The continual search for writing flow, or just some words on the page

I’ve lost my flow, that happy combination of play + focus that I call “playocus.” Playocus requires effort, but once engaged, is pleasurable. Once lost, it’s miserable.  

It’s all my fault. I don’t try hard enough. I get distracted too easily. I’m addicted to sleeping. Blah. Blah. Blah. News Flash: Self-Beratement Doesn’t Work. Yet that doesn’t stop me from beating myself up. 

News flash: Self-Beratement Doesn’t Work

Einstein didn’t say, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” but he could have. The latest internet knowledge attributes this wisdom to an unknown speaker at an AA meeting, maybe. But my point is that beating yourself up with abusive self-talk doesn’t help with writing, dieting or anything else. 

So what does? I’ve tried to “fix” my writing practice by reading a half dozen books on plot (could be useful for future understanding, but not writer’s block), making schedules and goals (nope), submitting stories for publication (ouch, rejection, must hide), compulsive reading of fiction (fun way to avoid, and “real” writers read a lot, so it’s okay), and badgering writing buddies (sometimes effective, but we’re all alone with “the work”).

What I really want…is to be a “real” writer. In my mind, real writers write every day, or practically every day, jonesing for it when life’s duller obligations get in the way. Or, they write a lot sometimes, and this writing results in a book, or books, or articles for magazines that many people have heard of, even if they don’t read them. “Real” writers don’t need outside validation to continue their word slinging. Sure, they have difficult days, meaning some days they only get 300 more words added to the 20,000 they already have on the current project. 

Yeah, I know, I know. “Real” is subjective and every creative person feels like a fake sometimes. (Right? I sure hope that’s true.) Intellectually I am fine with being outside of the commercial aspect of writing. Writing gives me insights, helps me process my feelings and understand myself and others. It is a rich practice that engages my imagination and brings friendships with fun, creative people. 

I have been published, and been paid for writing. Those were good days. Money is really, really fun, and useful. There’s nothing like legal tender, a deadline, and an audience to get me past my resistance. 

It’s okay to want fiscal remuneration. It’s okay not to get it. Yet. It could still happen. It will dang it, as soon as I whip my creative self into productivity mode. 

Oops.

Okay, Einstein, ease up on the whip. Change the channel. Go take a walk.

{Sigh}

All I can do is not give up (for long, there is a certain amount of surrendering to Netflix that’s required for recharging.)

And I will be bugging my writing buddies. 

How do you keep yourself motivated? Please help!

–Stacey

SEO for Authors and Everyone Else

Interview with C.C. Hart, author, artist, and neurodiversity advocate by author, editor and lifetime learner Stacey Dennick.

SD: What’s your most important take way from the five-week class on SEO you recently took at Stanford?

C.C. Hart: You don’t have to be a computer expert, or hire one, to learn how to launch an SEO program for your website. It wasn’t as technically difficult as I thought it would be. It is challenging. It’s not a simple undertaking, but I was surprised that someone like me, who I consider to have modest technology skills, was able to make changes to my website where I’ve been able to see improvements. One of the metrics I’ve put in place, when someone searches for me using the search term “C.C. Hart” I went from occupying four of the first results on Google, to now, I now occupy eight of them. It’s nice to see SEO in action; to see how it has improved my visibility.

SD: What are the simplest things web designers can do to optimize SEO?

C.C. Hart: Sit down and figure out what key words you want to be known for. That’s one of the first things I suggest anyone do. What do you want to be known for? Imagine that Stacey Dennick is building a website “Cat Lover Stacey.” Think about what people are going to search for that would bring them to your page.  Are you offering health tips for cat owners? Are you writing about which pet insurance seems to be the best? Are you putting together a photo blog of cute pets? 

In my case, I really want to be known as a neurodiversity advocate. So I wrote down a series of key words that have to do with neurodiversity: neurodiverse, neurodivergent, neurodiversity, ADHD, autism, synesthesia, Tourette—things that I talk about and things I want to be known for. Then, when you have those awesome keywords, the next simple thing to do is to make sure they are in your content on your homepage, and on your other various pages. Not so much that it will drive your readers crazy, but enough that Google’s crawlers will pick up on those words.

Title tags should also have the keywords that you want to be known for. With WordPress, I can go in to customization for my theme, find the title and title tags. I didn’t used to have a title tag. After I added my tag line, using all of my keywords, “author, artist, and neurodiversity advocate reframing synesthesia, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodiverse traits” I noticed my site ranking improving. Headers and tags made a big difference. 

The tagline under the site identity is very important. You get 60 characters for that tagline. It’s interesting to see how companies use that space. For example, Pirelli Tires – Their slogan is “Pirelli tires go the extra mile” but they don’t use that for their website tagline. What they use is “Find the best fit for your car.” Another good example is Gillette razors. Their marketing tagline is “The best a man can get” but their website tag is “Men’s razors and shaving products.” Because they want to sell you something. 

