CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

via CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS!

SUBMIT YOUR WORK!

If you live or work in the South Bay or Peninsula area, consider submitting your creative writing for inclusion in this community anthology! This is a chance for the many varied and beautiful voices of our community to come together. I would love to include pieces in other languages with English translation.

If the work you submit was inspired by a CPL event or program, let me know!

EVERYONE is welcome to submit — kids, teens, adults, new writers, and established!!

Check out the flyer below and email with questions!
Deadline is 9/30.
No more than 10 poems or pages of short prose pieces.
Previously published is fine (include the relevant information).

Email your work to poetlaureate@cupertino.org

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Wellness: Top 3 Ways to Maximize Winter Wellness at Work

winter trees

Winter is here and with it come colder days and more time spent indoors. Many people start to feel down as they adjust to shorter, darker days. Arriving at and leaving from work in the dark doesn’t help. It’s no wonder winter months pull down your mood and impact healthy practices. But being indoors in close quarters means winter is a time to pay special attention to wellness at work.

Read on to discover three ways you can maximize your wellness in the workplace this winter.

1. Be mindful of mood

winter moodWhat happens in winter?

When winter arrives, it’s common to feel lethargic, tired, and downright sad. We even have a name for it – the winter blues. Approximately 5 percent of North Americans experience a more severe version of the blues — Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Scientists haven’t confirmed the exact cause of the winter blues and SAD, but it’s believed there are three main contributing factors:

  1. The reduced amount of sunlight in winter can affect a person’s “body clock,” or circadian rhythm, which can lead to moodiness and depression.
  2. Less sunlight exposure also creates a dip in serotonin, the natural, mood-lifting neurotransmitter produced in the brain, increasing feelings of sadness and, in some cases, depression.
  3. Increased amounts of melatonin, a natural hormone, caused by reduced exposure to sunlight is thought to further contribute to the winter blues and SAD.

What can I do?winter sunlight

You’ve probably noticed all three factors have something in common — exposure to sunlight. To combat the onset of the winter blues, be sure to increase time in the sun as much as possible. Consider taking brisk walking breaks around the office building — the added exercise helps boost serotonin production to lift your mood. To maximize time in the sun, bundle up and move outdoors or to a sunny room for meals and snacks. Or spend part of your workday in a space with plenty of windows and daylight to increase the amount of sunlight you receive each day.

By maximizing the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to, you’ll maximize your winter wellness at work. In fact, a recent study from Cornell University found workers in offices with optimal natural light reported an 82 percent increase in perceived daylight quality, resulting in decreased fatigue and increased productivity.

2. Drink more water

winter radiator dry heatWhat happens in winter?

Cooler temperatures in winter months mean we wear more layers to keep warm. At the same time, we crank up the indoor heat. The drier air and warmer temperatures mean your body is using more water than your think. The result? Winter dehydration. You’re used to drinking water in summer months when heat and sweat signal your body that you need water. But during the winter, it’s harder to notice that you’re probably not drinking as much water as you should. Water is especially important in winter given the number of airborne viruses prevalent in the cooler months. Lack of water makes you less resistant to infection, making it easier for pesky viruses to take hold.

What can I do?

It can be hard to drink as much water as you should at work. Meetings and deadlines distract you from keeping track of water intake, making hydrating a hassle. Turn water intake into a healthy habit instead with these quick tricks:

  1. Keep a dedicated drinking glass or bottle on your desk.
    Having water at hand — where you can see it — helps you remember to take sips throughout the day. Clear bottles and glasses can serve as visual reminders for how much you’ve sipped (or not sipped!) as the day progresses.
  2. Boost flavor with simple and healthy additions in your glass.
    If plain water is too boring, add a squeeze of lemon, a few slices of orange or cucumber, mint leaves, diced strawberries, kiwis… virtually any fruit or veggie you enjoy. They’ll make it fun to sneak in sips.
  3. Create a hydration challenge.
    A little competition with coworkers can go a long way! As everyone tries to hydrate, the added accountability and sense of camaraderie will help boost fluid intake and beat away winter bugs.
  4. Take advantage of technology.
    Why not make the most of technology to help you stay hydrated? Set an alarm on your phone or calendar to remind you throughout the day to drink water or refill your glass. Or consider using a hydration app to help you track water intake and alert you when water consumption is low.

