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?

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Acting My Way into Feeling: Just Write!

Photo/KarenJordanI’m about to do one of the hardest things I’ve done recently—WRITE!

“What? How can that be?” you ask. “You’re a writer! Isn’t that what writers do?”

Confusion. I wish I could tell you what’s keeping me from doing what I need to do. But I don’t have any answers at this point.

In fact, I’m not even sure I have anything of substance to offer anyone now. But I’m just going to write—and hope something helpful surfaces. Anything is better than nothing at this point.

Confession. After church this morning, I confessed to my husband that I hadn’t really felt like going to church today and entering into worship. But I did. And I’m glad I did—the sermon really spoke to my heart.

Modification. I’m also reminded what I learned years ago in a behavior modification class at seminary: “You must act your way into feeling.”

At first, I didn’t have a clue what the professor meant by that statement. But I tried it, and it worked.

For instance, I NEVER feel like doing housework. But I ALWAYS feel good about finishing my work.

So, that’s what I’m doing right now. Write—even though I do NOT feel like writing. And in the process, I hope and pray the feeling and the words begin to flow again.

Examination. Have you ever faced this problem? Maybe you’re not a writer, and you don’t get it. But perhaps there is another issue you might be struggling with in your work or even at home.

Perhaps you want to be happy or thankful, but you just can’t conjure up those positive emotions right now. Or perhaps you just don’t “feel” like being anyone’s mom right now—but you ARE a mom.

Maybe you don’t have any romantic feelings toward your spouse anymore. I’ll share what a pastor advised one man who claimed he didn’t love his wife anymore. This wise counselor simply responded with quote from God’s Word.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . (Eph. 5:25 NIV).

Do you see his point? God’s Word reveals that love is a choice, not a feeling.

Decision. So, maybe—just maybe—we can experience joy and thankfulness as we make the decision to be happy or grateful.

What about writing? Well, I’ve learned that often I really don’t “feel” like writing. And many times I must just do what I don’t “feel” like doing.

Instruction. So, I guess I’ll just repeat the words of a wise writing instructor once again, “JUST WRITE!”

By the way, I hope my confession encourages you today to do whatever you need to do if you’re stuck!

And another thing—be blessed!

What strategy helps you when you don’t feel like writing?

And the Tweet goes on…

Red HotA few months ago, I enthused in this space about a book I’d read at my agent’s suggestion. Now I’m going to give you a follow-up, because reading Red Hot Internet Publicity has truly changed my marketing game; unlike a lot of books that sound great and helpful while I’m reading them, RHIP is proving itself to be one of those books that truly make a difference in my career. In other words, its tips WORK and you can actually DO them.

(Or am I the only person on earth who finds it difficult to implement ‘great ideas’ that use apps I can’t understand, or require more financial investment when my writing income is already in the red, or simply involve too many steps to even remember?)

This is what I’ve accomplished since my post “Learning New Marketing Tricks” appeared here two months ago: I’ve more than doubled my Twitter followers from 217 to 500+ by discovering new audiences on this one social network, and my exposure (impressions) has increased tenfold!

twitter-bird-light-bgs.pngThe route I’ve taken involves the RHIP suggestion to engage in group chats, which has introduced me to new contacts with similar interests. Even just a few Tweets back and forth produce new followers, and sometimes that generates ideas for writing posts on other networks. Perhaps even more significant is my new habit of scrolling every day through the topics that are currently trending on Twitter. I find a few to which I can contribute original Tweets, and then comment on others in that stream. Again, it only takes a few minutes, but it always generates new followers.

Finally, I’m insistent on using hashtags with every Tweet I make, and the more hashtags, the more likely it is that I’ll reach into new markets. Before I started focusing on Twitter, my tweeting impact was dismal – maybe making only a couple hundred impressions (read that as ‘your name showing up in the Twitter universe’) a week. These days, I’m getting a thousand impressions a day – that’s a lot of times my name is showing up in the Twitter stream, and that connects me to large groups of people I might otherwise not have encountered. Some of those people have now subscribed to my newsletter and bought my books; by following them back, I’ve found more threads of conversation and topics in which I can engage. Throughout it all, I constantly remind myself of my brand – of my unique voice – and make sure my Tweets reflect that. So far, I’m delighted with the results.

