Harmful Habits to Avoid When Writing

They say you should write like you speak, which is mostly true. But when you’re in a creative flow and writing just seems to come naturally, it’s easy to overlook mistakes and fall back into a safety net of repetition. You might be writing just like you speak, but it’s important to remember to avoid using the same exact words and phrases in each and every one of your written pieces. There’s a lot of mistakes that can be made with creative writing, but if you edit with a careful eye, your writing can be that much more impactful.

There’s some truth to the quote “write drunk and edit sober.”

Run-on Paragraphs

We are taught at an early age how unprofessional and awkward sounding run-on sentences can be. In an attempt to avoid these however, many writers end up creating run-on paragraphs. Most readers want clear, concise sentences that are easy to read. A huge paragraph without breaks looks like a giant concoction of information that makes people zone out.

Break up your paragraphs depending on where subjects shift. Varying lines of words are much more pleasing to the human eye, and will keep your readers’ attentions.

Long-winded Introductions

Introductions are obviously key parts of stories to lay ground for what’s to come, whether they are fiction, nonfiction, or news stories. However, a lot of writers tend to ramble with this much creative freedom. I suggest sticking to just 4 or 5 sentences when writing an introduction rather than incorporating a life story that you think a few readers might enjoy. In most cases, they’re here to read the piece of content for what it is, and nothing more.

Exclamation Points

I understand these are basic punctuation marks that are used pretty frequently, but a surefire way to lose credibility in your story is to use too many exclamation points. Personally, I think even one is too many. Unless you are quoting somebody or the situation really calls for it, try to avoid using an exclamation point at all costs. It almost forces the reader to hear the sentence in a surprised, amateurish tone. It’s a step away from using all caps, something we can all agree should never be done (unless on Twitter).

Vagueness

Reading vague sentences that don’t seem to get to the point can be incredibly frustrating for readers. The longer it takes you to clearly explain the main point of your sentence, paragraph, or entire story, the less interested your audience will be. Keep in mind that people’s attention spans are typically very short. If it takes 100 words or more for them to figure out just what you’re trying to say, readers are going to skim your writing.

Though I have just listed a few of many possible writing mistakes, many different errors can be umbrellaed under these considerations. Pay attention to your writing before you hit that publish button. Read it out loud. It’s always better to catch these things yourself, before the rest of the world does.

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Tech Strategies to Boost Your Blog Traffic

In the simplest terms, blogs are web pages that are regularly updated with fresh content. This mostly comes in the form of text-based posts that share information regarding one topic, or a cluster of closely-related topics.

To build a blog, all one needs is a web page. Taking out a WordPress or Weebly site is free, although buying a customized domain name often doesn’t cost more than $20. All that’s required to build a successful blog is experience, know-how, and consistent posting. However, simply writing articles in a blog isn’t guaranteed to draw in visitors. This is where you inner marketer comes into play.

Here are several tips bloggers can lean on to increase web traffic from technological standpoints, which could potentially earn them advertising revenue for the high numbers of web users that may visit their sites as well. Let’s look these as if we were Google crawlers.

Seek out a tightly-knit audience

All communities are different, including digital communities. While it’s never a good idea to write for blogs with topics you know nothing about, it is, in fact, advisable to tailor blog posts to communities that commonly share information with one another.

Look around online for such communities, typically found on sites like Reddit, message boards, or forums. A consistent brand is one that tends to be rewarded by Google.

Make certain to apply SEO strategies

Contrary to my previous blog, search engine optimization is considered a necessary facet of getting exposure on the World Wide Web. Even though some web pages are able to gain popularity without much or any effort expended towards beefing up SEO performance, bloggers should always research the latest SEO tactics and try and implement them into their writing.

Consider asking well-known web pages related to a blog’s concentration if they would backlink to its domain name. Despite the possibility one might have to fork over tens, or hundreds of dollars to earn a quality backlink, doing so is an effective booster of search engine performance.

Bloggers also need to encrypt their pages with HTTPS protocol, as well as increase page authority. These three variables are likely to boost any blog’s standing on the internet and its many search engines (ideally Google).

Don’t ignore analytics

Several free or low-cost analytical tools exist on the Internet for assessing one’s blogging performance. These programs provide valuable insights unavailable anywhere else, and even provide suggestions as to how bloggers can improve their search rankings, average user experience, and other pertinent characteristics. To ignore these is to ignore the internet’s way of saying “Here are the exact reasons why your blog is or is not receiving traffic.”

