Overcoming Writer’s Block


Jack London once said, “you can’t wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club.” In some ways, I agree with him. After all, professional freelance writers don’t have the luxury of waiting out writer’s block; they often have to work through it to meet deadlines. But at the same time, sometimes the harder you work at something, the more frustrated you get.

Here are five tips for overcoming writer’s block.

1.      Email a friend.
If you can’t find the words to describe that restaurant you’re reviewing or that scientist you interviewed, start composing an email to a friend and give your inner editor a break. Explain it to your friend in laymen’s terms. Don’t worry about searching for the exact right word or finding a smarty-pants way to explain a scientific concept. Just start writing simply and honestly and let the words flow out of you. That can help you get started, and you can refine later as needed.

2.      Skip ahead.
Beginnings and endings are tricky because you want to capture your readers’ attention and leave them with a memorable conclusion. It’s easy to get stuck working and reworking and wracking your brain for the introductory paragraph, so write a quick placeholder, then move onto the meat of your article or essay and return to the introduction later. Sometimes working on later paragraphs will help you think up a killer beginning, too.

3.      Shift gears.
The beauty of freelance writing is that you often have several projects running at once. I can’t afford to stall for too long, so if I find that my article or essay just isn’t gelling, I’ll move onto a different assignment and return back to the original assignment later. Sitting at your computer staring at a blank screen and beating yourself up over your inability to write is not productive, so if switching projects doesn’t work, consider spending a few hours on mindless administrative tasks instead. Those tasks have to get done anyway, so might as well do them when you’re feeling uncreative and use your bursts of creativity for real creative work.

4.      Try out a tech tool.
Maybe the problem isn’t that you’re blocked but you’re too distracted by Facebook or Twitter. Several computer tools are designed to help writers block out distractions and break through writer’s block. Try WriteorDie.com, which offers online and desktop versions with various modes encouraging you to get writing instead of censoring yourself (in Kamikaze mode it will actually start deleting words if you don’t type fast enough!). For a simple, distraction-free space, consider Dark Room for PCs or WriteRoom for Macs.

5.      Take a hike.
Sometimes stepping away from your computer is the best way to deal with writer’s block. I usually find that a nice power walk helps me clear my head and think through things. When I was struggling to find a poignant ending for a personal essay I was writing, I took a walk along the Charles River and the perfect little button of an ending popped into my head while I was out.

How to Become an Environmental Reporter


You’ve taken your pulse, read tons of articles on ecological issues, you’re concerned about food policy with all the genetically modified organisms sneaking into our food chain and what about the Mississippi River flooding over its banks with more floods on the way.

Ecological issues abound in the world today and they aren’t going to disappear any time soon.

Here are a number of strategies that will make becoming an environmental reporter a smooth sail:

1) Offer your writing skills to a non-profit dedicated to improving the environment in an area of your interest. Learn what they know, meet people who work in your interest field, and rack up good deed hours–you can even ask some fellow article writers to tag along! Plus, once you are established these are people to revisit to write for pay. Another plus, with the organization’s name on your resume you get instant recognition and value. (Caution: Time is money in the freelance world and there’s no reward for long haul servitude).

2) Learn scientific basics across disciplines. Environmental science isn’t an isolated field of its own, but an intersection where biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science converge. Big stories bring these fields together. Take an environmental course online or at a university. Take the environmental science course offered by the Annenberg Foundation that won a AAAS award.

3) Hook up with social networks. Join LinkedIn and the various environmental subgroups available. Sign up for an account on Twitter and follow as many green, ecological and environmental peeps as you can handle. Once up to speed post motivating environmental dispatches to get like-minded peeps to follow you. Mondays are known as EcoMonday on Twitter. With each environmental post include the hash tag #EcoMonday at the end of the post.

4) Get focused. Environmental issues are broad ranging and limitless. Discover as you go what aspect of the environmental story attracts your passion. Focus that energy around your interest, as it will ignite the story you write allowing it to come alive to your audience.

