9/11 – Twenty Years

It’s Friday, September 10th, and my nephew, Tim, graduates from Marine Corps Boot Camp today. Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Somehow, it’s both appalling and gratifying to think that pretty much everybody knows exactly what I’m talking about when I just mention a date.

The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the attempted attack on the White House that ended in a Pennsylvania field, were so staggering in their impact, such deep wounds to our nation, and at the same time such a universal unifying force of compassion and resolve that swept around the globe and touched so many millions of souls so deeply, that a simple date evokes an avalanche of memories and emotions. It’s been doing that for 20 years…it was that powerful.

And now Tim and his companions in that training battalion are about to take up the responsibility for the defense of our country as they transition from recruits into Marines. And most of them weren’t even born when 9/11 happened. It makes my head spin a little when I think about it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

There’s a lot that goes into that defense of our country, and a lot of it is taken for granted. A lot of it, people just don’t know about. I worked in a then-classified mobile missile warning unit that deployed to dozens and dozens of locations right here in the United States, playing hide-and-seek with Russian spy satellites, with a mission of surviving the first wave of nuclear missile strikes…because we knew the primary missile warning sites wouldn’t survive…so that we could warn the National Command Authorities about the targets and timing of the second wave. We knew an attack could happen at any time, but we had no idea when or where or how bad, so we trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.

I also worked in a unit in South Korea that was stationed north of Seoul, in the way of a potential advance of the North Korean Army, and our mission was to train to live in the field, manage communications between rear echelon and forces engaging the enemy, and provide forward air control for air support to ground troops. We knew the North Koreans could come across the border at any time, but we had no idea when or where or how bad, so we trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.

And on that fateful day 20 years ago, I was already deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch and was stationed within mortar range of the Iraq border. By the time the second plane hit the second tower, pretty much the entire U.S. military was on high alert and bases were locked down and the search for who and how had feverishly begun. We knew that Iraq was suspected of having stockpiles of chemical weapons, and wasn’t happy with us, and just might be unleashing a retaliation at us. And we were within mortar range. So we kept our chemical defense gear close at hand, and trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.

I was fortunate. The Russians didn’t launch their nukes, the North Koreans didn’t roll across the DMZ, and Saddam Hussein wasn’t lobbing chem warfare mortars at us. The point of all this rambling is that there is an overabundance of bad people in this world who want what you have and want to take it from you. Or are jealous of you and want to take it out on you. Or who think that because you aren’t like them or don’t think like them, you should be punished or subjugated or destroyed.

A lot of those people who hate us are in Afghanistan, like Al Qaeda–the real perpetrators of 9/11–plus the Taliban, ISIS-K, and others, and we’ve just spent 20 years suppressing their aggressions against the world and ensuring a measure of freedom for the people of that region. But now we’ve left there and given the bad guys back their base of training and operations. This isn’t intended as a criticism of that action, because there is a tremendous complication behind decisions about how our forces are employed and there are other ways and places for bad guys to gather and train and plot against us, anyway. But it does encourage those bad guys and it worries me to think it happened right before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

What’s going to happen on Saturday? Maybe nothing…that’s what we’re hoping for, of course. Maybe something huge. But no matter what, it’s hanging over the heads of our military men and women just like Russia and North Korea and Iraq were hanging over my head on those other days, years ago. And they will be training, and waiting, and staying alert, and being prepared for whatever happens.

So here’s a big salute to Tim, and his battalion, and his comrades-in-arms all around the world, because the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and they are paying that price for us. We’re all fortunate to be living in a country that values individual freedom and liberty for all, and like President Kennedy once said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Flexing Your Facebook to Market Your Masterpiece

It’s a sad but true fact of life that even if you spend years pouring your heart and soul into your masterpiece of literature, it has to have a good marketing effort or it will just sit there, languishing in the shadows of your mom’s bookshelf.  If you manage to land a deal with a major publishing house, they have professionals who can market the heck out of it.  If you self-publish, as so very many of us end up doing, it’s all on you.

