"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
As featured on: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, Tiny Buddha, LifeHack, Technorati, Date My Pet, South 85 Literary Journal and other award-winning sites.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pen & Prosper's 3rd Annual Holiday Gift Guide!

"Tis the season to be jolly!"
And there's no better way to add joy to the holiday than through thoughtful gift giving.
Whether you're in the market for items to present to a fellow writer, or undecided as to what to ask Santa for yourself, today's list has got you covered like a blanket.

In no particular order, here's what Jen recommends to provide "warmth" to those you care about, this winter.


Books are to writers what rain is to plants: they help us grow. And the options are unlimited. Choose from writers' reference guides, romance novels, or even poetry books. You can't go wrong here. If you're seeking guides to help you blog better or earn a bigger income, I hope you'll consider titles from my popular Ebook series. To learn more, or to order, check out what's available here:


Today's journal entry can become tomorrow's blog post, or anthology story, or poetic piece.  And journals are great for both men and women. Need I say more? Score yours at Amazon.com or your local Dollar Tree Store.


This little item packs a lot of punch. I ordered it from Figis.com to provide nature sounds to help improve my quality of sleep on those restless nights.
This multi-media night light features sound effects, an alarm and more.  Sweet dreams to you!


Adult beverages are the perfect accompaniment to holiday dishes and can add more joy to family gatherings. Here's a helpful guide to better inform your choices. 

I love the versatility of decorative throws. And you will too. They can be used to accessorize your home, or to cuddle under while you watch TV and sip tea. I purchased this leopard version to place in my home office to add a little style and oomph. Prices range from about $9.99 to $59.00 in an array of colors, fabrics and sizes.


Teas are economical, reported to have health benefits, and come in an assortment of flavors and herbs. 
I highly recommend Celestial Seasonings.


There's something to be said for the care, time and creativity it takes to give lovin' from the oven.
 I should know; I enjoy making these personal gifts and receiving them.
Make it something chocolate to double the pleasure. For an extra added touch here, it's often nice to bundle them in a pretty basket with specialty coffees and flavored syrups.
Armed with these timely suggestions, you're sure to be a big hit with the family, friends and co-workers on this year's gift list.
"Ugly sweaters" optional.
Here's wishing you and yours a bright, beautiful Christmas filled with your heart's desires.
Thanks so much for your readership and support to Pen & Prosper in 2017.
Please note: I will be on blog break for the holidays until January 16, 2018. 
Your turn.
What's on your wish list this Xmas? What did I miss? 
Anything appeal to you on this list? Curious.
Image credits:
All photos by Jennifer Brown Banks


Friday, December 8, 2017

The 3 R's Series Rocks More Writing Leads & Reads!


How to turn new clients into repeat customers

Choosing a Domain Name for your blog

Become a successful International Freelance Writer

Seeing Beauty in Today's World

5 Savvy ways to make Money with your blog

When is it okay to Write about Personal Stuff?


Writers Helping Writers

Writers' Workshops, Conferences & Programs


Chicago Writers Association*Let's Just Write!




While browsing the vast selection of titles at one of my local video outlets, I came across a movie that definitely had promising potential. This flick featured Vince Vaughn (of which I am a huge fan). 
And it offered a bonus of a fun holiday theme.
How could I go wrong, right?

Read on. 
In the true spirit of couple-dom, Reese Witherspoon and Vaughn end up making the rounds to visit a quartet of relatives for Xmas (hence the title)-- once their exotic vacation plans fizzle out.
In the process, they find their resilience (and commitment) tested through kin-folks who fail to understand the meaning of boundaries and good taste.

Though the storyline was cute and relate-able, it really didn't deliver. 
The "funny" felt forced, and so it ultimately fell short for me.  

In all fairness, there were a few funny scenes and interesting moments, but overall, I wasn't impressed. So, unfortunately I'm gonna have to rate this movie 2.5 stars out of 5.

This wraps up this edition of Pen and Prosper's 3R's series.
Thanks for reading, folks.

Image credits: Popcorn-Pixabay.com
Book- Freedigitalphotos.net

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Food 4 Thought Friday-Be Less Busy!

Life is so uncertain. Unpredictable. Unrelenting in its many lessons.
The last time I published a post here, I was excited about holiday plans, social events, and the anticipation of a big holiday "spread" that would undoubtedly spread my waistline with the ease of butter.
But, I've never really been a calorie counting-salad eating-diet Coke drinking chick.
Why start now?  I was on cloud nine, "as visions of sugar plums danced in my head."

