How to Blog with Focus

Our Purpose As Artists
I teach in a building next to the School of Music. So it’s not uncommon for college students to practice their instruments in the adjoining courtyard. On any given day, multiple melodies fill the atmosphere. But in the early morning, when I’m arriving for work, I hear the sounds of a lone clarinet drifting through the hallway.

I pause to listen.

At first, the notes are scales — ascending and descending. Soon, the notes transform into familiar refrains by Beethoven and Bach. Eventually, the young clarinet player abandons the notes on the page and begins to improvise. He creates an aural art, a cadence pregnant with mystery, uncertain of where it will lead.

The clarinet player in the courtyard has no idea how much a writing professor down the hall enjoys his musical gift.

I wonder how many bloggers can relate to this clarinet player.

As bloggers, we sometimes wonder:

  • Is anyone even listening?
  • Is all this blogging worth the effort?
  • Does my presence online make any difference?
  • Am I just another voice in a cacophony of noise?

When we ask ourselves these questions, we open ourselves to self-doubt and become susceptible to false ideals about blogging. We start to listen to other voices — voices that talk about numbers.

Subscribers. Visitors. Page views. Comments. Likes. Shares. There’s a statistic for everything.

In a sincere effort to increase readership, it’s not uncommon for bloggers to start chasing these numbers. A blogger begins, writing from the heart, and she finds a small but receptive audience who appreciates her work. Then she reads advice online — a prescribed methodology for blogging success. As she emulates these “best practices,” she becomes a clone of other bloggers. What made her unique in the first place has dissipated.

The fastest way for a blogger to lose her focus is to focus on numbers.  {Share on Twitter}

That’s not to say all numbers are bad. The information we glean from statistics can be helpful. A well-frequented post can tell us what strikes a resounding chord with readers. A weekly tracking of page views might reveal which days of the week are more likely to receive visits. Such data can inform our strategies and guide our blogging decisions.

Bloggers are wise, however, to view their statistics with discernment. Because numbers abide by the law of diminishing returns. Once we’ve achieved a numeric goal, we simply up the ante with another number. This never-ending chase perpetuates a cycle that saps a blogger’s creativity, resulting in a spiritless body of work.

We must decide ahead of time what kind of blogger we want to become and what kind of reader we want to reach.

Yes, the allure of bigger numbers is an ever-present reality. Our society revolves around numbers because we’re conditioned to believe that numbers translate into happiness or beauty or success. We’re told bigger statistics will provide access to better opportunities. Which may or may not be true.

But I do know one thing that is true:

Numbers neither define me nor fulfill me.
Numbers neither determine my worth nor control my fate.

Whether we have many readers or few, we overcome the seduction of numbers when we’ve already settled within ourselves a sense of purpose.

When we know our purpose as artists, we retain our focus as bloggers.  {Share on Twitter}

I want to blog with the same focus as the clarinet player. He’s committed to developing his craft, and he’s not following the noisy crowd. Nor is he playing louder in an attempt to be heard. In fact, he doesn’t seem concerned with being noticed for his talent. He’s found his own space, and he creates music because that’s what he does. It’s inside him. He may have dreams of playing in an orchestra someday, but whether that dream ever comes true or not, he’s a musician.

And a true musician will continue to play his instrument for the simple love of music.

I’m a Writer

I am a Writer

My old desktop computer, the one I bought with my own babysitting money and hauled away with me to college when I was naive enough to think I could be a writer, quit working.  My husband made a skull and crossbones picture and taped it to the monitor.

It was dead.

But it didn’t really matter because I hadn’t written a single thing in two years, except for grad school papers, and those didn’t count.

I felt like something had died inside of me too, but I couldn’t see any way around it so I shoved the words aside.

It’s just that I couldn’t do it, not well.  I couldn’t be an attentive wife and doting mother and token employee and perfect housekeeper and all the other things I thought I should be, and write.

So I gave it up, that writing thing, and I had told myself that writing was just a selfish dream anyway.

Because when I write, my husband eats peanut butter and jelly and my children run out of clean underwear.  When I write, I stare at the computer and forget to read bedtime stories and say “Uh-huh” to everything the kids ask, including, “Can we give the cat a haircut?” 

When I write, my family suffers.

And it all seemed so self-indulgent, to sit down and let the words flow out, to feed some kind of need I had to put pen to paper when all around me the needs of my family and my church and my community were so much greater.

So I patted babies and stirred dinner and felt all the while that I was doing the better thing, the sacrificial thing, by staying away from writing.  It was all terribly holy.

But mostly, it was just terrible.  

“So, you’re just going to quit writing?  Because it’s hard?”  my husband asked one day.

Yes, actually.  That was my plan.  He didn’t seem to understand how tortured I felt when I wasn’t writing, and how guilty I felt when I was.  He didn’t seem to remember the fact that when I wrote, I let the dishes pile up in the sink and forgot to buy milk.

“But Kristie,” he said, “you’re a writer.

That word pulled a plug in me and all the tears flowed out.   That was the name God gave me when my soul-clay was still damp and new.  He took a holy hand and wrote writer into me, and it has defined me ever since.

But I was a mother too, and a wife, and a child of God, and I felt so divided sometimes that the only thing I could think to do was give up the one thing that seemed negotiable, the one thing that seemed self-serving and selfish.

Because nothing felt so right in me like when I wrote, and that couldn’t be good.  It didn’t seem right that something should fulfill me that was not God, or my husband, or my children.  I could sniff out an idol as well as the next girl, and writing reeked of it.

If there was one thing I knew, it was that the road is narrow, and if I knew two things, it was that there are crosses to bear and flesh to deny, and anything that made me feel whole should be given up because broken is what we should be before God.

I learned that last bit in Sunday School, whether they taught it or not.   I learned it so well that I forgot the other parts about how every good and perfect gift comes from above, right from the same hand that formed me.   I forgot how God delights to see me use my gifts, almost as much as I delight to use them.

I forgot that crosses are for crucifying our flesh, not our beings.  Who I am and who I was made to be, well, that’s the part God wants to grow up into perfection.  That’s the part He wants me to multiply for His glory, not bury because I’m afraid and out of balance and I don’t like feeling like a poor excuse of a housekeeper when I write.

A few years later, my husband handed me a present.   It wasn’t even my birthday, and I felt strangely embarrassed at the surprise.  Inside the paper was a brand new laptop, bought with money my mother-in-law had collected from friends and relatives on both sides of our families.  “We want you to write,” the card said, over and over again in different words.  “We want you to write.”

Those were the same words my Father said to me when He gave me the gift and called me a writer.  Foolishly, I had tried to give back His gift.

I couldn’t refuse this one.

So I opened the lid to the laptop and wore the letters right off the keys with all the words that had been waiting.  I let the dishes pile up some days and learned to keep frozen pizzas in the house, just in case.  I still don’t understand balance and the kids can get me to say yes to anything when I’m typing out a story.  I just don’t mind it as much because it means something.

It means I’m a writer.

Post from the archives, authored by Kristen

8 Tips for Beginning Writers

8 Tips for Beginning Writers

Finding time to write can be a bit of a challenge. My children are all young enough to still need quite a bit of help and attention doing everything from loading the dishwasher, to using the potty. To say I don’t have a lot of free time is an understatement.

A question I am often asked is this: “How do you have time to write like you do? Or, people sometimes say it in a statement form, like this: “I don’t know how you found the time to write a book!”

8 Tips for beginning writers, (You Can do it) 

  1. I treat writing as a job. What I mean specifically is, I set aside specific time to work. I schedule it into my day, just as I would a doctors appointment or a girls night out. This helps me to plan our activities, and allow plenty of face time and class time with my kids, while still getting my projects done.
  2. I set deadlines. I’m jumping headfirst into another project and in order to make that happen, I have set deadlines for myself to complete different phases of the project. This prevents me from enjoying wasting hours of time watching Duck Dynasty, when I need to have something ready for editing.
  3. I guard my writing time fiercely. My children take a scheduled quiet time every day. This time is sacred to me. This is when I write most often (like right now) and I am very careful about things that would otherwise interrupt this time. It occurs at the same time everyday, and so I schedule our entire day around this 2 hour window. I’ve been known to turn down many activities that interrupt this hallowed time. Thankfully, my friends here know me well, and don’t often ask us to play or do anything during that time, and likewise, I avoid scheduling anything that will prevent me from being near my computer during this small window of time.
  4. I (sometimes) write at night. Part of the reason I guard my quiet time with such ferocity, is that in the evenings, I’d like to hang out with my husband. Therefore, in order to write, I must try and work around his schedule, which means limited night writing. When I was in the throws of finishing my book, many nights were spent writing, and we made do, because we knew that pace would not last. I try to have a once a week “write night” (#writenight for you tweeps out there) because honestly, sometimes, night writing is where the magic happens. I should add here that my husband is an absolute saint and supports me fully in my writing, which makes all the difference in the world. Amen.
  5. I write before the sun comes up. Early morning is an excellent time to get those first morning thoughts out on paper–and that’s specifically how I do my morning writing, on paper in my journalI won’t speak too much to this because everybody has their method, but I will simply say this, if you write almost exclusively on the computer, I suggest you find a good legal pad or a journal and every now and then, write long hand. I am amazed sometimes at how different my writing can be when I take the time to draw out the letters.
  6. I take scheduled breaks. I have found this to be a critical component in my efforts to hold on to ideas. The more tired I am, the more often I lose the words. Scheduling rest is a key component in holding on to my story and making my deadlines. ( If you need accountability and encouragement to take time off from being creative, try this.) This leads me to my last point.
  7. I get offline. Sometimes I can be positively fed full by the online conversations I enjoy. But I can also easily waste a tremendous amount of time online, and get distracted from my own writing and work. If you want to write, get off line and do the work. Everybody knows this already, but yet, many of us still struggle with this one seemingly obvious point.
  8. I pray. This perhaps should have been the first point, but the fact that I list it last does not speak to the significance of this tip. If you want to write, take that desire to the Lord and give it back to Him. Ask Him to show you how to fit it into your life, and for the words and wisdom to share. I believe that God is honored most by our willingness to use the gifts He has given us, for His purposes. Don’t know what that looks like for you? Ask Him. He will direct your steps.

What tips do you have for other writers? Share them below! 

Post from archives, authored by Kris

From Bandwagon Blogger to Blog-Trail Blazer

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The most popular girl in school strode past my locker. She carried an air of confidence — the kind that eluded me. I wondered if the mysterious patch on her jeans had anything to do with it. There was something about that triangular patch. You know, the one with the question mark?

Within a few weeks, more girls showed up at school proudly wearing the question mark on their right buttocks. This newfound patch assumed the supposed weight of popularity. But I couldn’t begin to guess why.

Nevertheless, I begged my parents until I too owned a single pair of Guess Jeans. Except they didn’t make me more popular. They didn’t even feel different.

The whole affair struck me as silly. I followed the crowd without knowing why.

Today, I give thanks to God in heaven I’m no longer in high school. It took me awhile, but eventually, I found my own way. And it didn’t involve following the crowd.

Trends, of course, still come and go — whether we’re in high school or not.

In the blogging world, a new trend can permeate the online scene with great force. Blogging gurus inundate us with innovative ideas and vogue plugins. Many of their suggestions are great too. But sometimes the constant tide of new technology leaves us feeling like we’re electronically etched in the dark ages of blogging if we’re not mastering the latest technological gizmo.

