How to Write Better Instagram Captions

Instagram is a social media platform that I really struggle with. I don't like themes (expect a post on this soon) and I don't really get the need to make my house, or life, or child, or self, seem perfect. Sometimes, I feel really jealous over curated Instagram profiles because it just seems to take so much work

One of the most challenging parts of Instagram is writing captions. Seriously, captions. I can have a good photo and a good idea. But then I'm stuck, staring at that caption box. Like, what do I put here? What works? 

I gathered up a few resources to come up with a few ideas. Here they are. 

1. Write to engage. 

This is something I struggle with. When I post photos, I try to post something I think is funny or related to the photo. But on Instagram, when it comes to getting people's attention, there is a benefit to writing something that engages other people. This is a great post on doing just that

2. Be brief. 

Does this feel like it is at odds with that first point? A little bit. But here's the truth: it's possible to write engaging captions, without going on for sentences. I definitely try to keep my captions two sentences or less. Although I follow some great accounts (like my friend @poesyross) who use longer captions to great effect. For more about writing with brevity, click here

3. Make sure to edit. 

This goes without saying: before you hit post, make sure to proofread. I've definitely hit post before write as I notice a glaring, huge typo on my post. Oops. Not the most professional looking, for sure. For more on editing for length & more, click here

4. Use a quote. 

Here's the thing: sometimes, there just aren't words. You have a great photo. You know what time you need to post for maximum engagement. You have everything ready. Except words. Grab your favorite (related) quote, add a question, and post it with your favorite hashtags. Easy peasy. Pinterest is a great source for great quotes. Click here to view some

5 Young Professional Outfits to Wear This Week

It feels like half a century ago that I wrote my post on how to dress professionally as a new graduate. Looking at my photos makes me realize how much fashion has changed since I wrote that post (4 years ago!?). It's time for a refresh, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite Polyvore sets for workwear.

These outfits are definitely more appropriate for a "casual" office; if you work as a lawyer, paralegal, etc., you probably won't be able to wear these exact outfits. But they're great for a little inspiration! 

1. Black & White

I love a good stripe-focused outfit. This one has all the makings of professional wear--a nice pair of black pants, a striped top, and a jacket--with a nice, young twist. If you work in a more "strict" dress coded office, you can wear your standard trousers or pencil skirt, and a snazzy white blazer over a striped blouse. Pair with black pumps for the same chic, French feel.   

2. Pastel Florals

You know how I said this outfits were more for casual offices? Yeah. This is one I could probably wear to my office--which has approximately 0 dress code rules except "please wear clothes"--but others might have a difficult time. There are ways to take this outfit though and use it for inspiration. Mainly: that floral bomber jacket. I really want one, although I feel like maaaaybe it's a little bit too young for a 28-year-old mother. That being said, a floral bomber jacket paired with a sheath dress and some boots would be perfect for any office. Or even over jeans and a nice blouse on casual Friday. 

3. Light & Bright

Winter is dragging, isn't it? It snowed yesterday here in Oregon. Snowed! That's why I included this outfit, although please ignore those absolutely heinous shoes. A clean, crisp yellow knitted sweater with a chic white pant (or white jeans, if you err on the side of caution when it comes to white) and some nude heels is as summery as it gets--even in the office. Again, if you work in a stricter office, top with a blazer (a black or gray blazer would be amazing, or even navy if you want to work a more retro vibe). 

4. Layers to Love

This is a Very Winter outfit, because, again, winter is really dragging itself out the door at this point. I love brightly colored pants and these maroon ones are so, so cute. Paired with a cozy, knit sweater, over a collared shirt, and paired with heels, it's cute and creative, while still being warm. 

5. Look Forward to Summer

If nothing else, we have summer to look forward too, right? I find summer a very difficult season to dress professionally in. It's hot! It's sweaty! The air conditioner always breaks in every single office everywhere. I love this simple dress--topped with a denim jacket or a light sweater in the summer, it's perfect for the office, especially when paired with some strappy brown sandals. 

Is it Bad to Write Bad Reviews?

I'm a very active Goodreads reviewer. (You can add me on Goodreads here.) Since I read a good number of NetGalley books, and some of those books are categorically Not So Great, I end up writing a fair number of bad or so-so reviews. Sometimes, I get replies that my review is too harsh (as if holding authors and editors to standards of grammar and cohesive plots is "too harsh", but ok) or a "doozy." 

I read a lot of romance novels. And I'd say about 75% of published romance novels are categorically "bad." They might be "so bad they're good" or that kind of guilty pleasure bad. But they're still bad, in terms of plot and characterization. That's what I review for: is the plot cohesive? Are the characters well-rounded? Are their actions believable within their universe and personality? No? Then, you have work to do. 

