Reaching for a Helping Hand

Helpful Leader
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

I don’t like asking people for help. 

My parents say I’ve been this way since I was a child. I’ve been called “fiercely independent” and I carry this label around like a trophy; I wear it like an “S” on my chest. 

But sometimes, actually oftentimes, two heads are better than one. Sometimes I need help. 

A member See Jane Write recently wrote a blog post on this very topic. In her post she stated: “One of the biggest lessons I learned when it came to goals is that to achieve you have to know when to ask for help.” 

My fellow Jane went on to challenge the other ladies in the group to post their goals on our Facebook group page so that we could help one another realize these dreams. I often write about my goals on my blog and mention them on various social media outlets, but usually for the sake of accountability, not for assistance. 

But that changes today. 

I have a major goal for 2013 and I need help! Next year I would like to take all the steps necessary to make See Jane Write an official non-profit organization. I have such big dreams for this group. I want to offer more programs, a conference, and a writing camp for girls. But to do these things I need money and sponsors, and to get money and sponsors I need my group to be a 501(c)(3). But the very idea of this is so overwhelming it makes my stomach hurt. 

So I’m asking for help.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s your major goal for the next year? Leave it in the comments so I and the other women of See Jane Write can give you a helping hand. And I leave you with this: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. 
Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Cross-posted at The Writeous Babe Project

Finding Your Blog’s Voice

What is “voice” in writing and how is it created? Why is it important to add voice to your writing? (Danny's Symbolic)
Image by Danny Getz via Flickr/Creative Commons 

A few months ago I discovered the virtual blogger meetup known as Blog Brunch.

Blog Brunch is “a collaborative network powered by bloggers wanting to share, dream and learn with other creatives in the blogging community.” Blog Brunch hosts Twitter chats on various blogging topics the first Saturday of each month. 

This month’s chat, held yesterday, was about finding your blog’s voice and couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I strive to do exactly that this month during the #bloglikecrazy challenge

Ironically, even though I participated in the chat because I have so many questions about the future of my blog, during the chat I realized I already had many of the answers I was seeking. 

For example, during the chat I began to think about and shared with others the importance of having a clear vision for your blog. This vision will help you stay focused, can help you develop an editorial calendar and regular features, can keep you from being preoccupied with traffic and page views, and can even help you when trying to select the right guest bloggers for your site. I’m going to work on drafting a mission statement this week. 

But even after you’ve figured out a focus for your blog, you may still have trouble finding your voice. Here are some great tips from other bloggers I picked up yesterday: 

Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Write as if your reader is a pal having coffee with you, one blogger suggested. 

One thing so many of us agreed on was the importance of blogging about your passion. If you’re just writing on a topic simply because it’s popular, it shows. 

If you want to know what’s working and what’s not, just ask. Several bloggers recommend doing reader surveys. And don’t rely simply on comments to gauge if your content is resonating with readers. Pay attention to what they share on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets as well. 

And speaking of readers, it’s important to truly engage them. “I make sure that I end every post with a question or two,” said @alliepal. “I don’t blog to hear myself talk — I’d rather hear from readers.” 

It’s important to engage other bloggers, too. Leave comments on the blogs that you read. Don’t be a “phantom reader” one blogger said. 

If you’re looking for ways to improve your content and writing skills remember good writers are also avid readers. Read other blogs, books, magazines, and more for inspiration. You may want to try free writing workshops too, @mspinkandblue suggests. 

Work on expanding your vocabulary. Not everything can be “AMAZING!” And remember that sites like Grammar Girl are your friends. 

While reading blogs and other online publications can be helpful, if you’ve fallen into a rut you may need to unplug.  “Nothing gets unique content rolling like being away from your computer and living in the real world,” @thecuisinerd said. 

Others agreed and talked about how writing about local events can really boost traffic. I can say that some of my best content and most popular posts were those written after attending inspiring events, such as the post I wrote after attending a panel discussion on the future of journalism

Other traffic tips included using titles that are similar to a Google search, which @stacyandcharlie recommended. And @mspinkandblue offered this great tip regarding post length and SEO: “Shoot for at least 250 words to get Google’s attention.”

That said, be sure not to get too focused on traffic. “Try not looking at your stats or ad sales for a month. See if that changes the way you blog,” said @passionfruitads. Obsessing over numbers, @passionfruitads said, is like “looking in the mirror all night and forgetting to go out and have fun!”

Crossposted at The Writeous Babe Project

How To Blog Every Day For a Year

This month I am striving to publish a meaningful blog post every day for 30 days over at The Writeous Babe Project. I’ve never been able to pull this off in the past so I must admit that I’m a bit nervous, especially since I’m leading this #bloglikecrazy challenge.
But then I look at bloggers like Jen West of The Jen West Quest and I’m reminded that anything is possible.
Jen West blogged every day not just for a month and not just for a season, but for nearly two years!
She started her blog simply as an accountability tool to lose weight.  “I was in desperate need to find motivation and excitement in the process of such a mundane task,” West said.
But in the process of losing weight, West gained an intense love for blogging, which she discussed with me recently and offered great advice for those of us ready to #bloglikecrazy. 

Jen West
Photo by Angela Karen
You blogged every day for over a year. Was this something you set out to do or did it just happen?
When I first started my blog, I committed 100% to blogging every single day until I lost every pound that I wanted to lose.  Four and a half months later when I achieved my goal of losing 47 pounds, I decided that I still loved to write on a daily basis.  I continued on to blog every day for almost 650 days.

How did you manage to do this? How did you find time to blog daily? Did you have a certain time of day in which you would write?

I found that with a daily commitment, writing in the mornings made it much easier to knock out.  My brain is at its best when I first wake up.  Plus, it’s a great feeling to know that you’ve finished it as you go on throughout your day instead of rushing through it later on.  I also gave myself an hour a day to write, edit and post.  Having a time cap made me concentrate better.

