Calling All Outdoor Gear Enthusiasts! (Take this survey.)

Take the Highline Magazine survey!

Take the Highline Magazine survey!

Mountain people often get a bad rap for being a bunch of gear junkies. But Highline Magazine thinks there’s more to the story. We’re conducting a survey to get to know our readers (and their gear closets) better! You’ll find some of the results in the Fall 2014 Issue as part of a piece I’m working on…

So, if you love the outdoors and the gear that gets you there, please take the time to fill out this survey, and you could win a $100 gift card from Mountain Equipment Co-op!

Take the survey!

The Reverse Bucket List

At the beginning of this year, as many people were talking about setting resolutions or goals for the year to come, I found myself reflecting a lot on 2013. So, as I planned my next blog post for Women’s Adventure Magazine, I had the idea of bringing a concept to that community that I had benefited so much from in the past: the Reverse Bucket List.

In 5 Tips for Writing a Reverse Bucket List, I walk the readers through the benefits of writing such a list, as well as five ways to make the process easier.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Excerpt:

Benefits of Writing a Reverse Bucket List

At first it sounded like a fun, perhaps silly, activity, but the process of writing my reverse list had a profound impact on me. Here are just some of the benefits:

  • It gives you the chance to reflect positively on the past, and acknowledge how important certain milestones were to the direction of your life.
  • It gets you thinking deeply about the events and accomplishments that left you feeling happy and fulfilled.

Read the rest of the post here

Copyblogger’s 11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs

Copyblogger is a fantastic website that I have subscribed to for awhile now, and I highly recommend it to bloggers and writers. They published this infographic recently, and I just had to share! I have now printed off their pdf (see the link at the bottom of the post) and keep it by my desk. Happy blogging!

11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs [Infographic]

Click to download a one-page PDF of these rules, suitable for printing and hanging near your workspace when you need to see it most.

Click to see the full, original post.

8 Things I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

On April 15, 2012, I set out on a mission.

I was feeling discouraged by the lack of feedback in the world of writing. We live in a fast-paced culture where editors are often too busy to include us in their editing process, and in which readers often consume without providing any response, whether they are tight on time or just don’t think of it. The Internet seems to have raised a new generation of “scanners” – readers who quickly gloss over a piece, check the length and read the headers and sub headers before deciding if they are even going to continue reading at all. Bloggers are actually encouraged to cater to this type of reader by compartmentalizing longer pieces into smaller chunks with catchy subheadings (I’m doing that in this very article). Throw in a few photos to make things interesting because, my goodness, a page full of text? We’re lucky if readers get to the bottom of our articles, of pieces we work so hard to produce.

I know this because, at times, I am that reader. So, how can I expect to hear from my readers if I don’t provide feedback to others?

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots. Frank A. Clark

Why do I care so much about feedback?

I realize that not every writer cares about receiving feedback. Some are content to throw ideas out to the universe without any sense of where they end up. But that’s not my approach. My eagerness for feedback isn’t some superficial need for attention. It’s a genuine desire for information that will help me sharpen my sword and produce better stories. It’s a longing for discussion around the ideas I’m presenting. Like many writers, it’s the need to know that someone finds my words helpful, insightful or inspiring – that there is a purpose to what I’m doing. Call it affirmation, but I’m not talking about a pat on the back or a gold star. For me, it’s the force behind what I do, the reason I see the world in words, the result of a lot of hard thinking and hard work.

The Challenge

So, on April 15 of last year I set out on a mission to choose an article (mostly online) each week and provide feedback to the author. This could be a comment about the actual writing or the ideas presented. I kept my comments positive and shied away from offering constructive criticism since this was all occurring on a public forum. Some writers asked me to choose their pieces to provide feedback on, and so I provided more constructive criticism privately. If I couldn’t provide genuine feedback, I didn’t provide any at all. As tempting as it was sometimes, I never wanted to comment simply for the sake of commenting. I only gave my feedback when I had time to think it through, and provide an authentic, thoughtful response.

You might be wondering, if it was 52 Weeks of Feedback, why did it take me 80? The most basic answer: I had a baby. Things got busy and I missed a week here and there. But I stuck to it and still provided feedback for 52 weeks. You can check out my reading list here.

So, let’s get down to it. What did I learn after my 52 weeks of reading and commenting?

What I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

1. Providing comments on a regular basis paved the way for new relationships with other writers and bloggers. The majority of authors who received my feedback were thankful that I took the time to comment, and this sparked the beginning of a meaningful exchange. Sometimes it didn’t go beyond that first exchange; in other cases, I am still in regular contact with some of these writers.

