Posts Tagged ‘writing’

ITCMC: The Book

Saturday, November 4th, 2017 | Books, News

My course, the IT Contracting Master Class, is now available in book form. Should you buy it? Probably not. It’s slightly cheaper than the course. Except that Udemy is usually discounting the course, making the book more expensive.

But, if you really hate the idea of getting the video lectures (which includes the eBook version of this book), you can buy the book stand alone on Amazon.

Grammarly weekly report

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 | Tech

Either I have become the most prolific writer of all time, or Grammarly’s numbers are incorrect.

According to my weekly report, I checked over half a million words last week. Now, I do write quite a lot. And it picks up the spell checking I deliberately do for my articles, as well as most of the content I write in online forms.

However, I am pretty sure I did not make my way through over 600,000 words.

One explanation is that the numbers are simply incorrect.

Another is that the Grammarly for Mac app isn’t great: it freaks out when it loses internet connection and you have to reload the page. It could be repeatedly sending everything back to its server for checking.

Or, I’m sleep writing.

Do people read long-form content?

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Success & Productivity

We are told that everyone on the internet has the attention span of a gnat. You have to write short copy and get to the point immediately or people will leave.

This is not true.

What is going on here, and why do we have this misconception?

How do we know it is false?

Website spy on you.

Not in a freaky “we’re watching you through a camera” CIA way. But they are watching.

They use session recordings. Services like Hotjar, CrazyEgg and Inspectlet track what visitors do. Every click, every scroll, every interaction with the page is sent back to their servers so that the website owner can watch it later.

Everyone is doing this. Well, not everyone. I am not doing it on this blog, for example. But for big companies, e-commerce websites or anyone with an analytics team, they probably have it installed.

This should not freak you out. It is all anonymous: you haven’t told them who you are. The session recording they watch could be anyone.

Unless you are on Facebook. Then they know exactly who you are. Every time you hover over that pro-Trump article or dietary video ad, for example, Facebook makes a record of it. But then, you’ve already told them all of your secrets and uploaded all of those private photos…

Anyway, I do have the software on Worfolk Anxiety. Specifically, I use it to see what people do on my landing pages. When I pay for an advert, I want to see how effective it is.

What do people do? Find out below…

What does turn people off?

First, let’s look at what _does_ turn people off.

It is true that people do get bored easily online. It is not necessarily because we have a reduced attention span. But there is a lot of competition.

Back in the day, you bought a newspaper and took it home. If you got bored, you would probably keep reading anyway. The alternative was to put your shoes back in, walk back to the corner shop and buy another newspaper.

Not so with the online world. If you are bored of that Guardian article, the Telegraph is two clicks away. Or dog videos. Lots and lots of dog videos.

With all this competition, people have upped their game. They make content easier to read. They use short sentences. Regular sub-heads. They get right to the point and keep the content interesting.

All of these things should be done in any piece of writing. But with the online world being so cut-throat, online writers have been forced to do it much faster.

So what do people do?

When you do get down to practising all of these good writing habits, people read your content.

The sales letter for our free 30-day anxiety challenge is over 1,000 words long. That is longer than 95% of the blog posts I write. It is two pages of A4. But people read it.

There are two types of visitors that hit that landing page. The first reads the headline and then leaves immediately. The second slowly scrolls down the page reading everything.

And almost nothing in between. Once people start reading, they read it all.

The pros get much better results

I have spent a lot of time working on my writing. But, not being a naturally gifted one, I still have a LONG way to go. I am not under any illusion that it is otherwise.

So I highly doubt my content is some magical exception to the rule because of how good it is. People just have longer attention spans than we think.

Better writers know this. And use it.

Sean D’Souza’s sales page for his article writing course is over 7,000 words, for example. Someone was telling me about a Ramit Sethi sales letter that was 47 pages long: and didn’t even have a call-to-action until 75% of the way through.

Conclusion

Whether you are blog posts, articles or sales copy, one thing is clear: people will read well-written stuff. If they are interested in the subject matter, they are willing to invest the time in consuming it.

If you are losing readers, then it is not internet attention spans that are at fault: it is your writing. Make it more readable, and you will hold people’s attention to the end.

7 things I learnt from hiring content writers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 | Success & Productivity

Over at Worfolk Anxiety, we have an anxiety blog. Every Monday a new post is published. I have tried to up my game on this. A lot of the articles are over 1,000 words and I have done some deep dives on the problems and solutions I have encountered to provide valuable stuff.

