I’m back.

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Well, here I am.

I stepped down from blogging two months ago in order to prepare for and participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. How did I do? I don’t have a novel, but I have a start. So that’s something, right?

The break from blogging was good in other ways too. I was able to spend more time with my wife and kids. I was able to make progress on some home repair projects. And I was able to get some perspective on whether my blog was a worthwhile investment of my writing energy.

On that last point, I found it pretty interesting that my break from adding posts for two months didn’t really hurt the number of daily visits that I had. Most people read my blog for two reasons, Raccoon Facts and the Origin of Bah Humbug. The few people who contributed to the daily visits for my newest content were mostly friends of mine from Facebook.

And now, I’m back–albeit somewhat differently than I was before. Here’s what you can expect from this blog: fewer posts with better focus.

Rather than just a space online where I can spill my thoughts, I want my blog to work for my writing career by being something of a resume for potential publishers to use when considering my stuff. In order for that to happen though, my posts need to be a bit more consistent with the areas in which I seek publication. That means that this will primarily be a place for flash fiction and thoughts related to fantasy and science fiction.

At the moment, I’m not going to delete the backlog of random posts, but I’m not going to rule that out as I move forward. I’ll see you each Tuesday and Friday for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for reading.

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!

I may be prolific, but you don’t have to be.

This is a follow-up post to yesterday’s post on how to post everyday. Post. Sorry, I just wanted to get one more mention of post in there, but it didn’t quite fit. Yesterday, I gave a few tips on how to get content regularly onto a blog, but today I’m going to ask you to forget about what I said. Well, forget about it if it isn’t helpful for you.

9780849964800I attended a speaking & book signing event tonight with Sheridan Voysey, author of Resurrection Year (Thomas Nelson, 2013) and the forthcoming book, Resilient (Discovery House, 2015). After speaking through his experiences that were laid out in his books, Sheridan opened up the floor for questions.

As great of a writer as I think Sheridan is, he may even be better at asking and answering questions. It probably has something to do with his years as one of Australia’s top radio program hosts. One of the questions that he was asked related to his practice of journal writing. In order to capture his experiences over the span of life covered in Resurrection Year, Sheridan relied heavily upon his journals. The question asked was on how to keep writing in a journal when you hit a dry spell in your writing life.

529090_21140214Sheridan responded by saying that journals should serve the writer, not the other way around. He uses journals to capture the highs and the lows, the questions and the discoveries. If there isn’t anything to talk about relating to these things, don’t write in them.

He said that he may go for a few weeks between writing in his journal, but he is still a big advocate for keeping one.

I would like to draw some parallels between Sheridan’s journal advice and what could be a healthy approach to blogging. If your blog is your online journal, if its audience is made up of you and the people with whom you choose to share it, then by no means should you feel compelled to write everyday or even all that regularly. But if you are blogging in order to hone your writing or to gather an audience, then don’t treat it like a journal.

As with any project worth doing, you are going to have to ask yourself why you are doing it. I don’t think it is possible to write for no purpose (you’ll either write something worthwhile or learn something by writing), but I do think you should know your goals.

Why do you write? And how often? I’d love to hear your answers!

I am prolific.

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Twice this past week, I’ve heard the same question from writers I know:

“Josh, would you please stop plagiarizing my writing?”

Just kidding. That wasn’t the question. At least, it isn’t the one I’m going to talk about in today’s blog. The real question is this:

“Josh, how do you blog so much? I would run out of things to say.”

Let’s be honest, if you’ve been reading my blog consistently, you’ll know that most of it is drivel and I don’t have all that much to say. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m saying worthwhile things (at least some of time). How do I find something to talk about nearly everyday?

I cheat. That’s right, I cheat. And the best part about it is that I’m doing it using rules. I say this because I’ve set up my blog to run along a certain format. If you are a writer looking to post consistently to your blog, I’d suggest that you do the same thing.

Here are my rules:

Monday – “I am” post. What have I done this past week? What is a label that could apply to me? What story from my past could I start with the phrase “I am”?

Tuesday – Free day. I can talk about whatever comes to mind. A few of the recent categories of posts include flash fiction stories, book reviews, my job, a response to some interesting link that I find online, meta-blogging, word origins, and current events. My blog doesn’t follow a specific focus (like the experts will tell you it should (and they are probably right)), so I have the freedom to write as though in a journal and share things that I find interesting.

Wednesday – Multiple series post. Lately, I’ve been working through 15 Icebreaker Questions. Those questions are going to give me 16 weeks of posts where I know exactly what I’m going to write about. It’ll be 17 if I do a retrospective post at the end. Series of posts are nice because you’ll know what to expect from yourself.

