Sandra Gulland

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Notes on (surviving) the writing life

Welcome to my blog on writing and the writing life. I also blog on research subjects at Baroque Explorations.

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Quill copy


Sundae Sundries: great links for readers, writers & historians

SundaeWeb

Links for writers …

How Kazuo Ishiguro wrote the award-winning Remains of the Day in only four weeks. Depressing, isn’t it?

Links for flâneurs through history …

• The French Revolution Network. It’s always a thrill to discover discussions on topics of interest.

These 16th century portraits of women painted by Caterina van Hemeseen are arresting.

• For delicious details on daily life in the 17th century, see this website.

Links for Napoleonistas …

• I’m reading Patrice Gueniffey’s Bonaparte 1769-1802: excellent.

Links for everyone … 

President Barack Obama participates in a podcast with Marc Maron in Los Angeles, Calif., June 19, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

• I’m late to the party, but I’m now a big fan of Mark Maron’s WTF podcast. His interview with Barack Obama is an outstanding introduction. (It’s wonderful that Obama would venture into such edgy territory.)

Have a great week!








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July 5, 2015 @ 7:23 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



On giving an author reading (part 1): deciding what to wear and other matters of great import

In one month I’m to give a reading not far from where I live. It’s high time I started preparing. (Did you know that presenters of TED talks prepare for months? For fascinating links on this process: go here, and here.)

An author reading is not a reading: it’s a talk

The first thing to understand about preparing to give a reading is that it should not really be a “reading” at all — it’s best if it’s an engaging talk, with a mere sprinkling of readings thrown in.

Who is the audience?

Every author needs to be prepared for an audience of 1 or 100. For my event coming up, it’s likely to be a good-sized crowd. A number of those attending will be friends and family.

This raises the bar!

I have given a number of talks in my area over the decades. I want it to go over well, and I don’t want to repeat myself.

That bar just went up several more notches.

Review print-outs and videos of past author readings

I’ve begun preparing for the talk coming up by digging out my earlier speeches. In the process, I discovered a video of a talk I gave about seven years ago. I had just finished a US tour for Mistress of the Sun, and speaking before a crowd daily for weeks on end was great preparation. I also had the advantage of a friend/filmmaker to film this talk, so the recording is without the usual wiggles and jumps.

Sandra Gulland author reading

Decide what to wear

This is a surprisingly important question. At an author reading, people sit and look at you for an hour. I’ve learned not to wear jewelry that can jangle against a mike. Bright is good. Comfortable is great. Fashionable and hip would be nice. Presenting in costume is guaranteed to be a hit.

I often present in historical dress. It’s fun, and everyone enjoys it. However, for me, a question is: Should I wear the same costume I wore the last time I gave a reading at this festival? I think not. A number of people attending will have been at the last one.

A gown Sandra Gulland often wears for an author reading

I could wear my Josephine gown, which would be relevant to the novel I’m writing now … but not relevant to The Shadow Queen, my latest publication.

Alas, I’m afraid that I should go simply as myself. To tell the truth, I find this somewhat intimidating. It means that content of the talk itself is going to have to be excellent.

Next up: On writing and outlining an author talk. Visuals or not? Give-aways or not?

I’ll keep you posted.


Links of interest

Weekly I’ve started posting links to things I find of interest on the Net. I’m calling it a Sundae of Sundries (posted every Sunday, of course). Let me know if there are any articles or blogs you’d like to share.


The Facts of Life (& Other Mysteries)

I continue to work and rework the WIP, which I’m now calling The Facts of Life (& Other Mysteries). What do you think of that title?

Revision is such slow work. One must be patient and have faith in the process. The work invariably feels broken at this stage.

I was heartened to see this page of revision made by Orwell for 1984. My own pages look similar.

tn_msrpg

{The photo of me and my horse was taken by Barney McCaffrey.}








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June 30, 2015 @ 6:56 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



A Sundae of Sundries: great new links for readers, writers, historians & sundry other folk

Below are some links I found of special interest this week, and I think you may too. On the home front, I continue to wrestle the WIP. Middles are famously challenging, but so are beginnings and endings. ;-)

SundaeWeb

Especially for writers …

9 Famous Authors Rejected by Publishers. These are the types of stories all writers need.

Amazon plans to pay many self-published authors based on exactly how many pages readers complete. This is not good news! From an article in The Atlantic: “A system with per-page payouts is a system that rewards cliffhangers and mysteries across all genres.”

