Freelance Writer for Hire


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Do you struggle with creating superior content for your business?

Are you too busy changing the world, and don’t have time to write?

Does your current copy not convert well enough?

I’m your writer. I can help.


I am also willing to create content on a per-word or per-hour basis. This information is found after the packages 👇🏼


Bite-Sized Offer

One (1) blog post, essay or article,
750-1300 words
$149

If you’d like to see what I can do without making too much of a commitment, this is the package for you. I’ll write a blog post for you, an article or an essay, nearly anything your heart might desire.

All you have to do is contact me, and we’ll get the ball rolling.


Premium Package

12,000 words of content, delivered any way you choose$2,450

Don’t know what kind of content you need? I’ve got you covered.

12,000 words is forty pages. That’s a lot of content for a great price!

I’ll write press releases, blog posts, biographies, technical articles, Frequently Asked Questions, listicles, comparisons, anything you might need.

Let’s get started! All you have to do is contact me.


Blogger’s Delight

Ten 1000-word blog posts$1,950

My blog posts are guaranteed to boost your standing in Google search results.

I love writing about conscious business practices and technical subjects. I want to improve your business by writing about what you need!

Getting started is dead simple. You only have to contact me!


On-Call or Retainer Services

2000 – 6000 words of content, delivered monthly$variable

Need content, but don’t know how much? I got your back.

For a monthly retainer fee, I am at your beck and call.

We will first have a conversation about what you need, then we’ll see how I can serve that need.

Let’s talk! Just contact me to get started.


Per-Word and Per-Hour

Don’t want to engage with the packages above?

No problem!

Per Word$0.15 / word
Per Hour$60 / hour

Editing

The only thing I love doing more than writing is editing.

Seriously.

I love making other people look great in writing. I love polishing and honing words until they shine so bright, they might pierce the sun.

My rates for editing are as follows:

Basic Copyediting$40 / hour5-10 pages / hour
Heavy Copyediting$50 / hour2-5 pages / hour

Please note: “Heavy” copyediting is more involved and detailed than “Basic” copyediting.


Nota Bene (note well)

  1. In order for me to start a project, I ask that my clients put 50% of our total agreed-upon price down. The rest will be due on completion.
  2. I invoice through Wave, which enables you to make payments with credit card or bank transfer. I’m also happy to accept PayPal.
  3. It is customary for projects under $500 to be paid upfront.
  4. I want you to be happy with the work I perform for you. If you are not, please let me know and I will revise the work to your specifications.
  5. Revisions should not include new instructions.

Other Stuff

Don’t see a package that strikes your fancy?

Let’s have a conversation about how I can help your business!

Posted by ThreeOwlMedia in admin, 0 comments

How to Hook Your Reader

Image Courtesy FineArtAmerica

Visionary Writing Techniques #11

By John Onorato

We all want our readers to feel excited when they start reading our essays. And if not actually excited, we at least want them feeling interested.

But how do we ‘make’ our reader be interested in what we’ve poured our efforts into?

We do that by grabbing their attention with a good “hook.”

A hook is a bit of writing at the top of your essay. Also known as the introduction, a hook is meant to engage a reader’s curiosity.

As writers, we want our readers to read our pieces all the way through. We want them to wonder what happens next. And the best way to do that is with a good hook.

There are several different types of hooks. They are:

  • Quotation Hook
  • Description Hook
  • Story Hook (a favorite of mine)
  • Metaphor or Simile Hook
  • Facts and Statistics Hook
  • Declaration Hook
  • Interesting Question Hook (another favorite of mine)

Quotation Hooks

Some of you are using quotations already. This is awesome!

With this kind of hook, you draw your reader in with a quotation. It can be from someone famous or well-known, but it doesn’t have to be. Just be sure to attribute the quote — tell us who said it, even if it was you.

You can quote anyone, so long as it connects with the rest of your piece.

Do this:
“It will be done with you when you are done with it.” — Jonathan England

Not this:
“When you’re done with something, it’ll be done with you.” — Some guy I know


Descriptive Hooks

Use a vivid description to pull readers into your writing. Good descriptive hooks make readers want to know what comes next.

Writing an essay about Ego? Hook us with your description of how you’ve fought your own Ego. Writing about Integrity? Hook us with a description of how Integrity shows up in your own life.


Story Hook

Stories draw readers in. Humans are natural storytellers — all of us are! — and we love reading and hearing the stories of others. How did they surmount that Ego challenge? How did they offer Acknowledgement to other people? How did this writer display Integrity?

Readers love memorable, well-written stories. Just be sure the story you tell is related to the topic at hand.

This type of hook is typically a bit longer than other kinds of hooks, but can be even more effective when used well.


Metaphor and Simile Hooks

I love metaphors and similes. They get readers to think about the topic in a different way, not the “usual way.” Your readers will wonder what you mean, and how you can compare this thing to this topic, even when it seems unconnected.

A quick review: Metaphors compare two seemingly unrelated things to one another. One example is “Jonathan is a shining light.”

Of course, he’s not really a light. He doesn’t have a filament growing out of his head. But he acts like one.

Two things about similes:

  • they use the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to connect the parts
  • they are typically not as strong as metaphors

The above statement can be rephrased as a simile: “Jonathan is like a shining light.”