Hourglass --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Hourglass — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

So delighted, in fact, that I’m thinking I should double my time on Twitter…from 30 minutes a day to 60 minutes.

That’s right – 30 minutes a day have yielded me a breakthrough in exposure, and since getting my name and brand ‘out there’ is so important for making sales, those 30 minutes pack more of a marketing wallop than any other 30-minute marketing I can do.

Isn’t it great when something you try really works?

Don’t ride . . . DRIVE the train!

trainAbout fifteen years ago, while taking a graduate course in Spirituality and Leadership, I had a professor who presented me with one of the most motivational sayings I’ve ever encountered: “Don’t just ride the train, be the engineer!”

Okay, maybe not the most theological statement I heard in the course of my graduate program, but it lit up my brain in ways I’d rarely experienced since finishing my undergrad degree decades earlier. Knowing myself to be an introvert and nonconfrontational, I’d always preferred to have someone else take the lead in projects at work; the only role in which I felt confident enough to be in charge was as a mother to my children. (Looking back, I can only say that ignorance was truly bliss, but that’s another post or two or a thousand.)

But the moment my professor uttered that directive, I had an epiphany that any writing career I wanted to pursue was going to demand that I drive the train, and not just ride along on whatever might come my way. As a result, I began to view writing as a vehicle I would steer, and, when necessary, refuel with energy and hard work. I also accepted that no one else cared as much as I did whether that train finally arrived; not even the support of spouse, family and friends (as important as that is!) would bring that train into the station if I didn’t commit myself to being the engineer.

I share this story with you because every writer needs to know that writing requires you to make that train your own: if you want to be successfully published, you have to learn the business, and these days, that means EVERY aspect of the business: writing craft, understanding your audience, marketing, platform building, travel requirements, publishing trends. Gone are the days when your publisher says, “Thanks for writing this swell book. We’ll take it from here.” Even your agent – if you’re fortunate enough to land an agent – can’t hold your hand through every stage of book development, because she or he is swamped just trying to navigate a path to publishers through all the layers of the industry – layers which can shoot down a book proposal for reasons of marketing or audience or numbers of your social followers, which may have nothing to do with the actual value of the book you’re creating.

You have to take ownership of your career. You have to drive the train to where you want it to go.

And that may be the biggest plus of being the engineer – you can CHOOSE where you want your career to go. It will take hard work and learning from the experience itself, but if you find you’re being called to write romance instead of devotionals, or humor instead of profiles, or politics instead of fiction, you can steer that train of your writing career onto different tracks, and see where it takes you. Maybe it will only be a short detour and you’ll end up at your original destination. That’s great! Then again, it may be a whole new journey on the writing rails.

Are you ready to drive the train?

How to write REAL dialogue? Listen up!

listenI have a secret weapon when it comes to developing authentic, convincingly real dialogue in my novels: my ear.

That’s not to say that I am an eavesdropper. I do not lurk around others at cocktail parties (Cocktail parties? Do those even exist anymore in our online-saturated world?), nor do I silently sidle up to people talking on their cell phones. The fact is, when I am involved in a conversation, I try to listen very consciously and pay attention to how ideas are expressed, how a dialogue moves from beginning to end, and what it actually sounds like.

And when I hear a particularly memorable line, I steal it.

The result?

My characters say the same things that living, breathing, people actually say.

I know this is one of the keys to my success in creating characters because I always have readers enthuse to me about how “real” my characters are.

“I swear I know your characters,” a reader tells me. “They talk just like my friends do. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you’d been secretly recording our conversations!”

Confession: I actually considered carrying around a small recorder early in my writing career to capture great lines of conversation, but decided that was too creepy. Instead, I developed the habit of repeating a line in my head until I had it memorized to copy down later. Almost miraculously, the rest of the conversation comes back to me for use in scene development, and that’s when I apply artistic license and my own imagination to craft it into my plot.

Until recently, I thought that was the way every writer developed dialogue: relying on your own ear. But then my daughter shared with me an experience she’d just had with readers of her fan fiction.

“I had so many readers comment on how much they loved this one line from a character,” she happily told me, “and it was verbatim what a friend said to me when he tasted some brownies I made. Seriously, all the best lines come straight from someone’s mouth! Forget struggling to come up with zingers – all you have to do is listen to the people around you.”

