Public Speaking Skills You Need When Presenting Your Work to An Audience

Hey everyone! I am super excited to publish this type of post. I wanted to highlight something different for this Monday afternoon–public speaking skills in relation to presenting your work to an audience. I have never queried before, but perhaps some of these tips could help you when trying to “sell” your work to someone, convincing them why they should represent you and give your work a chance.

My freshman year of college I took a speech communications course and I do not regret that decision. As most college students, I did not know what I wanted to major in. Therefore, my first year consisted of taking a bunch of liberal arts classes until I figured out what I wanted to do.

My speech professor highlighted essential skills one would need not only for public speaking, but for life in general. I know public speaking is feared by many people, but this skill is extremely crucial in the work field. Whether you are an employee or a boss chances are you are going to speak in front of an audience at one point or another. Now for me I can honestly say I do not fear speaking in public. I may have pre-speech jitters and butterflies in my stomach, but as soon as I begin speaking, I am locked in.

In this blog post, I highlight some tips that I think are necessary when speaking to an audience. I have been present for so many speeches before. Some were astounding, others not so much.

Let us begin with the first step which is—engaging your audience with what you are about to present, that moment where you either make or break it, will determine if the audience chooses to listen. Not only is it frightening as is with speaking in front of hundreds if not more people, but when you can see people speaking over you and not listening, this can be hurtful as well. Even if people are being rude, the speech still needs to get done. So, in this post I provide helpful pointers to get you over the hump of being fearful of public speaking.

The first recommendation I will make is: CAPTIVATE YOUR AUDIENCE. Keep in mind people will lose interest or become bored after a long period of time has passed. Keep your speech short and sweet.

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What To Do Prior To Giving A Speech

  • OUTLINE your work. Ensure you cover all the talking points. I would recommend using bullet points with the main idea and include 2-3 sentences to describe those main points.
  • My professor would tell us stories about some disasters she witnessed when people used flashcards when giving their speech. She spoke to us one class about a work conference she had gone to. The CEO of the company had to give a speech. Unfortunately, during the speech the flashcards had fallen on the floor and because he relied too heavily on the flashcards, they fell out of order, and he did not know where he left off or how to continue. Therefore, I say when you are about to give a speech, type out your words. Also—be prepared to improvise. You could prepare your speech word for word, but you must anticipate distractions or other things that may put a dent in your plan.
  • When typing out your speech, I would recommend making it double spaced and using a simple and easy to read font.

What To Do During Your Speech

  • ESTABLISH YOUR PRESENCE in front of all those people. Body language also plays a key role while speaking in public. Stand tall, shoulders back, and do not slouch.
  • EYE CONTACT is so incredibly important I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you are engaging with your audience by keeping them involved. Your speech should be like having a normal conversation with your friend.
  • DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT read directly, word for word from your paper. This is such a turn-off for many people. It is boring, uninteresting, and mundane to say the very least.
  • SPEAK LOUDLY. Do not use a hushed tone or speak down into the paper. Speak OUT, as my professor would say. When you raise your head instead of looking down, your voice then projects out into the audience.
  • PACE YOURSELF. Do not rush. But also, do not speak too slowly. This is something people must establish on their own—is finding their pace.
  • When I am giving a speech or speaking to a large crowd of people, I like to ask questions in the beginning to engage my audience almost immediately. Ask them a question or two which is related to the content you are going to be speaking about. If you are not going to begin with questions, I would then recommend using a catchy opening line.
  • SHORT AND SWEET. This is also crucial to consider. It is quite simple to make a speech longer than it needs to be. But, quality over quantity is what people should consider. As long as you can get your point across in one page or less, you can have more of an impact, rather than reading a 10-page speech others will not engage completely with.
  • Do not ramble. Cover the main points. People will become uninterested if they cannot relate to or engage with the content being covered.
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What To Do As Your Speech Nears The End

  • SUMMARIZE the main points you covered to refresh the memory of the audience. Depending on the length of your speech, they could have easily forgotten point #1 as you just finished covering point #10.
  • You need to go out with a bang. Make your audience remember you. The closing line can really influence how your audience views your content. You want a powerful ending to your speech which either leaves your audience wanting more, asking questions, or just thinking about the content in general.
  • Take the time to ASK QUESTIONS at the end. Allow your audience to really engage with you by allowing them to either provide comments/feedback, etc. This allows your audience to believe you care about what they have to say as well.

