How to Self-Edit Your Writing – CAKKALS

Edited draft of Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence with edits by Ben Franklin, 1776

As painful as it can be to accept the criticisms and revisions of an editor, most writers would agree that it’s far more difficult to edit your own writing. A fresh set of eyes – especially skillful editor eyes – is dangerous to forego.

But there are times when all of us have to write something that no one else will take a crack at – a letter, a report, an essay, a blog post. Once I’ve finished drafting something that won’t benefit from another’s input, I go through a painstaking self-editing checklist summed up as the acronym, CAKKALS.

Yes, Dear Reader, it’s pronounced just like the hysterical sounds of relief you’ll make when you finish self-editing. Continue reading “How to Self-Edit Your Writing – CAKKALS”

4 Reasons to Stop Reading List Posts

As you know, Dear Reader, I am not above writing “list content posts,” otherwise known as list posts (see here, and here). Like this very post you’re reading now.

Forget 10 ways -- one way is to stop reading list posts!
Forget 10 ways — one way is to stop reading list posts!

They’re blog posts like “7 Tips for Successful Container Gardening” or “6 Things You Need to Know About Facebook Privacy.”

List posts are considered blogging gold by online content creators and marketers. They’re often cited as a no-fail method to engage readers and build interest.

After all, people like to-do lists and they like titles with numbers in them, which tell them exactly what – and how much – to expect in a post.

Like the title of this post… You’re hooked already, right?

That’s the conventional wisdom. One of my rules for living a more authentic life, however, is to never trust conventional wisdom. (Stay tuned for my upcoming list post on “Five Reasons to Ignore Conventional Wisdom”!)

So I’m here to tell you that list posts are bad, very bad. At best, they muddle your thinking, at worst, they pitch you into a shame-spiral of failure and underachievement.

Here are four reasons to stop reading list posts – today! (Yes, this is all very meta.)

This gullible woman is writing down another list.
This gullible woman is adding another list to her harried life.

1. A list post is another São José dos Campos list in your life. Don’t you have enough of these already? A list post means another list that you’ll print out or write down and carry around with you in your phone or your pocket. Or you’ll put the list somewhere so that it stares back at you all day – from your desk or your computer screen – beseeching you to act. Mocking you when you don’t.

List posts are the bunny rabbits of online self-help, endlessly propagating advice that pollutes your mind with how-to overload. This creates anxiety and is bad for your health.

Just say no.

2. List posts are addictive. If you don’t just say no to list posts, trust me, you’ll never get enough of them. They’ll never satiate your endless need to fill the empty recesses of your soul with pablum on how to do more, do better, do more simply, do, do, do!

I conducted a quick (i.e. ridiculously unscientific) experiment to illustrate the insidiousness of list posts. I went to Google and started ten searches, each beginning with “10 ways”, “9 ways”, “8 ways”, etc., on down, and these are the first Google-suggested list posts that popped up in search results:

“10 Ways to Make Money on the Side”
“9 Ways to Win Powerball”
“8 Ways to Bully a Kid in Minecraft” (wow)
“7 Ways to Discipline Your Child”
“6 Ways to Sunday” (Ok, this is an outlier, and a stupid expression.)
“5 Ways to Say ‘I Love You’”
“4 Ways of Knowing”
“3 Ways of Learning”
“2 Ways to Live”
“1 Way Trip to Mars” (hunh)

This poor guy thinks he found 5 new ways to improve his love life.
This poor guy thinks he found 5 new ways to improve his love life.

Admit it, you want to read at least one or two of these, don’t you? So do I. But the key is total abstinence. You must go cold turkey.

can i buy prednisone online in uk 3. List posts take too much time. Reading a list post takes time. Deciding whether to follow the advice in the list post takes time, saving it takes time, doing it takes lots of time. Imagine all that you could accomplish if you just ignore these time suckers… Wait, don’t imagine, that wastes more time… Move on.

Şemdinli 4. List posts set you up for failure. Face it, Dear Reader, you’re never going to follow those five steps to better organize your files, or do those eight easy craft projects to beautify your home, or take those six steps to “change your life now.” Oh, you’ll try. Then you’ll fail.

