Narrowing down the PURPOSE of your blog

 

 

 

 

I’m currently teaching an adult education class on how to start a blog.

When I teach these classes, we spend much time during the first class trying to narrow down the purpose of the blog you want to create. Before you can write your first word, you need to figure out what you are going to write about. Just like when you work on any writing project, you need to outline and plan. You need to make a map so that you’ll know where you are going.

It’s vitally important for both you and for your readers to not get lost.

Unless you are very famous, (and even then, it is “iffy”) or the most exciting person in the world, no one wants to read about what you do every day.

A blog should not be a diary. There is no purpose to that.

Instead what a blog should be is a collection of “like-minded” topics that provide value. Sometimes that value is to teach and sometimes it’s simply to entertain. Often a blog’s topic is specific, for example you could write posts about cooking, traveling, books that you’ve read, or fun activities you can do with the kids.

Whatever topic you choose, you should remain devoted to that topic. At all times.

If you have a blog about cooking, then your readers will expect to read about cooking. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can *never* write about anything else, but keep in mind that every time you stray from your topic, you run the risk of confusing your readers – Hey, what happened to the recipes?

Every time you stray from the topic, your readers stray from your map and we all know that that means they might get lost.

A lost reader is one who might not come back.

But what if you write about many topics? Does that mean that you can’t write in your blog or have to have different blogs? In my personal blog I write about parenting, recipes, books, I’ve read, and chickens, but here’s the thing – all my topics fall under the umbrella of “living with children and chickens in New Hampshire.” So I get away with it. (Or at least I hope I do.)

I describe my blog as being like a women’s magazine. I have many topics, but they are all covered under that little tag-line of mine that sits right there at the top of the blog  – children and chickens. It’s a mighty umbrella under which all my topics fit.

This doesn’t mean that your blog can’t evolve. In the early days, my blog went from talking about my newspaper column to focusing heavily on chickens and the kids. For years I wrote about the lessons I learned from our flocks, both chicken and children.

I think my blog is about to evolve again. This summer all our chickens were brutally killed by a predator that came in the night and took out each bird one-by-one.

Right now we are chickenless.

I haven’t written about chickens since spring and I’m not sure we will be getting more chickens next year (cranky neighbors have something to do with it.) I can continue as is (just because my chickens are gone doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn from them) or I can make a modification for my readers and concentrate on other topics. I haven’t decided yet, but when I do, I need to tell my readers what is going on and where we are now headed.

My point is that your blog should never be confusing for your readers. If you don’t write about the purpose and topic of your blog then you need to address that sooner rather than later. You’ll either have to change the purpose, topic, or both so that your new blog map becomes clear.

And if you do it sooner rather than later, you’ll have less chance of losing any of your readers.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Writing when everything is in upheaval

 

I’m a happy sort of writer. I write about parenting, puppies, chickens, family and the life lessons I learn.  For the most part I’m an optimist, I have always believed in the goodness of the world.

But these days it’s difficult to write happy when I’m so angry and discouraged.

Never have I felt so unsettled in my life. Never have I used some words with the frequency that I have in the past few months.  (Let’s just say that the Swear Jar my kids made as a joke right after the election is seeing a lot of action.)

This is not an anti-Trump rant (although I blame him for much of it) it’s an anti-world rant. The entire world is in upheaval. Governments are being taken over, attacks are being carried out, and people are dying because they are protesting. Heck, these days athletes are being called sons of bitches for protesting inequality.

Not only are the governments in upheaval, but the very earth itself is in upheaval. We’ve had 3 devastating hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. People have lost everything, they are waiting for help and not sure it is coming. Over in Puerto Rico the situation is critical, without power, food, and water, American lives are being lost.

I’m finding it hard to concentrate. I’m dreaming of escaping to places where there is no internet, no television, no more devastating news.

But then I feel guilty about trying to get away. What if I miss another outrage? What if my voice is not counted in protest?

