On Becoming a Better Writer

I majored in broadcast journalism in college. I spent oodles of time working on my voice and fretting the fact that everyone thought I looked 12 on camera. But I had the good sense enough to chase after the thing that really mattered: becoming a better writer.

I didn’t land on the nightly news (which is a topic for another post entirely), but I do write every day. In fact, I’ve made some money writing over the years. I still have the very first “book” I wrote from the first grade. I have always been a writer and will always be a writer.

When I interned at WSMV Channel 4, I’d tag along with reporters on their news stories. More than anything, I wanted to mimic their good habits so that I, too, could become a better writer. On the way to a story, riding in the news car, I’d wait for a break in the conversation and ask, “What advice do you give for being a better writer?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. This past weekend, I attended a blow-your-socks-off conference on apologetics (I’ll post more about the conference later). Among the things that astounded me was the level of scholarship these speakers exuded. The men I heard were smart. Very smart. Extremely well-read and studied. Quite articulate, excellent story-tellers, compelling wordsmiths.

I was confronted with my steady diet of Spongebob, CNN news headlines, and Seinfeld re-runs. Really. Just soaking up the knowledge in these men’s brains and being asked to track with them was invigorating and convicting.

So what makes a good writer? I offer my suggestions (from a mix of that aspiring television journalist in the early 90s and a worn-out mother of three in the 21st century):

  • Live. Writing must be authentic, born from life experiences. You gotta have something to say before you can say it.
  • Learn. Read. Research. Open books. Immerse oneself in classic literature and in the great minds past and present.
  • Listen. Train one’s ear to listen for beautiful language, great storytelling, weighty words with meaning, and foreign words needing more explanation.
  • Expose oneself to other art forms to find inspiration. Great music, theatre, or film often jump start a creative notion inside. Hang out with creative people and tap into their muse, too.
  • Don’t settle for life at the surface level. That’s easy. Life is offered to us on a paper plate every day. Go deeper. Ask for the good china and the steak and lobster. Spend some time mulling over the weightier matters of philosophy or theology. Everybody’s good at the surface-y stuff. Don’t be like everybody else.
  • Write.

What makes you a better writer?

Creative Commons License photo credit: tech no logic

Disclosure: I am not a medical doctor. Any statements made on this blog about essential oil use are not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any condition. My statements about essential oils are my opinion and are based upon my own experiences and research.

I occasionally feature affiliate links in my blog posts. Should you follow my link and make a purchase or join a membership website, I will be compensated for my referral.

5 Steps To Starting a Money-Making Blog

I’ve been blogging for about 2.5 years and have learned a lot about the craft. I have people ask me all the time how to begin blogging and about the prospect of making money doing so. I’ll share with you my 5 steps to starting a money-making blog.

1. Create.

Find a topic about which you are passionate. I believe that niche blogging can be the most lucrative. Since the web is world-wide, your audience literally spans the globe. Find your passion, focus your mission (why will you write this blog?), then go find your audience. Approach it as a “they need what I’m offering, I just have to find them” problem.

2. Establish.

Technically, the best course for setting up your blog is to buy a domain from a manager such as GoDaddy.com and self-host your site, using WordPress.org and hosts such as MomWebs or DreamHost. From there, you can find templates for design or hire a designer. This will cost you a little bit of money, but it shouldn’t be much. I’ve enjoyed my time on here on free Blogger, but were I beginning a brand-new blog, I’d probably go the self-hosted route.

3. Post.

Write posts that convey your passion. Write often—at least three times a week. Write from the heart.

4. Monetize.

Place ads on your blog using Google Adsense and Lijit (I have these). Sell your own ads. Become an affiliate for other products and companies, such as Amazon. The goal here is to diversify. You must also be prepared to make little to no money in the beginning. The title says, “money-making” not “lotsa money-making”!

5. Promote.

Remember: you are trying to find your audience. Go where they are and draw them in. Use Facebook (my second biggest source for referrals) to create a “Like” page. Use the Twitter search function to find like-minded persons to follow. Be active on communities such as BlogFrog. Send an email to your family, your Sunday school class, your co-workers asking them to check out your blog. Have business cards printed with your blog address. Creatively seek out your audience within all the circles of your life.

The magic formula for a money-making blog is this:

CONTENT ——–> TRAFFIC ——–>  PAGE VIEWS ——–>  AD $$$ ——–>  MONEY for you

Keep unique and high quality content first and the rest will follow.

