30 January 2013

“less is more”: why (and how) writing less might help your blog

"I ♥ My Blog": How Writing Less Might Help Your Blog
Before we get into today's post, I'd like to share just a few updates. First, in a somewhat-challenge-related note, I was recently blessed with the opportunity to guest post at The Writerly Life, the online home of fellow writer Gerry Wilson. I'd love to extend the invitation for you to stop by and check out the post, titled "'What I Really Want': The True Goal of the Writing Life," which explores what I think the ultimate goal of writers might be (hint: it's not--necessarily--publication).

Second, as this challenge ends, another is about to begin! I promised, a while ago, a chapbook challenge; I'm happy to say that this challenge is coming up in February! You can learn more about it here.

Now, let's get back to the "I ♥ My Blog" Challenge!

Today is the last day, and thus last post, of the “I ♥ My Blog” January challenge. This month we’ve looked at everything from creating editorial calendars to falling (or re-falling) in love with our blogs’ designs. Today’s task is a special one for folks who feel pressure to write frequent posts (or those who feel guilty that they don’t write more frequently)!

the what

Here is, in short and simple terms, what I believe about the frequency of blog posts: Less is more. To expand on that thought, fewer posts in a given week means more for you as a writer.

This may seem like a somewhat ironic bit of advice from me. After all, last year my editorial calendar included posts five days a week. But folks who followed Our Lost Jungle from May through the end of 2012 may have noticed that as time passed, post frequency decreased. Especially with some of the challenges I hosted last year, some posts were put on the sidelines, or altogether dropped through certain periods. And in that time I began to realize that maybe less really could mean more when it came to blogging!

the why

Why would writing less be a good thing? For the same reasons that writing more can be a bad thing. Writing more frequently (or, too frequently) is stressful. It’s a constant source of pressure to generate new ideas and new content. It’s also stressful for your readers. Let’s face it: I know I’m not the only blog any reader is checking out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Sometimes it’s hard enough to read and engage with one blog post … imagine if you’re reading twelve blogs and all of them are posting daily! So, simply put, writing less is helpful because it keeps both you and your readers from stressing out!

the how

How might fewer blog posts be a good thing? There are a couple of ways:

1. More TIME. Simply stated, the less you write, the more time you have for other things. If you’re writing a new blog post every day, chances are you’re feeling the time pinch. It’s hard to keep up with a schedule that demands a new post every 24 hours or less!

2. More ENGAGEMENT. Writing fewer blog posts a week means not only more time for you, but also more time for your readers. A new post every day means that readers have 24 initial hours to engage with any given post before a new one demands their attentions. Posting every other day gives readers more leisure in reading, and opens up more possibilities for more meaningful engagement. Posting even less frequently than that only increases the time readers have to engage with any particular post.

3. More QUALITY. Writing too frequently puts a rush on you as a writer to produce a post. The phrase “slow and steady wins the race” doesn’t only apply to a tortoise who wants to out-run a hare. It also applies to your blog. The more time you have to prepare your posts, the better quality you can pour into them.

4. Less PRESSURE. If there’s anything that should decrease with fewer blog posts, it’s the amount of pressure on you as a writer. The reason for this is twofold. First, you won’t have as much pressure to fill a week with new and unique posts. Second, there is also less pressure to fill the year with new and unique posts! Imagine if you poured your heart and soul into daily posts in January, February, March, and April, only to discover you’ve run out of meaningful things to say come May! Writing fewer blog posts helps you fill out the year more smoothly and effectively.

the rest

The fact is, there are many reasons and ways that less can be more when it comes to your blog. Writing less gives you more time to guest post. It gives you more time to promote and engage with others. It lets readers have the chance to share your words more often. It lets you spend more time with your kids or spouse or dog or painting your nails.

Your Turn

Your task for today, and as you go forth from this challenge, is simply to think about how to best spend your time with your blog. How often can, or should, you post to not only engage your readers but also keep your sanity and the love for your blog going strong? How do you see yourself going forward with your blog as this challenge comes to an end? As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

A big “Thank You!” to all who have participated in this month’s challenge! It’s been a pleasure engaging with all of you as we, together, have considered how to keep the love of our blogs going strong in 2013. (I'd love for you, by the way, to share with me how you felt about this challenge, either here or in an email message!) Best wishes to all of you as you continue on from here in the coming month and year. As always …

Happy Writing!


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Join in the "I ♥ My Blog" Challenge Anytime!:

28 January 2013

“where i come from”: exploring the personal on our blogs

Today is the second to last post for the “I ♥ My Blog” challenge. It’s been a full month, with hopefully a lot of helpful information, resources, or (at the very least) food for thought! In this final week of January, our aim is to look forward, and continue to consider how we can shape our blogs and the content we share so that we continue to be in love with them, while at the same time inviting others to fall in love with them! Let’s get started!

"I ♥ My Blog": Exploring the Personal on Our Blogs

“where i come from”

In almost every stage of my life, from elementary school to college to my career, I’ve had people tell me I “have a story for everything.” It’s true. Of all the phrases I use, there’s probably none I use more than, “That reminds me of …” I can’t help it. I come from a family rich in narratives. More than that, I come from a family rich in narrators. My family is full of storytellers, each with similar yet unique styles of telling their own, and shared, stories over generations.

The funny thing is, as much as my family loves to share stories, we are at the same time very private people. You don’t go spreading family seeds in someone else’s garden. It’s sometimes interesting to see how a story will change dependent on the audience. With a stranger present, a story might be told in a matter of minutes … the same story it took a grandfather or great uncle or aunt or parent hours to tell before. And if you try to “urge out the details” in front of the wrong people, suddenly it’s like the story has never been told before: nobody seems to remember who said what, where they were, how it happened, or why. Maybe it’s just hard to spin the yarn on a stranger’s loom.

