The 15-Minute Writer: Tips for Creatives Who Parent

 

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Photo source: https://unsplash.com/giuvicente

I began writing before God blessed me with children, and in the last eighteen years, I’ve birthed two boys and eight books. Being an author has been a grand adventure. It’s also kept me sane.

Seriously.

After having my oldest, who was a very high-needs baby, I suffered severe depression and stopped writing. One day, my counselor asked me, “Why aren’t you doing something that makes you light up whenever you talk about it?” Her question helped me realize God had called me to writing not only as a ministry to others, but also for my own growth and happiness.

Combining parenthood with a creative passion can be challenging, but I believe it’s worth the effort. If you’re a parent who longs to create, here are a few tips from the trenches:

Make the most of your kids’ sleep times.  When Jordan and Jackson were small, I used nap times to write instead of clean. Hiring a once-a-month housekeeper was well worth the expense…even when I didn’t get paid for writing. If you work full-time, dedicate a few moments after bedtime (or before your children wake up) to your art. A Netflix binge won’t feel as good as creating something–I promise.

Apply your creativity to time management. Once my sons were old enough, I enrolled them in Mother’s Day Out (two days a week) and dedicated those twelve hours a week to my art. On days we were together, I did household chores and errands with them in tow. I’ve also written by hiring a temporary sitter or working when my husband was at home. When my husband and I both worked full-time, we made one Saturday a month “guy time.” The boys enjoyed days with Dad while I worked on upcoming deadlines.

Work away from home. If you can swing it, try to write at a coffee shop or restaurant with free wifi. Another helpful habit is to participate, at least once a year, in a writing conference or retreat. For me, the expense of travel has paid off in contacts, clarity, and opportunities. (It also helps my family realize all that I do, and they appreciate me more when I get back. Talk about a win-win!)

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Photo source: https://unsplash.com/impatrickt

Say “no” to distractions. Every artist who makes time for their passion has to say “no” to social events, book club meetings, and various distractions (such as Facebook posts about organizing closets). On the days I set aside to write–first proposals and queries, now articles and books–I worked. Even if I set self-imposed deadlines, I tried (and still try) to meet them if at all possible. Take yourself seriously, or no one else will.

Be patient with yourself and your goals. I found this very difficult at first, because I began writing before my kids were born, and I’m a very goal-oriented person. However, I found contentment when I surrendered my dreams and accepted that the kids needed me now, while the writing could often wait. Try to picture your artistic pursuits as a marathon, rather than a sprint.

Pay it forward. God gave me a supportive spouse who’s also creative, so he understands my calling. I don’t take that for granted, and I try to let him have space to pursue his own passions. I also have a heart full of gratitude for the precious relatives, friends, and colleagues who’ve encouraged me along the way.

Today, I hope I’ve given you a bit of that same encouragement.

Your turn: if you’ve combined parenthood with a passion, share your tips in the comments. (Hurry, before the kids wake up!)

5 Tips for Sharing Your Faith Stories

imageThe Bible encourages Christ followers to share their life lessons of faith with others.

Men. The apostle Paul gave Titus this advice as he prepared to teach men.

.  .  .  talk to them; give them a good, healthy diet of solid teaching so they will know the right way to live  .  .  .  teach the older men (to) enjoy everything in moderation, respect yourselves and others, be sensible, and dedicate yourselves to living an unbroken faith demonstrated by your love and perseverance.” (Titus 2:1 The Message).

Women. Paul also gave Titus instructions about teaching the older women, offering him some instructions concerning issues that concern all women (Titus 2:3-5).

Today. We might be able to glean some good stories with writing prompts from these passages. But how can we share our own faith if we can’t communicate our personal stories, identifying the stories that matter most to us?

As I prepared to speak to a group of Christian women, encouraging them to share their faith stores, I recalled an important challenge in 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (NIV).

Prompts. The following writing prompts helped me prepare to tell my faith story, particularly my personal “come to Jesus” experience.

