The Dirty Truth about Blogging

The article below was originally written for the author newsletter at Discovery House, the publishing house where I am employed. Though the audience for the piece was originally published authors, other writers may be interested in it too. So I’m putting it here.

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As a marketing manager, I know what I’m supposed to say about author blogs. I’m supposed to tell you that blogging is a great, easy way to hook new readers and convince them to buy your book. But here’s the dirty truth: Blogging is hard.

It is hard to juggle writing books (which are meant to last forever on someone’s bookshelf) with writing blog posts (which are old as soon as they are published). It is hard to think of a new topic or fresh angle for each post. It is hard to be consistent when the schedules of our non-writing lives refuse to stay the same. Blogging is just hard to do.

Here’s what two Discovery House authors have to say on the topic:

“When I first started blogging, I tried to keep up with devotionals on a semi-deep level every single day. It drained me of words. It’s hard to exactly explain, but I found it hard to even talk/chat in my everyday life because I had spent myself keeping up with the blogging.” –Heather King, author of Ask Me Anything, Lord

“Blogging is draining and sucks what little writing time I have right down the tubes. And it makes me cranky. I think a lot of people are over-blogged. How much information can we really keep up with these days?” –Jessie Clemence, author of If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do

And yet…

Blogging can be rewarding too. After all, hard things are often those most worth doing. Blogging reinforces the habit of writing. It can breed community. It can stimulate creativity. It can tell us what issues hit home with readers.

Per Heather and Jessie:

“Since I blog along the same vein as what I write book-wise, I had to find a balance. I blog 3 times a week now, with the heavier devotionals 2 of those days and that content helps me find thoughts/content/words for the books. I take those blog posts as jumping-off points for book content.

“I also think if I can find the posts that connect with readers in a big way, it helps keep my book-writing more relevant (at least that’s the hope!).” –Heather King, author of Ask Me Anything, Lord

“I keep blogging because it does give me consistent practice at writing. It also keeps the website fresh and then gives people a reason to check in and remember I’m alive. When my posts are shared it can bring in brand new readers, who then see a picture of the latest cover as they peruse.

“It makes me less cranky to think of the blog as a way to connect with readers.” –Jessie Clemence, author of If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do

Blogging is hard, but when approached in a balanced way, it can work with your writing instead of against it. Do you think you might be ready for the challenge?

If so, remember the 3 Rules of Blogging:

  1. Be Consistent – It doesn’t matter whether you post new content every day, three times a week, or twice a month, as long as your readers know when they can expect new content from you (and you can deliver it).
  2. Be Brief (or Epic) – People usually read posts that are 400 words or less. Also, people read posts that are over 1,000 words. Avoid the middle ground. Go for short and sweet or give them a full meal.
  3. Be Yourself – People are coming to your blog to read your writing. Maybe they have read one of your books and care about the same things that you do. Maybe they stumbled onto you blog accidentally. Either way, you have an opportunity to show them that you are a writer worth investing in.

Happy Blogging!

On the Origin of Lunch

ducktales_lunchboxHave you ever wondered where we got the word “lunch”? Everyone seems to know that breakfast is a combination of “break” and “fast” which is the meal where you stop your overnight fast (or period of not eating). And supper and dinner are pretty easy to see as extensions of sup and dine, both of which mean to eat. But where the heck did lunch come from? Let’s trace it back.

Lunch comes from its longer form, “luncheon”. And while that makes sense, it is hardly a satisfying answer. So what is the origin of luncheon? The answer is kind of complex.

Luncheon is probably a combination of the Spanish word “lonja”–which means a slice of meat, specifically a loin–and the Middle English word “nuncheon”–which itself is a combination word of “noon” and “schench” which is an Old English word that means to drink.

So what do you get when you combine the words for drink, noon, and meat?

You get lunch! Now let’s eat!

Thanks for the Feedback with Sheila Heen

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Every year, corporations spend millions of dollars in training their managers how to give feedback to their employees, but it is the receiver who is in charge in any feedback situation. The problem isn’t that companies don’t give their employees enough feedback; it is that companies don’t know how to receive feedback.

What is feedback? Feedback is all of the information out there about you. It is your relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with you. The mirror offers us feedback on what we look like at the moment. Our Facebook feeds offer us feedback on our interests and interactions. And the church gossip who is talking about us behind out back is offering a kind of feedback as well.

According to Sheila Heen, there are two basic human needs:

  • The need to learn and grow.
  • The need to feel accepted, respected, or loved the way we are now.

Feedback often feels like it puts these two things in opposition to each other, but that is because we don’t know how to receive it. Let’s look at the three different kinds of feedback out there.

  • Evaluation – This is where you rank among peers.
  • Coaching – This is what helps you learn and grow.
  • Appreciation – This is what helps people feel like they matter. It keeps us motivated.

To put this into context, imagine the last time you got back a term paper from school. Evaluation is the grade on the back page. Coaching is the comments in red ink that tell you what was wrong and how to improve. Appreciation is the teacher’s message on the front that says, “Great job!”