Facts and Statistics Hooks

Here in the Visionary Program, most of what we deal with is highly subjective. Thus, Facts and Statistics type of hooks might well be wildly inappropriate. Still, they do offer objective information about a topic, and readers love that. So you can still conceivably use this type of hook.

All you have to do is provide facts that are interesting, reliable, and accurate. Make sure your source is credible, too — not just something you read one time here on Facebook or saw on YouTube.


Strong Statement Hook

Also known as the Declaration Hook, this kind asserts a claim about your topic. It shows the overall importance of what you’re about to say.

It doesn’t matter how your reader might feel about your statement. What they’re interested in is reading how you support that statement.

One example of this kind of hook is “Ego has been the bane of my existence for 48 years of my life.”

Ego might have played a similar role in your life, or you might have it well under control. Either way, the bold statement piques your curiosity about what the writer might say next.


The Question Hook

People are curious. Inquisitive. We love reading questions, and finding out the answers even more. If you ask a question, that spurs the reader on. They’ll try to find the answer to the question you ask later on in your text.

Just be sure to ask questions which relate to your topic. Asking unrelated questions only serves to confuse the reader. Was this essay about Acknowledgement? Then why did the writer ask a question about Ego?


Conclusion

These are not the only types of hooks. These are not the only ways to draw readers in. Yet they are some of the more effective ways. I know that if I was reading essays, I would like being “hooked” by one of these methods.

Let’s get out there and hook our readers! Let’s get folks to read our words like the professionals we are!

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Got Two Minutes? I Can Improve Your Writing Forever

Image Courtesy GoodFon.com

Visionary Writing Techniques #010

by John Onorato

We’re all busy, so I’ll keep this short.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there. Some of it works, and some doesn’t. Like with the other articles in this series, though, I’m going to address some fundamentals — address these issues, and watch your effectiveness with the written word soar.

As you know, I’m a professional freelance writer. What follows are several short tips that improved my writing immensely — and they can work for you as well.

Let’s dive in.


1 — “Shorten Your Opening Sentence.”

Is your opening sentence compelling? Check.
Is your opening sentence short? Check.
Is your opening sentence conversational? Check.

Does your opening sentence go on and on and on, seemingly without end, finally collapsing, exhausted, right next to the dustbin of failed sentences that might be run-ons but maybe not?

I reckon you can do the math on that one.

Example: “This is a post that’s going to help you become a better coach.”

This becomes: “I can help you.”

See? Shorter. Punchier. Better all-around.


2 — “I think”

Almost universally, this phrase adds exactly Zero Value to your writing. Delete to make your point stronger.

Saying “I think” is the literary equivalent of adding a question mark to your sentences.

In our daily speech, we say “I think” when we don’t know a thing for sure. But if you’re writing about it, it’s better to give the impression you know what you’re talking about. Hence, drop the “I think.”

Example:
“I think I slept poorly last night.”

This becomes: “I slept poorly last night.”

The latter form sounds more assertive, doesn’t it?


3 — “Running, Jumping, Climbing”

You can also drop words that end in “-ing.” Also known as gerunds (or verbs that function like nouns), the suffix makes the word softer. At the same time, it adds little value. Although proper use of gerunds can lend writing a lyrical quality, generally speaking your writing will read better if you avoid them.

Example:
“The forms we’re seeking are often disappointing and underwhelming.”

This becomes: “The forms we seek often disappoint and underwhelm.”

Notice how the punchier sentence has fewer words? It often works out this way 🙂


4 — “That”

This is a word which makes sense, but around 90% of the time you can omit it. Doing so will instantly make your sentences stronger.

Example:
“You thought that I was sleeping, but I wasn’t.”

This becomes: “You thought I was sleeping. I wasn’t.”

Sure, you can use this word to “pad” your word count, but do you really want to?


5 — “Short paragraphs. Shorter sentences.”

Most sentences you can cut right in half, immediately making them punchier and stronger. Having a two or three word sentence is not a crime.

At the same time, vary the length of your sentences in order to keep interest.

A good rule of thumb is to keep each paragraph to three sentences (or less.)

Remember: Readers LOVE white space.


So. Five tips, five opportunities to make your writing better. Let’s get out there and make the most of our words!

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

More About Concrete Examples

Image Courtesy Evan Smogor on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques #08

By John Onorato

When we use strong language skills — whether in writing or in speaking — we have a much better chance of getting what we want and need from people around us. Not only that, we have a much better chance of understanding … and being understood.

One way of examining the language you use is by its “concrete-ness.” Another way of putting this is Generality vs Specificity.

One of these kinds of language is likely to be understood. And the other is more likely to be MIS-understood.

In other words, the more specific and concrete your words are, the more vivid and clear the understanding of your reader.

Concrete and Abstract Terms

Abstract terms refer to concepts and ideas. They have no physical referents.

Please re-read that definition. It is vague and boring — and this is by design. Even if you do find it interesting, it will be hard to pin down why. We need examples — concrete examples to make this abstract language clearer.