However, writing a lot of quality content every week is tough, especially when you have other projects on the go. Therefore, I decided to try hiring some content writers to fill in a few gaps. 90% of the content is still written by me, but every month or so I may use an article written by someone else.

What did I learn from doing this?

You get impersonal content

When I wrote for the blog, I explore specific topics. I include personal stories. Indeed, the post is often based on something that has come up in my own life and I then expand into a well-researched article.

With content writers, you do not get this. They write from a more objective standpoint. This can be of benefit: sometimes it is good to have a fact-based article and does not wander into personal stories. Most of the time, though, people engage more with personal content. So the usefulness of such content is limited.

The content is more generic

When I select a topic for the blog, it is very specific. I write about one area of anxiety in a lot of detail. Sometimes, it is not even that related: maybe it is being productive when you have anxiety, for example.

Content writers take more of a broad remit. They will pick a large sub-section of the topic and write about that. This is because they are not familiar with the types of topics you cover on your blog. I sent them the link, but given the deadlines they face, it is unfair to expect them to read the entire blog. Therefore, they cannot get into the same gritty detail that you can.

They don’t include references

They all claim that they include references, but they never do. However, if you send it back to them asking them to put the references in, they will.

You sometimes get what you pay for

I tried a variety of price points to see what the quality differences were. At the low end, I hired someone to write an article for $6. On the other end, I paid someone $36. Did the quality differ? Yes, but not drastically. The cheaper writers were not terrible and the expensive writers were not amazing.

You do not save that much time

While hiring a writer does cut out a lot of the research and writing time, it causes management and editing time. When I received the articles back I had to check them for content and spelling quantity, then convert it into the format my CMS was expecting it in. This took a lot of time.

You need to use a spellchecker

I ran their articles through Grammarly. If there were a lot of mistakes, I sent it back to them to correct.

You need to be honest with them

One of the articles I was sent was rubbish. So I told her. Not in those exact words: I was gentle and gave specific feedback about the standards I was expecting. Nevertheless, telling someone their work is not up to scratch is an uncomfortable experience.

However, when I did, she was eager to re-write and improve the article. When I received the second draft, it was excellent, and I was able to honestly give per a positive review.

Conclusion

Hiring external writers has advantages and disadvantages. It does save you some time. However, it increases management time and gives you content that it not as good as you could write yourself. That is delegation, though: it is never as good as doing it yourself but allows you to do more.

iA Writer review

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 | Reviews, Tech

ia-writer

Recently I trialled using iA Writer as my word processor of choice for writing. Previously I would use Google Docs, which has been very good. It has all the features you would expect from a word processor and automatically generates a navigation structure on the left hand side so you can quickly jump around the document.

iA Writer is very different in that it is a pure text editor. It uses the Markdown syntax, so instead of a WYSIWYG editor, you get text on one side, that you have to use markup in, and a preview pane on the other. The big advantage for me, over Google Docs, is that it can handle large files. Google Docs works great, but as you start getting up to 50,000+ plus it starts to really struggle.

iA Writer handles these large files fine, but the rest is a mixed bag.

It looks really nice

The idea behind iA Writer is to allow you to concentrate on the words. This is does very nicely. You get a simple interface that you can take full screen to remove all distractions, and the layout and style are well thought out. You can enable typewriter mode so the current line is always centred on the screen, though this feels a bit like a gimmick so far.

The image support is not great/strong>

You can embed images in your articles, but you have to give them a URL. Markdown requires this, but I would have expected URI support. So I could just drop an image into the directory and say image 5 is “example.jpg”. Not so. The only way to do it is to upload it to the web, or use a full file path, such as file:///Users/me/Documents/Book/images/example.jpg.

Preview panel scrolls independently

This is one of the most annoying features: the text panel and the preview panel are not properly synced. As I scroll down one, the other one scrolls, but at a slightly different speed. Therefore the text and preview panel are always out of sync. You cannot see what you are working on, and if you scroll to that point in the preview panel, you lose your place where you are writing.

There is no navigation

Google Docs automatically generates a navigation bar on the left, based on all of your chapter titles and sub-headings. iA Writer does not do this, so the only way to navigate around a large document is to remember all of your headings and use the text search to locate them again.

