Why designing a website will make you a better writer

Would you like to have an editor on hand 24/7 for all your blog posts? Does the idea that you could make every post a writing gem (even those you compose at 2 am as you desperately try to meet a deadline) appeal to you?

No, I’m not launching myself as a post editor trying to drum up business, nor am I encouraging you to sign up for yet another writing workshop.

I have a different suggestion: teach yourself to build a website.

I don’t have time! I don’t know how! I’m a technology idiot!

I know that’s what you’re saying because that’s exactly what I said a month ago, before I finally knuckled down and did it: I taught myself how to build a website without learning any coding. Today, I’m no expert at it, but I do have a simple website that meets my needs. Most importantly, though, the experience of building it helped me do four things:

  1. finally understand and apply some of those elusive internet concepts (like SEO)
  2. fully utilize blog tools like tags and readability
  3. boost immediacy and responsiveness of my site through personal administration
  4. eliminate fees to another party to maintain/update my website
You are not alone

The best news about achieving these things is that I had free help. You don’t have to struggle through the learning part alone. Videos walking you through setting up a website abound on the internet. Since my old website was already WordPress, using WordPress was an easy choice for my new site. After sampling a few videos, I settled on this one, because it has a companion site with the whole set of instructions printed out! (No more panicking because I couldn’t keep up with the video! Yay!) Likewise, as I learned about plug-ins, I watched additional videos to guide me. Trust me, if you want to do something on your site, there’s a video for it.

24/7 blog editing

This is one of the coolest things I’ve learned to apply. Because I uploaded Yoast SEO plug-in, I get a readability analysis as I write blogs. This handy program tells me when my sentences are too long, when I need to break up paragraphs, and when my vocabulary is too difficult for most readers. It even reminds me to use active, instead of passive, voice, and encourages the use of transition words for smoother writing. By heeding the readability ratings, I improve my writing skills (no matter what time of the night/early morning it may be!). Who knew that cranking out blogs could actually make substantive changes in the way you write?

Granted, building your own website isn’t for everyone, and I won’t hold it against you if you prefer to pay someone to take on the headache of creating your internet storefront. If you’re willing to give it a try, though, I know you’ll find a new perspective on how you write and how your website works.

Anybody want to share your own website designing experience?

Birding, Writing, and Who Cooks For You?

Roadrunner. Quail. Red-tailed hawk. White-winged dove.

I don’t recognize very many birds in the Sonoran Desert where I live in Chandler, Arizona–a lack I want to rectify, so on an early morning in June, I show up to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix wearing proper birding attire: khakis, a long-sleeve cotton shirt and a broad-rimmed hat. Around my neck are binoculars that I scavenged from the bottom of a camping bin underneath first aid supplies, water bottles, a hot pink fanny pack, and mosquito netting. The thin strap is already cutting into the skin of my neck.

As a newbie, I am welcomed and handed a tri-fold official birding checklist with the names of 102 birds commonly found on these weekly jaunts in the gardens.

“All the brown birds confuse me,” I admit to Annie, a talkative regular who comes to the gardens at least three times a week.

“LBJ’s,” she says, “Little Brown Jobs.” Annie sports a harness-type strap for her binoculars so the weight is removed from her neck. I make a mental note.

New lingo. New equipment. I have more to learn than just bird names.

A man joins the group who just returned from a quick tour of one of the garden loops.

“Mallard with six babies,” he proclaims, “over on the pond.”

“Whoaaaaa!” the entire group exclaims in unison. If this was a vote for homecoming king, I am convinced he would be awarded the crown.

“Also saw a bullfrog nearby,” he admits.

Heads shake. Tongues click.  Eyes lower.

“Maybe there will still be four or five babies when we get over there,” says a heavy-set woman in a droopy hat. People nod hopefully.

Bullfrogs eat baby ducklings? Who knew?

“Puffin at ten o’clock,” says a man attired in denim.

A puffin! In Arizona? All eyes swing to the spot in the sky where he points.

An untethered metallic balloon floats among the clouds. “Happy Graduation” adorns the silver front.

A puffin. Birding humor.

For the next ninety minutes we explore the various trails. Official birders make check marks on their lists. I make notes in my small journal as I stick close to Andre, a white-haired gal with deep tan lines and a deeper knowledge of Arizona birds.

