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Author: Becca Borawski Jenkins

Becca Borawski Jenkins is an editor, writer, and writing coach. She is currently the Managing Editor at both The Whole Life Challenge and StrongFirst. She specializes in building authority and readership through high-quality content. She also coaches private clients, does developmental editing for non-fiction book projects, and ghostwrites for a variety of story-telling projects she can’t tell you anything about (but that are super, super fun).

How Your Article Introduction Is Just Like “Fight Club”

The first rule of Fight Club is – nobody talks about Fight Club.

The first rule of intros is – nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro.

So, what does it mean for something to “feel like it’s an intro”?

Well, basically, said another way, you don’t want to start out with the obvious (all that on-the-nose stuff).

The Fight Club Rules of Intros

Think about it – how many items have you clicked on an article because the title was intriguing, but then you never finished reading the whole piece (or maybe didn’t even make it through the first paragraph) because the opening sentence made you think, “Well, duh?”

Starting out with the obvious isn’t exciting. It doesn’t provoke thought or shares. It doesn’t make anyone say, “OMG, you have to read this!” Instead, it makes you say, “I knew that already,” and click away.

Rather than fall victim to the “duh” factor, you need to kick off your article or blog entry in a way that piques the reader’s interest. That makes her think, “Dang, I’ve got to read this,” or, “This is something I don’t know.”

How to Grab Your Readers From the Top

  • Tell your reader something she doesn’t know.
  • Share something she does know, but in a whole new way.
  • Share a statistic that will shock her.
  • Share something funny.
  • Make her laugh.
  • Make her say, “Wow.”

The theme that runs through all those ideas for how to start your article is something called the curiosity gap. This is the gap between what your readers know and what they don’t know. If you can trigger that gap, then your readers are more likely to get pulled into your article.

They think, “Wait, I didn’t know that. I need to read more.” Or, “Wait, what’s the answer to that question? I better find out.”

Especially if it means your reader winds up knowing something more than her friends. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but rather, in the way that Malcolm Gladwell talks about “mavens.” Mavens are people who love to share new knowledge with the rest of us. We see them as authorities and count on them to keep us in the know. They help us fill that curiosity gap. So, conversely, they seek out that gap.

Think about that. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have those people who are most highly regarded as authorities being the people who spread your article?

That said, sometimes the curiosity gap gets a real bad rap since it’s used to create a lot of click-baity headlines and slick sales materials. But the powers of the gap don’t have to be used for evil. The gap can simply be a way to show your readers that you’re an expert on a topic and you have something new to share with them.

Let’s Go Over Those Rules Again

So, what’s the first rule? Nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro?

No, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? Oh yeah, nobody talks about Fight Club.

But why? Is there something I should know about Fight Club?

Yeah, there is – and that’s the curiosity gap right there.

Photo by Matthew Walsh (This file was derived from: MMAstandup.png) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.

How to Be Healthy Even Though You’re a Writer

Sometimes we replace bad habits with good habits. But more often than not, we replace good habits with other good habits. What I mean by that is, maybe you always wanted to have a daily writing habit. And now you’ve made a serious commitment, and you get up every morning to write your 750 words without fail.

But your morning run has gone by the wayside in the process.

Or you eat some sort of toaster pastry instead of making a healthy breakfast.

The time that you “created” for writing was really borrowed from a different positive habit. Your overall “win” column hasn’t actually progressed, you’ve just swapped one thing for another.

And now you kind of miss running. And you’re sick to death of the frosting on those nasty pastries.

Writing Makes Regular Life Hard.

Writing is a hard habit. And if you can make it a career, it’s a hard career. You’re by yourself most all of the time. You’re in charge of your own schedule. And you might really think that popcorn and hard cider make you more creative (who me?). Not to mention you’re sitting still all day as you work. Even if you’ve managed to progress yourself to a standing desk, you’re still standing in one place all day. And when your deadline gets moved up or you say “yes” to another gig, it’s just too easy to order delivery food and let the kettlebells get even more rusty out there in the rain on the porch.

You Have the Power. You’ve Done It Before.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Writers can be healthy people, too. I know this for a fact, for every single one of you. Because if you’ve created a writing habit, then you’ve overcome some of the nastiest, most overwhelming negative forces there are – those voices in your head. And if you can overcome those voices when it comes to writing, you can overcome them on every other front as well.

And in case you doubt me, I’ve got a plan. I’m making my comeback to being healthy on a daily basis, as well. My writing practice is strong, but muscles have been getting a vacation – and I’m going to change that. I’d love for you to join me in this new habit-forming, lifestyle-improving adventure.

I’m going to harness the power of The Whole Life Challenge. If you want to make a change in your health, then join my team. Make a commitment to swap a few bad lifestyle habits for good lifestyle habits.

Once you watch the video, then click here to read the Challenge FAQ and join me. Let’s get up and get out there. Yes, we can make a difference in other people’s lives with our writing – but we can also make a difference in our own lives with some simple, not-time-consuming daily habits. Habits like eating a little better, exercising for ten minutes per day, stretching, and drinking water. (Seriously, if you can write, you can totally do any of that! You probably spend more time procrastinating before you write than any of that actually takes!)