“sharing is caring”

When it comes to blogging, there’s a fine line between what’s public and what’s private. It’s usually pretty easy for us to know the difference: it’s the same line that exists between what we want to share and what we want to keep to ourselves. When it comes to our readers … the line isn’t so easy to draw. Sometimes readers come out of a curiosity not only for what they need to know (a guide to writing a novel, insights on poetry publication, tips on taking the best photographs, etc.), but also for what they simply want to know: who we are, what we do, how we think, where we’ve been, how we live, etc. Sometimes it feels downright intrusive.

The problem is that blogs are often (though, admittedly, not always) public space. And just like a lofty celebrity on the red carpet, once we’ve graced the public with our appearance, we’ve opened the floodgates for all kinds of inquiries. We start to ask ourselves, “How much is too much?”

“who are you”

Maybe, though, that’s the wrong question. Maybe instead the question for our blogs should be: “How little is too little?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to spill your whole life story into your blog. But when we blog, we put ourselves out there. Even if I label my blog “for me,” unless I’ve blocked the rest of the world from seeing it, it instantly becomes “for us.” The personal elements of our lives become feed for our flocks.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we owe readers every. single. detail. Not at all. Sometimes it’s just letting the reader know, “I’m writing from experience.” Sometimes it’s just saying, “This happened, and I want to share it with you.” But when readers come to our blogs, they come expecting to learn a little bit of who we are, and where we come from.

I didn’t become a writer on my own. I come from a line of storytellers whose bloodlines keep the wells of my pens and pencils overflowing. I didn’t decide to write a poetry and writing blog out of thin air. I had experiences and ideas and thoughts I wanted to share that made it seem like a good idea. I came from somewhere. So did you. Don’t be afraid to let your readers see it … even if it’s only a little bit.

Your Turn

Today’s task is to write a piece in which you explore where you come from. Share a bit of the personal with your readers. For me there’s a difference between the “personal” and the “private.” The personal is the parts of you who make you who you are, the elements you can share with people to give them that better sense of you. The private is the parts of you that are nobody’s business. I’m leaving the line between the two up to you to draw; but once you’ve drawn it, begin to share!

How do you feel about sharing information about yourself, or exploring “where you come from,” on your blog? Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. in the comments below!


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Don't miss out on the January "I ♥ My Blog" Challenge offerings!

25 January 2013

fridays with friends: 10 great articles on blogging

Today’s Fridays with Friends post is all about the art and craft of blogging. Check out these ten great articles, resources, strategies, and tools from other writers to help you as you begin, continue, renegotiate, or revamp your blogging journey!

"I ♥ My Blog": 10 Great Articles on Blogging

Jane Friedman offers a great resource titled “Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers” on her website. Not only does she suggest how to get started, but she lays out some fundamentals for what a blog should include and a checklist for each of your posts! Her guide also includes some more great articles and resources for you, and a free PDF titled “Blogging 101.”

Nina Amir, who offers countless resources on the fine (or messy) art of blogging your book, also offers great blogging advice that would serve bloggers at any stage. Earlier this month, she shared a guide on how to “Create Core Content to Give Your Blog a Strong Internal Fire.” Beyond stressing the importance of that evergreen content that forms the foundation of a blog, Nina explains how these core pieces help to “get the fire going” on your blog.

In April of 2012, Robert Lee Brewer offered a crash course in writer platform building on his My Name Is Not Bob blog. In May, Robert collected all 30 of his challenges to help writers “build and refine writer platforms” into one post titled “How to Build (or Improve) Your Writer Platform in 30 Days.” This is a great challenge to take on as you work on your blog, to establish your blog’s purpose and foundation, and keep that focus going strong over your blog’s lifetime!

In a Copyblogger article titled “8 Strange Rituals of Productive Writers,” Kelton Reid shares how rituals—even unique, quirky, or downright bizarre habits—can help “bring meaning to your writing.” From listening to music to writing in your underwear, Kelton suggests that our rituals can help us to see whatever it is we’re working on in new ways. Establishing a ritual for blogging can be just as helpful as establishing rituals for other forms of writing, whether it’s sharpening your pencils or working in a sealed, hyperbaric chamber (really: that phrase appears in the article).

The “I ♥ My Blog” Challenge has given us all a month to fall in (or, back in) love with our blogs. Darren Rowse of ProBlogger has a much shorter challenge for rediscovering your blogging mojo. In “7 Days to Rediscovering Your Blogging Groove,” Darren provides seven tasks suggesting unique types of posts to write for your blog. Whether you complete them in a week or over an extended period of time, the goal is to have fun and reestablish a connection with your blog!

If a blog falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Maybe this question is a bit bizarre, and it’s not one that’s actually answered in the article, but “Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest,” a 2009 piece published by Douglas Quenqua in The New York Times, does look at why so many blogs seem to fade away like the last lingering memory of a half-forgotten dream. This article is a bit of a warning siren for anyone who may be thinking a blog could be a quick road to “success,” and gives several examples of the pitfalls of both thought and practice we all should avoid as we establish our blogs.

In “8 Things Every Blogging Writer Should Know,” Chris Higgins shares (in a guest post for Writer’s Digest) some helpful insights and tips for meaningful blogging. Besides the familiar recommendation that bloggers invite contributions from readers (e.g. a call to action or invitation to respond), Chris also shares the important reminder that sometimes the people who comment … aren’t going to be the nice people we want commenting. My favorite tip is Tip #6, which points toward finding interesting things in everyday life to keep your blog fed.

“12 Must Have Blog Design Tips for Your Blog” provides tons of helpful advice for tweaking the design of your blog. Whether you want to experiment with new fonts, buttons, or color, these tips will help you combine your work with your play.

Just when you thought there couldn’t be another blogging platform to choose from … Quora went and threw its hat into the ring. In a Venture Beat article which asks the question “Is Quora the next big blogging platform?” Christina Farr looks at how one of the biggest question-and-answer sites is now making a (pretty impressive move) toward the generation of high-quality posts that could make it a great new platform for bloggers.

