The Wistful Tunes of the Carnyx

Doesn’t Carnyx sound like the name of some fantasy creature or hero? In fact, that isn’t too far off. Continue reading

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Bob Evenhouse is right.

I recently attended the Jot Writers Conference, and even though I was required to because I was one of the evening’s speakers, I would have wanted to go anyway. After people were finished suffering through my presentation, they were able to enjoy a whole evening of great thoughts on blogging, self-editing, poetry, and rejections from the editors.

bob_evenhouseThere was a lot of great content, but there was one particular part that made me think more than the rest. It happened during Bob Evenhouse‘s presentation on blogging and it had to do with the content of the blog.

As a blogger, I am keen to learn how to improve my craft. Bob’s blog is older than mine, but for a long time, I don’t know how much effort he wanted to devote to it. You see, when he started his blog back in the day, he was more passionate about writing high fantasy than he was about blogging, so his novels received the lion’s share of his time and attention. The blog existed to be part of his platform so that when he submitted one of his aforementioned novels for publication, he would have something of an online presence for a publisher to see.

After limping along from post to post, Bob knew that something needed to change. So he took a month-long break from blogging in order to ask himself some tough questions. What was his blog accomplishing? What did he want it to be? How could he use it to further his other writing endeavors? And how did his blog differ from the ones that he followed on a regular basis?

Those are all good questions, and I’ve found myself asking them about my own blog recently. But the one thing that stuck out to me in his whole presentation was this: Bloggers should have a consistent theme within their blog and avoid posting on a hodgepodge of topics.

Bam!

Bob nailed my blog. If I have a theme to my posts, it is only that I wrote them. I realized on the way home that I could easily segment my blog into seven different topical blogs where I would post once a week on each, and possibly have more successful followings. I write autobiographical content, word and phrase origins, book reviews, recipes, writing and publishing tidbits, Lego prompts, and random other things.

I was convicted by Bob’s presentation because he’s right. If a publisher were to look at my blog to see my platform, I don’t know if that publisher would be able to tell how my blog writing relates to my book proposal. And that’s a problem.

I’ll be reevaluating things. I still plan on writing, even if it is a hodgepodge of posts, but I’d like to reign things in a bit. Bear with me as I do.

Jot is this Saturday!

2015_jot_6_poster (1)The Jot Conference is this Saturday, September 12th from 6-10pm at Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, Michigan.

You should come. We still have a few open seats. The best way to make sure that you have one of those seat is to sign up here.

If you don’t know what Jot is, it is the writers conference started by my writers group, The Weaklings. Other writers conferences have fancy, well-published speakers and last for days at a time. Those conferences also cost a bucket of money and require more time than most of us have available. Jot is free, only one night, and it is a great place to connect with other writers. Plus, we build a bit of time into the conference so you can get some writing done too.

This is the sixth Jot conference that we’ve held, but it is the first that we’ve held outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. And like the first Jot ever, the speakers for this Saturday are made up of the writers in The Weaklings. We’re basically hitting the reset button on the whole thing to start it in another city.

For our Grand Rapids writing pals who are worried that we won’t be coming back to Beer City, USA, don’t worry, we’ll be back in the spring. But if you can make it to Three Rivers this Saturday, you should come. Even if you don’t like any of the presentations (which are free so you shouldn’t complain), the bookstore that is hosting Jot is worth the trip. Picture in your head the perfect used bookstore. You just pictured Lowry’s.

I hope to see you there!

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.

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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.