3. Manage stress

winter work stressWhat happens in winter?

Just as reduced daylight in winter is linked to the blues and seasonal affective disorder, it’s linked to increased feelings of stress. In addition, with the new year come new work projects, tasks, and deadlines. Many people find it hard to keep up with regular stress outlets, like sports, hiking, and physical activities. As a result, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated at work.

What can I do?

A multi-tiered approach to stress management is best. Improving your diet, establishing boundaries, and seeking support from a supervisor can help. In addition, here are three simple – but important! – practices you can implement today to help take a bite out of your workday stress:

  1. Be more active.
    Physical activity in the winter can be a challenge, but activity doesn’t have to be complicated. Boost your winter workday activity level by stretching at your desk every hour. Take the long route to meetings, and try walking a lap or two around the building before or after lunch to sneak in extra steps.
  2. Follow a regular sleep pattern.
    Everyone knows getting at least six to seven hours of sleep each night is important for your health. But with busy schedules and stressors from work, it can be hard to fall asleep at night. To make following a regular sleep pattern easier, try increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day. By sitting near windows that let in natural light, you’ll boost daytime alertness and improve evening sleep.
  3. Use blue light strategically.
    Feeling overwhelmed, tired, and overworked can make you feel stressed. A study found office workers exposed to blue light experienced reduced drowsiness during the day, increased alertness, attention, and reaction times, and better sleep at night. All of these can help you feel more productive and less stressed.
  4. Take mental breaks throughout the day.
    You don’t have to meditate for hours to give your mind a rest. Simple strategies, like a 10-minute journaling break, spending time chatting with coworkers and work friends about life outside work, and laughing for a few minutes at a funny meme or video all give you a much-needed break from looming projects and deadlines. Something as simple as pausing to enjoy the view from an office window can make a difference. In fact, access to windows and natural light were recently rated the top office perk!

 

Freelance: Writing Content for Specific Reading Levels

writing for different reading levelsChances are, if you write content you’ve been asked to write for a specific reading level. And if you haven’t, you probably will. It’s important for freelancers to be able to match the style and tone their clients desire while meeting target reading levels. Read on to discover some tips and useful tools to help you achieve specific reading levels with your writing.

First things first – what do clients mean by reading level?

While there are other scoring systems out there, most of the time clients are referring to the Flesch-Kincaid, or FK, grade level score (which I’ll call the “FK score” to keep things simple). FK score is based on a variety of factors such as number of words, sentence length, complexity of words, and so on. These variables are entered into a formula, and the result is a grade-level score. The FK grade level ties to American school grade levels, and the FK score was initially designed to help educators and parents quickly choose appropriate, grade-level reading material for students. It has since been adopted for use in other areas to ensure content is accessible and audience appropriate.

write at 8th grade reading level for mainstream contentClients might also be referring to a Flesch score, which refers to reading ease. This score ranges from zero to 100 with higher scores indicating “easier” reading. The score is generally matched with a grade level. For example, a Flesch score of 30 or lower indicates college-level (or above) reading ease while a score of 100 indicates 5th grade or below.

According to research, content produced for the mainstream, consumer market should be written at about the 8th-grade reading level (FK score 8, Flesch reading ease 65). While it’s not especially difficult to write generally at this level, writing for different types of clients at this grade level can be challenging.

Why?

Consider the following:

writing at specific reading level for tech companiesLet’s say a tech company has hired you to write a short post about their product. They want to be sure the key concept – the product uses artificial intelligence to continuously learn from user behavior to boost clickthrough rates – is included.

Simple enough, you think.  

Then they add that they want you to write it at an 8th-grade reading level.

Still not too difficult, you think. Until you realize their keywords, “artificial intelligence” and “clickthrough rates,” are considered “hard to understand.” This means they’ll likely bump up the FK score by at least two grade levels.

There’s more.

Removing certain words affects the meaning of the product, something they won’t want you to do. For example, “continuously learns” from user behavior is different than “learns” from user behavior. The first implies the machine is always evaluating and making changes while with the second, it’s not clear. It could learn once a day, once a week, or once a month.

Where does that leave you?