“Love” is an abstract term. So is “freedom.” The words “something” and “someone” are similarly abstract. Yes, we generally agree on what they all mean, but the specific meaning for individual people is difficult to pin down, because it changes over time. A teenager will not have the same definition of love as a senior citizen who has been divorced twice already.

We need abstract terms, however, because we frequently talk about these concepts and ideas. Thus we need terms to represent them.

At the same time, long chains of abstract terms can be tiring. Boring. They’re useful in introductions and paragraph topic sentences. But they’re not going to make points clear or interesting by themselves.

Abstract terms name things unavailable to the senses, while concrete terms refer to events and objects which can be sensed. Examples of concrete terms include:

  • Fork
  • Countertop
  • Eyebrow Ring
  • Superhero Mask
  • Cold
  • Running

The meanings of these words are pretty stable, as they refer to objects we can hold and events we can see. I can pick up a fork and hand it to you, but I can’t show you a Freedom. I can’t point to a small Love crawling on the wall. I can measure air by weight or volume, but I can’t collect a liter of love or a pound of moral outrage.

Nailing it Down

Take the assertion “We all want success.” You may understand, and you may even agree with me. But success means different things to different people, so you can’t be sure about my precise meaning from the abstract term. On the other hand, if I say “I want a yacht and a mansion with two staircases,” you know exactly what I mean. At that point, you know if you agree with me (or not).

Can you see how concrete terms are both clearer and more interesting than abstract ones?

As effective writers and communicators, we need to use fewer abstract terms, and more concrete ones.

Specific Terms (and General Ones)

“Abstract” and “concrete” are opposites, more or less. But there is a significant range between “general” and “specific” terms.

Take the word “vehicle.” This is a very general term. Many different possibilities are contained within. Can you form an image of “vehicle”? You might see an ocean liner or an 18-wheeler. You might see your personal car, or the bike you rode this morning.

Even if you can create a distinct image in your mind, how likely is it your reader will come up with the same one?

“Vehicle” is a concrete term, as it points to an object we can see and feel. But its meaning is difficult to pin down, because the group is so large.

We can shrink the group with a more specific word: Boat. It’s still pretty general, as it still refers to a class of objects, rather than an individual object. Still, it’s easier to picture a boat than it is to visualize a vehicle.

The next step is “rowboat.” Our picture is getting clearer now. The images we form are likely to be fairly similar, and we’re likely to have similar associations (safety, smallness, has oars, used for fishing, etc). So this more specific term communicates more clearly than the less specific terms “vehicle” or “boat.”

We can get even more specific. Your boat can be a sailboat. It can be a blue and white sailboat. It can be a blue and white sailboat named “St. Marne.” It can be a blue and white sailboat named “St. Marne” that berths four people and has a Barbie doll lashed to the prow, like the figureheads of old.

Do you see how, by the time we get to the last description, we’re talking about an individual vehicle? A single, specific boat? Note how easy it is to see THAT boat in your mind.

In Other Words

In short, when you rely on general terms, your writing will be vague, lifeless, and dull. As your words become more specific, however, your meaning becomes clearer. Your writing becomes more interesting. When your writing is interesting, it’s more likely to be read.

And isn’t that what we all want?

You might wonder if you now have to stuff your writing full of detailed descriptors. Short answer: No. You don’t need modifiers to identify individuals: Mention Eckhart Tolle or Oprah Winfrey, and everyone knows who you mean. So too with Steve’s Suburban or the scar on Harry’s forehead.

Also, not everything needs to get the individual treatment all the time. We might need to know that Fred crossed the ocean in a boat, but we don’t always have to know what that boat looked like.

It’s all a matter of discernment at this point.

To Sum Up

I invite you to think back on what you’ve just read. What do you remember about it? Odds are you’ll recall the yacht and mansion, and the sailboat named “St. Marne.” Why is that? Because their meanings are clear. They create clear images in the mind.

Human brains are like that: It’s easier for them to recall images when they are linked with a distinct sense impression. This is why it’s easier to recall how you learned to swim than it is to remember when you learned about World War One.

Through our senses, we experience the world vividly. As infants, and before we learn words, we sense soft and rough, hot and cold, loud and silent. Our earliest words also also concrete: ball, nose, cup, Mommy. And we teach using concrete terms: “Where’s baby’s hand?” “Where’s the doggy?”

So why do we turn to generalizations and abstractions while we write?

Part of this answer has to do with our desire to pass on ideas and conclusions. We want to efficiently share the knowledge we’ve gained through hard work and pain. We don’t want to see others suffering, learning the same lessons we’ve learned the hard way. So we make generalizations: Instead of detailing all the trauma we’ve endured, we tell our children “You can’t always trust everyone.”

You went through a lot of pain to learn that lesson. You endured a lot of experiences both specific and concrete, yet you pass that lesson on with a few general words. Sure, we think we’re doing it right by passing on the lesson without all the hurt we endured to learn that lesson.

But I would posit that pain is a great teacher. The hurts teach the lesson, not the general terms.

Thus, “You can’t always trust everyone” might be a great phrase to use. It may be all you want your child (or reader) to grasp. But if you want to make that lesson clear, if you want to see your reader actually learn from your words, you have to relay the concrete, specific experiences.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Hand vs Computer

Image Courtesy The Medical Leader

Visionary Writing Techniques #08

By John Onorato

I know a way to make your writing even better than it already is.