Do you have a money-making blog? If so, would you tell us how much you make—roughly—each month? What other tips would you offer bloggers?

~~~



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photo: blary54 at stock.xchng

The Savvy Blogging Summit 2010 Saved My Blog

I went to the Savvy Blogging Summit this past weekend, prepared to come home and shut down my blog.

Yep. You read that right.

I was half-way expecting to leave the Summit, feeling soberly deflated from my crazy notions that this blogging thing could ever be a business for me.

But that didn’t happen.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

Let me back up a minute, though, and tell you how I approached this trip.

For the first half of 2010, I’ve felt my life has been topsy-turvy: the unprecedented Nashville flood, losing a friend in the Haiti earthquake, watching my church shut its doors, leaving Blissdom with little more than a handful of business cards and some groovy swag as my “take-away.” Because I’ve always been a “big vision,” idealistic person, these losses have chipped away at my grandiose ideas.

When loved ones die, when cherished items are destroyed, when the unthinkable happens, when expectations are never realized, dreams are obliterated.

Such disappointments cause me to reconsider everything in life and become a bit stingier with my dreaming.

Sure, I had always salivated at the thoughts of my blog making money. But I had also ballooned those thoughts to the point of worship, blurring the lines between authentic calling and my own assertions in the pursuit of success.

Going to this conference, I did my best to dismiss me and my ideas, opening myself to God’s ideas instead.

I had all but decided that—although I would continue to write—I would most likely abandon the idea of trying to make money with my blog.

Nevertheless, I went into it prayerfully that God would use it to show me “yea” or “nay.” Keep it or close it? Pursue it or leave it? I wanted to know. I wanted God to show me. I was so tired of striving for my own idols in my own strength. I just prayed God would show me how to do well that which he had created me to do.

The fact that I even got to go was a wonderful sign to me of God’s validation (thanks to the three women behind My Grandmother is … Praying for Me). The fact I found three other Christian bloggers for roommates was another. The fact that there was no traffic to the airport on Thursday morning? Well, what better sign could I ask for?

Seriously, God gave his favor on every aspect of this trip. I am reminded that God says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I think of so many of my previous pursuits and how HARD they’ve been. Obstacle after obstacle.  Dead end after dead end.

But God confirmed that this blogging/writing endeavor is an “easy” and “light” place for me to be. What freedom to simply walk the path God has laid!

My “Take-Away”

I came home with a notebook full of scribbles of nuggets of wisdom. I made lots of new friends and have a small stack of business cards to file away. I have a to-do list and a to-read list that spans a couple of pages.

I “took-away” much in terms of practical, legitimate, immediately usable information to make my blog more readable, more easily discovered, and—ultimately—more profitable.

But, by far, for me, the biggest take-away from this conference was that I am meant to do this for God’s glory. He will equip me to do that which he calls me to do. Will it all come overnight? No. Will I become an instant millionaire? Probably not.

I am simply called to follow step-by-step in faith and watch God’s plan unfold.

And I have a bunch of like-minded Savvy Blogger friends watching with me, cheering me on every step of the way.

~~~


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Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and make a small commission based on purchases that I recommend. I am also working on the publicity team for My Grandmother Is … Praying for Me

My Purpose in Life? It’s in Front of Me

A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker with a really profound message. He said that if one is searching for his or her “purpose” in life, one needs to look no further than the next task.

In other words, your purpose in life is your family, your job, your relationships. In the living of the basics, God ultimately reveals the bigger picture.

I loved this perspective. Mainly because I’m a “big picture” thinker and have often begged God for dramatic revelations and exciting happenings.

Somehow, in my mind, vacuuming, coupon-clipping, and folding laundry could never fit in with that romantic, idealized version of my “grand purpose” in life. But according this speaker, those things are my purpose. Why? Because that’s what God has me doing right NOW.

And, then, today, I was reading in a new book, Turn It Around, by Frank Santora. (Disclosure: I am working on the publicity team for Frank and his book and am being compensated for hours I work on his social media campaign. I also received a copy of the book for review and work-related purposes. Additionally, I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission on purchases based on my referrals.) I love the way Frank writes about this very idea.

Frank outlines David’s calling to King. David was the most unlikely candidate for King: the youngest, the shepherd. Yet his greater purpose from God was to lead God’s people. But how would he get from point A to point B?

Through the ordinariness of everyday life.

