Next Stop: Procrastination Station

I am working on a story right now that I’m having a hard time finishing. And, when I say I am “working” on it, I’m using the verb in the loosest way possible. Fact is, I haven’t lifted a finger to complete this story in weeks, maybe even months. Sure, I’ve had plenty of excuses as to why I couldn’t work on the piece. Grades were due. Other deadlines loomed larger. I had to take my cat to the vet.

The truth is I am a bit stuck on the story, which is a travel feature on the part of the world where I was born. Perhaps the proverbial saying that familiarity breeds contempt is just too true in this case, and I can’t really see why anyone would go out of their way to visit the Arkansas Delta unless there was a Thanksgiving turkey and fat slice of coconut cake waiting for them at the end of the rutted road.

But the assignment — and The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge on list making —  led me to reflect on some of my favorite ways to procrastinate, which I have explored all too thoroughly in recent weeks and also enumerated below.

1. Work on something completely unrelated to the task at hand – I call it productive procrastination. Sure, taking on a 15-day Blogging 201 challenge improved the appearance and content of my blog and I do need to transcribe some notes from that interview project I’ve been researching for more than a year, but is now really the time?

2. Run errands – Although I am not a prolific shopper, I will not hesitate to take a trip to the bank or post office in the middle of the day or even create an elaborate grocery list that can take hours to fill. I think one of the secret pitfalls of working from home is the allure of running weekday errands when destinations are “less crowded.”

3. Exercise – It’s another form of productive procrastination. Days when I want to avoid my desk are the perfect time to double the length of a leisurely walk or add a few reps from one of the workouts in my latest fitness obsession, 30-Day Fitness Challenges.

4. Cook – There is nothing quite as satisfying as concocting an elaborate batch of prosciutto-wrapped, cherry-stuffed chicken breasts or crafting a three-layer cake when a deadline is imminent. After all, why drive to Arkansas when I can bake my own coconut cake right here at home?

5. Let online research devolve into aimless internet surfing – Okay, so I’m on Level 181 of Candy Crush Saga. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Please share your favorite ways to procrastinate. I need some new ideas.

Free Photo from Photo Pin

Free Photo from Photo Pin

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnystiletto/6937952848/”>I Believe I Can Fry</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Come to The Dark Side: Tips on Writing Press Releases

Even Luke Skywalker was tempted by The Dark Side and, at some point in their careers, most reporters and writers will be, too.

“Star Wars” analogies aside, there are many reasons to learn how to write press releases, even if you never do paid public relations work.  Knowing how to write an effective press release can come in handy for the small business owner who wants to get the word out about her company, for organizers of charity events and other fundraising efforts, or for authors and artists who want to publicize their newest self-published book or other work. And, while it can feel odd at first to toot your own horn and bang your own drum, there’s really nothing wrong with being your own one-man band when you’ve got something newsworthy or unique to share.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to write an effective press release.

Good Press Releases:

  • are newsworthy.
  • have an attention-getting headline and lead.
  • are accurate, objective, and contain sources for follow-up calls and contacts.
  • take into account impact on the public and classic news values including proximity and timeliness.

So, what can you do to generate a newsworthy press release?

  • emphasize ties with current events
  • conduct a survey
  • issue a report
  • interview a celebrity
  • tie in with a holiday
  • stage a special event
  • organize a tour
  • adapt national reports for the local market
  • hold a contest
  • address a controversy

Once you’ve got something newsworthy to write about:

  • identify your audience and tailor your writing. Would an editor at the local newspaper be interested, or is your news better suited for a trade magazine that specializes on covering your industry?
  • decide whether the release will be news oriented or feature oriented. Are you holding a meatball eating contest or did you just release a blockbuster new product that will double the size of your workforce? Your writing style should reflect the content of the release.
  • write an attention-getting headline, then identify the theme and put it in the lead. Your reader should know immediately what your release is about.
  • include information in the body of the release to support the theme and weave in lots of strong quotes from sources. Even if a reporter develops his or her own story from a press release, these quotes will sometimes be used word for word, making them a great way to get your message out.
  • take the time to send your release to the right person. Don’t just send your press release to the generic email address listed on a newspaper, television station, or magazine’s contact page. Find the address of a specific editor or reporter and send your release directly. That being said, make sure your release is actually worth reading. If it is, you are likely to at least garner some respect for your company or cause, even if you don’t generate positive publicity.