I had a friend years ago who told me I was too empathetic and that I too easily absorbed the pain of others. She’s right. I even feel bad for the dead animals on the side of the road (aww, such a shame.) Although being able to feel pain is a good trait for a writer, not’s not such a good thing to have when you’re trying to sleep at night.

“Imagine a bubble of white light around you,” my friend advised. “Bright, white shining light that you can see through but that reflects the pain.” It’s not that she wanted me to become immune to pain, it’s that she wanted me to be in control of how much I wanted to let in.

These days I’m imagining an awful lot of bright light. If I want to continue as a write, I have to.

How about you? How are you able to concentrate on writing when things are in such upheaval? Does it bother you? Are you able to effectively unplug?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

The difference one hour can make

It’s always been tough for me to write during the summer months when the kids are not in their regular school routine. With a houseful of people who have different work and sport schedules and also having an office that’s located right next to the front door of our house, I’m constantly interrupted.

“Hey mom, can you take me to…?”

“What are we having for dinner?”

“Do you know if we have any paper towels?”

“Mom, are you here?”

Writing is not something I can start and stop – just like that. I need uninterrupted time to think, to plan, to design.

I used to rage at the injustice – yelling to the Gods “what about me???”, but these days, I just sort of let it go. That’s because I have (finally) changed my thinking.

When summer first began, I made this small sign and put it on my desk.

One hour.

That was my goal for each day. That was it. Just one hour of writing. Everything else was considered gravy.

There were some days when I got a heck of a lot more than one hour of writing in, but that tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

And then there were the days when I needed to cobble some time together in between driving and sports events to even come up with that one hour.

But for the most part, I got an hour in each day. I reached my goal and I managed to get some work done during the summer.

On Tuesday, my youngest goes back to high school. Two of my other kids will be at college and the rest will be working jobs.

And you know what that means, right?

It means a quiet house where I’m going to have large chunks of time all to myself.

On the first day of school, along with my white pants, I’ll be packing my One Hour sign away. If I need it next summer, I’ll know where to find it.

But for now, look out. If I could still get work done writing one hour a day, just imagine what I can do with six!

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Do all you possibly can

 

It’s that time of year for kids and young adults to graduate. In our family we have at one end – a college graduation  (and he goes right into the army from there) and at the other end, we also have one who will be entering her senior year in high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to study when she goes to college. She’s got a few options in mind but hasn’t come to a decision.

“What do you think, mom?” She asks.

“Take a bunch of classes,” I tell her. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field. Don’t make the mistake I did. I took English and writing classes, but because they were so easy, I didn’t think they counted. I thought that you had to really work at what you wanted to be and it had to hurt. It was the remnants of the no pain- no gain philosophy i was taught as a youth.  As a result it took me three years to figure out I didn’t want to be a Pharmacist.”

That’s a lot of wasted time.

I didn’t realize that part of the reason the English and writing classes were so easy was because I loved them. Journalism? Fantastic. Shakespeare and Melville? Out of this world. Learning about writers and how to work with words floated my boat. I loved reading. I loved writing. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s absolutely okay to work in a field that you absolutely love.

Love creates enthusiasm.

The same thing can be applied to what you write about. As an example, I’ve written white papers – far, far too many. I don’t like writing them, in fact I’d rather have my teeth pulled (and I hate the dentist) than write them, but I do it (always dragging my feet) because they pay the bills. White papers are a necessary evil to surviving as a writer.

Compare that to when I get to write about stories and lessons learned (the genre I feel most comfortable in.) The words virtually fly out of my fingertips. I hear the stories in my head, I know exactly where I am going. It’s like talking with old friends, we finish each other’s sentences.

And yet I don’t schedule enough time to write *my* stories because they don’t bring in the money., They are something that’s too easy and therefore I think not as valued.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field.”

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Dress the part so you can (maybe) act the part

 

Writers are rare birds. We like to separate ourselves from the rest of the flock when we do our work.  Solitude is our natural inclination.

We also like to be comfortable. So, so very comfortable.

