Tag Archives: Sunday

New words to live by: “Slug monkey”

Time, once again (though it has been a while), for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, tantrumony, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by taking two nouns and creating a new word. In this instance, the new word does not borrow from the names of the old words, but from their definitions. Without further waiting here is the new word: slug monkey.

OLD WORDS
Slug, n. Any one of various snaillike gastropods having no shell or only a rudimentary one. It feeds off plants and is often a pest to garden crops, often leaving a viscus trail.

v. Chiefly journalism. To furnish copy, article, story, with a slug.

Monkey, n. Any mammal of the order Primates, including guenons, langurs, capuchins, and macaques, but excluding humans and the anthropoid apes.

v. Informal. To play or trifle; sometimes to fool or screw up as in monkey with.

NEW WORD
Slug monkey, n. A sycophant, spokesperson, or follower repeating or defending the illogical ramblings, stupid pomposity, or uttered and written lies of a leader.

v. The act of uttering or repeating the illogical ramblings, stupid pomposity, or uttered and written lies.

Used in a sentence: Noun. The US Senator is nothing more than a slug monkey for the President.

Verb. The press conference was a chance for the President to slug monkey his position.

Most recent new word: clustrophobia.

Slug monkey

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Why these 4 habits are bad for your brain

Neuroscientist Tara Swart argues that snacking and comparing yourself to someone else can lessen your cognitive functions.

Source: Why these 4 habits are bad for your brain

By Tara Swart 5 minute Read

If someone asks you how you spend your time when you’re not at work, do you know where most of your day goes? It still surprises me that most busy people have their workday mapped out meticulously, yet they don’t realize how their time outside of work slips away. Partly, this is a consequence of the increasingly blurred lines that now exist between work and home. And partly, it’s a result of the fact that the tasks that take up time in our personal and home lives are difficult to quantify and account for.

But there is a more insidious reason for the time vortex. Many of us unknowingly fall into “harmless” habits that eat into our day. You probably don’t even realize that you’re doing them. If you are, you’re probably only marginally aware that they are a distracting drain on resources.

Here are the four habits that are probably lessening your cognitive function:

Checking the headlines

Most of us like to know what’s going on in the world. Once upon a time, we’d wait for the evening news or the next day’s headlines in the morning newspaper. However, now we can access breaking news anywhere and anytime from our phones. This setup has conditioned us to check in all the time to find out what’s happening and remind us to stay informed.

Most people understand that setting some boundaries around social media is a good idea. They switch off notifications, take breaks from particular apps, and designate a set time of day to check feeds.

However, they don’t apply the same self-discipline when it comes to checking news apps. A 2018 survey sponsored by global technology solutions company Asurion shows most of us check our phones every 12 minutes. And it isn’t just time that your news habit steals.

A number of my neuroscience colleagues actively avoid the news because they recognize that its negativity—and their impotence to do anything about most of what they hear—can lead to a sense of hopelessness. It saps mental energy and focus. In a study by the American Psychological Association, 56% of people said that following the news caused them stress. Opting out of following the news won’t work for everyone—I’d suggest setting some clear boundaries around it. Consider deleting, even for a while, apps that you’re tempted to open all the time.

Toxic comparison

Toxic comparison is a habit that’s as old as time. Sure, social media has given us more raw materials to compare to, but there’s nothing new about the urge to compare. As humans, we’re hardwired to compare ourselves to others in our group; to benchmark our successes and failures against others. It’s an evolutionary hangover from times when we lived in tribes and understanding our place in the social order was key to survival.

Nowadays, comparing ourselves to others is more likely to keep us stuck. This is whether we’re doing what psychologists call downward comparison (comparing ourselves to those less fortunate) or upward comparison (comparing ourselves to those we envy.) Both of these types of comparison can be bad for the brain. Downward comparison activates the brain’s “lack” network, emphasizing our insecurity and focuses on safeguarding the status quo at the expense of risk and adventure. Upward comparison can excite feelings of envy and low self-esteem.

To break free from the temptation to compare, you need to audit your social media feeds. That means deleting anyone whose posts make you feel envious. If you find that you’re comparing yourself to a particular friend, then it might be smart to mute them. If you haven’t already, set limits around social media, and do regular digital detoxes.

If you find yourself thinking about how your life matches up to a friend’s when you’re not on social media, try to shift your perspective. Think about their human traits, vulnerabilities, and things that you have in common. When you change your mindset, you can move from a place of jealousy to a place of empathy.