David’s father sent him to take lunch to his brothers who were preparing for battle with the Philistines. David complied, but when he got there, he discovered the Philistines had proposed a man-to-man challenge: their Goliath against Israel’s “strongest man.” David learned that the winner of the battle would be given great spoils by the King and one of his daughters in marriage. Perhaps David saw that defeating this giant would be a great way to get closer to the throne.

Interestingly, David put on Saul’s armor but took it off, saying he wasn’t comfortable. Instead, David picked up his tools of his trade: smooth stones and a slingshot. Frank explains the practice it would have taken (hours and hours) to become a perfect shot with a slingshot. Frank writes David, most likely, passed time watching the sheep with slingshot practice until he acheived deadly accuracy and caused even the wild animals to fear him.

Frank writes:

Yet even then, I’m sure David was a lot like you and me—questioning himself and thinking, Look at me! The only thing I’m good at is using this sling. What good will that ever do me? A sling was the weapon of peasants, not royalty. Kings and princes fought with spears, swords, and bows and arrows. Nobodies threw rocks. How could being an expert slinger possibly lead to becoming a king? 

How many times have I thought, The only things I’m good at are packing the dishwasher to capacity and getting tomato sauce stains out of shirts. How’s that going to help me? Or, I can write stuff. But who cares about writing? Who’s reading? What difference does it make? Or, what about, I’m just a mom (and not a great one at that). Really, how does it all matter? 

Well, we know how David’s story ends. He does slay the giant with those daily honed skills—insignificant, perhaps, in isolation but monumental in God’s economy! He does take the throne. He does become key in the lineage of Christ and is called a man after God’s own heart.

How will your story end? How will my story end?

Not quite sure yet. But I know what my story says NOW.

Now, I’m doing the tasks before me, honing and practicing the seemingly mundane, offering them to God for his glory and his greater purpose.