Public speaking should not be something to fear. We learn as we go. Each time you give a speech, you will take away with you something you could improve on. If you think about it, we are all ‘public speakers.’ We speak to our family in the living room, we talk to our significant others about how much writing we did in one day, or we converse with our parents about life. If you think about giving a speech as just speaking normally to a family member or friend, you will do just fine.

As always, I hope this post can help at least one person. If you use any of these tips, feel free to tell me about your experience. You can comment on this post, email me: msdakotawrites@gmail.com, or tweet me @msdakotawrites on twitter. I would love to hear about your experiences.

Warmly,

Dakota 😊

The 7 Tools You Need To Overcome The Fear Of Writing Non-Fiction

Hey there! Glad you guys are here. This post is one I thoroughly enjoyed writing. Hope you guys enjoy!

Whenever I ask other writers what genre they prefer when given the choice between fiction and non-fiction, they always seem to choose fiction, without hesitation. I wonder why this is. The realm of fiction allows one to explore their imagination and create a world much different than reality. Writers who write fiction look forward to forming these creations which could be described as ‘escaping the mundane realities of the world we live in,’ at least how I like to describe it.

I love both fiction & non-fiction, but I always preferred non-fiction. My love for non-fiction really began when I took a non-fiction workshop during undergrad. The entire semester we studied how to write in this genre and we edited a piece we would present on the final day of class. When I read my piece to the class, I could see the power my words had. I do not recall what exactly I wrote about, but I received applause by both my professor and the other students. That is when I really began writing more pieces about my life and experiences.

Now you must be thinking why someone would want to read about the life or experiences of another if they are not a well-known author or celebrity and even then, the material may be uninteresting or boring. If you look at my blog, you will quickly realize that most of the pieces I have submitted are creative non-fiction. Here is why. I have dealt with certain traumas in my life and writing about them allows me to heal, to forgive, and to find peace. When I write non-fiction, I enjoy bringing light to issues people may not necessarily think of.

I wanted to give you all the inside scoop on how to tackle this genre without fear. Buckle up because you are in for an interesting ride.

Writers tend to think unless they have dealt with a severe trauma or have an experience others would want to read about, you have no reason to write in this genre. You are wrong. It is like that saying, if you write, you are a writer. You do not need that stamp of approval from being published to claim you are a writer. Same applies for non-fiction. You can literally take any topic or experience from your life and create something worth reading. The thing that requires the most time for me is determining the topic and how I want to approach it. But once I have the topic, it is quite easy for me to begin writing. Below I will highlight some helpful tips to get you started.

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  • #1: Choose a topic to write about. When writing non-fiction, you have to write your story in such a way that even if the reader has the slightest doubt in their mind they would not relate to your work, you have to give them a reason to. Not to be cliché here but think of writing a piece about a horrible break-up you endured. This probably would not be something I would write, but I am merely using it as an example. This is a general topic an audience would gravitate to because 9 times out of 10, other people have endured this as well. You must evoke some sort of emotion and allow the reader to relate to you in some way, shape, or form.

  • #2: Next step I usually do is make list. I list everything associated with that topic. The main idea, how I felt, what I saw, what I heard, what I smelled, what I touched, who was involved, the outcome, so on and so forth.

  • #3: Next step once you have your topic picked out and your list made is to decide which perspective you want to tackle. Most of my pieces are told in 1st person which most people assume is what writing non-fiction entails. However, I like to experiment with other POV’s. For instance, I wrote a piece about an illness my cousin was diagnosed with. To properly tell the story, I interviewed several people to get all the information I needed. I interviewed my cousin, her mother, her father, her grandmother, and I included my POV. Each person told their part of the story. However, other pieces I have written have been stories about my life but told in 3rd person. ‘She felt this, she did that.,’ etc. Writing non-fiction should not mean rejecting certain aspects of writing. If anything, non-fiction can offer you the same amount of flexibility if you have the right tools.

  • #4: Writing a piece of non-fiction can also allow you the opportunity to fill in some blanks with a made-up scenario. So, going back to that break-up example. Let us say you wanted to write about your brother’s break-up with his girlfriend and how it led him down a rabbit hole. If he did not provide you with the information, you can do with this as you will. You knew the topic would be about the break-up and your brother’s depression. However, you could be creative by forming your own reasoning for their separation by filling in the blanks of what you think happened. I read an article once in my ‘how to write non-fiction,’ course textbook from college. A professor had written about the same things I am currently writing about. He said, you are not always going to have the facts or information you need for each aspect of your work. This is when you take the information you do have and put your own spin on it.

