Monday, December 3, 2012

Heart and Soul - A Special Grant Program for 501(c)3 Charities

 Today (12/3/12) is the first day of  the Community TechKnowledge (CTK) Foundation's 2013 grant opportunity for non profit organizations.  Dubbed the Heart and Soul grant, CTK asks organization to describe the heart and soul of their organization in a short poem.

CTK recognizes that the heart and soul of every nonprofit organization is the passion and commitment of its members (staff, volunteers, clients/patrons, board, other stakeholders) to make a difference. CTK's Heart and Soul grant supports the mission of non profits and honors the front line folks who quietly make that difference for their organizations.

What's the Prize?

One eligible nonprofit will receive CTK's main prize:
  • A $10,000 cash (unrestricted funds - a rare opportunity for nonprofits these days) and
  • A professionally written and recorded song by the Grammy Award-winning group, The Original Blind Boys of Alabama.
 Additional prizes for other nonprofits include: 
  • $10,000 HHS Grant — available to an Austin, TX-area nonprofit specializing in the provision of At Risk Children and Families — a gift from the Cipione Family Foundation of Austin, TX.
  • Two $5,000 Grant Awards to two US Nonprofits
  • Five $1,000 Grant Awards to Community TechKnowledge, Inc. customer organizations attending the 2013 Outcomes Immersion Certification Training
  • $20,000 in matching cash grants to nonprofits for CTK software purchases
  • Three autographed guitars: one by The Original Blind Boys of Alabama, one by Los Lonely Boys, and one by Sunny Shipley

Grant Application Period:

Grant Opens: Noon: December 3, 2012 (Central Standard Time)
Grant Closes: Noon: January 7, 2013 (Central Standard Time)

How to Apply:

Submit a 4-8 line poem expressing the heart (& soul) of your nonprofit organization's service mission through CTK's website.

The application process is easy. The most difficult part is likely to be creating that 4-8 line poem.  Get your pens ready, sit back and close your eyes, and visualize the heart and soul of your favorite nonprofit. How does it fulfill its service mission? What does that look like, in words? Can you feel it developing a rhythm? Maybe if you put it to a simple tune, it'll be easier to write.

Good luck, my friends.

What is the CTK Foundation?

The CTK Foundation was established by Community TechKnowledge, Inc., an Austin-based technology company that provides software and services to over 10,000 nonprofits in the US and UK. The CTK Foundation Fund is committed to the recognition and celebration of the work nonprofits and seeks to promote the use of technology in managing the accomplishment of their mission.

What Do Previous Winners Think?

 Here's a short video clip of a previous winner.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

About Blogging - or - Blogging Startup Hints for Writers

I was recently asked if I would write a newsletter article on blogging for an online writers' group.  I suspect the request was more about the mechanics of blogging - how to get blogging space and get started - as opposed to the process of writing a blog.  After all, blogging is writing ; it's just that you get to decide when, where, and how to publish what you write.  That's part of blogging's attraction.

There are two primary ways to get started with your blog, with a third alternative that's a combination of the previous two. 
  1. Find a blogging service that will give you space - free or for a fee.  They become your web host; you publish your writing on their servers.  They provide the blogging tools (platform) so you don't have to do much technical setup. 
  2. Purchase a domain name and web hosting space from an online host; do your own technical setup to publish your blog using one of any number of free or fee-based blogging platforms. You publish your writing on the web host's servers.
  3. Purchase a domain name and web hosting space from an online host., use a blogging service to write your blog posts, and publish your writing to the web host's servers, not the blogging service's servers.
1. Blogging Service
There are many blogging services available. Just do a web search for "blogging services" and you'll get a ton of results that you can check.  Here's one result that compares a number of blogging services and tools (platforms) for you:

Once you select a service, you complete their forms and select a name for your blog.  Your blog will be published at a URL that looks something like this: http://maryjone'  That's the address you will give to friends and readers.

While the really technical setup will be done for you, you will have quite a selection available as to how you want your blog to look.  Expect to spend an hour or more on these next steps.
  • Selecting a template: This is a predefined setup that provides the overall look - color scheme, background, fonts, layout of elements on the page, etc.
  • Fine-tuning it to your needs: You'll have options to customize the template to suit you.   

