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America, How I Weep

 

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Courtesy of “Beverly & Pack” via Flickr

 

America, How I Weep

A Poem, by Shari Lopatin

©Shari Lopatin, 2016

 

Oh America,

How I weep for thee!

My once beautiful muse,

My distant refuge.

Your maternal embrace

Protected our grace, and welcomed

My family whole.

 

But now I stand atop your dream,

In cowardice and fear I glean …

We watch with haste,

Such distaste,

And mourn the death of hope

And faith.

 

America, when will you rise?

And crush the hate which I despise?

With this prayer,

I say to thee,

Revive the truth in us … in me.

 

 

Martin Shkreli Looks Like a Sith Lord in this AP Photo

I first saw it on my Facebook feed today from a New York Times article. And I couldn’t help but notice, Martin Shkreli kinda looks like a Sith Lord in this Associated Press photo … doesn’t he?

Shkreli Indictment Portrays Small-Time Fraud - The New York Times.clipular.png

And considering today is the first FULL day that Star Wars is open in theaters, I call this #winning for the AP!

Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?

Why I Waste Time During Work

Wasting-Others-Time

We live in a world where productivity rules. If you’re not working a billable hour, you’re dirt.

This mentality becomes even more perpetual if you’re a business owner who sells services, rather than things … like me. I don’t sell shirts or dresses or books (yet). If I’m not working an hour, I’m not getting paid.

And yet, I make a conscious effort to waste time during the workday.

I pull weeds. I watch an episode of Parks and Recreation. I pet my cats, or talk to my boyfriend, or sift through the sea of endless posts on Facebook.

I. Waste. Time.

Why?

Because I’m more productive this way. Not only do I complete more work, I develop better end-products. My writing is crisper. My imagery is more vivid. My social media posts are snappier, while my media strategies are tighter.

That equals happier clients, who always come back for more. Happy clients ensure future freelance writing work, which ensures I pay my mortgage, pay my bills, and have healthcare coverage.

Studies prove my theory, too.

Take this excerpt from a 2013 New York Times article by Tony Schwartz called, “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.”

Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day.

“To maximize gains from long-term practice,” Dr. Ericsson concluded, “individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.”

BOOM. Do I know my stuff, or do I know my stuff?

So tell me, do you waste time during your workday? Why or why not?


Hi! I’m Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Oh yeah, I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Are we friends yet on Facebook and Twitter?


Preparing to Say Good-Bye

Saying good-bye is nature’s cruel joke, and now I’m preparing to say good-bye to my best friend and my writing companion of the past 13 years.

Chance “Mazel Tov” Lopatin, also known as Mr. Man.

Headshot of my cat Chance
My cat, Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

For those of you who have been following my blog for years, you may remember Chance from the viral Freshly Pressed post, “My Jewish Cat and the Art of Guilt.”

Why am I writing about Chance today? Well, it’s simple: nothing else is on my mind. I can’t write about my novel, or social media trends, or books to improve your craft, or literary agents. None of it would be possible without Chance’s love over the years.

Chance is 15 years old. He’s lived with me for 13 of those years. I met him when I was just 20, a few months after moving out of my mom’s house. He was a stray who appeared from a bush, like a mirage, as I prepared to go grocery shopping.

I never made it to the store.

Chance has been more than a pet. He’s been a soul mate.

Me with Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth
Me with Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

From ages 20 – 27, my life was not the most stable. I moved eight times in four years. I attended three different colleges. Through it all, Chance was the one constant. He was there for college parties, roommates, college graduation, first professional job, first major break-up, finding love again, the Great Recession, buying my first house, severance and unemployment, and finally, quitting Corporate America to launch my business.

He has been my ultimate source of comfort, my weapon against anxiety disorder, and my most trusted confidant. While in college, Chance even woke me one night, warning me of two intruders who’d just broken into our apartment.

A year-and-a-half ago, Chance was hospitalized when he became diabetic. I visited him every day. When the vet tech brought him to the visitation room, Chance rose from the dead like a Phoenix, regaining his appetite and his will to “talk.” I remember the vet tech saying, “I’ve never seen a cat who loves his human so much.”

Chance has also been my writing buddy.

Chance cuddling with me while I worked from home.
Chance cuddling with me while I worked from home.

This has been especially true since I established Shari’s Ink in September last year. Chance could never cuddle with me enough. Writing with him on my lap always made the process more warm, more soulful, more joyous. Yes, it is possible.

But nothing good is meant to last. That’s the irony, and cruelty, of life.