  1. Before Christ. How would you characterize your life before you trusted in Jesus Christ? [Attitudes, emotions, concerns . . . ]
  2. Faith Crisis. What were the circumstances in your life that led you to trust Jesus Christ as Savior?
  3. Salvation. When and how did you respond to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?
  4. Christ follower. How would you characterize your life today since you chose to follow Christ? How is your life different now?
  5. Scripture Promises. What Bible verses have helped through a crisis of faith?

What resource or practice has helped you communicate your faith stories?

Build Your Platform and Expand Your Reach… with FaithHappenings.com

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Building a platform is essential for writers today. Publishers are busier than ever, and they have less resources to devote to helping authors spread the word about their books, speaking events, and tours. Even more difficult, agents and publishers are often unwilling to take on new writers who don’t already have an established platform, social media presence, and dedicated followers. So what’s a writer to do?

FaithHappenings.com has the answer.

FaithHappenings.com is an online Christian resource with 454 local websites serving more than 31,000 cities and towns. It offers tailored, faith-enriching content for members. Along with a few dozen other benefits—both locally and nationally—it connects people of faith to information about books, blogs, speaking events, and other resources that interest them most. As a writer or speaker, it will allow you to connect with people specifically interested in your genre, subject, or brand!

Just what can FaithHappenings.com offer you?

On FaithHappenings.com You Can…

  1. List yourself as a speaker both locally and regionally, for free! FaithHappenings allows you to highlight your speaking in the local areas where you have upcoming events, targeting people who live there through requested emails. We also link to your author website, driving people back to your site.
  2. Announce upcoming book signings in your local area for free! Information about book signings and other author events are emailed out to members who have requested to be notified of new book releases and book signings near them. Emails go out weekly, and members will also find your events by going to their local FaithHappenings page and checking out the Events Calendar.
  3. List your books—both traditionally and self-published—in up to five genre categories. These book listings will then be promoted to members across the country who have requested to hear about new books in your genre.
  4. Announce special e-book promotions the day they happen. E-book promos are sent out to our members via email and listed on the site daily! The more people who hear about your e-book deal, the more sales you’re likely to see.
  5. Build your blog traffic by posting your blog on FaithHappenings.com. You can then be listed as a “Featured Blogger” on our Home Page.
  6. Post a Top-10 List from your book! If you can create it, FH Daily—our page of daily inspiration, humor, encouragement, and current events—will post the content and link to your book (and it stays on our site forever). Content is king when it comes to generating buzz for your book, and posts on FH Daily are easily shareable via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.
  7. Be a highlighted “Author Interview.” FH Daily runs author interviews several times a week. Readers can learn more about you, and links will connect them to your website and your book’s buy page. Just email fhdaily@faithhappenings.com to see if you qualify.
  8. Create more awareness for your book with advertising! An ad on the global site or on FH Daily is affordable for any author.
  9. As a free member yourself, you can receive e-mail announcements for any book in more than 70 genres.

What are you waiting for? Get started today by signing up in your local area to become a member at www.faithhappenings.com.

For more information about the benefits of FaithHappenings.com for writers and speakers, click here.

 

Learning new marketing tricks

dog shaking handsI am living proof that even old dogs can learn new tricks.

Except that I’m not a dog and the tricks I’m referring to don’t have to do with “shake” and “roll over.”

As an author who came to the book publishing game in her mid-fifties, I realized I had to embrace the internet and social media marketing if I was going to play in the marketplace. As a result, I’ve read a lot of books over the past few years about online marketing and tried to apply that knowledge. But the book I’m finding the most instructional and helpful is Red Hot Internet Publicity because it gives you simple ideas you can implement easily and see immediate results.

twitter-bird-light-bgs.pngFor instance, I’ve never quite been sure how to leverage my Twitter activity into growing my audience; twice-daily tweets and random retweets of those I follow can only do so much in attracting engagement when you consider the enormity of the Twitter universe and its competing attractions. After taking just one tip from RHIP – participating in a group chat sponsored by one of my influential Twitter contacts – I picked up five new followers and at least one immediate book order. “Gee, this really works!” I thought. (Well, duh – the book’s title is Red Hot Internet Publicity, not Mediocre Marketing Online.) As a result, I’m now devoting effort to finding chats EVERY DAY hosted by key influencers in my book topic areas and being sure to participate with tweets and retweets. Yes, I know – it’s called a social network, and that means you’re supposed to be interacting with others, but somehow, actually “chatting” online had seemed a waste of time. No more.