Did you ever face writer’s block?

Yes, I faced writer’s block often.  I would have really “on” weeks where I could write with ease, then others I would really struggle with content.  I found that the days I struggled, though, were the days

I had the best posts.  I forced myself to dig deep, because it wasn’t an option to skip.  When I get stuck I ask myself questions like, how am I feeling right now and why? What are my current goals and dreams?

What are my plans?  Where am I in life and what’s in the future? What do I love?  You can always find things to write about when you have passion and are in touch with yourself.

I remember when you decided to stop posting daily you mentioned on your blog that it was actually difficult for you not to post as often. Why was that?

When I stopped writing every day it felt like a big chapter of my life was closing.  I actually still wonder what it would be like if I had continued on.  But here’s the thing: I can always start it back up again.  I will never stop writing in my blog. The daily part was just an exercise in discipline more than anything else.  I write for myself, and I should do it as much as I want to.  I’m at a similar place with exercise in my life, it is no longer about a schedule, but for an experience.

And at the end of our interview West reminded me of something that we can not only apply to blogging but anything meaningful and healthy that we do for ourselves: “You will never regret it once it’s done.  It might be a challenge in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, but damn if you won’t feel good once you’re done. Blogging is a confidence booster, and most importantly a reminder that you are worth the time and effort!”

Build Your Tribe (and Your Resume) With Twitter

Twitter escultura de arena
Photo by Rosaura Ochoa
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

Believe it or not, there are still people who don’t understand the purpose of social media. Some people still think social networking sites are just a high-tech form of teenage gossip and a colossal waste of time. These people couldn’t be more wrong.

For writers, social media could be the key to landing your next freelance gig. For example, the editor for one of the websites I write for found me through LinkedIn. And last year I had the opportunity to write a few articles for my one of my favorite online magazines because of Twitter. I began following one of the site’s editors on Twitter and whenever she would post articles and encouraging words that really resonated with me I would let her know by replying to her tweets and she graciously responded. Then one day I decided to ask her, through Twitter, about writing for her publication. She sent me her email address (which I’d tried finding in the past to no avail) and I sent her a few story pitches. A week later my byline was on the site. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Through Twitter you can not only find writing gigs, but also other writing gals! I have met so many ambitious, creative, and forward-thinking women writers in Birmingham thanks to social media. I was inspired to write this post because of a coffee date I had last week with a new friend who goes by the Twitter handle @see_clair_write. 

We met a few weeks ago at a panel discussion on the future of journalism, but we truly have Twitter to thank for our connection. This event was thrown by people who actually do understand social media, and the organizers encouraged attendees to tweet questions and comments during the talk. Those tweets were projected onto a screen at the front of the room and used to help guide the conversation. Not only did @see_clair_write catch my eye because of her awesome Twitter handle, but I was intrigued by and agreed with her insightful tweets. So I retweeted a few of her posts. Then I saw she retweeted a few of mine. 

When the panel discussion ended I leapt from my chair on a mission: I had to find this @see_clair_write. Evidently, she had the same idea and we walked straight to each other. (This is why you need a photo on your Twitter account, people. If you still have that stupid egg as your avatar please fix that right now. Go on. I’ll wait…)

Clair and I exchanged information and last week sat in Urban Standard coffee house for hours talking about writing and so much more. 

This is surely the beginning of a beautiful friendship and we owe it all to you, Twitter! 

Crossposted at The Writeous Babe Project

A Tribute to Edith Ward and the Birmingham Public Library

Reading Room
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

A copy of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by Harper Lee. Dr. Martin Luther King’s signature on the warden’s docket from his 1963 arrest in Birmingham. A scrapbook compiled by Edith Ward, a Birmingham woman born in 1883.

These are the things I had the pleasure and honor of seeing yesterday afternoon thanks to the Birmingham Public Library.

I am a member of the new Young Professionals Board of the Birmingham Public Library and yesterday during our first meeting we were given a tour of the Central Downtown Library’s Southern History Collection, which includes rare books to which only 10 people in the library have access, and the Archives Department, which preserves documents, photographs and manuscripts on Birmingham and Jefferson County history.

I was so excited I left the library shaking.

Yes, I’m a nerd.

But I have a confession. Even though I was about to faint when I saw Lee’s and King’s signatures I was most amazed by those scrapbooks of Edith Ward. The paper dolls she collected as a child, the letters from boyfriends she received as a teen, and other items like a dance card, clippings of her favorite poems, and playbills from theater performances she attended all offered this slice of life not found in most high school history books. And even though I know that as a black person my life would have been nothing like hers had I been alive in the late 1800s, as a woman it was still fascinating to see how other women of that time lived.

For example, we had the chance to see a restored photo of Edith with her bike. She loved this bike, or her “wheel” as she called it, and wrote about it often in her diaries. For Edith and other young women of that time period their bikes represented freedom. A girl might hop on her bike and ride from the Southside all the way to Bessemer. These bikes were such a big deal that local ministers began preaching against the evils of the bicycle, claiming they had girls going wild.

I could have stayed in the basement of the library all day learning about Edith’s life.

But I left there realizing two things: the importance of city libraries and the importance of documenting your life.

These pieces of history I had the opportunity to see yesterday would be gone, lost forever, if not for the restoration and preservation efforts of libraries. And there would be no pieces of history to preserve if not for the people who took the time to document their lives.

One might think something as simple as keeping a scrapbook is inconsequential and unimportant, but those who think that are wrong. Sharing your life isn’t just about you; it’s about representing your generation for the generations to come. So whether it’s through a scrapbook, a journal, a book, or  a blog — tell your story.

Crossposted at The Writeous Babe Project