• Writing Spaces: Where 9 Famous Creatives Do Their Best Work. The first, of E.B. White, is an image I keep in my office.

E.B.-White-writer-space

For flâneurs through history …

Leech, Domestic Sanitary Regulations 1850 IA

Taking a Shower in the 1800s.

For Baroque enthusiasts …

The King Dances — a regal performance with heat and dazzle. I would so love to be able to see this.

For Napoleonistas …

A perfect time to shed UK’s Napoleon complex. It’s about time!

200 Years After Waterloo, Napoleon Still Divides Europe.








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June 28, 2015 @ 5:02 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



A Sundae of Sundries: great links for readers, writers, historians & sundry other folk

Happy Father’s Day Sunday! I will begin by sharing with you the website I put up in my father’s memory after his death. Such a sweet and cheerful soul! I talked to him every day, and he always made me laugh. Miss him!

Here are some  links I think you may find of special interest this week:

SundaeWeb

For writers …

• I really liked the book Do the Work by Steven Pressville. Jump on this opportunity to get a digital edition free. (The offer lasts until Monday night.)

• The Writer’s Union of Canada offered a course on the publishing process, which was given coast-to-coast. Now they have offered a video of the course for $9.99. To get an idea of what the video offers, watch this short, free video on YouTube.

For flâneurs through history …

•  A friend brought the life of Ninon de l’Enclos to my attention. Not that I didn’t know about her, but she is part of the world of the Sun King, and I’ve jumped ahead in history now, to the early Napoleonic era. I have her filed under “Fascinating Woman Whose Story Should Be Told.” Indeed.

stays-yale-university

The Original Waist Trainer — on “stays”—or what we now call corsets. Very interesting!

For Napoleonistas …

• With the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, there has been a lot to be found on the Net. I love best Napoleon’s 100 Days in 100 Objects. For example, Smuggling the Crown Jewels out of France, and the panic of the King’s guard on learning that Napoleon was approaching. I found it sadly interesting to find out that Napoleon left the Tuileries for the smaller Élysée Palace because the Tuileries had too many memories.

For readers …

• I’ve started reading Balzac’s amazing series of novels and novellas, The Human Comedy, set in France just after the Napoleonic era. Balzac wrote over 90 for the series in under 20 years. 90! Amazingly, a Kindle edition of the series—translated, annotated and illustrated—is available for only $2.50. From an article in the Guardian:

“Balzac was also incredibly influential. Without him, no Proust, no Flaubert, and – who knows? – no realism.” — Peter Brooks

“The 19th century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac’s.” — Oscar Wilde








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June 21, 2015 @ 5:53 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



A Sundae of Sundries: great links for readers, writers, historians & sundry other folk

Happy Sunday! I’m newly home from weeks away for wedding festivities and grandmother pleasures—I was going to say “duties,” but “pleasures” is far more apt—and diving back into the WIP. Here are some links I think you may find of special interest this week:

SundaeWeb

For writers …

• What authors do when they are “Between Books.” I smiled at this:

“We leaf through our dozens of books on the writer’s craft, thinking that maybe there is something left to be said on the subject and that we just might be the one to say it (a great way to postpone writing fiction).

• I’ve mentioned Sarah Selecky’s website Story is a State of Mind before. She’s a wonderful writer and teacher, and if you’re looking for a guide in your work, I highly recommend her courses. I subscribe to her newsletter and read her blog, which I love. Here is her latest blog post, about the importance of attention in writing: What does “show, don’t tell” really mean?

• This made me laugh! If Jane Austen Got Feedback from Some Guy in A Writing Workshop

For flâneurs through history …

•  It is astonishing to me what you can find on the Internet. Have a look at this book, published in 1829: Domestic Duties; or Instructions to Young Married Ladies on the management of their households, and the regulation of their conduct in the various relations and duties of Married Life.

