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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Use Blog Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing

    It’s October, do you know what you will be publishing on your blog for the next two months? By the time “Jingle Bells” hits the department stores it is nearly too late to “plan ahead” for holiday postings, but if you start now to organize your blogging life, by late November you will be enjoying your turkey dinner without blog-induced indigestion.

    The November Issue of The Genealogy and Family History Blogger’s Almanac presents a variety of seasonal writing prompts that make it easy to plan ahead for timely blogging articles.

    In contrast to an Editorial Calendar, which is used to schedule articles, writing prompts (or themes) are specific topics on what to write. By definition, an editorial calendar is used by newspapers and magazines to schedule major features. It is used by editors in assigning stories and by the sales and circulation departments to solicit advertising. Most magazine editors know that people will start thinking about cool-weather cooking in the fall when the weather turns cold, so they schedule crock-pot and soup recipes. The savvy advertising sales department sees this on the calendar and is able to sell advertising for slow-cookers, freezer containers, and even expensive enameled cast iron soup pots.

    Bloggers may not be slating advertising on an Editorial Calendar, but they can use it to keep track of upcoming Carnivals or daily themes and to schedule posts using their blogging platform's advance posting features. A calendar can encourage regular blog updates, and help you see when you last wrote on a certain topic. It can also give a quick overview as to how your blog-life will be be impacted by real-live activities. Veteran bloggers like footnoteMaven know the value of a personalized Editorial Calendar. Her recent article Set Up a Blog Editorial Calendar gives the nuts-and-bolts for designing and using a calendar, and shares several great ideas for keeping your blog-life organized.

    Are You a Writer or a Poster?

    Teachers know the value of writing prompts in the classroom, so do college admissions boards. Each year, the University of California releases the college essay topics (or prompts). These topics are so useful in helping students fashion thoughtful personal essays that they are used by many other colleges for their student applications. Just because a student writes to a prompt does not mean he is unoriginal or not creative. Quite the contrary, when hundreds of thousands of students write to the same prompt, excellent writing truly shines. In fact, the prompt all but disappears.

    So, how can bloggers effectively use writing prompts? First, you probably know the kind of blog you want to publish. Ask yourself a few questions:

    • Is my blog a casual activity? How much time do I want to spend writing blog posts?
    • How much time do I want to spend reading other blog posts?
    • How much time do I want to spend commenting?

    In my experience teaching English and journalism, writing prompts were helpful for most students. A good prompt helped get the pen moving across the page. Students happy to settle for a passing grade would often dash off the required word-length and submit the paper. Those high-achievers (ok, bloggers, you know who you are!), in contrast, used the prompt as a starting point for something else. Sometimes they wrote two or three entire papers before they got it right, but they kept working on it. Often, the prompt helped most in giving focus and direction to their paper.

    The same thing is true every Tombstone Tuesday --

    Writers publish carefully  researched and well-written interesting stories about people and places, often complete with source citations.

    Posters publish photos and brief captions, often focusing on artistic or humorous interpretation or on personal research.

    It doesn’t matter, though, if you are a writer or a poster, writing prompts can still be helpful. Sometimes bloggers switch back and forth between the two roles. Writers get busy, burned-out, or just plain bored and turn into Posters for a while. Posters surprise themselves by becoming inspired and motivated to write a full feature article that generates comments and tweets.

    Think "Outside the Blog-Box" With a Writing Prompt

    A writing prompt can help jump-start either writers or posters. Here are a few different ways to think about using a prompt --

    from  The Blogger’s Almanac, November

    Weather Report – Do you drink your morning coffee with your local weatherman (or woman)? Do you recall their names?

    How often do we think about something so mundane as the weather report? Most of us check it when we plan our clothes or activities for the day. Will it be sunny and warm, raining, humid?

    I turn on the television and watch the Los Angeles weather report on Channel 7 ABC News with Dallas Raines. What a great name for a weatherman!  We have Johnny Mountain here too.

    Idea! Is a good name a requirement for being a weather person?
    Idea! What other weather reporters have symbolic names?

    My husband listens to the radio beginning about 5am. He gets the weather report on the air. He needs to know if it’s going to rain unexpectedly because he might have a house open and under construction. That means he has to move fast to put the the house under cover.

    Idea! How much rain usually falls this time of year?
    Idea! Have we ever had a flood around here? Are there any photos?

    Thinking about rain brings to mind rainy days when the boys were younger.

    Idea! Where are those photos of the boys in slickers and rainboots?

    What about Blog Carnival themes or the Daily Blogging Themes posted at GeneaBloggers?

    Idea! For the next Carnival of Genealogy: Your Favorite Genealogy Society, tap your local society's riches to discover your town's weather history, or research the genealogy of weather reporters in your hometown. How long has the local weather person been at the job? Who did your parents turn to for the weather report?

    Idea! For Tombstone Tuesday stretch yourself to stay in the weather prompt. How does your local cemetery handle cemetery care are during the current season? What particular issues of tombstone care are a result of your particular local weather?

    Idea! For a quick Treasure Chest Thursday article find your oldest pair of weather related gear (umbrella, rainboots, bikini?) and write a story with article about how it came to be in your closet.

    You get the idea! Combine writing prompts like those in The Blogger's Almanac with a personal Editorial Calendar and you will be one step closer to blogging through the hectic holiday season with time and space for those serendipitous moments that beg to be shared. There's lots to write and post about. Happy Blogging!

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    Reader Comments (3)

    Absolutely brilliant! I've never really thought of the difference between writing and posting. Yes, sometimes I do both.

    I can't thank you enough for this article and the Almanac. Tons of new ideas are whipping through my little pea brain.

    You are clearly a writer, and one of the best.


    P.S. Thank you for the mention of my article.

    October 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterfootnoteMaven

    Bravo!!! Bravo!!! How I enjoy reading articles like this! Unlike many genealogy bloggers who started their blogs to connect with family and get their surnames "out there", I actually started my blog to work at becoming a better writer. The whole genealogy focus came later. So I really appreciate any and all information that pertains to better quality writing in the geneablogosphere.

    I am definitely one who vacillates between writer and poster and for me the mode I am in depends on two things, inspiration and time. Without good inspiration I'm more inclined to just write a post and when I'm pressed for time the same goes. But with the right inspiration and enough time to really get into my subject, that's when I become a writer. And that's when I write the stuff I'm proud of. And that's when the writing process is truly satisfying!

    Thanks for a great article!

    October 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJasia

    Thank you to footnoteMaven and Jasia -- two Top Bloggers in my book -- for your comments. I have learned so much from both of you and and am always encouraged by your words of support.

    Yes, "with the right inspiration and enough time..." we can be writers.

    October 15, 2009 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

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