We see a Gila woodpecker taking a dip into an organ pipe cactus bloom. We count twenty-one white-winged doves looking for food under the palo blanco trees. A Gambel’s quail duo keeps an eye on seven young chicks. We focus our binoculars on a baby curve-billed thrasher in its nest in a cholla cactus, the long thorns warning off intruders, but not deterring its mother who returns with red fruit from a neighboring saguaro cactus.

Binoculars aim. Cameras focus. Pencils record.

“Listen,” Andre instructs. “Do you hear that?”

Woo-WOO-woo. Woo-WOO-woo.

“A Eurasian collared dove,” she says. “The second syllable is the longest. Not native, but it has spread across the United States since it was introduced to North America.”

“How is the call different from a white-wing and a mourning dove?” I ask.

“A white-wing sounds like ‘who cooks for you.’ A mourning dove has a different rhythm to it’s call, usually five syllables. Coo-OOO. Coo. Coo. Coo.” Andre sings the songs of the doves while I take notes.  A cactus wren scolds us from the branches of a mesquite tree.

“Look!” I point to a roadrunner lurking beneath a succulent.

“Good eye,” Andre says. The sun glints off the bird’s feathers as I get close enough to snap a photo of the blue and bronze skin near its eye. Several people pat my shoulder as they mark “roadrunner” off the list.

For a moment I am one of them. A birder.

“Who cooks for you?” a white-winged dove asks as I gather my four pages of notes and head to my car. A LBJ flies over head. I am determined to learn his name the next time I return to the gardens.

Where are you learning new things to add depth to your writing?

 

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May with Baker/Revell Publishers. When she is not writing or blogging, she is out hiking desert trails.

What authors need to know: a view from the reviewer’s desk

© Royalty-Free/Corbis

I’ve recently been reviewing books on Netgalley. To my surprise, it’s been an educational experience for me as an author; by putting myself on the reader’s/critic’s side of the equation, I’ve learned a few truths that every author should know about 1) writing books, and 2) receiving book reviews.

Truth #1: Not every book is for every person. No matter how important your message or story, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. I keep thinking of the key question every writer gets when pitching a book for publication: who will want to read this book? Many of us (myself included when I began writing) believe that EVERYONE should read our books, that there is value in our work for every reader. But the truth is that people have different interests, and not everyone will want to read your book; that’s why the precise identification of those readers most likely to read your book is so critical to publishing your work. Authors MUST know their specific audience.

As a reviewer, I can choose from a multitude of topics, which means there are many excellent books I don’t choose to review for the simple reason that I’m not interested in the topic. Don’t take it personally when reviewers don’t rave about your book – it may be that your topic just didn’t hit a home run with that individual. Remember always that reading and reviewing is subjective, so while authors want and need reviews, you’re at the mercy of individual preference.

Truth #2: Not every writing style will appeal to every reader. Part of the joy of writing is to find your own voice, and when it resonates with your readers, it’s like winning the lottery. From a reviewer’s perspective, however, some writing styles are irritating, which then often result in poor reviews. (Case in point: as a former teacher of English composition, I can’t get through a book filled with incomplete sentences. When I find that in a book I want to review, I return the book rather than penalize the writer for her own voice. I’ve made that my rule based on my experience of receiving a poor review for one of my books wherein the reviewer said he didn’t read the book because he didn’t like my style in the first chapter! Again, it’s subjective, so don’t panic when you receive a review like that; if you know your audience, you can let that bad review roll off your shoulders, because you know something your reviewer doesn’t: your audience likes your style.)

Truth #3:  Your writing will improve by reading and reviewing other books. As a writer, every learning opportunity you take – even reviewing others’ books – will contribute to your store of ideas, craft, and understanding. Besides reminding me of the importance of audience, reviewing has reassured me that there is room in the publishing and reading world for many voices and many topics. As long as you continue to polish your craft and write engaging books, there’s room for you, too!

Using Family Photos to Write Your Family Stories

Photo/KarenJordan

Whenever we put together our own stories and either tell them or write them for posterity, we are preserving the most central element of our own identity and value system. Who are we, apart from the people and the events about which we tell our own stories? (Donald Davis, Telling Your Arkansas Stories)

Have you ever discovered an old family picture and wished that you knew the story behind it?

The following questions might help you discover an important family story that you can share with the next generation!

People. Can you identify the people within the shot? If not, do you know anyone who can? Can you write a description of that person? Who else might have been around when the shot was taken?

Places. Do you know where the picture as taken? Can you describe the place or the area at that time? Do you know anything about the history of the area? What do you know about that area now?

Photo/Karen JordanTime. When was the shot taken? What time period? What was going on in the world at that time? What changes have taken place since that time?

