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!

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Mind the Voice

In which we learn about the two voices we can write with: Active and Passive

Image Courtesy Shea Writing & Training Solutions

Visionary Writing Techniques #15

“Mind the Voice”

by John Onorato


Wow, y’all can be really wordy sometimes! (And I love it!)

Still, being wordy can be a bit of a turn-off. We’re all in a crunch for time. It’s like we all have have the attention span of a … ooh, look, a squirrel! … and we’re just itching for an excuse to move on to the Next Big Thing.

With so many businesses, people, friends, customers, and clients clamoring for our attention, we have to be “spot-on” with our messaging.


Mind Your Voice

Good, strong writing always uses the active voice.

Well, ok, almost always.

The active voice is positive. Strong. Concrete. More direct. The subject of the sentence is something or does something. The active voice uses a tone that is strong and clear.

When using the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon by the verb of the sentence. “Subtle” and “weak” are qualities often attributed to the passive voice.

Pop quiz: Were you paying attention? What “voice” did I use to write the two paragraphs immediately above?

Get a ⭐ Gold Star ⭐ if you said something on the order of “The active voice sentence used the active voice, and the passive one used passive voice.”


But That’s Not All

That’s not the only difference between the two voices.

When using the active voice, it’s easier to keep your word count down. This is because in the passive voice, the sentence’s subject is acted upon by the verb. This necessitates some form of the verb “to be” plus the past participle form of the verb, plus a preposition. Usually. (English is weird, I know.)

Let me share a small example.
Active Voice: “David threw the ball”
Passive Voice: “The ball was thrown by David”

Both sentences say the same thing. In both sentences, David hauls off and chunks a ball to someone off-screen. But one of those sentences takes 4 words, whereas the other takes 6. When considering just once sentence, 50% more words is no big deal. But in the context of a whole essay, it makes a bigger difference ❤

All that being said, sometimes the passive voice comes in handy. If you’re a politician, say — they seem to avoid the active voice at all costs! Later on I’ll talk about a few other situations where the passive voice would be appropriate.

Or let’s say you’re writing an essay about a llama. (Yes, I know that in the visionary group we tend to write about things other than llamas. But that’s all I got for right now!). In that case, the sentence “The llama was lloved on by the llemur” is appropriate.

Why? Because the subject of that piece is the llama. Thus the active voice sentence “The lemur loved on the llama” might not fit as well. It brings too much attention on our lemur friend.

Those last three words — “by the lemur” — is a short prepositional phrase that identifies who is performing the action. But even though the lemur is the one doing the loving, he’s not the grammatical subject any more. Using the passive voice enables you to drop poor Zoboomafoo (the lemur) from the sentence entirely, as “The llama was lloved on” also makes sense.

Generally speaking, the active voice is more appropriate, more useful. But the passive voice has its uses too. Do write most of your sentences with the active voice, though, unless that sentence won’t make sense any other way.


Other Occasions

The passive voice is not “incorrect.” Nor is it “bad” or “wrong.” At the same time, though, it tends to sound dishonest. Stiff. Evasive. Even less trustworthy than it possibly could sound. That’s why politicians use it a lot.

But who wants to do business with someone who sounds dishonest? Who wants to work with people that avoid taking responsibility in their words? After all, if they avoid responsibility in their words, it’s likely they avoid it in their actions and business practices as well.

Face that responsibility head on. Own it. Take charge of it.

Passive Voice: “An error was made on your account.”
Active Voice: “We made an error on your account.”

Put another way: When using the passive voice, it’s easy to muddy the waters. It’s easier to obfuscate the subject, as it’s typically not specified.

When using the active voice, you have to identify the subject. In the passive example just above, an error was made. Great. Who made the error? Who is responsible? We just don’t know.

In the active voice example, it’s clear that “WE” made the error. And sure, that pronoun can refer to just about anything, but that’s the subject of a different essay.


In Conclusion

This is English we’re talking about here. So there are no “hard and fast” rules.