  • #5: Non-fiction requires lots of ‘show don’t tell.’ It is quite simple for writers to get wrapped up in a description of how the character felt. However, these are the opportunities when writers must really allow readers to put themselves in the main character’s shoes. ‘Show’ them what happened on that day your dad finally left the house and your mom struggled to make ends meet. ‘Show’ them the look on your grandmother’s face as she laid in the hospital bed clinging to her last breath. You get the idea. I do not want to get too depressing here.

  • #6: As I mentioned previously, evoking emotion is the most important thing you can do. Whether you are aiming to make your readers understand your pain, or your happiness, or the overwhelming feeling you encountered when you took a full course load of college classes, emotion is the driving force for this genre, in my opinion.  

  • #7: I believe writing non-fiction is like layering a sandwich. Now hold on. You probably think I sound crazy but hear me out. The first slice of bread is your opening, your one shot at drawing in the readers. I have asked several writers and most of the responses were the same. “I don’t like reading non-fiction because I don’t enjoy reading about someone else’s experiences.” My first response to that would be, if you are a true writer, you read when you are not writing, and you read anything and everything to learn as much as you can. I think to improve in writing fiction, one should also read non-fiction. The middle of the piece is the most important, layering on the ham and cheese, etc. This is the core of the piece when readers want to know what the MC endured and why, etc. That last slice of bread seals the deal. You want to close out the piece leaving the readers either wanting more or scratching their heads asking questions. I am that type of writer who will draw you in with a great opening and leave you unstable with the last line I write. I want to make sure my readers know what I am feeling. This is my strategy.

Writers tend to think non-fiction is daunting and they do not enjoy it. But I believe if writers took the chance to understand what it takes to write in this genre, if you’re just willing to put in the time and give it a chance, you can learn to enjoy writing it.

There is not much to it. This is my process and I hope this post really sheds some light on how overlooked this genre is. If I can inspire more writers to consider writing in this genre, I will feel extremely accomplished.

As always, feel free to comment on this post, email me: msdakotawrites@gmail.com, or tweet me @msdakotawrites on twitter. I always love to hear how this post has helped you or any other feedback you wish to provide.

Until next time,

Dakota 😊

The “How To” On Choosing Titles For Your Work In 5 Simple Steps

Hey everyone! We are back with a post which was voted for in a poll I ran on twitter. This time I will tackle the question of how to choose titles for your work. Now before I begin, I just want to mention I am no expert in this arena. I have my own strategies which work for me. However, I wanted to write a brief post on my strategies and how I come to a final decision on how to choose a title.

There are two different types of writers. You have those who have their titles already picked out & ready to go even before writing. On the other hand, you have writers like me, who write and then decide on a title at the end. This will be a relatively short post with certain tips I recommend for you, the reader.

  1. First and foremost, in my opinion, I like those short, to the point, ‘punch you right in the gut’ type of headlines. I tend to gravitate towards these. I prefer them to be completely honest. When a book or story title is too long or is an entire sentence, this tends to turn me off completely. Not saying you should judge a book by the cover. There are really amazing pieces of work out there. This is just my opinion.
  2. You want an attention grabbing title. Something that does not give too much away, leaving readers wanting to know more, but you provide just enough for readers to know what they are getting themselves into.
  3. Expanding off of #2, I like to use action words in my titles or words which will immediately spark the emotion of the reader. Depending on what type of post I’m writing, some titles could be longer than others. Overall I try to maintain 5 words maximum. No more than that.
  4. Other times I like to have one worded titles. For instance, if I’m writing a poem, I normally use one word which highlights the topic.
  5. If you are like me and you choose titles after you finish writing a piece of work, I like to choose main points from the piece. I make a list of them. I usually list key words, highlights, concepts related to the plot/climax, or something related to the resolution of the story. Making this list really helps me to choose a jaw dropping title.

There’s not much to my process. These are the steps I use and they really work, at least for me. Everyone has a different process, but I really hope these tips can assist you when you’re choosing titles for your work.

As always feel free to comment, email with with feedback: msdakotawrites@gmail.com, or feel free to tweet me @msdakotawrites on twitter. I am always looking to connect with other creatives, and I always welcome feedback which allows us to exchange ideas.

