Blog Help Organizations Grow

By Dan Haggerty

With changes in technology come changes in the way we see the world and how we record our findings.

This is something I learned this fall semester at Westfield State University when I took a class called Digital Writing.

Professor Beverly Army Williams stressed how new technology has given rise to new modes of communicating through the written word. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs of all types can be used to communicate ideas quickly and succinctly.

Most importantly, these new sites start conversations. Just look at any blog and you will see a dropdown list of comments where readers can share their feelings on a specific point, and the writer can answer them.

The ability to dialogue is what sets traditional writing outlets – like scholarly journals and newspapers – apart from newer outlets like blogs. While you can write a letter to the editor, for instance, there is no forum for comments, questions and response from readers. Those who read and write blogs, though, have a direct line to each other’s work, and they are free to discuss ideas.

Blogs and posts on social media also are not stagnant.  A blog post or a status update is never truly finished. They are ongoing, so the conversation can be ongoing, giving writers the opportunity to modify their opinions and their work.

This may seem like a scary proposition. As I’m sure anyone who has ever written any kind of essay can tell you, there is no better feeling than finishing a work, putting it away and having that feeling of completion. However, the unfinished quality of writing on social media sites leads to constant improvement.

I started a blog for the Digital Writing course, and after every post, I would receive feedback from my professor on how I could make the post better build my voice and connect with readers.

My professor also suggested that I add questions at the end of the post so that readers would have a jumping-off point to start a conversation. Because it is easy and quick to edit a blog, I was able to make the changes she’d suggested, including adding questions at the end of my first few blog posts. I continued asking questions at the end of almost all my posts from that point on.

Posing questions at the end of a blog post is just one of the useful tips that my Digital Writing professor gave me on how to create a blog with dedicated readers. Some other guidelines and tips include keeping a post relatively brief so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed by all the content. Anywhere from 250 to 700 words is a good length for a post. She also suggested diversifying posts to keep the reader interested. These posts can take the shape of series, lists, reviews, editorials and interviews.

A blog can help you keep in constant contact with your clientele and likewise keep you updated on what your audience thinks about your product or service. This dialogue between company and consumer can strengthen your relationships. If an audience is vocal, they are rewarded with an improved product or service that takes their feedback into account. If the company takes into consideration the opinions of its customer base, the company is likely rewarded with improved sales and word-of-mouth advertising.

Remember that part about ending a post with a question? Well, here is one for you: if you are a business owner who doesn’t yet have a blog, what are you waiting for?

Being a Beetle Press Intern

Note: Dan Haggerty is a senior at Westfield State University who is interning with my business, Beetle Press, this semester.

By Dan Haggertydan4

This past fall semester, through Westfield State University, where I am a senior, I was lucky enough to intern for Beetle Press. This was my first internship, and I came into it not really sure what to expect. I’m leaving with a sense that I want to continue to explore public relations. (Next semester, I will be interning in the Westfield State Public Affairs office.)

At the start of the internship with Beetle Press, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my future or what career paths might best suit me. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be writing on a daily basis, and I was open to every opportunity and was willing to try my hand at all that Beetle Press could offer.

Janice and her company more than delivered on teaching me skills that I could put to use in a professional environment that valued writing.

Under Janice’s tutelage, I learned how to craft press releases to promote events and businesses. I wrote articles for Westfield State University’s alumni magazine, Focus; I created blogs for the Beetle Press website as well as JaniceBeetle.com, on which Janice blogs about writing; I wrote about the work of community leaders and business owners in the area, and I also reviewed a book and wrote about several classroom learning.

I was most proud of writing an article about the Cancer Connection that was published in the Health section of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

These are all accomplishments that I am glad to call my own. However, possibly more important than the finished products themselves are the skills I learned in completing them.

The Beetle Press internship afforded me the opportunity to test out multiple career fields – PR and journalism, for instance – as well as different writing styles, all at once. I was able to get a feel for what being a journalist might entail as I worked on the story for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the articles for Focus. The press releases and blogs I worked on allowed me the chance to see what a career in public relations might be like, and they also challenged me to convey similar messages in different writing styles; press releases being formal and professional, whereas writing blogs is more relaxed.

I learned the most about how to conduct an interview. When I first started the interview process for my Health page story, I admit I was a little nervous and hesitant to meet with the four people I was to interview; instead of meeting live, I preferred to just converse over the phone.