2. The weekly challenge encouraged me to keep reading. I have heard many times that the best thing a writer can do to improve his or her craft is to read. As much as the project was about providing feedback, an unintended benefit was that I read more than I would have otherwise.

3. Keeping track of the articles I was reading helped me clarify which topics I am most passionate about. Looking back on the list, here are the dominant themes: parenting and the outdoors, motherhood, adventure, goal setting, thoughts on the writing process, creativity, and women in sports.

4. Knowing I had to provide feedback forced me to read more attentively. I fought the temptation to skim or skip ahead so that I could provide an informed response. As a result I also took more away from the article and invested myself more in the ideas that were presented. I allowed myself the time to think, even if it was on a topic I wasn’t particularly interested in.

The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. ~ Ernest Gaines

5. Often my first comment was the beginning of a meaningful discussion, not just with the author but with other commenters.

6. This wasn’t a reason for my feedback, but looking at my web traffic, referring links increasingly came from articles I commented on. This proves to me that meaningful feedback will eventually loop back to its source.

7. I learned a heck of a lot about writing – from techniques that make for effective storytelling to the power of anecdotes as a way of making ideas stick. And after 52 Weeks of Feedback, here is the one piece of criticism I came up with the most (something I am also working on): cut the fluff. Be rigorous with your choice of words. While I’m a strong believer that long-form pieces belong on the web, longer is not necessarily better. One editor put it this way: learn to distinguish the pepper (relevant details) from the fly shit (details that don’t ultimately serve the piece). Help your reader get to the end of your articles.

8. Committing to a challenge helped me to create a new habit. I can’t promise I’ll continue the process weekly, but I will take the time more often to provide feedback for other writers.

There you have it! I encourage you to take on your own feedback challenge, whether it’s weekly, monthly or whenever you feel like it. As I have written above, I learned a lot from the process, and the practice has resulted in some long-term benefits: relationships with other writers, meaningful discussion and helpful tips that will improve my writing.

Is feedback important to you? Why or why not?

15 Tips for Getting Started in Freelance Writing

About once a month a friend, colleague or stranger will ask me the very same question: “I have been wanting to take my writing to the next stage. How did you get started in freelance writing?“.

Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Just start.” How do you train for a marathon or big climb? You start running, you start climbing.

But I know it isn’t that straight-forward. There are definitely some pointers I wish I had known when I started out – things I had to discover on my own in a fairly long, drawn-out process that continues to this day. So, I often let these curious writers treat me to coffee and I download my knowledge. After some time, though, these conversations became repetitive, and time-consuming for both parties, so I decided to write this article.

These tips are based on my own personal experience. There are many ways of getting started in freelance writing. In my research I definitely looked at a few options and picked the one that resonated most with me. I welcome any tips from other writers out there and encourage you to use the Comments to provide your feedback.

15 Tips for Getting Started in Freelance Writing

1. Keep Writing and Reading

You’ve probably heard it before, but spend some time writing each day. Sharpen your tools so that they are as effective as possible when someone is willing to give you a chance at being published. Tips #8 and #9 can provide you with a great platform for this.

Equally important to writing, however, is that you continue reading. Read the authors who inspire you, deconstruct their sentences and develop a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t. Last year I dedicated myself to 52 Weeks of Feedback to help me commit to reading other people’s work more regularly (and provide some feedback to them).

Also, read the publications you want to write for so that you have a good sense of what they have published recently, as well as their tone, style, departments and article lengths. Many libraries have a good stock of back issues from magazines.

Just some of the books I reference regularly.

Just some of the books I reference regularly.

2. Research the Industry

Some people have the advantage of a degree or certificate that introduced them to the ins and outs of freelance writing. I came out of university with a Theatre Degree. But thanks to the World Wide Web there is a flurry of information already available online and websites ready to help you get started. I spent an entire winter just researching what it meant to be a freelance writer, what kind of outlets existed for my writing, and what the process was for getting published. I met with the only freelance writer I knew to learn how she got started. As it turns out, the path she took (ie. writing for newspapers) had no appeal to me, but at least I learned this was an option.

3. Learn How to Write a Query Letter

Learning about the infamous “query letter” was my first big “aha!” moment when I was researching how to enter the freelance market. Most publications, especially those that pay for material, don’t want to receive a complete, unsolicited article. Instead they want you to pitch your idea in the form of a query letter.

Editors are busy and likely won’t read a full article, but they can make time to browse through a well-written query. If an editor likes your idea, this also gives him or her some space to suggest possible angles and fulfill the current needs of the magazine. Check out this article by Paul Lima for How to Structure a Query Letter. Keep track of your queries so that you know where and when you submitted.