For instance, when I visit other blogs, I see a variety of social media icons. They’re usually in the upper right corner of a blog. And they represent the various places we can connect with that blogger.

So when I had my website redesigned earlier this year, I wanted the full plethora of social media icons in the upper right corner of my blog too. Clearly, this was the “in” thing to do. These icons, of course, would need to link with real social media outlets.

So I made a list of blogging goals for 2014:

      • Begin participating in Instagram.
      • Figure out Pinterest.
      • Investigate Tumbler and Linked-In.
      • Upload some videos on You-Tube.
      • Learn how to schedule tweets and Facebook posts on Buffer or Hootesuite.

Across the bottom of my list, I penned my biggest and best goal of all:

      • Hire a virtual assistant who can do all of the above for me.

Well, we’re midway through September, and I’ve done none of the above. Because I had to ask myself:

Why do I feel this pressure
to have an online presence on every social platform?

Am I following the crowd because that’s what trendy blogging looks like?

There’s nothing wrong with participating in any of these social media venues, as long as we’re doing so with a genuine desire to connect with the people there. But I’m afraid my cute little icons in the corner of my blog had become a new patch for me — just like the patch with a question mark that my friends wore in high school.

What’s more, I wondered if my desire to be in every social sphere online was really an attempt to become omnipresent.

Has the Eve-old sin of trying to be like God re-fashioned itself in my generation’s attempt to be in all places at all times?

Only God is omnipresent.

So what’s my real goal here?

After reflecting on my real purpose for writing — to bring glory to God’s name — I decided that I don’t need my name everywhere. I need to be true to who I am. I’m a writer, yes, but I’m also a mom and a full-time English teacher.

As bloggers, we need to invest our time wisely because we are not limitless beings.

I’m comfortable with Twitter and Facebook, so for now, that’s where I’ll connect online.

We all have a unique set of strengths, and the most “successful strategy” for any blogger is to stay true to who we are.

Some bloggers are savvy with social media.
Some bloggers are awesome with affiliates.
Some bloggers are terrific with technology.
Some bloggers have a way with words.

Blogging trends come and go. But who we are — at our core — remains the same. I don’t want to be a bandwagon blogger. I want to be a blog-trail blazer. And the only way to do that is to stay true to who I am.

I no longer run out and buy a new pair of Guess Jeans just because everyone else is buying a pair. I don’t generally follow the blogging masses either. Instead, I stay informed. Sometimes the latest blogging hype is just that. Hype. But sometimes the newest gadget, or widget, is a fantastic feature that enables bloggers to accomplish online feats they never thought possible.

The blogging world doesn’t have to be a re-creation of an old high school soirée, where the “in crowd” knew all the best brands. You and I can make a difference. No matter how big or small our blogs may be. Our voice matters. And a lack of technical expertise or social media experience shouldn’t prevent anyone from starting.

We can master this crazy world of blogging we’ve grown to love. And going to conferences like Allume is the perfect way to get a jumpstart on all things blogging!

I’ll be there. And I’d love to meet you there too.

Which social media venues do you enjoy the most?

 

From Bandwagon Blogger to Blog-Trail Blazer @Allume <Tweet this!>

The most “successful strategy” for any blogger is to stay true to who we are.  <Tweet this!>

Blogging trends come and go. But who we are — at our core — remains the same.  <Tweet this!>

To Trust

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“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
-Helen Keller

At 5, I battled death. In 24 hours my father and brother descended from a village in the mountains where the clouds gathered around ankles cresting along the Himalayas. My mother had given them my diagnosis, the one we got when my body wilted and my fever spiked and the doctors shook their heads and recommended Western medical care.

They  packed  things at a frantic pace and lifted off with their sick child sprawled across their laps. Nepal is no place to fight leukemia, especially in the early 80′s.

We flew to Holland. Prayer circled and swirled around me for those weeks I lay dwarfed by the hospital bed.

But they prayed the fervent prayer only mothers of sick kids know. Knees bent to the ground, hands held, and voices lifted with petitions for me, a child who knew only that the needles hurt, the room was cold, and the Dutch nurses lack bedside manner.

I lived. Healed, really. And it became a part of my story. Why we left Nepal and eventually went back to Hawaii. This is why we had to leave third world missions. This is why my parents had to seek out God’s will in a country they never felt truly a part of, America. But as a child, I never really questioned the trust that was required.

As a mother myself, I can’t fathom the confusion and despair that would surround me if my child was threatened and their life was asked for. Would I be able to trust?

My mother came to a place in her heart during those hospital nights grasping my tiny hand where she was able to say “Yes Lord, if this is your will. I will trust you.” My mother who worries and frets about the funniest little things. Who we joke has a forever furrowed brow and always methodically thinks through things. And yet, she is a woman of amazing faith.

Going to Nepal with two small children and a promise of $75/month in support. Trusting that God would see them through.

It is such an odd dichotomy. That one could have faith to do the enormous, but  fear enough to hinder the modest.

But I think I may know why. Sometimes faith is easier in the crisis. What other option do you really have? You can trust or you can… flail against the inevitable? But when it is drawn out, it  becomes harder. To have faith in the small things when there are other routes you could take and avoid having to trust completely. To still be willing to walk the called even if you could take a different path.

Trust is hard, but are we still willing to walk the called because it is His voice that is calling?

photo credit

 

Finding Why You Write

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is begin. And the next hardest thing to do is begin again. I took three months off of blogging, and I had a lot of time to ponder reasons why I should start again or not.

Life makes it harder.

We get weary.
We get busy.
We get distracted.
We get discouraged.
We compare.
We believe lies.
We doubt ourselves.

I came up with a million excuses why I cannot, should not, or will not. Yet, I knew I was not supposed to quit. God made it clear, and it really was not open for discussion. I had to begin again.

Beginning again is hard when you think you have failed. It is hard when you do not think it is worth it, because you are not seeing the results you expected. It is hard when the results you get are not in proportion to the effort applied.

It costs too much to mean nothing.

finding-why-you-write

Beginning again is hard when you do not really know why you are doing it to begin with. The reasons we begin are not always the same reasons we keep going. Sometimes our “why” gets redefined along the way.

It changes. We change.

We learn. We experience. We grow

What motivates us changes.

I became clouded with self ambition. My desires had to be refined, yet my purpose remained the same. The purpose is the same for those who call themselves followers of Christ

If we strip the “why” down to the simplest form, its simplest is its most powerful…

“He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 19-20 NIV)

God has a message He wants to get to those who are His, and those who are yet to be. He has put His message inside of you, and how you bring it as unique as every fingerprint.

We are all different, yet we have a common thread in all our tapestries.

“We are stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 NKJV

How might you be found faithful? Obey.

How might those mysteries be revealed through your words? Many ways.

They may come from you in a way that makes us laugh, or be contemplative and introspective. They may help us organize our lives, or help find our purpose. Your words may causes us to think or expand our thinking. Or they may challenges us, and aid us in being better selves — to love well, to serve more, to be who we were created to be.

Your stories and imagery may stir our imagination, and help us see grace and beauty in places we might not have looked. Or perhaps break our hearts open wide in conviction for our sin or compassion for those in need. You may write truth that brings freedom, opens blind eyes, and helps us live our lives as praise to God.

No matter what form it comes, the reason we write is the same — to make God’s love known.

“His love has the first and last word in everything we do…Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in His death so that everyone could also be included in His life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 MSG)

It is why we write. It is why Christ died. It is why we live.

 

12 Editing Tips for Writers

Editing Tips
When it comes to writing and feedback, I’m always reminded of my grandma’s words: When yer eatin’ fried chicken, swallow dat meat and spit out them bones.

My grandma’s advice speaks to the truth of editing tips too. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones.

The following are twelve editing tips for writers. If any of these suggestions ring true, then great. But if any of the following suggestions don’t resonate with you, I believe you know what’s best for your process and your style. Pick and choose the approach that works best for you.

Writers are at their best when they’re trusting their instincts. <Tweet this!>

These twelve editing tips discuss when, where, and how to edit:

1. Begin the editing process with rest.

Once you’ve finished your writing project, put it away for a few days — or longer if possible. Don’t look at it. Go outside. Hang out with friends. Watch a football game. Engage your mind on something else. Then, when you return to the words on the page, you’re able to see your work with fresh eyes.

2. Schedule a time for editing.

Put it on your calendar. And enlist the support of those nearest you. When family and friends know we’re nearing the end of a writing project, it helps to have their support. This, of course, pertains to lengthier works. If it’s a shorter work, like a blog post, simply set aside a separate time to review it before publishing.

3. Sit in a location other than where you write.

This may not seem like a big deal, but editing is a different activity than writing. When we edit in a location that’s different than where we normally write, we’re alerting our subconscious to prepare for a different kind of mental endeavor.

4. Edit from a hard copy.

Yes, this requires the use of paper, but it’s more effective. When we read on a computer screen, our eyes are accustomed to scrolling quickly through the text. With a hard copy, each section is contained on a separate piece of paper. This helps us slow down and focus. We’re also less likely to tinker endlessly with cutting, pasting, and rearranging. We can write our editing notes in the margin and move on. We can recycle the paper when we’re finished.

5. Use a colored pen — preferably red.

English teachers are notorious for bleeding on essays with scathing red ink. In fact, some educators have suggested that red ink shouts at the reader, similar to the use of ALL CAPS. So I’ve tried editing in every color possible, and I’ve discovered that blue, purple, and brown ink pens don’t contrast enough with the black toner on the page. It’s easy to skip an editing comment when it’s so close in shade to the black toner. At the same time, most orange, pink, yellow, and green ink pens are too light. The eyes are forced to squint while deciphering the individual letters.

Red ink isn’t about shouting. It’s about contrast. Our eyes don’t have to strain as much to discern the red ink from the black toner.

6. Develop your own coding system.

Whether it’s a word that needs omitting or a letter that needs capitalizing, English teachers use a canonized set of symbols to indicate the specific change required in the text. But the actual symbols don’t matter as much as the meaning behind them. As long as you know what you mean when you mark your page, you can use whatever coding system you like.

7. Read your work aloud.

The importance of reading your work aloud cannot be stressed enough. This is one of the best techniques for catching your own errors. When you read aloud, mark every place where you stumble over the words. If you have to stop reading to figure out what you’re saying, then you can be sure your readers will too.

8. Read with a ruler under each line.

This may feel awkward at first. But we already know what comes next because we wrote it. Using a ruler helps us slow down and concentrate on one line at a time.

9. Read backward.

Again, this technique may feel weird. But if we read one sentence at a time, starting at the end and working our way backward, then we’re less likely to “hear” the content, and we can focus on the form.

10. Read a section at random.

Another way to pull ourselves out of the content is to randomly select a paragraph and examine the form. I’ve caught more typos and minor mistakes this way.

11. Focus on one editing technique at a time.

Either read with a ruler or read backward or read a random section. But don’t try to do all three in one sitting. Pick and choose. And spread it out.

12. Take planned breaks.

I prefer to work in long stretches of focused time, but after a few hours, my brain is tired, and I’m ready to stop editing for the day. So I’ve learned that I can prolong my productivity if I schedule intermittent breaks. For me, I try to walk away from my desk every sixty minutes or so. Even a five-minute break each hour can yield positive results. Oftentimes, my brain continues to mull over my current project while I take a walk outside. When I return to my editing desk, I’m ready to re-engage.

The editing process can be as unique to the writer as her voice and style. <Tweet this!>

So try a few different methods and see what works best for you.