Comfort eating

The phrase “comfort eating” conjures an image of one consuming a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in their pajamas. But comfort eating can also be triggered by boredom: it’s something to do when we’re idle. Eating can also be a self-soothing activity. For some people, food is a coping mechanism for stress or anxiety.

So how do you change a habit that’s deeply rooted in emotions? The first trick is to notice you’re doing it. Try to keep a diary on your phone for a few days, noting whenever you find yourself reaching for a snack. Can you spot any patterns? Do you feel the urge to eat when you are bored, procrastinating, upset, or angry? When you notice your cues and responses, you’ll learn to pause before you eat, rather than doing it automatically.

It’s also important to remember that unhealthy foods are addictive. Eating foods high in sugar and fat conditions us to crave more of the same, and those kinds of foods do little for your brain function. When you do eat, make sure to fill up on nutrient-dense foods. Not only will you find them more satiating, but they’ll also give you a cognitive boost.

Multitasking

When you’re trying to juggle what seems like a million responsibilities, multitasking might seem like a necessary evil. But research shows that when we multitask, our brains suffer. Each time we try and batch unrelated tasks together, we tax our brain and use up energy in the transition. The more complex the tasks we are switching between, the higher the cognitive cost.

To stop making multitasking a habit, you need to set boundaries around what you will be working on when. Give yourself longer chunks of time to complete one thing at a time, and shut down other distractions such as email when you’re working on something.

On their own, these habits might seem harmless. But if you do them repeatedly, they can ruin your cognitive function in ways you don’t realize. Pay attention next time you find yourself doing any of these things, and ask yourself if there’s a better habit that can go in its place. Your brain will thank you.

Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, executive adviser, author, and medical doctor. Her book, The Source: The Secrets of the Universe, The Science of the Brain, is out in the U.S in October.

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Mad magazine’s demise is part of the ending of a world – The Washington Post

The joke’s on us, because we no longer have authority figures to keep in check.

Source: Mad magazine’s demise is part of the ending of a world – The Washington Post

The demise of Mad magazine is hardly a surprise. Times are tricky for print publications in general — all the more so for a title targeted with exquisite precision at middle-school boys. They are Nature’s neglected travelers, parked on an apron while the girls they used to know go racing down the evolutionary runway and take flight into the wild blue of adulthood.

Because life has, for the moment, scorned them, they return the favor, and for a couple of generations, Mad was both a tutor and a tool of their anarchy. Its cartooned pages confirmed their suspicions that parents are hypocrites, that heroes have clay feet, that popular culture is a ripoff and that a guy might as well laugh at existence because existence is already laughing at him. “What, me worry?” asked mascot Alfred E. Neuman, eternally hapless, perpetually 13.

In its day, Mad would have rolled its googly eyes at the corporate doublespeak of its own death notice. Mad will no longer publish new content, we were informed, but will continue into the uncertain future by repackaging old material between new covers. Television used to do a version of that. It was called “The Love Boat.” Each week, another washed-up celebrity took a cruise to nowhere. Mad ran a parody in 1978.

No doubt my interest in the subject is partly nostalgic. My own middle-school years in the early 1970s coincided with the peak of Mad’s influence and circulation. Two million people bought the magazine in those days, and even on a 50-cent weekly allowance, it was worth 40 cents. The “usual gang of idiots” (as Mad referred to its stable of contributors) included a number of supremely talented caricaturists and gag writers alongside a few authentic geniuses.

Chief among them was Don Martin, dubbed “Mad’s maddest artist.” He rendered a world full of ridiculous-looking adults with goofy faces, flabby guts and weirdly hinged oversize feet. These characters went blundering through familiar situations oblivious to their own pathos, accompanied by Martin’s inimitable written sound effects. “GISHKLURK,” for example, was the sound of Moses parting his soup, while “doop” was the sound of food falling from the mouth of someone choking and “SPLITCH” was the sound of a tomato in the face. (Martin’s vanity license plate read SHTOINK, which of course is what you hear when a nurse jabs your finger with a syringe.)

Every feature mined the same ironic vein: The world’s a joke, a sham, a tale told by an idiot. Antonio Prohias lampooned the Cold War in a wordless strip called “Spy vs. Spy.”

