To Hear the Forest Sing [book review]

There’s something about nature that calls to me and I don’t know how to explain what happens when I go out in the woods except to say the trees and the air whisper to my soul. I don’t know what they say but I always feel refreshed and renewed after a nature walk. Perhaps this is why Margaret Dulaney’s book To Hear The Forest Sing appeals to me—for the past 25 years she has walked the woods with her dogs. While she walks, she ponders. Then once home from her wandering, she writes.

to hear the forest sing by margaret dulaney

To Hear the Forest Sing is the result of Dulaney’s writing following her morning walks. Arranged into categories like Reconstructing a Self and Pieces of a Puzzle, there are 26 essays exploring spiritual themes on a wide range of subjects. I find her approach unique and refreshing and enjoy the meandering nature of this compilation.

Even more interesting, To Hear the Forest Sing is a companion to the spoken-word website Listen Well. Here Dulaney publishes audio versions of her essays. In many cases a writer would publish a written blog of her daily musings but Dulaney has taken a different path.

I connect with Dulaney’s approach to life and writing and understand the dream for a simpler life, one filled with nature, stillness, contemplation, reflection, and writing. In fact, I wonder how much more writing I’d do if I adopted a daily walk in the woods practice.


To Hear The Forest Sing: some musings on the divine synopsis

To Hear the Forest Sing is a collection of essays by the founder of the spoken word website Listen Well. Margaret Dulaney has been accumulating a life’s worth of spiritual musings for the past two decades. In 2010 she founded the spoken word website Listen Well, which offers one recorded essay a month to a growing number of followers. Listeners tune in for ten quiet minutes as she explores sacred and secular themes through story and metaphor.

There's something about nature that calls to me and I don't know how to explain what happens when I go out in the woods except to say the trees and the air whisper to my soul. I don't know what they say but I always feel refreshed and renewed after a nature walk. Perhaps this is why Margaret Dulaney's book To Hear The Forest Sing appealed to me; for the past 25 years she has walked the woods with her dogs. While she walks, she ponders. Then once home from her wandering, she writes.

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How to Create a Social Media Portfolio

Portfolios. In general I understand them—a collection of your work assembled to demonstrate your experience and expertise in an area. But I’ve struggled with social media and figuring out how to create a social media portfolio. Because although it’s my work it’s not for me. Most of my social media experience is creating content and strategies for other people or brands. It’s like ghostwriting. It’s ghostsocialing. (I sure hope that’s a hashtag.) My mission is to figure out how to present my social media portfolio in a way that demonstrates my experience and expertise but doesn’t break client confidentiality.

How to Create a Social Media Portfolio

As I searched the Internet I didn’t find a lot. Most how-to create a portfolio advice is for writing clips, marketing, or how to display your personal social media stats. All of this is good and useful, but off topic. And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because it’s a tricky balance. So I started asking writing friends how they add ghostwriting credits to their portfolio. Short answer, they don’t. They leave it out and just refer to “ghostwriting services” or “x amount of books/blogs ghostwritten for x amount of clients.” Vague but what else can you do?

But I want to do more for my social media portfolio.

The golden rule when you create a social media portfolio: show don’t tell

You know you need to do it in your writing but it also is important in your portfolios. But how do you show (or even create a social media portfolio) when your clients don’t love the idea of admitting they don’t run their own accounts? Or what if you did strategy work with a client, how do you display that? And what if you worked with a client at one point and their feed looked amazing but now they manage their own and it isn’t so awesome? How do you show that?

Here are my best three ideas for building an awesome social media portfolio

First, showcase the services you offer

The best social media portfolio’s I’ve seen break the services down into bite-sized pieces.
Create a social media portfolio by starting with your services and expertise.

Here are a few tips for creating this section of your social media portfolio.

  • Images are your friend. Find generic stock images representing the services you offer and the types of clients you serve
  • Highlight the services you offer
  • Make it interesting

You can expand on and explain the services you offer, or not. It depends on your target client and what will speak to him/her.

Second, list your clients

Gulp.

I know, we’ve been talking about the situation where you can’t name your clients or you aren’t sure how to talk about them. We’ll just do our best here.