2. Domain Name & Hosting Space
This is more technical than using a blogging service, thus the proliferation of bloggers who use blogging services.  Even Geeks like me, however, use blogging services (more on that later).

To claim your own domain name, you need to decide on a name, then register and pay for it.  Create a unique name that nobody else has claimed on the Internet.  It is fairly easy to find out during the registration process if your unique domain name has already been claimed by someone else.  The difficult part is coming up with a new name if that happens. Make sure you have one or two alternatives handy so you can switch names if your first choice is taken.  For me, it was pretty easy to come up with a unique name that I thought no one else would have claimed.  How many people would have named their domain, Claire'sCorner-OnMyMind?

This is where it gets a bit technical (or geeky, as I like to say).  Using the example name from Option 1 above, the URL for Mary's blog if she owned her domain name would be "http://maryjone'"  The domain name is the set of characters immediately preceding the .com or .net or any Internet extension.

In the first example, the URL was "http://maryjone'"; Mary Jone's name came before "" and was separated by a period.  The period in a domain name separates certain parts of the address from other parts, much as street #, street name, city, state, and zip separate physical addresses.  Whatever immediately precedes the extension is the actual domain name.  It's good to know this because it can help you ferret out the spam that hits your mailbox or spot faked URLs that might otherwise lead you to a site you thought was your bank or a reputable organization.

Anything preceding the domain name that follows either "www." or the two forward slashes "//" (if there is no "www.") is a subdomain; it is using a separate space on the domain's server but giving it a unique identity.  You will be the only one who has access to the data in that space unless you give someone else your login and password.

If you have a choice when setting up your domain, select the option to have but not force the "www." because domain names no longer need it.  Most people today just type in the domain name and are directed immediately to the site.  If you force a "www." on them and they don't type that in, you may lose visitors because they cannot find you.  If you don't have the "www." as an option, however, you may get an advertisement page or something else that isn't you. 

Understand that there are two parts to owning a domain name and getting a web host.
  • You claim (and thus own) a domain name through an Internet Registrar.  You pay an annual fee of anywhere from $8 - $20 dollars for your domain name.  
  • You get a web host through a web hosting company and pay a monthly fee.  Expect web hosting to cost anywhere from $3 - $12 and higher per month.  Many web hosts offer discounts for paying annually or paying for multiple years at one time. You can pay a lot more for additional services, higher bandwidth (if you expect thousands of visitors to your blog), or other customization to their standard packages.
Not all Internet Registrars are web hosts.  Not all web hosting companies are Internet Registrars.  Luckily, most web hosting companies will handle your domain name registration for you through an Internet Registrar so you can sign up for web hosting and claim a domain name at the same time in one process. 

Again, back to your search engine. This time, search for "web hosts."  Your results should include many, many options and a number of reviews.  To get you started, here is one review site that came up in my search,

Once you have your domain name and web host, you begin the technical process of setting up your blog. It makes sense, if you choose this option, decide on a platform first (more on that in another article) and choose a web hosting company that has that platform available and will do the installation for you.  Most web hosts have several options to choose from, so you should have no difficulty finding one that suits your budget and has the platform you need.  Expect to spend a few hours customizing the platform. 

3. Combining Domain Name Ownership & Web Hosting with Blogging Services
This is a popular alternative as it gives you your own domain name on a web host but the technical setup and management of your blog is minimal.  Even though I'm a hard-core Geek, I use this option for some programs, including my personal blog and several community resource sites I manage.  For the non-Geek or the Geek who doesn't have a lot of time to manage technical issues, it's the best of both worlds. 

Start by selecting and setting up a blogging service.  Get all your template selection and customization done and off your mind.  Start blogging.  Write to your heart's content.  See how it looks.  Make it work for you.

Meanwhile, you can search for a web host and register your domain name.  Once you've got that, there is some more technical work to do and your web host and blogging service will provide the information you need.  The Help files or Help Center in both these sites should have the information you need.

Your goal is to Redirect your blog from the blogging service to your domain .  Start at the blogging service technical area (setup, maintenance, whatever they call it) and search for that information.  What they ask for or give you for redirecting your blog is what you must get from your web host.  Print out or write down what you need, then go to your web host and find that information.  Back at your blogging service, it is often a matter of filling out two or three items on a form to get your blog redirected.