Norman Mingo rendered President Richard M. Nixon as Paul Newman in “The Sting,” cheerfully burning a subpoena. Even Al Jaffee’s ingenious back-page “fold-in” cartoons revealed dark truths masked within otherwise banal scenes.

Mad’s April 1974 cover boiled the entire sensibility down into a single outrageous image: an upraised middle finger. The blowback was sufficiently intense that publisher William Gaines never went there again. But it wasn’t the readers who objected; it was our moms, dads, ministers, librarians. Our oppressors.

To be subversive, however, requires a dominant culture to subvert. Mad was the smart-aleck spawn of the age of mass media, when everyone watched the same networks, flocked to the same movies and saluted the same flag. Without established authorities, it had no reason for being. Like the kid in the back of the classroom tossing spitballs and making fart sounds, a journal of subversive humor is funny only if there’s someone up front attempting to maintain order.

We now live in a time when everyone’s a spitballer, from the president of the United States on down. America elected the world’s oldest seventh-grader in 2016; we knew what we were getting from the earliest days of his campaign. Asked about one opponent, the successful business executive Carly Fiorina, Trump replied, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” He bullied the rest of the field with stupid nicknames. The hijinks continue to this day. Recently, Trump play-scolded Vladimir Putin as the Russian president smirked in reply. “Don’t meddle in the election, please,” said Trump — as if the two of them had been caught giving wedgies and were forced to apologize. What, us worry?

Today, whether we’re doing history or current events, commerce or religion, we’re awash in iconoclasm but nearly bereft of icons. Everyone’s a court jester now, eager to expose the foibles of kings and queens. But the joke’s on us, because we no longer have authority figures to keep in check. We’re needling balloons that have already gone limp.

Some say Mad lost its edge to its offspring, from Bart Simpson to Stephen Colbert. Yet I wonder how long its influence could have continued after the extinction of the adult establishment. Not just a magazine, but a world, has ended — not with a SPLITCH but a doop.

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The Poetry of America (unfinished), 1943, Salvador Dali

image_B61D579B-7CA0-4DFB-A309-99D57FDA2C8FWhat unfinished writing do you have?

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The Month’s Best New Crime Fiction: April 2019 | CrimeReads

Source: The Month’s Best New Crime Fiction: April 2019 | CrimeReads

At the start of every month, CrimeReads staff members look over all the great crime novels and mysteries coming out in the weeks ahead and make recommendations based on what they’re reading and what they can’t wait to read. Check back over the course of the month for more suggestions for feeding your crime habit.

Philip Kerr, Metropolis (Putnam)

It’s a bittersweet pleasure to dive into the last Bernie Gunther mystery. After Kerr’s untimely death last year, it was announced that one more book would be released in the series: Metropolis, which takes us back to Bernie Gunther’s early days on the job, and concludes a 14-book-dive into the worst parts of 20th century history. I’m planning to savor this 1928-set investigation, which promises to be a fitting conclusion to an epic series. (Molly Odintz, CrimeReads associate editor)

Alice Feeney, I Know Who You Are (Flatiron)

Aimee Sinclair is a not quite A-list actress—her face is more familiar than her name. Yet there is one person from Aimee’s strange and upsetting past who keeps interfering in her present-day business. First, her husband goes missing after a particularly nasty fight. Then her bank tells her nearly all of her money has been withdrawn–and it wasn’t her husband who closed the account, it was Aimee. I Know Who You Are is a tense, almost nasty thriller, in which the past recurs in the most dramatic way. (Lisa Levy, CrimeReads contributing editor)

Young-ha Kim, Diary of a Murderer (HMH)

Unreliable memories are a trope in contemporary crime fiction, but Young-ha Kim’s title story from his new collection takes a novel twist when it comes to memory, as a serial killer with Alzheimer’s begins to forget the details of his own crimes while attempting to protect his adopted daughter, whom he suspects to be a target of a different killer in the same town. With Diary of a Murderer, Young-ha Kim joins a new wave of Korean crime writers making their mark on the psychological thriller. (MO)

Rachel Howzell Hall, They All Fall Down (Forge)

If there’s one thing I love in mystery, it’s when a bunch of strangers get summoned to an island. Rachel Howzell Hall’s latest thriller takes that classic scenario straight out of the Agatha Christie playbook and gives it a modern, subversive twist, as seven strangers answer an invitation to a few nights at a private estate on a lush, remote spit of land off the coast of Mexico. The clash of personalities and secrets is immediate, as the guests discover that their weekend getaway isn’t quite so tranquil as they’d hoped. Howzell Hall has spent the last few years establishing herself as one of the most promising voices in detective fiction with her Elouise Norton series. Here she proves that she knows her way around a traditional mystery scenario, with a few thriller twists for good measure. (Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads managing editor)