Until next time,

Dakota 🙂

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Proper Blog Etiquette Explained With 11 ‘Must Know’ Tips To Appeal To Your Viewers

Hey there! You guys asked and I responded. This topic was highly requested in previous tweets of mine I posted a few days back. I figured why not? When I first made a blog, it was not exactly what I wanted or looked how I wanted it to. I’m still editing and learning as I go. I feel like there is always something that could be changed. I do not know everything there is to know about blogs, but hey, I do what works for me. The following are some tips I recommend for you if you a) either want to make a blog, or b) already have one, but want to know how to give it that extra kick.

  1. First and foremost, when I made my blog I knew immediately I wanted to incorporate the two sides of myself which are: my teaching personality and my writing side. Therefore, I went with, ‘Words By Ms. Dakota.’ My point here is, come up with a name which represents you in one line and tells viewers a little about you and your content. Last thing you want is a title/headline which does not tell readers what they will be reading. Keep it simple. Do not make it too long. If you go by your first and last name, that works. But also make it interesting. You want to pull readers in. Usually the title or headline of something is what either pulls me in or deters me from reading at all. This is just my personal opinion. Everyone is different.

2. Once you have your headline picked and ready to go, find your niche. A certain topic you will be writing about. Ex: if you write poetry only, make that known. If you are a multi-genre writer like me, you can include more than one genre on your blog. I write creative non-fiction mostly, fiction short stories, and poetry when I feel extremely inspired. I have all of those categories individually listed which makes it easier for readers to navigate. I did not intend to publish writing tips to my blog at first. My sole purpose with this blog was to share my writing. However, as I connected with more writers and bloggers, I quickly learned that people are asking the same questions: how can I make my homepage stand out? Or what should I include in my about me page? That is when I decided to add the thoughts/writing tips section of my blog. For those who do not know, I have my BA in English literature & creative writing. I want to be able to take my knowledge/experience and share it with others.

3. Next aspect I would say is most important is your layout. You want to choose something that can be easily navigated and is also visually appealing to the eye. In my personal experience, if I come across a blog or website which has too much content on one page and their feed is very unorganized or too cluttered, chances are I will not read it. You want to keep your audience engaged. I think of it like this, when an employer reads a resume, they read it in about 30 seconds or so especially if there are thousands of applications. You want to be short & sweet, to the point, and make yourself stand out. There is a common misconception where people think more content is better. However, I disagree. It’s more about quality over quantity. Going back to the analogy of a resume, even if you only held 3 jobs in your entire life, add enough description which shows your work ethic which would make the employer say, wow, he/she only had these 3 jobs, but I can see they have an assortment of skills and they’re hardworking. Same goes for a blog. Sometimes less is more. So when creating a home page, make it simple. Include a short description about what your blog is about.

4. To expand from #3, there are two options when choosing which way you wish to organize your blog. I personally chose to include a home page to give readers a little more insight into my world. However, you can go a different route entirely. Some blogs I have followed choose to not include a home page and once you click their link, you are immediately thrown into their content. There are pros and cons to each. Some might say a home page is necessary because they want to know who you are, why your content is important, and why they should read it. However, others might say well, a homepage is unnecessary if you have an about page. I want to see your content almost immediately. It is entirely your preference on what you do here.

5. Similar to the homepage description I just provided, I personally recommend you choose warm & inviting colors when creating or editing your blog. You definitely want to steer clear of using dark colors like black or brown and neon colors like bright green or yellow. I use a light peach color for my blog and I absolutely love it. I’ve seen other bloggers use light pink, light purple, a subtle mint green, etc. Whatever works best for you. Your blog means YOUR preference.

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6. Now to move on to your ‘about me’ page if you decide to include one. I highly recommend you do. I always found that you grow a following when people feel like they can relate to you. Aside from my writing content, I’ve had people follow me just because we had things in common like having dogs, or they grew up in the same state as me, etc. Here is what I recommend for your about page. Once again, keep it short and simple. You do not want your readers to read your full biography. I would choose 10 details about yourself, but I would not go over 10. If you want to be more organized, write them in bullet form which also saves your readers time. Try and think of details they would want to know about you like where you grew up, what university you attended, what type of degree you have, etc. Some people even go to the extreme with including facts like their favorite cheese or their favorite movie they could watch countless times. It all depends on YOU and what you wish to share. I also recommend sharing a professional photo of yourself. I chose a photo of me drinking coffee, because hey, that is the core of who I am.