5 Countries to Visit During Winter

Depending on whether or not you are trying to escape or embrace the colder temperatures, deciding where to travel during the winter months can be a tricky task. While the majority of vacationers seek warmer climates this time of year, visiting countries with equally winteresque landscapes can be an experience unlike most. Below are just a few countries to consider for those wanting to bask in the warm sun, and for those seeking a winter wonderland.

Lithuania

This one is for the snowmen (and women). Lithuania averages 23-35 degrees fahrenheit from the months of November to February, giving way for plenty of snow. The city of Vilnius, the country’s capital, is well known for its baroque architecture and cobblestone streets. Top this stunning scenery with a light dusting of snow, and Lithuania becomes what feels like the inside of a giant snow globe. One of the country’s many seasonal events, “Christmas in the Capital” hosts holiday performances at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, as well as the Three Kings Procession, a miniature parade comprised of biblical characters who provide well wishes to the country.

South Africa

Both for the sunbathers and lovers of wildlife, South Africa averages a mid-80 degrees fahrenheit in the winter months, as well as the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife organization; a conservative effort for the country’s biodiversity. Here, visitors can stay at the company’s resorts and campsites to see Africa’s native animals like lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and much more, making this a great vacation for families.

Puerto Rico

Another warmer destination for those that want to fly south for winter, Puerto Rico hosts one of Central America’s largest winter events known as the San Sebastian Street Fest in San Juan. Parades, food vendors, and a plethora of music combine to create a lively environment that goes well into the night. Not only is this party free, but the gathering of both locals and tourists allows all visitors to experience true Puerto Rican culture. Even the late, great Hunter S. Thompson remarked his experiences here in his famous piece The Rum Diary.

Sweden

A true winter experience wouldn’t be complete without staying in a hotel made entirely of ice, would it? Just outside the city of Kiruna lies Sweden’s world famous Ice Hotel. This art exhibition is also a fully functional inn, but is only open during the winter months, as it is rebuilt every year after melting in the Spring. Sweden is also home to some of the best ski slopes in the world, with beautiful hotels to match. The Åre resort has 91 kilometers of slopes, with 32 chair lifts to navigate the enormous hills.

Argentina

When consider South America for a winter vacation, one would assume heat is the primary objective. However, in Patagonia, Argentina, there is a different story. The Andes Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, are truly a sight to be seen for lovers of snow and ice. The Los Glaciares National Park is home to even more icy giants, and the Llao Llao Hotel provides luxury lodging for those who wish to stay in this surprisingly chilly city.

From LeonardRaymundo.org

The Least Touristy Places to See in Europe

While seeing some of the most well known locations and landmarks in the world should be on everyone’s travel-related bucket list, avid, more experienced travelers rarely want to visit a place with enormous crowds.

Given the sheer number of popular destinations located in Europe, visiting any country within this continent may seem like a tourist trap. However, if you know where to look, you can find a number of roads less traveled. Below are a few spots to check out that rarely see hordes of people reminiscent of the zombies from World War Z.

Latvia

It’s surprising that this neighboring country of Scandinavia is not visited more frequently given the sheer beauty of its capital Riga. With German architecture boasting some of the most colorful buildings you’ll ever see, the gardens filled with impossibly vibrant flowers are even more accentuated. As an added bonus, hotels and Airbnb’s here are often much cheaper than those within surrounding countries.

The Gauja National Park is another visually stunning Latvian destination that should be included on your European itinerary. Here, guests can see the natural beauty of local nature, take historical tours, ride horseback, kayak or raft, and much, much more.

Calabria, Italy

Visiting Italy to get away from the crowds may seem counterintuitive, but the town of Calabria (otherwise known as the “toe” of the boot) is often left unvisited due to the huge number of must-sees throughout other regions of the country. It is a gorgeous cliff-side city with some of the best beaches in Europe, the only downside being you are less likely to find an English-speaking local within its boundaries. But, the food and ambiance alone is enough to convince you to stay for at least a few days.

