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A Different Kind of Inspired By Post.

It’s been a good week for remembering why I do this – blogging, that is. I’ve been exhausted of it lately, uninspired, and perhaps not as diligent as I wish I could be. This week I got some really good news (which I will share soon, but not today) and it made me think about how glad I am that I’ve stuck it out, even when I kind of hate it.

I talk about this a lot, that when I started blogging in 2009, I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to write daily and have some accountability. Three years later, that is still my goal. I’m glad that I didn’t start out with the expectation that someday I would monetize it and be a mommy blogger with the craft skills of Martha Stewart and children fit for Gerber ads. My original intention is what keeps me from quitting when I see the stats wane or when I have a week where I’m just too caught up in other work to tend it as faithfully as usual.

When I started, I wasn’t even reading other blogs yet, especially writing blogs. Once I started finding bloggers I liked and following their content, I was able to learn from them and grow in my own voice and ideas. We need the encouragement and criticism of a community to help us grow in our work.

But lately? My exhaustion is a direct result of the community I’ve come to love, unfortunately. With a few wonderful exceptions (see my past Inspired By posts for great examples), several circles of the blogging community have drank the vitriol of culture wars and binged on their own drivel, and quite frankly, I’m really freaking sick of it. Sick of it enough that sometimes I want to quit the internet, just to keep myself from getting brainwashed with them. Sick of it enough that I wonder if my voice is clear and strong enough to be heard beyond the din of insults and accusations, and if it’s not, then is this worth doing at all?

I know that many of you, like me, wonder the same things and worry about whether it is worth the time. And I appreciate that because it means you care about being honest. It means you want to be real with your work, and you want to be a part of an authentic community. This is what inspires me. This is the reason I am here.

Today I want to celebrate that. Instead of linking to a bunch of good reads, I want you to do it. And I want you to do it for yourself.

What is the best post you’ve ever written*? Share it in the comments.

Why? Because we need your voice.

 

*If you’re not a blogger, share a link to a good read you came across this week!

Essential Elements of Blogging : Generosity.

We’ve talked diligence and design, but this third and final installment in the essential elements of blogging is the most important :

Generosity begets generosity.

I’ve learned that if you want people to pay attention to you, you have to start with paying attention to them first.

It’s how you build community. You can write great content, but if you’re not actively engaging with others through their blogs and social media, your blog will remain a lone little island of you, your mother, and that stranger in Romania.

Also, I should distinguish between positive and negative engagement.

It is the difference between demanding versus inviting, marketing versus dialoguing.

No one wants to be put on the spot to share or endorse your work. No one needs another sales pitch.

When we share good, honest, vulnerable, true stories in our work and engage others in their honesty and vulnerability and talent, we don’t have to beg.

If we give and share unconditionally, if we admit that nothing is original and that creativity is cultivated best through community, everything will grow organically.

My blog didn’t start growing until I started connecting with others through comments, Twitter, and content sharing. I didn’t meet other writers until I fell down the rabbit hole of the blog world. The tandem of blogging and tweeting has connected me to the deeper network of writers that have inspired and changed me. And I learned to engage them without expecting anything in return. I learned to build relationships.

A short but extremely important list of people I’ve discovered :

Ally & Darrell Vesterfelt | Jeff Goins | Samantha Shorey | Joe Bunting | Leigh Kramer | Lore Ferguson

And this is why I won’t ever stop doing my Inspired By series; it’s an unconditional exercise in hospitality and giving credit where credit is due. I would be an empty, inert vessel if I wasn’t reading and exploring other blogs and books and articles every week. What I read has an enormous influence on how I arrive at my own content. I share because otherwise my content would be two-dimensional, and in a sense, dishonest. I share out of gratitude. I share because I want you to be inspired to explore and grow, too.

Check back tomorrow for a full list of lovelinks that helped me develop good blogging habits, or jump in right now by perusing my “Inspired By” links in the column to your right.

Share your own thoughts : What are the golden rules of blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be generous in your work?

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Design

Yesterday we talked diligence as an essential element of blogging, but today we’re going to talk about the funner, sexier side of blogging : design.

I have a background in art, although truthfully, I never finished my dual major in English and Art (I opted for English only, and then simplified that to Communications). Certain professors may read this and scoff at my rather liberal use of “background in.” I never even took a digital tools class (although I have basic experience with Illustrator and InDesign through my job).

And yet, I do care about good design and remember a few things from my art classes in high school and college. Plus, I lived with design majors for four years, so their pretention and jargon had plenty of time to rub off on me.

And if that weren’t enough, I’ve found a plethora of well-designed blogs that have trained my eye for this one essential design principle :

Grab ‘em above the fold.

Or in other words, make a good first impression. Get them at first glance. Give the blog your style, but make sure that the design is easy on the eyes. (Another huge thanks to my fairy blog-father Darrell Vesterfelt for designing my blog!)

Don’t believe that crap about good design only being necessary for design bloggers. The design of a blog is especially important for writing bloggers because bad design distracts from good content.