Thursday – Another free day. See Tuesday’s rule.

Friday – Links post. Surf the web, find some places worth sharing, share them. Boom!

Saturday – Lego prompt post. When I have time to take a picture, I’ll set up a scene with my Lego figurines and take a picture. Now it is up to other writers to make something of the photo. This encourages interaction on my blog and hopefully saves someone the pain of having to come up with an idea for their own post.

Am I suggesting that you follow the rules that I’ve set up for myself? No. Make your own rules. If you want to focus your blog posts (which you probably should), then develop rules that relate to your focus. If this were a gardening blog, I’d probably want to follow something like this schedule: Monday – Plant feature, Tuesday – Gardening tip, Wednesday – Gardening book review, Thursday – How to use a specific plant in cooking, Friday – Garden pictures (inviting readers to send in pictures of their own gardens), and every now and again, I’d throw in a guest post from some gardening friend or expert.

If you think you’d run out of things to blog about, you probably won’t. I haven’t yet. Will it take more time than you want to give it? Probably, but that’s a different question, isn’t it. (Look, I just found the topic for another blog post for another day!)

Happy blogging fellow writers!

 

P.S. Happy Birthday to my big brother, Bob! I don’t know if you still read this drivel, Bob, but I hope you have a great day either way.

Excuses & Reasons | A Response to Bob Evenhouse

My writing buddy and fellow Weakling, Bob Evenhouse, did a great blog post yesterday about excuses. I’d like to offer another point of view.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

Josh Mosey, confidently leading a session at the Breathe Conference about blogging as if he knows something about it.

I recently led an hypocritical workshop at the Breathe Conference about blogging (the truth comes out!). My presentation was an introduction to blogging. I gave some reasons why people should be blogging. I gave a few strategies for how to get started and how to keep going. Then I gritted my teeth and gave the advice that I too have been ignoring: how to keep your blog from killing your other writing projects.

I’ve been very consistent on my blog, but to be completely honest (because complete honesty is what the internet is for, right?), I’ve allowed my blog to kill my novels.

I am, and always have been, a great un-finisher. It’s amazing that I manage to finish these sentences as I type. To date, I have three unfinished novels (two of which are the firsts of unfinished series), and a whole slew of unfinished stories revolving around a squirrel and his invisible roommate (the stories are at least written, but I need to illustrate them or somehow get them published still). Plus, I have a number of short story ideas that need written down. Then somewhere in the midst of these projects, I decided to start a blog.

Why would I start a blog when I have so many unfinished manuscripts crying out to me from within my brain? There are some days I ask the same question. The answer I eventually circle back to is that I want to one day be published and I want a community of readers and other writers with me when that happens. I want to hone my craft by sitting my buns in a chair everyday and banging my head against a keyboard until words form themselves into sentences.

A strange thing happened when I started my blog. I didn’t stop writing it. Granted, I need to figure out how to work this perseverance into my other projects, but at least I’m writing something consistently.

I could come up with a lot of excuses for why I haven’t published a bestseller yet. Instead, I’ll give you the only reason that I think stands a chance at plausibility: I’m still learning to finish things well. This blog is part of that. You, reader, are part of that too.

Thank you for the encouragement along the way. I need it.

I am a Breathe Conference speaker.

blogging_101_with_josh_moseyThis past weekend, I had the honor of attending and speaking at the Breathe Writers Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I spoke on Saturday about blogging basics to a wonderful, if somewhat larger than anticipated, crowd of writers. As a result, I’m attaching the handout I used here (Blogging 101 with Josh Mosey) for anyone who didn’t get a copy on Saturday.

And since I believe that most of the value of writers’ conferences is in being face-to-face with other writers, I’m going to share a bit of the content that I taught in my class here on my blog for free. Not all of it, of course. But some.

This was the description for my class:

Blogging 101: Why to do it, How to do it, and How to keep it from killing your other writing—Josh Mosey
You’ve heard from countless publishing experts that you should be blogging as part of your platform (expand your online footprint!), but you want to do it right. Don’t waste your writing time making blogging mistakes. Figure out how to do it effectively, how to engage readers, and how to make blogging fit into your life without upsetting your other writing projects.

