agree that the blogggers you read and follow on a regular basis are those that are unique in their style of expression, their approach, and their delivery. They stand out above the crowd. They're memorable. Something we should all strive for.

4. It helps to create brand loyalty.
Similar to the favorite products that you add to your shopping list each week, simply because certain products have earned your trust and your hard-earned dollars.
(Which consequently, adds to your bottom line).

Now that you know why branding your blog is essential, here are a few timely tips on how to make it happen. 

1. Remember that "repetition reinforces."
You'll need to cleverly and consistently work on getting your site out into the blogosphere and associated with quality content and usefulness. Not just when the mood hits you. Devise a marketing plan; start there.

2. Guest post at both small sites and the big, influential ones as well.
From my personal experience they both have advantages, depending upon your strategic goals.

3. Keep your site updated regularly.
Doing so helps to maintain momentum, establish credibility, and ensures you'll be taken seriously within the blogging community.


Thoughts?
How would you describe your "brand?"
...OR, how would you describe mine? :-)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Motivation For Your Muse-Quotes to Live & Grow By...

Looking for a lead-in to your next article?
Words to inspire you to greater heights?
Sentiments that make you smile and think?
Philosophical thoughts to mold into poetry?
Try quotes.

A good quote can frame your thoughts perfectly and resonate with readers. Or, they can be used as creative writing prompts to develop more in-depth ideas and projects.
I like to think of them like the "required black dress" of writing.
In fact, I recommend that every writer invest in a small book of quotes, (along with the standard writing books and dictionaries).

You'll find an array of categories--from serious to silly, to all-purpose. My home collection includes funny quotes on love and marriage, quotes by category and key words, and even biblical quotes.

Use them for inspiration and motivation.

Here are a few today to get you started: 

"Your approval is one of the reasons I get out of bed in the morning!"

"The only thing that comes to us without effort is old age."

"Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atomic bombs."

"Poor companions are like the buttons on an elevator; they will either take you up or down."

"When things go wrong, don't go wrong with them."

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."--Eleanor Roosevelt

" Be still and know that I am God."--Psalms
 
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." --Zora Neale Hurston
 
" The eyes of my eyes are opened."--E.E. Cummings
 
"Order is the shape upon which beauty depends." --Pearl Buck
 
" Sometimes God will shake you up to move you forward."--Jennifer Brown Banks


 "Bloom where you're planted."




Jen's Plants

 
 
 
Have a great week ahead!
 
 
 
Thoughts? Any of these resonate with you?
...Or please feel free to share your personal favorite.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

4 Reasons Cooking Shows Make the Perfect Recipe For Writing Success...Part 2



Jen's Deviled eggs
Would you like to "turn up the heat" on your writing career?Improve your "presentation" skills? Enhance your creativity?
Here's the ticket, in two words: cooking shows.

I've said it before, but it merits repeating.
So, here's a refresher...
Cooking shows are a great way to learn more about the craft of writing and how to approach your projects with greater purpose, passion, and vision.

And I should know. As a culinary cutie, I'm often glued to the tube, watching weekly shows to get new ideas on old recipes; I love to cook for family and friends, and I find it rather relaxing.


Jen's Homemade Cole Slaw
But even if you don't dig the idea of "slaving in front of a hot stove," you may enjoy the TV cooking competitions, for their entertainment factor and the teachable moments they provide in the way of writing lessons.

Here are a few of them. See if you'll agree.

4. Poor time management can have disastrous results.  
I've witnessed more than a time or two when talented cooks on various shows have mis-managed their time, (due to disorganization, improper planning, or not accounting for "Murphy's Law").  As a result, they served up raw meat that wasn't allowed to sufficiently cook, or literally threw their dishes together (to finish within the allotted time), and lost points for poor presentation. They ended up being ousted from the competition. And lost a lot of money in the process!  Writers sometimes suffer similar perils, when serving up "half-baked" pitches to editors,  missing important deadlines with clients, or not taking the time to proofread their work before publishing. Don't be one of them.

3.  You have to be able to successfully handle the "heat."
Hell's Kitchen is one of my favorite programs. And though I've never had to cook in a professional capacity, I have worked with people, who like Chef Ramsey have the sensitivity of Howard Stern.
And you will too. Sometimes editors' critiques can be brutal. Readers may not always agree with our position on a particular issue, or we may get a book review that is embarrassing.
Word to the wise: If you don't develop a thick skin, you'll never be able to go the distance. Don't be bitter, be better.

2. Making the best of the situation will ultimately make you a better writer.
Let's face it. We all have encountered professional situations that have been less than "ideal." Being assigned a story that we don't like, getting last minute requests that prove challenging, or having the parameters of a project changed. But, as they say, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish" that matters. For example, on a recent episode of Master Chef, the cooks were dealt a difficult task.
The mission? They had to make appetizing dishes out of the brains, heart, and testicles of selected animals. Not your usual cooking ingredients, right? Though some were initially repulsed by the idea, they were able to work through it and advance in the competition. Learn to "craft" something beautiful from raw, "unrefined" materials, when necessary.


Jen's Homemade Cheese Cake


 1. Don't let fear limit your horizons.
By nature, I'm not a person who likes to take a lot of risks. I don't consider myself bold or particularly experimental. But, as a creative artist, I often find that I have to be. How else will I challenge myself and reach new heights? Or learn from trial and error? Or develop new skills? I remember when computers first came out, I was really intimidated. Technology was something I didn't think I could successfully master. But, once I got over it, I increased my skill set and my bottom line.
The same thing applies to my cooking. Many times, I had to toss my "experiments" in the garbage and start over again. (And no one ever knew). :-) With some trial and error and tweaking, I can now serve things that I'm proud of, and that appeal to the tastes of many. Yay!
What fear do you need to conquer to move forward?
Perhaps it's a book that you lack the courage to release. Or addressing a controversial topic on your blog. Or starting the first step of a writing career.  Take inventory. Take baby steps. But do it.
"There's no time like the present."