 

What are your favorite tips for editing?

 

12 Editing Tips for Writers on the Allume blog today! <Tweet this!>

 

Creating a Beautiful Writing Space

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For weeks I avoided the office in my house where I do most of my writing. I wasn’t really sure why at the time, it just sort of happened. Of course I would force myself to go in there to get certain things done, but the writing girl inside of me felt stuck for some reason.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to write. The words were certainly there. I would write blog posts in my head while feeding my babe at night, and I would jot down ideas in my journal throughout the day as I felt inspired. I even used my dictation app to share some insightful words with my future self.

And one day it hit me…..I didn’t want to spend time in the office because it was UGLY!

When I looked at it that way, it made total sense. You see, I’m a design addict. I love to be surrounded by beauty. It helps my soul rest. And my office? Well, it was a mix of odds and ends that had no purpose, it was by no means hideous, but it was far from warm and inviting. My desktop computer was stuck on a desk in the middle of a space that was drab and boring– and I found that this undermined my ability to relax.

Now, I am certainly not declaring that a perfect space is required for meaningful writing, but if you’re like me…maybe you feel most creative when you’re surrounded by beauty. I know that everyone has a different idea of what qualifies as beautiful. If you crave a personal space that stimulates your creative juices, here are a few tips for that may help your words flow.

Define your space. Your writing space doesn’t need to be a whole office. In fact, you may just write at the dining room table after all of your kiddos are in bed, and that’s great! Use whatever space you have, and transform it into something a bit special. Maybe this means taking a few extra minutes to put away the dishes and put a vase of flowers from your garden just within eye sight. Maybe it means pushing the table closer to the window so you have a little view while writing. The point is, make whatever space you have be a place of rest and beauty.

Make sure to have a comfy seat. Maybe you have a laptop and prefer to snuggle up in a comfy chair, or maybe you prefer to write at a desk. Wherever your booty lands, make sure it’s on a comfortable surface, this will make all the difference when sitting for long periods.

Surround yourself with meaningful pictures or art. If you write about motherhood, maybe you could frame a few pictures of you and your kiddos. Maybe you have a mentor who writes beautiful poetry; why not frame some of her words to inspire creativity when you’re staring off trying to think of just the right way to phase that sentence. Whatever the case, incorporate pieces of art and/or pictures that inspire you.

Put away the phone and turn off the TV.  This one is important. My writing space needs to be clear of the temptation of social media and HGTV. I find that if I have my phone charging right next to me, it inevitably ends up in my hand–and somehow {not really sure how it happens} I end up scrolling through Facebook or some such timesuck. When I deliberately leave the phone out of reach and the TV turned off, that’s when I get my most focused writing done.

Add a few textiles. I don’t know about you, but a comfy blanket and a pretty pillow can really bring a smile to my face. Doesn’t something simple like that just add a little joy to a space? If it is within your budget, maybe think about splurging on a few soft and comfy pieces for your space. Some new bright and airy curtains and a pillow or two might just do the trick. Such pieces may just make you want to stay in your writing  space a little longer.

Organize your space. I know, I know….some of you just aren’t the organized types, and that’s ok. But, I would encourage you to spend some time transforming your space into some semblance of order. When we’re surrounded with things that need our attention (bills, your child’s homework, laundry, the to do list, etc.), that’s when our mind can easily drift off and settle on what else needs to get done. Try your best to keep your writing space free of the “to do’s”.

Add some lighting. Lighting can make a huge difference. For the longest time I was working in a dark space. Once I added some lights, I found that I became more alert and was able to avoid drifting off to sleep during my early morning sessions. For some cheap lighting options, check out your local thrift store; you can usually find some very cool eclectic lamps for really cheap!

Over the winter my man and I spent some time sprucing up our office. We used giftcards we received for Christmas to pour a little bit of life into the space. It made a huge difference. I actually enjoy being in my office now! I actually feel inspired and creative, and I genuinely look forward to being in my office for the first time since moving into our home.

What’s your writing space like? What would you like to change about it if you could?

By: Mandy Scarr

For Whose Glory?

allumegraphic

I haven’t sat down to write in weeks. Haven’t opened up my blog, or a word document, or a Facebook post. Nothing.

I’m a writer, who isn’t writing.

But with good reason.

This is a difficult post for me to write, difficult because my pride screams at me to not write it. Don’t admit this! Keep it to yourself. It’s that pride, though, that is the root of the problem. The root of a lot of my problems, if I’m honest.

When I started blogging, like many of you, it was just for my family. Then, it morphed into something else. A hobby. A business. A brand.

A calling. A way to use my gifts to serve the Lord, and to encourage other women.

And as I pursued that calling, and ran hard after the purpose I thought God had for me, my blog grew, and my little community became a bigger community. My pageviews went up, and the number of Facebook fans and email subscribers grew and grew. I wrote eBooks, and gathered launch teams, and people started asking ME blogging questions, like I knew what I was doing.

So, I started to think that I did. I let the accolades of others fill my soul and speak to my worth. I loved the recognition, however small, and craved more. And I slowly took the reigns of my writing career away from God, and placed them firmly in my own hands.

Not consciously, of course, but I did it. Instead of praising God over the growth of a ministry, I stressed over the numbers that still weren’t “enough”. I slowly stopped writing what was on my heart, and started writing what I thought people wanted to hear, what I thought might have a shot at going viral. I lost sleep over implementing social media plans, I read books on how to make money blogging, and I lived stressed. All the time, stressed. Always one more thing to do, one more post to schedule, one more status to write.

The truth hit me after one particularly stressful week, and it hit hard. What started as an overflow of my life in Christ, was now sucking me dry and leading me away from the Lord. I was no longer working for Him; I was working for myself.

That’s the part that is hardest to admit. Somewhere down the line, I’d stopped writing for God’s glory, and started writing for my own. I wanted the numbers, the name, the notoriety. I wanted to stand out, to feel like all of my work was worth something. I wanted to feel like I was worth something.

I’m reading Kristen Welch’s book, Rhinestone Jesus (which is amazing, by the way), and she talks about this idea a little bit.

“Our desire to touch others must come from the transforming power of Christ within. Our ultimate goal should be to make His  glory known. There are a lot of do-gooders in the world. A few are misguided people looking for significance. We cannot offer eternal change on our own. It is found in discovering God’s purpose for our lives, whether big or small, and allowing Him to use us in a way that brings recognition to His name, not our own.

Misguided people looking for significance. That’s been me. I don’t think it coincidental that as soon as I took the reigns into my own hands, my blog essentially stopped growing. That no matter what I did on my own, I couldn’t get those numbers to go up and stay up.

Writing had become an idol for me, something that gave me a false sense of value. I had elevated the call of writing above all else, including my relationship with the Lord and with my family – my first callings! I’d stay up late, neglect my home, order out for dinner again, snap at a child, and turn on another episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – all for the sake of one more shared blog post. One more comment. One more accolade.

I heard, not for the first time, God ask me to lay it all down. Truth be told, He’d been leading me that way for the past year, but I had a list of excuses that I threw up every time I felt the nudge. This time, though, I obeyed. I stopped writing altogether.

It’s not been easy. It might sound extreme, but it’s been a bit like rehab. Life rehab. I have to fight the urge to classify every event in my life as “bloggable” or “not bloggable”. I took Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I moved my computer out of the kitchen and playroom and into the office (where I rarely go).

I’m relearning how to live, right here, in this life I’ve been given – being present for the moments that are right in front of me, not just the ones I feel are worth writing about tomorrow.. I’m relearning how it feels to start my day in the Word instead of on my computer. I’m relearning how to spend face to face time with my kids, giving them my full attention instead living distracted.

I’m remembering where my worth truly comes from, and how worthy is the One who gives it to me.

I want to want to write for His glory again, not my own, one day. But I still find myself caught up in the pursuit of glory for myself, when the urge to write strikes. So, for now, I’m quiet. For now, I will listen instead of speak, and follow where He leads, whether that’s to the playroom, the laundry room, the mission field, or, eventually, back to my keyboard.

Because nothing else, no striving or stressing, no hard work or carefully laid plan, brings the peace and joy that self-centered glory falsely promises. Instead, when I serve as He calls me to, I am humbled, and He is glorified.

As it should be.

 

Do you struggle with pride in your work, whether it’s writing, or speaking, or mothering? How do you handle that?

What Actually Happens When You Rest

rest

I mentioned before, a need to step away from the din of the cyber-world. I quoted Thoreau and admitted a growing hunger to blow bubbles again–to sit still and rest. That was 2 months ago. I can’t actually believe it’s been that long. It feels like it was just last week.

Despite my slowing, time cruises on.

I fretted about how laying down my pen would affect my writing. “Writers write”, that’s what I kept saying. But I didn’t have a choice. Not only was I aching for some quiet, more importantly, I felt God calling me to it.

So, I stepped away.

At first, I did a terrible job of sitting still. I wanted to write, to push the words–I confess, I wanted the instant feedback that often comes with blogging. As an extrovert, that kind of stuff feeds me. (This is both blessing and curse.) I complained to God, I lamented to friends. I had a few false starts at settling down.

I wasn’t ready to listen. Yet, as much as I wanted to produce, the words simply weren’t there. I barely even journaled (something I normally do daily). So many mornings, I opened my journal, staring down at the blank page willing myself to write.

20 minutes later, I’d close it having written nothing but the date.

Instead of producing words, I filled my usual writing time consuming them. I read 5 books in 3 weeks. That’s a lot for me. Incidentally, those books all centered around the themes of quiet, whitespace, and sabbath.

Funny thing–when I finally surrendered to the quiet, I started to hear things, words began to gather again in my mind. God reminded me of stories I have yet to tell. 

I also began to dream again. I had visions. Fresh ideas percolating. Inspiration glowed at the edges of my mind–a new dream unfolding.

As writers it can be so hard to balance seasons of work with seasons of rest. But if I’ve heard anything these last 2 months, it’s that when we are quiet, we can hear so much better (a profoundly obvious truth, I know).

Taking seasons of deliberate rest are critical for the creative soul’s restoration and rejuvenation. 

If you’re feeling short on inspiration, if you’re in need of clarity and fresh perspective, try resting. Try quieting yourself, and asking God to show you the stories you ought to tell.

Set your pen down. Leave the journal on the nigh stand. Blow some bubbles. Bake something. Read a book–or 5.

Do anything other than write, that you find restful. Ignore the lie that there’s no time to rest. Ignore the voice in your head that calls you lazy.

Rest and be restored.

Q4U: When’s the last time you set your writing aside so you could listen? What did you hear? 

 

 

Writing What’s Needed, But Not Popular

Beautiful tulip bouquet over garden bokeh background

There is a lot of content tailored to the wants of our audiences. We want to offer what people want, right? But what about what people need, too?

Sometimes, we don’t always take what we need. We don’t necessarily go looking for it because we may not want it or realize how much we need it.

When God spoke to me about writing to moms to challenge them to get in the Word daily, I resisted.

“God, no one is going to want to hear about that, let alone share it. It’s not a popular topic. Furthermore, people don’t like to be uncomfortable.”

Who likes to be uncomfortable? I don’t.

The first time God laid this on my heart, I thought I was to create a whole new website and have contributors. So I bought a domain and began a Facebook group for contributors. As the whole thing was unfolding, I got stuck. The vision got clouded and I couldn’t see what God wanted me to do next. Contributors began to back out as I was in the interim process of just waiting on Him and eventually the whole idea was shut down.