The sources for the story were all touched in some way by cancer, and they were volunteers in a new Cancer Connection program. Janice helped me to overcome the nerves that come with talking to a complete stranger about such a sensitive topic. She helped me to practice my interview skills and showed me what questions to ask and in what order the questions should come.

We ran a role-playing exercise, in which Janice acted as the interviewee and I the interviewer. This practice helped me to get comfortable with asking sensitive questions and allowed me to ease into the real interviews for the story. I still learn more and more about interview skills and techniques every time I’m at my internship, especially when I am privy to hearing Janice conduct a phone interview. I learn how to phrase questions, how to ask follow-up questions and how to get the most out of a short conversation.

My nervousness and anticipation while conducting interviews has slowly melted away. I’ve realized that there is nothing to be anxious about. An interview is really just a conversation.

I enjoyed all the writing that I did this semester during my internship. Beetle Press is advertised as a public relations and communications firm with heart, and after spending a semester in the middle of the company I find that the phrase is one that is hard to argue with.

New Book Releases a Writer’s Creativity

What's the StoryNote: Dan Haggerty is a senior at Westfield State University who is interning with my business, Beetle Press, this semester.

 

By Dan Haggerty

 

Finally, a solution to writer’s block.

Author John Sheirer’s new book, What’s the Story? is designed to inspire creative writers and help them overcome the dreaded block.

What’s the Story? features 50 photographs and 1,000 ideas to help writers create and revise material. Each page in the book starts with an inspiring picture meant to jog a creative mind, followed by a series of background questions a writer can ask his or herself like “Where is this being taken?” “What are the names of the characters in the photo?” “Why are they there?” This allows writers to open their minds to new settings and characters.

These initial questions are warm-up exercises of sorts for the writing prompts connected to each photo, in which writers are asked simply, “What’s the Story?” This is where John gives us license to fully imagine.

I have been writing fiction seriously for three years now. And I can tell you from experience that there is nothing more frustrating than staring blankly at a computer screen or notebook waiting for inspiration to strike only to be stuck in place for hours on end with nothing to show for the time you have spent.

This maddening feeling is exactly why I think John’s book is so important. What’s the Story? acts as a detour for a writer. When there is a roadblock on the path to creation, I find it comforting that John has outlined an alternate route for writers to continue their journey.

For fun, I gave John’s system a try to see just how much I could really get out of What’s the Story? I chose a picture of a shirtless man ON A BIKE? in mid-air wearing sunglasses and who had earbuds in. Behind the man was a cliff, some trees, and in the far-off distance you could almost make out the image of a large house.

The first background question that John prompted was to give the mid-air man a name. He looks like a Travis to me. Another question: “What season of the year is it?” Summer was a nice fit I decided. “Why isn’t he wearing a shirt?” My first thought was that it was to impress a girl. What more noble a reason could there be to be a shirtless, cliff-jumping daredevil? The last question John asked was “What song is he listening to with his earbuds?” It had to be “Leaving the Nest (It’s a Long Way Down)”. Nothing else felt quite right.

Then I moved on to the What’s the Story? section of the system. I chose the prompt of writing Travis’ interior monologue as he prepares for his leap. The first line is always the toughest to come up with. I struggled with it for a few minutes, typing, deleting, typing, deleting. I looked at John’s suggested first lines and the very first one stuck out to me. “I wonder if she’s looking at me.” It was perfect. Just like that, I was on my way to a comedic short story about a young man named Travis who was trying to impress his crush with a cliff-jumping stunt.

John is a writing professor at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut. His many writing works include memoirs such as Growing up Mostly Normal in the Middle of Nowhere and Loop Year: 365 Days on the Trail, a short story collection titled One Bite: Stories for Short Attention Spans, Stolen Moments, and Busy Lives, a collection of essays on current events, Tales of a Real American Liberal, and a collection of photos and life-lessons he learned with the help of his dog, Libby Speaks: The Wit and Wisdom of the World’s Wisest Dog. John also writes regularly for The Daily Hampshire Gazette as a columnist on politics and current events.

John’s short stories, poems, essays, and photographs have appeared in hundreds of print and online publications. He lives in Northampton with his wife Betsy and their dog Libby.

Writers of all levels have dealt with writer’s block. I know I have. Thanks to John, writer’s block may be a thing of the past.

Labor of Love

Bobby on way to Vietnam  My business colleague, Judith Kelliher – or Judy to me – is in the midst of a creative project that has me terribly excited on her behalf.