Salema, Portugal

This is a fishing village exposed to the Atlantic Ocean that is perfect for travelers that want to experience the reality of life in a quiet town. Salema is unlike its neighboring resorts that attract so many tourists. Its beaches and serene community are a nice break from the noise and liveliness contained within an all-inclusive. Visitors can relax on the sand, dine in local cafes, or hike along the cliffs while enjoying the silence accompanied with the quaint little village.

Lofoten, Norway

Located in the county of Nordland, Lofoten is a visually stunning district with one of the highest temperatures relative to latitude in the Arctic Circle thanks to the Gulf Stream. The amazing weather here is the icing on the several-tiered cake that includes scenic hiking and outdoorsy spots such as Trollfjord, the Lofotr Viking Museum, and an up-close-and-personal look at the country’s nature via the Røst Islands.

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Vetting Online Stories in the “Fake News” Era

We are, unfortunately, in an era where the term “fake news” has become somewhat of a socially acceptable (yet still grossly misinterpreted) phrase. While nearly everyone has taken sources from the internet with a grain of salt for decades, the past few years have been controversial to say the least, now that the “post-truth era” has commenced.

The unfavorable reality is that our current president is one who has been accused of and caught lying on several occasions. Forgetting about the Russian scandal for a second, or his alleged sexual misconduct, he has lied about simple facts; such as the number of people at his inauguration, or the fabricated correlation between immigration and crime rates.

Now, whether or not everything he has said is entirely factual word for word, vetting this information online can be extremely difficult given the turmoil American politics are in at the moment. With that said, how can you trust a story you come across online?

Skepticism is essential in maintaining factual knowledge. Never should you immediately assume a story you read online is 100% accurate. However, that is not to say that you should dismiss everything you read right away. The answer is to dig deeper, and verify from multiple resources. Find additional publications, stronger evidence, and avoid falling victim to a pushed narrative (that last point being stressed the most).

Today more than ever, both political parties are pushing their own narratives to attempt to disprove or derail the “opposition,” when in reality, no one should be opposing anybody. American politics were founded upon freedom of speech and freedom of beliefs, which should come with a mutual respect between every party. This has now turned into “right and wrong” in the eyes of more extreme party members, but that is rant for another blog. Why that is dangerous should be obvious, but the one I’ll point out for the sake of this article, is that you become oblivious to factual details that can cloud your judgment.

Train yourself to be able to spot false narratives. Propaganda may seem like an issue that was only prominent in the early 20th century during World War II, but it is alive and well, and smarter than ever, making it harder for individuals to actually recognize it. While traditional news sources are more reliable than a blog found in the dark corners of the internet, narratives can still be forced (see CNN, Fox News, etc.), even if they are factually correct. Besides not relying on your Facebook feed for news updates, there are several steps you can take in seeking out untrustworthy sources and stories.

  1. First, if the headline or what you’re reading seems to crazy to be true, it most likely is. Similarly, if it seems so ridiculous that it must be true, that could be a sign of the source effectively playing on your predetermined beliefs.
  2. Find outside sources that are linked out from the article. Chances are, what you are reading was repurposed from its original format, and due to plagiarism and intellectual property laws, that original article is more than likely linked somewhere. Once you find it, see if anything has been changed to alter the context.
  3. Any story that claims something will happen in the future should be immediately discredited to some extent. No news source is psychic.
  4. Any attacks on a certain demographic or group should indicate a heavily biased story, and thus, should not be given your full trust.
  5. Was an opposing idea or someone who disagrees consulted for the sake of argument? This is a great way to validate the original story. Showing that there are multiple sides is a selfless practice that often gives more credit to a news source. Simply focusing on one side and saying those who disagree are wrong does not have strong evidence.
  6. Consider if what you’re reading is actually news or not. This might seem like a no-brainer, but nowadays the “news”, even coming from the President, is not news-worthy at all.

Always remain skeptical when reading stories online, no matter if they are political or not. When diving into a subject or story, try and find as many sources as you can, and form your own opinion without being swayed by a writer on the internet. Strive to learn, and develop an individual mindset in this increasingly challenging world.

The Pros and Cons of Freelance Writing

A few years ago, I decided to jump headfirst into the world of freelance writing. While scary, freelance writing can be a blissfully rewarding experience for those entering the market. However, it’s not for everyone; depending on how you like to work, and it comes with its disadvantages. If you’re looking to enter the field, it’s good to know what to expect before jumping in. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned, as you weigh the pros and cons of freelance writing.