• Imagine busy city streets without any traffic rules whatsoever: London Traffic Rules of the 1800s. Not that long ago.

• It’s hard for us to understand the fears around bathing today, but it’s also hard to imagine the intense paranoia of a post-plague world. A New Idea: Bathing for Health and Beauty.

clown

It’s No Joke: The Life of a Victorian Street Clown.

For Napoleonistas …

What did Napoleon Look Like? 

For everyone …

• I found Obama’s eulogy for Joe Biden’s son Beau Biden very, very moving: President Obama’s Eulogy for Beau Biden is Mandatory Listening, or here for a direct link to the YouTube recording.








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June 14, 2015 @ 5:24 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



How to write a novel when life is incredibly full

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{Carrie & Bruce & wee Kiki}

I’ve been away from home and in glowing excitement turmoil for three weeks: our daughter married, family visiting, a wee grand-daughter to look after while the new Mr. & Mrs. Sudds went on their honeymoon.

IMG_0040

{My growing family, including a number who flew in from California.}

This has all been way more than wonderful (so wonderful!), but writing — especially writing fiction — requires dull routine, a daily perseverance.

I’ve been able to touch-base with the WIP almost daily through Cup of Work. This helps a great deal, but even so it’s never easy to come back to a work of fiction.

It takes days.

I begin by circling, like a dog settling down for a nap.

First circle:

Where to begin? A novel is an unwieldy beast, and mine is at a particularly unwieldy stage.

Forgive me a moment as I think out loud:

— I have 64-pages of new scenes. I need to sort out how these will fit in to the existing draft.

— I have a 367-page printout of draft 5.5. This needs to be read, edited and revised.

— I have stacks of research material to read.

— I have a 250-page Excel worksheet, an attempt to sort out the story’s plot points and themes (@ to my latest plot-system enthusiasm, Book Architecture; How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula by Stuart Horwitz). Like so many things in my life, this worksheet has spun way out of control.

— And last, but certainly not least: I have a deadline. Of sorts. I’m to touch-base with my agent in three weeks.

Yikes.

What can be accomplished in only three weeks?

I’m still at a structural stage with all this new material to incorporate, so a close read/edit of draft 5.5 is premature. A cut & paste edit comes to mind. The Excel worksheet analysis might be helpful, I think, but only if I go about it more systematically.

Second circle:

Might I tackle only the first 100 pages? This seems like a workable goal. I could use a bare bones Excel worksheet to establish the overall story arcs and themes, and then cut-and-paste.

Third circle:

So! How to write a novel when life is so full? I have a plan. This week: Excel. Next week: cut & paste the first 100 pages. Last week: a fast read & edit. Research reading at leisure.

And fuelling it all, the glow of love …

IMG_0070

{Carrie and her girls: Ellie — don’t you love her choice of shoes? — and Kiki.}

Wee Kiki stayed awake at the wedding until midnight, and insisted on sleeping in her dress that night. “I want to go back to the wedding!” she said on waking the next morning.

We all do!


These wonderful photos are by Danielle Blancher (Danielle Blancher Photography).








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June 9, 2015 @ 5:47 am10 comments already! | Leave a Comment



Sundae Sundries: links worth sharing

I was Mother-of-the-Bride last night: such a happy time! Needless to say, I’ve been just a bit preoccupied. Here, at least, are this week’s Sunday Sundries:

SundaeWeb

For writers …

• The only technique to learn something new. This applies to any passion, and especially to writing.

Write a Plot Outline: The Infographic. This is great.

• What makes authors dress up like clowns? Kathy L. Patrick’s Pulpwood Queens Author Extravaganza. So much fun.

Elevator Pitches. We all hate having to come up with a few sentences to convey the essence of the sprawling novel we’re writing, but I’m afraid it’s important. My agent recommended this CBC podcast, and I’m glad she did.

• What Makes a Hero: Joseph Cambell’s Seminal Monomyth Model for the Eleven Stages of the Hero’s Journey.

• Was this review helpful to you? Hahahaha. Although not so funny to authors. Even one one-star review drags down a book’s sales and upsets a book’s publisher.