facebook_circle_color-128Likewise, thanks to the book’s advice, I’m streamlining my Facebook involvement to make my time on it more productive. Sure, I’d read before that you need to have your marketing message in front of you every time you post, but I’d gotten lazy. After reviewing my message and tightening its focus (another recommendation from the book), I’ve been more vigilant about making EVERY post count with a comment that somehow reflects that message. The result has already yielded me new followers on my author page at Birder Murder Mama, which had stalled out in the last three months.

Those are just two of the ideas that have already made a difference for me in internet marketing. Being the perennial student that I am, I made a list from each chapter in RHIP of items to try out. Fortunately, I’m gearing up for a book release in May, so the timing to fire up my social media marketing is perfect, and I’m finding lots of opportunities to practice what I’m learning. And that – immediate practice of what I’m learning – is key. Too often, my ideas sit in a file for that magic “sometime” when I’ll get to it. But thanks to the simple presentation of RHIP, AND the timely suggestion from my agent to download and read this new book, my magic “sometime” is right now.

I guess my new trick is “shake” after all – shake up your marketing and see what happens!

When You Know Who You Are, You Know What to Write

public domain; pixabay.com

public domain; pixabay.com

As writers and communicators, we’ve probably all heard the saying, “Communicate with the listener in mind.” I keep this statement on my desk to be reminded often that I need to be intentional in my writing – intentional to focus on clearly articulating the topic at hand with you – the reader – in mind. When I prepare a live presentation, the same practice applies. Like John Maxwell said in his book by the same title, “Everyone communicates, but few connect.”

If we only write or talk to have something to say, it does little good to anyone. And in a day when seemingly everyone has a platform of some kind, it matters even more that our words count.

Beware getting lost in the practice of communicating with your listeners/readers in mind, though.

In the private practice (counseling, coaching and consulting) my husband and I have, and in my teaching and writing, one of the main focuses of all I do is to affirm and re-affirm to clients, audience members, and readers that everything we do reflects what we believe about our identity. Like Joyce Meyer has often said, “Your DO is not Your WHO.” In other words, you aren’t what you do – either in daily behavior nor in vocation – for better or worse. That reality is hard to remember sometimes, isn’t it?

I have a couple of heroes in my life about whom, over the years, I’ve thought or even said aloud, “I wish I could write like him/her,” or “I wish I could be as funny/articulate/bold/etc as ________________ is.” While learning from others and even emulating others we admire can be a really positive experience in personal growth, we need to be careful that we avoid trying to become another person in our attempts to find success.

No one will bring to the world what you’ve been placed here to offer.

Discovering my identity and then practicing the position of my identity is key to experiencing success (i.e. “the abundant life” Jesus spoke of in John 10:10).

“Your DO is not Your WHO.” – Joyce Meyer

In my book, Why Can’t We Just Get Along?, the main point throughout is that “When you know who you are, you know what to do.” Since this is true in everyday life and relationships, we can trust that it is also true in our vocation. For the purpose of this blog, I’m speaking specifically to writers. If we never discover,  or if we fail to remember who we are, we will lose our unique voices in our writing as we attempt to ‘communicate with the listener(s) in mind’. The pull to be who others want us to be, even well-meaning friends and colleagues, will be too strong to avoid. We may (no guarantees here!) become extremely popular or even write a bestseller, but if it isn’t our voice the readers hear, is it really worth it?

This is a question only you can answer for yourself. For me, it just isn’t worth it.

Readers connect with different writers for as many reasons as there are writers and readers! I love it when I can “hear” the sound of different writers’ voices. Your readers love it when they can hear you distinct voice as well. So, as you’re working diligently on having solid content to share, avoid the pull to share it in someone else’s voice.

