Blog Challenge Celebration! with Kool & the Gang

Thirty days ago I joined five other bloggers in a September Blog Challenge. Each of us committed to publishing 20 to 30 blog posts (or a goal of our choosing) during the month. Now, over 120 posts later, we can celebrate our success.

Why join or host a blog challenge? For me, I enjoyed getting to know fellow bloggers and their interests. The variety of posts and writing styles gave me a lot of new ideas and inspiration. Blog challenges have a built-in support system and accountability that can keep us blogging when motivation lags. I hope that everyone gained new readers, renewed momentum, and a sense of accomplishment.

Be sure to continue to read and visit The Cross-Cultured Condition, The Frog Lady, Commonplace & Curious, Marianne Kuzujanakis … on how I see, and Jo Freitag’s Sprite’s Site, Gifted Resources Blog, and Personas, profiles and portraits.

Now, let’s celebrate with Kool & the Gang (what were you doing in 1980?)

30 Ideas for Blog Posts (with examples), Part III

Blog web designThis is the last of a three-part series for blog post ideas, with examples from blogs I enjoy. Click here for ideas 1-10 and here for ideas 11-20.

This is also my 19th and penultimate post in the #30PostsHathSept blog challenge (in which I and several other bloggers committed to writing 20-30 posts—or another goal of our choosing—in the month of September). Tomorrow will be Blog Challenge Celebration Day!

21. Crowdsource: Host a blog carnival.

This idea takes a bit of forethought and planning, but it is an excellent way to connect with other bloggers and add variety to your own blog.

A blog article that contains links to other articles covering a specific topic. Most blog carnivals are hosted by a rotating list of frequent contributors to the carnival, and serve to both generate new posts by contributors and highlight new bloggers posting matter in that subject area. ~ Wikipedia

Put out a call to other bloggers to submit their own post links on a specific topic, then list the best (or all of them) in a resource post, or plan a more regular carnival in which you rotate hosting with two or three other bloggers. The best example I know of is Joel Friedlander’s monthly “Carnival of the Indies,” in which he features posts on self-publishing.

22. Give us a sneak peek into your daily schedule.

Regular readers here will know that I am a big fan of Cal Newport’s Study Hacks Blog. This week he wrote about “Deep Habits: Three Recent Daily Plans,” in which he shows and explains three different hand-written daily schedules: “My goal in showing the above examples is to demonstrate the mundane reality of daily planning. It’s not a super secret system, and it can be messy (especially if your handwriting is as bad as mine), but it’s still absurdly effective at insuring that at the end of each week you look back and are proud of what you accomplished.”

23. Describe a recent dream (optional: and write a poem about it).

Mary Krawczyk published a delightful post as part of #30PostsHathSept titled “Dreaming that Steven Tyler is my dentist & other sleep problems,” or, as she described it in a Facebook post, “Bizarre dreams and questionable poetry.” If that’s not enough to lure you to her blog, I don’t know what will.

24. Ask your readers to help you make a tough decision.

Author K. M. Weiland, whose blog about writing is always down-to-earth and informative, recently asked her readers to help her choose the cover for her newest book. This idea works for almost anything: What five pantry-items are must-haves for quick meals? What is the best arrangement for living room furniture? What book should you read next?

25. Write about a moment or day or experience that brought unexpected happiness.

One of the joys of this blog challenge has been following my nephew’s study abroad blog, The Cross-Cultured Condition. His post “Simple Pleasures and a Grander Happiness” is a well-paced and inspiring reflection on how happiness often comes to us in ways and places unexpected: “So I was driving across the bridge over the Saint-Laurent River instead of taking the metro to see one of the greatest musicians of the times, thinking how ironic it was that I was thousands of miles from home and obligations to Tae Kwon Do was still keeping me from doing things. It’s seriously been the story of my life since I was nine.”

26. Blog about national/international ____ month/day/week.

Consult lists of commemorative months, weeks, and days to find one that interests you, and share your experience or resources. For inspiration, see the post “Connected Educator Month October 2015” at the Gifted Resources Blog (by #30PostsHathSept blogger Jo Freitag).

27. Weave together prose, photos, videos and poetry.

In honor of Sunday’s super blood moon, Marianne Kuzujanakis (another #30PostsHathSept participant) wrote “Shadowed Moon,” which synthesizes information, original photography, entertaining video, and haiku. These kinds of posts are ones that readers will find and return to long after the event that inspired them is over.