7. Include photos when you can. Now I’m not saying to post pictures every chance you get. What I mean here is, include cover photos to your posts. If you just throw a headline out there with no image, chances are I will not click on it. Lots of people are visual learners. I know I am. I want to see a photo that describes what I am about to read.

8. SOCIAL MEDIA. If you make a blog and you have no social accounts, this is something to consider. This way you drive traffic to your site. There are a variety of options. Facebook is geared towards an older crowd. It’s 50/50, a hit or miss with Facebook, in my opinion. Twitter is the best platform by far in my experience. I have easily connected with other creatives, exchanged and discussed ideas, and it definitely boosts my traffic. Instagram I do not use, but I have heard great things about it. If you wish to share your content in pictures, this platform is for you. However, if you wish to share you content with words, I would recommend Twitter. I’m still fairly new to the Pinterest scene. I have about 50 followers, but I turned my personal account into a business account which was definitely the way to go. If you do not know what I mean here, there are YouTube videos explaining how to do this. LinkedIn is the most professional platform I use. I utilize this platform more for job searches, but I began sharing my writing there as well. This is also an amazing platform to connect with editors/publishers, the works! However, one thing I will say is this. There are so many social platforms you can use. But if you try to tackle them all at once, you will quickly become overwhelmed. Choose 2 or 3 to put your undivided attention into and grow that way. For instance, I mostly use Twitter, Facebook, & Pinterest. LinkedIn is here and there.

9. You always want to include a form of contact whether it’s an email or your social accounts. Include a follow button so other users can easily follow you. Make the follow button visible. Place it somewhere at the top of your blog so they can immediately click it. If it is hard to find, you are doing your viewers a disservice.

10. I highly recommend providing a subscribe option for non-blog users. Your contact page should have an option where they can provide their name and email where they can receive posts directly to their inbox. Make that visible to your viewers right away so they can subscribe if they enjoy your content.

11. Always respond to your comments/messages/ & subscribers. You want to remind them you are grateful and appreciative they are engaging with your content. Whichever platform you use whether it is WordPress or Blog Spot, etc., ensure you have your comment option enabled. Lastly, make sure your blog is connected to your social accounts so each time you post, it is also shared elsewhere resulting in more traffic!

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. All of these opinions are my own and what I found have worked for me. However, I encourage you to find what works for YOU. I hope you all enjoyed and learned a thing or 2. I am always open to assisting other writers/bloggers with whatever questions they may have. Feel free to email me or tweet me at: @msdakotawrites with feedback and/or comments!

Warmly,

Dakota 🙂

Moving Forward

I was taught at a young age that being strong meant big muscles and hitting the gym every day. Little did I know as I got older mental, emotional, and spiritual health would be more of a focus. How can someone go to the gym if their mind just isn’t in it that day? We are not motivated to move or get out of bed. We all have those ‘off’ days and this is okay. Self-care is of the utmost importance.

I let go of lots of dead weight over the years. Lots of friends, family even, and relationships I thought were good for my health and I was wrong. I was blind. I just wanted acceptance and that social interaction. With all the experiences I’ve been through I have come to realize that if someone or something is weighing you down or is not allowing you to grow, making you feel inferior, this is unhealthy. I would rather be alone than in bad company.

I was burning in the fire and everyone stood by and watched. Instead of grabbing my hand to help me out, they threw more gasoline on the fire. I was choking and could not breathe. The smoke was too much to bare. Why was no one helping me? Why were they all just standing there?

But that’s the thing, right? You have to trust the other person with your heart, and you are taking the chance to be vulnerable. You show them every aspect of yourself and they take advantage of that. You choose to surround yourself with a certain crowd and you expect them to be the ones you trust most. And they often turn out to be the ones who break you down. In my experiences, I have been holding myself back for so long. Letting go of certain goals and wishes that I so badly wanted because someone else told me it was a waste of time. Or I would speak about something, my passion seeping through my words, and they would respond with a mere, “Oh that’s cool,” or “Can we talk about this later?” This whole time I have been searching for validation from others, I did not see that I am my own person, I should not feel guilty for wanting something or feeling like it’s merely a waste. I have chosen the wrong people to be in my circle. Jealousy is often the root of this issue. They do not want you to be better than them. I have quickly learned that you need to surround yourself with people who challenge you and want the absolute best for your future.