4. Find a Home for Your Words

Writers Market produces an annual volume of publication listings (by category/topic) and writing advice. The Canadian Writer’s Market offers a listing of Canadian publishers, which is handy for the Canucks out there. Otherwise, you can use the web to research magazines and journals that might be interested in the topics you like to write about. Figure out which publication (and department within that publication) is the best one for your idea and submit your query letter to the appropriate editor.

5. Attend Writing Conferences, Workshops and Seminars

I could write a whole post about why this is so important. As a writer, you need to keep learning and these types of events not only help you to perfect your craft, but also teach you about the writing industry (and its current state) and allow plenty of opportunity to network. Sometimes the opportunity to be published is a “right place, right time” kind of thing, and meeting editors face-to-face can really expedite the process. Some of my most valued relationships are with the magazine editors I’ve met at conferences. Meeting them in person enabled me to discuss ideas and turn them into reality almost on the spot.

Thanks to the Internet, online seminars (or “webinars”) now also provide writers with the opportunity to “attend” a workshop without even leaving the house.

6. Read the Masthead

You might have flipped past this before, but it’s a good idea to read through the masthead – that list of names, departments and circulation information at the front end of a magazine. You might see the names of other writers you know, notice that the magazine has a new editor, or learn that the magazine accepts interns (more on that in Tip #10). All this information will serve you well when you are querying a magazine, and particularly when you’re wondering whom to send your query to.

7. Subscribe to Newsletters and Blogs

These appear in my inbox once a week and while sometimes they go straight to the trash (depends on how busy I am) I often scroll through to see if there is any content that appeals to me. My favourites include Worldwide Freelance, Funds for Writers, Masthead and Show Me the Money.

8. Write for Free (at first)

I hear some freelancers screaming out there. There is a debate in the industry about how writers can undercut the market by providing their services for free or cheap. To a large extent this is very true, but there will always be grassroots publications, non-profit organizations or websites in need of content and they simply can’t pay. To get some experience, I wrote for organizations like the Alpine Club of Canada, CPAWS and the Stephen Lewis Foundation – all for free. You need to be published to get published. Start small and work your way up.

9. Start a Blog

I’ll start this tip with a warning: be careful what you put out there. The first blog I ever maintained is now offline. At some point in my career, I simply couldn’t have a lower quality of writing floating around the Internet. My writing has improved hugely since I set off on this journey. But that being said, I now maintain a few websites, including The Campsite and The Adventures in Parenthood Project, which allow me to publish my own words, explore with my writing and position myself as a pseudo-expert on certain topics. On another note, these websites have helped me to nurture relationships with people involved in the industries I like to write about, including other writers, bloggers, gear companies and organizations. Blogging is also just plain fun.

10. Seek Out a Magazine Internship

If you live in a larger city, you’ll likely have more opportunity to find a magazine that is looking to hire an intern (this could be paid or unpaid). I leaped for joy when I discovered that Alpinist Magazine was looking for an Online Editorial Intern and didn’t mind if that intern worked remotely. I spent six months with that magazine, working from Banff with regular Skype calls with my editor. And though I slaved away for free, the experience taught me a lot about the industry and my own writing. I emerged a much better writer, with new connections in the industry I never otherwise would have made, and with a bit more credibility behind my name.

11. Build a Website and Get “You” Online

Once you have a fair amount of credible publications under your belt, and you’re keen on pursuing freelance writing, I recommend you start up a website. There are plenty of platforms to help you do this and my personal favourite is WordPress.com. This can be attached to your blog somehow or kept separate. A website, such as the one you’re on right now, will provide people with an online resume, help to attract potential clients and provide you with credibility. Go ahead: buy a domain with your name in it right now, even if you don’t plan to build a website for a year.

Furthermore, in today’s world I believe it’s absolutely essential for a new writer (well, anyone) to take control of his or her online profile. When people Google your name, what comes up? Google mine. You’ll notice that I share names with another U.S.-based writer. After discovering this, I realized the importance of 1. adding the “J.” to my name (to distinguish us) and 2. further “branding” myself as an outdoor, travel and adventure writer. (From time to time we have been confused but both gladly assist people in finding the right Meghan).

You need to be the one that makes sure your online presence is clean and accurate. Having a website will help.

12. Join a Writing Organization

Once you have a few publications under your belt, you may benefit from joining a larger organization that supports freelance writers. Again, this will broaden your network and provide you with numerous professional development opportunities. I am member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (you’ll also want to check out their writers.ca) and the Alberta Magazine Publisher’s Association.