28. Be a food blogger, if only for a day.

The next time you make a favorite dish, start a little early and take notes and photos along the way, then share your recipe in a step-by-step blog post. For examples, see the recipe for “Perfect Potato Salad” from At Yvonne’s Table and “Chocolate Cake” from one of my favorite food sites, Cooking for Engineers.

29. Provide an update on a previous post

#30PostsHathSept blogger Allyse (aka The Frog Lady) offers a good example of this idea in her “Table Centerpiece Display Terrarium Update.” She uses photos to tell most of the story of how her DIY Terrarium progressed from idea to finished centerpiece.

30. Write about what you are thinking about right now.

Writer, professor, and friend Katherine Wikoff regularly blogs about photos from her daily life that catch her eye, such as her recent “Glorious September Sun and Clouds.” She muses on whether anyone else finds it interesting, and concludes, “this is my blog and these are the things I’m thinking about right now.” If you want to write a post but are stuck because you are thinking too much about whether anyone will want to read it, write the post for yourself, to make a record of your time this day on Earth. You need no other reason.

What are some of your favorite ideas for blog posts? Share them in the comments!

8 Takeaways from the 2015 Publishing Institute

Yesterday I spent a glorious early fall day in the company of writers, writing teachers, editors, and agents at Mount Mary University’s Publishing Institute, a day devoted to getting our writing published (and all the steps along the way). Below are 8 takeaways I brought home with me.

1. Writers (and people in general) can still be attentive and focused.

After arriving early and taking advantage of the breakfast offerings, I found a good people-watching seat in the large room where the keynote address would be held. Before long, I noticed something that, while unremarkable only a few years ago, is unusual in our world today. Hardly anyone was bent over a phone or tablet.

Several attendees were leafing through the conference information packets. Others, like me, were looking around the room. Some sat in pairs, eyes focused on each other, either catching up or getting to know each other. A few (probably parents of small children) basked in rare moments of solitude, eyes unfocused, slowly sipping coffee.

In the sessions I attended and at our lunch table, I saw no one checking email or even taking notes electronically. (I’m sure some people did use electronics, but it wasn’t obvious or prevalent.)

The fact that the experience felt unusual—in a delightful way—shows how much face-to-face interactions have changed in the past decade. It also hints at the positive aspect of peer pressure. Anyone hunched over a device would have seemed out-of-place (not that was every tempted—ha).

2. Writers—all creatives—need their tribe.

Whatever our creative passion, we all need someone (or a few someones) who will share our excitement and offer unconditional support for our dreams. Here is the sticky and perhaps unexpected part: That someone may not be your otherwise close friends or family. For more on this topic, read Leanne Regalla’s “Become A Successful Writer Despite Your Friends And Family” and Julianna Baggott’s “The Rule and 12 Tips for Writers and Their Family and Their Friends…

The afternoon session I attended by Kim Suhr, author and director of Red Oak Writing, was titled “Stoking the Fire: Getting and Staying Inspired.” She began by asking us to think about a current writing project and to imagine that it is completed. We have met our biggest goal. It is successful exactly in the way we want it to be. What does it look like? How do we feel? We did some free writing on this, then shared our thoughts with a partner.

My partner and I were hesitant to go as far as we could have with the exercise (vulnerability is scary, after all), but even the small steps we took were empowering. Which brings me to the next point…

3. Your voice and stories matter.

This and the next few takeaways come from the morning keynote talk by author Dean Bakopoulos. He began by talking about the importance of teaching children—all children—that their voices matter. Their stories matter.

We may find it easier to give this message to young people than to apply it to ourselves. Our voices do matter. Our words. Our stories. Regardless of how many readers or followers or fans we have, our backgrounds or education. When we embrace that belief, so much else falls into place.

4. Read other voices and stories to enrich your own.

Being part of a writing community means that, ideally, we read as much as we write. Bakopoulos focused on other writers in his talk (a refreshing change from speakers who use only their own examples), especially Z Z Packer’s short story “Brownies” and Lorrie Moore’s “Dance in America.” I look forward to reading more of their works. You can read online Z Z Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” and Moore’s “Referential,” both of which were published in The New Yorker.

He also referenced one of my favorite short stories, James Joyce’s “Araby.”

5. Think “momentum” rather than “pyramid” for plot.

Momentum is the key to getting published.” ~ Dean BakopoulosTweet This

Many of us are familiar with the standard rising and falling action of the pyramid writing structure:


The problem, according to Dean Bakopoulos, is that good stories (both fiction and non-fiction) don’t always follow this pattern. Instead, he suggests thinking of plot as an escalator.