Then it all changed. In 72 hours.
I got a call from my mom that my brother died unexpectedly.
I can't begin to tell you how that rocked my world. How it changed my perspective.

As is human nature, I immediately began to reminisce.  I thought of all the good times.
I remembered all the plans that Pete and I  "tentatively" had, but never quite found the time to get around to.

He loved my cooking! We were supposed to get together at his new place soon, where I would whip up some comfort food and share some laughs.  Also on the list was a plan to attend local real estate seminars (of which we both shared an interest). But, I got busy. And so did he.

I'm sure you can probably relate. In these fast-paced, hectic, demanding times, we find ourselves trying to fit more in than can reasonably be accommodated; particularly if we factor in restful sleep and self-care. But, take it from me, we must make time for family, friends and loved ones.

If I could do things over again, I would do it differently.
Unfortunately, real life doesn't provide a "rewind" button. Bummer.

So, the moral of the story here?
Be less busy. Make sure that your activities and routines reflect your values.
Spend less time on Facebook and more on cultivating real conversations that create real bonds and future memories.

Put your cell phones down at the dinner table.
Cherish each day. Tomorrow is not promised.
And tell those near and dear to you that you love them. While you can.

I love you Peter...Rest in peace.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thoughts of Thanks and Year End Reflections...

It's been a challenging year for many of us in many ways.
From horrific acts of violence witnessed on the news, to political chaos, to natural disasters, to personal trials and tribulations.

Still, when I woke up this morning to see the vast difference in the weather, the falling leaves that colorfully decorate my front yard, the peaceful calm, the transition of the season, I am reminded of the beauty and divinity in nature, the daily blessings (big and small). The things we may take for granted, if we don't "Stop and smell the roses."

Sometimes when we're mired down and buried under the rubble of life, it's hard to remember the good things--to see the hope and promise in tomorrow. And yet we must.

Instead of focusing on all the negative things going on around us, I invite you to join me in celebrating the richness of life, moving forward.
As we embark upon the holiday season, let's give thanks for liberty; for family and friends; for good food and laughter; for bargain sales; for the joy of children; for creative gifts; for love's passion; for the therapy in music; for chocolate; for health and shelter; and most importantly, for our Saviour.

In this same spirit of gratitude, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Each. And. Every. One. Of. You. For your readership, comments, questions, suggestions, engagement, business support, social media shares, and words of encouragement through the year.

It means more than you know.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, bountiful, blessed, safe Thanksgiving season!


Please note that Pen and Prosper will be on a brief break until December 1st.
I look forward to re-connecting.


Monday, November 6, 2017

How to Become More Savvy About Client Selection




It's not unusual for a client to walk into a beauty salon with a photo to ask the stylist to make her look just like Beyonce. Or Jennifer Aniston. Or Halle Berry. Or...fill in the blank.

The problem? The request typically can't be accommodated because the individual lacks the hair length, hair texture, facial features, coloring, etc. to be realistically transformed into the celebrity she wants to adoringly emulate.

As I once heard a stylist say: "I'm a beautician, not a magician."

A similar challenge sometimes exists with unenlightened writing clients.

Here's their M.O.

They'll provide you with an example of a website, business card, blog style, or book design cover that they have seen somewhere and admire, that they'd like for you to re-create or execute with a fraction of the funds, resources, or timeframe. Some of these (otherwise lovely) folks are unreasonable in their expectations. While others simply have "champagne taste" on a beer budget.
Either way, it could add up to potential headaches, lost time, strained relations, and money for your efforts that you'll never see.

Which is why "smart" client selection is so crucial to your business operation, your sanity and your bottom line moving forward.

And I should know. Over the years of providing professional creative services, I have lost countless dollars from not being able to collect from clients who are sometimes "clueless" about what constitutes a valid contract and/or a billable task.

Don't let this happen to you. Though you'll find an abundance of articles online devoted to how to "pitch" a client, or which job boards to find work, very little covers client "screening".
Which is why I've got you covered.

Before we examine how to choose clients who are professional, prepared to do business, realistic and worth working with, let's address some of their characteristics and "tale-tell" traits.


  • They have a good, profitable business model and successful track record in their industry. Here's why: if they're not "in the black" and making money, ultimately they won't be able to afford to pay you.
  • They understand and recognize the difference between a service-oriented business and one that provides goods. A point of reference: far too many clients fail to realize that a freelance writer or service professional is compensated for their time, skill set and industry related knowledge.  