For promoters …

• V is for Virtual Tour provides an informative description of a virtual (i.e. blog) tour from The Publishing Bones. (How to set up a blog tour is one of my most visited posts.)

For flâneurs through history …

In and Out of Jane Austen’s Window: people used to walk everywhere.

Screen-shot-2015-03-17-at-6.23.57-PM

Laughing at French Smiles and Dentures. This made me laugh!

The Cloister and Accounts Payable. In researching Mistress of the SunI learned that Cloister life was like a mini-world, and woman the capable managers.

For Napoleonistas …

• Pacino dreams of playing Napoleon. I’d love to see this.

Bonaparte: 1769 – 1802, by Patrice Gueniffey (translated by Steven Rendall): a translation of the first in a new, prize-winning two-book biography of Napoleon.

Tweetable Napoleon: a collection of his quotes: a page I’ve just set up on my website.

For readers …

• A memoir I’m relishing now: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. A woman falconer takes on the challenge of training a hawk as a way of overcoming grief. Fascinating, and beautifully written.








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May 31, 2015 @ 7:31 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



Notes on the run

@-The-Ottawa-Citizen-horse-copy-2 copy

{A photo from years ago.}

Sorry about that last blog post! I meant to click “Save Draft,” but clicked “Publish” instead.

So much going on!

I’m in Ottawa with my dear sister Robin and her great mate Betsy. We’ve been “talking up a storm,” eating really well, and then talking and eating well again. (“Town” on Elgin! The best restaurant ever!) Tomorrow we head back home to the country for more talking and fine dining.

Sigh!

And then to Toronto for more family and more talking and feasting, all leading up to our daughter’s wedding.

The best of times! I’d count my blessings, but they seem to be innumerable.

xo

P.S. If you haven’t read H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, do so now.








May 20, 2015 @ 8:01 pmBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



Sundae Sundries: links worth sharing

“Sundae Sundries” offer links to things on the Net that I have found especially of interest of late. It is intended to be posted every Sunday, but Life is now in pre-daughter-getting-married-mode, so routine has gone out the window. Enjoy!

SundaeWeb

Links on writing …

• What does “show, don’t tell” really mean? Sarah Selecky is a fine writer and teacher of writing. If you are a writer or aspire to be one, her website is well worth checking out, as are her classes. I subscribe to her emails on writing. Highly recommended!

Links of interest to us flâneurs through history …

A treatise on landscape painting in water colours by UK artist David Cox (1783-1859) and others, published in 1813. This is a rare book, and one I wanted to find because Hortense de Beauharnais, the subject of the novel I am writing, is an artist. I was delighted to find it available for download on Internet Archive.

• Feeling Swinish: Or the Origins of “Pandemic.” This relates to a blog post I wrote: The use of quarantine to prevent the spread of deadly diseases in 18th century France.

Links for social historians … 

•  Gossip, Flattery, and Flirtation: The Art of Eighteenth-Century Letter Writing  Irresistible! I have Richardson’s Familiar Letters  on order.

Defiant Dressing: What Joan of Arc Wore. Because anything to do with Joan of Arc is fascinating.

Links on life …

• I love the blog BrainPickings, and recently, in particular, this post: “How to Merge Money and Meaning: An Animated Field Guide to Finding Fulfilling Work in the Modern World.”

• Through this post I discovered the YouTube School of Life series “How to Live,” which the wonderful writer Alain de Botton is a significant part of. Well! I’m an Alain de Botton fan, so call me Interested. To sample their offerings, watch this short video: How to Find Fulfilling Work.








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@ 7:21 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



A Sundae of Sundries: links worth sharing

Happy Mother’s Day, one and all. This is my first “Sunday Sundries.” I come upon many links on the Net I want to share, and this is a way of doing so.

SundaeWeb

Links on writing …

• This short YouTube video on The Hero’s Journey is well worth watching. (Read this Brain Pickings blog post for more on Joseph Campbell’s story structure.)

• 10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them.

• How to Meditate When You’re Too Busy to Meditate, and Why You Should Care, a post written with writers in mind.

• 5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing a YA Novel, an essay I wrote for Writer Unboxed.