This comes up a lot because you have to put references in the bottom of the document, so I am constantly scrolling down to the bottom, adding a reference, then trying to find where I was writing so that I can insert the appropriate footnote marker and continue working.

Summary

iA Writer is a nice piece of software. However, it feels like nobody has put a really large document in there and thought “is this usable?” Given it is specifically targeted at writers, I am not sure how they imagined it would be used, or maybe did not think through the use-cases beyond somebody writing fiction linearly.

Summer on the Horizon published

Sunday, April 17th, 2016 | Books, News

I am pleased to announce that my first novel, Summer on the Horizon, is now available for buy.

I will be honest with you, it is not the finest literary work ever produced. It was written for NaNoWriMo and while the first half has been proof read by someone other than me, the second half has not. There are no mistakes in it though. It is set 400 years in the future. Anything that appears to be a spelling or grammar mistake, it actually just the evolution of the English language.

Here is the description:

Four hundred years in the future, humanity is struggling with the impact of climate change. The population has been forced to retreat into enclosed cities. As one newspaper aptly puts it, ‘humanity is domed’.

I have had the proofs sitting around since January. Then began the long process of editing. It is a lot easier to do when you have a physical copy you can scribble in.

The book is available from the following locations:

summer-on-the-horizon

The Tokyo Journal

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Life

tokyo-journal

When I was a child, I used to publish my own magazine. It was called The Tokyo Journal. I have no idea why. It is unrelated to another publication also named Tokyo Journal. I claim they ripped off my name, five years before I was born, but it is difficult to prove either way.

My gran was recently having a clear out and came across an envelope full of them. I have long since lost all of my copies so suspected they might be gone forever. It was quite a pleasant surprise to be reminded of my past.

A lot has changed in fifteen years. Back then I was not the flawless eloquent writer I am today. My sense of humour was less refined. A lot of the material in there makes me cringe a little today. Nevertheless though I think what this shows is that I am a younger far-less-successful version of Richard Branson. Who wouldn’t want that on their CV?

Summer on the Horizon proofs

Friday, January 8th, 2016 | Books, News, Photos

Back in November I took part in NaNoWriMo and successfully completed my first novel. I sent it off to the printers just before Christmas and was pleasantly surprised a few days ago when the proofs dropped through my door. I created the book via CreateSpace and it was a bargain for the proofs at less than $3 per copy. I did spend more than that on shipping though!

Apparently, the done thing when they first arrive is to take a load of pictures of yourself posing with your book. Let it never be said I do not sometimes join in. Here is a bunch of pictures of my book in various locations.

I have already spotted one mistake. It was on the back cover of all places. Though I did not give the cover a proper proofread, so there is some hope that my proofreading was successful. Unlikely though. When we published the Leeds Restaurant Guide, I proofread it, Elina proofread it several times, and three of my friends proofread it too – and we’re still finding mistakes.

summer-horizon-spread

Here is a spread of the books.

summer-horizon-table

Here are the books stacked up on a table.

summer-horizon-bookcase

Here is the book on my bookcase.

summer-horizon-and-lrg

Finally, here is the book sat next to the Leeds Restaurant Guide.

How popular is NaNoWriMo?

Saturday, December 26th, 2015 | Distractions

When I tell people that I did NaNoWriMo in November, they often ask how popular it is as most people have not heard of it. This is not surprising as I only heard about it through a friend at Toastmasters. It is predominantly an American thing, as the international shipping I refused to pay for my winners t-shirt demonstrates. It does have a large international following however, with plenty of people here in Leeds entering.

In total, 351,489 people entered this year. 40,301 finished it (11.5% of entrants).

In Yorkshire, a total of 1,034 people entered. The average word count was 20,000, though there is no break down of this. It could have been that 400 people finished it and 600 people wrote nothing, it could be a similar breakdown to the worldwide stats. Probably the latter.

NaNoWriMo

Sunday, November 1st, 2015 | Life

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, takes place every November. The idea is that you commit to writing just under 2,000 words a day and by the end of the month you will have a 50,000 word novel.

I have been meaning to give it a go for years now, so this year I am trying to commit to it. I have an idea and I have outlined the story, which I am hoping will provide me with the framework and remove a major blocker in the motivation. I could be wrong though, we shall see.

I am not committing to writing a full length novel. I have the outline of the story, so I am going to write that and if I finish early then so be it, that will be fine. A short novel is better than no novel at all!