And if none of that grabs you, how about this:

The healthier we are…

…the longer we get to be on the planet.

And the longer we’re on this planet, the more words we get to write.

Editors Don’t Go Under Busses

I had a bit of a coaching conversation with someone who wrote for the website where I manage content. He seemed like a super cool person. (Always a plus.) And as soon as his article went up, he started responding to the commenters. (Awesome!) And then he threw me under the bus. (#$%@.)

He didn’t mean to. But that’s the thing. I don’t think most writers mean to, but they/we do it anyway. We’re so excited about our work and how it’s received, and at the first sign of something even remotely approaching a criticism, we spout off things like:

  • Don’t ask me, I didn’t choose that picture.
  • The editor changed my title.
  • The publisher marketed it wrong.
  • That’s not what I wrote. I don’t know how that happened.
  • I think that got messed up in publishing somehow.

So there’s this story-cloud of distancing and excuses you can whip up – and then there’s reality. And reality falls in one of two categories:

  1. You messed up.
  2. The editor/publisher messed up.

And guess what? Either way, you don’t complain. If you messed up, you need to own it. That’s all there is to say about that. If you’re not someone who can own your stuff, then you’ll be mighty hard to work with no matter the industry.

But you might be inclined to argue that you have a right to complain if the situation falls under category number two. And you might have some myserious “right” to – the editor/publisher/agent might have made a real mistake – but you still really shouldn’t ever publicly (or even socially) complain. And here’s why:

  1. Editors are people too.
  2. Publishing is a small, tiny, tiny, small world.
  3. You might like to keep working.

The other day someone signed up for my Internet writing class. Turns out I met him some half a dozen years ago at the gym I managed in Los Angeles, and then just recently he met one of the writers for Breaking Muscle…while in Thailand. How random is that?

It’s pretty random. And yet, it happened.

The publishing world is highly active on the Internet. Twitter is ROBUST with editors, agents, writers, and publishers. Do you think if you are unhappy with an article, book, or eBook, and you grouse about it on Twitter that someone won’t notice? Does it make sense to brag to your publisher about your reach on Facebook and then use it to complain about said publisher’s treatment of your work?

Do you think maybe, just maybe someone might worry about working with you if they see you complaining about your current and/or previous business relationships all over the web?

So let’s look over those three reasons not to complain on social media again.

  1. Editors are people too. – Give space for human beings to make human mistakes. Send your editor/publisher/agent a message and be respectful and mature about the situation.
  2. Publishing is a small, tiny, tiny, small world. – Big brother, big sister, Uncle George, and Cousin Suzie are all noticing what you said about Editor Joe.
  3. You might like to keep working. – Nobody wants to join Editor Joe under that bus. It’s nasty under there.

And then of course on top of all that is the nebulous AREA NUMBER FOUR. You know, the part where your editor/publisher/agent didn’t actually mess up at all, but you’re trying to cover your own a$$ so you just dump it all on them. How’s that for a big “thank you for getting me published and making my stuff better,” huh? You might not have realized it came across that way. But typically when we protect ourselves in a reactive, defensive state, we take someone else down in the process. Don’t do that.

So, to recap:

  • Editors notice.
  • Agents notice.
  • Publishers notice.
  • None of those people go under busses.
  • If you mess up, own it.

So what do you do when things go awry and you really think it’s not your fault?

If “they” messed up, send them a love letter and ask them if it’s fixable. If it’s not fixable, then go buy yourself something nice with the cash you took in exchange.*

*If you didn’t earn cash, then relish the exposure you earned because apparently you thought it was worth it.

Schoolbus photo by Nsyrbus (Own Work, By www.nsyrbus.webs.com) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

It Doesn’t Matter How Long It Takes, If You’re Working

Chuck Wendig is my new favorite Twitter account to follow. I have learned that every link is worth the click-through and every Tweet is a gem in itself. For example:

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 6.17.57 PMSometimes I lament that I’m approaching two years of work on my first novel and am six months into my second novel. I see people online churning them out in a couple months. People who are selling these books in droves. I read about famous authors who’ve published four dozen novels in their lives. And I’m thinking, “Wow, I’ve got one and a half that nobody but my family has read so far. What the heck am I doing with my time?”

Well, actually, I can tell you the answer to that. In 2011, I moved from Los Angeles to Oregon with the idea that I could focus more on my writing. Since then, I’ve been:

  • Working full-time for a living as a writer and editor
  • Writing every single day in one form or another – copy writing, ghostwriting, fiction writing, article writing
  • Editing other writers five out of seven days per week
  • Taking courses non-stop through local writing institutes like The Attic, as well as UCLA Writers’ Program, MediaBistro, LitReactor, and more
  • Doing freelance work as a ghostwriter and proofreader
  • Reading craft book after craft book on fiction writing
  • Reading book after book on grammar and the English language
  • Reading article after blog post after article on how to write for the Internet, for novels, for short stories, for copy, and for just about anything else you can imagine
  • Reading, reading, reading, all day long
  • Teaching other people to write (this one is big)

So yeah, I’ve got one “finished” novel that I’m now querying the bejeebus out of (ask me about South Central if you’re an agent reading this – thank you!) and half of a second novel I have half an inkling I might actually be able to sell. And yeah, a whole lot of other people have like half a million novels to their name.