I am trying to reconstruct myself. I was so influenced by social media and other girls and society’s rules. I thought I needed to be what everyone else needed to be.

Everyone has tried to change me. Tried to make me act differently or think differently. Why can’t I just be myself?

All this time I have wasted allowing others to tell me what to do.

I refuse to live a mediocre life determined by someone else’s vision.

I choose to make it extraordinary, as in the words of Robin Williams.

Happiness Is A Choice

For so long, I have placed my happiness in the hands of others. Not feeling secure with myself at times, I have depended on those around me to give me the answers I needed. To somehow make me feel better. To somehow relieve me of things I’ve been feeling. I have overcome many obstacles on my own, many behind closed doors. I have fought long, hard battles no one has had the slightest idea of. If I have made it this far, then why am I still relying on others to bring me this sense of happiness?

I have been left disappointed. Left out in the darkness. Left like some form of garbage. People have ridiculed and belittled me into thinking I am less than. That I am not worthy. That I do not carry this strength in my soul. That I am not resilient. You are wrong. You do not know everything I have overcome and you certainly do not have the right to tell me otherwise. You were not there when I had to pick myself off the floor convincing myself that if I take one more step forward, that’s all that matters. The people I have surrounded myself with have made me feel inferior and that is not the way I want to continue to live.

Why have I sought the stamp of approval from others who do not understand me or my passion? What drives me, what motivates me, and why I choose to stand back up each time I have been knocked down. I have let these people get the best of me. I choose to say, no more. I am learning to be secure with myself. What I choose to do in this life is a decision I make for me and no one else.

Everyone will always have something to say. You will always be given negative feedback. But this I say now. I refuse to allow other’s opinions or arrogant comments get the best of me. I choose to stand tall and keep pushing forward. I have asked other people for their opinion on how I should live my life and I have let them win for so long. They have had power over me and I was willingly giving it to them. Handing it over on a platter.

These same people who have provided their opinions are the same ones who are not in my corner for my successes whether big or small. They have not seen the blood, sweat, and tears I have put into my work. They have no right to judge me or where I am in life. They can no longer have a say because I choose to put a stop to this.

I choose strength. I choose resilience. I choose to pursue my goals and dreams, continuing to climb the ladder to the top without this stamp of approval from everyone else.

Happiness is a choice. You cannot pay to find it. You cannot expect someone else to bring it to you. You decide if you want to wake up every morning with the will and the drive, the passion, and the security within yourself that you will be okay. I choose to allow myself to be free. I choose to disconnect myself from the negative and the miserable people. I choose to surround myself with positive and like-minded people who challenge the best parts of myself. You are only as successful as the people you choose to keep in your circle.

Do not allow others to dim your shine. You are meant to shine bright.

10 “Must Know” Tips For Writers

Whether you write for personal reasons or you freelance, etc., I wanted to do a post which will include some helpful tips that helped me get through college. For those who do not know, I have my B.A. in English Literature & Creative Writing. I currently specialize in creative non-fiction and soon I wish to explore the world of fiction. Most of my courses were workshops, in which I sat with 14 other writers (15:1 student to teacher ratio), that’s how small these classes were and very competitive to get into. We would often work with our professors, who were published themselves, we would write pieces each class and review each other’s work. Most of the critiques I received were routine. I will share some below.


