Archive for the ‘Writing’ category

Kate Hudson and Victoria Beckham gave birth to…

July 11, 2011

…“brand new babies,” according to Thank god the babies were brand new– I’d be worried if they were anything but.

“It’s spring and I’m blind”

July 6, 2011

I recently finished reading “The Idea Writers: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Era” by Teressa Iezzi. Overall I enjoyed the book, which thoroughly discusses successful marketing campaigns– mostly digital– from the last decade or so. I would say the part that stands out the most is toward the beginning.

Iezzi brings up a true story about a blind beggar on a street corner. The man’s sign reads “I’m blind. Please help.” Sadly, no one is giving him money. An observant copywriter walks up to the man and changes his message to “It’s spring and I’m blind.”

This simple rephrasing changes everything. Instead of receiving nothing, he starts getting loads of money. Something about the new phrase appeals to people’s emotions, which really speaks to the power of good writing.

Yup, I’m a copywriter

March 22, 2011

Around 7:45 p.m. I noticed a blunder on the Boston Globe’s website, Can you find it? (Click on the image to see it better.)

Yup: They wrote “Cheat eats,” not “Cheap eats.” It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but it’s too bad one of the biggest newspapers in the country had such a glaring error. Around 8:15 p.m. I checked the site again and the issue was fixed.

The power of writing

December 4, 2010

I wasn’t sure what to do about something in my life. So instead of hemming and hawing I sat down with my journal and wrote down my thoughts. Five minutes later I knew what to do. There’s something about writing that taps into our subconscious and tells us what we don’t normally recognize or want to recognize. It’s like some supernatural force takes over our bodies and writes what we need to hear. It sure can save us a lot of time!

He seemed so happy

November 19, 2010

This post is way overdue. It’s about an incident that took place a few years ago. A guy I wrote a couple of news articles about shot himself inside his trolley car home. Here’s a link to the article I wrote about his historic trolley car in November 2006.

In August 2007 I wrote an article about his upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Romania. For that interview, he had me over to his trolley car for lunch. We sat at his outdoor picnic table, in a wooded area beside a bubbling creek. It was quite a picturesque scene, and one reason neighbors had complained about pest control trucks driving back and forth in this neighborhood (I wrote about this topic, too; the article is at the bottom of the page).

For the Romania interview, Mr. Trolley made delicious chicken salad sandwiches, and served them with strawberry wine. He also had me taste some special cheese he had ordered from the West Coast, where he used to live. As a reporter I wasn’t supposed to accept gifts or meals, but this was one of the few times I did. I felt it would be rude to turn down his nice gesture. In addition to telling me about his planned trip to Romania, he told me about a recent spinal cord injury that was really impacting his daily life. He seemed very distraught about this, but I thought he’d be OK.

A  few months later I heard he had shot himself inside his trolley. He was dead. I had never personally known anyone who committed suicide. This was a shock. I didn’t know what to think. I figured his injury may have played a role in his despair. I also knew he had been through a tough divorce and his daughter was siding with her mother (according to him). He had been involved with contracting work but maybe that work had dried up. Maybe he was at the edge and some incident occurred to push him over. Or maybe he had been planning this. I’m not sure.

I remember when I went to his trolley to interview him for the trolley story. He was so jolly and proud to show off his special abode. He had it all lit up in a beautiful way. He had put so much care into restoring it, into making sure the home was well insulated, repainted, etc.

I remember he loved the story. He called me up right after he read it and said it was perfect. I remember I got a lot of positive feedback from others as well. They like the historical aspect. Anyway, I’m saddened to think that such a good person was prompted to end his life. Maybe he was in such pain, though, that he’s in a better place now. Either way, it makes me realize that life is so fragile and anything we can do to to make others happy is energy well spent. You never know when someone is right at the edge.

Simon Winchester gives a good talk

November 15, 2010

Winchester talked about his latest book, "Atlantic"

I love seeing authors speak about their works, or scholars lecturing about their areas of expertise. But for some reason, I haven’t attended many of these talks over the last couple of years. I ended a long drought on Thursday when I saw Simon Winchester discuss his new book about the Atlantic Ocean at Porter Square Books in Cambridge (check out Winchester’s website to see what he looks like).