5) Understand the scientific method by reading as much as possible in the areas you want to write about. Read the Daily Climate , Environmental Health News, Science magazine, Yale Environment 360 and the Open Notebook

6) Attend seminars and conferences for environmental writers. There’s plenty to choose from including Society of Environmental Journalist (SEJ), The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Conferences are great places to meet editors of green publications. Join these organizations

7) Kick-start your fund of knowledge, stock up on environmental books. Some of the best ones can be found at the Society of Environmental Journalists. Invest in a high-quality environmental science textbook. And, when you need to expand your mind, tune into the Ted Talks and Ted Conversations.

8.) Apply for an environmental fellowship. Check out Environment America, Multicultural Environmental Leadership Development Initiative and the Society of Environmental Journalists

9) Take a course in multi-media skills. The articles you write will come to life with video or slideshow.

10) Join an environmental writer’s association. A good one is the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) with 1,500 members who are journalists, academics and students working in every type of news media in the United States, Canada and at least 26 other countries. To join go to the Web site for more information

A belief in yourself, the ability to talk yourself through tough times and a positive attitude go a long way to overcoming any obstacles on your path to becoming an environmental reporter.

Oh, and you might need to put your impatience on ice for awhile because you becoming an environmental reporter might not happen overnight, but it will happen at the exact moment when you are ready.





Slate French Edition Criticized for Naming Alleged DSK Victim, AP Stylebook Welcomes New Twitter Words, Space Shuttle Snapper Gets Media Hype

Stefanie Gordon

Stefanie Gordon

For today’s roundup of journalism and media news, we have some controversy over Slate’s French edition and their decision to name the alleged victim of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We also have a reporter who reflects on covering the indiscretions high-profile men. Finally, we have a friendly welcome to some new Twitter terms to the AP Stylebook.

It’s all the news fit to blog at Ebyline’s Daily Dose.

Slate’s French edition under fire for naming DSK alleged victim

“The French edition of Slate has come under fire for publishing the name of the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim. Irin Carmon, a blogger at Jezebel, addressed Jacob Weisberg, editorin-chief of the Slate Group, on Twitter: “Why did you/Slate France choose to publicize the alleged rape victim’s name?””

Updated AP Stylebook Adds Geolocation, Link Shortener, Unfollow And Other Twitter Terms

“The Associated Press Stylebook, aka “the journalist’s bible”, have released their 2011 guide and have included some new social media terms, including Twitter-friendly words and phrases such as geolocation, stream, link Shortener and unfollow.”

Schwarzenegger and DSK: When Powerful Men Cross Lines

“The week’s news about the sexual conduct of politically powerful men gives me a queasy feeling of déjà vu. As the French agonize over whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s star power quashed past allegations, I can respond cynically: Yes, that probably happened. But we should not automatically assume that timelier reporting about Strauss-Kahn’s sexually aggressive behavior (including an alleged violent incident in 2002) would have slowed the 62-year old Socialist’s march towards the French presidency. I speak from experience. Eight years ago I was dragged scowling and complaining into an investigation of allegations that Arnold Schwarzenegger – the leading candidate for governor of California – had sexually harassed and molested women, including those who worked on his movies….”

Space Shuttle Twitpic Woman Gets Paid, Credited & Snubbed By Media

“Since snapping photos and a short video of space shuttle Endeavour’s last takeoff from her Delta flight Monday, Stefanie Gordon has appeared on MSNBC, CBS in Palm Beach and ABC in Miami. Her Twitpic photos got significant media exposure — popping up everywhere from Anderson Cooper 360 to The Washington Post.

“I told every news organization that contacted me, ‘as long as you credit me and spell my name right, you can use it,’” Gordon tells Mashable…”

Should You Break News on Twitter? Do People Trust Social Media for News? How Should Journalists Use Facebook?


Today, we have a group of how-to stories for journalists. We have an insight into Facebook’s new journalist page, some advice on how to break stories on your website from the ASNE,  and some tips on how to conduct a stellar Twitter chat session.

It’s all the news fit to blog at Ebyline’s Daily Dose.

Vadim Lavrusik: How journalists can make use of Facebook Pages

“The Facebook News Feed is essentially a social newspaper. With it, you’re able to read and discover news shared by your friends, journalists, and media organizations you like. The personalized news stream includes everything from news about your friends’ lives to their reactions to a news article. It’s not only what is being shared, but who is sharing it that’s important.”