  1. One important tip I remember from one of my creative non-fiction professors is this: “Just Write.” Try to fight that inner voice inside of you who feels the need to edit and just write everything down. Do not worry if its gibberish or it does not make any sense. My professor said, “Write until you hit that wall.” Now you may ask, what if I’m experiencing writer’s block? Well, I often suffer from this, but I have found ways to fight this off. I begin with taking a walk, listening to music, or just taking a simple and random object and writing everything I possibly can about it. Whether it’s a flower I had seen on a morning walk or taking a phrase from something I heard in a conversation. I have been using this strategy since I was a young girl and it works. My mother would give me random objects and I would have to write about it. One time she gave me the topic of ‘clouds’ and I created a story. As crazy as this may sound, I promise it works. You end up writing an idea that you can then expand upon and work from there.
  2. The first line is ultimately what is going to capture your readers or make them close the book. You want to open with a line that basically ‘punches them in the gut,’ so to speak. I often find when I am reading books, articles, etc., I am drawn in by a line that immediately gets my attention. For instance, I am less likely to read a story that begins with: “It was a cold winter day.” I would be drawn to a line such as: “That winter was a brutal one, but the cold I felt most was the day I lost my sister in that tragic car accident.”
  3. SHOW DON’T TELL. When I would edit the work of my peers in class, one issue presented itself constantly. Students would tell a story without painting a visual image for the readers. Imagery is key. You want to capture the reader by exploring different senses. What did you see? What did it smell like? What did it feel like? You want readers to be able to place themselves in the story.
  4. Try and evoke some sort of emotional connection for the readers. How can they relate to the story? Why is it important for them to read it? What can they take away from it? How do you want them to remember your story even after they’ve finished reading?
  5. One of my fiction professors, who had published 6 books herself, told me the following: you should steer away from the words beauty or pretty, or any synonyms of the two. Reason being is beauty is different to everyone. It is also too cliche.
  6. The same professor who was mentioned above also said the following to our class. Not every story needs to be tied neatly together with a bow. The best stories that attract the most readers can be messy and chaotic. Not everything in life is going to be a happy ending.
  7. Your last line should make your readers remember you. What will make you stand out? How will they remember your story over others they have read? Consider this when you write. In my stories, I like to leave readers with a cliff hanger which leaves room for them to imagine an ending if I do not explicitly give one.
  8. EDIT EDIT EDIT. There is always something to improve. You can never edit too much.
  9. I tend to benefit from reading my stories out loud. This is when you can hear mistakes and make the necessary changes. You may hear a flow of words you want to change around to fix the meaning.
  10. Believe in your story. Everyone has a story to tell. Never think that you should not tell yours because there is something similar out there. You are unique and your story is too. There is something different within your story that can appeal to readers.

I hope these tips help you improve your writing. Feel free to like/comment/provide feedback, subscribe, email, or connect with me on social media.

My email is: msdakotawrites@gmail.com. Social media links below.

The Road To The Top Is a Lonely One

For several years of my life, I have put my happiness in the hands of others.

Time and time again, I was disappointed. And what a lesson this has been.

What I have come to learn is happiness is a choice. You choose to wake up and be positive or you can choose to allow the troubles of yesterday to ruin today. I have dealt with my fair share of disappointments. And this has been because I expect others to bring me happiness. I seek approval, validation, and for others to like me. How quickly this has changed.

I have lost friends and family. People who were supposed to stay in my corner. I have been in relationships where I was belittled and did not feel like myself. I always did things to make others happy when I was miserable. Out in the public eye, I seem to have it altogether. Behind closed doors, I have struggled and overcame this need to please.

For quite a while, I felt different. Like I did not belong to certain groups of people. I always felt this need for more. This need to be challenge and stimulated. I shared different interests than everyone around me. I’ve been at a constant war with trying to maintain my craft while everyone around me just did not agree because they did not understand me. I do not think anyone has, except for one person, my grandma.

I have cried for hours. I have been angry. I have been depressed. I have felt let-down. I have felt like a failure at every turn. This is bound to happen for a starving artist such as me.

Every time I have felt happy or positive about something, I would often ask for the approval or opinions of the people around me. Family, friends, boyfriends, the works. They never seemed to understand my drive or why those things interested me. I was often met with negative comments or about how I’m crazy for liking that or I should not even waste my time.

This has been my fuel.

I have used this to drive my writing, my art, and whatever else I wish to succeed in. I will show all of these people who have said little of me or have turned their backs on me. But, let me set the record straight. I will not be doing this for anyone, except me.

The road to the top is lonely and I have to be willing to be alone. To really zone in on my work and get the job done, without the stamp of approval of anyone else.

Words are just words, but sometimes they sting. I guess I am still learning how to be on my How to give it my all and the best I’ve got.

No one can take my passion from me. Or my drive. My work ethic or my craft.

I am tough. I am strong. I have overcome adversities. I have proven people wrong. No one can have an opinion about something they have not done.

I believe if you were to ask some of the most successful people how they dealt with this particular issue, I can imagine them saying that they really focused their attention on their work, rather than what others had to say. They did not allow someone or something to take them off their path.

I no longer choose to place my happiness in the arms of another. My life is determined by me and how I want to live it. People will always have something to say, that is a given. Let them talk.

Be happy on your own. Be whole on your own. You got this.

O’ Captain, My Captain

I am sitting here in bed, with the lamp by my bedside turned on providing minimal lighting, with my puppy asleep beside me, and I immediately felt the need to write. It is always this time of night when my thoughts do not shut off. When the rest of the world is peacefully sleeping, I stay up and think.