There are a pretty high number of Goodreads users who start reviews with something like, "If I don't like a book, I don't finish it or review it." So basically, they only review the books they like. That's fine, but how does that help other readers decide if a book is worth their time? How does it help bring attention to something a newer author needs to work on? How does it help people find diverse books? Here's the thing: it doesn't. 

It's not possible to like everything. And that's ok. 

I love reading! I even love reading terrible books (really). But if I start a book with all 5-star reviews and realize halfway through it feels like it was written all in one sitting with absolutely no editing work or attempt at cohesiveness, well, I'm gonna be a little disappointed. And I'll start to question my sanity. What are those 5-star reviewers seeing that I'm not? It leads to me feeling a little, well, confused. Then I remember: so many people just don't write bad reviews. They don't want to do it. 

I totally understand. When you're reviewing a book, you're reviewing someone's work. Even if it is bad, it's something they worked hard on. But that being said, no one can improve if they aren't told how to. They can't change things if they don't know they need to, if they don't know that it isn't working. As a writer who really struggles to share my work publicly, it can be stressful to ask for feedback on something that feels so personal--but you need feedback to grow. Even professional author's need readers feedback to see what works and what doesn't. 

Readers also need that feedback to make better decisions about what books they want to read. 

So, is it bad to write bad reviews? Is it mean? Should I stop doing it? No, absolutely not. Writing critical reviews of books isn't a personal attack on an author; it's a necessary part of interacting in the literary world. We have to be critical some times to effect change and improve literature. 

Beauty Review: Columbia Skincare Probiotic Complex & Concentrate*

(Per my Disclosure Policy, an asterisk* denotes that this post is sponsored. I receive the Columbia Skincare Probiotic Concentrate and Probiotic Complex as samples in return for an honest review. While I received these products, the following review is honest and my own! To learn more about my advertising and PR policies, click here and here.)

When I was offered the opportunity to try out some new skincare, I'll admit it: I was really excited. I've been really struggling with my skin lately: a lot of break outs, a lot of oiliness, a lot of redness. I was hoping that trying something new would help me out. 

The products I received from Columbia Skincare are their Probiotic Concentrate and their Probiotic Complex. The concentrate is like a toner that you apply with a dropper and rub in; the complex is more like a thick cream moisturizer. 

Here's what Columbia Skincare has to say about their products: 

"Our probiotics promote the natural cleansing of impurities in the cellular system, including residual impurities from other medications and treatments including retinoids." 

Sounds cool, right? 

I don't use products with retinol in them (but if you do and decide to give Columbia Skincare a try, you need to stop using retinol products at the same time as it can cause some issues). However, I'm very into ridding my skin of impurities. I've used acne treatments for so long that my face is numb to them, which I'm sure isn't great

So what did I think of Columbia Skincare? 

Let's start with the Probiotic Concentrate: I really liked it! It made my skin feel really clean and smooth after applying. Plus, I loved the dropper; it made me feel extra fancy. I haven't noticed a huge improvement with my skin, except that I have had less break outs since I started using it (possibly unrelated correlation, but I like to think it has helped) and my skin generally seems healthier with less bad oily and dry patches. 

As for the Probiotic Complex, I did have some issues with it. When you first apply it, it feels really mattifying, which is actually awesome; I typically use a mattifying moisturizer from Dermatologica, so that was nice. However, after about 40+ minutes on, it got incredibly oily. It was like an oil slick. Underneath make up, it was even worse; my make up basically slid off two hours into wearing it. Not a great look. Even though the instructions say to apply both morning and night, I've decided to keep the Complex for night time. It's nice because it is very moisturizing and makes my skin very soft, but the excess oil for the day isn't great. If you have dry skin, however, it would be AMAZING. 

Other notes: the products are high quality, including the packaging. It is glass and very heavy, as well as feeling very luxurious. The smell of the products isn't bad; there is no artificial scent. It smells really clean and... doctor's office-y, for lack of a better term. Not bad, but not like something I want to smell like--although my husband assures me my face doesn't end up smelling like that! 

Want to try Columbia Skincare? Find them on Facebook here and you can check out their website here

3 Ways to Improve Your Flat Lay Photos

It took me a long time to get good at flat lay photos. I have some doozies on my Instagram from back in the day. I've just recently started to get good at it... probably because I only just recently started really, you know, trying. Mainly, I started spending a lot of time looking at flat lay photos that I like (you can view a collection of them on my Pinterest) and really figuring out how to do it. 

A few notes: 

  • I really believe in having your own "style." A lot of flat lays seem to follow a similar formula: white or marble background, gold or rose gold accents, truly random props. I'm not into that. I use two plaid scarves as my backgrounds because that feels a little more "my style" for Fall and Winter. Come Spring, I'll figure something out. 
  • Don't feel the need to take flat lay photos if you just don't like them! I like them: they're simple, they're pretty, and the more you practice, the easier they are to take. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect. You don't need a DSLR. I use my iPhone. 