I haven’t yet read the book. I knew nothing about Simon Winchester. But I sort of became enchanted by him over the course of his one-hour appearance. This guy knows how to tell stories. The words just flow. I wish I had written down some exact quotes of his. Instead, I just took notes on some of the interesting ideas he discussed.

Here are some things I learned:

  • The Atlantic Ocean formed about 200 million years ago when Pangea broke apart (I knew the Pangea part, but not when the separation happened).
  • Scientists project the Atlantic Ocean will cease to exist in about 175 million years once the continents have shifted and water from the ocean has been squeezed out.
  • Winchester organized his book using Shakespeare’s “seven ages of man” model. Let me expand a little bit upon this:

Apparently Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” catalogs the seven stages of man’s life as infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon (an aging buffoon), and second childhood. So Winchester organized his book into these categories. The “lover” section, for instance, discusses humans’ love for the Atlantic over time. The “soldier” section describes wars that have taken place on the Atlantic Ocean. I thought this was a very interesting way to organize the book.

  • He told an amusing story about the Faroe Islands, an island group about halfway between Great Britain and Iceland belonging to Denmark.

He told us that the inhabitants of these islands are descendants of the Vikings. Because the men aren’t at war anymore, they have lots of energy to “purge themselves of.” They accomplish this through placing sheep high up on the sides of cliffs. They leave the sheep in these dangerous spots for months as the sheep eat the lush grass and fatten up.

When the men finally return to the cliffs, they knock the sheep into the water. The sheep die, come up to the water’s surface, and are collected to be turned into food. This means that if you’re ever on a boat around these islands, you should watch out for falling sheep!

The British needed a smokeless gunpowder called cordite, which was made from acetone. Weizmann developed a way to produce acetone through bacterial fermentation. British officials learned about Weizmann’s procedure from Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott,  and had him share his knowledge. The British set up a cordite factory in an old whiskey factory, and the rest is history.

To thank Weizmann, British officials wanted to knight him. But he didn’t want that– he wanted a Jewish state in Palestine instead. It’s largely because of his wish that this eventually happened.

  • Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world. According to Winchester, who has been there before, only about 250 people live there and it’s not that interesting. It’s a lot of people growing potatoes.

Anyway, Winchester told a really funny (and true) story about how he’s banned from the island.

  • The “Skeleton Coast” in Namibia is known for its shipwrecks. Winchester actually went there to see where a ship attempting to rescue another ship crashed into the shore. He visited the graves of the two brave souls who died during this incident, and mentioned them in his book. It’s a way to keep their memory alive as many seem to have forgotten about them and their heroic efforts.

I love how Winchester took us to different parts of the Atlantic we’ve never heard of and filled us with rich imagery, poignant stories and humorous anecdotes. I really want to read this book now! For a glimpse of how Winchester talks, check out this short YouTube clip about “Atlantic”:

Cheap money-making content

November 8, 2010

I recently learned about a handful of online publishing companies that hire contractors to write short and simple articles about topics that are commonly searched for online. Through this focus on in-demand topics and the subsequent search engine optimization of the articles, the content get lots of page views, advertisers, and revenue.

Just for fun, I decided to try writing an article for a couple of these companies. I applied for two I had read fairly positive things about– Bright Hub and Demand Media (the company’s content appears on and The application process was fairly simple for both of the companies. I provided my resume and some (published) writing samples. In almost no time I was approved as a freelance writer.

For Bright Hub, I was approved to write for the company’s “Diet, Nutrition & Health Eating” channel (so I’d write about articles related to these topics). Before I could pick out any assignments, I had to supply my tax information (so they could tax my pay). Because they required me to fax the information I decided not to pursue the opportunity (too much hassle involved). It looks like I missed out on getting $10 per article plus a share of advertising revenue.

I did end up writing an article for Demand Media, however. The company let me fill out my tax information online. I was then able to search for article topics by keyword. I appreciated this search system and the fact I wasn’t limited to one category of topics. Most of the assignments paid $15, though some paid $7.50. I picked one topic– Boston Social Activities– and claimed the article. I had a week to write it.