It’s better to never start.

So declare your freedom and pledge to never read another list post again. Right now. If you do, I guarantee you’ll avoid a lot of grief.

But first, don’t forget to share this list post.

The Value of Blogging: Ipso Facto or Lorem Ipsum?

I really don’t know where this blogging thing will lead me.

This is my first official blog post on my first official blog. But I have been writing – as a professional non-fiction writer and fiction hobbyist – for over 20 years.

What have I been waiting for?

Ideas? Inspiration?

No, those aren’t hard to find. I once wrote an essay titled “Scratching an Itch,” a short piece on a simple, meaningless act hardly worthy of an essay.

Or is it?

The sudden urge to scratch an itch on your arm, or on your head, or other places less polite, can lead to broader questions. Is it just a little itch, or a nervous tick? Where do you draw the line in terms of what to scratch and in front of whom?

Scratching an itch can be meaningful or not — a harmless gesture, a poker player’s tell, or an affront to society.

Blogging, it appears, can also be meaningful or not. Some will ask: does blogging have inherent value?

Like scratching an itch, it depends.

If you blog to hone your writing craft, or to share something of interest to readers, or to sell a product or service, then it’s fair to say blogging has value ipso facto. But what if you find yourself writing a puff-piece blog post just to check off your must-blog-something task for the day, and bore your readers in the process?

In that case, your blog might as well be lorem ipsum, that Latin-looking gibberish you see on examples of WordPress themes whose only function is to fill text space.

I will never blog just to fill space. I may do it a little, or a lot. I’ll probably cover a few of the topics that I’ve written about professionally such as politics, healthcare, fitness and wellness, and, naturally, writing. Check back more than once.

Another thing for you to know — I enjoy writing essays, which is primarily what bloggers do, right? An essay is often the best way to explore and clarify what it is you think and feel about an issue or event in your life.

As the writer E.M. Forster once said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?

Over the years, I’ve published a number of personal essays and persuasive essays otherwise known as op-eds (to read my latest op-ed published by The Christian Science Monitor, click here).

I’ve ghostwritten op-eds for business clients, and I also volunteer to help others get their views and opinions in print and online. I’m a volunteer Editor-Mentor for The Op-Ed Project, a great non-profit organization based in New York City whose mission is to promote and increase a diversity of voices in media.

Even though over half of the population are women, only about 20% of major newspaper opinion pieces are written by women. This lack of women voices creates a huge deficit in our national dialogue.

I’ve had the privilege to help several accomplished women in business, academia and advocacy craft and publish op-eds in newspapers and online media outlets throughout the country. I hope to add the links to some of my mentees’ work in the near future.

In addition, The Op-Ed Project’s website has a very helpful and public resource section on how to write an op-ed, in case you would like to share your own opinion on a topical issue in a newspaper or online news site some day.

If you are interested in learning more about the personal essay form as a beautiful exercise in critical thinking and self-discovery, let me recommend a very good book on personal essays:

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, edited by Phillip Lopate (Doubleday, 1994).

The book is not really a how-to on essay writing, but it offers an informative introduction to the craft and is a large anthology of some of the best essays ever written, organized culturally, by theme and by form (book review, humor, list, mosaic, portrait, etc.).

If I were to recommend only one essay in this volume, it would be Virginia Woolf’s The Death of the Moth, about watching a moth die on a windowsill. It’s a tour de force on truths surrounding life and death that runs only around 1200 words in length. It is also easy to find online.

Admire it for the language and for Woolf’s ability to connect the trivial to the universal, but fair warning: it may give you a case of the sads.

Finally, one note of business about my blog. I don’t plan on posting any reader comments to my blog posts. Instead, feel free to email me about something I wrote at info@kateholder.com.

For example, do you have a personal essay (or opinion piece) to recommend, one that moved you or helped you or changed your thinking? I’d like to know.

If you do email me about a blog post, please reference that particular post in your comment. In return, I may occasionally post a reader’s email, and I will try my best to read all email comments. However – and this is important – I cannot guarantee that I will respond to any of them.

Remember, I really don’t know where this blogging thing will lead me.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, where I’ll alert readers of my latest blog posts and other news.