At the same time, though, you’re better off using the active voice when you’re writing about a definite subject that’s performing a definite action.

In other situations, the passive voice works well. Like in scientific contexts Or in reports of incidents in which the agents are unknown. Or if you want to emphasize the action itself, and the agent of that action is distracting or irrelevant.

Now get out there and write! I love reading your essays 🙂

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Showing and Telling

Photo by Aljoscha Laschgari on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques #14

by John Onorato

No, “showing and telling” isn’t a reference to what you might have done in elementary school. Then again, there are some parallels. Read on to find out what they are.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

— Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright, 1860-1904

The quotation above is a maxim of writing you’ll hear again and again: “Show, don’t tell.” It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an essay for the Visionaries, working on a novel, or even a narrative podcast. “Show, don’t tell” is still one of the primary guidelines for writers both new and experienced.

But what do I mean by this?

I’m glad you asked.

Let’s Break It Down

Put succinctly, when a writer ‘tells’ us something, they’re summarizing or using exposition to tell the reader what’s happening. Telling is sometimes required, yet it often feels flat and lifeless.

On the other hand, when a writer shows the reader something, they describe what’s going on. They use action to help the reader paint a picture in their minds. Use your words well, and you’ll enable your reader to craft a movie in their heads.

Confused yet? Here are some examples.

Telling:
Fred was sad when his girlfriend left.

Showing:
Fred tried to hide his tears as he watched his girlfriend board the train back to college.

Here’s a longer example, especially crafted for the season we’re in right now:

Telling:
The house felt spooky.

Showing:
Lit by a single candle, the room flickered with uncertain shadows. The house smelled like rotting wood and decaying meat, with a bright metallic overtone which made Fred think of blood. The walls were arrayed with strange taxidermy: a buck with crazy eyes, a grizzly rampant in frozen fury, and an owl in mid-flight, its talons molded into a cruel shape.

Granted, these examples lean more towards the fictional. But in the essays we write for this program, as we use examples from our own lives, and as we use concrete examples (both subjects I’ve written about before), we want to create similar experiences in the minds of our readers.

Indeed, creating experiences in the minds of our readers is one of the best ways we have of teaching. And in so doing, we don’t have to make our readers live through the same experiences that we did!

How to Show and Not Tell

In the examples above, showing is more descriptive. It makes the writing vivid and clear. Showing enables the reader to experience what’s going on for the writer, by letting them interpret the descriptions the writer provides.

Consider the “telling” examples. They’re boring, aren’t they? Flat, too. Telling limits the reader’s experience. It gives them but a single way of understanding the story.

So how do you show us things, if you’ve been telling about them for so long? There are at least four ways to do so.

  1. Use dialogue. Even if you don’t remember a scene from your own life that well, use dialogue to recreate a sense of it. ” ‘Don’t you dare walk out that door!’ Fred yelled’ is more effective than “Fred was angry.”
  2. Use clear adjectives and specific nouns. Use them to paint a descriptive picture for your reader. Don’t just tell us that Grandma baked a pie. Describe the golden crimped crust of Grandma’s famous apple-cinnamon pie cooling on the windowsill.
  3. Include sensory details. Yes, it’s entirely possible to give us too many details — just ask Stephen King. Still, it’s usually better to err on the side of ‘too much’ than ‘not enough.’ Show us the sounds, the tastes, the smells and sights of your subject.
  4. Use strong verbs. Don’t say “I walked to the store.” Show us how you skipped, sauntered, strolled, ambled, or even galloped to the store.

An Exception to Every Rule

I get you. Here in the Visionary Program we’re writing about ourselves and our internal narratives. In times like these, it’s usually better to tell and NOT show.

Internal narratives are crucial, since they help us comprehend what made the writer react the way they did in a particular situation. One of the best parts about reading is getting to walk around in another character’s head for a while. To only show everything is to deprive the reader of that pleasure.

So yes, I’ll admit it: Sometimes telling is a better technique than showing, at least when it comes to writing internal narrative.