You just have to do one simple thing. ✅

And I’m about to tell you what that thing is.

After I tell you how to make your writing better than it already is, I’ll share a very personal reason I use this exact tip myself.

Now, I’m sure you’ve read thousands of examples where they “tease” some juicy tidbit (like I just did), then they make you endlessly doomscroll before they let you know what that tidbit is …

… and then what they have to say is so basic, it feels like a complete letdown when they do share the tidbit.

I’m not going to do that, though.

I’m going to share my juicy tidbit here in the first page.

You ready to make your writing even better than it already is?

Read on, then. It’s at the head of the next section, I promise.

About That Secret

If you want to 10X your writing, all you have to do is step away from your computer.

That’s right. All you have to do is step away from the computer.

I did this a year or two ago, and it’s one of the best things I could have ever done for my writing.

All you have to do is step away from your computer, and get some paper.

Get a pen, too. Or a notebook and a pencil. It doesn’t matter. What we’re going to do here is write by hand.

“But John,” I can already hear you wail, “we never learned cursive!”

Really? You didn’t? That’s a serious shortcoming of most modern schooling, in my opinion.

But Why?

Why should you ditch the keyboard for your pre-first drafts?

First off, because writing by hand engages a completely different part of the brain. Writing via typing is great, and at least for me, it’s much faster than writing by hand.

Note that “writing via typing” means “writing on a keyboard.” Given that typewriters are no longer really a thing (unless you’re part of Austin’s own “Typewriter Rodeo“), writing via typing usually means you’re on a computer.

Besides that “different part of the brain” thing, notebooks offer no distractions. Facebook doesn’t bother you when you’re working with a piece of paper.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that as a freelance writer, speed is often of the essence for me. So many of my articles — like this one — are written direct-to-keyboard. But I have developed a pretty good method for keeping my focus where it needs to be.

Still, it’s not a perfect system. Besides, the majority of my Really Good Articles saw their origins in one of my notebooks.

Another benefit is that writing with your own hands helps you retain and use information — even if you never pick it up again later.

See, when you’re writing on a keyboard, you’re basically just transcribing your own thoughts. You’re not really working with them. When we write by hand, we do it much more slowly. Therefore, we end up being more selective, choosing only the most important points to write down and use.

This causes you to craft your content more efficiently.

Writing by hand also causes you to recall information easier. I’m willing to bet you don’t remember many of your friends’ phone numbers, even if you call them frequently. That’s because you’ve typed them into your phone, and the phone remembers them for you. I’d also be willing to bet you can remember phone numbers from your distant past — when you wrote them down by hand.

When writing by hand, you are having, by default, a richer experience than you would at a keyboard. When we are performing a sequenced physical activity that uses muscles and nerves in a complex pattern, our brains love it. Doing that, our brains are awash in rich sensory and motor feedback. And the more feedback we get from an activity, the easier it is for our brains to form and later retain those memories.

Thus, the mere finger-tapping of keyboards offer our brains a much more sparse experience than the complex patterns involved in handwriting.
In other words, keyboards are much less stimulating than moving our hands in the intricate patterns required when writing by hand.

In Conclusion

I’ll close with another reason to write by hand. This is my reason, and it waxes far more personal.

My father writes me letters. (He’s single-handedly saving the Post Office, don’t ya know.) Many of those letters he used to write by hand. So there’s a certain sense of nostalgia for me in there.

Perhaps more importantly, though, as I started to write by hand more often, I observed many similarities between my father’s handwriting and my own. It was all in the loop here and the swash there; as I watched my letters forming on the page, I could see echoes of my father’s writing.

Thankfully, my father is still with us. But the days of him writing much by hand are long behind him. I will always treasure the letters he wrote to me in his own hand.

Maybe that’s a gift you can give your own kin. I invite you to do exactly that. Physical letters, especially those written by hand, will forever occupy a special place in my heart — one that can never be taken over by another activity.

So — to make your writing 10X better, all you have to do is start away from your computer.

Posted by ThreeOwlMedia in Visionary, 0 comments

How to Meditate

Image Courtesy Insider.com

How to Meditate

by John Onorato

Lots of people think meditation is about “emptying your brain of thoughts.”

It isn’t, though!

One of the brain’s primary functions is to generate thoughts. Thus, it’s counterproductive to expect it to be blank.

The purpose of mediation is to notice your thoughts.

It’s actually rather similar to when you “get in the zone” while biking, running, swimming … or any other sport, actually.

It’s also similar to finding your creative groove when drawing, painting, writing, knitting, or whatever else might be your jam.

Meditation is deceptively easy! And as with many things worth having, much success can be attributed to preparation.

Setting the Stage

  1. Find a place where you won’t be bothered or distracted. I like to sit for 10-20 minutes, but when starting out it’s better to start out with 3-5 minutes.

    Don’t stress about the amount of time you meditate. It’s more important you do it regularly. If you’re trying to start a “meditation habit,” it helps to do it at the same time every day. This primes your brain for the task at hand.