13. Build a Social Network

Building a strong social network online will not only help you get your work and name out there, but perhaps more importantly will introduce you to people and publications you may never otherwise have encountered. These people include other writers, editors and potential sources or experts. I use LinkedIn to expand my professional network and Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to create community around my work, to crowd-source and simply listen. If I had to pick just one, I would use Twitter (check out my 5 Reasons Why Writers Should Be On Twitter).

If you’re interested in connecting your business online I highly recommend you read Six Pixels of Separation, by Mitch Joel.

14. Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet

We only have 24 hours in a day, and many people struggle to find time to pursue writing when they are working full time. For a few years I worked full time while I built up my portfolio. Then I moved down to 30 hours a week, and took on more writing. At one point, I was working 30 hours a week at a local retail store, 20 hours a week for Alpinist, and freelancing on the side. Eventually I took the leap to writing full time but only when I saw that I had enough work to get by.

It’s worth mentioning that there are not many people in Canada who make a living purely off of freelance writing for magazines. My income comes from 1/3 freelance for magazines, 1/3 web/brochure/marketing copy, and 1/3 social media and marketing consulting. Those ratios are always in flux, but at least that gives you an idea.


15. Be Resourceful

One of my favourite quotes is by Ben Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Naturally, we like to write about topics that interest us. And one of the coolest things about writing is that you can take something you do anyway, write about it and make some money.

In April 2011, my husband and I went ski touring in Auyuittuq National Park, within the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island. While I was writing an article for IMPACT Magazine about ultra runner, Ellie Greenwood, I got talking with the editor about that trip. He asked if I would write something, so I did (you can read about it in The Land That Does Not Melt).

I’ll admit it’s not always easy to find a balance when anything could become fodder for an article. You can read about that in the 6 Things I’ve Learned From Living Off My Lifestyle.

Be persistent. In can take years to build up a portfolio and gain credibility in the industry. If you really want to make it happen, even as a side business, you need to stick with it. To this day I still have many query letters rejected each year (and often I don’t hear back at all). Keep your love for writing at the center. Give yourself a pat on the back just for showing up and watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I would appreciate any additional ideas that other writers have for getting started in freelance writing. Please use the Comments feature below to share your ideas!

Mountains in Motion Now Available Online

I am excited to announce that after keeping Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies in the shadows for festival screenings over the last six months, the film is now available online for all to view! Thanks to everyone who made this film possible, and to the various festivals that have helped us bring the film to the big screen. I welcome you to view the film below and find out more about this film project here.

The script for the narration is available in my Portfolio.

BEST VIEWED FULLSCREEN, HD (with scaling off). Please dim the lights, turn up your speakers, sit back and relax.

Banff World Tour Info: banffcentre.ca/mountainfestival/worldtour/

DVD & Blu-Ray available for order at mountainsinmotion.ca/order/

“Mountains in Motion” Set to Hit the Big Screen in Banff

Back in November 2011, I posted an update from Pokhara, Nepal, about the trailer release for a film I was working on called Mountains in Motion: The Canadian RockiesFor a year and a half I had the pleasure of working alongside my husband (and photographer), Paul Zizka; “creative genius,” Doug Urquhart; and an inspiring team of artists and contributors to create a 13 minute time-lapse film that we completed in August 2012.

Never having written for the screen before, this project presented some interesting challenges to me as a writer. But, our team had a goal in mind: to screen the film at the 2012 Banff Mountain Film Festival (BMFF). And this past month we learned that we were accepted to this festival and are opening up the November 3 film screenings! To date, the film has also been accepted to the Dixie Film Festival (in Athens, Georgia), where it won “Best Cinematogaphy,” the Atlanta Shortsfest, where it won “Best Documentary” and the Asheville Cinema Festival, which runs the same weekend as the BMFF.

Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies is not your traditional time-lapse film. Our goal was to push the limits of this form of photography and include a storyline. Coordinating the text with the images and music was one of the hardest creative projects I have ever worked on, particularly since our team was working in two different countries, but the final product has made it well worth all of our efforts.

If you’ll be in Banff for the festival, check out the film festival schedule for screenings (we’re part of Program A on the second weekend). I’ll also be milling around all week writing dispatches for Highline Magazine, so come say hi if you see me!

The new official trailer for the film is below. For more information, check out this article by Lynn Martel in the Rocky Mountain Outlook: Local film to open Nov. 3 BMFF screenings

Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies | Official Trailer from The Upthink Lab on Vimeo.