Angie Kim, Miracle Creek (FSG)

In a rural Virginia town called Miracle Creek, Korean immigrants Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment chamber believed to cure a broad range of issues, mental and physical. The treatment—pure, pressurized oxygen—fills the struggling residents of Miracle Creek with hope, and in turn, the Yoos, who followed hope to America. But when the tank explodes one night and two people are killed, a murder trial grips the town; Kim’s taut emotional thriller unfolds in the courtroom, where the events of that fatal night begin to illuminate the deep secrets and desperation of families fighting to survive. (Camille LeBlanc, CrimeReads editorial fellow)

Miriam Toews, Women Talking (Bloomsbury)

Miriam Toews comes from a Mennonite background herself. As this moving New Yorker profile recounts, she felt a need to reckon with her own past and the patriarchal institutions of Mennonite society after learning of the terrible happenings in a Mennonite village in Bolivia; over a 100 women and girls were raped over a substantial period of time by a group of men using livestock tranquilizers to knock out their nightly targets. In her new book Women Talking, based on this real life story, Toews puts us in the center of a meeting of Mennonite women. They have two days before the men in the village return from bailing out their arrested attackers, and they must decide whether they will fight, flee, or do nothing. (MO)

Alafair Burke, The Better Sister (Harper)

This enthralling domestic thriller finds Burke at her best, diving deep into character and probing the nature of sisterhood—the envy, the competition, the lifelong bond. Chloe Taylor is the editor-in-chief of a magazine and an icon in the #MeToo movement. Her husband, Adam, is a successful corporate lawyer, and Ethan—her teenage stepson—is the biological son of her less-successful, emotionally unstable sister—Adam’s ex. When Adam is murdered, the two long-estranged sisters find themselves in a strained alliance as they fight to exonerate the primary suspect: Ethan. The twists stun as the sisters are forced to confront their history of sacrifice and betrayal. (CL)

Erin Kelly, Stone Mothers (Minotaur)

Marianne Thackeray grew up in Nussted, a town noted for its looming asylum, the Nazareth Mental Hospital. She had planned on never living there again. But time changes things: the asylum has been converted to shiny renovated flats, and Marianne’s husband bought them one. She can’t explain to him that the asylum has negative associations for her which harken back to an incident involving herself, an ex, and a dangerous enemy. The truth will come out, somehow, and Marianne has to prepare for it. (LL)

Leye Adenle, When Trouble Sleeps (Cassava Republic)

Amaka returns! Leye Adenle burst onto the international crime scene with his debut Easy Motion Tourist, an intricate, fast-paced thriller that takes us through the underworld of Lagos as a British tourist teams up with a human rights attorney named Amaka to get the bottom of a wave of violence targeting sex workers in the Nigerian capital. In the second installment of the series, When Trouble Sleeps, Adenle picks up just where he left off, as Amaka continues to investigate and bring down those who would threaten Lagos’ most vulnerable population; this time, however, Adenle ups the stakes with a complex political subplot that dovetails perfectly with the main mystery for a stunning conclusion. (MO)

Ilaria Tuti, Flowers Over the Inferno (Soho)

This Italian debut introduces us to a formidable heroine, seasoned detective and criminal profiler Teresa Battaglia, when she is called to the small alpine village of Traveni to investigate a murder. The body was found naked with its eyes gouged out, and Teresa senses a killer who likes to play sick games and who will strike again if she can’t figure out his riddles. Of course she is paired with a hot-tempered young detective, and they keep investigating violent attacks. But the locals don’t believe this killer can be among them, and Teresa is sure he is.

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Why have we forgotten Jack the Ripper’s victims? – books podcast | Books | The Guardian

Historians Hallie Rubenhold and Lindsey Fitzharris discuss their books The Five and The Butchering Art

Source: Why have we forgotten Jack the Ripper’s victims? – books podcast | Books | The Guardian

For hundreds of years, people have been fascinated by true crime and death, but the blurred line between real stories and entertainment can uncomfortably inflect our knowledge of the truth – and our empathy for people in the past.