When I was in college, I could only write if I was wearing my “writing shirt” – a grubby, hole-filled, but incredibly soft and heavy shirt. It kept me warm. It anchored me – a security blanket across my shoulders. It wasn’t meant for others to see, it was only meant for me.

These days I don’t have the luxury of wearing “comfortable” (read – not appropriate for public viewing) clothing. My office is on the first floor and it’s me who has to get up to answer the door. I’m there when the kids come home from school and work.

I don’t wear pajamas. I don’t wear sweats and I’ve long lost that beautiful (to me anyway) writing shirt.

That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable, of course I am. Discomfort takes away from creativity.

But it does mean that I am a little more put together than I was in earlier writing days.

And guess what? My writing is a little more put together as well.

Co-incidence? Maturity? Experience? Who knows.

But here’s a suggestion. If you have a  comfortable uniform that you wear when you write, and you find that your writing may be getting a little sloppy, a little too relaxed – try mixing things up a bit.

Put on a button down shirt.

Wear shoes instead of slippers.

A cardigan instead of a stained sweatshirt.

Even consider upgrading your writing utensils to something a little more polished.

We’ve all heard the advice to “dress for success. In this case”, why not try to dress the part of a successful writer? Updating your outfit may turn out to be nothing. It may not change your writing one bit,  but then again maybe, just maybe it might jump start some creative spark.

You’ll never know until you try.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

DIY MFA – you’ve got to check this out

Every year Writer’s Digest puts out an issue with the 101 Best Websites for Writers. Cited as one of the “Best of the Best” is the DIY MFA website.

I decided to go take a look at that website and Holy Cow! If you’re a writer who is working on a project then you should definitely check this one out.

WD’s description:

Offering a do-it-yourself alternative to a master’s degree in writing. DIY MFA provides all the tools you need to “write with focus, read with purpose and build your community” – ked by prolific teacher, speaker and writer Gabriela Pereira (author of the companion book DIY MFA, from WD books) via articles, classes and a podcast. The e-newsletter brings regular updates to your inbox with the friendly greeting “Hey there, Word Nerds!”

If you visit the website you’ll be asked for your email in order to get a writer’s Starter Pack which is filled with tools that are used in a free mini two-week course that will be delivered through email over the next two weeks. I understand that her book is considered a companion to the site, but it’s in no way required for anyone to use the information.

This website is a gift. It’s a way to learn (at no cost) and a way join a community of like people. Your tribe.

From what I’ve seen this is indeed a website filled with great and relevant information for writers. Truly worthy of the title of Best of the Best.

Do yourself a favor and check DIY MFA out.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Flexing a writing muscle

(I know, are you sick of me yet? Because I’ve been MIA for a while, I decided to fill in a few holes this week. Thanks for putting up with me and oh by the way, I’m happy to hear that I’m not alone in my book hoarding tendencies. )

Today’s little discussion is going to be about breaking out of your rut.

“What rut?” You may think – “What’s she talking about? I’m perfectly happy writing short stories, non-fiction, copy material or news articles.”

And chances are you probably are happy. You’ve got a routine, you can write what you need to write and perhaps it’s even gotten easy.

You don’t want to rock the boat, right?

But look at any kind of exercise program. You never go to the gym and do the exact same routine every day. You’re supposed to mix it up. Cardio one day, weights another, maybe even a day of rest. When you do this, your entire body gets stronger.

I recently went to Spain with a friend. When I’m on vacation I usually take at least 3 books to read (what if I finish one and there’s no bookstore around?) This time though, I only took one book. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. I took one book so that I would read that one book.

I’m not a travel writer. Oh sure, I can write *stories* about my travels but that’s different from “travel writing.”  (Here’s an example of my “story travel writing.

While we were on the plane(s), I read my book.

Before I turned off my light each night, I read my book.

I carried it with me and read the excellent examples of travel essays with pen in hand, highlighting certain parts that I thought were brilliant.

And something funny started to happen. When we visited a cathedral, I started noticing details that I might not have before. I began to pay more attention to history, how things were constructed and how it all fit together.