The sophisticated duo: me and Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth
The sophisticated duo: me and Chance. Photo credit: Oscar Barrascouth

Chance is now growing very weak from end stage kidney disease. The looming eye of death is ever watchful. When the moment comes to say good-bye, you may not hear from me for a week or two. But at least you’ll know the reason why: that a mortal cat has passed on, while a legend has been born.

Chance, the legend
Chance, the legend

My name is Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.


Workspace Design Ideas to Increase Your Productivity and Creativity

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Today, I have a cool guest post from a company called Modernize. I don’t usually allow companies to guest post on Rogue Writer, but these guys pitched an idea on decorating your writing space to help inspire creativity and increase productivity!

So naturally, I just had to say yes. I found these tips helpful, and the pictures a lot of fun. I hope you do, too. 🙂

Workspace Design Ideas to Increase Your Productivity and Creativity

By Jane Blanchard

No matter if you’re an artist in a studio or a businessperson in an office, your work environment has a major impact on your productivity and efficiency. Because of your surroundings, you could be unknowingly making it harder to focus and concentrate. It’s bad enough when your work space isn’t conducive to getting tasks accomplished and making headway on important projects, but perhaps your work space is even physically and emotionally draining.

When you work from home and depend upon your own diligence to ensure that obligations are met and important duties are fulfilled, the design of your home work space is one of the most important factors in your productivity. In fact, studies have shown that the most important determinant in an your ability to focus is your physical surroundings.

With that said, here are some tips and design ideas for a workspace at home that will help make you as productive, creative, and efficient as you can be.

Ample Lighting

Though it’s often overlooked, lighting is crucial to a successful work space. Without sufficient lighting, you’ll be straining your eyes in order to see, which can cause debilitating headaches; you’ll also experience fatigue much faster than you normally would, and it’s been said that spending prolonged periods of time in dark spaces can produce depression or exacerbate depressive symptoms.

Via Modernize
Via Modernize

This home office has plenty of natural light coming from the large windows and skylights, but also has plenty of ambient lighting installed for working into the night time if need be. Additionally, experts have said positioning the desk in front of a window to give you a view of natural scenery can have a calming effect, helping to prevent you from succumbing to stress while also inspiring and promoting your creativity.

Desk and Chair

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Via Modernize

No matter what type of work you do, a good desk and a chair are incredibly important and are likely the center of your work space. Anyone who’s sat at a desk only to spend several minutes adjusting the seat and scooting the chair around to find a vantage point that lets you reach all the desk’s contents knows that, in terms of comfort and productivity, it’s incredibly important to have a desk and chair that fit your individual body. According to ergonomics, the top of your computer screen should be at or below eye level, both of your feet should reach the floor, and you should use an adjustable chair that allows you to recline occasionally to help reduce pressure on your spine and avoid back pain.

Color

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Via Houzz

You might choose your paint colors based on a whim or what strikes you as attractive on any given day, but you should be aware that colors significantly affect people on an emotional and even a physical level. According to color psychology experts, when you want to boost focus you should consider surrounding yourself with lots of greens. Teal and blue-green colors can inspire motivation, and blue has been said to inspire productivity specifically.


Hi! I’m Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Oh yeah, I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Are we friends yet on Facebook and Twitter?


Up to 40 Rejections, and Counting

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I’m officially baptized into the world of creative writing. I’ve been rejected by 40 literary agents … and the number keeps climbing.

Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it angering. Definitely. Am I giving up? HELL NO.

Why? Because I’m a writer, dammit. And writers get rejected over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. We’re the foot soldiers of the artistic world.

Of course I sometimes ask myself, “What the heck are you doing, Shari?” Then, however, I read articles such as this one, from Fast Company: “Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s reassuring life advice for struggling artists.

COOL!

Did you know that Mad Men was rejected for seven years—seven freakin’ years—before AMC finally said yes? And before Mr. Weiner even had the success and connections to create Mad Men, he spent nearly his entire first decade of post-college life struggling as a no-name writer in Hollywood, getting told NO over and over and over and over and over and over again?

This man is a veteran, folks. Out of everything he said, I think this was the most important piece of advice:

“You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer.” –Matthew Weiner

May we all keep fighting along, and may we all realize that setting a clock is the ultimate defeat. Keep writing, my friends. Keep writing.


Hi! I’m Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Oh yeah, I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Are we friends yet on Facebook and Twitter?


 

Do You Need a Proofreader or Copyeditor?

Punctuation Mistake

What’s the difference between a proofreader and copyeditor? You’ve heard the terms, but which do you need?