    I like to meditate at least once a day, shortly after I wake up.
  2. Get comfortable. Keep your back straight and upright. It’s not advisable to lie down, but you can sit in a chair. If you do this, make sure both feet are on the ground.

    But however you get comfy, know there is no set way.

    I like to do it semi-traditionally, sitting with both knees on the floor, and a hard pillow under my butt.
  3. Set a timer. I recommend a soothing, gentle timer. Don’t use a jangly one that will upset you.

    There are many smartphone apps to use for meditation. The first one I used was Calm.com— in addition to having a course for beginning meditators, it provides pretty music and nice things to look at, should you want to keep your eyes open. It also has a non-intrusive bell to tell you when you’ve reached the end of your scheduled time, and it keeps track of the days you’ve meditated.

    Pro Tip: Seeing the “streak” you’re keeping is great motivation for starting a daily practice!

    I also like InsightTimer. It has a great timer that’s very customizable. It’s also free, and has over 20,000 guided meditations, spiritual podcasts, and pieces of music.

    Headspace is another good one. I used it for a while and liked it, but you had to pay to continue past the introductory class.

    Please note: If you’re going to use an app to meditate, then I suggest you mute the notifications on your phone. When you’re trying to turn your concentration inward, the last thing you want is some external stimulus drawing your attention outward again.

    In time you’ll be able to weather little interruptions like this. But at first … mute the phone.

How to Sit

Now that the stage has been set, we’re ready for the fun part. It’s as easy as counting your breath!

First, set up your environment. Light a candle, dim the room, put on soft music, whatever works for you. Be sure you won’t be interrupted for a while.

Next, sit as described above.

Inhale. Count ONE with this breath.

Hold it until your body is ready to exhale. Don’t stress, just let go.

Count ONE with that exhale.

Hold until your body is ready to inhale again. Remember to just let go.

Count TWO with the next inhale.

Count TWO with the next exhale.

Inhale, THREE.

Exhale, THREE.

Just let go.

Proceed until TEN, then start again at ONE.

If you lose count, no big deal. Just restart at ONE.

Your mind will stray. That is fine. That is natural. This is what brains do!

Simply observe these thoughts and let them pass. 

Imagine yourself at the bank of a river. Imagine your thoughts passing by you like leaves floating in the water. They flow downstream and out of sight, along with your breath.

Another good metaphor is traffic. If you’re standing on the side of a road, waiting to cross the street, the cars move in front of you, back and forth. You can’t affect them, and they don’t affect you.

Don’t worry about trying to “make your mind empty.” That’s not how brains work! The very function of the brain is to generate thoughts. The trick is to observe those thoughts and not engage with them.

If you are having trouble with your thoughts, try labeling them. When a thought comes up, say “thought.” To yourself, of course! If an emotion comes up, say “emotion.”

About Breathing: Most folks breathe from their lungs. Their shoulders move up and down with the breath. This is more like a “half-breath,” though.

To get a deeper, fuller breath, use your diaphragm. Moving it down will push your belly out a little and elongate your lungs. Doing so will enable you to take in a roomier breath.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with breathing the first way. Breathing without diaphragm action will make your shoulders move. Just be aware of how you’re breathing.


As You Meditate

While meditating, you can repeat affirmations or other phrases. These are called mantras.  Some examples: 

  • “I am awesome” 
  • “My body is healed”
  • “My mother is well”
  • “I am grateful for our abundance”

Pro Tip: Practicing gratitude on the regular is an awesome way to level up your vibrations!

Simply count your breath, and keep your mantra in mind.

If you want to say your mantra phrase out loud, that’s cool too.

If you feel more comfortable keeping your eyes open, then try and keep your focus on one point: The flame of a candle, your bedroom doorknob, that spot on the wall. It’s all good.

If you have to scratch some part of your body, that’s OK too. Scratch that itch, just don’t focus on the scratching. Do it and be done.

All this said — there really isn’t any “right ” way to meditate, any more than there’s a “wrong way.” (Hint: There isn’t.) There’s only what works, and what doesn’t work.

This is what works for me, and I hope it makes a good starting point for you. If something I’ve suggested above doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it that way. Do it your own way.

And that’s really all there is to it.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Book a call with me using the friendly purple button, or shoot me a message using the Contact link in the menu above.

Posted by John Onorato in Portfolio, Visionary, 2 comments

Introductions, Conclusions, and Takeaways

Image Courtesy Ellensburg Frame Express

Visionary Writing Techniques #007

by John Onorato

When writing pieces for an audience — any audience — introductions and conclusions are important.

Why? Because your message is important. As a coach, you want people to hear your message. As ambassadors of Earthwaking University, whose mission it is to wake up the world, it’s important for people to hear your messages of Love, Light, and Connection.

And repetition gets the point across. Therefore, when preparing a message for an audience, it is vital to:

  1. Tell people what you’re going to tell them (introduction and provide context)
  2. Tell them (get your message across)
  3. Tell them what you just told them (conclusion, takeaway, and Call To Action)

In this Visionary Writing Techniques piece, I’m going to talk about introductions and conclusions.

Why Intros and Conclusions?

Intros and conclusions are different parts of the same puzzle.

Another way to think of introductions and conclusions is as “framing” for your essay.