Remember how you listed your services a few minutes ago? These are now our categories for organizing our clients. So, in my case it’s Consulting, Social Media, Blogging, and Platform Strategy. Divide your clients into categories (they can be in more than one) and make them look pretty.

If you can’t name your client then describe them. You can list them as a Wellness Company in Vancouver, BC for example. If you can’t show their logo or brand then find a nice stock image that represents the type of business they are. Now list how you worked with them according to your categories. Bing, bang, boom.

When you create a social media portfolio you can't always showcase your clients. If you can't, find an image representing their brand/business and describe how you served them.

Here are a few tips for creating this section of your social media portfolio.

  • Describe the types of clients you’ve worked with and the types of services you provided
  • Include links to client websites if you can
  • Include client testimonials where you can

In my mock-up example I haven’t expanded to this point but you can see how more is more here. However, if you can’t say more due to client confidentiality then a beautiful image and a short description of the work you did will suffice.

Third, make sure your personal social media profiles are optimized

I’m listing this third but your social media profiles are the first and best part of your social media portfolio. You don’t need them optimized to create a social media portfolio, but this is where many of your future clients will find you for the first time. You want to make a positive, memorable impression here. Wherever they find you.

I’ve outlined how to optimize your social media profiles before but here are the highlights.

  • Choose a professional/standout profile picture and cover photo
  • Make it easy for people to know who you are/what you do
  • Link to your website
  • Include keywords about your services
  • Be clear on your location/contact info

A few other things to consider when you create a social media portfolio

  • Think about what you want to be hired for. Is it social media management? What about content creation, content curation, platform development, strategy, etc. Curate your portfolio to display that—you don’t need to list EVERY client or every freelance job you’ve ever performed (I mean, you can, but put some thought into it)
  • Things to cover: who you are (about), your mission, what you do, and who you serve (aka who you want to work with)
  • Is there an area you’d like more work in? Highlight this throughout your services, experience, expertise, and even which clients you mention

Portfolios. In general I understand them—a collection of your work assembled to demonstrate your experience and expertise in an area. But I've struggled with social media and figuring out how to create a social media portfolio. Because although it's <em>my</em> work it's not <em>for</em> me. Most of my social media experience is creating content and strategies for other people or brands. It's like ghostwriting. It's ghostsocialing. (I sure hope that's a hashtag.) My mission is to figure out how to present my social media portfolio in a way that demonstrates my experience and expertise but doesn't break client confidentiality.

How to Choose Fonts for Your Website When You’re Not a Designer

Why are fonts such a big deal? I know they are but I don’t “get” it. But I understand, at least, that it does matter. So I’m here to tell you fonts matter and I could try and tell you why but I’d only be plagiarizing because I don’t understand it. Can we just agree they are important and move on to figuring out how to choose fonts when you know they matter but you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t? This is also known as how to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer.

How to Choose Fonts for Your Website When You're Not a Designer

OK so let’s just do this. When choosing fonts for your website choose it for readability over anything else. Ugh, no fun right? But think of it this way: website visitors are fickle. If they drop in and have to squint to read your words, they won’t bother. So choose function over form in this case.

But don’t think that means you can’t do something funky—it just needs to be legible.

There are four basic types of fonts.

Serif

These fonts have “feet” at the ends of their letters. These are known as more traditional fonts and it’s argued they’re easier to read in print.

Sans-Serif

These fonts don’t have “feet” at the ends of their letters and it’s argued they’r easier to read on pixel-based screens.

Script

These fonts are easy to recognize: cursive. These are interesting but can be difficult to read on a screen.

Decorative

These fonts are meant to grab attention and are not practical.

When choosing fonts for your website try and stay with serif or sans-serif. Wondering what your options are? Check out Google Fonts. There are tons of options and they’re all web friendly. Pick out something you like in the safe zone and then, if you want, let’s move to the next step.

IF you want a secondary font, then you need to do something called font pairing. I find this part mind boggling, but others seem to understand it. If you know what you’re doing then go for it! But if you’re like me, wondering how to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer, stick to the basics. Serifs with other serifs. Sans-serifs with other sans-serifs.

There is an argument for having more than one font—it adds contrast.

Kind of interesting, right?