For those of you still pondering the color question when it comes to your blog, here’s an article titled “Color Combinations For Your Blog Made Easy” that breaks down—in several ways—the color wheel to show how different colors interact, and suggests methods for coming up with effective color schemes for your blog!



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23 January 2013

“the look, the feel, the cotton”: tips on blog design

"I ♥ My Blog": Tips on Blog Design
If you’ve followed Our Lost Jungle over the past year, you know I’ve had some fun playing with the site’s design. I think I’ve finally settled on something I’m very happy with, and can stick with for a long time. But it wasn’t easy. There were other looks that made me happy … but not the eyes of my readers. There were things that seemed like they worked for a while, but after a while just didn’t sit right with me. And this process, long and slow (and sometimes stressful) as it has been, has made me think of the importance of sharing one pointed fact with you about falling—or staying—in love with your blog: The look and the feel of your site matter. What follows is a guide to some things to consider while developing the look, the feel, and what I like to call the “cotton” (get it?) of your blog.

the look

When it comes to the hierarchy of our websites, the general consensus is that content is king. But if the content is king, the look of your site is queen. And just as the saying goes, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” with our blogs the greatest content can be hampered by a faulty design. When it comes to the look of your blog, you want to consider some of the following as you work with your design:

Readability: Making your site readable could mean anything from making sure your fonts aren’t too small for people to read to choosing color palettes that don’t cause too much strain for your readers. One of the biggest problems with my old design was that it featured white text on a black background; it was feedback from a few readers that led me to change both the font and color scheme. The key is finding the look that is both appealing and accessible, for you and the people you hope to reach.

Personality: Just because you want your site to be readable doesn’t mean it has to be completely bland! Who you are can, and should, shine through in the design you implement on your site. It could be your color schemes, or a few fun fonts … Just be sure that when people see your blog, they can see a bit of you in the design choices you’ve made!

Novelty: What new, or fun, or cool, etc. elements can you bring to your site? Novelty with a blog doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something your readers have never seen before. It does mean that you’re keeping your site up to date: updating information, giving them something different to look at (i.e. new blog updates, or sharing news as it comes in, etc.) so that readers don’t get bored with what you have to offer. Novelty, with a blog, is all about keeping things fresh.

“Uniquity”: One problem some blogs face is that the site owner sees something they like elsewhere and copy it … verbatim. It’s the little things that make your site unique. Whether it’s the icons you use for links to social media, the fonts or images you use in blog posts, or a uniquely designed header, you want to make sure your site isn’t just a cookie cut out of everything else that’s out there. Just as with personality, you want to make sure your site is an expression of who you are … not Joe Schmo and the thousand other Joe Schmos who came before!

the feel

If there’s one word you should keep in mind when it comes to the feel of your site, it’s “inviting.” There are a couple features your blog should have to make sure readers both get to know you and feel as though they are really welcome on your site:

About Me: A page that tells your readers who you are and what you’re all about is a must-have. Whether you call it your “About” page or a “Bio,” your readers should have a place where they can learn more about who you are if they want to. (By the way, an “About Me” or “Bio” page could also be the perfect place for your manifesto!)

Contact: Some bloggers like to have a contact page. Others prefer to just have a link to email. However you do it, you should give your readers a way to get in touch with you. Don’t get me wrong here … I know plenty of writers who like privacy, and would rather die than give out their email address (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). “Contact” doesn’t have to mean you share your email, or address, or phone number. Links to your social media pages could do it. There’s also always the option of having a form rather than sharing your email address; a basic web form usually allows you some anonymity so that you and readers can communicate without sharing tons of personal info.

“Call to Action”: A call to action is simply an invitation for readers to do something with what you’ve presented. It's your way of inviting readers to interaction with you. Whether you ask a question at the end of your posts or invite readers to share their thoughts, they should know that a response is okay, and that it’s encouraged! A call to action should be an invitation, not a demand: a “please” or “feel free” is always better than “do this”!

You: Above all else, your readers should feel invited to get to learn more about you, or share in the journey you’ve already begun to share by blogging. How you appear on your blog can vary. Maybe you provide a page of links to your favorite websites. Maybe you have a page listing your publications or where they can find you elsewhere online. Maybe you share your reading list. Again, this isn’t an attempt to get you to “bare all”: you have a right to privacy. But your readers also have a right to feel welcomed by you, and nothing makes that sense of welcome more evident than an evident sense of your presence in and on your site!

the “cotton”

The “cotton” of your site is the stuff that helps you feel at home … It’s the “♥” in the “I ♥ My Blog” challenge. Here’s what I mean: I love to journal, but what really gets me pumped up to actually fill a new journal is designing the cover—as soon as I reach that perfect, “This book is MINE!” state, I can’t wait to start writing! As much as the design and feel of your blog is aimed at your reader, it’s important that you remember: this is your home. At the end of this post, you’ll find some articles to help you create the cotton of your site, including: personalized social media icons, a unique banner, a color palette you enjoy, etc.

I've received a lot of inquiries about the header design, and other graphics, on Our Lost Jungle. If you'd like to hear more about how these were created, please feel free to shoot me a message via the Contact Form, with the subject "Design," and I'll respond as soon as possible!

Your Turn

What are the elements you consider the most important when it comes to the look, the feel, and the “cotton” of your site? What do you still have to work on? Your task today is to think about your blog's design: if you feel you have the look and feel right, how can you improve the "cotton" of your site? Feel free to share your thoughts (and anything I missed!) in the comments below! 


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Check out these helpful articles to help you create the look, feel, and "cotton" of your site:

21 January 2013

"from both sides now": shifting perspectives in your writing

"I ♥ My Blog": Shifting Perspectives in Your Writing
I had a former student email me a question about “self-centered” writing. While working on a creative nonfiction piece, she began to feel that it read as extremely self-focused; further, she felt the continued “I, me, my” address style made it boring and "unrelatable." She wanted to know how to fix it.

“Was there anybody else there?” I asked in my response email.