A couple of tips :

1. Build a blog that looks unique, but sophisticated. Your header is a reader’s first exposure to your brand, so make sure that you’ve at least found a way to customize it in some respect – a font, a color scheme, quality photos.

I would recommend picking the most basic template your blog host has to offer, not one of the templates that has flowers and birds all over it. Why? Because the flowers and birds templates are usually less customizable and harder to read. And also, approximately 1.5 bajillion other bloggers have chosen the same template with the same crazy 70’s floral pattern that burns my retinas and forces me to click away before I can read anything.

2. Make who you are and what you’re about immediately apparent. A profile photo and a 1-2 sentence bio will give them a foundation for understanding your voice and your content.

The blog/blogger that has been most influential in helping me comprehend good design is Bri Emery of Designlovefest. She has great tips for creating a clean and unique space. My dream is to someday attend her Blogshop class.

Here are some great examples of simple, sophisticated blog designs that inspired my new blog design :

Snippet & Ink | Smith & Ratliff | Brynna Lynea | Le Projet D’Amour | fieldguided | Hither & Thither

You’ll notice a few common design denominators that most, if not all of them, exhibit :

  • Lots of white space, and a simple color scheme. You won’t see a whole bunch of boxes and lines squishing their columns and content, or crazy patterns, or a rainbow of blinding colors. You have to give your content room to breathe! Make it feel zen. Make it feel like they’re reading a good book on their back porch on a sunny day.
  • A commanding header.They’re simple, with one or two fonts and one or two colors. These headers are sleek, professional, and to the point. And above all, they’re sexy. Again, no crazy colors or overly treated (distressed, frilled) or cliche fonts. Also, you’ll notice I have a thing for dramatic ampersands. Hey, if you’re going to emphasize something, pick the one thing that’s easily customizable!
  • Their ads aren’t everywhere. If they have them, they’re in their proper place, which is to say, they’re not interrupting their blog content! And also, they’re giving the ads equal weight by making them all the same size, or at least the same column width.
  • Their text is formatted. No CRAZY SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS or underlining, bolding, and italicizing every other word.  They write in an even tone, which means their readers can read in an even tone. And they bullet when necessary, highlight when necessary, and their text layout isn’t all over the place.
  • Their width for photos, columns, and text are all consistent.  It keeps everything orderly! Just take a look for yourself. 

 

What design details entice or deter you from reading a blog? Designers, do you have any thoughts to add to this? 

 

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Diligence

I am not a how-to blogger.

You know the kind. They tell you how to instantly improve your blog in 3, 5, 10, 30 easy steps. They talk about platform and SEO and influence. All of those things are important and I do read some of the good how-to bloggers out there, but I don’t count myself among them because I’m a writer; I find more challenge and value in poetic, reflective, personal writing than I do in building my particular brand of advice-giving. Everyone wants to give advice, but no one wants to take it.

Yet I do think it’s important to take time, in light of launching my new and improved blog, to share some things I’ve learned in the last three years since starting She Writes and Rights. So over this week I’ll share one key element of blogging every day, three in all, one for each year that I’ve blogged. The list could go on forever, but when we boil it down and strip away all the specifics, the things I’m sharing are the most essential parts and they can be implemented in a lot of different ways.

Because it’s not just about what to do, but why and how to do it effectively.

So here’s my thought for today :

Be diligent, even if no one is paying attention to you.

Even if your stats tell you that you only have three readers, and you know for a fact that one of them is your mom and the other two are you and some stranger that lives in Romania, be diligent.

Diligence is about consistency, habit, and building your voice.

I lose my diligence easily. My habits ebb with my mood, and for a long time my writing suffered because of it.

The thing that helped me break my habit of non-diligence was creating a weekly series, or blogging about the same general topic on the same day each week. I don’t always follow the series rule, but generally, you can expect me to share a post in my bookish series on Mondays, poetry posts on Tuesday or Wednesday, short, freeform essays/poems on Wednesday or Thursday, and my Inspired By posts full of lovelinks every Friday.

This strategy has helped me face the blank page without fear. It has taken away the “what should I write about?!” anxiety that comes with blogging, or writing in general, for that matter. In effect, I’ve given myself a weekly assignment, or prompt, to help me focus my thoughts.

And that’s the other thing, if you create a structure of consistency, cranking out 500-700 words suddenly doesn’t seem like a big, scary deal anymore. Or, in my case, editing it down to 500-700 words doesn’t seem so hard. Miracle of miracles, I’m learning to write more efficiently. My English profs would be so proud!

What are the ways that you’ve learned to be diligent in your blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be diligent in your work?

Writing & Righting : Live a Good Story

Hello, dear readers! Let’s take a moment to address two exciting things that are probably rather obvious to you :

1. There is a .com after my name. What that WHAT?! Yeah folks, I’m like all legit now. A big ginormous THANK YOU to Darrell Vesterfelt for hooking me up with my new space!

2. Just in time for my new site, I’m joining more than a dozen other talented writers in a one day blog series for Prodigal Magazine that asks :

What does it mean to live a good story?

I hadn’t intended for these two things to coincide, but I think it makes sense today to address this idea of living a good story, and what is has meant for me since I started this blog in May 2009.