Why is that? Because showing relies on actions.

“I remember a time when I was angry,” you might say. “I shoved my chair back, leaped up, and pounded my fist on the table.”

This shows us that you were angry, but we don’t know about the nuance of the feeling. Maybe you were hiding a core of fear. Maybe you were internally happy about how things were going, and only pretending to be outraged.

We won’t know unless you tell us.

Most of the time it’s preferable to show us how angry you were by describing what happened to the table when you hit it, or how the room shook when you slammed the door on the way out.

But sometimes, you just gotta tell it like it is.

Conclusion

So there’s no hard-and-fast rule to this stuff. It’s all subjective, and it’s all relative to what you’re trying to do.

But one thing is universal: We all love stories. When you’re writing these essays, whether you realize it or not, and however small it is, you’re telling us a story. And when telling stories, it’s usually better to show us what’s going on, rather than just telling us.

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Engaging With Emotion

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques Essay #13
by John Onorato

We humans love a good story.

Consider the success of a few movies: Star Wars. The Hunger Games. The Color Purple. Titanic. Gone With the Wind. Jaws.

Now consider a few books: Don Quixote. Alice in Wonderland. The Wizard of Oz. Harry Potter.

What do these books and movies all have in common? I’ll give you that the commonality might not be easy to pick out, but if you think about it …

If you think about it, it’s really pretty simple.

They have great stories.

The Other Commonality

Granted, these stories have gone through endless amounts of refinement and re-jiggering. Every stray word, every misplaced image, every character that doesn’t serve the plot ends up on the cutting room floor.

I wouldn’t presume to think we have that kind of time or person-power as we craft our essays.

Now, I’ll be writing another essay on using Story at a later date. But in this moment, I’d like to draw your attention to another thing these stories have in common:

They engage our emotions.

Yes, we humans love a good story. And we engage with those stories through our emotions. Our essays are stories, and a story without emotions seems flat. And even lifeless.

“But John,” I can already hear you asking. “How do we create emotions in our readers?”

Easy-peasy! You evoke those emotions with emotion words.

It’s All In the Words

It’s easy to classify emotions as “good” or “bad,” positive or negative. Yet those words are not specific enough to elicit an emotional response from our readers.

Consider the Junto Emotion Wheel.

An aside: There are many different “emotion wheels” and methods for refining basic emotions. They’re all valid and all useful. This is just one of them.

According to the Junto model, there are six “basic emotions.” There’s love, joy, and surprise. And there are the less positive ones, or fear, anger, and sadness.

Let’s look at Love. The basic emotion of “Love” can be further refined into “enchanted,” “romantic,” “affectionate,” and “sentimental.” The emotion named “euphoric” inhabits a space between Love and its neighbor “Joy.”

These emotions can be further refined into different words with slightly different connotations. (Remember, a “connotation” is the undercurrent of a word, the feeling that it invokes in addition to its literal meaning. This literal meaning is also known as the denotation.) The word “enchanted” refines into “enthralled” and “rapturous.” And from the word “sentimental,” we get “tender” and “nostalgic.”

Here’s the Trick

So that’s the groundwork. Here’s the trick to generating greater engagement with your words, no matter if you’re writing a Visionary essay, copy for your website, or a letter to your Dad:

Use the words.

That’s it. Just use them.

The verb forms are best to use. If you say “Fred came into the room,” that’s flat and lifeless. The reader is confused because there are a zillion different ways someone can come into a room. There’s no telling what the writer had in mind, so the reader will create an image in their head that makes sense to them. But it might not be in line with the original intent.

The writer then has to do more work to provide relevant information as to how.

On the other hand, if you say “Fred exploded into the room,” you already know that Fred is enthusiastic and energetic (at least in this instance). It’s a safe bet that Fred is a positive, happy person.