But most people don’t.

Most people don’t have one.

But really, that’s kind of a snotty way to think (but let’s not kid – it does make a person feel better). Really all that matters is that I said I would write a novel and I did.

Now I’m saying I’m going to finish this second one, and I will. And I already have an idea for number three. So even if every one takes me three years from beginning to end, I’ll have spent nine years writing three more novels than 99.9% of the people I know.

And, most importantly, I’ll have spent nine years doing what I love, getting better at what I love, and sharing what I love in some form or another. That is hardly a description of wasted years.

So what are you working toward? How long have you been doing it and what are you doing to keep moving forward? Click “continue reading” to post your comments.

The Work Is the Thing

Don’t make stuff because you want to make money—it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous—because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people—and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.

Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t—and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything—because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself.

– John Green

The work is the thing. If you do not enjoy it, if you would not enjoy it if it never became something “more,” then you might be happier if you didn’t do the work at all.

You might be happier not writing. You might be happier doing something else, giving up, and letting go. You might not really want to write. Or rather, you might want to write, but you haven’t the need.

If You Build It, They Probably Won’t Come

There’s a myth about the Internet that if you put up a website people will just magically visit it. There’s another myth about guest posting. That if you write an article for another website, people will just magically gravitate to yours.

Neither of these is reality, and there are a lot of reasons that guest posting fails. But today I’m going to focus on what I believe to be one of the main reasons: you’re stingy with your Internet loving.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Just because you are published on a website as a guest author, doesn’t mean that site’s readers will come to your site. And depending on how you behave, that site may never ask you to guest post again either.

I love the Internet because I believe it is, at its heart, an egalitarian place. All sorts of people can offer each other all sorts of opportunities, and there is space for the “little guy” to build his way up to being a “big shot.” There really is no cap on traffic, audience, readers, or whatever you want to call it. And by helping each other out, we can all contribute to the success of each other. Everyone actually can win on the Internet.

True, some people try to make it otherwise. They want the Internet to work just like Walmart. But most of us can spot those sleaze balls miles away. We know that the stuff we love best is the stuff that’s about giving. It’s about free information and free cross-promotion based on genuinely good people and genuinely good products and/or services.

And when I run into an authentic and generous person or entity on the Internet, the irony is that I’m more willing to pay him/her/them than the person who’s overtly trying to sell me, anyway. You know how it goes: “Wow, I’ve read twenty articles on this site that are awesome, so I’m totally going to buy her eBook when it comes out.”

If You Build It, They May or May Not Care

So what does this have to do with your guest post and why it failed and why no one wants you to guest post again?

If you build something, you’ve got to tell people about it.

The “everyone wins” ability of the Internet is based on generosity. And generosity on the Internet looks like sharing. So if you want your guest post to amount for anything in terms of your own success, it’s got to be a successful experience for the website hosting you, as well.

Spelled out – it means you need to do the following:

  • Post on all your social media about the site you’re guest posting for, even if it’s not the day your guest post goes up.
  • Follow that site on all your social media accounts.
  • Share some of their other posts by other authors (Hey, maybe they’ll follow you back and share your stuff! Wouldn’t that be cool?)
  • Share your own post when it goes up. Do this promptly, frequently, and on all your social media outlets. You’d be shocked at how few people do this. It actually hurts my mind to think about how commonly overlooked this step is.
  • Make the experience of working with you an overall net positive for the hosting website.

Remember, everyone can win, but you have to be interested in others winning and trust that the Internet is not a zero-sum game.

If you approach every guest post with the question, “How can I make this experience awesome for the website hosting me?” then you’re on the right track and they’ll show up to the table with the same question in mind. The result? We all do win, every time.

Breakfast time (7560191024)” by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK – Breakfast time. Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

My Greatest Fear as a Writer

I’m going to share with you my greatest fear as a writer:

That I am not good enough.

My fear is that I am not good enough to tell my own story. That I can’t live up to the story inside me. That I’m not a good enough storyteller to get it right, to get you to see what I see. To do justice to the thing the muse has gifted me with.

But I take heart in the fact that I am not alone in this. I am a story structure junkie. I love reading books about story structure. But from time to time, I prefer to read books about an author’s experience of writing. Books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’ s On Writing, or Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.

And the theme of inadequacy runs deep in all these books. Not that they truly think themselves incapable or inadequate, but even the most successful writers have moments of doubt. Moments of thinking this isn’t the right gig for them or that they’re just faking their way through and no one has noticed yet.

But these moments aren’t reality. Check this out:

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

—Ernest Hemingway

Who hasn’t studied Hemingway in everything from high school literature class to college-level writing courses? And even he says, “we are all apprentices.” That includes himself.

Copyright 2015 Hunt Gather Brew