God didn’t want me to build a new website, He wanted me to build a relationship with Him and encourage others to do the same. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make us know God or have a deep rooted relationship with Him. That really requires intentional effort.

So, a year later, this same idea tugs at my heart. It’s birthed out of a desperation in my own life and I knew I couldn’t be alone.

That’s it.

I am not alone in struggling to read the Bible everyday, and who out there really wants other people to know that? Moms are some of the most susceptible people for neglecting the word. Why? Too busy and/or too tired.

For myself, any excuse is unacceptable.

So, I started a community on my blog to encourage moms to get in the Word daily, and it’s a bit of accountability for me.

It’s called “Moms in the Word” and it’s meant not only to encourage moms to be in the word, but to challenge them in the Word. It also includes a link up that is a sad story, let me tell you. This week I broke the all time record of getting THREE people to link up. But you know what? Those three people matter.

Moms-in-the-Word-Tuesdays

We work through a study and each Tuesday I post something to challenge us all to walk out something we read throughout the week. This week, we talked about striving and pressing on in our faith.

Why is any of this relevant here on Allume? Because as Bloggers, you have influence. You are a leader. You are a teacher. All of these positions require a higher standard of living. I’m not talking perfection. But when you are in a position of influence, people are following your lead. It’s a sobering place to be.

Sometimes we need to make the decision to write about things that are not popular. Crazy as it sounds, Bible teachings aren’t as popular as some of the juicy news stories out there or as comforting as learning a new home decor technique.

But it’s something that’s needed the most. And I’m not saying that everyone is called to write on Biblical truth straight up…this is just one example. God may be calling you to write your hard story for others to read. Someone out there may desperately need to hear they are not alone and your story may be the means they hear from God.

Jesus never sought out what was popular. He always gave what was needed, and He gave in various ways. That’s where the body of Christ is unique in it’s functions. It’s also where our blogs can offer various functions. Are we willing to write what’s unpopular in order to reach the one who needs to hear from God?

What is God nudging you to write about?

 

Responding to Irreverent Readers

Responding to Irreverent Readers

I still remember the first time someone left a scathing comment on my blog.

I had written about an encounter I once had with a stubborn old man who lived in a briny mansion on the edge of the ocean.  His property was worth millions, but he clung to his decaying home and his view of the sea because it was worth more to him than all the money in the world.

My reader didn’t buy it.

How could I remember all the details of an event that happened nearly a decade ago, she demanded?  How could I recall the word-for-word conversation I had with a crusty old sailor about life and eternity?

I couldn’t have, she said.

I was a liar.

I had broken the sacred trust between author and audience.

She had lost all respect for me, and she didn’t hesitate to leave comments on all my social media sites telling my readers that I was a fraud. She would be unsubscribing from my blog and unfollowing me, but not before she took as many readers as she could with her.

It was a gut-punch. 

I was nauseous, hurt, confused, and angry all at the same time.  I could not comprehend how anyone could so misunderstand my intentions as a writer.  Never before had anyone reacted to my words with such vehemence.

I wrote five different responses to her comment, and deleted them all.  The first was sheer justification.  “Did you even read the story?” I demanded.  The second was an education on the art of writing and the definition of the word “true.”

By the time I got to the fifth response, God had done a work in me.  I ended up weeping for the woman who was so broken, she felt she had a right to break me too.

I realized then that writing, like any other ministry, means being vulnerable and more than a little exposed to criticism.  Most readers understand the kind of nakedness that comes with writing and respond accordingly.

But there are a few who see the written word as an open invitation to argue, berate, and even slander the author.  They read blogs not to learn, but to find fault.

If you blog for any amount of time, you are likely to encounter one of these broken people.  When that happens, it is helpful to keep the following in mind:

1)      Hurtful comments are not personal.

As much as you feel like you live your life out in print, irreverent readers often forget that writers are real people.  They use words in their comments that they would never have the audacity to say to you in person because they feel safe in the anonymity of cyberspace.

Strangely, they may also feel a sense of ownership over you and your words.  By virtue of their reading, they feel entitled to correct or rebuke you, demand information from you, or simply say whatever they want to you because, after all, you have said whatever you want to them.

Be very careful not to respond with similar forcefulness.  Remember what your insensitive reader forgot: the person on the other side of the screen is a real soul.  Handle it with care.

2)      Writing is a two-way relationship.

Unless the only words you write begin with the phrase, “Dear Diary,” your writing is one- half of the communication equation.  Your reader is the other half.

Some readers will get your message loud and clear.  Others may interpret your words in a way you never intended.   A few rare ones might not get past the title before they’ve condemned your piece as heresy.

Hold your words loosely.  Once they are out in public, they are not just yours anymore.  Do your best to write clearly and carefully, but be prepared for a variety of responses.  If you must correct misinterpretations, do so lovingly.   If you have a difference of opinion, state it respectfully.  And if all else fails, delete.

3)      Be teachable.

No writer is infallible.  As a community, sometimes, we mess it up.  We do not write lovingly or carefully.  We mislead.  We offend.  We slander.  If we write at all, it is almost guaranteed that at some point, we will write mistakes.  It doesn’t have to be intentional to be wrong.

If a reader calls attention to an error, whether technical, moral, or otherwise, do your best to make it right.  Apologize in the comments. Correct the error.  Strive to do better.

More than anything, learn to appreciate your readers’ input.  Consider each comment and search for the truth, even if you have to sift out the rude words.  Becoming a great writer often means listening to and learning from your worst critics.  Let their sharpness sharpen you.

If you write long enough, you’ll certainly encounter an irreverent reader or two.  If you respond to them correctly, those readers will only make you into a better writer.

Four Questions a Blog’s Home Page Should Answer

Four Questions
Since I teach writing to college students, you would think that writing for a blog would be a natural fit.

After all, I love words. And I know the rules of grammar fairly well. How hard could it be?

Needless to say, when I started blogging five years ago, I committed just about every “blogging sin” possible.

  • I wrote long paragraphs.
  • I wrote even longer posts.
  • I followed all the grammar rules I learned in school.
  • I covered three to four different points in each post.
  • I neglected to engage my readers with a call to action.
  • And I never bothered to include a picture.

Basically, I treated online writing the same as regular writing — with black words on a white background. I didn’t see the need for a header or a tagline or even an About page. I’m a word-girl, so I wanted to write words. Lots and lots of words.

Yet, in my earnest effort to focus on the craft, I made the most critical error of all:
I failed to connect my words to a larger message.

Without a core message, our words float adrift on an endless sea of meaningless syllables.

As writers and bloggers, our words should have a destination. They need to lead somewhere.

This is why it’s so important for blog-writers to have a header and a tagline and an About page. A reader wants to know who we are and what we’re about and where we’re going.

As a reader, whenever I visit a blog for the first time, I instinctively ask the following four questions. And I look for the answers to these four questions on the home page, preferably “above the fold,” which means I shouldn’t have to scroll down in order to find the answers to these four questions.

1. What is this blog about?

The theme of a blog should be apparent. Is this a food blog? A DIY blog? A mommy blog? A faith blog?

Since our eyes are naturally drawn to the header across the top, it makes the most sense for our blog’s theme to be evident in the header. I realize, of course, that many bloggers (including myself) use our name for our blog’s domain. When this is the case, the tagline becomes especially important.

A reader should be able to glance at the top of a blog and know immediately what the blog is about.

2. Who is the writer behind these words?

When I started blogging, I loathed the idea of putting a picture of myself on my blog, much less any information about me. I wanted my blog to be about the writing, not about me. It dawned on me, though, that when words are divorced from the context of the writer, they are nothing more than mere words.

A person and a person’s words are inseparable. How can I expect a reader to take my words to heart if I’m not willing to put a face to mine?

Every blog should have an About page that introduces the writer. However, it’s wise to briefly introduce yourself on the home page too. The sidebar is a good place for this. Then invite your readers to learn more about you by providing a link to your About page.

3. Why should I come back?

This is the most important question every first-time reader asks, and it’s the content of our writing that makes a reader come back.

A blog is more than an online writing space. It’s a doorway into a writer’s life.
<Tweet this!>

With a blog, we can share our lives and experiences. We can encourage others who may be in similar situations. We can help people know they’re not alone.

Readers come back when they feel like they connect with the writer and they benefit from the writing. <Tweet this!>

4. How can I subscribe?

If we want our readers to come back, then we need to invite them to join us on our writing journeys. So we should make subscribing easy.

For further connection, invite your readers to connect with you through Twitter or Facebook or whichever social media venue works best for you.

Blogging is at its best when it’s about connecting with people through great messages. <Tweet this!>

●  ●  ●  ●  ●

As a writer, my own blogging journey meandered awhile. And that’s okay too. But once I was able to address these four questions on my blog, my online writing experienced a major course correction. And my blog-writing all of the sudden had a defined destination.

Does your blog answer these four questions on your home page?

Writing is the Fruit of the Gift

Like a parent whispers in a child’s ear just before they let that child go out into the world, God whispered just before I began blogging…

Remember, writing is the not the gift, writing is the fruit of the gift.”

This wisdom and truth has remained my compass on this journey.

At the time, I had little understanding of what God really meant. I’m still unfolding the mystery of what the gift is, and how the fruit comes. But, I have a deeper revelation now than before.

Looking back, I see I had no idea what I was getting into when I started blogging. I didn’t know how tempting it would be in this online world to want to feel connected to this person, or that circle, or their community, and neglect the most life-giving connection there is — being connected to the Vine.

Writing-is-the-Fruit-of-the-Gift

Separated, we cannot produce a thing. Though, we try.

Jesus said, “Live in Me. Make your home in Me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with Me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” (John 15:4-8 MSG)

Perhaps, that is the gift — the Greatest Gift only made possible by His death on the cross — union with Christ. A gift so easily taken for granted, because He will always be there, waiting. So we keep on persevering, trying to make a difference, to make a lasting impression, to make things happen in our own strength. Yet, we can do nothing apart from Him.

Even. Write.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We can write. But, if we aren’t sitting at the feet of Jesus — not to check off a religious duty — but to partake from Him living bread, to give Him time to pour into us what we are to pour out to others, then we offer stale bread. And, our bodies weren’t made for stale bread.

“It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” (Matt 4:4 MSG)

If we are not near enough to hear His heartbeat, and get quiet enough to hear His Voice, then all we can do is echo what all the other voices are saying. When all the while, we are called to be an echo of His Spirit, saying what He is saying.

What He tells you in the darkness, speak in the light. What He whispers in your ear, proclaim on the rooftops. (Matt 10:27 NASB)

We can write, and we can raise our voice and add to the noise. But, the world doesn’t need more noise. The world needs words produced by the Spirit of God, because of a people consecrated for His purposes as ambassadors on this earth to bring freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, healing for the broken, and the Gospel for the lost.

In case you are tempted to worry about numbers that are lost, because you are taking time to sit at the feet of your Lord, let it be the lost that are counted because of you living the Gospel…

Wandering souls that come to your table, feasting on the fruit of grace and truth, partaking through Words of life, because the words were first lived.

Would God ever give us a more compelling reason?

 

What You Must Do Before You Can Write

What You Must Do Before You Write

When I started writing online, I didn’t call myself a writer. I wrote when I had time, and when I felt so inspired. I didn’t feel pressure to create, writing has always been a release for me.