Events. Do you know what event was taking place when the photo was taken? Can you tell what season of the year it was taken? What events might have been happening around that time?

Story. Does the picture remind you of a story? What came to mind as you thought about the people, places, or event that might have been taking place when the photo was taken?

Questions. You might think of even more questions that you need to ask yourself about the photo that would help you capture an important family story.

Brainstorm. Take a moment and write down your thoughts about your picture. You could even include the picture when you preserve your story—in a scrapbook, on your computer, on a blog, in a notebook … the possibilities are endless!

Legacy Stories. Don’t miss your opportunity to preserve your family history by composing a written legacy of your family stories, as you identify the details and stories represented by your family photos.

Did either of these photos remind you of a person, place, or event from your own family history?

What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write

Writing blocks rarely hit me because I don’t know what to say. For me, they are usually derived from a mind swarming with ideas. So much so, that I can feel overwhelmed with questions like these:

  • Should I focus on idea A or B today?
  • Just because I’m interested in a topic doesn’t mean anyone else is, right?
  • Is my thinking on this matter completely delusional?
  • I can’t write about __________; people will think __________ about me. Won’t they?

Ah, the battles of insecurity a writer must fight. So how do we wage war against our own fears, those with the power to debilitate us if we aren’t careful?Writing Rules

For me, I’ve had to gulp, choosing to write afraid.

I love what Stephen King said on the matter. “The only requirement to be a writer is to remember every scar.”

The secret to great writing is daring to risk in order to reap greater rewards. 

  • When you aren’t sure whether idea A or B is better, choose one and decide to embrace your own decision.
  • Odds are, if you are interested in a topic, so are other people. If you doubt it, do a quick friend/family and social media poll to test the waters.
  • What sometimes feels delusional to us can feel like “outside the box” thinking to others. Research to see if you can substantiate your premise. Try to imagine how this might come across to someone foreign to the concept. Tell your readers you understand this may sound strange or that they might agree to disagree with you. And don’t forget to ask God what He wants you to say — He is the king of fresh ideas.
  • As Stephen King’s quote reminds us, the inner scars, the deep thoughts, and the vulnerable spaces in our lives are often the ones other people connect with the most. If we hold our tender areas captive, we can’t free someone else who needs permission to release their own fears.

I think most writers struggle with what to write when you don’t know what to write. But you can’t go wrong when your words originate from your soul. Don’t doubt yourself to the point of mental paralysis. Your unique take is as important as your unique voice in expressing your thoughts.

Dare to believe in what you have to say.
Dare to share your innermost thoughts. Dare to trust God with a message he wants you to offer.

What Are You Doing for OthersSo what if every person on the planet doesn’t share your perspective? Some of the greatest minds in history were scoffed at in the beginning. Do your due diligence, then dare to risk so you and your readers reap a greater reward.

What topics could you write afraid? What are you holding back that could help others?

Writer’s Block? Consider a Template

You sit down to write your blog post or speech, and your mind goes blank.

What do you do? Panic? Make a fresh cup of coffee? Take a walk outside? Or tie yourself to your desk chair, vowing not to get up until it’s finished?

We’ve all had these moments of frustration when the words refuse to come. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one.

Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then start on the first one.”

One way to do that is to use a template. Michael Hyatt suggests, “I create a template for any task I find myself doing repeatedly. So instead of reinventing the wheel every time, I do it once, save it as a template, and then reuse it.”

If you’ve every written a book proposal, you understand the value of a template. And you compose it in chunks, right? In fact, just typing the cover page is a helpful way to start; then, you go on to the next page.

I use templates as I compose teaching or speaking notes, as well as for some of my hard-to-write blog posts.

I start with an overall look at the topic.

  • Audience. I start by examining who I’m writing for, or who will be attending the event.
  • Felt need or problem. I examine not only what problem I’m addressing, but also what I want the audience to know and to do.
  • Main thought. For me, it’s often hard to reduce my message into one or two words. So, I attempt to summarize my message in one sentence to get my focus.
  • Scripture or reference. Since I write on nonfiction, Christian topics, I write out the main scripture or promise I want to share, or the authoritative source.

The next part of my template includes spaces for each section planned.