Have you ever looked at David’s story in this way? How does it affect you? 
~~~
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~~~


NOW: NaBloPoMo’s Blog Topic for June

If you are a frequent reader here (and if not, why not? Subscribe now!), you may recall that I blogged everyday in the month of November. It was a lot of fun, kind of hectic, sometimes anxiety-producing, but also an effective exercise at growing me as a writer and a blogger.

I’ve decided to do it again (that’s a post every day in June, people) this month with the folks at NaBloPoMo (that stands for National Blog Posting Month). This time’s there no prize except my own super-sense of satisfaction.

A big influence in my deciding to participate was the topic for this month. It is “Now.” I absolutely love this topic. It really dovetails nicely with all my latest efforts at intentional living. It also ties in with my yet-to-be-posted part 2 of my observations on the Lost series finale.

Now. I soooo need to be living in the now. Here’s to June 2010. This moment in time.

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~~~

I Desire Only One Superhero Power

I think I’m really having some writer’s paralysis lately—not just writer’s block.

Some of it is busyness and end-of-year happenings. Some of it is still trying to play catch-up from flood-related stuff and having some survivor’s guilt (for some reason, I feel that our family really “dodged a bullet” and I’m not sure why I feel that way?) and feeling so overwhelmed at the pain around me, that I don’t know what to write about. Serious post ideas seem to only brush over the surface of the gravity of the situation; funny post ideas (can we find humor in this situation?) seem offensive. I have one blogger friend who has encouraged us writers that “now” is our time; time to give voice to this tragedy. I agree. Only I can’t get my voice together enough to type it out.

I think I’m also kind of wondering what in the world I have to say that anyone would care about anyway. In light of this tragedy, so much seems trivial and unnecessary. That’s all the more true as I think about my getting older and the glitz of worldly possessions and pursuits seems to fade and tarnish with each passing year.

As I think on these things, I am compelled to dig more deeply into the meaning of my life, your life, this life, our lives. But that requires work. And thought. And analysis.

I know it’s work I’ve got to do, but it’s just going to take a little while. So, stay tuned, if you’re curious to read more.

And so, as I’m fighting heavy eyelids tonight with a “to-do” list longer than my arm, I’m fantasizing about having only one superhero power.

I would love the ability to stay awake (and feel NORMAL) for about three consecutive days. During this time, I would like to get caught up on every chore, project, and “to-do” list item.

I want to do this once a month. A standing catch-up session appointment.

I’m pretty sure this superhero power would solve all my problems.

At least, my blog would thrive.

Going Where This Blogger Has Not Gone Before

Way back in 2001, I and a dear friend and awesome writer worked together on a dream of mine. We created a Christian women’s magazine.

I can’t remember exactly, but I think we wrote and edited five or six issues then put the magazine away. It turns out that writing, editing, laying out, designing, copying, distributing, and promoting a women’s magazine is really hard. Especially for one woman who had a full-time job outside the home (me) and the other who had a full-time job as mom at home (Jen).

It was also really expensive to do all of that on paper, so our church picked up printing and copying costs. But it eventually became cost-prohibitive and time-consuming. Jennifer had some more babies, and I became pregnant and had one kid and then three. And you know the rest of the story.

So, anyway, sometimes I sit around and think about “what could have been” had I heeded the suggestions of some who said, “You should do this online” or “You should send it out by email.” Hmmm. To think where the readership might be today—eight or nine years later—if we had carried on online.

I am reinspired, however, to pick up where we left off, in a sense. I am eager to give this “newsletter/magazine” format another go.

See that box to the right that says, Get My Newsletter! ? Well, go over there and sign up.

I promise not to bombard you with garbage. My goal is to give you fresh, relevant, and insightful articles no more than once a week, delivered to your email inbox. I’ll be honest: this is a bit of an experimentation on my part at this point, but I’ve got to start somewhere, right?

I would love it if you’d sign up for this little experiment and give me your feedback as it gets going. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Will you support me in this new endeavor and tell any interested friends, too?

Thanks!

image: Morgue File

Cutting Back, Living Intentionally, and Writing

You may recall that my new year’s resolution was to live intentionally.

So, what does that look like in my life?, I wondered.

Well, I know what it doesn’t look like.

It doesn’t look like worn-out, frazzled mom. It doesn’t look like worried mom juggling deadlines. It doesn’t look like fast food for every meal. It doesn’t look like the illusion of making money and “getting ahead” when, in actuality, the bank account is strained and debt continues to accrue. It doesn’t look like laundry and dish piles.

At least not for me. Not for us. Not for our family.

And so, I posted a plea for advice to you, my dear readers. You had great words of wisdom and encouragement. I felt good, at least, to know that I wasn’t completely crazy and alone, drowning in a sea of demands and deadlines.

Chris and I prayed, mulling over your words and ideas and re-evaluating our “intention” of intentional living in 2010 and decided that we were not, indeed, living with intention. We were being run by our circumstances. We were reacting, not proacting. We were slaves to the tyranny of the urgent demands of everyone and everything else besides those that were most important to us.

On March 15, I worked my last day at the most time-consuming of my four part-time jobs. I have all but closed shop on my Melaleuca “business” (although I am always happy to answer your questions and/or open a membership account for you—just ask). Our church is shutting its doors (another long story of emotional drain for our family—post forthcoming) at the end of the month, so I will no longer be employed there.

That leaves my writing.

I will always write. Writing for me is intuitive and effortless and cathartic. One of the negatives of these last few months is that I have not had the time I would have liked to devote to my writing.