“My voice is never much louder than a ripple, but even small voices sound loud when you talk about things that matter.”
Natalie Lloyd, The Key to Extraordinary

 

 

Take it with you when you go

moving dayMy husband retired from his job last December in Minnesota , and within a month, we were unpacking our worldly goods in our new home in Texas. Having relied heavily on my local readership for growing my book authoring career, I was faced with a choice: retire from my own career as a writer, or start it all over again in a new place.

Actually, there was no choice for me: since I can’t NOT write, here I am, back at square one. Except that this time around, I have eight years of experience and a track record as a published author behind me as I begin to cultivate my new area; my task is more transplanting than seeding. For any of you facing a geographic move, here are some of the positive and negative aspects of taking your authoring with you:

A fresh audience!

Positive: You have a fresh audience, which forces you to remember why you write, why you’re excited about what you write, and how what you do can serve readers in your new community. It’s a wonderful opportunity to look at your work from new angles and refresh your own enthusiasm for what you do. And with books already in print, you have product ready to promote in your new area – no waiting around for publication to happen – yet you can re-use the promotional tools you used the first time around, saving you the time and effort of developing new marketing strategies.

Negative: You have a fresh audience, which means you have to start over making connections with bookstores and other venues. Back to phone calls and building relationships (sigh).

A track record as an author!

Positive: You’ve got a track record as an author! Yes, you’re making phone calls, but you’re going to get farther faster in booking events because you’re a proven entity. Your past experience makes you smarter about ways to reach decision makers, adding to your credibility as a published author with new contacts. Since this is your second time around, you won’t waste money and time on the ideas that didn’t work when you were just starting your authoring career.

Negative: You have to put the time in again on building key relationships.

New sales!

Positive: You have a new geographic market to add to your original readership, potentially doubling sales for both old books and anything new to come. Just because you’re no longer physically available doesn’t mean your loyal readers from your old location will abandon your future releases – those fans need to be kept in the loop as you move forward, so be sure to continue communications with them (Facebook, author newsletter, etc.).

Negative: You will lose some readers who only enjoy local authors. Hopefully, though, the gains in your new area will outweigh the lost readers.

Can you add to these experiences/insights of taking your authoring career into new territory?

Are You Prepared for Spiritual Battle?

I was thrilled to see my very first post up on this fantastic website last month. I happily wrote about dealing with sensitive topics. I felt experienced and insightful as I penned that post, delighted with the opportunity to share what I’d learned.

And the next day, a maelstrom erupted on my blog.

One commenter interpreted something I wrote in a way I never intended. I immediately tried to correct the record with a follow-up comment and a clarification in the blog post itself. But the commenter struck back with a personal attack not only against me – but against my husband. Now that is not alright with me.

I politely but firmly defended myself and my husband. Expecting it to end there. It didn’t. She left another scathing comment, which I did not approve. Then she followed up with a comment on my Facebook page that was even worse, which I removed. And another blog comment that was appallingly vitriolic.

While I’d love to say that I calmly handled this situation with Christian love, joy, and peace, I was actually a bit rattled. I externally dealt with these exchanges okay enough, but my chest felt tighter than two-sizes-too-small skinny jeans and I found myself questioning everything I wrote in that post and a few others. Had I done something egregiously wrong?

Then a friend wrote these words to me: “I think this is a bit of a spiritual battle. Satan is trying to shake your cool or make you question what you do.” The timing and extent of what happened made me think she could well be right.

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Whether it’s a nonfiction book or blog post or an inspirational story, your writing can have an impact on others. We have a positive effect on our readers far more than a negative one. However, that one naysayer can poke and prod so long and hard you wonder if Satan is applauding with each jab.

He probably is.

I’ve often been told that putting yourself out there in ministry and in writing means opening yourself up not only to constructive criticism but to verbal assaults. Tough skin, I have. But impenetrable? Nope. And if I give an opening – become vulnerable with my readers in some way – someone could hit a tender spot. I could find myself in a spiritual battle.

Am I prepared?  I wish I felt at all times that I was. But I keep turning to God, seeking wisdom from my godly friends, finding comfort in encouraging comments from readers I have helped, and plugging along with my writing. After the Sword of the Spirit, the pen is still my favorite sword of truth.