There are resources out there to help you publicize your book, but very few as far-reaching a platform as Facebook.  The big problem with Facebook is that they want to make a profit more than they want to help you do your thing.  So if your thing isn’t stirring up the masses and bringing in views and clicks and conversation and sharing, and therefore more revenue for them, they’re not very interested in helping you.  You can buy ads, with the exposure they give you dependent on how much money you spend, but like other marketing ploys out there, there’s no guarantee you’ll sell enough to make up for what you pay.  You can post your own notices that your epic tome is available and wonderful, but if you just put it out there, it can be pretty and enticing and magnificent and amazing as it can possibly be made, but nobody will see it and it will keep languishing in those shadows.

Here’s an article by Karma Bennett in the San Francisco Book Review that has some tips on how to engage some of the power of Facebook to help spread the word, and the interest, about your book.  It’s a few years old and Facebook’s algorithms are ever-changing and frustrating, but this is a good picture of the way things are and some things you can do about making your posts visible and interesting and maybe even profitable for them, which translates into profitable for you.  It’s a partnership, and your job is to puzzle out what your side of it can do to energize their side of it. 

Good luck.

Facebook Isn’t Showing Your Posts? Here’s What to Do About It.

by Karma Bennett
May 10, 2018

12 Ways to Market Your Book (Despite the Facebook Apocalypse)

You may have noticed that your posts on Facebook aren’t getting as much traction as they used to—epecially the important posts promoting your book. Yikes. It’s what marketing pros are calling “Facebook apocalypse.” (Sound dramatic? Welcome to marketing!) A few weeks ago I explained why this is happening; this week, I explain what you can do about it.

The Three Most Important Words in Social Media: Engage, Engage, Engage

Before Facebook’s Russian troll problem, the company was already under criticism for promoting shallow content. A social network is supposed to be a place for friends to interact. So, when people complained they saw more posts from brands than from the people they know, Facebook took it seriously. Henceforth, comments are more important than likes or shares. In general, your posts are more likely to be seen if people are commenting on them. Facebook wants conversation, so generate that however you can.

Tag People on Your Posts

Facebook doesn’t show your post to all your friends. Instead, Facebook shows it to a small sample, and if those people like or comment, it will show your post to more people. But you don’t know which of your followers Facebook is going to show it to or if this post will be of interest to them. That is why whenever you have something important to share, you should tag people you think will find the topic engaging.

You can tag people on Facebook by typing the “@” symbol, followed by their name, and this should make their name appear in a drop-down list; then select the names you want to add. Do this at the end of the post so that the copy of the post is most likely to get read. Also, don’t be afraid to tag people in the comments if they are not in the conversation and should be.

I like to include a message explaining why I tagged them. For example, “I’m tagging @Howard Lovecraft and @Edgar Poe because I know you love a morbid conversation.”

Stop Relying on Autopost Tools

I understand how helpful it can be to have a plugin that autoposts your latest blog to Twitter and Facebook. But if even you never see your own post, you are breaking all three of the rules of social media. How can you expect people to engage with your post, if you yourself had no engagement with it?

The way Facebook works now, you get a preview of the title when you post a link. But, most of the time, a blog’s autopost uses the TITLE of the blog post as the content of the Facebook post. So, anyone can see that your contribution to the Facebook conversation was to simply copy the title that is already there, which might suggest this isn’t something especially important to you.

Additionally, the autopost won’t tag your friends, so you’re at the mercy of whomever Facebook randomly selects as to whether your post gets widely seen or not.

Becoming a Better Writer

I’m all about helping people and giving advice, and, well, I’m cheap.  There, I said it.  And I know a lot of other writers are, too, because the world of writing is not a get-rich-quick kind of place for the teeming masses.  There are the shining few who make big money with what looks like not a lot of effort, but that’s pretty deceptive.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of knowledge to make being successful look easy.  And then there are those who struggle and sweat to make any headway at all.  Those are the ones who can use all the free advice they can get, and that most assuredly includes me.

So here’s a little plug for Reedsy.  It’s an author services firm and it hooks up writers with editors, cover designers, ghost writers, marketers, and all manner of folks who can help you in the world of self-publishing.  They don’t do everything for free, of course, but they do have a lot of stuff on their website that doesn’t cost a penny to use or peruse and learn from.  They have tons of articles on their blog that give out advice, and a newsletter you can sign up for to keep getting more.  They have free apps for editing your book.  They have free publishing webinars.  So it’s a good place for you to go check out and see what you can find.  Spend a ton of money or not a dime, but learn and use what works for you.