About six months ago, after reading Unbroken, the nonfiction World War II survival story of Olympian Louis Zemperini, whose Air Force plane crashed in the Pacific, Judy realized she knew very little about her brother Bobby’s service in Vietnam. She got the idea to interview him and write something, the scope of which she knows not.

I met Judy back in 1985. We were both newbie journalists at the Springfield Morning Union, which evolved into what we now know as the Springfield Republican. Judy was an obit writer who did occasional sports writing as well. I was an intern in the Living department, typing up weddings and engagements, getting the opportunity here and there to write a feature story and gain a byline.

We eventually became great friends and professional journalists, working in the trade for over 10 years, Judy covering Amherst and later the legal system in Hampshire County. Now Judy works with me in my business, Beetle Press. She does a good deal of the client copy writing.

She is a solid interviewer, and she spins a good story.

So, I was excited, when, back in January, she began to interview Bobby on Saturday mornings about his time in Vietnam. (Bobby is pictured at the top of this post, on his way to his second tour in Vietnam in May 1970.) They have delved into the horrors he experienced, into the emotional wounds that still pain him and affect his life today.

The deal in the beginning was that Bobby would offer his time in exchange for pastry, so the first day, Judy and Bobby had danish together before diving in to the interview. But then the work got serious, more focused, and there was no room for baked goods.

Bobby has now walked Judy through his entry into the military and details on his two tours of service in the U.S. Army, stationed in Vietnam. He has told stories that made them both cry together—a box of Kleenex was always nearby—and, as is more characteristic of Bobby, he has also made Judy laugh.

Judy is now in the process of transcribing her many hours of recordings into notes that she will review with Bobby with a goal of filling in gaps. (She didn’t want to interrupt him with follow-up questions in the initial interviews, especially when the memories turned deep and often painful.)

Once the second round of interviews is complete, Judy will painstakingly turn them into a written product, word by word. All the planning is what occupies many of her Saturday mornings now, in addition to her research on Vietnam and that unpopular war in general.

Recently, Judy covered an assignment for The Republican, for whom she still writes often. She was able to take photos for the paper and be present when a woman whose brother was killed in the Vietnam War received letters that he had written to a friend in East Longmeadow. The letters were found among the personal effects of the friend who had died last year. Thanks to the efforts of the chairman of the East Longmeadow Historical Commission, the two handwritten letters on Army-issue stationery were returned to the sister.

Judy has much material to work with, and soon, it will begin to shape itself as she begins telling the tale, starting with Bobby in high school. She does know that that’s where the story begins.

What she doesn’t know is how long the story will be or what kind of audience it might have. She will write it first. It may be memoir length, or perhaps shorter. It may be something Bobby will want to publish and sell, or it may be a piece that is solely for Bobby, or Bobby and his family.

Judy is letting Bobby decide the book’s eventual shape and fate. She is giving him this gift of his own story. That’s the kind of person she is. A compassionate giver.

I absolutely cannot wait to read Judy’s work. I know and love Bobby and want to know him in more depth and understand that part of his life, and I want to see Judy succeed in this major creative endeavor.

Judy has always been at the top in terms of my support systems, and I look forward to encouraging her, helping her edit and shape and prodding her when she needs that.

I am fired up to give to the giver.

I am confident she will deliver a compelling work that will well satisfy whichever audience Bobby chooses.

Book Group Part 3

Note: This is the third of three parts. Scroll down to the June 10 entry to read the first post and to July 2 for the second.

We set the writing retreat date for June 5, and we stuck to it even though Giselle and Gina couldn’t be with us.

I was on a deadline for several client projects that day, and fearing that our writing retreat might not actually involve quiet writing time, I decided to work at home until the early afternoon on projects, and then I headed to West Chesterfield, determined to give myself at least a few hours to work on Seeking the Sun, whether my friends were writing or not.

I arrived at Stevie’s cozy, relaxing cabin on the river, with its adjacent tree farm and vegetable gardens, about 2 p.m. I was so pleased there was no cell service or wifi. It felt like a mini-vacation from life’s fast pace, driven by technology and deadlines.

The gals were gathered around the dining table, eating from an assortment of goodies that included olives, goat and cheddar cheeses, gluten-free crackers and the platter loaded with sliced turkey; Stevie had roasted a turkey for us for the occasion.