That season lasted for a good while until things shifted. I wrote a book. In the months leading up to the books release, writing became a job. I elbowed things out of my way to sit down to write. I no longer waited for inspiration, I sat down and pursued it with a feverish desire to write words that mattered. This kind of passion isn’t all bad–Madeline L’Engle had it right when she said  “Inspiration comes during the work, rather than before it”.

After the book came out, I lost my balance. I had shoved everything aside to write, write, write–and in the words of James Howell, (and later, Steven King),  “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. My energy waned. My desire to experience life away from the keyboard began to fade.

In my fiery pursuit of crafting word masterpieces, one painful letter at a time, I found myself increasingly frustrated by the serious and concerning disappearance of ideas of which to write about. Living as a mother of 4 young children, it seemed ideas should run through my head in abundance, with time for capturing them being the real problem.

But the opposite was true–the more time I devoted to trapping and transcribing ideas, the more stagnant my thought pool became.

Shuffling through an old filing cabinet I came across my creative writing folder from a class I took in high school. Scratched across the yellowing manila, I rediscovered a truth I’d practically forgotten.

Before You Write

In my pre-Jesus youth and fascination with transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau was one of my favorite writers. I used to imagine myself trekking off with him to Walden Pond where we’d pick at the sweet grass and dip our rebellious toes in the water, while the forrest creatures lazed about on branches overhead and on the banks beside us, sucking up the marrow of our words as Henry and I mused about life, love and writing. On occasion, Emerson would join us…

Anyway. 

Thoreau said, “How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not yet stood up to live”.

And it occurred to me, on the trek towards publication, that’s exactly what I’d neglected to do–live. 

Writing is hard work. (In case you’ve been fooled in to believing otherwise.) And while it’s true, words don’t materialize while we’re off living life, failing to record it, the reality is, if we’re not really living life, there’s nothing to record. (Profound, yes?)

This is obvious, and yet it’s a struggle all writers face at some point. The balance between living life and writing about it is always in question.

Some seasons of writing call for more time in the chair. This is an inevitable part of doing the work. Deadlines, commitments, project milestones–all have to take priority in certain seasons. But these should be the seasons. They should not last, and we should not ignore the need for a change of scene.

While I sat behind a screen clicking away at the keys, I missed afternoon walks in the sun, and butterfly watching in the yard. I missed hiking in the park, and blowing bubbles on the porch. I missed the joy of cooking from scratch, as I served too many hurried meals from a bag.

I wasn’t living life, I was surviving. 

Among the things I neglected, my time in the Word had also grown shorter and more rushed. Forgetting that God is the source of all life, left me grasping for all the wrong things in an effort to produce.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.Psalm 16:11

While God can create ex nihilo, the rest of us need a little something to work with. My creative well ran bone-dry and I panted after the memory of something I’d discounted.

I believe my writing reflected as much. The richness of inspiration does come during the work, but after the living of life.

If we want to produce stories that speak of glory, we have to spend time, on the other side of the screen, immersed in the rich, messy, full-color emotion of actual living. We have to stand up, and live. And then sit down and write.

I don’t pretend to have this balance thing all sorted.

As I write I’ this, I’m currently eyeball deep in deadlines and projects that cannot be ignored without consequences and repercussions. But I sense the time for living is very near and I can say, that I am writing this with one foot out the metaphorical door.

Walden pond awaits. Spring flowers have begun raising their fronds from beneath the hardened soil, in a beckoning wave of invitation. Soon the butterflies will return. Afternoon bubble-blowing is just days away.

It’s about time to escape to the woods for a little inspiration–it’s time to live.

Have you ever struggled with balancing working and living? When is the last time you “stood up to live” first?

When God Uses Writer’s Block

Writers block

Lately, I’ve experienced a bit of a writing drought. I’ve been parched, searching and hungering for the right words to express. But the words themselves seem to stay stuck deep down within me, unable to quench my desire to share.

For months I hemmed and hawed about this, chalking it up to writer’s block. I wondered why I was unable to puncture this wall that stood between me and my keyboard, between me and my journal even.

And then recently, while I had my face on the floor before the Lord I heard a whisper. A whisper telling me, ‘this is why’. It was as if He had gently rested His arm on my shoulder and was pointing out a vast chasm within my heart. In the middle of the chasm stood a wall, a wall that blocked my view of the why; why my words had dried up. He then nudged that wall with the tip of His finger, that wall that stood between me and my words. It was at that moment that I realized that that very wall was also blocking my heart from Him. And as He nudged it, it began to crumble, but it didn’t come crashing down as I had hoped. It was as if He had an invitation for me, something waiting on the other side of that wall, but before He tore it down He wanted me to embark on a journey with Him. A journey of healing.

As writers who have been called to write for Him, we know that our words come from somewhere deep within us.  We understand that we do not write for accolades and prestige, but instead we realize that it’s woven into the very fabric of how He’s made us. It’s how we reflect Him, He uses it to heal us, and often it’s when we hear Him the most. But when walls spring up and we can’t hear the words He has written on our heart, that’s when we should pause. That’s when we should listen.

I walked around hungry for words for months, yet I remained in this fog; ignorant as to why this barrier remained in my life.  Meanwhile, the writer inside me was straining to get words out. And that’s when He met me on the floor.

You see, I have been struggling with forgiveness, and because of that my words and more notably my relationship with God turned stale.  I was wronged, greatly wronged by someone very close to me; and rather than take these wounds I received to the Cross as our Lord commands, I put on a bandaid of sorts and carried on. I fully expected my heart to continue to beat and the sun to rise each morning- for life to continue as normal. I downplayed my inability to write and refused to recognize it as a red flag of the sin in my heart. 

When our words dry up writing friends, it is a clue that we should step away from the screen {or the page} and go straight to His feet. It is only when we are pure and obedient before God that our words can have the eternal impact that we long for. Meaningful words are fleeting apart from Him.

And although I wish I could tell you that this drought has ended and that the rain has come, I still crawl to the Cross daily longing for Him to meet me. I fight each morning to truly understand forgiveness and I ask Him to infuse it deep into my core, into the marrow of my bones. I find I have to constantly remind myself that despite my wounded heart, I have inflicted just as great of wounds upon Him through my own sin. This daily wrestle is a journey, but it is one that I am grateful for. And it is with tears streaming down my cheeks that I can attest to the fact that He is faithful. This writer is slowly getting her writing-groove back and the words are bubbling back to the surface. I can honestly say, the words are only flowing because He is knocking that wall down, He is doing a work in me.

I’d love to challenge you, my sweet writing friend. Are you struggling to get your words out? Do you have sin standing between you and God? Ask Him to show you, and sit back and wait for Him to gently nudge you on the shoulder and point out what’s holding your words inside.

I pray that your written ministry is glorifying to Him, sanctifying for you, and a shining beacon for your readers.

By, Mandy Scarr

Photo Credit-  Mandy’s husband, J, took this picture.

How to Write Your Story

How to Write Your Story - Allume
Many bloggers venture into this online space because they have a story to tell.

So if you’re interested in blogging your story, here are some tips on how to write your story.

First you’ll want to determine your borders. Then you’ll want to use the three-pronged approach to story-crafting.

Determine Your Borders

For most writers, getting started is the hardest part. Beginning a new writing project is like trying to hold a blob of JELL-O in our hands. It’s shapeless and messy. And we can easily become overwhelmed at trying to figure out how to contain it. So our first order of business is to determine our content and give it some borders.

To get started, think of the individual “scenes” from your story that you might want to include. Sketch a short list of these scenes. Then select one scene. In other words, select a part of your story that happened in one location on the same day.

By drawing these parameters and working with one scene at a time, we can avoid becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the entire writing project.

Use the Three-Pronged Approach to Story-Crafting

In the literary world, every written work can be categorized as either fiction or nonfiction — except personal narratives. They’re a literary breed of their own, and they employ the techniques of both fiction and nonfiction.

A personal narrative must read like a novel with an overarching theme. It has all the elements of fiction — characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution — except that it’s a true story. Since personal narratives tell a true story, they should follow the same three-pronged approach to story-crafting.

The three ways to present a story are 1) description, 2) dialogue, and 3) narration.

The difference between description and narration lies in the advancement of the plot. When we describe, we stop to notice what the setting or a character looks like. When we narrate, we move the storyline along by showing what happens next.

1. Description

When describing, include the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Who is in this scene?
Where does this scene take place?
When does this scene take place?
What is happening in the scene?

To craft a well-written story, we want to follow the advice: Show. Don’t tell.

The “sin of telling” is least probable in dialogue.
The “sin of telling” occurs most often in description and narration.

If a sentence begins with one of the following constructions, then it’s likely a “telling” statement. Scan your writing for any sentences that begin with these phrases. Then try to rewrite them.

It is/was . . .
It has . . .
There is/was . . .
There are/were . . .
There has/have . . .
I remember when . . .
I remember that . . .
She is/was . . .
He is/was . . .

2. Dialogue

When writing dialogue, aim for a conversational sound. People don’t usually speak in complete sentences. Most people talk in fragments, so our dialogue should reflect the way people actually talk.

Let your characters speak. Allow your readers to follow your story by listening to the conversations that take place.

3. Narration

To write your personal narrative, choose the following two things:

  • your point of view
  • the tense you will use

For point of view, some narrators have the ability to know the thoughts of other characters in the story, but since you’re a character in your own story, it’s more realistic if you present your story from your own perspective. So be careful not to “head hop” and portray other characters from their perspective.

For tense, you need to decide if you will write your story in the present tense or past tense. Obviously your story took place in the past, so you might automatically begin writing in the past tense. But remember that your reader is experiencing your story for the first time. It might help your reader feel like she is “in the moment with you” if you write your story in the present tense.

For the Blogger

If you’re a blogger who writes DIY kinds of posts, many of these same tips apply.

It’s important for all bloggers to determine the borders of each post. Containing a post to one singular focus helps our readers to follow a consistent train of thought. It’s also helpful when bloggers include descriptive words regarding sight and sound and touch. This helps our readers visualize what we’re saying.

And if you’re a blogger who wishes to write your story, I want to encourage you. Your story matters. Try some of these tips. See what works for you. And no matter what, don’t give up.

What are some of your favorite writing tips?

Tips on How to Write Your Story @Allume <Tweet this!>

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Worth Tasting

Worth Tasting

My college professor spread out our creative writing papers before her like a feast.  The sight of 12-point font made her eyes sparkle like Thanksgiving china.  When she took a paper up in her hands, she read it with the expectation that something in it was going to be worth tasting.

Miss Williams loved words.  She delighted in the way you could mix them up and create something so profound, it lingered on your tongue for days.  She read our own words back to us, slowly savoring the sentences  in her mouth and searching for the tasty bits of well-turned phrases and clever dialogue that clung to our unpracticed writing like bits of bacon.

“Oh, Lawd!  Oh, sweet Jesus,” Miss Williams said when the words tasted so good, it was like chocolate. “Girl…hmmm…I gotta read that again.”   And she would, double-dipping without an ounce of shame.

Sometimes, one of us nailed it.  When that happened, well, we may as well have served her warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream dripping off the sides because she was going to eat every crumb, and lick the plate besides.

“Bless me,” she said when everything was cleared away and grades were scribbled at the tops of pages and she was wiping her eyes because she was so full, it squeezed the tears right out of her.

If you’ve ever made anyone cry over the stuff you put down between one-inch margins, you know it feels like being the person who brings homemade Butterscotch Blondies to the church potluck, only better.  It’s like being the caramel sauce. 