I can say from personal experience that these tips really work. I’ve written or edited a number of press releases on a volunteer basis for everything from my fiance’s country band to a friend’s non-profit wine bar, and each release has generated multiple stories. This semester, some of my students found similar success when their releases resulted in stories or even ran verbatim in the local daily newspaper.

So, feel free to explore The Dark Side, because it might not be so bad after all.

 

Failed Queries: Local Business, Freelancer Fall on Hard Times

This month’s failed query comes to you a week early because I am excited to announce next Tuesday will mark my first-ever post from a guest blogger. Please check back then for a post on writing flash fiction by J, creator of  Don’t Delete Me and fellow Blogging 201 alum.

Meanwhile, here’s a failed query about an area business that has since switched chefs and shuttered the two short-lived expansions mentioned in my pitch.

Dear Editor:

Since opening its doors in 2007, Local Harvest Grocery has paid area farmers, ranchers, food producers and other artisans about $1 million for supplying sustainable, organically grown products to its store, which started as a 660-square-foot space in Saint Louis. That figure is likely to grow exponentially as Local Harvest‘s owners expand across the area. The first of those expansions came in 2009, when owners Maddie Earnest and Patrick Horine opened a cafe and catering service a block away from the grocery. At Local Harvest Cafe and Catering, customers can enjoy a cup of coffee or a Saint Louis craft brew with an organic, locally sourced meal prepared by chef Clara Moore. This summer, Local Harvest‘s purveyors plan to open another cafe downtown as well as a second grocery store with cafe seating for 40 in nearby Kirkwood, Missouri.

Horine launched a farmer’s market in the city’s Tower Grove Park before branching out to the first brick-and-mortar store, now 2,200 square feet, and he and Earnest have stayed true to their local retail roots. They aim to source at least half their products from farms and food producers within a 150-mile radius of Saint Louis. Today, more than 85 cents of every dollar spent at Local Harvest stays in the community, reducing the amount of fossil fuels necessary to get the food to customers and eliminating the need for pesticides to keep foods fresh. Indeed, Local Harvest‘s practices lend themselves not only to clean eating, but a cleaner planet, making its owners and chef — who recently appeared on the Bravo network’s newest cooking competition — ideal subjects for a Local Hero profile in XX.

As for my professional credentials, I have nearly a decade of experience teaching writing in secondary and post-secondary schools as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News, where I also wrote the occasional restaurant review. I am now looking forward to combining my interests and experiences in the classroom, newsroom and kitchen to write stories about a variety of topics. I have attached my resume and would be happy to send writing samples — including a piece scheduled to run in a national magazine — if you are interested. You can also see some of my work at my website. Meanwhile, please let me know if you need additional information to consider this query or are interested in seeing more ideas for the pages of XX.

Thank you,
Charlene Oldham

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Bachelor’s Degree Bargain

To riff on a bestselling book title, everything I needed to know, I learned in undergrad.

At Arkansas State University, my humble alma mater, I received all the essential knowledge I needed to become a successful journalist. I also had the opportunity to serve as editor in chief of the student newspaper, work with many other talented students who are still professional writers and editors today, and — with only one exception — attend small classes taught by full-time professors, many of whom had recent real-world experience in their fields of study. What’s more, I got all this for a paltry $975 or less in tuition and most fees each semester.

It was a great  value, even in those days, and seems more of a steal when you consider the average annual in-state price tag for tuition and fees was $8,893 for public four-year institutions in 2013 according to The College Board.

All this doesn’t discount the value of my master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, where I learned how to physically and psychologically navigate life in the city, gained insights from some of the best reporters in the nation, landed a paid internship at Newsday, and was matched with a mentor who helped me get my first real job.

But I have no doubt that I would still be thriving as a professional reporter, writer, and teacher today if I had ended my educational career after earning my bachelor’s degree — and all for less than $1,000 a semester.

***

Free morgueFile Photo

Free morgueFile Photo

To read the college newspaper news story and editorial I wrote about tuition in 1995, please click here (and ignore the fact I use the words fewer and less interchangeably).