Only Kina Luna was writing, hard at work and quiet on the sofa in the corner. We chatted. We ate.
“Have you guys actually been writing?” I asked. Indeed they had, and around 2:30, we all found a corner to write in, and the home got uncharacteristically quiet.

Kina Luna was plugging through a work project that was creative in nature. Stevie, Mariesh and Claire were writing undisclosed works, and Joni – who is more of an artist than a writer – changed her clothes and declared she was going to paint.

Kina Luna and I inhabited the living room, lost in our own thoughts. Mariesh went outside to a creative hut nestled on the shore of the river (called a Swedish “hytta,” Mariesh mistook it for a hot tub).

Stevie, Claire and Joni headed into the den. There was some chatter from that room as Joni talked about her blank canvas.

We all had blank canvases.

I realized right away that my mind wasn’t ready to just start writing. I had been away from the manuscript for over a month, and it seemed unfamiliar to me. It felt unorganized to just start writing. Instead, I started reading from the beginning, making subtle – and not so subtle – edits, and familiarizing myself with my characters and plot.

At turns, I had the thought that it was quite good; then I would hit a section that wasn’t well developed, and I’d rail over my difficulties as a fiction author. “Why can’t I just make things up??” I asked myself.

I got only about half way through the draft – to about page 30 of the still 62 pages – and it was already 5 p.m. My friends finished the pieces they were working on, and everyone began to mill about in the living room, talking about what activity was next.

I ignored them for a time, continuing to read, but then the joy of simply being with them and joining them on a country walk became too appealing to tune out.

Changing into my hiking boots, I caught a glimpse of Joni’s painting, which I had heard the others remarking on. It was absolutely beautiful. A stunning landscape of a pond with evergreens and big poofy clouds hanging over the water. It was a work you would buy in a shop.

Then we walked for over an hour—without Kina Luna, who continued to work – and we talked endlessly and had an adventure that could also find itself in my book. A disgruntled resident took offense to the fact that we were walking five across on the dirt road that led us from Chesterfield to Cummington – until we noticed her vehicle and moved over single file to the right side.

It is, in fact, not an exaggeration to say she accosted us. She even videotaped us in her fury. She left us alone when we let her know we were jotting down her license plate number.

We laughed about that incident all night. We called the lady The Lady for lack of a more clever nickname.

Back at Stevie’s, we drank wine, played a card game, ate some dinner. We talked about how I would write this blog series, and they brainstormed their “true names.” And when it got late, we wondered aloud if anyone wanted to read what they had written. Since my friends had so eagerly served as guinea pig readers for Divine Renovations, I did not offer to read from my book.

Mariesh reluctantly read what she had written that afternoon. It was a chapter from a book she has long had in mind to write and has been writing in sections.

She read it beautifully, and it was flawless in its pacing and strong detail and character development. We were all impressed and encouraged Mariesh to keep up with the writing of this book.

We all decided to spend the night at Stevie’s, and we talked – and laughed uproariously – late into the night. We are now planning our next retreat because, as it turns out, the women who don’t read together can write together.

Book Group Part 2

Note: This is the second of three parts. Scroll down to the June 10 entry to read the first post.

So, I’ve established that my friends from my book group don’t really read or discuss books, but they are funny.

And now I’m going to tell you how they are also inspiring.

Even though we don’t have articulate book discussions and debates, we are still a literate bunch, and we have amazing conversations with depth. Mariesh inspires all of us with her stories of trips abroad with her sisters, for instance, and Stevie and Mariesh energize us with their dedication to their work.
Recently, without knowing it, Gina also gave me a jolt of inspiration.

I’ve been struggling to find the time to work on my second book, Seeking the Sun, and I’ve also hit a wall in terms of where the story is going and what will become of Roxie and Alex. This block is another symptom of my fiction versus nonfiction dilemma as I struggle to pull the story from my heart and mind as opposed to my journalist’s notebook.

Gina and her kale helped unplug one small piece of the puzzle.

At a gathering in my living room, complete with Kina Luna’s popcorn, Gina was talking about how she uses up the kale from her farm share so that it doesn’t take over her kitchen or go bad before she and her family can consume it.

“I break it up in pieces like this,” she said, demonstrating the act of tearing the kale into small pieces. “And then I freeze it.”

Suddenly I knew that Roxie has a small garden plot at her studio, and she, too, shreds and freezes her kale so as to not become overwhelmed by the sheer volume. I knew that the nice couple that rents the art studio to Roxie also lets her take charge of a plot of land on their property to plant lettuce, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes and basil. Perhaps, it occurred to me, Roxie is even a vegetarian. Maybe she ferments her food. Maybe she cans it.