To understand how to tackle the project, let’s evaluate the same sentence written and rewritten to try to achieve the 8th-grade target. writing and rewriting for specific grade level

Attempt 1: Powered by artificial intelligence, our product continuously learns from user behavior to significantly improve clickthrough rates. (FK score = 18.7)

Evaluation: I know, I know — 18.7. More than ten grade levels higher than our target for what seems like a fairly basic sentence. Here’s what’s triggering the master’s-level results – complexity in structure and language. The sentence is tagged as “long” and the descriptive clause is considered complex. In addition, our keywords are tagged as difficult to understand as is the word “significantly.”

Let’s try again, focusing only on structure…

Attempt 2: Artificial intelligence powers our product. This mean it continuously learns from user behavior to significantly improve clickthrough rates. (FK score = 14.1)

Evaluation: By writing the first sentence as two sentences – in other words, dumping the descriptive clause – we were able to reduce the reading level by four grades. Not bad! But we’re still way above our grade 8 target.

Let’s keep revising focusing on language…

Attempt 3: Artificial intelligence powers our product. This mean it’s always learning from user behavior. The result? Greatly improved clickthrough rates. (FK = 9.2)

Evaluation: Now we’re getting somewhere. And we’ve achieved it by ditching the two words that were causing a bump of five grade levels – “continuously” and “significantly.” We’ve used easier-to-understand synonyms for both of our challenge words. But we’re still not at the target grade level.

Let’s try one more time, thinking about an even better synonym…

Attempt 4: Artificial intelligence powers our product. This mean it’s always learning from user behavior. The result? A big improvement in clickthrough rates. (FK score = 8.4)

Evaluation: We’re in the zone! Using “big improvement” instead of “greatly improved” is what made the difference, here. And we avoided an adverb – bonus points!

Key Takeaways from the Rewrites

pay close attention to writing and reading level man with magnifying glassWriting for a mainstream, commercial audience when you’re writing B2B content or B2C content about complex topics isn’t always easy. It means paying attention close attention to sentence structure and word choice. Think: shorter sentences, simpler words.

It’s easy to carried away with lowering the reading level. But remember you shouldn’t sacrifice integral terms that influence meaning or keywords to reach the target level. In our example, we can’t get rid of “artificial intelligence” and “clickthrough rates.” The result is a slightly inflated FK score. You might find your client’s product names to be marked as “hard to understand.” Or specific keywords might lead to a boosted FK score.

Instead of a myopic focus on reading level, do you best while sticking to your client’s more pressing needs. If there’s an issue with a keyword or specific words they want included, let your client know. For example, I recently explained to a client that while the general content I produced was at the target grade level, their product names alone generated a two to three grade-level bump. They were okay with this result because the product names were an important aspect of the piece.

Keep in mind that you will rarely evaluate content on a sentence-by-sentence level. You big picture is more important for reading level writing than small picturewant to consider readability of the entire piece. Looking at the big picture has a significant effect on FK score. For example, in our above scenario we might look at an entire paragraph instead of the lone sentence. Since we’d explain “artificial intelligence” earlier in the content, we’d likely write “AI” everywhere else. Let’s look at how this changes our score.

Attempt 5: Artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool. And AI powers our product. This mean it’s always learning from user behavior. The result? A big improvement in clickthrough rates. (FK = 6.8)

We’re now well into the target range, which will help us out with more complex words down the line. Hurray!

Why did our score change so much?

To understand this, you need to think about math (just a little, I promise!). The longer the overall content, the more words and sentences are being entered into the magic reading-level formula. Imagine if you had to shoot basketballs to get ranked from zero (terrible) to 100 (best player ever). If you only have one attempt to make the shot, it’s less likely you’ll score well. If you have 1000 attempts, you have more chances to improve your rank. And it gets better and better the more attempts you get.

Think of your word count as those attempts. Focus on achieving the target reading level overall for your word count. While sentence checks are helpful, don’t stress too much if you can’t avoid some complexity. Keep in mind the average for the entire piece or key sections.  