The best part of this method is that you will continue to log in and write your blog from the blogging service.  They've made it easy for you and it will continue to be easy.  Everything you post will automatically be forwarded (pushed is the term you'll often hear used) to your blog. 

One bonus you get with Options 1 and 3 is that you will have your own e-mail address at your domain name.  You can use your Gmail or Yahoo Mail or other accounts for general purposes and use your professional writer's e-mail address for your writing.   

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Two weeks ago, I posted that I felt the book was halfway written.  So what has gone on in these past two weeks?  Have I written many chapters, solved the mystery, or have I even written at all?

The answers are 1.5, yes and no, and yes and no.  Hmmm ... am I making any progress here?

Actually, yes, I've made a lot of progress.  I had a number of fully developed and written chapters and a few scenes written but as yet unplaced.  These scenes did not affect the murder but completed an element of the back stories that go along with the main story.  Back stories can help the reader understand the characters better.  They let you gradually see how the characters think and interact, giving you some insight into how they tick.  Sometimes back stories provide essential background about the setting and create situations that help the author move the main story along. 

Over the past two weeks, I found good spots for the scenes that weren't yet placed in a chapter.  This is helping me keep to a fairly consistent page length in my chapters.  It's not absolutely necessary that every chapter have the same number of pages.  But it helps me to feel as if a chapter is completed when it matches the flow of the other chapters, moves the main story along, and develops the characters and setting a bit more.  I feel as if the pace of the book is on target when there is some consistency to chapter length.

I write mostly in the early morning - and have been getting up around 5:30 many days over the past few months to write this book.  That early hour is unusual for me.  I typically need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to function well the next day.  And I work until 7, 8, even 9 or 10 many days; so I go in to work between 10 and Noon.  I eat dinner as late as 8:30 or 9:00 and nap a little, then wake up for an hour or so and go back to sleep between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM. Early for me has been 7 AM -- until lately. 

I have severe sleep apnea and the condition took a huge toll on my body over the past 40+ years.  I know I had it a very early age and in 2003 finally asked my doctor for a sleep test.  Once diagnosed, and now under treatment, I feel like a different person from the one who, 10 years ago, was sometimes afraid to drive for fear I'd fall asleep and kill somebody.  Sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours wasn't enough.  I would find myself at work, writing a report or proposal, and my head would jerk up and I'd discover that I'd been sleeping while still typing.  These are called microbursts of sleep.  Our minds will take every possible opportunity to give ourselves even a moment of sleep when we have been deprived too much.  I now find that I need only 6 hours of sleep many nights and awaken early; refreshed, renewed, and eager to get up and start my day. 

The past week I had intended to add at least one chapter to my book.  But my schedule included a last-minute request to be a panelist at an out-of-state conference on a topic I'd not developed any materials for yet, 2 committee meetings for which I needed to do a little homework before attending, and a late night community group meeting (got home after 10 that night).  I was also getting promotional materials out for an author friend who is doing a book signing this week that I had arranged at a local bookstore.  It wasn't the week for a lot of early morning writing.

After work Saturday, I rested and got back to the book early Sunday morning.  I found places in existing chapters for the scenes that had no home as yet.  I wrote one or two more scenes that were in my head. 
  • Step 1: a total reread from start to finish
  • Step 2: move unplaced scenes into chapters where they seem to fit well
  • Step 3: re-read that chapter to feel how it flows, move some things around in that chapter
  • Step 4: research on names and local history of the area where the story takes place
  • Step 5: (Sunday night) another total reread from start to finish to make sure that changes to chapters maintained consistency with the overall story timeline and that it still felt as if the story made sense
There are about three more scenes pretty well developed in my head that I hope to write this week.  All of this is being done with the aid of notes in a spreadsheet. One worksheet maintains the timeline of major activities in each chapter.  Another worksheet lists all the characters, their backgrounds, roles, and other important features (blue eyes or brown eyes, red hair or dark hair, etc.) that I don't want to mix up if I've mentioned them in the story.  The nice thing about tracking important items this way is that I can add to it at any time, then check the book to see if it makes sense to bring in that information earlier or perhaps later. 