  • Opening statement or story. Here’s where I try to capture the attention of my audience with a quotation or an intriguing story.
  • My story. I connect with the topic, using an illustration from my own experiences.
  • Our story. I consider borrowing from other people or source that expresses how many reader will relate to the subject.
  • Resource. What does my primary resource say about this topic? This could be Bible reference or another authoritative source.
  • Your story. Now, I try to lead the reader to connect the topic with one of her own life stories.
  • Application. I encourage the audience to adopt some practical way to apply the message that might change their life.
  • Conclusion. What is the take-away? Write something the audience can remember—a clever quote, a power statement, or repeat what you just said in the post in a memorable way. I propose a premise, then reinforce it with strong, concluding words.

How do you handle those times when the words won’t come for your project?

I hope you will consider developing a template for those tasks you find yourself doing routinely, like blog posts or speaking notes.

And if all else fails, just take a walk or do anything to get your mind off your writing, and allow yourself to refocus on something pleasant or beautiful.

Then, go back to your desk, sit down, and just write!

Have templates helped you in your writing? If so, share a few examples with us.

 

5 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

Writer's Block

If you have been sitting in front of a computer staring at the empty white screen, you are not alone. We all have felt stuck before. Here are 5 things that I have done that have helped me get the creativity flowing.

1. Get Away to Write

When I am beginning a new project, I like to get away for a week to begin the writing process. I have an 80-year-old mother who has helped provide a place for me to “hide-out.” She goes to Clear Water, Florida every fall for a couple of months. I have taken a week to go and write. I take my computer bag and sit looking at the ocean and let my fingers fly. I don’t worry about perfection, I just write and devote myself to the process.

2. Set A Schedule to Write

If you are going to complete a writing project, a schedule can help you stay the course. I set a goal of how many words I am going to write a day before I stop. Often, I am going to write 1500 words. At first it can be slow, but as I allow my mind to wrap around the page it helps. I like to write in the mornings while my mind is fresh (but others like to write in the evenings when the kids go to bed). You know what time works for you, so put it on your calendar. When I was writing my first book, I made a commitment not to take any appointments before noon. There were people who were frustrated with me and didn’t see what the big deal was. For me, I needed to prioritize writing or it wouldn’t get done.

3. Take the Pressure Off

One of the most difficult times of writer’s block that I experienced was with my newly released book, Women Who Move Mountains, Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. I had already signed the contract with Baker Publishing Group and had negotiated a date that I thought would work on the calendar. However, as we got closer, the date to launch our new church was changed and it conflicted with my writing deadline. I simply had too much on my plate and I couldn’t do it all. When we renegotiated the due date, it took the pressure off.

4. Just Do It

I was dealing with a great deal of spiritual warfare in the form of negative thoughts: You are in over your head. You can’t write this. You don’t know what you aClick here to Download the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains.re doing. Who are you kidding? Have you ever had some version of negative thoughts? I tried praying (after all the book is about prayer). However, I didn’t have a breakthrough in terms of peace, until I forced myself to just do it. In prayer, God gave me a picture of an acorn that I was holding in my hand, but if I would plant that acorn in good soil, and provide nurture, it would grow to be a strong a mighty tree whose leaves would provide healing for all who read it. After writing these words down in a journal, I took my computer and I sat in my 80-year-old mother’s room and I began to type. (If you read chapter 1 of Women Who Move Mountains, you will learn that my mom has been my main role model for prayer.) (Click the Picture of the book to immediately download the Introduction and Chapter 1).

5. Pray, Believe, Write

Little by little, you will accomplish what God has called you to do. Begin each writing session with this rhythm: pray, believe, write. When you know that God hears your prayers, you can set aside the worries of the day, believe God, and write. Take frequent breaks, look up at the sky, smile, and believe that the ONE who has called you to write will inspire you to do it. As you follow his guidance, little by little, the written words will bring life and hope to those who read it.

I Prepared A Gift for You

Yes, a gift. Maybe you are like me. I tend to drift away from fully believing who I am in Christ. Somehow, unbelief comes into my mindset. I get discouraged and battle worn and I need to find a way to calibrate my soul. Sometimes it’s the sin that is hidden from me that I need to confess. I may be hurt by someone, and I need to choose to forgive them. Other times, it’s just the uncleanness of the world we live in. All of these things can cause you to get stuck and have writer’s block!

5 Steps of Grace will help bring healing and deliverance to your life. You and I are cleansed by God’s Word. We need His Word to wash our minds of the unclean things in the world. These things become like a weight to us and they drag down our joy-filled love life with God. Set aside a time for you to pray through this guide to freedom. You can pray on your own, or invite a prayer partner or spiritual mentor to pray with you. Download your copy here!