I thought I was the caramel sauce, too, until I found my old writing folder from Miss Williams’s class.  I was horrified to read through my final class project and find a typo right there on page two.  I wanted to call her up and yell, “You gave me an A+ when I had a typo on page two?!”

But I knew what she would say.  She would say that it was Mrs. Johnson’s fault I had a typo on page two because Mrs. Johnson taught grammar, not she.

Mrs. Williams’s singular job was to teach us how to cook up a good story.

“The hardest thing about being a writer is not remembering where to put the commas!” she’d say in class, suffering a plastic desk to carry the weight of her bosom as she leaned into her tirade.  “The hardest part about being a writer is writingYou have got to get over the fear of putting words on paper imperfectly.  Perfect writing is just imperfect writing that has had practice.

It’s too bad because I always liked perfection more than I liked practice.

“Nonsense,” Miss Williams said whenever I hesitated to show her my half-cooked words.  “We’re just tasting as we go, that’s all.  It’s the only way to make sure it turns out right.”

It was agony.  I auto-corrected in my mind as the words came off my lips, but Miss Williams wasn’t listening for dangling prepositions.  She was savoring the words and anticipating the way it was going to come together in the end as if she could taste it, even when there was nothing in the pan but baking soda and flour.

Always, Miss Williams made me feel like it was better to have something imperfect on my page than nothing at all. Because Miss Williams loved words, even words that needed a little bit of stirring before they were done.

When my final story came of the printer, hot and smelling of ink, it was exactly what Miss Williams hoped it would be.  She licked the plate and scribbled A+ on the top, not because it was perfect, but because it was good.

It can be crippling, knowing people are reading my work who might not love words the way Miss Williams did, the kind that pick at words instead of tasting them.

I encountered one such person recently.  She believes that writers are so uneducated and lazy these days, she stops reading as soon as she finds one mistake.  She says she can’t take a writer seriously after that.

One mistake. 

I agonized over her statement for days because that’s the kind of thing that keeps my pages blank.  That’s the part that makes writing hard, when I can’t start because I’m afraid of failure or what other people will think or whether I’ll end up with burnt oatmeal instead of strawberry crepes.

Because I have a typo on page two.  There is probably another one on page five.

But there is bacon on page three and caramel sauce on page four and it is worth putting the words on the page even if not everyone is willing to read along while you learn how to do it better.  It is worth the try because excellence doesn’t come without practice and practice doesn’t happen without mistakes. 

But there are always people like Miss Williams who will think it’s worth tasting, burned edges and all.

The Seasons of a Dream

I’ve neglected my children.

I made allowances for my need to write, to follow hard after dreams. But I’ve done it all wrong.

Because a vacancy moved into their lives as the rabbit’s hole of my laptop screen beckoned and swallowed me up.

But didn’t my ministry and passion need to be tended too? The reading and interacting. The tweets and status updates and link-ups. The silence and time to write.

It seemed I killed my blog just when I was seeing fruit. Just when I had built up subscribers and was feeling like the hard work was paying off.

God was being glorified, right? This is after all, the dream He gave me. The call I was responding to. The call I felt God confirmed in so many different ways. 

She told me I have the potential to be great. That I’ve got a voice and skill and passion and that if I learned to combine those with a little direction, I could really rock this whole writer thing. Maybe get published and have a real book on a real shelf instead of piles of journals stacked in old boxes in the garage.

She said that as an encouragement to me, her eyes warm and expressive, the kind that make you nod like a puppy and lap up anything she says, because after all, she is living this dream. And when my feet finally landed back on earth, I was giddy with dreams I’d always held but never dared speak aloud.

I wanted to rip her words from the air and type them into a crisp contract I could present to God to sign.

After all, everything I’m passionate about, everything that makes my fingers fly at the keyboard, everything that inspires me and draws me out to splash around on a canvas of words starts with God’s glorious inspiration.

The breathing of words and story into the wounds of my past, the joys of my present, the fears in my moments, and the dreams of my future. It only seemed right that any platform built is going to shine directly on Him.

 But I couldn’t get past the Holy Spirits prompting that I was getting it wrong. Again.

I’ve found myself failing at the dream.

The time to write and pour myself into this ministry of words is spotty at best. The time to invest in those dreams, spaced and erratic.

And the kids are ready to be tucked in and pleading for one more story and I’ll lay there resenting my time  being used up on another rendition of “If You Give A Mouse a Muffin.”

Bed time

Because I feel like the poor child in the story, being overrun with requests, each one leading to another. If you put your child in pajamas, they will decide they only want to wear the batman ones, and you will remember those are in the wash, so you will bribe him with another story, and if you read him another story, he will fall asleep on you, so you will have to carry him to his bed, and if you carry him to his bed, he will wake up and want another story…

And I’ve bought into the urgency of now.

I see other bloggers succeeding, and I know they deserve it, but I’m also grieving and feeling left out.

I can’t keep up with the pace or demands of blogging, and mothering, and homeschooling, and ministry, and mentoring, and being a good wife. If you add in showering, cooking, and keeping house, you have the trifecta of failure.

I’m looking for dead weight to cut and I see nothing but my words. So the blog often goes silent. And numbers dive.

And I’m mourning the dream, pity washing over me when I remember, “It’s not a loss, it’s a sacrifice.”

It is laying my dreams and promises of God on the altar, trusting that in His time He will provide.

It is trusting that the path I’m on isn’t a race to the finish line but a slow steady obedience, each step moving me forward closer to Him, where dreams are birthed. It is trusting that blogs can be resurrected from the dead or slaughtered completely and it makes no difference as long as I’m faithful.

I have friends waiting on the Lord. Bleary-eyed new mothers craving a full nights sleep and shirts free from spit-up and days when they’ll have the energy to fix their hair again. Women facing vacant rooms in a once loud house, longing for Thanksgiving break, knowing  their kids will be visiting instead of just home. Friends who long for things I so easily take for granted, when kids climb up onto my lap asking for more of mommy.

I forget God created seasons. We brush past eternity every time we stop to really see where God is in each one. And that, when we choose what might seem like a sacrifice, it’s not a loss at all, because nothing is lost which is released into His hands.

To Grapple with the Mystery

 

Isaiah 55:8

She was far enough along to know it was a boy.  The softening of her figure and the growing roundness of her belly made her look more like a girl than a woman who had endured the slow passing of a childless womanhood.

They named him, this little Isaac-baby, conceived after she had stopped hoping, years after she had realized that motherhood would be the thing that separated her from all the other married women she knew.   Motherhood, she had come to realize, was something she would never have.

But then, there was a strange illness and a doctor’s appointment and the most marvelous, incomprehensible news of all—after all this time, a baby was growing inside her barren womb. 

Her father—Grandpa!—could not hold back the grin.  The proud Italian immigrant called the baby Primo, meaning “The First.”

It was this grandpa who called to tell me that the doctors had seen something.   There was a problem with the baby’s heart, they thought, and he wanted us to pray.

But we didn’t get very long to pray.  A second call told me it was too late.  The baby had died.

This father’s voice broke on the phone because he was going to have to take his grown-up baby girl in to the hospital to labor and deliver a baby that would not cry or kick or nuzzle to her breast.  He would be born, this miracle baby, and she would hold him and memorize his face and marvel at his fingers and kiss his toes just like any mother would, but then the nurses would come and softly ask her if she was ready, and they would take her baby forever away.

I wept.  I wept for the little baby and I wept for my friend.  I wept because I didn’t understand.  This was not how the story was supposed to go.  How could God do something like this?  How could He open a womb, make a woman into a mother, and then take it all back except the part of her heart that could never be put back

“It would have been better if…,” I cried.

But I couldn’t finish that thought because to finish the thought would be to say something that wasn’t true.

It would not have been better if he had never been created because it is no small thing to make a woman into a mother.

So I sat in the church looking at the flowers the baby’s mother had made for her own son’s funeral, and I had no words.  Nothing I could say could make it right.  How desperately I wished God would show His hand, would reveal the sweet redemption behind this awful cross.  I wanted her to have the decency of an answer to the excruciating question of why it was okay for God to open her womb to fill heaven.

Even now, as I write the story, I long to tell you how it all came out right in the end.  But I haven’t written the story before now because there is no happy ending, not yet.  And the un-doneness of it rubs my heart raw because I want to be able to tell you how my God fixed this.

Only He hasn’t.  

My pen trembles to write the words, as if it is sacrilegious to say so, but there it is, all the same.  It is a great mystery, a question I can’t answer.  I do not understand why God did what He did.  

But the more I read of the Biblical struggles of life and death, the more I have come to believe that it’s okay to say so.  It’s okay to write in the midst of the confusion and to pen the stories that don’t tie up neatly in the end.  It is okay to shout, “I do not understand!” and to ask the questions that don’t seem to have answers.

Because that is life.

God is silent, sometimes, and mysterious and incomprehensible, and we write fiction if we write away all the tension that comes with that unknowing.  Some things in life are a mystery, and hurting people need to see that we get it, that we can look pain square in the face without numbing it with platitudes. 

Life can take the breath right out of you because it is terrible-hard, sometimes.  We should not pretend otherwise.  If we do, we miss the opportunity to minster to another mother who needs to know that her baby mattered.  She needs to know that his life was not without meaning and purpose on this side of eternity.  She needs to know that somewhere, another woman understands what is like to be forever changed by a person she never met.  She needs to understand that her baby is worth grieving over like a real person, because he was.

She does not need the why.

It helps enough to know that someone else has grappled with the mystery.

 

3 Ways to Kickstart Your Writing

This summer, I took an extended blogging break. We were moving from one end of California to the other, and between toddler-chasing and baby-growing, I had to let writing go for a season.

Even more, though, I felt the Lord calling me into something new. To focus fully on my family, accept my limits, and trust that I wouldn’t lose all of my readers if I decided to be quiet for a time.

So, I obeyed. It was hard, but wonderful.

Now, though, that season has come to an end. We’re all settled in (except for a few pesky boxes), and I’ve got the writing itch again. But where to start? What to say? When to write? I’m in a place where I’ve got to find my blogging groove all over again.

As summer comes to an end, I’m guessing many of you are in a similar place. So, today, I’d like to share three ways to kickstart your writing. Whether you’re coming out of a quiet season, like me, or just need a renewed focus, there are three key things you can do.

kickstart your writing

1. Pray

When you’re getting ready to craft words and pour your heart onto the page again, it’s hard to figure out where to begin. Prayer is essential! Bring your quiet heart, your empty hands, and your will to the feet of the cross. Ask God for your message, your story. It’s His name and His glory we’re writing for in the first place – He will direct our steps.

2. Plan

Oooh, planning is my favorite part! Once you’re back in the writing frame of mind, the ideas might be flowing like crazy! What does your first post back say? Do you start a new series? A new eBook project? There’s a lot to figure out. Take a few hours away if you can, and devote some time to planning what your writing is going to look like now. After a season of quiet, chances are your writing is going to look different than it did before. Allow yourself some grace, and give yourself the freedom to take things in a new direction or keep a new schedule.

My two favorite blog planning tools are Intentional Blogger and the “How They Blog” Blog Planning Kit These resources both have great printable worksheets for you to go through to create a mission statement, writing schedule, project planning, and more! I took both of these to Panera (along with some fun colored pens, of course!) for a blog planning evening. Afterwards, I had so much more focus and direction for where God wanted me to take my writing ministry. Planning is priceless!