Here are a few related examples: a lawyer would charge you for a phone consultation even if they are not hired to represent you in a court case; a furnace repairman will often bill you a service charge to come out and look at your unit, regardless as to whether the corrective work is actually performed. Yet, I encounter so many people that don't think they should pay professional writers or creative consultants for a Strategy Session, or Ebook and information products, or Phone Consultations or "Picking their Brain."  A few months ago, I actually had someone to contact me about helping him with a business idea, who found my information on a directory listing for professional freelancers. Although it listed my rate clearly, he wanted me to help him for free. Go figure.
Just like a designer handbag might enhance one's personal image, professional services can enhance the bottom line of a business and should be valued accordingly.
  • They are respectful and responsive in their initial interactions with you.
  • They have a budget for their project and have no problems communicating it with you.
  • The budget for their project is commensurate with the scope, desired experience and level of the project. In other words, it doesn't pay $5.00 for a 1000-word article.
  • They know the difference between an independent contractor and a staff employee.


  • Start by seeking work through reputable job boards, where it's very likely that there has been some "pre-screening" done already. Sites like Pro Blogger, Writers Weekly, and Freelance Writing jobs are typically smart choices here.
  • Always do your homework. Before signing on the "dotted line" conduct a simple Google search to determine if there have been any complaints by other freelancers or questionable practices by their business. "Better safe than sorry."
  • Have an initial consultation, whenever possible, to determine if the partnership would potentially be a good fit. 
Questions to consider:
Is there a similar work ethic?
Do they have a compatible work style and personality?
Do they listen well and respect your input?
Does their mission, product or services align with your values or lifestyle?
  • Seek to get everything in writing.
  • Remember that "time is money."
  • Avoid working with clients who want to haggle with you about prices as if you were at a garage sale. From my experience, they will never understand and pay you your real worth.
  • Don't fall victim to the philosophy that "some money is better than no money." Not always. Choose wisely.
  • Don't fail to learn from your past failures. Experience can be a great teacher, if we heed it. 

Good clients are a blessing and the lifeline of any successful business.
If you want to become wiser about making money, making better career choices, and expanding your freelance business, become a "quick study" in the area of cultivating clients.

Thoughts? Agree or disagree?
Anything that you would add here?

Image credit:
Be Smart, Pixabay.com

Monday, October 30, 2017

7 Ways to Overcome Writer's Overwhelm!

It's a Monday. And like most hectic days, it starts out with chocolate.
This time a slice of cake.
Love me, don't judge me. :-)

Already in place this week on my "to-do- list" is setting up a new blog with business cards for a former client; planning for a book signing in the next few weeks; invoicing; yard work; and an appointment for routine screenings.

And did I mention NANOWRIMO is right around the corner, followed closely by the holiday creep?
Truth is, no matter how we try to plan our lives, schedule, control, or plead with it, it often has its own agenda and unfolding. True?
It can make you want to crawl under the covers and bury your head...until further notice.

Which is why today's post offers tips to help you get a better grasp on your creative life and your sanity. And breathe a little easier, my friend.
So grab a cup of your favorite brew and let's get started.





1. Plan when possible, but be flexible.

I find that even though my days can be sidetracked by unexpected things, starting out with a general "game plan" at least provides a sense of structure and direction. And you will too. The night before, try to list at least 5 important things to do the next day. It doesn't have to be complicated or major. You can even plug these items in on your cell phone for ease and efficiency. The key is to better manage your time, so that your tasks align with your goals, commitments and values.

2. Prioritize properly.

One thing that I often struggle with is feeling that I have to tend to everything immediately. Not true.
Though it feels great to get things off my to-do list, assigning them equal importance and urgency only creates unnecessary pressure.

3. Pray.

Releasing to a higher source, the things that I can't control helps me to feel a little less burdened and divinely supported. I recommend it. When you are stretched to the limits remember: "And this too shall pass."

4. Meditate.

Meditation is said to have many benefits. Among them are mental clarity, peacefulness, and greater focus. Read about more benefits of meditation through this interesting article at Huffington post.

5. Strive to be proactive, instead of reactive.

For example, if you know that your busy period at your 9 to 5 gig might prevent you from meeting a client's deadline, don't wait til it's too late; communicate. This can save your reputation and your worry.

6. Seek balance.

To recharge, sometimes it's important to disconnect. Hello?
Step away from the computer. Listen to some soft jazz or classical music. Read a book. Take time out to spend with family and loved ones.  Take a nature walk.
On a related note: a great self-help book that you should definitely add to your library is "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson. See it here:
"You can't give from an empty cup."