I couldn’t wait to get writing again and begin to work on this aspect of Roxie.

But there was an even bigger inspiration – and an opportunity – that came via my dear book group.
For April, which is National Poetry Month, my friends and I decided we wouldn’t choose a book (that we wouldn’t then read) but we would each come with a favorite poem, and we would read them out loud to one another.

We each read various selections. Stevie and Mariesh ’s works were classics, all read from their bound collections of poetry. Kina Luna read hers from her iPhone.

Reading her first poetic selection, Claire seemed a bit nervous. Hers was a beautiful piece about being on the back of a motorcycle, watching the landscape pass, feeling the fresh air, feeling alive.

“That was lovely,” we all said in unison. “Who wrote that?”

Very quietly, Claire said, “I did.”

After we heaped praise on Claire, we launched a conversation about writing and who loved to write and what we loved to write and that we never have writing time.

“We should have a writing retreat,” someone suggested. We were all over that idea.

Stevie offered up her vacation home in West Chesterfield and offered to do a Doodle poll so that we could choose a date. We said we would each come with a writing exercise, and we talked about a group writing project as well, although this concept had no shape to it.

We left one another that night with a higher energy level than usual. Soon, we would gather to write together.

Question was, would we write together as well as we discussed books?

Celebrating Fathers

Celebrating Fathers

Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy, too. Wouldn’t you?

This is a little ditty that can easily get stuck in my head when I call it to mind, but not because the lyrics are compelling or because the song was popular.

It’s because when I was a little girl, my dad used to sing it to me as a goodnight song while perched on the edge of my bed. There was nothing sweeter or more soothing than lying there in my tiny room with my dad crooning this silly song to me. It made me giggle.

There are other songs I can call to mind that also remind me of my dad, and they are all barbershop songs, like “Sweet Adeline,” “Hey, Look Me Over” and “Danny Boy.”

For as long as I can remember, my dad has loved to sing, and he has been a barbershop singer since before I was born 50 years ago.

Harvey Beetle sang in a barbershop chorus and in many iterations of quartets in eastern Mass, where I grew up, and since he retired in the 1980s, he’s been singing with the Lakes Region Chordsmen in Laconia, N.H., which recently honored him for 50 years of service as a chorus member.

At 86, my dad also still sings several times a week with a group of fellas in a quartet called Rewind.

Barbershop music is sung a capella in four parts – lead, tenor, bass and baritone. My dad sings baritone, which is the hardest part to sing as it doesn’t really follow any kind of melody line.

Listening to him practice was always amusing. I’d hear the familiar sound of his pitch pipe – which he’d let me blow for fun – and then the unusual sound of a familiar song being sung in one part only. It was one of the sounds of home.

My dad performs in nursing homes, at fairs and festivals, in annual recitals and in contests and competitions. He travels to sing. He stays out late at night to sing. He knocks on doors with his quartet on Valentine’s Days to sing love songs to unsuspecting listeners.

My dad lives to sing, and in doing so, he’s successfully modeled what it means to live into a passion and commit to it unconditionally.

I’ve followed my dad’s music career with interest and support. I was in the audience for many a concert as a young child, and as a young adult and mother, I would attend my dad’s outdoor concerts at Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee whenever I was visiting my parents in the summertime. My daughters loved watching their Grampy sing as much as me.

We were also apt to crack up while watching as well. This because my father lives into his music with his whole heart – and his whole face. When he is singing, his face is big and bright, and his rather bushy black eyebrows are excessively expressive, moving theatrically up and down.

Once, as a teen, I got to laughing so hard watching my dad sing with his quartet in our living room that I had to run out and get a grip on myself.

“What was so funny?” my dad asked me later, in his most innocent way. The question only brought on another wave of laughter.

My late husband, Ed Godleski, was a musician himself, and he was a great supporter of my dad’s interest. One Christmas, Ed gave my dad and his Rewind colleagues a gift certificate to a recording studio in New Hampshire.

They spent the day there – and Ed and my mom and I did as well – singing their repertoire of songs and recording them. The result was a CD my dad can still play. It’s a great reminder of his lifelong dedication.

My dad’s passion for barbershop singing is truly something to be admired.

Just like my dad.

Happy Father’s day to a wonderful, kind and giving role model. I love you.