I have looked all over the Internet for helpful articles on pairing fonts for non-designers. One is for the visual learner—The Art of Combining Fonts, and the other is for ones who want a more scientific approach—Four Techniques for Combining Fonts.

People who are passionate about fonts will tell you they make you feel something and help form your brand personality. So let’s circle back to my original point: fonts are important. They are, trust me. Well, take my word for it. Well, just go with it.

Want to go deeper on branding? Check out Brand Your Blog A Step-by-Step Guide.

Why are fonts such a big deal? I know they are but I don't "get" it. But I understand, at least, that it <em>does</em> matter. So I'm here to tell you fonts matter and I could try and tell you why but I'd only be plagiarizing because I don't understand it. Can we just agree they are important and move on to figuring out how to choose fonts when you know they matter but you can't tell what works and what doesn't. Also known as how to choose fonts for your website when you're not a designer.

What is Distraction-Free Writing and How Can Write! Help?

Over the past couple months I’ve tested Write! App to see if I could adjust to a distraction-free writing with a distraction-free text editor. And by test I should be upfront. I stared at the shortcut on my desktop and thought of reasons why I didn’t need to use it. Because I’m a writer with a writing process and being distracted is integral to my creative process.

Distraction-free writing and why you should consider it

All writers have a process I suppose. But my process (slash super power) seems to turn writing 800-word articles into weeklong exercises if I let it. And often I do. And deep down I know I need help in the form of distraction-free writing software. I don’t want help (I love my process!) but I’m under constant duress deadline and my process doesn’t *get* deadlines.

Because here’s the thing. I’m trying to move the needle forward, trying to go pro-pro. You know, like I’m a professional writer but I am ready for the next level and I have a 10-step plan to get there. (If you’re curious, I’m on step seven and I started at the beginning of the year by getting up at 4:30 a.m. to do the hard work.) In order to reach my goals I have to be more prolific. And to be more prolific? Well, honey, ya need a new process.

best distraction-free writing tools

Distraction-free writing is the minimalist’s approach to getting things done. And I have trouble getting rid of stuff

Distraction-free text editors, also known as distraction-free writing apps, distraction-free writing tools, and professional text editors, have a fancy way of making all the features, badges, notifications, icons, etc. disappear from your computer so all you can do is write.

Scary, I know. Like I said, I came up with some VERY creative reasons why I didn’t need to use distraction-free writing software.

But then I tried it…AND I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT!

If you want to see my first go (and get in my brain as this is a literal play-by-play of my initial test) check out my Write! App test here.

There are lots of these tools out there, some free, some paid, some hybrid. By my estimations they all do more or less the same thing. Why did I test Write! App? They asked me to (thanks Daniel!). Because I was looking for reasons to hate the tool I combed through the FAQs, features, and blog. All that did was end up teaching me how to use the app and clued me in to how powerful it could be for my writing.

So I stopped stalling and started writing, and it was awesome. Because it’s cloud-based I can use it on whichever computer I feel like (in my house it’s whatever computer has the best relationship with the Internet that day), and I can set up writing sessions with grouped tabs and keep my projects separate. I’m seeing SO many useful applications. My biggest complaint was having to use an exclamation point after Write! because I felt like it made me seem excited about the tool when really it was part of the name…but turns out I’m excited about Write!(!).

Why I need distraction-free writing in my life

Like I said, I’ve got writing goals. And I have two hours per day set aside for achieving them. Yes, that’s significant but it’s not a lot of time. So I need to optimize my time and use it sans distractions. I need this, even though change is scary.


Write! App—The Only Text Editor You Need For Distraction-Free Writing product description

This one is important too. Even if you went to a mountaintop where there is literally nothing else to do but write, there is still the matter of the tool you’re using. Namely, your text editing software. Fancy-pants all-purpose text editing programs are overabundant with features, badges, icons, templates, options, and a ton of other stuff that only takes up screen space and RAM.

To truly immerse yourself in your process, try using a distraction-free text editor like Write! It’s a great solution for any kind of writing from Tweets to short stories to novels. It’s as functional as it is beautiful with a minimalist design and a specialized focus mode for concentrating on one paragraph at a time.

It now even has a publishing feature. In just a few clicks, your writing can be up online for anyone you’d like to see it, whether your editor or your Twitter followers.