• The Terror of Last-Minute Revision: Confessions of an Editor-turned-Novelist, an essay for The Savvy Reader.

Links of interest to all us research nerds …

• Just for a smile: Scary hair towers.

• A wonderful historical blog: “All Things Georgian.”

Links for Napoleonatics … 

• Madame Campan’s Academy, a play about Hortense, the subject of the YA novel I’m writing. The opening promotion goes like this:

You think your life is challenging? Imagine your stepfather is Napoleon Bonaparte!

That’s so good. (If only I had thought of it.)

• I love this movie of kids enacting the life of Napoleon.








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May 10, 2015 @ 2:51 pmBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



On writing YA fiction, newsletter mysteries and a cup of work

Posts on writing YA fiction and Terror (but not at the same time)

I’ve two guest blog posts on-line now that might be of interest to you. One is on what I’ve learned writing YA fiction, and the other is on a rather unusual approach to writing.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing a YA Novel” for Writer Unboxed.

The Terror of Last-Minute Revision: Confessions of an Editor-turned-Novelist” at The Savvy Reader.

Newsletter: a winner, and subscription mysteries

The day before we left San Miguel de Allende, I sent out a newsletter. (Yes, a crazy thing to do at the time!) If you missed it, click here. I’ll be sending off the winner of a book to Cindy today. She’s thrilled!

A reader wrote that she subscribed some time ago, yet doesn’t get the newsletters. I checked, and she is subscribed, but it’s curious that she doesn’t receive them. Are you subscribed, and yet not receiving them? Be sure to let me know.

A Sundae of Sundries … coming right up

I can’t linger now (the day begins!), but just want to say I’m going to begin posting a weekly summary of links I feel are share-worthy—”A Sundae of Sundries”—on … of course … Sundays.

Snow-birds landing heavily laden

We’ve been back home in Canada four days now: I’ve still got stacks of books to sort, piles of mail to answer, more friends to hug.

leeks

A few nights ago my husband cooked a chicken stuffed with the wild leeks he’d picked on the hill behind our house that afternoon. I love our two very-different lives—the one in festive, vibrant Mexico, and the other in our very quiet and somewhat remote part of rural Ontario.

Cup of Work to the rescue

But now for coffee and my Cup of Work. It takes time to get back into familiar daily routines. My Cup of Work is one anchor, no matter where we are, no matter how unsettled.

If you would like to know more about “Cup of Work” —

“I’ll have a “Cup of Work” please—writing on the road plus treasure hunts

A writer’s routine: evolving what works

A writer’s routine: how to get into a creative head space

Enjoy your weekend!








May 8, 2015 @ 9:53 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



What can you get on Fiverr.com? The good, the bad, and the ugly…

Fiverr is a web site where people offer to do something for $5 — design a logo, perk up a Facebook page, write a song. You name it.

I went on Fiverr looking for someone who could photo manipulate an image I use on this website. I didn’t find anyone for that specific job, but I was amused in passing to discover people offering other tasks, such as traffic biz, who will convert a photo into pop art. I supplied a photo and a caption and … voilá:

pop art portrait through fiverr.

Of course then I couldn’t resist asking Triple Eight for a caricature.

portrait through fiverr.

(It’s a good thing I have a sense of humour.)

Next, this, from kshatriya, a portrait I might actually use:

 portrait through fiverr.

All fairly fun for a grand total of $15.

Now this has me thinking of all sorts of mischief I might get into using photos of friends and family. ;-)

(Or, for that matter, portraits of my historical characters.)

I’d love to see what you come up with if you try Fiverr.com.








April 25, 2015 @ 10:53 pmBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



The clues to a great story

I very much enjoyed film-maker Andrew Stanton‘s TED talk, “The Clues to a Great Story.”

Storytelling is joke telling. It’s knowing your punch line, your ending. It’s knowing that everything you say, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal.

probably the greatest story commandment: “Make me care.”

Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.


The 100-words-a-day plan to a great story

a great story idea

I have been writing every morning, in spite of all that is going on in my life right now. I only aim for 100 words. Heck! Who can’t write 100 words?