How do I check the reading level of my content?

tools for writing at specific reading levelsThere are a variety of ways to evaluate reading level. The most basic is to use the tool you (most likely) already have: Microsoft Word. MS Word offers an FK score through its “Review” tab. You’ll get the FK score, the Flesch reading ease core, and it will tell you the percentage of passive sentences. Not bad for quick checks. Just be sure to select the right settings to turn on these features.  

There are also free online tools you can use to get a little more information. For example, this readability test tool evaluates entered text for several readability scores, including FK score and Flesch reading ease. It gives you a narrative summary in addition to numeric values for six reading indices and six text statistics (e.g., number of words, number of complex words, etc.).

But free tools don’t give you specific feedback, such as which words rank as “hard to understand” or which sentences might be too long. If you’re trying to write at a specific level but struggling to meet your goal, you’ll want to see where your weak points are. In that case, think about paying for a more informative tool. Most of these tools are not expensive, and for professional writers the insights are worth the fees.

To help me, I use readable.io. And no, I’m not an affiliate. I’m sharing to help, not earn. At readablepro from readable.io is a great tool for working on writing at specific reading levelsfour dollars a month, readable.io is an affordable tool that gives lots of information to help shift your readability score. I found after using it just a few times, I started changing my writing to meet different targets faster. Readable.io provides you with both an overall score from A to F as well as a variety of specific reading-level scores. Pretty cool.

Even cooler?

It gives feedback on areas and words that trigger higher reading levels. And it evaluates for tone (e.g., formal vs. conversational), sentiment, text quality (e.g., number of cliches used), a variety of text statistics and facts (e.g., longest sentence, reading time, speaking time). You can even request evaluations for things like keyword density and gender analysis!

The Bottom Line

Writing at lower reading levels isn’t easy. In fact, it can be harder than writing at higher reading levels. It takes attention and practice to reach specific targets while maintaining the style your client demands. If your client hasn’t specified a reading level? It’s still useful to periodically see how your writing scores. Remember: your target should be FK 8 for a general audience. Knowing your trigger points makes it easier to adjust as needed. Good luck!

And just for fun – the paragraph above received an FK score of 6.9 and a Flesch reading ease score of 62.5. 

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Freelance: Resources to Make Your Work Easier

When it comes to freelancing, anything that saves you time and energy is like money in your pocket. To help out my fellow freelancers, I’ve put together a list of several helpful resources. As I collect more, I’ll add them to the list (click here for the permanent page). If you have any others, send them my way and I’ll investigate!

Happy freelancing!

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Links to Useful Templates

From Requests for Quotes to Invoices to Timesheets, there’s no sense reinventing the wheel. Check out these free templates to save you time and money!

  • Simple Invoice – this clean, classic invoice is straightforward and easy to use for any freelance project (from Going Freelance)
  • Custom Contract – this template is easy to customize ensuring your contract is truly yours (from Freelancers Union)
  • Timesheet – this timesheet template has two tabs, one which will allow you to log hours worked on a weekly basis, and another on a monthly basis so you can document time (from Zervant)
  • Simple Quotation – this basic quotation template is professional and easy to customize (from Template.net)
  • Detailed Proposal – this form allows you to create a detailed proposal for bigger projects (from PandaDoc)

Links to Freelance Rates Guides

It can be challenging to know what to charge clients (or what to pay if you’re hiring a freelancer!). No two freelancers are exactly the same, and rates vary greatly based on experience, education, and geographic location. Check out these resources to help you set rates for various projects and clients.

Links to Job Listing Sites

Whether you’re a veteran freelancer or just starting out, finding your next gig can sometimes be a challenge. Check out these sites to help move you along your freelance journey!

Do you know a great resource I should include here? Contact me and let me know!

Writing Prompt: Using Facebook to Craft Poems (and other writing)

facebookHello.  My name is Kaecey, and I’m a social media Luddite. 

Though I stay connected to this century social media for work, when it comes to my personal life I barely use Facebook, didn’t want a Twitter account until the Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge got me connecting, and finally tried Google+ for the first time.  Today.

So how can I write a post that utilizes Facebook and the linchpin? Moreover, Facebook and poetry don’t seem like two entities that go together – at least not from the perspective of using Facebook to write poetry. What gives?

Simple.  I’m writing this post because I am a fan of taking advantage of whatever works to generate creativity and get poems (or fiction or any writing ideas) out of the ether and onto the page.  And I promise you – if you fully execute this technique, you will end up with a poem.  Or character.  Or beginning of a story… you get the picture.