At a restaurant I noticed the atmosphere, the prices, the glasses in which our wine was served.

It’s like I started using some muscles that although they had been there all along had become weakened from non-use.

Does this make me a travel writer?

Absolutely not, no more than getting up and walking around the block makes me a marathoner.

But it does open my eyes. It adds more muscle to my skill kit. I liked what I read enough to try writing a few travel articles. Like anyone else with a new program, I’ll start small, but if I keep with it enough smalls will eventually lead to a large.

Consider flexing a new or unused writing muscle in your spare time this weekend.

Read, do, write.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder

Hi, I’m Wendy and I’m a book hoarder.

I try not to buy any new books but I can’t seem to help myself. I read a back cover about an interesting story –

I want to know more.

I hear about a new vegan family cookbook.

I want to try the recipes.

I watch someone being interviewed on a show.

I want to learn more.

And nope, buying them to read on a Kindle just doesn’t do it for me. I have to hold the book in my hands, smell the pages, feel the paper, see the font that’s used.

I am aghast when I enter a house that has no bookshelves, where on earth do you keep them?

I secretly judge people when I pass a bedroom and there is no book on the night stand.

And yes, I have more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime. I’m trying to offload some of them but it’s like saying goodbye to friends – something I’d rather not do. I keep books that I’ve started and lost interest in thinking that *someday* I’ll get back to them. So I make deals with myself. I can’t bring in a new book until I move out at least 3 books.

It worked until I went into an independent bookstore. By my calculation I need to get rid of 27 books by tonight in order to stay true to my commitment.

And then there are used books. Whenever I go with my daughters to a thrift store, they go right to the clothing and I to the books. Yesterday I brought home 2 travel essay books.

Add 6 more books to my removal total.

My husband is a very tolerant person. As an avid reader himself, he’s never commented on my “habit” – I mean when making bad life choices buying books is pretty low on the list.

But still the other day he quietly pointed me to a news article. Apparently the Japanese have a word for book hoarders.

The desire to buy more books than you can physically read in one human lifetime is actually so universal, there’s a specific word for it: tsundoku. Defined as the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed, the term is a Japanese portmanteau of sorts, combining the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

Who knew? In some ways it’s nice to finally be recognized (diagnosed?) for what I have, but on the other hand – wow, who knew this was a thing? It looks like I’m a member of a tribe that I didn’t even know existed.

So I guess I need to modify my introduction.

Hi, I’m Wendy and I have tsundoku.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Living linear (or not) in a world of imagination

I recently had to see a few different doctors about a medical condition of mine (I’m fine.) As it turned out to fix my condition, I was supposed to have surgery in one office and then travel to another site, the next day for a surgical repair by a plastic surgeon.

When I initially consulted with the plastic surgeon he explained the proposed surgery to me. It was going to be complicated and involved skin flaps. I told him that I was a writer, had done a ton of research prior to the appointment and that I had many questions.

Some questions were on what he planned to do.

Some had to do with infection rates (I used to be a clinical microbiologist so I knew enough to be concerned about that.)

Some questions were just about things I wanted to know.

I asked my questions and at one point he stopped me. “I can tell you’re a linear type. I have a lot of patients who are engineers and I can see that you’re like them. I’ll tell you what, write down all your questions and I’ll answer them on the day you have surgery.”

Well, okay then.

The thing is, I’m not a linear thinker (just take one look at the clutter on my desk and you’d see that was clearly not a valid description of me.)

I was a little miffed. As a woman asking questions, was this the persona I emitted? Or as an ego-driven surgeon was that the persona he assumed of a woman who dared to clarify information?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to use that particular doctor’s services (yeah!). The wound I had following the first surgery was something that could be closed up onsite. It was all good.

Yesterday I went to get the stitches out. As the nurse was (literally) in my face, she kept up some small talk to distract me from scissors and scalpels (that again, were literally in my face.) “You’re a writer?” she asked me. She liked to write but had never gotten anything published.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m a writer.”