After a brief introduction to yours truly (readers of my blog should need no introduction as I’ve poured more of my secrets into this website than Tom Riddle poured into his horcrux of a diary),  I launched into the reasons why writers should be blogging:

  • Get an audience/community for your writing
  • Writing more will lead to better writing
    • “You should be practicing your craft.” – Judy Markham, Discovery House Publishers
  • Develop and show off your voice
  • Publishers need to see examples of how you attract and interact with your community

As to how to blog, I encouraged everyone to set one up soon. As there was another seminar following mine on the process of setting up a blog at WordPress.com, I didn’t go into detail about such things. My advice regarding blogging was more about the routine and scope of the craft than the minutia of posting etiquette.

Basically, I believe that blogs should be consistent in their focus (so readers will know what to expect), their voice (so readers will know your writing), and their schedule (so readers will know when to expect a new post).

We then turned to perhaps the most difficult bit: how to keep your blog from killing your other writing.

My first point was that a blogger needn’t blog everyday, but however they decide to divide their writing time between projects, they must be consistent in how often they post content to their blog.

With regard to the length of blog posts, I discussed the two schools of thought. Short posts of 200 or fewer words take less time to write, are easier for readers to digest, and can be best for bloggers who decide to tackle daily posts. Long posts of 1500+ words often get better interaction from readers and are easier to find by web-crawlers based on their content.

As another effort to protect a writer’s time for their projects, I suggested that the blog needn’t live in a separate world from their main focus. If they could find a way to incorporate their ideas, voices, and subject matter into their blog, then readers might be more motivated to buy their writing when it comes out (since they’ve already sampled and enjoyed it in blog form). The big warning for this, however, is that you must not publish the exact content on your blog that you are hoping to get published in book form. Once a blog is posted, it is published and no one will touch it in the publishing world.

Lastly, I encouraged the writers to be accountable to a writers group in order to stay on track with both blogs and book-writing.I then gave them some ideas on how to get new readers and followers to their blogs as well as some links to other resources. I’m not going to give them to you here, because you didn’t pay to be at the conference (but if you click around my site a bit, you may find them anyway).

I’ll be writing through some of the sessions that I attended this week, so if you aren’t into writing, you may want to check in next week for normal content. I’m just kidding. Visit everyday and send links to all of your friends whether you like my content or not. Thanks!

Questions on Blogging

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I had the good fortune recently to sit down with my coworker and fellow writer, Bill DeRooy, to discuss the art of blogging. Bill just started his own blog as a way to get back into writing consistently (why don’t you go follow his blog as an encouragement to keep with it?), which is a fantastic reason for blogging.

As it happens, I’ll be leading a workshop on blogging after the main presentations at Jot in a few weeks. And since I knew that Bill was just getting started, I thought I’d ask him what he would want to learn from a blogging workshop. Here were a few of his responses:

  • How do you make yourself more visible online?
  • How does Google find your stuff?
  • How often should I post?

These are wonderful questions. I have asked them myself. They give me a good place to start in creating a (hopefully) helpful worksheet for my workshop.

But I need more questions to answer.

I don’t claim to be an authority on blogging, I have been doing it consistently for a while now and I’m happy to shout my opinions at anyone who will listen.

Do you have questions that you would like answered in a blogging workshop setting? Are there any exercises that you’d like to see? What would the perfect handout include? Is is strange that I am questioning you for your questions?

Please leave your questions in the comments below. If you can’t make it to Jot, let me know and I’ll try to respond to your question in another way after the event.

I’m really looking forward to Jot, and I want to be as helpful as possible to the attendees.

By the way, if you are thinking of attending, please RSVP today. We are giving away free tickets in order to make sure that we set out enough chairs. If you plan on coming, please call 616-957-3110 today and reserve your spot.

Writing for the spike.

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There are probably many approaches to blogging, but there are specifically two with which I struggle.

The first is the steady, themed blog that consistently offers interesting posts that are linked by a common theme. The guys in my writers’ group, The Weaklings, are great examples of this style of blogging. Bob Evenhouse regularly publishes encouraging posts for fellow writers who are shooting for their dreams while still paying the bills. And Andrew Rogers publishes posts from the perspective of a publishing industry insider who also writes.

The second style of blogger is the one who offers quality content that follows no theme, but is usually worth reading. It has no clear audience, so it is probably mostly read by strangers. In case you couldn’t tell. The example for this style is my blog.

The reason that I struggle with these two is because, ideally, I’d like to emulate the first style, but in reality, I just spout off on whatever enters my head. Why do I do this when what I admire is the consistency of message and tone offered by my fellow Weaklings?

'Murica!!!

‘Murica!!!

Perhaps, I’m more of a ‘Murican than I like to admit, because I love the freedom of being able to write whatever I want. And sometimes, writing along a theme can be hard, so it is easier not to worry if my content follows no discernible pattern.