So what is this Facebook writing technique?  

It’s fun, it’s easy, and you can do it even if you don’t have a Facebook account.  Trust me.

First, scroll through your list of FB friends until you come across names from your childhood of people you haven’t really kept up with over the years.  If you don’t have any FB friends that reach back that far, settle for FB friends that you are merely acquaintances with in real life – the point is to find people you know, but people you don’t know well. You want to be surprised.

Second, visit the pages of these FB friends and look at their most recent post.  Ideally, the first page you visit is the one you’ll use, but if it really doesn’t work move down the list.

Third, using whatever this person posted as your inspiration, brainstorm words and phrases that immediately come to mind.  Try to incorporate sensory language if possible, but stay true to whatever pops into your head.

Fourth, write a poem (or story) inspired by the FB friend’s post and your brainstormed list.  It can be a poem in any form or style. It can be a flash fiction. A short story. It can even be the start of your own memoir. The point is to WRITE.

If you’re not on Facebook, you can search old emails, greeting cards and letters, or use another social media source (like Twitter or Google+) to accomplish the same result.

I first thought of this technique when I randomly clicked on the Facebook page of a childhood friend with whom I had not had any contact other than to accept her Friend request years ago.  I was shocked and saddened to learn that she had just lost her father.  Her most recent post happened to be picture from her childhood of her at about preschool age sitting on her dad’s lap.  They were reading a book together, and the caption read, “Missing my dad today.”  The photo was grainy and the clothes were standard late seventies/early eighties plaid.  Her dad was sporting some seriously impressive sideburns, and my friend’s cheeks were bright red, the way kids’ cheeks get after playing outside in the snow.

I was overcome with emotion and wonder, so I started writing down ideas and words that popped into my head as I gazed at the picture.  And those words evolved into a poem.

If you give it a try, let me know!  I’d love to hear if it works for you.  And if you have other Facebook-inspired writing ideas, please share!

Writing Prompt: What to Write When Nothing Comes

Maybe you’ve been lucky and never drawn a blank when sitting down to write. But if bored_by_publicdomainpictures-netyou’re like me, you’ve sat. And sat. And looked up prompts. And doodled. And refreshed your coffee. Or tea. Or water. Or whiskey. You’ve told yourself, “Go!” then stared numbly at the screen. So you surfed the net, checked and deleted email. Answered the phone. Did the dishes. Dreamed up fanciful and creative menus for your family that you’ll never make. And decided to go to bed early (or late).

And promised yourself that tomorrow you’ll be able to get something down. trick_by_publicdomainreview.org

If this is sounding a little too familiar, I have a trick that helps when you find yourself thinking, “I have nothing to write about.” I’m going to describe it as it relates to poetry, but it could be used with any genre. I have found that when I’m stuck with nothing for my fiction, writing poetry can help shake things loose.

Okay, ready for the trick? Here it is:

Write the opposite.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “What? This gal has really lost it. Write the opposite of what?!

Let me explain…

Take a poem – any poem. It can be one you’ve written, it can be a classic, it can be one you love, or one you hate. Go through it line by line and write the opposite of whatever the sentiment is in that line.

Here’s an example using Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken:”

woods_by_publicdomain


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both ….

To write the opposite, I could do something like this:

woods2_by_publicdomain
In the purpled woods, two roads collided 

and glad was I to find the path so clear ….

That is an off-the-cuff example that could use (a lot) of work. Regardless, it demonstrates what I mean. At least I hope it does!

To complete the exercise, I would go through every line. If all of sudden in the middle of this task something sparks and I’m inspired, I might drop the exercise and run with my new idea. If not, I’d keep at it, line by line. Then revise and make changes, look for better words and better imagery.

And at the end of the day, I’ll have a poem. At the very least, I’ll have made good use of the day and worked my creative muscles. Writing the opposite it harder than it sounds. It forces you to be creative, look for ways to describe emotions, places, and people. And it can result in some phenomenal poetry!

Don’t believe me? Give it a try! And let me know what you think.

I’m curious – what do you do when the muse is silent? I’d love to hear other tips and tricks!