“Yes, lots of people,” came her reply, “but they aren’t really a part of the story.”

I pride myself on being someone who writes well-explained email responses to student questions, but in this case my response was short, a mere two sentences: “So what? Touch their lives to yours.”

the “I” complex

A common problem that arises with both creative nonfiction writers (whether writing articles, memoirs, essays, etc.) and bloggers is what I call The “I” Complex. It’s the idea that “My piece”—or, “My blog”—“has to be about me.” While it’s true that blogging is very personal, and while many nonfiction pieces are based in the selfhood and perspective of the author, it’s a false perception that these pieces have to be all about you. And when the issue becomes, “I feel like I’m talking too much about myself,” it’s a good indication that you’ve stumbled onto something important: When it’s all about you, it’s not appealing to other people.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe that blogs need to have self-revelatory elements to them. It’s wonderful, and useful, to begin with a personal narrative, or share a personal update. In fact, for writers, it’s desirable; readers want to know what you do in your daily life besides writing. But so much of what we do on our blogs is about making connections, relating to those who are reading what we’ve presented … and you can’t connect if the only person involved is “I” or “me” or “my.”

the touch remedy

Shifting perspectives, in any narrative, is a great way to keep yourself from either becoming or feeling too self-centered in your writing. It also helps you avoid losing reader’s attention because they aren’t included in the narrative or work you’re sharing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be visible in your posts at all … but finding that “touch” moment is important to keep readers engaged and interested!

When teaching both editorial and persuasive writing, I had many students who struggled with the idea their writing was weak. Many of them realized it was because, in their writing or their attempt to persuade, they focused so much on their own opinions, experiences, and thoughts that there wasn’t much room for anybody else’s. One student said in a response to another student’s editorial essay: “It was interesting, but it didn’t persuade me of anything because you just told me personal stories. I couldn’t find my way into it.” Through comments like this, we developed a three-tier writing method to create multiplicity of voices within singular pieces. It’s called “The Touch Remedy,” and it looks a little something like this:

"The Touch Remedy" diagram some students and I created

It’s essentially “a sideways Ven diagram with triangles” (as one student put it, deflating all our egos as we realized it wasn’t quite as unique as we’d thought). It’s a method that can be applied to editorials or blog posts quite nicely. Here’s the breakdown:

“I”: Beginning with a personal story grants the reader access to your life and experiences
“We”: Focusing in on “we” statements shows the reader, “I’m as much a part of this as you are, and vice versa”; when you say, “Something we struggle with,” your reader is able to say, “Yes, I [the reader] struggle with this … isn’t it nice that he/she [the author] struggles with the same thing!”
“You”: Now your reader is prepared for “calls to action,” your claims of what he/she should do with the information you’ve provided.

Sometimes “we” becomes “he,” “she,” or “they.” Sometimes “I” is unspoken, as is “you.” But the foundation remains the same: shifting perspectives within a piece grants readers many access points into whatever it is you’re sharing, whether it’s a personal story, an editorial, an advice column, or something else. (This, by the way, is what we called the “basic” way of doing it. It’s also how I try to write most blog posts. The Touch Remedy can be much more fun, however, when applied to, say, a creative nonfiction piece, or even fiction. Click here for a sample passage from an essay that shows how a piece changes with the Touch Remedy.)

Your Turn

Today’s task is simply to consider how you address your audience. Are you “I”-centric? Could you be too “You”-centric? How can you “shift” the perspective within your posts to create a conversational “touch”? (A secondary task is to experiment with a shifting perspectives piece for your blog: begin with a personal narrative, shift into second/third person, and see how the shifts change the tone and engagement level of your post.) Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!


Want to stay connected? I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Please also sign up for the free email updates from Our Lost Jungle!


Catch up on the Our Lost Jungle "I ♥ My Blog" Challenge:

18 January 2013

fridays with friends 1/18: an interview with luke maguire armstrong

For this Friday with Friends, I’m happy to share an interview with Luke Maguire Armstrong. Luke and I first started talking poetry a few months ago. I was honored to have the opportunity to review his second collection of poems, How We Are Human, right here in the Lost Jungle earlier this month. (Click here to read the review.)

Luke Maguire Armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong (LukeSpartacus.com) was a baby, who became a boy, who became a man. Once he fought a bear and almost died. Haters later claimed it was “only a raccoon” and he was “acting like a little girl.” After college, Luke set out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, making it as far as Guatemala where he spent four years directing the NGO Nuestros Ahijados. He is the author of How We Are Human and iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About. Currently he is headed to Africa, from where he has two adopted Kenyan brothers, in an effort to found an educational charity there.  Follow Luke on Twitter: @LukeSpartacus.

What projects are you currently working on?

I'm writing a non-fiction book of my four years spent working in development in Guatemala and working on publishing novel titled "How One Guitar Will Save The World."

Oftentimes poets consider themselves as having "arrived" at becoming a poet. How long have you considered yourself poet?

This is a tough question. For inexplicable reasons, I still shy away from calling myself a poet. I'm more comfortable with considering myself someone who writes poetry. Which, yes, I realize is a roundabout way of saying the same thing. I guess I don't like the distinction because it's a dividing one. If I'm honest with myself, I maybe feel that either we are all poets or none of us are.

You've said that you write for the "don't read poetry crowd." What would you say defines this crowd, and what makes you poetry appealing to them?

Very few people read poetry. I'd estimate that for every book sold less than 1% is poetry. I don't think there is anything intrinsically unappealing about poetry, but that our educational system does a poor job of presenting it to students when they are young. National newspapers once published poetry. Now they do not. But I think there's a place in everyone's life for poetry.

The feedback I've gotten from many people about my poetry is surprise that there is humor mixed with higher meaning. Some didn't realize you could have both. When it's all said and done, readers will only get through something if it is engaging and enjoyable. It must speak to them, not at them. I'm not writing poetry for other poets, I do it for me and people who I could see myself clinking glasses with. Life, our world, these are all gifts, and poetry is a way of engaging others in a permanent conversation.

