A few links for the end of the week

Two alternative read-it-later tools for doing research

A book and a pair of glasses

Read-it-later tools, as the name suggests, are applications that let you save interesting articles and blog posts so you can read them when you have a moment or three to spare. Many people use them for personal reading, but they’re also great for doing research.

When I’m doing research, I gather a large pile of information first then comb through it to find what I need. That means managing a lot of links. A good read-it-later tool is a boon when doing that.

Tools like Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability are the most popular read-it-later tools around. But they’re not the only game on the web. Let’s take a look at a pair of alternative read-it-later tools that you can use to help you collect your research.

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On content

A woman typing on her laptop

Unlike some writers I know and read, I don’t obsess about every little detail. I don’t obsess about every word. I don’t lose sleep over every term. I don’t stress about whether or not that sentence or paragraph is perfect.

I doubt that makes me unique among writers, but I really don’t sweat the small stuff.

There is, however, one word I’m struggling with. It’s one I’ve been struggling with for a while now. That word? Content. I’m definitely not a fan of that term. I admit, though, that I’m as guilty of referring to what I find on the web as content as much as the next person.

That has to stop. Why?

Content has the connotation of something that’s quickly and cheaply made. Of something that’s mass produced, generic, homogeneous.

Content implies something without a distinct voice. Something that’s not well crafted. Something that tries to draw eyeballs instead of helping and informing.

Content implies something, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison, that bursts into flame and turns to ash shortly after it’s published. Content is something that you read or view and then throw away. Something to be forgotten as quickly as it was read.

When I started to seriously put words to paper in the 1980s, I never thought about writing content. I wrote articles. I wrote essays. I wrote reviews. I even took stabs at writing short stories. I knew that most of what I wrote (and would write in the coming months and years) wasn’t for the ages. But the work I produced had more than just immediate import or impact. To be honest, I still get positive feedback on some of the articles and essays I wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I don’t think I’d still be getting a good response to what I’ve written if I’d focused on churning out content. That would have been an easy way to collect published credits and maybe make a bit of money, but it wouldn’t have been satisfying. I doubt I would have grown as a writer by banging out content.

From this date forward, I’m banishing the term content from my writing (unless it’s in the pejorative). And you can slap me if you find that term in my work from this date forward.

Thoughts? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter or Google+.

A few links for the end of the week

Dealing with the doubters

An old Underwood manual typewriter

Ever second or third person these days seems to call themselves a writer. Or a something slash writer. For whatever reason, that seems to generate a lot of doubt in the minds of certain people.

Those are the people who don’t believe that you’re a real writer (whatever that means). And they’re not afraid to try to call you out. They do that by saying something like Oh,really? Well, what have you written? Those words are usually spoken in an accusing or disbelieving tone.

Yes, several people have said that to me over the years. In that accusing or disbelieving tone to boot. Eventually, I got so tired of explaining and justifying myself that I came up with this canned answer:

Quite a bit, actually. I’ve written over 400 published articles, thousands of blog posts, and dozens of essays. I’ve published five ebooks, with a couple of more on the way. On top of that, I’ve written millions of words of documentation and marketing and training material.

Saying that usually shuts the doubters down. Sometimes, it just pisses them off even more. I’ve made my point. That point? I’m not the poseur or wannabe they think I am. I’m actually toiling in the professional trenches.

But maybe you don’t have as much experience as I do. Maybe you’re just getting started as a writer. What can you do when faced with a doubter? The easiest thing to do is ignore them and walk away or change the subject. If you can’t do that, list whatever achievements you have. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • I’ve written x blog posts that have been read by y people
  • To be honest, I haven’t written much but my work as been published in/at …
  • In my day job, I’ve written x. On the side, I’ve published x articles/y blog posts

If the doubters still scoff, let them. Ignore them and their negativity. Just keep writing. Keep improving. Let the doubters doubt while you’re actually working towards your goals as a writer.

Thoughts? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter or Google+.

Smartwatches: a useful tool for writers?

A smartwatch

In November, 2015 I decided to get myself an early Christmas present: a smartwatch. Specifically, a Pebble Time. It was more out of curiosity than need, to be honest. If you’re interested, you can read my thoughts about using a smartwatch.

Since I started using that smartwatch, I’ve been thinking about it as a tool for writers. Obviously, you won’t be writing on a smartwatch. But there are other uses for one, like:

  • Checking your schedule
  • Reviewing notes in applications like Evernote
  • Keeping on top of your tasks
  • Taking voice notes
  • Receiving alerts about incoming emails and postings to social media

I’m sure there are other uses that you can find for a smartwatch. How you use one will, obviously, depend on:

  • The apps that are available for your watch
  • What you want or need to do

Regardless of what you want to use your smartwatch for, you’ll have to work within its limitations. As I mentioned earlier, you won’t be able to write on it. The screens are very small, and typing on them is practically impossible.

Most smartwatches are kind of dumb — they need to be tethered to a smartphone to do most tasks. You’ll have limited interaction with your information — for example, you’ll be able to read notes and check items off your task list but not a whole lot else.

So, is a smartwatch a useful tool for a writer? I’m still undecided. I haven’t found much of a use for my smartwatch when it comes to writing. Then again, that really wasn’t why I bought it in the first place. Your experience might be different.

No matter what you use it for, remember that a smartwatch is just a tool. It’s not going to make you a better or more productive writer. A smartwatch can help keep you on track, but you’re the one doing the work — the planning, the writing, the editing. You’re creating the tasks you need to carry out. Not the watch, not the software. Treat your smartwatch as a tool rather than a miracle gadget and you won’t be disappointed.

Thoughts? Let’s start a conversation on Twitter or Google+.

A few links for the end of the week

Should you publish your blog posts on closed platforms?

A gate that's been chained shut

By closed platforms I mean sites that you have little or not control over. Sites like LinkedIn or Medium (which I’m going to focus on in this post, not to pick on them but because they’re well known and popular).

I know a number of people who regularly or semi-regularly publish blog posts on sites like that. Some of them post original writing on those sites, while others cross post from their blogs.

Those writers have their reasons for posting on closed platforms. And I have to admit that there are pros and cons to doing that. Which sparked the idea for this post.

Sit back, relax, and let Uncle Scotty share his reasons for and against publishing blog posts on closed platforms.

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