Just as a beautiful frame enhances the beauty of a picture contained within it, proper framing enriches the content inside.

Good framing helps your reader better understand your essay.

An introduction prepares your reader to ingest the ideas within your article. It gives them some idea of what to expect.

A conclusion reminds your reader about important key points from your essay. It also gives you a chance to leave a lasting impression on your reader. When you tell them what you’d like them to get from your efforts, that’s your takeaway.

Grabbing Attention

Nearly each moment of every day, there are at least a thousand things competing for our attention.

Therefore, the first few lines of your introduction are critical.

Why should anyone read your piece, when there is a plethora of other articles on the same subject?

Think of your first few lines as a “hook.” Your hook grabs the attention of your readers. It also serves to introduce the general topic.

Just as there are many different ways to catch fish, there are many ways to write good hooks. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Tell your reader about a common misconception regarding your topic
  • Give your reader a humorous short story (or anecdote) which captures your topic
  • Share an interesting statistic or fact
  • Set the scene for the rest of the story: Who, what, where, when, why, how?
  • Ask a rhetorical question (a question intended to make a point or to create dramatic effect)

Your Final Thoughts

As with introductions, conclusions can be presented in many ways.

Use the last few lines of your essay for your concluding remarks.

Use your conclusion to remind your reader of how the evidence you’ve provided contributes to your topic. What’s the scoop — what’s your take on the larger implications of your topic?

Another approach is to broaden your focus. Your last sentence can provide your reader with material to think about, or remind them of a concept illuminated by your preceding words.

Rather than merely summarizing the key points of your piece, recommend a specific course of action. Warn your readers of the possible consequences of not addressing the issue you talk about.

You can also use the last few lines to drive your point home. Give your reader a quotation to lend authority to the conclusion you’ve reached. Or provide a startling fact or statistic which illustrates your point.

Relevant narrative drawn from your own life experience is also a good thing to include here.

You can also “come full circle”: If you used a quotation, anecdote, or other example in your introduction, return to it in your conclusion. Add some additional inside which comes from the body of your piece.

In Conclusion

Clearly, introductions and conclusions are linked closely. The techniques I’ve outlined for introductions also work in conclusions, and vice versa.

Remember the musical analogy I used in VWT #004, “Read Your Own Writing”? Your essay is a symphony made of words all working together to create a whole more magnificent than any one piece taken by itself. An introduction can be thought of as an “intro” to that song, and the conclusion the “outro.”

With a beautiful frame, you’ll have a beautiful message. Think of an introduction as part of the puzzle which includes the body and your conclusion, and you’ll have an easier time writing.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

My Process: Preparation is Key

Mario Ybarra, Jr. delivering keynote. Image courtesy The Iris/The Getty

Visionary Writing Techniques #006

by John Onorato

Diving in and just talking about a subject is a great strategy when you already know a lot about the subject.

If you happen to not, though, preparation is key.

Even if you already know a lot, though …

Everyone benefits from some behind-the-scenes preparation. This is how coaches seem seasoned; this is how we look well put together and on top of things.

We prepare before we go public.

“Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.”

― Idowu Koyenikan

As y’all know, I’m a professional freelance writer. I frequently write about subjects I know a lot about — self-development, disability, the craft of writing, editorials and the like.

Just as often, though, and especially for clients, I write on things I don’t know that much about. So I thought y’all might like to hear about the process I use to write articles.

It works for me. And I hope it works for you as well. I’d love to hear about how you’ve adapted my process for yourselves!

The steps of the process are:

  1. Get the Idea
  2. Research
  3. Write Freestyle
  4. Reread What you Wrote
  5. Pull Out the High Points
  6. Flesh out Those Points
  7. Edit & Clean Up
  8. Publish!

The rest of this article will talk about each of these steps in a little more detail.


Get The Idea

Here’s the easy part. Just decide on what you want to write about.

For these assignments, Kirk will hand you a topic to write about. Let’s say it’s Ego. You may also decide to write about something on your own.

I recommend and encourage this latter course of action!


Research

Here’s where you get all of your mallards (ducks) in a line.

I might read a few articles about Ego, maybe watch a few YouTube videos. I won’t choke down everything about the subject, though. Rather, I’ll focus on areas of the topic that interest me.

If you already know a lot about the topic, then use this step to consider a few sub-topics you might write about.

If you want to make a mind-map about the subject, now is the time to do it. Sometimes I’ll make one, sometimes I won’t.

Within the topic of Ego, I want to know how to downplay its role in my life. I don’t like it when my Ego ‘takes over,’ or when I ‘get on my train’ and listen only to my own counsel.


Freestyle!

Here’s where it gets fun. Before all that good research leaks out your ears, write about it.

Write freestyle! Write for fun! Write for yourself! Don’t worry about grammar or correctness; you aren’t going to be sharing this pre-first-draft with anyone.

This is only to start getting your thoughts (and your final article) in order.

For me, this part of the process works best if I write at least 1,000 words. It also works even better if I write by hand, in one of several notebooks I keep for just that purpose.

(Writing by hand is similar to writing on a computer, but the process is very different. I’ll talk about those differences in a later piece.)


What’s Important?