I did some research and wrote the article following their style guide and SEO-focused (search engine optimized-focused) format. I sent in my article, and an editor had me change one thing. After I revised the article, I sent it back in. It was approved, the article was published, and $15 was deposited into my PayPal account.

I know there are other companies out there (like Associated Content and Suite101) that pay a small amount for in-demand, search-engine-optimized articles. I think it’s cool these opportunities are out there for writers looking for some extra cash and exposure. This may also benefit people searching for particular topics online. They get a quick answer to their question.

The problem, however, is the quality of these types of article is often compromised due to low pay and a relatively lax approach to hiring writers. This practice of “content farming” may be contributing to the spread of misinformation or at least generic information that’s more based on re-appropriating already-existing content than adding value.

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Writing about yourself

October 24, 2010

I started this blog about a year ago, around when I was leaving my job as a newspaper reporter. I think I realized I still wanted to write and exercise my web publishing skills. Well this blog hasn’t exactly been a huge success (I don’t update it every day, I’m not focused on one particular topic, and I only get about 30 page views per day), but I’m still going to keep it up. One thing it’s done is encourage me to talk about myself.

When you’re a traditional news reporter, you’re not supposed to inject any opinion or personal anecdotes into your work. Your job is to communicate what’s happening and that’s it. Well, I did this for five years (first as an intern reporter, then in journalism grad school, and then as a staff reporter).

This was a great experience; however, I feel like I lost some of my spunk. Someone would ask me how I was feeling, or what was new in my life, and I would give some generic answer. I’d say, for example, “Oh, work is good. I like my new apartment, and I’m excited for my upcoming trip to Philadelphia.” I wouldn’t really go beyond that; I think it was largely because of my job.

Not only was I unable to inject my thoughts into my work, but I also felt like my life wasn’t worth talking about. I mean, when you’re writing about newsworthy topics like murders and municipal lawsuits and local geniuses, your life seems pretty boring. You’re not much different than your common man, so why mention or analyze your mundane experiences?

Well, I haven’t become an advocate of talking about myself all the time. Obviously that isn’t what people want to hear. But since I stopped working as a reporter I’ve become more attune to my thoughts and expressing them when the appropriate opportunity presents itself. This blog has helped with that, and I think all this is a good thing.

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Josh Billings had some great quotes

September 15, 2010

I just learned about a late writer and philosopher who came up with some great sayings. His pen name was Josh Billings (real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw), and he lived from 1818 until 1885.

His writings and lectures were apparently very popular during his lifetime. Some even compared him to Mark Twain.

I can already see why he was so appreciated. Here are some of my favorite quotes of his:

“One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.”

“There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”

“Friendship is like earthenware, once broken it can be mended. Love is like a mirror, once broken that ends it.”

“Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.”

“Love looks through a telescope; envy, through microscope.”

And my favorite, duh-duh-duh:

“Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.”

I love the way that man’s mind worked!!! I totally agree!

Five years of my life are lost (at least the details of these years)

September 8, 2010

My journals were all quite different, like these ones.

From around junior year of high school to junior year of college I kept a journal. I would write in it every day or two, and ended up filling up more than 10 journals.

But a couple of years after graduating from college I threw all the journals away. They have probably long been chopped up into little pieces.

I regret that I did this. How cool would it be to read thoughts I had from so long ago (nine to 13 years ago)? I have lots of memories from this period of time, but many of them are rather vague. Plus, I have certainly forgotten certain happenings or thoughts, and may never remember them again.

I know exactly why I threw out those journals. Actually there were two reasons. One reason was I felt my thoughts weren’t worthwhile. I felt I had written about pretty mundane stuff (what I was doing that day, feelings about friends, thing I wanted to do over the next year) that would be boring to read about one day.

The other reason was I was going through a period where I felt I had to do away with material objects. I was thinking of moving to France permanently, and thus felt it wasn’t practical to have many possessions. Whenever I went to the store to buy something I’d consider its size. Was it significantly small enough to bring to France?, I contemplated.

Eventually I got over this fear of having too many possessions, though I still try to throw away as many unnecessary items as I can. I don’t like clutter, or having useless objects around.

But if I still had my journals today I would decide to keep them. I would consider them valuable, despite their commonplace topics. They’d help me understand how I got where I am!

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