What, for you, defines "good" poetry? Is it a matter of accessibility, or something deeper than that?

Good poetry has the power to stop someone in their tracks. When the poem ceases to be what someone else has written and becomes an echo of what the reader already believes to be true, that's art. Accessibility is important, art is made to be shared. I think good poetry has to have an element of sincerity to it. It's the discovery of things we already knew but did not have the words to say.

Which poets do you turn to for inspiration? What inspires you in the poetry of others?

I really like A. R. Ammons. His poem "Play" is what I turn to when I need help answering that recurring question, "Why am I doing this with my life?" Also, I think Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet should be required reading for life. It's only ostensibly about poetry and has everything to do with how to go about living your life in the best way possible.

If you could share a piece of advice for other poets, what would it be?

Share your joy more readily than your gloom. Poetry can be a therapeutic outlet, and more dark days then bright days are spent composing verse. But we have a choice on what to share with the world.  It's okay to share the brightness along with the darkness, but just don't make the mistake of only sharing the gloomier stanzas.

For more from Luke Maguire Armstrong, visit his blog at Travel. Write. Sing.


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Check out these other interviews from Our Lost Jungle:

16 January 2013

“show of hands”: creating content engagement on your blog

I ♥ My Blog: A look at blog content "engagement"
If you’ve been blogging for more than a day, you’ve probably been tempted to look up all the articles out there promising to tell you how to get people to engage with your blog. While all of these articles are great, there are a couple of problems with a lot of them. First, in many cases, the focus is on getting comments. Second, too often some readers are left with the idea that if they do “this thing” today, they’ll get “this many” comments tomorrow.

This post is going to work against these two problems with what hopefully are some new ways to think about, and navigate, creating engaging content for your blog.

"What is 'engagement'?"

"Engagement” can mean a number of things. A very basic definition, however, is simply that engagement is a “consumer” (a reader, visitor, buyer, etc.) performing some kind of action in response to a particular “product” (post, tweet, book, etc.) from a particular “seller” (author, host, crafts person, etc.). So, when it comes to a blog, engagement is simply a visitor doing something in response to a post.

Why is that important? Because many times bloggers mistakenly think that “engagement” always and only means “commenting.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing … Comments are, after all, one of the nicest ways a visitor can respond to what we’ve written. It is, however, a potentially damaging, or discouraging, thing when you consider the landscape in which we’re working. It can be discouraging when you’ve written what you think is a very meaningful piece that gets absolutely no comments. It can be damaging when you think that because your blog posts get no comments, you’ve failed as a writer.

So what constitutes “engagement”? Many things. Engagement can be clicks, page views, a social network follow, reading, retweeting or sharing a post, subscribing, spending more than five minutes on your page, downloading or viewing a free sample, answering a poll question, and, yes, commenting. The point is: It’s ALL engagement … While one form may feel better, it doesn’t mean that the others suggest visitors are any less engaged!

"So then … how do I 'engage' my readers?!"

The answer to this question varies based on how you want your readers to engage. Here are two basic breakdowns of how bloggers tend to have (or want to have) engagement happen:

1. I want people to find/view/read my work
If what you’re aiming for is viewership, engagement is simply making sure you get your content out there. Share your posts on your Facebook wall, on Twitter, or other social media sites. Comment on other sites. Participate in forums. When you engage anywhere, make sure folks have a way to find you. Join a community like Triberr and become part of a tribe; with this site, as you share others’ writing, others will share yours. The point is: The more you share, the more easily people will be able to find you.

2. I want visitors to share/subscribe to/“like”/buy/etc. my work
Here’s the thing … It’s easy to get people to see your work. It’s harder to get people to share it. Why? Because while the degree to which your work gets out there is (more or less) in your control, the way readers engage with it is not! Let’s face it: The most we can really do is encourage … subtly. Including a call to action, having tools that allow readers to like or share a post or page, posting polls … those are (some of) the “subtle nudges” we as writers can use to ease readers into more “direct” responses. But while you can put that button there, you can’t make your readers click it. You can ask them to comment, but you can’t force them. The point is: If you build it, they will come … but they might not always let you know they were in the stands all along.

"I want something better than that!"

Okay, here’s my number one tip for creating content engagement for your blog. Are you ready? Here it is … Rethink what it means to engage.

I mean this as an encouragement. If a post on Monday gets 20 page views and a post on Friday gets 40, guess what? You’ve increased your reader’s engagement. If you’ve gone two months with silence and suddenly someone has given your post a “+1” on Google Plus, guess what? You’ve increased your reader’s engagement. Even if from one day to the next you get the same numbers in terms of clicks or views or visits, YOU ARE ENGAGING YOUR READERS … whether they comment or not.

In the same vein, please, please, please don’t think that because This Great Writer gets 200+ comments per blog post per day it means you’re a failure if you get two comments a month. This Great Writer didn’t get there overnight. It took time. It takes years. Take Jeff Goins as an example. If you look at his latest posts, you might find his 100+ comments per post intimidating. But visit his archives. Some of his first posts? Two comments a piece. Joanna Penn has a blog that’s been voted one of the top 10 blogs for writers three years in a row, with thousands of followers. Some of her first posts? Zero comments. One thing both writers have in common is that their blogs are user friendly. They encourage readers to comment (and respond when readers do). They share their links on social media … and share other resources … and engage with followers and fans. They have multiple ways for readers to engage. And they keep going .. slowly … steadily … writerly.

So keep going. Share a post. Provide a resource. Ask a question. Give a poll. Remember: You must engage to be engaged. And don’t be discouraged … If you build it, they will come.

Your Turn

What are your goals for reader engagement? Does this post change the way you think of engagement, or affirm it … or do you think I’m wrong? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below (or don’t … after all I just said about commenting, I kind of deserve it)!