I’ve been very focused on myself recently. My health and well being, finishing school and starting a new career, and trying to better myself in every way. I started reflecting on life; things that I’ve felt proud of and times where I wish I could have done things differently. But, that’s how life works right? You learn from mistakes and failures. I just wish the crappy feeling of regret and guilt would not haunt me. I try to channel that guilt into something positive. I try to be a better person. I use those mistakes to make me better.

This post started off with one main idea and somehow I geared off into something else. But hey, that’s what writing is.

I started reflecting on things that inspire me like books or movies. Dead Poets Society, was the movie that really paved the way for me wanting to be a teacher. My senior year of high school I was almost certain I knew what I wanted my major in college to be. I made it to college, after many obstacles, and I ended up changing my major about 5 times, as most young adults do. It was not until I watched this movie when it really hit me. I had been a martial arts instructor for many years and I found such enjoyment in teaching my children’s classes. I found something I was good at. I was able to mix my hobby of martial arts and teaching all wrapped in one. It was perfect.

Robin Williams, plays Mr. Keating, the main character in the movie. He is an English teacher at an all boys Catholic school where rules and curriculum are very rigid. He taught these boys about more than just the mundane school work. He taught them about life. How to follow their dreams. How to challenge themselves. How to remain true to what they really wanted. I remember watching the movie with wide eyes because he was so well respected. The boys admired him. And I thought, this is what I want.

“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” – Wonder

Now you’re probably wondering how this quote above relates to what I’m saying in my post. Here is the answer. I know my standing ovation will be when I become a teacher. I will finally have found my purpose. Why I am here. What I was set out to do. With all the twists and turns of life, I was led to this even when I least expected to choose this profession. I’m not sure if it was Robin William’s brilliant acting or the fact that I had already been teaching, or perhaps a mix of both, but I’m glad I was led down this path. I have been met with constant doubts and hesitation, but I remain true to what my soul wants. Every fiber in my being knows this is what I am meant for.

I always felt lost in a way. Like I did not have a sense of direction and I struggled to find my purpose. I looked to others for answers. I placed my happiness in the hands of others and what a mistake that was. As a young adult, it is quite easy to be swayed into making certain decisions because other people tell you that you should. I allowed that for far too long. People will begin to support your decisions when they see how successful you become. But, this should not matter at all.

My standing ovation will be when my students look to me as an inspiration, as the person they can talk to when they feel overwhelmed, the person they can discuss hopes and dreams with. I want my classroom to be a safe space for all my students.

I cannot wait to step foot into my classroom and finally begin my career.

O’ Captain, My Captain . . .

this photo is not my own.

Your Journey Is Up To You

Your journey is determined by YOU.

It is easy to look in someone else’s back yard and compare your successes to theirs. Compare your failures to theirs. To judge what they have and what you do not. There are so many blessings we take for granted. Being alive, waking up in the mornings, breathing fresh air, having fresh drinking water, having a warm house to live in, having food to eat, and family to love. These are the things we often take for granted and we shouldn’t.

I have done my fair share of comparing myself to others. Why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I be smart like them? Why can’t I be pretty like them or have everything they have? Why can’t I be successful like them?

What people do not see is what happens behind closed doors. What people sacrifice to get to where they are. Those years of hard work. The long journey or not giving up. Everyone has a different time line. Some graduate before others. Some get married before others. Some will be in their dream job much sooner than the next person. And the list goes on. Everyone has different priorities. This is no reason to feel inferior or put yourself down. You have come a long way and your successes are just as important. All of those failures you experienced have either led you to something better or resulted in you growing into something more.

It is easier said than done. I would be lying if I said I did not compare myself to others. But, as much as I am hard on myself, I use that as motivation to always do better. To keep striving for more.

Passion. Hard work. Dedication. Believing in your art. This will set you apart from others. You have to want it bad enough.

You have come this far. You have been beaten, bruised, and broken. But, look at where you are today. Never underestimate your strength, your power, and how far you can take it.

Your journey is determined by YOU. You can allow failures and the opinions of others to define your successes. Or you can tune them out and stay true to your path. People will say it cannot be done until someone sets out to do it. You, however, do not need to prove yourself to others. You need to prove to yourself how far you can go. How successful you can become.

Take control of your life. Start living for you.