An important bit of work I did Sunday was to rename the location of this murder mystery.  The town is, as yet, unnamed.  The lake and site of the major activities have new names.  For the past few months (I began writing this in July), I used the name of an actual lake and a site name that my research revealed does exist.  I was okay with that for a while because both existed near the location of this story and fit the descriptions and activities.  But 10 chapters into the book, I felt, was enough time to go with good enough.  The site and lake needed unique names; ones that, as far as I can tell, do not already exist.  The lake in the book has many of the characteristics of an actual lake I worked on.  But I included characteristics of several lakes I have worked on to create a composite and don't want comparisons to the actual lake that sits in the area of this story.  I also changed the last names of several characters to use names that are part of the early history for that geographical area. 

Now I have to re-read it a few more times.  Having spent the past few months with certain names in my head it takes a little getting used to as I read or even think about the story, area, and characters with different names in place.  Thank goodness for my spreadsheet that helps me keep it consistent.  Another great tool is search and replace, which lets me make these changes quickly or lets me search for instances of a character's name so I can see if something I've decided fits that character should be introduced earlier in the story. Young writers have no idea how cumbersome it is to have to do these things manually on handwritten pages or with a  typewritten manuscript!  I have done both in my work life and feel blessed to have adopted the computer early on (before the PC!) and to be a baby boomer who is a self-taught Geek! 

Well, it's 6:43 and I need to get onto my story.  I have about an hour to write, then have to shift to work mode and get ready for a morning meeting.  I'll leave you with this quote that seems to sum up this process and my life:

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
~ Louisa May Alcott

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book is About Half Written

A half-written book is not a half-completed book.  So I'm not at any magical halfway point.  Still, it's a sense of accomplishment to feel that what I've written is about half of what seems to have become standard for books these days.  And I do feel as if I need to start wrapping some things up and moving closer to the finish of this murder mystery.

Some might ask why I'm writing a murder mystery.  There are thousands of them out there.   The simple answer is that I enjoy reading them.  The more complex answer is that is gives my brain some exercise in creating a puzzle to solve.

It's fun to create a puzzle and sprinkle some clues around.  It's fun to create some false clues too. The obvious answer isn't always the correct one.   And that resembles life.  So often we think we just know something.  She did that to him.  Or he did that to her.  Then we discover the truth and it isn't what we thought.  Add a little danger and more mystery, and you give your brain something to focus on throughout the night.  Come morning, you wake up with a whole new twist on your story.

On my lunch break I usually go upstairs and help answer the phones as we have no receptionist right now.  I've used that time to draw a map of the area involved in this murder mystery.  That has helped tremendously.  I'm very visual, so drawing it to have as a reference when I add scenes maintains consistency and accuracy.  I know I haven't reversed the direction of some actions; being dyslexic, it's very important for me to know I've written my lefts and rights and norths and souths correctly.  

Much of what I've read about writing tells writers not to edit while they write.  They caution new writers against mixing the two tasks as they do involve separate lenses from which to view the story.  I can't do that.  I have been writing for more than 30 years.  Much of it has been for business and industry, with deadlines and specific criteria that writing has to match.  Whether it's been a new course for sales reps, a technical manual for software, specifications for a piece of hardware, or grants to foundations, the writing must be done to meet a specific purpose and within a given time frame.  So I learned to write quickly and edit frequently. 

These works often have page, word, or character limits.  That's how I got started writing short stories.  I wanted to improve my telling of a story in fewer words (something I'm not doing right now).  The practice improved my writing greatly and carries over into my work continuously.  I can effectively write posters, flyers, brochures, and other short media with my eyes closed (figuratively).

The first four or five chapters of my book have been written for weeks.  Over these past few weeks, I added more chapters.  But more than anything else, I edited.  I moved some scenes around.  I tightened up some dialogue.  I added dialogue.  I added elements I'd ignored in the first writing, going back and imagining, then adding, the sights and smells of the scenes. 

The Internet has been a blessing in the editing process.  It has so many good resources and authors giving advice that have helped me make people and places become real.  Their advice has guided me in asking questions about the characters and whether they come across as real.  Where is the tension in the story?  Is it all within the mystery itself, or does it exist between characters who are friends and/or work together?  It has been like having an invisible editor available to give me another way to look at and tell the story. 