Ok, let's talk tips now. 

1. Have the right apps 

I use my iPhone to take all my flat lay photos. Here's why: It's easier. I can take one really quickly while Forrest is halfway destroying my kitchen, then get back to business. I take photos with my iPhone camera. I have the grid option turned on--you can turn this on in settings--because it helps center things and make sure you're getting a good angle. Then, I edit using A Color Story from A Beautiful Mess. You can use a variety of filters (and buy some extras), but I use the same filters every time: Magic Hour (25%), Ginger Tea (25%), Disco Ball (50%), then either Everyday (50%), Lite Bright (50%), or Ruby Haze (50% or less). If you feel your photo wasn't taken in the best light and has that slightly "yellow" look, you can adjust the white balance in A Color Story as well. 

2. Take photos near a window. 

Point blank: the best light is indirect sunlight. I take photos in my bedroom, with the curtains open, on my bed. So set up your photo station near a window and snap away. If I miss daylight hours (which I often do), it's a bust: I'll never be able to edit photos taken at night, under artificial lights, to look as good as I want them to. Sometimes, I still post them anyway, but only when desperate. 

3. Crop accordingly. 

I think the number one mistake that I continue to make is feeling like I should't "crop" a photo. But sometimes photos look better when you crop out extra space. Prime example: When I post flat lays of books (like this one or this one), I end up cropping out a lot of "extra space" so you can focus on the cover. Don't be afraid to crop and that means, maybe cropping something partly out of the photo (like I cropped out my Kindle partially in this photo). 


Most importantly, don't be afraid of being perfectly imperfect. Like if your nail polish is looking rough. Or it's something you don't want to, um, put down on the ground. Or if you son decides he wants the book you're trying to take a photo of. It's ok. It doesn't have to be perfect. It's just Instagram! 

5 Gift Ideas for New Moms

One of the most common questions my non-mom friends ask me is, "What should I get so-and-so for a gift? Once she has her baby?" It's sometimes hard to know what exactly to give someone when they've just had a baby--and you don't really want to bug the new parents by asking what, exactly, they'd like. I thought I'd share a few ideas. 

1. Food. 

When in doubt, give food: gift cards for their closest pizza place, meals to shove in the freezer, groceries that make easy meals, or pre-made snacks. One thing that I ate pretty much non-stop when Forrest was a newborn was turkey sandwiches. So if you really don't know what to do, make some food, buy some groceries, or pick up a few gift cards so they can pick up take out. 

2. Gift cards

Again, gift cards are one of the best gifts you can give, either for food or groceries, or, alternatively, places they would need to pick up something quick. I basically fell in love with everyone who sent me a Target or Wal-Mart gift card in the newborn days; my husband and I ended up going to Target at least once a day for the first two weeks to get things we just hadn't thought of (more diaper cream, Vaseline, diapers, a head support for the car seat). A few ideas include Target, Babies'r'Us, Wal-Mart, WalGreens, their local grocery store, or Amazon. 

3. A clean house. 

People really underestimate how nice it is to have a clean house. I remember feeling like I would never have order again when we brought Forrest home; I'd been in the hospital for over a week and a half, I hadn't seen my house in days, there was mail and stuff and boxes everywhere from people sending us things, bringing us things, and trying to organize without me being there. Plus, we had all this baby furniture moved around. So here's my piece of advice: hire a cleaning service for your new mom friend OR go and vacuum, pick up, and clean for her. 

4. Time.

When Forrest was around 3 weeks old, my mom came over one afternoon so that I could take my first shower in like 8 or 9 days. It was the best 40 minutes of my life. If you have a new mom friend, sanitize your hands and body incredibly well, make sure you don't even have an inkling of a cough, and ask if she'd like you to hold the baby while she showers, or pays bills, or lies in bed. Holding a newborn is pretty great tbh.  

5. A necklace. 

All of these gifts are great. But some people really, really want to get moms something more... substantial than just useful. If you're this kind of person (which is awesome), I highly recommend something commemorative. It doesn't have to be super expensive. I have a bracelet with a little blue bead that my mother-in-law gave me after Forrest was born and I love it. A necklace or simple bracelet is a great idea. I like this simple stone necklace. This personalized Tree of Life necklace is gorgeous. This simple ring is perfect for a mom who doesn't wear a ton of jewelry. Confession, I'm actually thinking of ordering this super cool necklace for myself


None of these gifts tickle your fancy? Most importantly, you know your friend better than anyone else. Give something from the heart, whether that means a gift card, a big hug, or a pizza. One note I'd like to include is please don't get new moms anything "feeding specific": if your friend is struggling with breastfeeding, it can feel like a lot of pressure to review a breastfeeding pillow, breast milk bags, or a breastfeeding shawl. 