Now, re-read your freewriting. Make note of the most important parts. You can circle them, or write them on a separate piece of paper.

These points will be the bones of your finished piece.

Arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. Order them so they tell a story!


You Betta WORK!

Your next step is to put some meat on those bones in front of you.

Write a line or two by way of introduction.

Flesh out the points you pulled out in the step above.

Be sure each idea connects to the next.

Write a line or two for conclusion. Bonus points for providing your reader with a takeaway or Call To Action (CTA)!

Phew! Now take a break. You’ve been busy!


Edit & Clean-Up

This step works best if you put some time in between it and the one above. A couple of hours works fine, but a day or two is even better.

Go back through what you’ve written above. Tighten it up, remove extraneous words, fix any spelling or grammar mistakes.

This is a great time to read your piece aloud, like I suggested in VWT #004.

promise your piece will be more effective if you edit.

So.
Much.
Better!


Publish!

Now it’s time to pull the trigger. Drop your piece in the Visionary group, or push it to its final destination.

And pat yourself on the back! You’ve done some great work here.


In Closing

I’ve used this process for quite a long time. Although some forms of writing (like correspondence) don’t require this much prep, it works great for almost any occasion you’ve got to present something to others.

In fact, this process works so well for me, I’ve got a Post-It note near my monitor to remind me.

Now get out there and wake up the world!

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Concrete Examples

Image Courtesy Wylie Communications

Visionary Writing Techniques #005

by John Onorato

It’s easy to write about physical objects.

It’s not difficult to describe the weight, feel, and roughness of a brick in your hand. It’s not hard to talk about the smoothness of your cat’s fur in a way that will make your reader understand.

But here in the Visionary group, we talk about a lot of high-falutin’ concepts. Although it’s easy to make general statements about these concepts, this is the hallmark of a beginning writer.

It is more effective, and thus arguably “better,” to focus on specifics. It’s a good idea to provide concrete examples. When you do so, your writing becomes stronger.

Introduce With an Example

Read the following for an example of what I’m talking about.

“Mediterranean and Baltic are the principal avenues of the ghetto. Dogs are everywhere. A pack of seven passes me. Block after block, there are three-story brick houses. Whole segments of them are abandoned, a thousand broken windows. Some parts are intact, occupied. A mattress lies in the street, soaking in a pool of water. Wet stuffing is coming out of the mattress. A postman is having a rye and a beer in the Plantation Bar at nine-fifteen in the morning. I ask him idly if he knows where Marvin Gardens is. He does not.”
— from “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” by John McPhee


Now, without looking back at the passage, try and recall some of the images.

Do you recall the dogs? The windows? The mattress? The postman?
Why do you think you remembered those things?

You were able to recall them because they were memorable images. You can see them in your mind’s eye. Although the specifics of our internal images will differ from person to person, we’ve all seen dogs. We all know what windows look like. We each have more-or-less a common base of experience around mattresses and postmen.

The good writer knows this. The good writer draws on this. The good writer uses concrete imagery to tie the images in their head to the same images (or similar ones) in their readers’ heads.

And Now for the Opposite

What if the author above had written the passage differently? What if he had said “The ghetto is a poor neighborhood. There are lots of stray dogs, abandoned houses, broken windows, and a mattress on the sidewalk.”

Why is that passage not as effective as the first one?

It’s not as effective because it states a general fact. It then offers a few details, but no concrete specifics are mentioned. You might end up with a hazy rendition of a poor neighborhood in your mind, but it is not likely to be a clear picture.

The Lesson Here

As writers, our implicit goal is to have readers see what we see. We want them to understand what we say.

One of the better strategies to do this is to illustrate your ideas with specific examples. Concrete objects are ideal.

A concrete object is just that: Something you can drop on your foot. You can drop a brick on your foot. So too with a wet mattress or a window. You can even drop a stray dog on your foot. The postman might strenuously object, but you could still drop him on your foot. Theoretically speaking, of course.

Concrete objects convey ideas and concepts more effectively than abstractions such as poverty.

The more you write about actual things — objects you can touch — the more readers will enjoy and understand your writing.

Of course, here in the Visionary program, we talk about abstract concepts such as Love, Compassion, Integrity and Coachability. I realize it’s hard to “drop those on your foot.”

So the trick here is to use examples from your own life. Those can be just as concrete as a brick or a postman.

Tell us about that time you showed Love to the stranger. Talk about the time you chose to remain in Integrity with yourself, even though it meant pissing a friend off. Remind us about the Compassion you felt when you visited the hospital.

Or whatever it might be.

Illustrate your words with examples from your own life. That’s the trick to having your words remembered.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Read Your Own Writing

Image Courtesy nme.com

Visionary Writing Techniques #004

by John Onorato

As you all know, I’m a professional writer.  World-class, even!  

Today I’m going to let you in on another little secret that improved my writing from the first time I used it.  

I’m completely serious.  There’s no hyperbole in there at all.  We’ll get into hyperbole later, but for now, just know that hyperbole is the greatest and most amazing invention since sliced bananas.  

(and that’s what hyperbole is:  Massive exaggerations that aren’t meant to be taken literally.)