Someone asked me a while ago about the name I chose for my blog.

Why “She Writes and Rights”?

Most people can make a good guess about the idea of editing, of learning to be a better writer, but I have never really told that story. There was really no catalyst or epiphany that led me to it, and I don’t remember other monikers I contemplated or what sparked this particular idea.

What I do remember about that time is me, laying on a borrowed twin-sized bed surrounded by unpacked boxes in my friend’s apartment, and I was completely restless with my life, restless with the blank space on my resume where my future was waiting. I had just graduated from college a few days before and I was getting married in three months and I smelled like bacon grease because I had just come home from my waitressing job at a hoity-toity breakfast restaurant that I had grown to hate.

And I felt hopeless and daydreamy in that stupid, self-pitying, nothing I want will ever happen for me kind of mood. I wanted an undefined more that I knew, vaguely, involved writing rather than waitressing, along with financial stability, career credibility.

I wanted to be a writer, but I felt totally inept. I didn’t know any writers. I didn’t know how to get published. I didn’t know where my career was going. I worried that if I was indeed a writer, then I was surely destined to be one of the crazy ones, the kind that writes one good book and then freaks out and puts her head in the oven while her kids play in the living room. (I was deep in the melodrama that day.)

And I just wanted to do something that mattered.

I didn’t know if blogging was it, but I wanted to try it. It sounded better than staying in that awkward horizontal position, head propped up by pillows, chin to chest, staring at my computer screen as it balanced on my stomach, while I clicked mindlessly through Facebook and debated my sanity.

And so I just did it. I started a blog.

And I hoped that the “writes and rights” part would leave room for me to stop and start and try, try again until the act of writing and sharing it with others regularly became habit, every post a small step in the right direction… Bird by literary bird.

Slowly, the lone little island of my blog became a community I could connect with about my creative life. Slowly, my words and thoughts have moved from writing about writing to actual writing, real reflections on the world around me and the chapter I’m living in the bigger Story of who we are and why we’re here.

This is the truth at the heart of “She Writes and Rights,” and it’s as much about the way we live our lives as it is about the way that we learn to write :

We are not finished. We are works in progress.

We love it when a character is moved to action and change, adventure! We love it when something effects them deeply, and they are forced to move from sitting inert on a twin bed in the post-college, woe-is-me melodrama, to living, to being who they are called to be. We love them even when they get it wrong all wrong and throw their hands up and say who the hell knows what all this means, and when they try, try again to find the truth.

Because we’re all writing and righting as we go.

We’re living in the creative tension of choosing to serve some greater purpose, some Story jam-packed with action, adventure, change, risk, radical Love.

What does it mean for you to live a better story?

Readership Doesn’t Determine Writership.

I’ve been churning out poetry and journal entries like a human word mill, but when it comes to writing prose I’ve been struggling. I write with a feeling that I come close, but I miss the mark. The head of the nail is far away from where my words land. Poetry so adequately touches my emotions in that deep place where the logic and structure of prose do not fit. I dwell in that place right now. Memories fill my thoughts. Words and rhythms come naturally, lull me to sleep when the practicality of life feels burdensome and scary. 
If you don’t believe me, I can send you a screen shot of the 47 different TextEdit windows that lay open and waiting with half written posts in them. I can tell you that the only things that feel accomplished and complete to me are the six [count them! 6!] poems I’ve drafted in the last two weeks. This is record breaking, but also upside down and backwards to my usual pace and direction and orientation of writing. 
I’ve been worrying and nibbling off all of my finger nails over the idea that my blog isn’t a plethora of “Top 10 Ways to Blahblahblah” and that my daily blog readership is approximately 38 percent more than the number of people that actually respond to what I write.
No more. 
I’ve given myself a manicure and moved on. Because here is the thing that consoles and motivates me : 

My readership doesn’t determine my writership.

I am a writer, first and foremost. My blog is a medium for my writing, not the other way around. 
Most blogs are prose, pieces of advice for learning how to build SEO in order to become the next piece-of-advice giver. That works for some people. It’s garnered 30,000 readers and an e-book publication for them. Congratulations. 
I say that without sarcasm or disdain or jealousy. 
I say that with gratitude for the encouragement and useful information that continue to guide my journey as a writer. 
And I say that with the knowledge that it isn’t for me.
I may lend my advice on occasion, but mostly, this space is my medium for sharing my creative writing and dialoguing about the process. I’m going to be posting a lot of poetry and pieces like this one, but maybe not as much prose or any formulaic posts that make my SEO and Klout score happy. 
So what, Bethany? 
I guess I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that it’s good to be a writer that blogs, simply and plainly. And for the first time in awhile, these words I’m writing don’t feel forced. 
This space is where you will find me. The whole me. The girl that sits amidst half empty coffee cups and pens and scraps of paper and writes what she thinks about the world, in whatever words and order they come to her. 
I am no expert, but I have things to say about writing and creativity and life, and I’d love to dialogue with you about that. Join me. Let’s sit down with a cup of coffee and talk about our families and our dreams and what we wrote last night.