I’ll admit, it can be quite confusing. And depending on your project, you may need both (gasp!).

The Proofreaders

These are the guys with the eagle eyes. The ones who will catch the missed periods or the typos where you meant to say, “and,” but really typed, “ad.”

Proofreaders scan your writing strictly for the purpose of making sure it’s flawless. They look for misspelled words, grammatical mistakes, tense agreement, typos, and so forth.

However, proofreaders do not edit for style or flow, and they will not make suggestions on how you can improve your writing.

The Copyeditors

Copyeditors do exactly as their title implies: edit copy. Proofreading may often be included in copyediting services, but that is not the copyeditor’s main job.

If you hire a copyeditor, he or she will look for structure, flow, style, and ways to improve your actual content. If your project is a whitepaper, the copyeditor may look for ways to simplify text or improve your marketing “hook.” If your project is a novel, the copyeditor may read for story arcs, dialogue, narration and voice.

Which should you hire: proofreader or copyeditor?

If you need someone to edit a 10- or 20-page report, or possibly even some website content, I might recommend hiring a copyeditor.

However, if you’re a self-published author, I suggest you invest in hiring BOTH. Why? The copyeditor will look for ways to improve your story, characters, plot line, narration, flow, voice, story arcs, etc. However, for a manuscript that’s 80,000 words long, you’ll want to hire a second pair of eagle eyes—a proofreader—to ensure your work is flawless before sending it out for the world to read.

Other than that, which type of editor you need really boils down to you:

  • Are you happy with the way your project sounds, but just need someone to scan it for mistakes? Hire a proofreader.
  • Do you need stylistic or structural help? Call a copyeditor.

What have been your experiences working with copyeditors and proofreaders? Do you have anything to add to this blog post?


Hi! I’m Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Oh yeah, I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Are we friends yet on Facebook and Twitter?


 

3 Lessons from My Year Without Blogging

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I’ve been back to blogging for a few months now, but before that, I stepped away from the blogging world for a year to finish my novel.

When I re-launched Rogue Writer, one of my longtime blogging buddies, Nina Badzin, commented, “I would love to see a post on how it felt to step away and how it feels to be back. Did you stay off social media a lot more, too?”

Nina girl, I can always count on you for writing prompts! Thanks to Nina’s question, I’m now writing this post. So here are the top three lessons I took away from my year off blogging:

1) If you’re working on a larger creative project, DON’T BLOG. It will get in the way of your goal.

I make my living off freelance writing, social media strategy, and content marketing. So trust me when I say this confession was hard for me to publish!

When I stopped blogging, I was working a full-time job as social media manager for a large health insurance company. I worked 50-hour weeks. During that time, I was also chipping away at the novel which I’m now pitching to literary agents.

I had only a few hours of writing time each week. If I’d continued blogging, none of that creative energy would have gone toward my novel, and today, I’d be blogging about how I want to finish my book.

Blogging is fun, but it can sap energy and time which you may need to reach a larger goal. There will always be room later to pick up where you left off on your blog.

2) Taking a blogging break allows you to just enjoy life. Seriously.

When you’re blogging every week (sometimes more), you get caught in the constant need for fresh content. You’ve developed an expectation among your followers that you’ll publish new stuff. After awhile, that pressure can add stress to your life, rather than release it.

When I stepped away from blogging, I felt a sense of relief. My mind wasn’t constantly “on,” and I was able to immerse myself into the world I created for my book. THIS was relaxing. I also enjoyed life a bit more, not having to turn every experience into a piece of online entertainment.

3) You step back and use social media for its original purpose: to be social.

While I was blogging, I tended to use social media for promotional purposes. Build my presence. Increase engagement. Yada yada yada.

But when I stopped blogging, I also stopped posting to my public profiles. I occasionally posted, but it was never on a schedule. Instead, I stuck to using my personal Facebook profile, where I connect with “real” friends and family. I commented on pictures of my friends’ kids, posted photos of my cat, and shared my progress toward finishing my book.

This type of interaction proved to be much more gratifying, and sometimes even fed my creativity!

Have YOU ever taken a blogging break? I’m curious, what did you learn from it?


Hi! I’m Shari Lopatin. I’m a professional writer, editor, journalist, and social media strategist with a decade of experience in media and communications. I live in Phoenix, Ariz. and blog about finding a literary agent, writing tips, social media or tech trends, and sometimes current events. Oh yeah, I also edit novels for self-published authors or writers needing help before querying literary agents. Are we friends yet on Facebook and Twitter?