5 Polyvore Sets for Valentine’s Day Inspiration

Valentine’s Day is almost here. Here’s the thing: I love Valentine’s Day. I love the color scheme. I love the kitschy vibe. I love the candy. 

I don’t care if you think it is commercialized as hell. (I mean, you’re totally right.) I enjoy it regardless. Me and my closest thousands of friends. If you need more information regarding this, please see this tweet.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk what we’re going to wear. I picked 5 Polyvore sets to help us get in the mood for Valentine’s Day fashion. Let’s check it out! 

1. If you love sticking to the theme

Classic Valentine’s Day theme: red and white everything. I’ve seen some super cute graphic print tops and sweaters lately (like this one from the GAP or this one from Torrid), as well as some white hot red skirts (like this one from Forever 21). Add some cute red shoes & Valentine’s Day-themed accessories and you’ve got one super Instagrammable outfit. Seriously, take a photo. 

2. If You Hate Red

“Valentine’s Day is great. Except I hate red.” Sound familiar? That’s you. Or maybe you just love this outfit as much as I do. Ok, it’s not Valentine-y in the slightly. But it’s cute. It’s comfortable. And you’ll stay warm in it. (Is it as cold where you are as it is here in Oregon? Brrr!) Pair a classic preppy striped sweater with your favorite jeans, some cute loafers, and a killer coat for a Valentine’s Day outfit that says, “Fall in love with me because I’m always chic.” 

3. If you’re a little vintage 

You think outside the box. That’s for sure. Pair a cute, classic floral print dress (I love this one with a Peter Pan collar or this one) with an interesting, structured jacket, cute loafers, and fun accessories. You’ll be anything by boring. 

4. If you work from home

“But I don’t leave the house! Most of the time…” you think, as you scroll through these outfits. Hey, fellow bloggers, this outfit is for you. You’ll notice it’s also definitely not stereotypically Valentine-y either. But I think it’s plenty romantic. Pair your favorite jeans with a romantic sweater (the one picture is sold out, but I like this one from Nordstrom Rack too) and a comfy scarf, as well as some super cute booties. You’ll look perfectly romantic & perfectly put together—without being too frilly for getting everything done. 

5. If you love pink 

 

Pink isn’t everyone’s favorite color. But I’m betting it is yours. This outfit is for the girl who loves pink. A pink dress is a pretty standard wardrobe staple (and you can wear them hundreds of ways). I like this ribbed knit dress from Forever 21 and this peach number from Lulu’s for a fancier evening. Pair with flats and a cute jacket (I love this floral print bomber jacket) for a day out with friends… or just another day at the office. 

How to Pitch a Story

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I was recently published on IFB. I made it one of my goals in February to start pitching stories to larger publications and getting published more and more. They published my article on writing a content marketing plan for your blog. I have a few pieces at a few other websites that will go live in March. 

If you've ever had a genius idea for a post that just didn't really, well, fit with your blog, you might have thought that meant that the idea should just... go away. Wrong! Pitch that story to a larger website, like IFB or HelloGiggles. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some steps. 

1. Review the websites contributor policy. 

Most larger blogs that accept submissions have a policy for contributors. It's usually in the footer links of the website. This is HelloGiggles, as an example. This policy gives you instructions of how to submit a pitch, what they need, and what they want from any submissions. 

2. Have an idea. 

It's easy to just send out a bunch of emails saying, "Hey, I want to write something!" But before you hit send, make sure you're sending an actual, concrete idea. Even better, have part of an article written before you do anything. 

3. Write the email. 

Make sure that the subject line meets standards. (As an example, Rookie accepts submissions, but you have to use the correct subject line. Again, read those policies!) Introduce yourself and then write a brief paragraph outlining your idea. Why do you think it would be good for that website? How would it help readers? Be sure to include a link to your blog and any writing samples you have available. Double (and maybe triple) check your email for mistakes before you hit send. 

4. Play the waiting game. 

Waiting to hear back is the hardest part. I had the quickest turn around from IFB, but for others, it can take weeks. 

5. Get published... or not. 

Boom! Your pitch gets accepted. What now? Time to write! Sit down and write the post you promised. Send it in the format they asked for (most publications are OK with Word doc format). Make sure to include a brief bio at the end! And again, play the waiting game. They'll usually let you know of an approximate publish date. 

But wait, what if they pass on the pitch? Well, that sucks. But don't take it too hard. Move on and send the pitch somewhere else. So it wasn't right for one website... maybe there is another one it would be perfect for. Do some research and find it a home. A professor in college always said that if she ever got a rejection letter, she immediately submitted either the same piece or another piece to a different magazine because it kept the momentum going. No matter what: keep the momentum going!