Tag Archives: Blogging

Productivity: It’s Not Just For Robots!

This is the second go-around in our writing group for Rachel Kwon: she first appeared during the Winter 2017 session, and she wrote her excellent first guest post in January. I’m happy she’s back in the group summer (especially since she’s considering starting her own blog, and blogs are great!) and I’m thrilled that she’s here for her second guest post!

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

I like to think of myself a semi-serious amateur writer (and a very serious fried chicken enthusiast, but that’s another story for another day), and while I am still shaky on the creative elements of writing—you know, producing words so earth-shattering that readers weep and call their mothers immediately thanking them for giving them life so they could read the work—there is one thing I know pretty well, and that’s productivity. Productivity and smashing a to-do list are admittedly less sexy than a well-written piece, but they’re still necessary.

So, how does one self-motivate and make time for writing, particularly writing for leisure, when there are so many other things competing for time and attention? I think a big part of it is simply creating structures and treating it seriously, even if it’s “just for fun.” I’ve found that these three things have helped me improve my writing (and also simply to enjoy it more):

1. Establish a routine…

I don’t think the details really matter that much, but for me, as a hardcore morning person I do my best thinking when the sun is coming up, so about a year ago, I started doing a thing where I would wake up, stretch, put on the coffee, and literally just start writing. Just 15 minutes or so, in my journal, sitting at my writing desk, about whatever was in my head. It was writing that I would just do for myself, but I found that by doing it regularly in this way, I’d come up with ideas for stories or essays that I’d want to share with other people, and it became easier to do that by just having a dedicated time to do it. (Our post about momentum last week really resonated with me, because I feel that having my routine is sort of like free momentum—it’s always easier to keep things going once they’ve already started than to start a brand new thing, and that’s what my routine has offered.)

Rachel's Writing Space

Rachel’s supremely covetable writing space

2. …but know when to stray from it.

Interestingly, early-bird-writing is the exact opposite of the routine I had for over a decade, which was 15 minutes of writing, lying prone on my pillow, before going to sleep. The circumstances of my life were different and I needed to wake up around 4:30 or 5 a.m. so I didn’t quite have that same zest for writing in those wee hours (or for anything—I don’t care how much of a morning person you are; there’s a very fine line between late night and early morning and I believe that line is around 4:30 a.m.). I also like to mix up the setting sometimes and write in the park or in a coffee shop or on the subway (not during rush hour, because then I would have to write into a stranger’s armpit, which is less fun). Some of my best writing has been scribbled on the back of a bar napkin.

3. Don’t overthink it.

Overthinking plagues me. I can’t help but obsess over the most seemingly trivial details. I used to be of the mindset that I should choose my words extremely carefully, and not write them unless I really meant them. That might be a good philosophy if I were using a typewriter, and a typo (literally!) or some imperfect phrasing really was a disaster, but these days I’ve adopted more of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality, and oddly enough, I find that I’m a lot more productive when I just write SOMETHING, anything, and then whittle it down to what I actually want to say, the way I want to say it. These days I spend HALF as much time and energy writing a draft of something, no matter how horrendous it is, so I can spend TWICE as much time editing. Someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t win the Tour de France by reading about the race and planning the perfect ride; you win by getting out there, riding every day, and making incremental improvements each time you do.” There is definitely an element of “just do it”-ness involved.

So, there it is. I have some other quirks that I think help, like my preference for Muji 0.38 mm black pens, but those are the high-level structures that I believe have allowed me to be productive with my writing. Now, I think it’s fried chicken time!

 

Thank you, Rachel! Now, go get some chicken.

And the rest of you, write on.

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If I dance fast enough, Rachel can’t eat me! (Image via Giphy)

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Summer Writing Project Completed!