Now let’s look at Claude, who is terminally depressed. We can say “Claude is depressed,” but again, that’s lifeless. Flat. (As per the nature of depression itself!) But if we say “Claude skulked into the room,” we can tell there’s something up. He might have some nefarious motive. He might be sad. We don’t know yet, but we WANT to know.

In other words, we’re engaged.

We can also use adverbs to display emotion. Adverbs are words that typically end in -ly, and they modify verbs. As in: “June ran happily.” Or “The movie ended abruptly.” Or “Her mod outfit displayed Brigit’s delightfully quirky personality.”

Conclusion

To recap, we humans love stories. And we love it when our emotions are engaged. One way to engage our readers’ emotions is through the use of emotion words. Words like love, joy, and fear are good, but too general to make much of an impact. Instead, use more specific words. Using emotional adverbs is a good idea, yet an even better one is to use precise verbs.

So I challenge you: In your next Visionary essay, use emotional words. And see what kind of engagement you get 🙂

Posted by John Onorato in Visionary, 0 comments

Make the Last Thing First

Photo by Christoph Wesi on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques #012

by John Onorato

At this point, I’ve read a lot of your essays. Maybe not every single one, but close 😉

Pretty frequently, I’ve observed that the beginnings of essays tend to feel clunky and unrefined. But about halfway through, everything starts coming together.

It often feels like the writer took a little while to “get up to speed.”

Ultimately, though, they “hit their stride”, and they lead us across the finish line with them.

Sure, sometimes that introductory material is valuable. Sometimes it provides context and/or data needed to fully understand the material in the second half of the essay. Sometimes it serves as a prologue, or a ramp-up to the final paragraph or two.

And other times the last few paragraphs of an essay function very very well — as the first few paragraphs of a different essay.

Dump Your Brain Out

So I invite you to freewrite. Do a brain dump. Get all your thoughts out on paper (or on a screen, as the case may be). When you’re done, walk away. Don’t think about your essay for at least a few hours. Give your brain a chance to rest.

After a while, come back to your piece. Re-read it. And no matter what it’s like, love what you’ve written. It’s perfect just like it is. You know how I know? Because that’s what happened.

It can still be better, though. It can still be improved. That first draft?
That’s your block of marble right there. Then act like you’re Michelangelo carving David out of that massive block. Cut away anything that doesn’t serve your stated purpose or intention for the piece.

You might well find that the first few paragraphs don’t serve you any more. You might well find the last couple of paragraphs work much better.

So cut away the first paragraphs. Get rid of them. Start your (new) essay with the last couple of paragraphs you wrote for the (old) essay.

Why? Because they work better. And because you wrote them when you were on fire for the assignment.

In the first few paragraphs, you’re just getting that fire started. You’re fumbling around with kindling and matches, setting up the logs for optimum burning, making sure there’s airflow, and so on.

It’s in the latter stages of an essay that we’re actually on fire for what we’re writing. It’s only in the latter stages when everything starts coming together. That’s when the fire starts burning merrily. We no longer have to blow on it to make sure it catches. It’s caught, it’s burning, and now we’re all looking around for the S’Mores.

That’s when it all starts working together right.

In other words, once you have everything out on paper, take what’s last, and make it first.

Sure, this might change the reasoning and tone of your essay. It might make a completely different essay. But here in the Visionary Program, we’re used to change. After all, change is the only constant.

Bringing It Home

This is a technique I use myself. As I start my day as a freelance writer, I will frequently “warm up” by working on writing tasks that are relatively unimportant. I might work on emails or other correspondence, or I might write a journal entry. Just to get the creative juices flowing. Just to get in Flow.

I start on the important stuff only after I’ve lit my fire.

I do this because I’m a professional. So I know that in any given day, the first few words out my my fingers are going to not be worth much of anything. I don’t work on client projects first thing. Because client projects are important to me; they’re how I make my living, so I have to make a good showing.

Granted, you might not make your living with your words. But you’re in the Visionary program for a reason. Why not make the best showing you can?

And this is one way you can make that good showing: By putting your last words first.

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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