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Writing Prompts – Lesson learned with RocketMoms

Keyboard. Photo: Ulla Hennig

Keyboard. Photo: Ulla Hennig

It is the middle of September, and half of the RocketMoms Class #3 is over. RocketMoms is a very special group of squidooing women, and I am participating in this class hoping to get graduated after having published my 8th squidoo lens in another four weeks.

During these last four weeks I have learned many things. I re-learned a bit of webdesign, I learned about Creative commons (on my blog I use mainly photos I shoot myself ). However, the most important thing I learned was: to write a lens where the subject was given.

Assignment #1: favorite toy. I would never ever had thought of writing a lens about my favorite toys on my own. I haven’t got any kids, so writing something about my kids’ toys was not possible. But I wanted to do the assignment. So I went back into my childhood, and suddenly I remembered the lego house on the green board. The writing juices began to flow.

Assignment #2: favorite decade. I haven’t really got one, and I did not want to add the 150th lens to all the lenses written before about the 60s, 70s or whatever decade of the 20th century. Hmmph. Really, really difficult. Then some kind of inspirational muse hit me slightly on my head and I rediscovered my love of the Renaissance and Michelangelo. I must admit, the interpretation of the assignment might be a bit far-fetched, but it was accepted.

Assignment #3: Product review. I felt rather helpless after reading the assignment. I haven’t got a car; could not imagine writing a readable lens about my msi notebook. Suddenly my eye fell on my swiffer duster – one product obviously used all over Europe and the U.S. I discovered some most entertaining youtube videos, took photos of my hand swiffing the chair (or is it “swiffering”?), and wrote down the lens in one evening.

Assignment #4: fall recipe. Gosh – I am definitely not a cook. Never had been I must admit (you can see me blushing with shame). Help me hence ho – what could I do? Pretend I am a cook and copy some recipe out of an online cookbook? Not really. Every cook would know at once that I was only pretending. Finally I went for spicy Chai tea, which I like, can make myself and thoroughly enjoy drinking on a cold fall day.

So I learned to accept an assignment however strange it seemed to me in first place. And then I learned to make it my own, to interpret it, to write about it. It is a great lesson!

5 Steps for Writing and Publishing a Squidoo Lens

Some of you might know that I am attending RocketMoms Session #3. You have to publish a squidoo lens every week, and after 8 weeks and 8 lenses you are a graduated RocketMom.

The assignments are coming in on Monday morning, and this Monday the assignment was to publish a lens on my favorite decade.

Well. I was not very keen on writing lens #100 about the 60es, 70es, 50es. I was not interested in publishing a lens on a period in the 21st or 20th century. But I did not know at that time what decade I would like to write about. So I took a note of the assignment and did some other things.

And then, as I was doing my dishes, I suddenly had an idea: I wanted to write about Italian Renaissance and Michelangelo. But either the Italian Renaissance and Michelangelo cover more than a decade. Hmmphh.

But the first step was made – I had a general idea.

And the next step was: I had to narrow down the subject. So I did some Wikipedia research and found out that Michelangelo created the sculpture of David in the first decade of the 16th century (he did not need the whole decade to accomplish it, but I thought I could neglect that fact). And I also found out that this took place when Florence had thrown out the Medicis and was a proper city republic. David was to be a symbol of the victory of the people over a mighty oppressor. That was interesting.

So my second step was made – I knew my content.

If my task would have been to write an essay, I would now have been able to begin with the writing. But writing a Squidoo lens is something completely different. It’s like writing an article for a magazine, where you have to provide and insert the necessary photos yourself. People want to look at a lens and have fun – or – with other words – they want to be entertained.

So my third step was to look for materials – photographs, maps, videos, books

I discovered wikimedia commons. I searched youtube for appropriate videos. I found one video on Michelangelo’s David but decided against it. You must know that David is naked, and zooming in on certain rather male parts might not be considered proper by some people. It took me some time but I managed to find another video.

I browsed Amazon (Squidoo offers an Amazon module with some additional money for the lensmaster if someone buy a book clicking on this module) for some books on Michelangelo. This took time also.

At the end of this step I had several pieces of content – about Italy in the Renaissance, about two different David sculptures (one created by Michelangelo and one by Donatello, each interpreting the theme in a different way) and some other pieces. I could begin to write, each piece of information a text standing on its own.

But in order to have a publishable lens, I had to make the fourth step and get all those items in an order which made sense.