Two historians are doing their bit to make us reappraise what we know about such histories. Hallie Rubenhold is the author of The Five, tracing the lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper. And Lindsey Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is a history of Victorian medicine and the life of pioneering surgeon Joseph Lister, which includes details of riveting medical cases and shows the reality behind the gory details.

Reading list

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (Hodder)
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris (Penguin)

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How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Web Content that Gets Noticed

How to write for a blog: authors need to learn to write Web content these days. 10 tips to help you attract Web readers and search engine spiders.

Source: How to Write for a Blog: 10 Tips for Writing Web Content that Gets Noticed

Good Web content attracts those search engine spiders.

by Anne R. Allen

These days, pretty much all writers need to learn to write Web content. Yes, even if you’re a Victorian romance author whose readers care more about reticules and spatterdashers than retweets and SEO.  Even if you don’t have your own blog. Any website needs content. Plus you may want to plan a blog tour to promote your book launch, or guest on a blog for visibility.  (Guest blogging is one of the best ways to market your book for free.)

Like it or not, all writers need to become “Web content providers” these days.

Yeah, I know. Sounds a lot less creative than “author” doesn’t it? And harder.

But it actually isn’t. Writing Web content is a little different from writing a traditional essay or magazine article, but it’s not hard. You just have to learn some basic guidelines.

Learning to Write Web Content Involves Unlearning

Especially what you were taught about paragraphing.

According to Mike Blankenship at Smart Blogger, the paragraph has gone through radical changes in the 21st century.  He says the 100-200 word standard paragraph has disappeared.  Now your average paragraph should be between two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs can be just one word long — but stay close to that average and you should be fine.

But don’t make them all the same length. Blankenship says, “Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many long paragraphs, the effect is similar.”

I had to unlearn a whole lot of what I was taught about writing prose back in the 20th century in order to be an effective Web content provider today. (Many thanks to my first online editor, Daryl Jung at the online zine Inkwell Newswatch.)

Back in the 20th century, good writers…

  • Learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there’s a new topic.
  • Wrote for people who paid money for our words and read every one.
  • Wouldn’t put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
  • Avoided repetition.
  • Would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
  • Substantiated information with footnotes.
  • Never heard of tags, keywords, or SEO.

But the majority of people don’t read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don’t even skim the whole article. Farhad Manjoo famously reported that only half the people who visit a website read past the first hundred words.

So how do you get them to come by…and stick around?

Forget all of the above and learn some new tricks:

1) Write Grabby Titles

This is probably the most important aspect of learning to blog.

Mystery author C. Hope Clark once said in her “Funds for Writers” newsletter: “You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited…the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, “HEY, READ ME OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.”

She’s right.

Headers are the most important element of your blog content, and it’s the one most novelists don’t get. We want our blogs to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid. But tabloid journalists are good at what they do. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook.

In our case, headers need to snag a reader in the endless stream of content Web browsers can choose from.

So how do we do that?

Here are 8 ways you can grab a Web reader’s attention with your story about, say, a writer who suspects her bathroom is haunted.

  1. Stir emotions: “The Tragic Ghost that Haunts my Bathroom.”
  2. Offer useful advice: “How to Make Sure a Building isn’t Haunted before you Sign that Rental Agreement.”
  3. You can sensationalize: “Why This Woman is Afraid of her own Apartment!”
  4. Or appeal to sentiment: “This Story of a Cat and a Flapper’s Ghost Will Melt Your Heart.”
  5. Maybe stir up some greed: “How Wendy Writer inked a 7- Figure Deal with her Haunted Apartment Story.”
  6. Paranoia is good: “Is Your Bathroom Haunted?”  Or “Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?”
  7. Curiosity, too: “10 Things You Don’t Know about Poltergeists.”
  8. Or you can appeal to thriftiness: “Save Money and Time with a Do-It-Yourself Exorcism.”

2) Promise a Speedy Read

Everybody’s in a hurry online.

Author Jillian Mullin recently wrote in the Web Writer Spotlight: “Generally, an average Web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes.”

That’s why one of the best ways to let people know you’ve got a quick, easy-scan piece is with a numbered “listicle” like “The 10 Best Ghostwritten Books” or “5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed.” Or, ahem, “10 tips for Writing Strong Web Content.”

The other thing is to learn to harness the power of white space. A page with lots of white space looks can be taken in at a glance..