Thoughts?
Agree or disagree? What "ingredients" would you add here?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Announcements & Updates...

September has only recently been ushered in, and it's off to a busy start for me!
I'm working on a few new book ideas, editing for other authors, and some other fun and engaging stuff.

With this being the case, Pen and Prosper will likely be updated once weekly, (until further notice)- unless there's something "news breaking" or exciting that I would like to share with you.

Not to worry...you can still count on quality posts, periodic job opportunities and creative leads, contests, reviews, and advice on how to hone your craft and increase your cash.
So, stay tuned...
Do me a favor? If you find anything that I provide to be particularly useful or even encouraging, please drop a comment to the site to let me know.

This helps to navigate the future direction of this Blog; not to mention, it keeps a girl motivated and feeling appreciated! :-)

Here's the 4-1-1 on news and views for this week...

  • Many of you may remember some time ago, that several "big name" blogs stopped accepting guest posts, due to the lack of quality of submissions. Well, I'm happy to report that Daily Blog Tips has now revised its policy to accept guest posts again. It's a great site with a large following, and I have been fortunate to have my work featured in the past. So, if guest posting is one of your goals for 2014, I would suggest that you check it out. See it here.  
  • Do you have a frustration with punctuation? If so, you'll find "PUNCTUATION...?" to be a very helpful and engaging reference guide to assist you in becoming a better communicator. It's brief, but substantive, and easy to follow. For more info, visit the site at Userdesign.co.uk
  • If you are an author or a business with products of interest to writers, teachers, thought leaders, and those within the creative community, why not consider an Ad here at Pen and Prosper? It's well received, has won numerous industry awards, and the rates are reasonable. Get in where you fit in! Your products and services will be viewed by a diverse (and growing) readership, in more than a half dozen countries! For consideration, please email me at Gemsjen@yahoo.com
  • September is Friendship Month. Make sure to connect with those special individuals that have enhanced your quality of life by saying "thanks" through a card, email, or phone call.
  • I have been alerted that there is a problem with signing up for updates here at the site. I am investigating this, and hope to have it corrected soon. Thanks for your patience.
Have a Super Saturday!

Friday, September 5, 2014

What Muhammad Ali Can Teach Us About Being Better Writers!

Today's post is sure to pose some skepticism at first glance.
To tell the truth, its ideation and evolution even surprised me.
I'll pull no punches here. I have never been a big fan of boxing.

In fact, the few times I have viewed it, was through slightly-covered eyes. On an intellectual level, I find this "sport" to be a bit frantic and stressful to watch, for my particular taste.
Yet, ironically, I am a recent fan of the former heavy weight champ, Ali.

Let me rewind here before we move forward, (for clarity sake)...

Over the last few months, various TV channels in my area have aired some pretty interesting documentaries, movies and tributes on the "Champ". Though I've always known who he was, I never knew what he stood for.

Few would disagree that he's an intriguing character indeed. Not to mention, he was a real "hunk" back in the day.  Certainly not your typical rough looking, intimidating, bruised boxer type. Anyhow, I found the more I was exposed to of his life and legacy, the more I admired him.
Ali was more than a boxer; here was an entertainer, an athlete, an activist, a strategist, a philosopher, poet, and more; "boasting" many followers and fans.

You can too, if you apply the following practices and principles that helped shape his career.
There's a winner in you too!

HERE'S WHAT I LEARNED FROM HIS LEGACY...

1. When you fall, have the courage to get back up.
Whether it's due to the crushing blows delivered by an editor's rejection, a financial hardship caused by the loss of a key client, or simply feeling as if your burdens are too heavy to bear. Get back in the game! Contrary to popular opinion, writing is not easy. It can be grueling, sweaty, painful and exhausting, just like being in the ring. But don't throw in the towel if there's some fight left in you.

2. Walk the talk.
Ali always told us he was "the greatest" and he lived up to it--winning numerous championships and titles before retiring. Before you apply to jobs, approach editors, or work with clients, make sure you can deliver upon your promises, and that you are who you present yourself to be.

3.  Apply humor whenever applicable.
Though Ali was considered a "serious" contender, he was well known for his sense of humor and charm. Many of us can remember how he would often take humorous "jabs" at sportscaster Howard Cossell. This quality made him likeable and unique in his profession. Along the same lines,
best-selling author and pastor, Joel Osteen, begins each sermon with a joke. In these serious times, the ability to make others laugh is a true commodity. Just be sure that it's in good taste and not mean-spirited.

4. Speak your own personal truths.
Stand up for what you believe in. For him, it was opposition to the war. For you, it might be refusing to take on free writing assignments, or choosing not to write for sites that conflict with your moral code, or taking a controversial stand on your Blog. "The truth shall set you free."

5. Discipline and training can help to go the distance.
Ali once shared, "I hated every minute of training , but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."

6. Strategy is just as important as skill.
Ali was able to advance his career by studying the "moves" and weaknesses of his opponents. He would also "get inside their heads" by taunting them and targeting their "Achilles heel."
Learn how to get inside the heads of your readers. What are their needs? Their challenges? Their interests? A way to find out is to conduct periodic surveys through services like Survey Monkey. Or examine the analytics at your site to identify the most popular topics.
Assess then deliver!

In closing, I'll leave you with an Ali quote that sums things up pretty well here.
"Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's wrong."

Share a comment, if you're "up to it." :-)