The Lake Projects eight-week summer writing project wrapped up last week, and it was a success! Some of our participants checked in for one last time with a final project statement. Here’s what they had to say:

Anne: I didn’t get what I wanted done this session mainly because life kept turning too chaotic for me to be able to write anything. I did get something written back in June but once July hit everything went down hill. (Anne wrote our week four guest post, and she did a lot of journaling, so, Anne, I think you did a great job)

Bev: I did pretty much finish my journal of my vacation (26 pp), did four blog posts on it, tweaked my query letter, and got potential agents in a spreadsheet.
My Big Picture goal is to get my memoir published, continue my letter writing, and start working on the next memoir from the 15 months I lived in Logan, UT, tentatively titled In the Shadow of the Temple. (Bev wrote our week six guest post; make sure to follow her blog, Fiacre’s Spade)

Laura: I didn’t reach my “big picture” goal (to finish a short story and start another), but I got a lot of work done on a story I started years ago, and I’m almost finished with the first draft. I wrote a lot of blog posts this summer, and that’s thanks to this group. On a whole, I feel great about the writing I did and I loved having a group to be accountable to. (Keep following the Lake Projects blog right here!)

Lisa: I can’t really remember what my big picture goal was for this summer session. I think I wanted to work on a few chapters of the children’s novel I’ve been wanting to start and I wanted to revise an old story. I never actually got to the story, but I did write the beginning of the novel that I’ve thinking about forever. That’s a pretty big accomplishment. I actually got words on paper and started fleshing out some characters. Wow. More importantly, I’m really excited to continue working on this, which is amazing. So, I’d consider this summer a success! Woo hoo! (Lisa wrote our week eight guest post. Good job, Lisa!)

Mike: I didn’t achieve my big picture goal from the start of the group, but I’m happy with the progress I made. It’s been a while since I tried to break up the writing process into manageable chunks (outlining, drafting, dividing-and-conquering on edits), and I was successful at those parts. I’ve also never tried to meld what I thought were two separate stories together and not let the seams show too much, and I think I’m closer to a finished product with that than I would have expected otherwise. The bonus was this past weekend, while cleaning out old files in preparation to pack up and put our house on the market, I found two pages of a draft version of one of the two stories with which I was working. I don’t remember writing them, but they actually function quite well within the revised version I have now (and provide dialogue and do a lot of connective work that I was missing), so I have even more material to edit together than I thought. I even have a possible new title, but I’ll hold off on sharing that till the draft is done, and I can make a careful decision on that. (That’s big progress! Read stories about Mike and his family’s experiences with Rett Syndrome on his blog, The Big Deal – Living With Rett)

Robert: I could only participate in the last week, but I exceeded my goal. I planned to write 2,000 words this week and I wrote 3,565. Yay! (Follow Robert’s progress on his writing blog, ROBBLOG)

I asked our group if they’d be interested in a shorter session, four weeks, beginning after the new year. I know that after the fall semester ends and the holidays wrap up, I’m going to want something to motivate me, and I thought others might feel the same way. And the writers are interested, so it will run! Mark your calendars and let me know if you’re interested in participating!

Coming Soon: Winter 2016 Online Writing Group, Monday January 4, 2016 – Saturday, January 30, 2016

Week Four: Online Writing Group

It’s the fourth week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

We’re all in different spots, but we’re all continuing to think about and work on our projects, which is the ultimate goal. So keep it up, everyone!

Here are Everyone’s Week Four Updates & New Goals:

  • AnneThis week I want to continue my journal and see where that takes me. I’m hoping to record further research in my journal as well as looking at new and interesting words and their definitions, and hopefully that exercise will help me in finding material for my story ideas. I do have paragraphs of ideas written, and whether or not they will ever leave my journal is yet to be determined. I’m hoping to get something typed but I don’t want to set a specific page goal. I am just going with it this week and I will see what happens. 
  • Anuar: My goals for week four are to add two more chapters to my book; and my writing has been going well so far. 
  • BevThis week, I’m going to do a blog post, continue research on agents, and spend a couple pomodoros on the second letter in the queue. Oh, and finish the final draft of the first letter and get it ready for duplication and mailing.
  • Bonnie: Where you at, Bonnie?
  • Curt: What’s happening, Curt?
  • Donna: How you doing, Donna?
  • Laura: I didn’t get as far into my story as I’d wanted this week, but it’s still moving along. This week I’ll continue to work on it and write two blog posts (this one doesn’t count).
  • Lisa: I got through two pages and I’m trudging forward slowly. I’ll be away at a conference this week, so if I get anything written (two pages), I’d be really happy.  🙂
  • MaryI had a terrible couple of weeks in regards to this writing group but I did finally post something last week. I’ve decided to revamp my goals and just take them week by week. Since I have something in mind to write about, my goal for week four is to get a post written and published. I’m shooting for earlier in the week rather than later. That way I can get myself set up for another post in week five.
  • Mary Margaret: Are you blogging, Mary Margaret?
  • Matthew: Bust through any writer’s block, Matthew?
  • MikeFor this coming week, I plan to add more detail to the last third of the outline (which he made progress on!), write/rewrite draft versions of the story represented in the first two sections of the outline and write two new posts for my blog.
  • Robert: Robert is still traveling, so he’s got a pass and will pick up when he returns!
  • SamanthaThis week I’m going to start rewriting the second chunk of the story, fleshing it out and improving upon it.
  • Steve: How’s the Mendelssohn paper going, Steve?

Since many of us are working on blogs, I thought I’d focus on crafting a blog post. I started my first blog, Archipelago, in January of 2006. At my height I’d get about one hundred hits/views a day, which, compared to really successful bloggers getting daily hits in the thousands, isn’t a lot. But since I was primarily writing the blog for my family and friends, I felt good about my readership.

The longer I continued my blog and started reading other blogs, I got an understanding of how to craft something that would be easier to read and more popular than my usual blatherings about our dog, my affinity for sandwiches, or our Door County vacations. Now, I really like writing about our dog, sandwiches, and Door County vacations (which is probably why I’ll never really be a thousand-hits-per-day blogger), but now I can do it better.

If you want real readership for your blog, the first thing you need is a niche — a place in the blog-o-sphere where you can write about what you know and where people will want to come to you for your expertise (and, of course, for your good writing). My friend Jeanette at Tiny Rotten Peanuts organizes her site around arts and crafts projects to do with your kids (or just for you, because art is cool). She has a wide reader base of moms: she gets them in with unique and interesting art project tutorials and keeps them reading with her smart and silly writing style. And when she deviates from posts on arts & crafts to write about her kids, husband, or booze, it doesn’t matter because she’s still focused on her story of being a mom, doing art with her kids, and drinking a lot of iced tea.

If you’re not a parent or artist, maybe you’re a foodie, a fashion plate, or a female Canadian academic. Whatever your niche and your audience, find them and write to them.

Once you’re focused, keep your posts frequent, easy to read, and visually interesting.

Keep Posts Frequent

A good rule of thumb for bloggers is to post something new every few days. This means that you’ll need a lot of ideas and you’ll need to keep yourself on a schedule. Luckily, that’s what this online writing group is supposed to help with! Since writing a new post every few days is quite a bit of work, you can compromise by writing one short post and one long post each week. Your short post can include an image and short anecdote or update; your longer post can be something meatier, thoughtful, and something you work on a bit each day.

Keep Posts Easy to Read

In this world of BuzzFeed lists, clickbait, and Reddit, readers are looking for something easy to read and digest. That usually means short and easily scan-able. Write in short paragraphs (nothing is easier to avoid than a big block of text) and make sure your post is organized logically. Sometimes that means making a list-style post, giving directions or instructions, or telling a story in chronological order.

Keep Posts Visually Interesting

Readers want images. Period. This means you should start taking pictures to use in your blog posts, or find appropriate images using Flickr Creative Commons or a similar site. Your images should reflect your post’s content, though it can be straight or sarcastic. Remember Matthew’s post about busting writer’s block? His image of “matches,” a bottle of “gin” and “Taylor Swift” wasn’t exactly…accurate. But it was funny and worked with his tone.

Images aren’t the only way to keep posts visually interesting; you can also use headings, numbered or bulleted lists, or italics or bold font. Don’t overuse any of these, though. If you have a bunch of different lists with a bunch of bold-face words, no reader will understand what’s really important.