The Pros

You set your own hours. Gone is the need to worry about waking up early, beating traffic, and other time restraints. Since you’ll be able to work on your own schedule, you also get to decide whether you work on any given day or not. When other aspects of your life require more attention, you have the power to put gigs aside completely and not worry about repercussions from a larger organization.

You pick your spaces. Related to the point above, you get to work wherever you want—whether that’s in a café, in your bedroom, or anywhere else you can bring your materials. Fixed office space can be stifling for writers, but now that you can choose where you get your writing done, you’re much more likely to enjoy it. When your work area is in a good place, your creativity can flow.

You decide your salary and clients. How much you make and how you make it is up to you, as well as who you work with to make it happen. If a troublesome client comes along, you have the freedom to turn them down; if you want to put in extra time to do multiple projects, nobody can make you do otherwise. Unless you enter into a partnership or work with a freelance program, you won’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.

The Cons

You won’t get benefits. If you’re leaving one of many full-time jobs behind, chances are you’re foregoing healthcare options as well as retirement funds. Many employees seeking freelance writers tend to not offer benefits, either. You’ll have to budget these out of your profits on your own, which can make a dent on what you keep at the end of the week.

Work won’t always be steady. There will be times when you can’t secure constant jobs, or times when payments come late. In some cases, a paycheck never comes. What’s more is the fact that freelance writing is a growing market, which means you’ll be facing other writers just as qualified and capable as you. To find a good balance in this market, you have to be able to manage your money well and prepare for dry spells.

You’ll face distractions and personal limitations. While you have the final say on much of what transpires on the job, the onus is also on you to keep at it. Working at home or in a public space alike can be distracting, depending on what’s happening around you. While you decide your clients and other personnel, you still have to deal with their schedules and any conflicts that arise. If you mess up on a project or fail to do something correctly, you’ll bear the brunt of the consequences. Since you will be running your own business, you’re responsible for both your successes and failures.
In short, while you gain a lot of freedom from going the freelance route; you lose structure from it, as well. If you can be honest with your work habits, and understand the real challenges that come with the territory, it just might be the right career for you.

Artificial Intelligence in Advertising: Smart or Scary?

Ever since the Terminator movies of the 80’s, people have been pretty cautious of technology, to say the least.

Technology can be both exciting and terrifying, depending on your perspective. The impressive leaps and bounds that modern technology is able to make today has paved the way for advancements in nearly every facet of the business world, and the field of advertising is no exception.

AI and automation have allowed professionals in advertising to reach their target audiences much more quickly and accurately through advanced algorithms that can memorize and predict what exactly a certain customer has searched for and is looking for. This makes an advertiser’s job much easier, as well as much more effective.

Technology has reached a point where it knows us better than we know ourselves. It’s something that sounds more like a sci-fi plot than reality, but it’s true. Because of AI’s ability to take note of the things we search for and the pages we spend the most time on, many platforms are able to predict what we intend to purchase or search for next. Strategically placed ads can then be seen throughout the internet, most prominently on social media. Think of how many times you’ve looked up product on Amazon only to find an advertisement for something similar on Facebook.

A good way to look at this (no pun intended) is to consider the way the human eye operates. We are only able to clearly see what our pupils are looking at while the rest of our field of vision is blurred. We also have trouble deciphering complex visual stimulants. In other words, an ad that is too “busy” with too much text, too many images, or varying colors. Intelligent advertisements take this into consideration when placing their ads.

When applied to advertising, artificial intelligence aims to mimic the human eye. Many forms of technology today have allowed advertisers to study where exactly a person’s eyes are drawn on a certain website or landing page through heat maps. These give professionals an idea of what attracts readers or buyers, which they can then use to adjust their advertising efforts accordingly. The goal is to increase interaction between the ad and the customer. A more engaging experience is one that is more likely to end in a sale.

Artificial intelligence is powerful, and it’s important we consider how we can use it for a greater cause. It allows people to connect with others on a much more human level, as ironic as that is. Advertising has benefitted greatly from these technological breakthroughs. With more precision in their strategies implemented, advertisers can harness the power of AI to reach further and wider than they may have ever thought imaginable.

And hopefully, it never turns around on us like it always inevitably does in the movies.