3. Persist

Like I said, things are going to look different after a break. During my own writing break, my stats dwindled a bit, and gmail tabs were introduced. Both of those events meant that my readership was not as engaged as they previously had been. I now needed to cultivate that sense of community again, provide solid content, and give people a reason to read. I’m still working on rebuilding a bit, and some days it would be easy to just throw up my hands and give up. But I know, without a doubt, that writing is an important part of walking in God’s will for my life. So, persistence is key. It’s important that I keep doing what He’s asked me to be doing, no matter what the numbers look like!

Now it’s your turn! Tell us, did you take a writing break over the summer? What did you learn in the quiet? What’s your best tip for returning to the blogging world?

Finding Writing Inspiration When You Have None

allume-pen-writing

If you write, you know the torture that having a lack of inspiration can be. It can be hard enough just finding spare time, but finally getting a chance to sit down and write can be plain disheartening when you open Microsoft Word and spend precious minutes staring at a blank white screen.

Regardless of whether you write fiction or blog posts or poetry, you are always drawing from a well of inspiration. Some of us are very skilled at capturing that inspiration when it strikes as we’re in the shower or caught in traffic. Some of us are less skilled at recording our prompts, and you might even feel like you don’t have any ideas left. In reality, your well of prompts and ideas is self-sustaining, as long as you learn to properly capture your ideas.

In addition, we often lose our inspiration because of the lack of change. You run out of things to write about, because you haven’t changed the way you approach your writing for so long that the well runs dry. We need those changes, those catalysts, to spur us forward.

By learning to capture ideas when they strike you, and learning how you can change things up, you should never have another fruitless staring contest with your screen or your notebook.

Feed the Well

Adding to your well of inspiration is an ongoing process. If you do not commit to attempting to capture ideas and saving them for later, your writing will be less efficient, and you may have trouble getting a good story out.

Here are some great ideas for catching ideas, as they occur to you:

  • Keep a journal. You’ve heard it before, but it’s one of the best ways to collect ideas. Some people prefer to make their journal specifically for writing ideas and creative thoughts and separate it from the traditional uses of a journal or diary; others combine it. Experiment with journals in different formats; you may find that Evernote or an art journal works better than traditional pen and paper.
  • Keep track of writing prompts that work for you. It doesn’t matter if you use a prompt 50 times, if it keeps working for you.
  • Map out the ideas in your head. Mind maps, or other forms of spacially-related note taking, are great for piecing together factual information, like for blog posts or a memoir.
  • Love your words. Whenever I come across a word I love, I always jot it down in a certain section of my notebook. While this doesn’t always result in much, there’s never anything bad about keeping a collection of impressive words!

Writing Catalysts

I like to continually change things up to be sure I’m always trying out new styles and keeping things interesting. Unlike prompts, which are ideas for things to write, catalysts are actions you can take to start creating, with or without a prompt.

  • A change of scenery. If writing in your normal spot just isn’t cutting it, take your writing somewhere else, like a bustling café in the early afternoon, your neighborhood library, or beside the pool. One of my favorite places to write is while sitting in a lawn chair just inside the open garage door while rain is pouring outside.
  • A change of method. If you normally type, write on paper, or vice versa. Try collaging into your journal or using a different kind of spacing on the screen.
  • A change of pace. Write slowly and methodically, picturing everything in your mind and describing it. Or write at a frenzied pace, go go go!
  • A change of subject. Write about something you’ve never written before. Write about something boring. Write about something you don’t understand.
  • A change of attitude. Write as though it’s the last day of your life. Write as though you have an audience. Write to the stranger at the next table.

Remember that what you write when you are writing from prompts or catalysts isn’t always going to be useable, but it’s never a waste. With refinement, many exercises can become polished pieces. Anything that helps you get into the writing mindset is not a waste.

What are your favorite writing prompts or catalysts?

AdrienneErinAdrienne Erin is a studio art major turned career development professional turned freelance writer. She enjoys writing about everything from happiness to drug rehab programs. When she’s not writing, you might find her speaking French, cooking overly elaborate meals in her tiny kitchen, or collaging. No matter where life takes her, she always enjoys the ride.

 

 

 

Photo Credit

On The Move

On The Move, by Crystal Stine; www.allume.com

It’s been over four years since I started blogging. Four years, 536 blog posts, hundreds of thousands of words given to me by God to use for His glory. It’s been a testimony of God’s faithfulness, the power of persevering, of discovering who I am, Whose I am, and why I write. It’s been so much more than a hobby.

Without my blog, I would not have:

  • Been introduced to the power of online community
  • Discovered my passion for encouraging women
  • Chased a God Sized Dream to become a Virtual Assistant
  • Met some incredible, life long friends
  • Been brave enough to go to Allume by myself last year
  • Watched God open – and close – doors to completely change my life

In my story, more than anything else, God has used my love for writing to bring me closer to Him. He has called me to stay in it, in faith, when I wonder why I should bother. In those moments when looking at blog statistics and comments and reach and all the other things that scream “success” whisper “failure” at me, God reminds me of the moment in middle school when a teacher saw my talent and invited me to join the school newspaper. He brings back the memories of the joy when I saw my stories in print for the first time. He reminds me that I once wanted to live in New York City and work for a magazine as an editor.

I laugh now at those dreams because they are so far from where I are, a toddler mama writing blog posts in a small town coffee shop. But really? Though the journey has been different, the passion is still there. The desire to write words that bless others – it now looks like encouraging women instead of working at a magazine. The joy of seeing my story printed – it now looks like guest posts at my favorite sites and seeing friends sharing my words when they touch a special place in their hearts.

This writing testimony? It has God’s fingerprints all over it, but I never see them when I’m in the middle of the mess, the early mornings of writing, the deadlines and the goals. It takes a moment of intentional reflection to look back and see what God has done, how He has changed me, and where He has taken me. He has a plan for your writing too – a story He wants you to tell, a testimony of faithfulness, answered prayer, His glory shining through words typed weary and afraid. God is on the move – let’s take a minute to see where He’s taking us. 

How Writers Can Overcome Fear with One Word

Writers overcome their fears when they do one thing: Begin

My daughter grips the handle bars of her new bike — the kind without training wheels. With consternation and dread, she stands motionless on the sidewalk while the other kids ride their bicycles up and down our street.

Fear holds her back.

“Explain it to me again,” she asks.

But we’ve already given explanations and demonstrations. We’ve even promised to run beside her and hold her bike upright. It’s time for her to pedal. No one can do this for her.

When it comes to riding a bike, we learn by doing.

It’s the same with writing too.

We can observe great writing in others. We can listen to good advice about the craft. We can accumulate lists of dos and don’ts. But until we push a pen across paper, we’re merely gathering information.

We learn to write by writing. This sounds simple enough. But our fears paralyze us. Only it’s not a scraped knee we’re worried about.

We’re afraid of looking foolish.
We’re afraid of using incorrect grammar.

We’re afraid our work will bore readers.
We’re afraid our work won’t have any readers.

We’re afraid we’ll be misunderstood.
We’re afraid we’ll be understood but not liked.

These fears have one thing in common: They might come true.

But we’ll never know unless we begin.

We may think our words don’t mean much. But our words matter. Our stories matter. And a writer must be faithful in the telling. Maya Angelou once said:

“There is no greater agony
than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Are you carrying an untold story?

Would your story bless someone else?

Is fear holding you back?

 

If we could meet in a café and talk about writing, I’d tell you this:

 

  • Never let the fear of incorrect grammar hinder you from expressing your ideas. Yes, good grammar is important, but it’s reserved for the later stages of editing. For now, just write.
  • Let the writing flow from the deepest places inside you. Reveal the real you. Readers connect with humanity, not perfection.
  • Embrace the process as much as the final product. Through the act of writing, we acquire a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Take your readers on this journey with you.
  • Allow yourself to “fail,” and view each “failure” as a chance to grow and learn. No one ever achieves mastery on a first try. And if they did, no one else would be able to relate.
  • Keep writing. There’s mystery in momentum. Once we begin, we can usually find the next step, even when we’ve yet to uncover the final destination.

How Writers Can Overcome Fear: BEGIN

When it comes to writing, we’re halfway finished the moment we begin. Because getting started is the hardest part. It requires pushing past the fear.

My daughter discovers this same truth when she finally starts to pedal. At first, her slowness of speed threatens to topple her balance. So she has two choices. Either pedal faster. Or quit.

She soon hears the neighbors cheer.

“Keep going! You can do it!”

With her fears hanging on the verge of fruition, she leans forward and pedals faster. The momentum begins to work in her favor, and she feels the rush of wind against her cheeks. Shrieks of wild delight can be heard around the cul-de-sac.

I’m left standing in the street, breathless and panting and smiling at another milestone marked.

Will she ever fall and get hurt?

She might. But we remove the might — the power — from fear when we stop worrying about what might happen.

Will our words ever meet with disappointment?

They might. But they might also bring sheer bliss as we lean forward with fingers flying across keys.

Fear loses its stranglehold when writers refuse to let hypothetical scenarios dictate their destiny.

Writers can overcome the manacles of “maybe” and “might” when they choose to do one thing: Begin.

 

Do you have an untold story inside you?

What fears are preventing you from writing?

 

TWEETABLES:

“When it comes to writing, we’re halfway done the moment we begin.”  <Tweet this!>

“We remove the might—the power—from fear when we stop worrying about what ‘might’ happen.”  <Tweet this!>

“Writers overcome the manacles of ‘maybe’ and ‘might’ when they do one thing: Begin.”  <Tweet this!>

 

Ready to push past fear and begin writing?

Practical writing tips on how to get started are
HERE and HERE.

 

Let Them See You Write

allumewriting2

As mothers, it is so important to share with our children our dreams, passions, and talents. If you sing in the church choir, are part of a softball league, or lead storytime at the local library, would you take your children with you? Of course you would! So why is writing any different? So often we feel guilty for pulling out our laptops in front of our kids. Let’s change the reason why–show them what you are putting out for the world to see in black and white. Make your words real for them. Here are a few great reasons why:

1. It carries on a legacy.

When I was a little girl, I stayed at my grandfather’s feet as he pounded out his heart on that old word processor amidst the soft anthems of show tunes and classical music. He would bring out family, honest faith, and any and all things Southern onto those crisp pieces of paper. When he would complete his latest work, we would glide down the hill to the newspaper office to submit his weekly column to our hometown newspaper, the LaFollette Press. People would see him out and about and approach him like he was a celebrity. Why? He was just a small town man. But his words meant something to someone. And sometimes words are all we have. Now, thanks to his legacy, those passions instilled in me at such a young age are coming to fruition. I now write a column for the same paper. And when the children and I drive down that same, familiar road to pick up our copy on Thursdays, they beg me to read it to them before we ever leave the parking lot.

You are your family’s historian! May we continue to tell the tales that bind hearts and encourage souls.

2. It inspires greatness. 

A few weeks ago, the children and I set up a lemonade stand to help the victims of tornadoes in Oklahoma through our “50 State Prayer Project”.  Once we returned from our sales and I sat down to share our story, I invited our oldest child to sit with me and shared with her my blog for the first time. I explained to her the heart behind it, how the Lord fuels the words, and how it is named after her. A few hours later, I found her writing feverishly on 3×5 index cards. When I inquired of her latest project, she explained that she was “working on her website, and it is all about pictures, art, and keeping your house clean”. She wants to inspire greatness in others, even with crayons and paper. We have also been journaling back and forth, where I will ask a simple question in her journal at night, leave the journal in front of her bedroom door, and she responds in the morning with her “answer”. These are dreams we are recording on a daily basis!