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Check out some of these top writer blogs, paying attention to how reader engagement changes over time:

14 January 2013

why this matters (even when nobody’s listening): writing a writer’s manifesto

I ♥ My Blog: Writing a Writer's Manifesto
Some time ago I wrote a post titled “Why Do Poets Write? … Seriously?” in which I attempted to navigate a question I’d been asked many times: simply, the question of why poets write poetry, or, more abrasively put, “Why bother writing poetry?” I was surprised, at the time, both by the answer I came up with and by the response to the post. I’d assumed it wasn’t getting much attention because it only got one comment on my blog … But then I checked the link to the post on Facebook, and read my email, and found a bunch of folks who felt the same way. It’s not a particularly artful manifesto, but it told people where I was coming from, and why, and gave some people an outlet to say it, too.

why this [writing thing] matters

A lot of bloggers, memoirists, novelists, poets, and other writer sorts have felt the cold sting of loneliness when it comes to their writing. Nobody leaves comments. Nobody buys their books. Nobody seems to be paying attention. And the question arises, over and over: Why bother?

Why bother writing? Why put myself out there if nobody’s going to comment and I can’t even, in this social media driven age, get a “Like” on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, or +1 on Google Plus? Why pour my blood, sweat, and tears onto my keyboard or notebook if all I get in response to my sobs, my cries, my screams, my proclamations … is silence?

I’ll tell you why: Because you’re wrong.

Someone is listening. Someone is paying attention. Someone needs to hear what you have to say. Someone is waiting for you to write that novel, that poem, that memoir, that paragraph, that sentence, that line, that phrase, that word that resonates inside her and won’t let go. Someone is waiting for your voice to wake up or liberate a voice of his own. Someone, somewhere out there, needs you.

If you don’t have a mantra or a slogan or an affirmation as a writer, let that be it: Someone needs you to do what you’re doing.

why this [manifesto thing] matters

A writer’s statement of purpose is his or her manifesto. It tells the world, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.” It explains why you blog. It reveals how poems burn inside you until you let them out. It details why some of your fictional characters mean more to you than real people. It shares your purpose with a wider world.

But a statement of purpose does something more than that. Beyond being a manifesto, it is also a motivator. It tells that voice inside that doubts whether what you’re doing has meaning, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.” It reminds you why you blog. It rekindles that poetic longing inside you. It reignites the flame of passion you feel toward your characters. It resparks the purpose we often forget when we get discouraged.

manifest yourself

Merriam-Webster defines manifesto as
a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.
Interestingly, it is both a noun and a verb. To manifesto is to issue that declaration of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you believe. Also interesting is the fact that “manifesto” comes from the same Latin root as “manifest.” Something that is manifest is something that is clear or apparent or obvious. To manifest something is to display, reveal, or otherwise make something evident.

It is important for us as writers to manifest ourselves: to make ourselves clear, and reveal to the world who we are. It is important, too, that we manifesto ourselves: to share public declarations of who we are, what we do, why we do it, and how we view it. Why? Because it’s important for the world and our readers to understand where we are coming from. Because that personal touch makes all the difference. Because it is important to remind ourselves of where we are coming from. Because reaching into ourselves and finding or rediscovering the heart of who we are as writers makes all the difference.

Your Turn

Your task this week is to write your manifesto. Who are you? What is it that you are doing? Why are you doing it? What do you believe, deep inside yourself, about what you do? 

I encourage you to share this on your blog or website, perhaps as a post or as part of your “About Me” personal history. You might also consider, to continue the line of wall hangings this challenge has recommended, turning your manifesto into a poster for your writing space. It doesn’t have to be long: it could be a page or a paragraph. Just write it, and share it with the world … and yourself.

Feel free to share your manifesto, or thoughts on a writer’s statement of purpose, in the comments below!


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Check out these helpful articles and resources:

11 January 2013

the new duotrope

The New Duotrope
Anyone who read my review of Duotrope last June knows that I have been a fan of their services for years. As of January 1, 2013, however, Duotrope switched to a subscription service, rather than the free service they offered at the time of that review. Anyone who did not sign up for a subscription (which costs $5/mo or $50/yr) lost access to their submission tracker, statistics, and what was initially described as “most of Duotrope’s awesome features.”

What does that mean?

As it turns out, for nonsubscribers losing access to “most of” Duotrope’s features really means losing access to “pretty much all of” Duotrope’s features. Here’s what you lost if you didn’t sign up for a subscription:
  • Search: You can no longer search for a title by name on Duotrope, or search for market listings based on criteria.
  • Market Listings Index: That full list of thousands of market listings? That’s gone, too.
  • Calendar: If you were hoping to still be able to see the calendar of upcoming themes and deadlines for free, sorry—that’s out, too.
  • Interviews: Unpaid users can no longer see interviews with the editors of the journals to which they might submit.
  • Full Market Listings: These listings included descriptions of the journals, submission requirements, response statistics, and data on other journals users submitted to who submitted or were accepted to a particular market.
  • Submission Tracker: This is a biggie for a lot of writers who used Duotrope in the past. If you didn’t export your data by December 31, 2012, you lost access to any tracking data for outstanding submissions until such time as you sign up for a subscription.
  • Weekly Newsletter: The weekly version of the Duotrope newsletter included a lot of information, including new and updated market listings, listings that recently closed to submissions or were considered defunct, new contests, and more.
So, what does that leave you if you don’t subscribe? The honest answer is: Not much. However, depending on what you used Duotrope for in the past, there could still be some features you find helpful, including:
  • General market listings. If you have a direct link to a market listing (i.e. via a Google search, or a link shared by Duotrope on Twitter), you will still be able to see that market’s listing minus the statistical data.
  • Duotrope’s Twitter feed. Anyone can still see updates on new market listings, calls for submissions, and markets that are re-opened to submissions via Duotrope’s Twitter feed postings.
  • A monthly newsletter. Instead of receiving a weekly newsletter with up-to-date information, nonpaid users can expect a monthly newsletter with the “number of new markets added” (note that it doesn’t say it will tell you the names of new markets), “number of recent openings and closings” (again, apparently no names), and the “number of new submission reports received” (which, frankly, seems a little pointless). The monthly newsletter will also include the names of “three recently added listings.”
Is it worth it?