Also, I’m far too motivated by the spikes in traffic offered by my hit-or-miss posts. For instance, thanks to Reddit.com, last week my blog had its best day ever. I wrote about the woman who married the Eiffel tower, put a link on Reddit’s “Today I Learned” page and next thing I know, I topped my previous best day by 2,819 hits.

But will any of the people who visited on that day be back to my blog? Probably not. Why should they come back if I’m so inconsistent about the type of content that I offer? Hmm.

Maybe I should work the fix for this into my goals for the upcoming year. But how do I decide where to focus? What is of the greatest value to you, the reader? I know that I shouldn’t be writing for the spike, but past that, I’m at a bit of a loss.

In case you can’t tell, feedback is very welcome.

Canary in the Coal Mine

canary-in-coal-mineEarlier this week, I listened to an NPR story about how the recently publicized eavesdropping incidents of the NSA have caused writers to self-censor their work for fear of government retribution. The story mentioned that when it comes to freedom, writers are the canaries in the coal mine, the first ones to notice and react when there is a risk of persecution. And so, instead of being able to exercise their right to self-expression, writers are keeping silent on controversial issues.

It was an excellent story, represented equally by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and David Simon, the writer and producer who created the HBO series The Wire. Nafisi told about a writer she knew who has faced harassment over a poem that she wrote jihadis becoming jihadis. Simon argued that “If a quarter of the writers are saying they’re already self-censoring – based on a dynamic in which you’ve seen the government not interpose in any significant way – it disappoints me that writers have not shown the courage of their convictions.”

Anyway, it made me think about the self-censoring that I do in my writing. Though I don’t fear government retribution or harassment over the things I write about on my blog, I do choose not to write about certain topics because I know quite a few of my readers in person.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if the canary in my coal mine isn’t dead, it has surely passed out. Let me justify myself.

The reason I self-censor is out of fear/respect. Fear, because I don’t want people to dislike me because I share something negative about them. Respect, because it isn’t my goal to cast anyone into a negative light.

And so I wonder if my reluctance to write about specific topics is a bad thing or a good thing. How would you feel if you had a message to share but feared the outcome of sharing that message? How would you feel if someone shared something honestly, but it cast you in a negative light?

I am way ahead of the scientists

nsf_logoI was driving to work when I heard a story on Michigan Radio’s “The Environment Report” about how scientists are being encouraged to blog about their scientific studies by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Basically, the NSF is giving more attention to grant proposals that are able to show that their study has a wider social impact, which can be shown through social media.

Marketing manager for the Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Office Melissa Molenda says it’s not easy to turn scientists into social media believers.

“The scientists are inherently introverted people, and were somewhat reluctant to do something so public and so extroverted,” she said.

At this point in the story, I really honed in because she just described most novelists that I know. Even though fiction may be considered to be at that other end of the creative spectrum from science, they unite on the issues of blogging.

Some people see social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) as an avenue to new readership, new collaborations,  and potentially new funding. The story mentioned aquatic ecologist, Matt Herbert, who tried his hand at Twitter (@Etheostomatt) and now has 700 followers.

“I’ve gone to different professional meetings where I will interact with scientists that I’ve never met before, but I know them through Twitter,” Herbert said.

“So I’ve actually met people, I’ve built relationships with people, through Twitter.”

But for every success story, whether for science or fiction, there is the fear of blogging.

Bradley Cardinale is an associate professor in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment. He thinks Twitter is an inefficient way to communicate among scientists, and he says blogs can force unhealthy trade-offs.

“Keeping a blog, for instance, would be a heck of a lot of time on my part,” said Cardinale.

“I could spend two hours a night writing on my blog to communicate my science to a general public, or I could spend two hours a night writing up my science paper so that I summarize my data and tell people what the actual results are in a rigorous way,” he said.

For writers like me, the struggle isn’t between writing for the public vs. writing for our colleagues, it is writing our novel vs. attracting potential readers. The problem is that if we never work on our novel because we spend our time blogging, we won’t have anything to offer to the people who like our writing style and want to hear the stories that we have inside of us.

So there must be a balance. We live a world apart from the days where writers could retreat to nature and write without consideration of things like platforms, online footprints, and marketing plans. Publishers today expect storytellers to be as savvy in self-promotion as they are in sentence structure. Introversion itself must be put aside in order to plan successful book tours and television interviews.

And so, we blog, but we also write in private. We communicate with the masses while writing a book for just one person. And we hope that our efforts will not have been for naught.

If you are a blogger, are you also working on your novel? And if you are a novelist, when is the last time you updated your blog? And if you are neither, what do you expect or want from authors today?