7. Avoid high maintenance relationships.

If a client, friend, or romantic partner causes you to visit your liquor cabinet more than you'd like, it's time to reassess here. Toxic and/or demanding relationships can rob you of your peace, health, time and quality of life. Choose wisely.

Here's a bonus tip in closing: strive for excellence, not perfection.

Remember, it's important to find healthy, constructive, coping mechanisms during  turbulent times, so that you can continue to create and prosper.

You owe it to yourself, your readers and those you love.
Thanks for dropping by.

Your turn.
Thoughts? Comments? Any of these suggestions resonate with you?

Image credits: Pixabay.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How I used Contests to Build my Writer's Platform



Though typically very diligent by nature, (some even say a "workaholic"), when it comes to social media I must admit, I’m a bit of a “slacker.”  By some folks' definition a “recluse.”

Judge for yourself.

My last post on Facebook, (If I recall correctly) was about four months ago. And at last count, I had less than 200 Twitter followers.

Still, I have earned thousands of dollars through my blog; have partnered and done projects with major brands such as Good Earth Tea, Fan Story and Five Star Publications; and I maintain a relatively high level of visibility and a decent degree of popularity, despite my M.I.A. status.

Over the years, in fact, I have been blessed to have my blog recognized and honored as a Top Writing Blog for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, amid some very excellent sites.

How, you ask? In one word: Contests.

That’s right. And you can too.

According to Writermarketdesign.com: Whether you win, place, or receive an Honorable Mention in a writing contest, that award gives you recognition — both as an author/writer in your genre and/or an expert in your specific field or industry. People will begin to recognize you as a writer in your field, which can lead to exciting new writing, speaking, and other opportunities.”

But before I provide the 4-1-1 on how to make it happen, here are a few reasons contests are a great strategy to promote your writing, amplify your writer’s voice, make money and get noticed on the Net.  


  • Contests help you to stand out and stay relevant amid vast competition. A recent Google search revealed that there are over 152,000,000 blogs online. With so much activity, it becomes crucial to find ways to get recognized and read. Winning contests is one viable way. Contests help writers to “work smarter, not harder” in terms of marketing and promotions.
  • Contests conducted online often enjoy shared links, social media postings, and allow winners to get their name and their work in front of new audiences and readerships. Used correctly, it’s a great networking and advancement tool. Did I mention that my first blog advertiser was actually the direct result of a writing contest I advanced in back in 2011? And get this. I never even pitched the company; they sought me out.
  •  Entering and winning contests helps to establish authority, credibility and social proof.
  • Contests not only provide a certain level of prestige, many are profitable in other ways: like publishing contracts, money, and guest posting opportunities on prominent sites.


PERSONAL ENTRY OR APPLICATION--These types of contests usually require a formal process by which participants submit a personal essay, create a slogan, write a story based upon a theme, post a video or perhaps answer trivia questions. Writers Digest often sponsors these.

BY NOMINATION--Contests in this category are based upon personal recommendations and votes from readers and followers. A good example here would be THE WRITE LIFE'S Top 100 Writing Blogs Contest. Bloggers seek out nominations from their readers by directly making an announcement on their site or within their social media circles.


  • Commit. As the lottery commercial states: "You can't win if you don't play!" Hello?
  • Get real about your skills. What do you do better than the average Joe? Are you good at spinning a story? Is your blogging boast-worthy? Are you a great photographer? Assess and apply. There are an array of contests that showcase different creative abilities and leanings  Choose one or several. 
  • Assess your odds (realistically). If you've never written poetry before, chances are your "opus" will not make the final cut in a contest on writing verse.
  • Research your options. Conduct a Google keyword search on "Contests for writers." You can also tap into many different fun competitions at FanStory.com or The Writers Market. 
  • Always put your best foot forward. Remember "you never get a second chance to make a 1st impression."


  • Never send large sums of money as reading or entry fees. Make sure to investigate the legitimacy of any contest or online solicitation before responding. A few minutes of Internet research can save you a great deal of money and disappointment here. Trust me on this one.
  • Don't underestimate the importance of following the contest guidelines to the letter. No matter how talented or clever you are, if you exceed established word counts, neglect to submit in the proper format, or make other errors, you'll lose the opportunity to be even seriously considered.
  • Don't let your fears keep you from moving forward. The potential rewards make it well worth the effort! 

There's a winner in you!
 Follow these timely tips to use contests to increase your visibility and your bottom line in 2017.

Thoughts? Questions? Agree or disagree?
Any contest winners out there? Do tell.