Every organization needs all three to survive. Usually, appreciation is usually the first to go. And then evaluation and coaching get tangled up together. But regardless of the quality of the feedback we’re getting, we often reject it anyway.

There are three basic triggered reactions that cause us to block feedback.

  • Truth Triggers – Is it true?
  • Relationship Triggers – Do I trust the source of the feedback?
  • Identity Triggers – Does it fit with the story that I tell myself about myself?

In order to receive feedback well, we must learn not to react first thing. We can’t assume that we know the story without getting all of the facts of what the giver means. We need to see ourselves clearly by getting rid of our blind spots. In order to do that, we have to ask a friend for honest feedback and supportive help.

When leaders become good feedback receivers:

  • you’ll get honest and helpful feedback.
  • you’ll role model the behavior that you want to see.
  • you’ll automatically become a better feedback giver.

Lastly, the key to getting the kind of feedback that is most helpful is by focusing on “one thing.”

  • What is “one thing” that you particularly appreciate?
  • What is “one thing” that you seem me doing or not doing?
  • What is “one thing” that you feel I should change?

When we start receiving feedback well, people will start giving us more than just the “one thing” that we ask for. And when that happens, we will start to realize that true feedback isn’t a violation of the two basic human needs (growth & acceptance), but the best way to serve both.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sheila Heen has spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project specializing in our most difficult conversations–where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained. Her firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to strengthen their working relationships, work through tough conversations and make sound decisions together. She has written two New York Times bestsellers, including her most recent, Thanks for the Feedback, which helps leadership improve their ability to receive feedback.

Rising Strong with Brene Brown

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“The story that I’m telling myself is…”

There is power in the story. Our brains reward us when we fill in the information gaps in order to make sense of the data. But often, the stories that we tell ourselves are far from true.

If someone is giving me the stink eye, I tell myself that person is mad at me. Perhaps they even hate me. Probably, I said or did something to them that they took issue with. Maybe they are even plotting my downfall in some way. In reality, they may just have their contact lenses in backwards and the stink eye is a physical response to a foreign object being stuck in their eye.

The real problem with stories isn’t that they are powerful, it is that we usually tell the worst stories possible. There’s a term for a person who regularly fills in the information gaps with bits of story to make sense of the data; we call that person “paranoid.”

To combat this, we need to be aware of the stories that we tell ourselves. Are they really true? Are they tainted by past experiences? Are we really trying to get as much information as possible?

Here’s how our storytelling ability relates to leadership. There’s a typical format to stories: The hero is faces with a challenge. The hero tries all of the easy ways to overcome the challenge, but fails. The hero realizes that the thing to fix the problem is going to be extremely uncomfortable, but they do it anyway. The challenge is overcome.

Leaders today are faced with stories all of the time. Often, leaders find that they face uncomfortable challenges and they can respond by either denying the story (ignore it and it may go away) or they can embrace the story and write the ending. Leaders can choose courage or comfort, but they can’t choose both.

Hear more from Dr. Brown’s Ted Talks here.

Givers, Takers, and Matchers with Adam Grant

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“If I don’t look out for myself, no one else will.”

“Let me help you with that. It’d be my pleasure!”

Now let’s pause and reflect on the two statements above. Can you imagine them coming out of the same mouth? Probably not.

The first statement, “I have to watch out for my own interests first,” is representative of someone we’ll call a taker. You probably know someone like this. Takers aren’t necessarily or obviously evil, they just tend to put themselves first and try to get more out of situations than they put into them.

The second statement is very focused on putting others first and is typical of someone we’ll call a giver. Givers are wonderful people who are always thinking of how they can take care of other people, often to the detriment of themselves. You can probably think of someone like this too.

And now you are probably thinking that there should be a third type of person, because you don’t consider yourself a taker but you recognize that you probably aren’t a giver either. For people like us, there’s the term of matcher. Matchers are people who put as much into a situation as they pull out, not more and not less. Justice and fairness is extremely important to us (yes, I identify as a matcher).

Now, let’s take a look at how these kinds of people fit into an organization.

First, who do you think is at typically at the bottom of the totem pole within any organization? I know that we all want it to be the takers since we’d like to think that the people who exploit others should be rewarded for their selfishness with a lack of success, but that just isn’t true. We both know that at the bottom of the ladder are the givers–people who allow themselves to be trod upon, who are willing to put in long hours for people who have no interest in returning the favor.

Knowing that the bottom is filled with givers, who do you think is at the top? If you are a bit pessimistic like me, your first answer would be that takers rise to the top since they take from everyone else. Fortunately, we pessimists are wrong for once. It isn’t takers who dominate leadership.

It must be matchers then, right? Since matchers are concerned first and foremost about justice and fairness, we use all of the weapons in our arsenal to take down takers (fortunately takers also take down other takers since they can’t stand other people getting the things that they want too). But matchers aren’t at the top of the pile either.