That simply confirms what I tell my audiences when I speak about my writing. I can’t take credit for some of the best dialogue in my books, because I didn’t make it up. I just recorded what I heard someone else say. In so many cases, the real world provides much better, more authentic material than I could ever dream up. Not only that, but listening carefully to conversation helps you develop pacing and timing that mimics real people, which is a huge benefit when you’re working with fictional characters.

The next time you’re stumped for dialogue, give your keyboard a rest, and instead, go talk to someone and put your ear to work. It really is surprising what people might say, and what you can do with it.

 

 

 

6 Questions and Ideas for Your Writing Reflections

Photo/KarenJordan

“[T]ake chances, make mistakes, get messy!” (Magic School Bus)

Do you tend to focus most on your grammar and mechanics when you self-edit? I do.

I want to offer you some questions and ideas that will help to get you out of the “grammar cop” mode and into a more reflective mood.

Writing instructor. I compiled this list of questions as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I offered these questions to my students to help them in their revision process with their papers.

I’m not sure where I got most of these reflective questions. Writing instructors tend to do a lot of “academic borrowing.” If you teach, you know exactly what I mean.

Professional writer. I also try to remember to ask myself the following questions when I’m reflecting on my own work, so I won’t be so critical of my own work. I tend to be a bit of a self-deprecating perfectionist at times.

I offer the questions and ideas to reflect on your work. I hope it will encourage you to tell the stories that matter most to you. So, let me know if they help you. [You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.]

Consider these questions/ideas as you reflect on your next project:

  1. Who do you imagine might be the audience for this story? (Self, parent, child, writing group, etc.) What details did you include for your audience?
  2. What feelings and reactions did you have as you were writing the story? What surprises? What insights? What have you done or what might you do that would capture those feelings, reactions, insights?
  3. What do you think this story means to you? Have you shown what the story means to you in the writing of it? What have you done? Where and what might you do?
  4. Pose questions you wonder about this story or that emerge from this story. What do you need to know in order to complete this story?
  5. How would you revise this story? Write a plan for your revision.
  6. What did you learn about yourself from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from writing this story? What did you learn about writing from reflecting on this story?

What reflective questions do you ask yourself when you revise your work?

Pantser or Planner?

All writers are created differently.

We can sit in the same classes, but each of us holds different stories in our hearts and minds. Each of us has our own voice. Each of us has our own process or lack there of when we work on our books.

Thank the Lord we are all so different or we wouldn’t have a variety of stories and books filling the shelves and internet. But no matter how different our process or our stories, there is a rhyme and reason to structuring our novels.

I just got back from the Deep Thinkers Retreat through My Book Therapy where we focused on story and structure. Both Susie and Rachel write fantastic books. Both have different processes. As I sat listening to how they process and plan, I realized that I fall in the middle of their styles. I’m a planning pantser. Like how I just created my own title there?

Planners need an outline, a very specific structure. The story is mostly written before they begin. They just have to weave it. Pantsers don’t like the structure. They have it all in their head and heart and want to sit down and write however the story leads. There is a beauty to both. There is also a danger to both when we overcompensate. It is important to focus on story structure. It makes the story cohesive, focused, and strong. There is also a beauty to allowing yourself the flexibility for letting the scene change.

Historically, I write a very brief outline, focus on some character development and personality, and then hit the page. Often the structure would overwhelm me and make me feel boxed in, so I would toss my hands in the air and just start writing because there I find the freedom to breath.

After this retreat, I have realized I need the structure, I need to plan. I know how and have the tools to accomplish this in a manner that makes my character and plot sing. Then I need to use that to allow the words to just flow.

So where do you fall on the wide spectrum of writers? If you are a planner, plot that thing out. Know the ins and outs of your character. My boss always says to “plan to be flexible,” and I would echo that with your writing. No person, place, or thing is without the ability to change, even if only a little. No matter what you plan, the story will probably change as you write. Enjoy the process!

And for all my pantser friends out there, own it and enjoy! I would encourage taking a little time to make sure it all connects and then rock that flexibility.

I am discovering that I don’t need to follow the process of other writers. They are succeeding with their writing not because they all write the same, but because they have owned their voice, story, and process. Perfection isn’t the end goal. I would argue that connection with reader and excellence in the story is more important. However it works best for you, get that story on the page, write from the voice that God gave you, and do it to the best of your ability as unto the Lord and not unto man.

Are you a pantser or a planner? What works best for you?