SD: Yes, and people are not going to search for “The best a man can get” when they want a razor.

C.C. Hart: Exactly! Your tagline is very valuable web real estate. You really want to take advantage of it for keywords. H1 headers too.

Organize your website so it speaks Google, and speaks to people.

C.C. Hart

Another thing that Google really looks for, you need to have a website that speaks Google as much as it speaks to people. You need to organize your content in ways that Google will reward you by placing you on the first page when someone types in one of your keywords. Take advantage of your footer space. Google also rewards grammatically correct content. They also reward fresh content. Keep creating content on your site. Blog posts, whatever material you think your audience engages with, keep it fresh, keep it updated. 

SD: What if you don’t have a narrow niche? Do you need to find one? 

C.C. Hart: Yes, I recommend that you find a way to narrow your audience with keywords. And you can change your tagline if your focus changes. It’s okay to change your tagline, but not your site name.

SD: What’s the best way to learn how to understand the SEO data?

C.C. Hart: Go to jm-seo.org. It’s the website for JM Internet Group, run by my instructor at Stanford, Jason McDonald. He gives away free stuff, book excerpts, lots of information. He also has YouTube videos. I highly recommend taking his class.

Another thing you can do is to view/download the SEO guide from Google. Keep in mind that Google really wants to sell you ads, and to make you think you have to have an ad to launch SEO, and that’s not really the truth. 

SD: As the web evolves, do the ways that SEO is determined change?

C.C. Hart: They do. Google is kinda sneaky. They make changes to their algorithm all the time. They change quite a bit. Sites are penalized for not having a mobile-friendly design. Their Penguin algorithm is an attack on low quality links. Panda is an attack on poor quality content.

Sites with many quality sites linking to them are rewarded. 

SD: How can developers tell if their SEO is optimized?

C.C. Hart: Go to SEO profiler, https://www.seoprofiler.com. You have to create an account, but it’s free.  You can have it analyze your website and give you some ideas of where you stand. For instance, backlinks.  Are there are other reputable companies that link to your site? That’s one of the things that Google pays attention to. 

Take a look the title and the title tag. Make sure your content is keyword rich. You also need to have internal links, moving the viewer towards a sale or other desired action. Link bait is valuable– offering something for free on your website, to get people to follow you, or to sign up for your mailing list.

SD: Thank you so much CC, this is such valuable info!

Learn about reframing synesthesia, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodiverse traits on C.C. Hart’s website, carolyncchart.com, or by following her Weird Sister podcast (edited by yours truly).

Stacey Dennick is a writer and editor specializing in helping writers craft their memoirs. She teaches several no-fee classes through Santa Rosa Junior College’s OAP program. Her own writing ranges from children’s stories, to non-fiction, with a playful sense of humor.

For more information about SEO, check out this guide by Moz.

Neurodiversity and the Weird Sister Podcast

2020 has been, well, you know what kind of a year it’s been. But, there have been a few good things. Less driving, more gardening, and helping my friend and USF MFA in Writing cohort, C.C. Hart launch her dream project, Weird Sister, a podcast about art, science, and culture as viewed through the lens of neuro-diversity.

I’ve always suspected I’m dyslexic. I transpose letters and rely on spell check. But since I didn’t have any trouble learning to read, I was never diagnosed. The Weird Sister podcast inspired me to research. Wow, I had no idea I was so normal, for a dyslexic that is. Growing up, spelling was traumatic for me. I couldn’t sound out words, and could barely count syllables.

Sally Shaywitz, M.D. is a Professor at Yale University, the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia”. She writes, “dyslexia is very common, affecting 20 percent of the population.” As with all neurodivergent conditions, there are positives. Shaywitz continues, “While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.”

I also have symptoms of dyspraxia and ADHD. It’s liberating to know that my propensity to be struck by volleyballs, softballs and other flying objects, and therefore dislike team sports, is probably part of my brain mechanics, rather than “not trying hard enough.”

The Weird Sister podcast is a deep dive into synesthesia, autism, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and other neurocognitive outliers. I’m so grateful to be the audio producer for the series. I’ve already learned so much about myself, family members and friends. Understanding is the first step to acceptance.

“Dyslexics see things differently. They tend to be creatives. They don’t have to be pushed to think outside the box. Thinking outside the box is their automatic setting.”

— Ann Silvers, MA

Subscribe to the Weird Sister podcast on iTunes or via Podbean. Episode four contains an interview with yours truly.

It’s good to be weird!

Video Projects

I created a number of videos to help promote Art at the Source, an annual event, featuring self-guided tours of Sonoma County artist’s studios.