A lot of writers, following the announcement of the paid-service only Duotrope, have debated whether or not the services are still worth anything, or if it is worth the investment. Here’s a little cost breakdown to give you an idea of just what Duotrope costs:

At $5/month, you’re paying about $0.17 a day (in a 30-day month). For a year, you pay $60 at the monthly rate.

For the yearly $50/year rate, you’re saving about $0.83 a month from the $5 monthly rate, and paying about $0.14 a day (calculated at 365 days per year).

Now, $50/year doesn’t seem like much in the long run, particularly compared to the price of other things we buy every day (i.e. according to the Huffington Post the average American spent approximately $1,000 a year on coffee and $2,000 a year on lunch in 2011, and those numbers went up, not down, in 2012). Even the monthly rate doesn’t seem so bad if you, like I, order takeout at least once a month; $5 for 30 days is nothing compared to the $35 average I spend on a single meal that might last two days.

But then you might compare the fee to what you’d pay for other writerly services, like a subscription to a magazine or a service like Writer’s Market. Using Writer’s Market as an example, here’s the cost difference:

Duotrope: $50/year
Writer’s Market: $39.99/year

Duotrope: $5/month
Writer’s Market: $5.99/month

Duotrope: $30/6 months (at $5/month)
Writer’s Market: $24.99/6 months (flat rate)

Duotrope: 4,589 market listings (total—fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction including contests, publishers, print and online publications, etc.; as of 1/6/2013)
Writer’s Market: over 9,000 market listings (total—fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction including “book publishers, literary agents, online publications, contests, conferences and more”; as of 1/6/2013)

Using this collection of data, it becomes a little bit harder to say whether or not Duotrope is “worth it.” Overall, Duotrope costs more if you go for a yearly subscription, but could be a little less if you only use Duotrope a few months a year. Writer’s Market offers a comparative sample of a market listing on their “Learn More” page; while WM and Duotrope’s market listings are comparable, Duotrope does offer more in terms of stats compared to many other online publication databases (much more compared to sites like Poets & Writers, slightly more compared to sites like Writer's Market). And with a number of free services out there, it becomes even harder ... although it is also worth mentioning that none of the free services themselves offer the total package of Duotrope. The major question writers need to ask themselves is whether or not the cost of Duotrope's subscription is comparable or worthwhile compared to the "cost" of losing Duotrope's services.

What do you think?

For those of you who have used Duotrope in the past or were just introduced to Duotrope, have you paid, or will you pay, for a subscription? If so, why, and which plan did/will you choose? If not, why not? What services have you used, or will you use, if you don’t (or won’t) use Duotrope? Share your thoughts, gripes, praises, and resources in the comments below!


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Check out these other literary journal directories (online, free):

09 January 2013

post-persation: finding inspiration for your blog posts

I ♥ My Blog: Finding Inspiration for Your Blog Posts
One of the biggest pains in the neck when it comes to blogging is maintaining a well-stocked store of post ideas. I’ve spoken to a lot of poetry bloggers who say that once they’ve written on the major poetry-related topics, they feel like they run out of ideas pretty quickly. Other writers, in all genres, fret that their latest great idea has been “done so many times before.” There are two truths you need to know about these concerns.

Truth #1: Both of these concerns are “valid”

As bloggers we are in the precarious position of having to produce worthwhile content regularly. So, naturally, it is a valid concern to think about the nature of the ideas and posts you come up with; it is only logical to be concerned about that constant “What comes next?” question. It’s also logical to say that if you can find twenty other posts about a certain topic, your post might be “less than novel.” The question is, what can you do about it? My simple answer is: Consider Truth #2.

Truth #2: Neither of these concerns are “valid”

How can something be both valid and invalid? Easy. You have valid concerns about your blog and the content you want to share. But just because you raise valid points doesn’t mean they are valid problems! That is, despite the fact that these are logical concerns, they should by no means keep you from generating good content. Let’s face it: a lot of what’s out there has been written, in some form or another, before! That’s no excuse not to say it again with your own “angle.” That’s called, in academia, subject dialogue. You’re joining the conversation and adding your own voice.

What does that mean?

These two truths mean a few things. First, it means that you don’t have to worry about making every post the first post on the topic ever written. Second, it means that when you’re running out of ideas you can use other people and blogs as sources of inspiration. Third, it means that when it comes to generating ideas and inspiration for your blog posts … the doorways are virtually limitless!

Where can I turn?

So, where should you go—which door should you take—to find inspiration for your blog? Here are a few possibilities:

Door #1: Other Bloggers. We all have favorite blogs we turn to for advice, ideas, or just because we like what the blogger has to say. Or maybe you have a blog roll of fellow writers. Take a day, or an afternoon, or an hour, to catch up with your reading. Stop by these blogs and read some of the most recent posts. Whether you leave a comment or not (and I always recommend you at least try to do so), the posts you read are bound to eventually inspire some new thoughts on topics that are important to you. Jot those thoughts down, and use them to inspire your own blog posts later. (Bonus: You can always link back to the posts that inspired you in the first place, to make it even more of a dialogue!)

Door #2: The Birds. Head to Twitter! Hashtags (those words or phrases preceded by a pound sign; i.e. #poetry) are a great way to check the “pulse” of current conversations related to topics you’re interested in. Whether you actively use Twitter or not, you can still follow a conversation to generate ideas.

Door #3: Quora. Quora is a site that describes itself as a place that “connects you to everything you want to know.” But, more than this, it also connects you to everything anybody else wants to know. Through Quora you can find thousands—I mean it, thousands—of questions people want answered about the topics you’re interested in! Simply log in (or create an account), search for a term (in my case, I might just search “Poetry” or “Writing”), and see what questions come up. If you have answers to any of them, guess what? You’ve got a blog post … and it’s something folks out there are actually actively searching for answers to! If you don’t have an answer, guess what? You’ve still got a blog post, only now instead of giving an answer you’re contributing to the unfolding of the question. In either case, you’ve given yourself a door full of doors to potential posts.