Write! is a distraction-free writing text editor for Windows, macOS and Linux. It has a multitude of features that help focus only on what matters.

Over the past couple months I've tested Write! App to see if I could adjust to a distraction-free writing with a distraction-free text editor. And by test I should be upfront. I stared at the shortcut on my desktop and thought of reasons why I didn't need to use it. Because I'm a writer with a writing process and being distracted is integral to my creative process.

Do you have a favourite distraction-free writing tool? Tell me about it. I’ll try it.

How to Write an Outline for Anything

If you’re a writer then perhaps you know the term “pantser.” It was new to me. Pantser is a type of writer—one who writes by the seat of his pants. Right? The other type of writer is an outliner. Now that one’s a bit more familiar to me. In my heart I’m an outliner. I like having a plan and making it come alive. I like knowing where I’m going rather than discovering it along the way. And I don’t believe outlines cut off creativity—which is why I’m advocating for outlines and showing you how to write an outline for anything.

How to Write an Outline

What is an outline?

In case you didn’t have to write an outline in school for some reason, this is a formal way of arranging and developing your ideas. Don’t let the word “formal” trip you up—this isn’t rigid, it can be adjusted at any point in your writing. An outline can be broad strokes of big/main ideas or detailed and in-depth, depending on your approach. There’s no right or wrong way to outline, and it can be added to and changed as you go.

Why write an outline?

I sat in a workshop with author Anne Perry (by the way…you should read her bio, I had no idea when I went to the workshop. Wow!) who has written like 100 books or something in her career. It was a fascinating argument for outlining from a prolific author. Here are the benefits of writing an outline. Keep in mind she’s giving advice for book outlining, but I think it can be applied to any type of writing.

  • You own the plan
  • Outlining helps with plot clarity
  • Outlining gives your story structure
  • Outlining helps the reasons your characters do things make sense
  • You know your character growth/development from the beginning rather than figuring it out as you go
  • Outlining prevents your story from sagging in the middle
  • Outlining cuts down on the amount of rewrites

What’s the purpose of an outline?

An outline helps you organize your project (article/blog post/book/anything) by helping you check how your ideas connect to each other and discover if anything’s missing. No matter how long your writing project is, outlines help you see the big picture.

How to write an outline for anything

If you’ve read anything I have to say about content strategy, you may find this a bit familiar. The bones are the same but you get a bit more meta when you write an outline.

Here are the broad strokes in five steps.

  1. Identify your topic
  2. List your main points
  3. Structure your argument (put your points in order)
  4. Add sub-points (make connections between main points)
  5. Evaluate and adjust as necessary

See? Not so intimidating or limiting. You’re just getting it down on paper and making sure what you have to say makes sense.

A few tips for when you write an outline

Identify your topic. This should be short but still a complete sentence. This will be your anchor throughout the writing process, keeping you on topic.

List your main points. Your main points are the things you want your audience to know after reading your work. All the main points should be a building block towards your thesis.

Structure your argument. This needs to both flow and make sense to your reader. What do they need to understand first? Second? Third? As you get into writing you may need to change the order of your points, this is normal.

Add sub-points. Sub-points go under the main points—makes sense, right? To have a balanced work, the sub-points for each main point should be somewhat equal. If you have seven sub-points for one main point and two for another, it might be time to reconsider your main points as the one with only a couple sub-points may not be a strong enough argument for your overall topic.

Evaluate and adjust as necessary. Read through your outline. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it missing anything? Are there gaps in logic? Is there extra stuff?

If you're a writer then perhaps you know the term "pantser." It was new to me. Pantser is a type of writer; one who writes by the seat of his pants. Right? The other type of writer is an outliner. Now that one's a bit more familiar to me. In my heart I'm an outliner. I like having a plan and making it come alive. I like knowing where I'm going rather than discovering it along the way. And I don't believe outlines cut off creativity, which is why I'm advocating for outlines and showing you how to write an outline for anything.

I hope this is clarifying and will help with your next project.

Remember, outlining is your friend!

  • It take the guesswork out of what to write
  • It keeps your project on track with relevant content
  • It sets you on a strategic plan that moves you forward
  • It helps you avoid burning out
  • It keeps your project on topic

Thoughts? More tips? Pantser push back? Let me know!