Now I can devote my “free time” to my writing. Truly, I believe this is my gift from God. I feel that I’ve pushed all the other boundaries of my interests and skills. God has revealed to me that while I may be “OK” at many things, there are only a handful that are true gifts.

Writing. Writing here and at Faithful Bloggers and at Suite 101 is where you’ll find me now. I’ll be using my God-given skills for his glory.

If he chooses to bless us with money for that, then I rejoice. If he does not, then I rejoice!

I’ve decided that I will be intentional about living as he’s guiding me. The fact is that he’s placed certain circumstances in my life, which dictate his will for me.

He has called me to be Chris’ wife and all that that entails. He has called me to be mom to my three kids and all that that entails. He has called me to manage this home with the income that he has provided and all that that entails.  And he has called me to write. He has called me to write—since I could string together subjects and verbs in the first grade—for his glory and others’ edification.

OK, God. Show me my next steps. God, you promise that when you require something of your children, you equip them with the grace to accomplish it. I believe it, Lord.

I am intentionally and deliberately believing it.

Image: cohdra at morguefile.com

I’m Going to Whine Now

Typically, I don’t like to post whiney-tale ramblings.

But, hey, I’m in a funk and I have a blog.

And if I can’t whine on my blog, then why have a blog, right?

So, if this is a problem for you, then you can click off my post and come back tomorrow.

I hope you’ll stay, though, and help me. Help me, readers.

Help me figure out my life. 

I’m really overwhelmed right now, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

I know that I have no margins in my life. I first heard about the concept of margin several years ago.

Think of the margins on a piece of paper. That’s the “extra” space that can be used if needed or in an emergency. A place for spill-over. White space that is pleasing to the eye and a soft place to land.

Nope. I have none of that in my life.

(I’m going to get this book, ASAP, by the way. I’ve heard other friends talk about it. It’s been on my to-read list, but I’ve procrastinated. But, I’m going to get it soon. Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission for purchases referred to Amazon.)

My life runs from sun-up to sun-down with far more to do than there is time for.

FlyLady wants me to do my routines. Yea, I have no time for routines. Because as routine as routines go, they Still. Take. Time.

Exercising and grocery shopping and cleaning toilets all take time. Fifteen minutes here, an hour there, thirty minutes there. Time.

I need a lot of sleep. Like 8-9 hours to feel really good. But, hey, that takes time. I can either cut corners on my sleep and be grouchy and grumpy and less productive or I can feel guilty about going to bed when there is still so much left undone. (I know that’s crazy. But that’s me.)

All my little part-time jobs are wonderful blessings, and we truly need the money. We count on each little $100 or $200 check to make ends meet each month. So, which $200 check do I forfeit so that I don’t feel guilty when I go to sleep?  In the meantime, which meal/activity/chore is neglected so that I can finish a work assignment?

Blogging and writing are the only things I do for fun. Period. I don’t read. Magazines and books sit untouched on my nightstand. I haven’t scrapbooked since July 2007. That’s terribly sad, but seriously, how in the world can I justify sitting around sticking pictures into books when I have a to-do list as long as my arm? Plus, scrapbooking would require my downloading, sorting, and actually printing pictures. I don’t even want to think about how much time that would take.

Do I stop blogging? Do I stop writing for fun?

Do I shrivel up to nothing because I have no outlet for creativity?

I could go on and on. I know you know that I have laundry, meals, activities, Bible study, and church. I know you know what it’s like to juggle and prioritize.

Am I the most insanely organizationally-challenged person in the world? Or is this just “part of it” and I need to grin and bear it until retirement? 

What should I do? How do I take some of the pressure off? Which ball(s) to drop?

At what point do we simply step out in faith, do away with things that drain us, and trust God to provide compensation (whether emotional, financial, spiritual)?

Truly, I’d love to hear your feedback and any suggestions for me and my family.

Thank you. Whining over.

Image: Morgue File

Intentional Blogging in 2010

A few days ago, I posted my personal New Year’s Resolutions for 2010. I wrote that I had a lot of “little” goals but that my overarching goal was to create an “umbrella” of living with INTENTION this year.

The Savvy Blogging gals have issued a challenge for bloggers to create our blogging goals for 2010. So, I’m taking their challenge and posting my goals at Savvy Blogging.

I believe the act of giving my blogging a list of goals is INTENTIONAL, which is exactly where I want to be in this area of my life.

I am a writer and I have dreamed of being a paid writer for as long as I can remember. I see my blog as a natural extension of my profession. I would love for my blog to become a “syndicated column” of sorts: a place where a dedicated “several” check in. I want my blog to be a place of inspiration, encouragement, and thought-provoking entertainment.

My Blogging Goals for 2010

Audience: I want to increase and broaden my readership. It’s not just getting MORE readers, but it’s also finding those readers who need what I have.

Posting: I want to increase my posting frequency to at least 5 days/week.

Content focus: This is still a work in progress. I’m trying to become more focused with my content. My posts vary among funny mom stories, theological and political observations, recipes and homemaking tips. Sharpening my focus is terribly difficult for me because I have so many interests.

Design: I’m in the process of getting a customized blog design. I’m hoping the aesthetic will help crystallize some of these other ideas for me.

Income: I would like to continue to grow the income from my blog. I am paid to write, and I don’t see why my blog would be any different. But increasing the income means that I will need to more deliberately treat my blog as a business. I have decided I will do one “business building” activity each day, whether it’s finding new PR relationships or learning more about SEO. I will press myself to leave my comfort zone so that I can grow.

(In February, I’m attending my first blogging conference, Blissdom. I am so excited I can’t stand it! I anticipate having a revised list of goals after this conference.)

What would you like to read more of and about at The Writer’s Block? 
I’d love to hear feedback from you, dear reader.