In addition to populating the lowest rung of an organization’s society, givers also gather at the top of that society. Interesting, right?

Obviously, the implication is that in order to rise in our leadership positions, we should be givers. We should be willing to put in the long hours and put others first. If we do this well and for long enough, it will be noticed and it will be rewarded.

Speaker, Adam Grant, has a lot more to say about givers, takers, and matchers in his book, Give and Take. In addition to a killer hairstyle, Adam Grant has impressive academic and business credentials. His presentation was top-notch and if you get a chance to hear him, take it (but not as a taker would; do it in a giving way if possible).

The 5 Intangibles of Leadership with Bill Hybels

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The first thing that struck me at the leadership conference was the use of a children’s storybook. You probably already know the one that I’m talking about. If you don’t already know it, I think you can figure it out.

I think you can. I think you can. I think you can. Toot Toot!

It was a good conference, but is every inspiration talk required to reference the Little Engine that Could?

The thing about that little optimistic train is that it had “grit,” which is the first intangible of leadership according to Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels led the opening session and talked about those aspects of leadership that can be developed, but not easily taught—the intangibles.

First is “grit,” which Hybels described as being almost stubbornly committed to an idea. If a leader is to succeed, she or he must be willing to take on tough projects and then—here’s the important bit—stick with them to the bitter end. Grit is built with difficulty; it is opposed to ease. And if you want to develop it, you need to volunteer for the difficult tasks and learn from gritty people.

The second intangible of leadership is self-awareness. Leaders must be aware of their blind spots, how their attitudes and actions are being influenced by past hurts or those things that they think they do well when the reality is anything but. Unfortunately, blind spots are—by their nature—impossible for someone to find on their own. If we want to find them and lead effectively, it is going to require communication and some potentially uncomfortable truths coming out.

The third intangible is resourcefulness. The ability to think on your feet, be curious, and learn things quickly is vital to leadership. If you can’t experiment in the face of difficulty, you’ll give up. Resourceful people figure it out, and the only way to learn it is to put yourself into confusing situations.

The fourth intangible of leadership is one that probably wouldn’t pop up in most business leadership talks—self-sacrificing love. Leaders must love their followers, possibly to their own detriment. Where culture tends to encourage narcissism, the leaders who truly inspire and create followers for life are the ones who put others first. If followers feel that their leader has a personal concern for them and their interests, the whole organization is going to run more smoothly.

The final intangible is in being able to give followers a sense of meaning in their work. Followers may see your grit, your ability to work through blind spots, your resourcefulness, and your love for them, but if they don’t know have a sense of meaning in their work, they may flounder. Most people know the “what” and the “how” of an organization, but not the “why” of the job. Cast your vision and help them answer that question.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a post on Givers, Takers, and Matchers and what each type of person does to an organization.

The Stories that I’ll Publish Once I’m Dead.

look_at_the_birdieI am just about finished with Look at the Birdie, a collection of short stories written by Kurt Vonnegut. It is the second collection of short stories published posthumously by the great author (or rather, by his estate). And, in all honesty, the stories published between its covers are the ones that were written for magazines early in his career but were rejected for one reason or another.

I’m a fan of the book all the same. I am biased though. The Vonnegut estate could probably release one of his old notebooks wherein he tracked his bowel movements and I’d be happy to read it. But all of that aside, Look at the Birdie got me thinking about the short stories that I have written. Specifically, the short stories that have been rejected thus far.

In addition to the handful of unfinished novels languishing on my hard drive, I have a handful of short stories that have yet to be published. I think they are all right, but I recognize that I haven’t exactly hit the pinnacle of my writing abilities or career. At that time, they may well be published on the basis that they are associated with my name (though more likely not). But I am encouraged by the fact that Kurt Vonnegut, award-winning, best-selling, genius that he was had at least two books worth of previously unpublished (likely rejected) stories.

Even successful writers don’t see success with every submission. That isn’t a reason to quit writing. Rather it means that they are the writers who kept writing in spite of their rejections and learned enough about the craft by doing so that their later works were successful.

I’m going to keep writing. Not everything that I write will get published in my lifetime. But if I stick with it, there’s still a chance that those stories will get published after I die, and then my daughters and the publisher will benefit from them. And that sounds just fine to me.

The Super Duper Baptist Church Bulletin

When I was in high school, my good friend John and I enjoyed spurring each other on in good works and creative pursuits. Well, maybe fewer good works than creative pursuits. One of the projects that we undertook was the creation of the youth group bulletin.

To be clear, no one asked us to make a youth group bulletin. We just thought it would be fun to do. AND IT WAS.

If memory serves (which it usually doesn’t), we only churned out four or five of these bulletins before we were asked to stop. My favorite one is not shown below, but it had a word search puzzle on the back with a word list that did not match the words in the puzzle in anyway.

Thanks to–what I can only assume are–the pack rat tendencies of our other good friend, Kristy, I am able to present to you two full editions of the Super Duper Baptist Church Bulletin.

Enjoy.

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