Read other blogs to see what works well and what doesn’t. Remember that blog posts don’t have to be long, but following the above mentioned tips will at least ensure good organization and audience appeal. And share your blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to promote your work and to find interested readers.

What else do you think about when writing for your blog? Share in the Comments below to keep the conversation going!

One Writer’s Process

When I was recruiting members for the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, I asked for volunteers to contribute guest posts for the blog. The posts could include details about the writer’s eight-week project, their writing process, or something else.

The first guest post was by Matthew Wasik, and it explained, in excellent detail, how to combat writer’s block. This post, by Anuar Escutia Ponce de León, discusses one writer’s process for putting together his motivational book, Looking for Stars in the Middle of the Darkness. Enjoy Anuar’s post!

This is a guest post from Anuar Escutia Ponce de León, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

So far my writing progress has been going great. I have six chapters and the prologue of my book done. These chapters are some of the previous blogs I have posted on my blog, Wheelchairs Rock. I pretty just copy and paste them into my book. It was simple, but I did have to edit the posts into a book version.

My book idea is to share those moments full of tears and full of brightness that have taught me something valuable. I figure that readers could possible learn something valuable from the things that I’ve experienced in my life. Everyone has their own situation in life and each of us learn different important lessons. So I believe it’s always good to make the best out the lessons life gives us by sharing those lessons with others.

I have many posts written that I haven’t had the chance to put on my blog yet. So I’m going to add those posts to my book throughout these next weeks. Sometimes I feel like I have enough material to publish this book, but I believe I still have many more lessons to obtain. Those lessons could perhaps be very useful for this book.

Feel free to check out my blog and give me some feedback. It’s highly appreciated since my blogs will be chapters of my book in the future.

Thanks for post, Anuar! Writing a blog is a great way to test material, gain readers, and build a buzz about your story and your book. Good luck! (check out more from Anuar on his blog, Wheelchairs Rock)

3 Tips to Help You Switch Blog Platforms

Over the summer I decided to move our blog from its former location to this new site hosted by WordPress. I learned a lot about switching platforms, so if you’re thinking of moving your own blog to a new platform, or if you’re just starting a new blog, here are some things you should make sure to do:

Spend at least two months choosing a theme

There are so many great free themes available through your web platform, so make sure to go through them all to figure out which one is right for you, your audience, and your message. Instead of writing new posts, procrastinate by switching your theme! Again! In addition to taking your sweet, sweet time finalizing your decision, make sure to switch themes at least three times a week. This will confuse any new readers you have, and it will confuse you, too. This brings me to my second tip.

Confuse yourself

Of course you’ll confuse yourself and your readers by changing your theme as often as you shave your legs (over the summer, that’s every other day if you’re me [and you’re welcome for that piece of information]). But there are other ways to confuse yourself, too. You can set up a bunch of new pages for your new blog and then forget to publish them and freak out when you can’t find them on your preview screen. You can read a bunch of other blog advice articles and try to follow all of them, even if they’re contradictory. You can add and delete design elements so frequently that your blog looks like a font ogre barfed on your page. Do it all!

Be as indecisive as possible

When you move platforms, you have the potential to redefine yourself and gain readers. But who will the new “you” be? Should you merge your personal blog with some of your professional work to streamline your online presence? Sure! But, maybe not. Should you focus your blog posts on a specific niche, like television (because you watch too much) or books (because you read too many)? This focused posting could help you build a readership. Yes, that’s a great idea! But, wait: maybe focusing on the folksy-nerdy stuff you’ve always written about would be the best move. You don’t want to alienate anyone, right? And everyone loves to read your ramblings about your dog, right? You’d better just sleep on it and decide in the morning. What you can decide on now, though, is that it’s time to change your theme design!

I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me. And when in doubt, just stare at your blog for a while before abandoning it for six weeks in favor of watching television and eating caramel apples. Good luck!

You're the Tomato of My Eye

Halloween post, coming soon!