May we all have record of where we are going and where we are from. Sharing our hearts can be the greatest of gifts.

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3. It is a cure for writer’s block.

I went through a period of time earlier this year when I struggled with writer’s block terribly. I felt my column submissions were dry and boring at best, and my blog was less than inspiring. In a moment of desperation, I asked my children one morning (after five cups of coffee and several handfuls of chocolate chips..) what people would love to read about in the paper that week. They gave me enough ideas for the next three weeks of columns. It has become so commonplace for me to ask now that a few weeks ago, when we were heading for the splash park, my son declared that he was wearing a “naked shirt” when he was shirtless. We all laughed and my daughter said, “Mommy? You should write about that!” What was next week’s column about? Yes. THE NAKED SHIRT. Not sure how those old men at Hardee’s enjoyed that particular article, but it was a great idea from my five year old, so I went with it.

Children see the world differently than we do. Explore their thoughts; they may have something in mind we would have completely missed if we had failed to ask!

Friend, you are a WRITER. This is a big deal! Who are we without words to explain our very being? And sharing these words with the next generation instills in their hearts and minds what you love doing most and reminds us of the past and allows us to smile at the future. Your life, your family; we all have something to share.  Gather around, kids. We have a story to write.

Ripening or Replicating: How are we growing as writers?

When I first started blogging, I often heard,” Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s end.  This was usually said at conferences by bloggers with platforms, RSS feeds bursting with subscribers, and years of experience being social media ninjas. As someone just starting out, I’d look at my one or two comments and think, I’m just not there yet, with yet being the operative word.

If I’d started in 2006 when the competition and noise on the internet felt more like the mingling at a cocktail party than an olympic stadium with the roar of the crowd drowning out the clacking of my keys, then I’d be further along too. I’d scribble the line in my notebook, or tweet it to my 25 followers, nodding my head because everyone knows comparison in blogging will make you . Once you go down that path, you may as well break out the duct tape to gag and bind yourself, because it’s pretty hard to write authentically while trying to replicate someone else’s success.

So I’d plod along faithfully, wrestling contentment down with each post, imagining when my “end” would come and I’d have arrived. When I could count myself a writer. Maybe get a book published or reach a certain number of subscribers. When I’d be the one dispensing anecdotes about the good old days of blogging and tips for building your platform. I’d dream of a time when my voice would matter.

 We often think of growth as a linear thing.

We back kids against door frames and etch pencil scratches along the years as the tops of their head stretch upward from chubby thighed toddlers to gangly teens. Failure to thrive would be, well, failure.  We think of growth as the raise you get after each faithful year on the job or the beater car with the tricky alternator that turns into the minivan or new SUV as each new child comes along. The dorm room of your college years to the 4 bedroom 3 and one half bath home with the wrap-around porch.  Growth means bigger, and bigger means better.

But what if growth isn’t always linear?

What if my end never looks like theirs because my journey isn’t taking me in that direction? What if growth was less about replicating and more about ripening ? Less about measuring up and more about pouring out?

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Because lately, I’ve been looking down the road and I don’t see the horizon brimming with the things I once thought I was headed for. Even the things I thought I wanted. And I’m realizing there is a great freedom in that. That in my corner of the internet, my words are enough, no matter how small.

I feel a collective pull of my writer friends, back into their lives, to write what they love, not just what gets tweeted or shared. There is a dedication to the seeking of words and story and truth that all writers wrestle with, but there is a calm too.

So many of us, who started with God sized Dreams of doing the big things, have learned that God works those out in the small things. That growth often comes in the deep blush of fruit swollen and ripe, and not just the arching branches seen from miles away saluting the skies. It comes in tiny rings spreading modestly across a trunk year after year, no more than the width of a fingernail. It comes in pruning season and it comes in harvest. It comes in roots grown wide and long under scorched earth, seeking out water and life and bedrock with which to sustain it’s might.

We don’t always see it. We just sink our teeth in, letting the juice gush lavishly down our chins, we taste and know it’s good.

psalm 348

On Pancakes And Perseverance

pancake_Allume

For years I couldn’t make a decent pancake. I could grill picture perfect steaks and bake bread that could amaze, but pancakes were impossible.

It’s been nearly 14 years since I first tried to make a pancake, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but it’s only been in the last 3 years that I have at last conquered pancake making with both consistency and near perfection.

The other night, I stood flipping my practically perfect pancakes, considering how a couple of years ago, I  had found the whole process so frustrating that I wanted to quit trying.

One day, probably at the request of one of my children, I got out the pan and tried again. I hovered anxious the whole time. I watched each bubble form on the upside of every pancake. I read and re-read the directions, while muttering prayers to  finally get this right.

And then, as if I’d been doing it my whole life, they turned out perfectly.

This is both a small miracle and also?–the fruit of perseverance.

I’ve thought about that moment repeatedly, trying to figure out why it took me so long to get such a simple meal right. Afterall, in the last 14 years I’ve prepared and cooked much more challenging dishes, so why was this one so relentlessly hard for me?

Here’s what learned:

Pancakes are a somewhat delicate food. Too long in the pan (by a mere matter of seconds) and they turn too dark and tough. Not enough time in the pan and they are gooey and raw inside, which is plain nasty.

For me, I needed to find the balance. I started with my cooking temperature. I discovered that for the particular pan I like for cooking pancakes, there is only one very specific setting the burner can be on. One notch higher, and the pancakes are impossible, every time. Once I figured this out, the pancakes were at least fully cooked (score!).

After fine-tuning my cooking temp, I discovered that while my pancakes were thoroughly cooked, they were too thick and not “floppy” enough. This I recognized was not a heat issue, but a batter problem. For years I hadn’t been stirring the batter enough. Because my cookbook cautions over mixing, I erred on the side of super-lumpy-barely-mixed. Again, crappy pancakes.

It turned out that my batter needed a more vigorous blending, and actually requires (sometimes) a splash or two more milk than the recipe calls for.

That’s it. Perfect pancakes. Every time.

And it only took 10 years of practice.

As I reflected on all of this, I saw the parallel to my writing journey. Even the very best writers “burned a few pancakes” when they first started writing. Writing is a gift, but also a skill to be honed and tweaked over time.

All serious writers learn the necessity and value of perseverance. <–tweet this

It takes practice and evaluation of our work to make it better. When something isn’t working, we go back to the beginning and look at where we went wrong. Maybe the words need to rest longer on the page before being served up. Maybe we’ve gone overboard on the salt and we need to add a bit more sugar. Maybe it works with oil, but tastes better when you use applesauce instead.

The thing about writing is, that while there is a basic formula for good story telling, there is always room to tweak the technique. Sometimes, more than anything, we just need a lot of practice–maybe even more than we think. On the surface, writing seems easy enough. But when you read writing that seems easy, you’re reading the work of a gifted, practiced writer. That’s what good writers do–make it seem easy. 

So get back to the desk. Sit down and start again. Read the words of those who have done this before. Tweak your methods. Believe that eventually, your perseverance will pay off. And pray–ask God to equip you for the task He’s called you to.

For some great books on writing check out a few of my favorites, Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann Lamott’s Bird By Bird, Luci Shaw’s Breath For The Bones, and Madeline L’engle’s Walking on Water. These are just a few brilliant writers who make it look easy, but in reality persevered through many a burned pancake.

So tell me, how are you at making pancakes? 

here’s one way we affect the world

 
My middle boy has tested my sanity lately. Sweet thing. He’s completely precious and tender-hearted. He can take anything apart and (almost) put it back together. He hurts when people hurt. And he prays to Jesus. But, like all of us, he has weaknesses. And his weaknesses colliding with my weaknesses have made for some ug-lay moments.

One of our biggest struggles as of late is with our words (his and mine), specifically when anger or frustration arise. My favorite was when he said I was meaner than satan. Nice. I followed with an equally winning comment, “Oh, I can show you mean if that’s what you want.” Not my grandest moment.

But this struggle with words has challenged me to think about the power of words. Because whoever coined that ridiculous statement about “sticks and stones” must have been smokin’ somethin’ because words absolutely affect us.

 

Words are power.

 

Words can humiliate and degrade. They can evoke fear and shame. They can make people run away or hide for cover. But. They can also pour life into another’s soul.

Words can squash fear and make us feel like we could fly. They can empower us to take the next step in a dark valley. They can minister grace and mercy when judgment seems more logical. They can encourage and bless, lift and even transform our today. Words are power.

 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

 

Then there’s us in our areas of cyberspace that we call our writing home.

Those words we type onto the page can change the people on the other side of the screen. Our words can cause chains of religiosity to fall off. They can stir hope in places of utter hopelessness. They can serve up grace to those who feel like outcasts. They can show Jesus to someone who may have never looked into His face.

Oh yes. You and I — we can affect the world, beginning within the four walls of our homes and then spreading across time zones and continents.

Words are power — for better or for worse.

 

Father, put a guard on my mouth today. Use me to pour out life on those around me with words that are grounded in Your truth. And then thank You, thank You for Your grace when I fail.

 

Running this faith race beside you,
Lara

 
Tell of a time when you experienced the power of words — for better or worse.
 

The Writing Life

Writing and life. The two are not mutually exclusive. If you are a writer–one who enjoys writing–writing is a part of your life. Not something that exists outside of it. Many things you do, see, feel, and experience will shape your writing. Furthermore, many things we write will shape our lives.

Writing is Who I Am

For me, personally, writing helps me organize my thoughts. It helps me process life. It allows me to savor moments and share reality with people who think they are alone in motherhood. Writing teaches me lessons just as other activities in life do. Writing keeps my mind working just as life keeps my hands working.

Writing is part of life for me.

It’s as much a part of me as using my hands to do laundry and make meals. It’s as in ingrained in me as talking (just not as often). Writing is a way of life.

I loved Tricia’s post yesterday about the myth of balance. Balance isn’t exactly what we think it is. It’s not about spending so much time on this, and the same amount of time on that. Like anything else in life, every thing has it’s place. Meals have their place. Routines have their place. Entertainment and fun have their place.

So it is with writing.  Writing has its place. Writing happens as life happens. It begins with some scribbled out notes scratched on paper throughout the day. It includes a pause in the day to make those notes into ideas and expressions. After dinner those ideas may need a bit of editing and tweaking. Maybe something sparked further inspiration to reword or add more description.

Once the children are in bed, writing continues. While some choose to spend their time watching their favorite television shows (which is perfectly fine!), I choose to write. I don’t have any favorite television shows because I’m not a big fan of television. I have favorite movies that I enjoy with my family. But daily TV watching just isn’t something we do. Not because of some “super spiritual” reason. Simply because we have interests in other areas. I choose to spend my time writing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading.

I have made writing a part of my life because it’s in part how God designed me. That doesn’t mean it won’t have the potential to consume. Anything has that potential. God designed us to eat, but food can still consume us. God designed us to rest, but we can rest too much and become lazy.

It’s not necessarily about balance, but about prioritizing. Some days laundry and cleaning out your kids’ room takes priority while other days a writing deadline might be looming and you order Chinese take-out. Just as some days I need a break from life; from routines and demands and cleaning. Some days, I need a break from writing; from thinking and creating and editing. It’s the ebb and flow of life.

Writing isn’t just something I do; it’s who I am. 

I’m a child of God; I’m a wife, and mother, and keeper of my home. I’m a writer.