And that leads to another reason why the book is not halfway done even if the story is. After the writing comes the editing and enhancement.  Someone has to read my book with a critical eye - a very critical eye.  Does the story make sense?  Are the villains too obvious (if you have them in your work)?  Are there typos and misspellings?  In my book, there are many intentional misspellings in the dialogue because I want the reader to hear it in their head as they read.  So I don't want to use any automatic spell-checker (person or electronic) that doesn't give me the chance to say no to an edit or doesn't let me add a word to the dictionary.  Will there be any artwork beyond the cover?  What will the cover be?  Who will draw it?  What will the text look like?  Choices and decisions that all take review, review, review. 

So, I'll stay happy where I am right now doing the easy part - the writing! 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Happy Labor Day Weekend

Whether you choose to spend time with family, clean the garage, work on your portfolio, or just rest, spare a thought to the many laborers over the past few hundred years whose toil and labor built our nations.  Then celebrate the fact that we have a Labor Day to celebrate. 

(And if you're unemployed and looking, hang in there.  I know it's tough, but do your best and good luck.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I'm Baaack!

I haven't written any blog posts for far too long.  I feel as if I've abandoned my blog.  But I have plenty of excuses -- if I really need them.

My blog description says it well - I write whatever is driving me at the time.   So my blog is peppered with political, social, and personal items.  Sometimes I don't post what I'd like to write about because it is too personal.  Sometimes it's too work-related and I must guard the privacy and confidentiality of our clients.  Sometimes I'm too busy writing for work and sometimes I skip blogging in favor of ... READING! 

YUP, I'm an avid reader and have gotten back into the habit of reading books regularly.  Thank goodness for the Kindle because holding a physical book open for any length of time hurts my hands too much.  I'd actually gotten away from some of my favorite authors because of that.  Now, most of them have republished for ebooks and I'm back in reading heaven.

But I am also writing regularly in hopes of publishing a book.  You might think that if I want to publish, I'd be writing every chance I get.  Yet over the past two months I've done more reading than writing. Reading is research for an author and it's not just research into specifics about the storyline the author is working on.  It's a search for writing style, voice, and pacing that helps the author figure out their own style and where to go with their own work.  It helps the author make choices along the road to their completed work.  And it's just darned good fun.  I read for entertainment as much as for enlightenment.  I enjoy reading and want my readers to enjoy reading my work.  As I read and find myself particularly enjoying an author's work, I consider why I enjoy it.  I don't need to emulate that author's style, but I do need to understand why it draws me and even compels me to read everything they publish. 

It's too soon to announce what I'm writing about.  It will take some time to finish this particular book, for it is a full-length novel.  But I have some unpublished works, including some short stories, that I may resurrect and publish.  I've received some good advice from editors when I tried to publish these many years ago.  Taking their advice, I can polish these and get them back out there -- and continue on this larger work.

If you read my blog and want me to post to it more regularly, post a comment that encourages me to stay in touch with you.  Without readers, the blog is merely a personal exercise. 

To Susanna Sturgis, one of those editors who critiqued my earlier work, Thank You.  Your words encouraged me.  You gave me concrete, constructive criticism that has helped me reconsider some choices I was making in my writing.  Maybe we'll meet some day and I can thank you in person.

To all the readers out there, keep on reading!  

To all the writers out there, keep on writing!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year - May 2012 Lift Up the 99%

My fervent wish for 2012 is that we somehow get out of the mess of the past few years, move out of the recession, and that the working class finally gets a real break. 
  • Real jobs that pay a living wage would be nice. 
  • Jobs with stability for the many talented unemployed out there would be nice.
  • Employers that would stop rejecting real people with real skills just because they have been unemployed for more than 6 months would be nice (yes, employers are discriminating against longer-term unemployed because there must be something wrong with them because they're unemployed - in a recession!)
Although a lot of tension and attention has been devoted to the crumbling economy, taxes, and unemployment, we are in a mess.  Our political leaders have abandoned their responsibility and better leadership is being demonstrated by unelected public figures (thanks, Max Gail, for sharing that article).  The #Occupy movement was a wake-up call and we cannot let elected officials go back to sleep. 

Moving into 2012, let us all work for peace, harmony, co-existence, & equity.  Capitalism isn't a crime, but greed at the expense of others and exploitation of workers aren't necessary for capitalism to work.  If we can strengthen the working class, help unemployed workers return to work, and use our economic strengths to ensure prosperity for future generations, we will have accomplished a lot.  I think these should be our goals for 2012 - and we should impress those goals on our elected leaders or remove them from office.

Happy New Year - here's hope for 2012