I remember picking up a book my Yale-professor dad left in the living room when I was about 8 years old. It was thin and had lots of white space. An easy, quick read, I thought. So I sat down and read it before lunch. But the content was a bit disturbing. A mother did some really terrible things to the girl her husband was having an affair with. Then she killed her kids.

Yeah, it was the Robinson Jeffers translation of Euripides’ Medea. But hey, it was a quick read!

3) Pack Your Opener with Essential Information

Make sure your most important information is visible as soon as somebody opens your blog. People do a lot of reading on phones and small tablets these days, so those first words are all-important.

It’s also what Google shows in the search results. And those opening words will help the search engine spiders decide what searches will pick it up, so you need some keywords there, too. (Spiders, or “crawlers” are the programs that examine websites so they can index them for the search engine. Spiders are our friends and help make us visible on the Web.)

Since most people won’t read past the second paragraph, you don’t want to save your best stuff for the end. Half a century ago, journalists were taught to “humanize” stories by starting with a human interest line.

“Wendy Writer shouldn’t have a care in the world. She’s a pretty thirty-something freelance writer living in a gorgeous Victorian triplex in Old Town. She’s sitting on the front porch of the house she moved into last month with her cat Hortense. The three-story home was once owned by one Mildred Biggins, who died in 1924…”

The reporter could wait to get to the lead (then known as the “lede” to differentiate from the metal originally used to make type) in the third or fourth sentence. Not so anymore. You’ve got to give people the facts in the first 50-60 characters.

50-60 characters. That’s all Google shows in the search results, so make those characters work hard.

Just say it: “Wendy Writer’s house is haunted by the ghost of Mildred Biggins.”

4) Make Every Title Tweetable

Even if you’re not on Twitter, the reading public is, and you want your readers to share your piece and spread it around the Internet. Otherwise nobody reads it but your mom, your cat and maybe the poltergeist that might be lurking in the upstairs bathroom.

This means we have to avoid enigmatic, one-word headers that don’t give people any idea of your content. I recently saw a title that exemplified the kind of header that doesn’t work in the age of Twitter. The article was called “Ghosting.” It turned out to be about ghostwriting–a very timely subject at the moment.

But you wouldn’t know from the title. It might have been a piece on Tinder dates who evaporate, or ectoplasmic apparitions, or that short-lived TV show with Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. I didn’t have time to write a new header, so I didn’t retweet it.

You don’t want that to happen to your posts.

5) Use and Properly Format Subheaders

Sub-headers are essential for drawing traffic and keeping it. They have three jobs:

  1. Emphasize your important points.
  2. Draw the eye through the piece.
  3. Signal your topics to search engines via keywords.

So if you’re writing about Mildred Biggins, you want to use sub-headers that contain keywords like ” ghost” , “haunted” , and “poltergeist” , rather than “Flappers in the Night”  or ” Mildred or Hortense…who’s Flushing the Toilet at 3 AM?” .

IMPORTANT: Be sure to use the “header” and “subheader” mode in your blog program, and not the “normal” or “paragraph” setting.

For Blogger users, the sub-header menu is on the left-hand side of the toolbar, where you see the word “normal.”  That window has a menu, where you can choose Heading, Subheading, or Minor Heading.

For WordPress users, it’s in the menu where you see “paragraph” as the default setting. You can choose “Headings” from one down to six.

When I started blogging, I didn’t have a clue about formatting, and didn’t know that spiders don’t recognize “normal” text as a sub-header even if it looks like one to human eyes. Finally somebody told me about the importance of using the appropriate formatting and our blog stats soared.

6) Write in a Light, Conversational Style

A blog is not the place to show off your encyclopedic vocabulary. If somebody has to click around to look up a word, they probably won’t come back.

It’s also not the place for jargon. Don’t write in geekspeak, legalese, or that “most scholars agree” phony-tony style you learned to use for college term papers.

Many tech people write in a language comprehensible only to them. It identifies them as “in the know.” But an “in crowd” blog isn’t going to get as many followers as one that’s friendly and welcoming to all.

Marketers and SEO specialists are some of the worst offenders. Several years ago, I remember being told I had to learn about something called Google Authorship. I read dozens of blogposts about it, but I couldn’t figure out if it was a software program, an app, a Google Plus circle, or the name of Larry Page’s secret Caribbean island. Nobody seemed able to define it. They only made fun of people who didn’t have it.

A few years later, I read that Google Authorship had died. I couldn’t help feeling it had something to do with the fact nobody outside of Google had any idea what it was.