Photo credit at end of post
Photo credit at end of post

At the beginning of your story (again, whether fiction or non-fiction), your protagonist steps onto an escalator. The movement has started, the character knows something previously unknown, and there is no going back. The rising action continues, but the protagonist does not know what is at the other end. At some point, the action changes “from passivity to activity” as the protagonist pushes back what is in the way to go forward with greater urgency, arriving at the top with in a “new place” and a “new vantage point.”

Bakopoulos’s explanation was of course much more detailed, but that’s the main idea.

6. Find inspiration in children’s books.

An example Dean Bakopoulos used to illustrate the idea of momentum and escalator plot structure is Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Listen to Carle read his classic picture book, and notice how the action begins, how there seems to be no going back, and how the end offers a new place, a new vantage point:

Indulge in some of your favorite children’s books with a writer’s eye and pay attention to the plot structure. How can you use the same techniques in your own writing?

7. Writers span generations.

This year’s Writing Institute participants included the young (at least one seventh-grader), young adults, middle-aged writers, seniors, and everything in between. When we talk about words and writing, age differences disappear. It’s as though we all are in the same class on the first day of school.

Writing, like so many other creative arts, rewards age and experience. While there are examples of outstanding novels and other works by young writers, it is hard to think of a writing prodigy as Mozart was a musical prodigy. Writing is a domain that is not only open to all ages, but that rewards wisdom gained from a rich life. It truly is never too late to begin.

8. Writers need to say “no.”

Finally, Kim Suhr reminded us that it is not only okay but often necessary to say “no” to volunteer and other requests that we don’t want to do and that make it harder to meet our writing goals. If you have set aside Saturday mornings for writing, keep that time as sacred as if it were a salaried job. After all, as Kim said, saying “I can’t; I’m working” is perfectly acceptable. Writing is your work. Period.

Practice saying, “I am not available Saturday mornings” or “Any time but Saturday morning would be great” or “All of my Saturday morning are already taken.” Do not feel guilty (you will, anyway, but do your best).

If you wait for others to give you permission to value your writing and creative life, the wait may be too long and the price too high.

This post is part of the #30PostsHathSept Blog Challenge. Escalator photo by Stig Nygaard from Copenhagen, Denmark (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Baffling Squirrels: Squirrels 2, Lisa 0

This morning I am leaving soon to attend Mount Mary University’s Publishing Institute, where I very much look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I’ll be sure to write about the event tomorrow. In the meantime, here is an update in our quest to baffle squirrels away from a new bird feeder.

It took only three days for the squirrels to figure out how to get above the baffle (we haven’t seen them do it yet, but I have my theories). Next step: buy a taller shepherd hook. To be continued…

Hip-Hop Friday: Lose Yourself in the Music

Hip-Hop-FridayI had so much fun with the Hip-Hop Friday post a couple of weeks ago that I’ve decided to make it a regular series. Maybe not every Friday, but at least every once in awhile, when the spirit moves me. Think of it as hip-hop for people who think they don’t like hip-hop. Or maybe hip-hop for parents (and others).

Let’s get started (explanation follows):

 Shelby Mitchusson: Eminem’s Lose Yourself (ASL)

This week’s video is a bit unusual in that the music is a classic hip-hop song by Eminem—”Lose Yourself,” which won the Academy Award in 2003 for Best Original Song (written for the movie 8 Mile)but the performance is by someone else altogether. Sign language interpreter Shelby Mitchusson made the video as part of an application to interpret at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2014. After watching the video, you won’t be surprised to know that she got the job or that the video has over 4 million views at this point.

One of the things I love about her performance, in addition to her energy, expressiveness, and spot-on synchronization, is her authenticity. She wasn’t trying to go viral. She was just doing her job. She thanked her many fans in a Facebook post by writing, “It truly means a lot to me [because] this song hits home to my heart in so many ways and I hope that my passion and love are expressed through my work.”

Below you can watch Eminem’s Grammy Awards performance of the song. “Lose Yourself” went on to win Grammys for both Best Male Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Song. All of us can identify in some way with the lyrics: What if this is the only opportunity we’ve got?

Eminem & Proof (with The Roots) – Lose Yourself (Grammy Awards, 2003)

Only five days left in the #30PostsHathSept Blog Challenge!