Here’s one of the blog posts that offers a lot of tips on becoming a better writer.  Nothing is magic about advice…you have to think about it and most of it requires that you expend a fair amount of time and effort, but that’s the whole point about succeeding in anything.  Most of the advice may be nothing new or startling, but it’s at least a reinforcement of areas where you might be slacking off a bit or that have slipped your mind, and a little extra prodding would be very useful to a lot of us.  Yeah, including me.

Take a look, wander around the site, see what you can find, and keep on writing!

(From the blog on Reedsy.com)
Posted on Feb 11, 2021

How to Become a Better Writer: 20 Hacks and Tips

Practically speaking, writing is just about putting one word after another. But as anyone who’s struggled with the question of how to become a better writer will tell you, there are sometimes entire worlds of frustration compressed in the seconds between setting each word down. If that sounds familiar, or you’re simply trying to improve your craft without the existential writerly despair, we’ve got 20 essential tips to share with you.

1. Actually write

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve greatness in any skill. Even if you only put in two hours more per week than usual, any increase in thetime you spend writing will accelerate your improvement. And sure, new vocabulary won’t miraculously descend upon you just because you spent an hour writing poetry (like some kind of video game level-up), but inhabiting the mental space of writing for a while longer comes with some serious benefits:

  • You’ll get to know your own writing habits better, e.g. the time of day when you’re most productive, or the location where you’re most inspired to write;
  • You’ll develop writerly discipline (an essential skill if you ever hope to write a book or another long form project); 💪
  • You’ll stick around long enough for new ideas to occur to you (especially helpful if you’re a pantser, not a plotter).

2. Watch out for repetition (and annihilate it)

One practical way to become a better writer is by consciously analyzing your writing to identify repetitive patterns. This is hard to do during the drafting process, but it’s mercifully simple in retrospect. So dig out some past writing samples (creative nonfiction, poems, short stories — anything will do), grab some coloring pencils or highlighters, and mark every instance of repetitive language.

Study your words on multiple levels:

  • The lexical level, i.e. specific verbs, adverbs or adjectives you might be repeating (are your characters constantly grinning?);
  • The sentence structure level, like if all your examples come in threes;
  • The narrative structure level, like if you unwittingly but consistently lapse into new flashbacks.

The point of this exercise is to identify your personal linguistic reflexes — known in linguistics as your “idiolect”. In terms of language use, it’s your fingerprint, and familiarizing yourself with it can help you identify repetition and edit it out of your writing.

3. Weed out clichés 

Clichés are every writer’s stumbling block, ever an uphill battle — though the battle has its ups and its downs, and what matters most is not the destination, but the friends we made along the way. You get our point, hopefully: clichés are lazy, overly familiar, platitudinous, and often boring. Every time you use a cliché, you’re wasting an opportunity to be original and authentic. 

Primarily, our issue with clichés is no moral qualm about authenticity. It’s the simple fact that they completely drain your writing of its ability to be memorable. Lifeless, it falls to the ground, faceless and forgotten.

4. Aim for clean, filler-free prose

While we’re discussing lazy, unmemorable writing, this is a reminder that fillers are another literary ‘bad habit’ to actively resist. Cluttering up your prose, these short words sneakily crawl into your writing and distract your reader from the essence of your point. 

In her free Reedsy course on self-editing, Lisa Lepki identifies the most common words in the English language as the culprits of literary clutter. Lisa advises writers to avoid “meandering around [their sentences’] meaning”, and offers this sentence as a wordy example:

“Andy went over to the far end of the playground to see if there was a rake that he could use to tidy up all of the leaves that had fallen down in the night.”

Lisa offers this distilled alternative:

“Mountains of leaves had fallen overnight, so Andy checked the playground for a rake.

5. Read: the literary equivalent of osmosis

In his widely celebrated memoir, On Writing, Stephen King suggests that “the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.”

On the level of vocabulary, sentence structure, and rhythm, the “ease and intimacy” King talks about occurs subliminally, beneath the surface of your consciousness, quietly sharpening your perceptive skills. On the level of plot or structure, you actively discover the creative strategies of other writers. Now aware of what others are doing with their words, you become a native to that “country of the writer”. 

Ultimately, the more wonderful things you feed your brain, the richer the pool of knowledge your creativity will be able to draw from.