You’re not going to reach the general public if you write in geek-speak and act smug.

7) Shorten your Sentences

My tech guru, Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting, has put little elves on this blog who rate my posts for “readability” before I post. The elves, aka algorithms, are courtesy of a WordPress plug-in called Yoast SEO. They give me a green light if I pass muster, an orange one if I’m getting too complex, and a red one if I’m moving into Ph.D. territory.

My most common offense? Long sentences. Ruth too. We’re old school. We know how to compose and punctuate complex sentences and we have fun writing them.

But it turns out Web readers don’t have so much fun reading them. And neither do the spiders. Once I started using Yoast, our traffic soared.  As they say, “Yoast SEO does everything in its power to please both visitors and search engine spiders.”

It’s all about the spiders, people.

If you have trouble writing short sentences, Copyblogger has some helpful exercises to help you be creative with fewer words.

8) Format all Web Content so it’s Easy to Skim

Skimming is easier with lists, bullet points, and bolding. Italics can be useful too—anything to draw the eye along the text.

MS Word makes this a breeze. Unfortunately a lot of Word formatting doesn’t translate to blog programs, so you may have to resort to primitive means like numbering your own lists or using asterisks for bullet points.

A numbered list has a three-fold benefit:

  1. It provides lots of white space.
  2. And draws the eye through.
  3. Plus gives you a hook for your grabby title.
  • Bullet points are good too. Like numbered lists, bullet points are easy to grasp at a glance and they let people know they’re getting the “good parts.”
  • Bolding is powerful: It’s especially good for headers and other significant information.
  • Italics provide emphasis: Putting a quote in italics sets it apart from the normal text.

9) Choose Informative Anchor Text for Hyperlinks

Hyperlinks are all-important in writing Web content.

What are hyperlinks? It’s okay to ask. I had no idea how to make a hyperlink for the first six months I blogged. You make a hyperlink when you turn an ugly URL like this: https://annerallen.com/2019/01/new-writing-scams-2019/  into a live bit of text that you can click on to take you to that address.

You make a hyperlink by selecting the text (called “anchor text”) that you want people to click on. Then you go to the icon that looks like two links of chain up there on the menu bar. Or in Blogger it is cleverly identified with the word “Link.”

Don’t make the link with the word “here” or “this link.” That’s because the words “here” and “this link” don’t mean anything to those Google spiders.

So select the whole phrase and make the hyperlink to that. So you’d select the words, “New Writing Scams” and put in the URL to that post. (Like the ugly one above.)

Spiders only notice links with identifying text. So either use the title of the piece as I did above, or say something about it, like “Author hounded relentlessly by scam marketers”

10) Keep Keywords and SEO in Mind, but Don’t Lard Your Post with Repetitions

I know SEO is one of those jargon expressions that make most writers’ eyes glaze over. A lot of people think it means repeating the same words over and over. But search engines actually favor using regular speech these days, so you don’t usually need to do anything strange to “optimize” for a search engine.

All you need to do is use simple keywords to help Google and other search engines find you. The best way to optimize for search engines is check after you write your post to see if you have keywords in the following:

  • Headline
  • First paragraph
  • Sub-headers
  • Anchor text for hyperlinks.
  • Tags

And don’t worry a lot if you can’t cram them all in there. Treat that list as a helpful guideline, but don’t obsess or your prose will sound stilted and boring.

Using keywords simply means using the most basic words about your topic. So when you’re writing your copy or header, think of what words somebody might put into a search engine on the topic you’re writing about.

Say you’re writing about Wendy Writer’s cat, who has been flushing the toilet in the middle of the night, making her think the house is haunted by a long-dead tenant. Here are some possible headlines:

  1. “Hortense the Cat is a Genius.”
  2. “Wendy Writer Discovers the Truth About Mildred Baggins.”
  3. “Can Your Cat Learn to Flush a Toilet?”

So put yourself in the shoes of a person who might be interested in a story about a toilet-flushing cat. Are they more likely to type “cat flush toilet” into Google, or “Hortense” ,”genius”, or “Mildred Baggins”?

Again it turns out that empathy, rather than a gimmick, is the most powerful “tip” of all.

***

What about you, scriveners? Do you format your blog posts for easy skimming? Do you know how to make friends with the spiders? Have you found using subheaders increases your blog traffic? 

by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) March 3, 2019

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