Art at the Source informational video

Stacey Dennick and I both worked on publicity for Art at the Source, a self-guided tour of artist’s studios. Using interview sound bites and the narration she wrote, Stacey was able to quickly convey what the program is, why you’d want to participate and how the tour works. It was a successful marketing effort that was improved by her obvious talent at video production. Everyone involved was thrilled with the quality of the resulting video. I recommend her for all video projects. I was impressed by both her technical ability as well as her organization skills and timeliness.

Dennis Bolt, Artist/Designer

Here’s a silly video I directed, shot, and edited for Dana Davidson, clothing designer & owner of Epicenter women’s clothing store in Pt. Reyes Station, CA.

My corporate video reel is below. It’s a compilation of projects I worked on when I was employed by San Francisco-based Bravura Films, Inc.

My corporate video reel

Additional videos I’ve worked on.

Thanks for watching! —Stacey

© Copyright 2021, Stacey Alysa Dennick.  All rights reserved.

Writer’s Forum in Petaluma

The new date for my talk is 7/15/20

Mark your Zoom calendars for 6:30 to 8:00 pm on Wednesday, July 15th for this free event brought to you by Aqus Community Foundation, Writers Forum and Marlene Cullen.

Writing Dialogue for Fiction and Memoir

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81835086804

Writer and instructor Stacey Dennick will present tips on how to write dynamic, characterizing dialogue. She’ll also cover the common pitfalls that lead to stilted, dull dialogue. Learn the three tasks all dialogue must accomplish; how to reveal more about your characters though dialogue. How to avoid stalling your story with dialogue; preventing “talking head” syndrome; recreating dialogue for memoir; dodging info dumps; best practices for dialogue tags (so the reader knows who’s saying what), and more. There will be time for Q & A.

Stacey Dennick teaches creative writing in Santa Rosa through Santa Rosa Junior College’s Older Adult Program. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco. Her published works include news pieces for KRCB North Bay Public Media, technical and humorous stories in print and online. She’s currently working on her first novel.

Happy New Year!

Dock another minute from my 15 minutes of fame, because Dave Templeton mentioned yours truly (and included my photo) in his thoughtful Argus Courier write-up of the upcoming  Writer’s Forum speaker series.  I’m one of six writers presenting monthly talks on various aspects of the writing life. The presentations are free, thanks to Copperfield’s Books, and Write Spot instructor Marleen Cullen. Those of you who need a writing nudge might want to try her Jumpstart Writing Workshops. In the meanwhile, save Thursday, April 16, 2020. The presentation starts at 6:30pm and will end at 8:30. My talk is entitled “Writing Dialogue: Best Practices & Common Errors.”
I hope to see you then,
Stacey
UPDATE: presentation rescheduled for 7/15/20

SDwritersForum
Posted January 2, 2020.
Writers Forum announces 2020 line-up of presenters: Since we’re spreading the word on the Woman’s Club’s speaker series, let’s continue on that theme, with the 2020 line-up of speakers at this year’s Write Spot Writers Forum, held the third Thursday of every month, February through August, at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma.
The series begins on February 20 with an appearance by the Argus-Courier’s Community Editor David Templeton, taking the microphone to talk about the art and adventure of playwriting, followed on March 19 by Joan Gelfland, author of “You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors.”
April 16: Stacey Dennick, a creative writing teacher through Santa Rosa Junior College’s Older Adult Program will address “Writing Dialogue, with Attention to Setting and Action.”
May 21: Nicole Zimmerman, a journalist and travel writer, and the 2019 recipient of the Discovered Awards for Emerging Visual and Literary Artists.
June 18: Brenda Knight, author and publisher. She’s shepherded the works of such authors as Paolo Coelho, Marianne Williamson and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was named Publisher of the Year in 2014 by the American Library Association, and wrote “Wild Women and Books,” “Women Who Love Books Too Much,” “The Grateful Table,” “Be a Good in the World” and “Women of the Beat Generation.” J
July 16: Kara Vernor, writer of fiction and essays, whose flash fiction chapbook, “Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song,” is now available from Split Lip Press.
Forum link on The Write Spot Blog: https://www.thewritespot.us/forum.php

There’s Magic in the Telling – Writing is Good for Your Health

Creating a record of your life for loved ones is a wonderful goal. Being published is fun and occasionally profitable, but writing memoir for yourself may be the best reason to write.

Researchers have found that writing about your life and sharing it with others isn’t just enjoyable, it can improve your health.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin,found that participants in his focused writing study had lower blood pressure, went to the doctor less frequently and had fewer absences from work.  College students earned better grades and senior professionals who had been laid off got new jobs more quickly after writing. [1]

“People who are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals have changes in immune function,” Pennebaker says.

Writing about turbulent, exciting, or sentimental times gives the writer a chance to explore old thoughts and feelings from a new perspective.  Finding meaning in those experiences transforms them into wisdom. Having those stories heard by a supportive listener (or listeners, or just yourself) reminds the reader that his or her life history matters.