Door #4: Your Brain. Seriously. You’re a writer. That, by definition, means your brain is practically overflowing with ideas all the time. What are your passions? What are your questions? Who inspires you? What are you working on? What interesting or funny or miserable but meaningful thing happened to you recently? One thing to keep in mind is that not every post has to be about your primary topic; not all of my posts are about poetry or writing. The key is to find ways to make the puzzle pieces of your life fit what you’re trying to do. And remember, a part of what you’re trying to do, no matter what kind of blog you’re writing, is share your life as a writer, which can (and should) include things you do when you’re not writing.

Door #5: The Past. As I said, rarely is anything that you’ll write on your blog the first time anything like it has been written before. If there’s a topic that you really want to write about, write about it. If a favorite blogger wrote a post on editing manuscripts two years ago, add your voice to the conversation with an updated look at how to edit a manuscript and challenges you face with your own. If a friend wrote a review of a book, and you read it as a result, share your own review. If you wrote a post in the past that could use updating, update it. If you wrote a post in the past that got a major response, see what new direction you can take that topic in and write a sequel!

Your Turn

Your task for today is to think about where you turn when you need new ideas for blog posts, or writing in general. While you're thinking, consider jotting down some ideas for future blog posts and plugging them into your Editorial Calendar. Share your favorite resources or tips in the comments below!


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Keep up with the "I ♥ My Blog" Challenge:

07 January 2013

resolved: creating “resolutions” for your writing life

I ♥ My Blog: Creating Resolutions for Your Writing Life
Those who know me know I tend to steer clear of “New Year Resolutions.” I don’t like the intense amount of pressure they put on people. But one of the things that has occurred to me about resolutions is that they are only negative or harmful if they are not properly developed.

Today’s task is all about creating proper resolutions for your writing life, and figuring out how to maintain your resolve with those resolutions.

Resolutions: defined

According to Dictionary.com, a resolution is:
 “a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group.” 
One thing that strikes me as interesting in this definition is that a resolution demands group effort. So often when we make resolutions, we make them for ourselves. I will lose ten pounds. I will write more. I will do this, that, and the other thing. But a true resolution really demands teamwork. Many people come together to agree upon a course of action.

A second definition of resolution is “the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.” Here, we see that a resolution is more than just something we determine to do; a resolution is also something we are determined to do, or our determination itself. These are majorly significant factors to keep in mind before setting any resolutions. Why? Because without both factors, our resolutions usually won’t work!

Resolutions: resolved

Another interesting thing about the definition of resolution: it is often linked to that term “resolve.” I find this fascinating because resolve is, itself, a word with many implications. You might have resolve (determination, “firmness of purpose”). You might resolve a problem (fix, solve, etc.). Our resolve is both a means and an end; it is how we achieve our goals, and the result of our intent to achieve our goals.

It’s the same difference for me as when I was younger and the dishes needed to be done. Here’s a true confession: I loved doing dishes as a kid. I loved the time to myself and the sense of accomplishment and the surprise it gave my parents when I did them. But then came the time when dishes became “a chore”: My parents made me do the dishes. And suddenly, it was just that … a chore. I no longer wanted to do them; I had to do them. One thing I’m convinced keeps people—and for our purposes, writers—from achieving goals is that we look at them as obligations rather than desires. We say “I have to do this thing” instead of “I want to do this thing, and by golly I’m going to do it!” Maybe nobody should say “by golly” … but you see what I mean. So let us resolve (determine) to resolve (fix) the problem with our resolve (firmness of purpose) … by resolving (determining) not to set false resolutions (I must), but to set true resolves (I am determined).

Resolved: writing

As I said at the beginning of this post, today’s task is not to set resolutions, but to set proper resolutions for our writing lives. There are three steps to this task:
  1. Grab some paper (or your laptop) and a pen (or your fingers).
  2. Write “I am resolved to …” at the top of a fresh page.
  3. Fill in a list of your writing determinations.
Once you have created a list of a few (aim for at least three) determinations for your writing life, put your list where you will see it. Hang it above your writing desk or tape it to your front door so you see it every day. Decorate it; make a poster or a desktop background or screensaver with your new resolutions displayed boldly and proudly. Make it your mantra.

Need some ideas for your “Writing Resolve”? Here are some of mine. I am resolved to …
  • Embrace who I am as a writer
  • Make time for my writing
  • Allow my writing to “not be perfect” … and allow my writing to be perfected over time
These are my big three “resolves” for 2013. I want to accept that I have my own voice, and I have a style; I’m going to work with both to find my place in the writing world. I am determined to set aside “day fragments” for writing: to write during commercial breaks, to skip playing countless games of Farkle in exchange for writing, to jot down ideas on napkins and the inner hems of my clothes, etc. I resolve to allow that no piece is 100% finished as soon as it’s popped out of my head; I will let myself, and others, nitpick and slowly perfect what can be perfected and let be what can’t.

Resolved: strength

Here are some synonyms for you to keep in mind as you resolve to be resolved. To have resolution is to have determination. It is to persevere. It is to be tenacious. It is to have strength. It is your fortitude. You are strong. You are mighty. You are writer. And, just as importantly: you are not alone. We are writers. Together, we are strong and mighty. We stand with you.

Your Turn

What are your writing resolutions or resolves for 2013? What are the problems or obstacles standing in the way of your writing life? What can you do to resolve those problems?

Remember: Resolutions are group efforts. You can live your writing life “untied” (separate, weaker), or live it “united” (together, stronger)! Feel free to share your writing resolves here. Share a post with them on your blog. Let others in on the changes you’re looking to make, and let them (let us!) stand with you.


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