So here’s that little trade secret.  Yeah, most pro writers know about it, and most amateurs don’t.

That secret is this:
Once you’ve gotten to a place where you think “I’m done, now I can drop this in the Visionary group and get back to my regularly-scheduled life,” go back over your work.  

Re-read your work.  
And not only that, but read it aloud.  

That’s right. Speak it. Give life to your words, through your voice!

Reading your work aloud is the best way I have discovered to find out how my writing really sounds.  Which is another way of saying “How good my writing is.”

There are lots of benefits to be had by reading your work out loud.

First off, reading aloud is a great proofreading technique.  It helps you catch errors in spelling and punctuation; it also helps you choose different (and hopefully better) words than what you used in your first draft.  It also makes certain things painfully obvious, like missing punctuation and awkward word placement.  It  also becomes obvious when you’ve repeated words a few too many times.  

Reading aloud helps with grammar.  When someone reads aloud, you pause where you would naturally.  And when you pause, you need punctuation — usually a comma or period.  You might also notice when you haven’t taken a breath in a while.  This is frequently indicative of a run-on sentence that needs to be broken up.

Reading your work out loud reveals holes in your thought process.  It shows us places we haven’t been clear enough, and helps us remember information we might have left out.  It shows us where we might have missed some important points.  When reading aloud, it’s much easier to detect flaws in your logic.  You will quickly know when you need to tidy up your argument, or where you need to research more, or when you might need to not mention a point you can’t really support.

Reading out loud enables us to make better word choices.  Words convey meaning, and we have lots of words with similar meanings because words also convey nuance.  This is that distinction of connotation/denotation I was talking about earlier.  Hearing your words out loud helps convey nuance in a way seeing it on a screen might not.

Finally, reading aloud reveals peculiar rhythm and pacing.  In a symphony orchestra, musicians work together to create something greater than any of them could do alone.  When you’re writing a story or article, words work together in the same fashion.  Each of them has its own small task, and when taken together they form a cohesive unit that is larger than the sum of its parts.  

Want to hear how well your orchestra is performing?  Read it out loud.  One short, choppy sentence, or several in a row, serves well when you want to underline an important point.  But use too many of these in a row, and you’ll sound robotic.  Conversely, long, complex sentences are sometimes required — yet they are also best used sparingly, like exclamation points or F-bombs.

You’ll never know unless you re-read your work.  You won’t be aware of these things if you don’t read your words out loud.

Ever played with a tape recorder?  Then you know your recorded voice will sound different to your ears.  It’s not the same voice you hear in your head, through your bones.  In a similar fashion, your words will sound different when you read them.  Words sound differently to our ears than they do in our minds, when we read them on the page.

Sure, your writing might be great already, all by itself.  Just as your “real” voice is the voice others hear, though, your writing is only as good as others think it is.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 2 comments

Alliteration and Assonance

Image Courtesy Writing Forward

Visionary Writing Techniques #003 

by John Onorato


Want to write words which are memorable?

Then alliteration and assonance are your friends.  

I’m sure you want examples.  Those first two sentences represent alliteration.  The word refers to the repetition of the first consonants in nearby words.

An aside from the Department of Just-In-Case:  We all remember what vowels are:  A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.  Consonants are every other letter in the alphabet:  B, C, D, F, G, and so on.

Tongue twisters also show us alliteration:  “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.  A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.”

If you can say that ten times fast, you’ll be a master of alliteration!  And you’ll be way further along than I:  That was even hard for me to type in one go.

Assonance is a similar and related concept.  It refers to the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.  

Dr Seuss was a master of assonance:    

“Today you are you    
and that is truer than true.    
There is no one alive    
who is youer than you.”

Alliteration and assonance can lend a lyrical, sing-song quality to your writing.  When used consciously, they can set or change the mood in a written piece.  

They also allow the writer to highlight particular connotations of words.  

Well, that’s great!  But what are connotations?  The second edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains over 171,000 unique words.  Each of these words has a denotation — the literal, or primary meaning.  Also known as the dictionary definition.  

Many words in the English language have connotations as well.  The word “connotation” refers to the feelings and ideas that word suggests.

For instance, take the word DISCIPLINE.  Per Google, its second definition is “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.”  Yet in certain circles, many of them quite common, the word “discipline” carries with it the ideas of repression and punishment.

The takeaway here, therefore, is to be careful when and where you use certain words.  A long time ago, in a high school essay, I used the word “ilk” to describe a group of people.  My English teacher called me out, saying the word carried with it connotations of a dismissive or disparaging manner.  Given the the essay as a whole, where I was speaking favorably about these people, “ilk” wasn’t a great fit.

According to its dictionary definition, I could have used “crony” just as well.  Once again, though, this word has certain negative connotations.  Taken literally, a “crony” is simply a sidekick or pal.  But the connotations of the word suggest you and your pal are up to no good together.  It also suggests “cronyism,” or the practice of unfairly giving friends promotions they’re not qualified for.

So that’s a lot right there.  We started by talking about the sounds of words, and ended up with the meanings of those words.  Given how many words there are in English, there are literally quadrillions of combinations those words can be in.  Thus it’s crucial to understand how these words work together so you can use them to their maximum benefit.

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