Many people want to write but don’t know how to start. They worry about finessing spelling and punctuation before they’ve had a chance to explore their stories. Or, they allow doubts and fears to stop them before they start. My writing workshops and classes are designed to overcome these obstacles. Using creative writing exercises and positive feedback, I coax my student’s timid creative selves out to play.

Vintage House for seniors in the Sonoma valley areaI’ll be teaching a Workshop at Vintage House in Sonoma on Tuesday, May 28th, from 1-3:30pm, in room 113.

I also teach tuition-free classes in  Santa Rosa on Wednesday afternoons, and Friday mornings, through Santa Rosa Junior College’s Older Adult program.

[1] Pennebaker, J. W. and Chung, C. K., Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health. (2007). In H. Friedman and R. Silver (Eds.), Handbook of health psychology(pp. 263-284).  New York: Oxford University Press.AutoBioPromoW

Instructor’s Bio: Instructor Stacey Dennick is a digital storyteller who has written stories for KRCB North Bay Public Media. Her humorous memoir pieces have been published online and in anthologies. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of San Francisco, and teaches writing courses through Santa Rosa Junior College’s Older Adult Program. See clips: sdennick.com

Photographic Profile of Frosty Mountain Tree Farm

Holiday Traditions Thrive

Families create Christmas rituals at  Frosty Mountain Tree Farm in rural Sebastopol. So much to see and do including a petting zoo, face painting, hay rides and story time with Mrs. Claus. Located off Bloomfield at 3600 Mariola Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Please enjoy this photographic tour.

Click on photos to see them larger.

© 2014 Stacey Alysa Dennick, all rights reserved.

WordPress websites and blogs

Mosaic artist Jane Kelly in her studio, photo by Stacey DennickI’m so pleased to have just about completed mosaic artist Jane Kelly’s new website and blog.  She needed a site that showcases her beautiful work, and is easy for her to update with photos and information about where and when she’ll be selling her mosaic pieces.

I suggested WordPress site for its ease of use, and the SEO (search engine optimization) provided by a blog.   When you blog, Google and all the other search engines notice, even if no humans read your blog.  That’s how you get found in online searches.

Of course people will check out her site, so I took some photos of Jane in her studio.  Seeing a face and a place helps patrons connect with the artist.    After the shoot, Jane said, “Thanks for making it fun.”  I specialize in putting people at ease so we can get quick and painless headshots.  I also like to take shots of art in progress, to show all the work that goes into each piece.

This is particularly useful in my husband Leland Dennick’s case, as fused glass and glass casting are so technically complex and difficult to explain.ldcastingbamboo600

Need an inexpensive, easy to use website/blog?  I provide a quick, low cost service including photographs and training on how to update it yourself.  I also specialize in product photography.  Great for applying to art shows, for online sales sites such as Etsy, and to keep a record of your creations.

Give me a call,

Stacey

Etsy shop makeover

Has anyone not heard of online craft and vintage superstore Etsy by now?  Photographs sell products on Etsy.  Descriptions help.  If you don’t have strong photos, you won’t have strong sales, or get into galleries, fairs or heaven.  Okay, you might still get into heaven, but not artist nirvana.

Artist Susan Wosk enlisted my help to transform her Etsy shop.  She paints Mexican picture frames and fills them with whimsical images. They’re three dimensional, tin wall niches with protective glass over the pictures. Very fun, and also very challenging to photograph. Many cameras can’t focus correctly on glass. Plus, the reflections that make glass so beautiful can create glare, hot spots or confusing reflections.  But not to fear, my Canon T3 camera is here, uh, there!

Holy Nichos!  Pansy garden frameHere’s the old photo of the pansy flower frame.  It’s colorful and focused with no glare or hot spots (easier said than done) but the background is too cluttered and it would look better lighter (IMHO).

For the new photo I used white foamcore for the background (no ironing required), propped the frame up with a small bowl so it wouldn’t look distorted, and shot it with a large f stop for better depth of field.

Holy Nichos!  Pansy garden frame

I still had to take some blue out of the background and up the saturation in Photoshop, but it only took a couple of minutes.

I think you’ll agree it’s a much cleaner, more professional photo.

I like white backgrounds because they really let the product stand out without adding colors.  In the next example the turquoise tablecloth made the top of the sacred heart nicho look turquoise, rather than the green it really is. That could upset someone who bought it sight unseen, over the internet.

Sacred Heart by Holy Nichos!Sacred Heart by Holy Nichos!
For the new shot, rather than shooting head on, I tilted the nicho to create a diagonal line that draws the eye and adds a sense of movement.

I’d love to transform your Etsy shop too. Don’t have one? I can help you set it up. Shoot me an email – Stacey