This simple goal has opened the treasure chest of storytelling. Each day, I write far more than 100 words before stopping (317, 512, 877, 319, 316, 739, 619 … ), but best of all it has me sparking all day and night with ideas. I’m thinking about these scenes all the time.

And it has made me so cheerful! Writing is a type of euphoria.

If you are in writing doldrums, I highly recommend the 100-words-a-day plan. It’s magic. You’ll see.


Please let me know what you think in the comment section below. Ask me anything! I love getting comments.








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April 22, 2015 @ 9:21 am9 comments already! | Leave a Comment



Tools to help figure out what a story needs

My story is missing something, but what? A novel is a complex creature. At some point in the writing process, I find I must closely re-examine the plot in order determine what the story needs.

Editor Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid method offers excellent tools. (I first wrote about this series here: “The tough nut of revision: on re-examining plot.”)

Seeing your novel on one page will help make story needs clear.

Another basic tool Shawn Coyne offers is the one-page story summary form.

A one page synopsis shows story needs.

It’s well worthwhile to read his blog series from beginning to end. I’ve highlighted quite a bit. For example:

The crisis is the time when your protagonist must make a decision. And the choice that he makes will determine whether or not he’ll get closer to or further away from his object of desires (both external and internal). Often a particular choice will move a character closer to one object of desire while moving him further away from the other… [Link]

A detailed scene-by-scene spreadsheet helps reveal what’s needed.

A third visual on the Shawn Coyne’s resource page is an example of a more detailed breakdown of story, using Excel.

Scenes on an Excel spreadsheet reveals story needs

I’ve evolved the Excel worksheet concept for my own purposes: I’ve cut columns and added others — what a scene reveals, for example, and another for unanswered questions.

I’ve listed scenes down the left, and themes/sub-plots/plots across the top. This makes it easy for me to see if a thread has been dropped and what needs to be picked up.

I haven’t filled out the worksheet for the entire novel — at least not yet — but it has helped me to identify the story needs in the opening scenes, which concerns me the most right now. This process has made me a convert to using Excel for working out a plot.








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April 20, 2015 @ 8:33 amBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment



The ABC of SEO in 6 easy steps

Effective SEO will get you noticed on Google.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which basically means “How I get my blog post/webpage to show up on Google.” Having a website is essential to a writer, but what’s the point if your website isn’t noticed?

I’ve been writing blogs for a very long time, and reading about Social Media and blogging is something of a hobby, but every time I read about how important SEO was, my eyes glazed over.

My curiosity eventually got the best of me and I waded in. It was ugly. Tech talk, tech talk, and more tech talk. Finally, I broke through. I got it! It’s not hard. In fact, it’s kind of fun.

1. Keywords are the key to effective SEO.

Give some thought to what your keywords will be.

To find keywords that are most often searched for on Google, use Google Adwords.

Type in the keywords you’re thinking of using, and click. A chart will come up showing variations of your keywords, how often they are searched for on Google, and how high the competition is. It’s great if there are a million searches a day for your keywords, but not so great if there are ten million other listings.

A high search number and low competition is ideal. For this post, I decided simply on “SEO,” which has quite a high number of searches (673,000), and only medium competition.

Another useful tool, by the way, is Coschedule Headline Analyzer, because headlines are so important.

2. Use your SEO keywords in the first few sentences of your post. 

The closer to the beginning the better.

3. Make headlines in your post that contain your keywords. 

Not every headline, of course, but at least one.

4. Put at least one illustration in your post, and use the SEO keywords in the alternative text (“alt text”) description. 

This is so that Google will know what the illustration is about.

5. Use your SEO keywords a few more times throughout your post.

But don’t make it look forced. Content is key.

6. Before you press “publish,” make sure that your keywords are in your URL.

And that’s it! Other factors that help a blog post rank on Google—in addition to headlines and illustrations—are good content, links and short paragraphs, but the most important thing is your selection of keywords.

If you use WordPress, I highly recommend the plugin WordPress SEO by Team Yoast. It makes this process very easy.

I hope that this post didn’t make your eyes glaze over! Please leave a comment if this helped you, or if you have a tip to share.



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April 19, 2015 @ 4:56 pmBe the first to comment! | Leave a Comment