Squidoo allows to move modules around – you can move the big picture up and put the explanations below the photo, or create a new text and move that above the big photo. As long as you don’t hit the “publish” button nobody knows what you’re doing. It also took some time until I was satisfied with the results.

And then I hit the “Publish” button.

I must admit, that the reason for doing that was that I had become impatient and wanted to get an opinion on the lens – remember, nobody sees it until you publish the lens. So the lens was online. It was okay, but far from looking the way I wanted it to look.

So the fifth step was to spice up the lens with a bit of HTML and CSS or – to put it in a simple way – to do some webdesign work.

I won’t go into detail here, but you can do a lot regarding the color of the text, the size of the characters and so on. There are many lenses which explain how to do it and offer strings of code which you can copy and paste. It is doable. And it is fun!

And if you want to have a look at this lens, it’s over there:

Michelangelo’s David

Blogging and Squidoo lenses – how does this go together?

One of my first squidoo lenses. Screenshot: Ulla Hennig

One of my first squidoo lenses. Screenshot: Ulla Hennig

I have been blogging for more than one year now, and I have joined Squidoo at the end of May 2009. I have been also a member of flickr for a much longer time – in fact uploading my photos to flickr was my first activity regarding the use of social media.

Blogging and uploading my pictures have been taking  a lot of free time  (it took me weeks to process and upload my photos from my travel through the Baltic countries), so the question was and still is: can I afford to begin with such a time-consuming activity as writing Squidoo lenses? (I wrote a a guest post on Squidoo over at Joyful Jubilant Learning so if you want to know the basics of Squidoo, just hop over and read the guest post!)

My answer to date is: Yes, but only under one condition: The three activities – uploading photos to Flickr, blogging, writing lenses – should not be seen as separate activities, independent from each other, but as activites connected with each other.

Let me give an example:

The screenshot you can see at the beginning of the post is a screenshot of one of my lenses, Berlin, the Green City. It would not have been possible to write it without my pictures on Flickr. That’s rather obvious, isn’t it? And how does blogging come in? Well, if you follow my blog regularly you will have noticed that there are quite a few blog posts on the green side of Berlin. I took those blog posts as a foundation for my Squidoo lens. I had to do some rewriting, though, because squidoo lenses are much more focused on giving useful information to their readers than my blog posts are.

So working on one social media could be useful for the other two, not only in relation to content but also in relation to sending visitors from flickr to the blog, from the blog to the lens, from the lens to the blog…

Follow me over to Joyful Jubilant Learning!

Today I am having a guest post over at Joyful Jubilant Learning. It’s about Summer, Learning and Squidoo.

I have joined Squidoo in June 2009, so I am quite a newbie, but a newbie with her first learning experiences. If you want to read about them, follow me over to joyfuljubilantlearning.com!

Going back to University for eight Weeks

No, I won’t leave my job at the university after those eight weeks.

I am going to learn at a kind of university for eight weeks. I have been invited to join the RocketMoms Class #3. Well, probably you’ve never heard about “RocketMoms” at all. Let me quote from the RocketMoms Headquarter Page at Squidoo:

“RocketMoms is an invite-only gathering of the smartest women on the web,  working together to make Squidoo lenses and a whole lot more. Here is a sneak peek at just a few of the lenses they’re busy creating.

RocketMoms are committed to raising the bar. They are dedicated to creating top-notch, focused, remarkable, creative content online. And along the way they learn, share, and teach other moms about Squidoo, Twitter, blogging and a whole lot more. Each session, the RocketMoms are challenged to create 8 web pages (called lenses) on various topics. The RocketMoms then critique these lenses, lend support and help each other improve and promote their work. It’s a challenge, a community, a classroom and a hobby. It’s also an awful lot of fun!”

It is the first time in my life that I have to do weekly assignments (believe me, I’ve been to a German university, but we don’t have weekly assignments – there’s usually one essay you have to write in the whole term and you can hand it in half a year later). One lens a week – will I meet that challenge? On the other hand one year ago I did not believe that I would be able to write three blog posts in a week (There are still days, usually shortly before I have to sit down and write my blog post, when I believe I won’t be able to deliver, but then the creative juices somehow begin to flow). And learning, and most of all, learning in a group, is fun. And to get support from other people makes things so much easier. That I did learn here on my blog – I know there is a wonderful community waiting for my next blog posts and I don’t want to disappoint them, but to bring  joy to them.

So Monday it will be – the beginning of a new learning period. I will keep you posted here on my blog.