Break news on your website, not on Twitter’

“The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has issued a social media guide for newspapers with lots of good recommendations, but this one stands out: “Break news on your website, not on Twitter.” Why? Here’s the key part of the explanation from the “10 Best Practices for Social Media” report…”

Traditional Media And Internet More Trusted Than Social Media For Research News

“‘The modern media landscape has become very complex, which creates many more opportunities to communicate with many more people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Kevin Klose, dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland. “At the same time, this presents a challenge in communicating about complex issues such as medical and health research findings.’”

Twitter Chats, The Ultimate How To Guide

“Hosting or participating in a twitter chat is a great way to bring a community of people together to dig deeper into a topic of interest. These discussions can help work through issues facing an industry or simply create a real-time forum to chat about an event or product. The concept of hosting or participating in a Twitter chat can be daunting. Let’s break them down to their key elements and explore some of the best practices.”

The 5 must-knows about how readers navigate news online, drawn from new Pew study

How do readers get to news sites? How long do they stay once there? And where do they go when they leave? Just two months after releasing the mammoth State of the News Media 2011 report, my industrious friends at Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism have a detailed new report to answer those questions.  Based on analysis of nine months of Nielsen data about the 25 largest U.S. news sites, the study confirms many truisms about online behavior but also yields some surprises.


Self-Syndication: Where Do I Start?


For a great many freelance writers, nothing is more satisfying than getting an article published. You’re happy with what you’ve written (hopefully!) and you’re anxious for readers to see your work.

Initially, the fact that your article is being published by one media outlet may be satisfying enough. But often times with the euphoria of knowing your work is being read comes the desire of having your work read by more people.

Naturally, the easiest way to build your readership is to write for a bigger publication, but in the ever-competitive world of journalism where full- or part-time writers at larger outlets are already trying to hold on to their jobs, freelance gigs at are not that easy to come by. But don’t despair: a realistic alternative is self-syndication, the roots of which may be growing in your own backyard.

To start, let’s say you’re a contributing writer who writes movie reviews for your local newspaper/website. Presuming that you’ve proven to be a valuable asset to your publication, it’s time to have a sit-down with the owner to see what sorts of options there are to syndicate your work.

The best place to start would be with an inquiry about what sort of additional publications your paper owns. Many small market weeklies also own shopper publications, and while shoppers are generally advertisement-based, they are a natural fit for feature article writers like movie reviewers.

Movie content may actually entice a prospective client like a movie theater to do business with the publication because they generally need to advertise on a weekly basis what films they are showing and what times they are playing. In short, the two components easily complement one another.

Having your reviews published in an additional publication like a shopper has several benefits. Suddenly, the review that was being read by a 1,000 circulation publication the week before is being read by a publication that is distributed to 10,000 people (shopper publications are generally free and distributed in all residents with a mailing address in the coverage area, on newsstands, and on the publication’s site). With that additional distribution, it’s entirely within reason for you to negotiate a higher fee for your work with the publisher.

While attaining that second publication to showcase your work is a big step, more opportunities to syndicate your work may be close within reach. Inquire with the owner of your newspaper if they own any additional news outlets and/or shoppers. If so, your circulation and distribution fee (for each additional publication) could rise dramatically.

When self-syndicating your work, it’s vital that you don’t limit yourself as to where the work can be published. The boundaries of the Internet are limitless, and in addition to thousands upon thousands of specialty sites, most traditional media outlets are represented there as well. Better yet, newspaper sites aren’t the only ones who feature written content. Television and radio sites — which, of course, stream video and audio content 24 hours a day — also tend to feature written content as a means to broaden the user experience.

For example, for the past 12 years, I have been associated with a platform of television station sites that utilizes print content in addition to video. Of course, I had the benefit of joining the company two years after it went online, when the network consisted of five sites. But as the Internet and the age of online media has grown, so has the network — which today syndicates my work to more than 70 sites nationwide.

So what are you waiting for? Put your passions to work and start writing. There are thousands of readers out there who can’t wait to read your next piece.