To hear Sen. Elizabeth Warren talk about the great undergraduate education she got for $50 a semester and how the American dream is 300 percent more expensive today than it was a generation ago, check out this CBS Sunday Morning interview.

To post your own thoughts about being a student, teacher, or both, respond to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge.

 

Who Needs the Gym? I Do.

Folks with full-time jobs might think it’s easy to stay fit as a freelancer who works from home and sets his or her own schedule. After all, freelancers can feasibly drop what they’re doing and go for a run or attend a Pilates class while working stiffs are confined to their cubicles.

I have to admit, when I left full-time K-12 teaching to work as an adjunct professor and devote more energy to writing, I thought the same thing. What’s more, the new gym at the college commons was open to audacious employees willing to work out next to coeds far fitter and firmer than they. So I dropped my gym membership, planned on working out every day I had classes on campus and even created a Pinterest board optimistically titled “Who Needs the Gym?”

Who needs the gym? Turns out, I do.

I need the gym:

  • to watch St. Louis Cardinals games in a venue that does not offer beer bucket specials since my quasi-Luddite lifestyle means I don’t have cable television at home but am not opposed to taking advantage of it at nearby taverns.
  • as a weekend refuge from the Budweiser, barbecue, boy haven, Beatles guitar jam festival that my own home sometimes morphs into during spring and summer months.
  • as a place to expand my summer workout regimen beyond leisurely walks around the neighborhood and the occasional yoga practice or Jillian Michaels DVD.

So my recently reactivated gym membership starts in May and I have to admit I’m sort of excited to get back into a  more rigorous routine — and the gym’s new sauna — after a tough work out, of course.

For more on staying fit as a freelancer, please  check out my story and others on the topic in WOW! Women On Writing.

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Failed Queries: New Monthly Feature for an Idea Whose Time Has Come — and Gone

In an attempt to better my blog and step up my social media presence, I have been trying to tackle the assignments presented by The Daily Post in its Blogging 201: Branding and Growth course. The Day Five challenge encourages bloggers to “Give ‘Em What They Want” by posting potentially popular content on the days its most likely to be read. In analyzing my blog’s meager

Free Photo from MorgueFile

Free Photo from MorgueFile

statistics, I determined Tuesdays were the best days to post new content and also decided to add a regular monthly feature to my editorial calendar. This feature, Failed Queries, will appear on the third Tuesday of every month until I run out of rejected ideas, which means it may be around for a while. One of my expired ideas, on the lack of TSA Pre-Check Enrollment Centers near some major cities, seemed like a solid pitch until the agency dramatically expanded the service.

If you are interested in reading another failed query from the archives, please check out On Birthdays, Willie Nelson and Failed Queries.

Dear Editor’s Name:

I hope all is well. I was wondering if you’d be interested in a short piece on the fact the Transportation Security Administration does not have enrollment centers near some major cities. For example, the closest enrollment center to Dallas is about 150 miles away in Lawton, Oklahoma. If St. Louis travelers want to enroll in the Pre-Check program, they have to drive about  90 miles to Herrin, Illinois, population 12,000.

I think this would be of interest to your readers and hope you agree. Please let me know if you’d like more information on this idea. Meanwhile, I have included a link to my resume and some writing samples for you to consider. As for my professional credentials, I have a decade of experience as a writing teacher as well as years of reporting experience as a freelancer and staff writer at publications around the country, including The Dallas Morning News. Most recently, I have been working on stories for publication by magazines and blogs including SUCCESS, Eating Well, Poets & Writers, DRAFT Magazine, Organic Gardening, The FruitGuys Almanac and WOW! Women On Writing.

Best,

Charlene Oldham

My Latest in WOW! Women On Writing – Writing for Trade Publications

For those looking to balance their day jobs with writing time, trade publications can offer an opportunity to learn more about their industry and make new connections while writing, often for extra cash on the side. Some industries, such as nursing and publishing, offer hundreds of online and print outlets seeking submissions. Others have a handful of focused publications geared to specific segments of the industry. Here are just a few examples of publications that pay and one that offers unpaid bloggers the opportunity to share their professional expertise with potential clients and contacts on a regular basis…

Read about some specific trade pubs here.