We talked some more (there were a lot of stitches) about the life of writers, how I worked from home, and how I was able to be a full-time freelance writer because my husband had a good job that included benefits.

“It must be fun,” she sighed.

I told her it was. “And the best part is that I get to hang around with other writers, the people in my tribe.’ I told her. “Writers are the most extraordinary people because they all invent these wonderful worlds in their heads.”

She finished, bandaged me up, and I was on my way.

Two different situations – two vastly different reactions to what I am as a person – as a work of life-art.

Look I could read a lot into this – male vs. female perspective, pre-surgery jitters vs. post surgery relaxation, doctor vs. nurse, there are a million things to compare, but what I want to leave you with is that old adage that we’ve heard a million times.

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. (ass-u-me)

As writers, it’s our job to give out correct and appropriate information so that our readers don’t make the wrong assumption about us or our stories. We can’t assume they have prior knowledge, or that they hold similar beliefs. Heck we can’t even assume that they’ll be the same audience that read our last piece.

And if we don’t, if we somehow give someone the wrong impression of us or our work, then we need to take a good look at that situation.

Sometimes it’s the other person’s fault, their filter make them only see something in a certain way.

But it’s important to at least acknowledge that sometimes it just might be *our* filter that made us act (or write) in a certain way to give that impression.

Soooooo not linear.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

How to begin writing when you can’t

 

My son had to write a paper for his college class. He had a week to do it and while he did write some notes over the weekend, he left writing the bulk of the report until the night before it was due. It wasn’t that he’s a bad writer. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the subject.

It was that he was overwhelmed and he didn’t know where to start.

We’ve all been there before thinking how on earth can I write anything that’s going to be judged (in this case graded) by someone else? It’s too big to do, so I’ll just sit here and do nothing in my fear-induced paralysis.

The problem with ignoring the challenge is that it doesn’t get done. And if you want to get a project done (or pass a class) then you’ve got to buckle down and get started. This is how I advised him:

First step – write an outline. It doesn’t have to be a complex outline just put the general points.

  • Introduction – definitions, relevant history, purpose of paper, layout of discussion
  • Part One – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Part Two – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Part Three – definitions, how it relates, good things, bad things, graphic
  • Summary – bring it home baby, repeat your purpose and state why you have proved it.

He knew what he wanted to say, he just hadn’t known how. Using this format, my son banged out an outline. But even though he now had a structure, my son was still stuck.

Second step – write. “So what’s the easiest part to write about?” I asked. He pointed to Part Three of his outline which described a type of technology that he found interesting. “Well then go ahead and start there.”

As long as you have a structure and you’ve identified your purpose, you never have to start at the beginning if you don’t want to. Have a killer idea for a summary?, well then jot that down first. Feel more confident about one particular topic? then write about it. You don’t have to worry about complete sentences, or even coherent paragraphs, you simply need to capture what it is you want to write about.

Because once you start writing, you start writing.

Following this approach, he was able to crank out a first draft. But as we all know, first drafts are not meant to be judged by anyone. He knew his paper had holes and he knew that it didn’t transition well from one topic to another but he didn’t know how to fix it.

Third step – get feedback. This is where a trusted confident comes in handy. My husband sat in the room with my son and while my son read the paper out loud my husband asked questions like Why? and How? when it appeared that information was missing or was confusing. When you are so close to the subject you can be guaranteed that you’ll miss things. A second pair of eyes is critical.

There was no judgment, there was no criticism. There was only a desire to make the document stronger.

The paper got done, it was passed in the next day and my son let out the breath he had held since it had been assigned. This is the method my son ended up using to write his assignment, but take a look at the steps:

  1. Outline
  2. Write
  3. Get feedback

And you’ll recognize that the process he used for his paper is the exact same method every writer uses for every piece of writing. It’s not magic, it’s just a path to the goal. As a writer, you need to step back in order to break your work down *before* you put pen to paper – you need to know where your words are going. Once that’s done you then work to coherently build the parts into what will become the glorious whole that is your piece.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.