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Category Archives: Writing

Is creativity always this hard?

(www.freedigitalphotos.net)

(www.freedigitalphotos.net)

It’s easy to get sucked into the web. I start out googling some piece of information I want to know more about, move on to another site, and another, and end up hours later with not a whole lot to show for my efforts. Goodness, but there’s a lot of junk out there!

But there’s also some brilliant stuff. Don’t you just love Amazon’s “look inside” function that allows you to pore over book excerpts? Last week I managed to read a few tidbits from several great books, then I found myself reading the authors’ blogs, and I ended up by watching videos they had posted about their work. By then it was time for a coffee break!

Now what?

What I read was interesting and inspiring and exciting, but in some ways, also just a little bit discouraging.

It’s funny that, how other people’s artistry can bring you pleasure and yet dishearten you at the same time. Perhaps it’s how a musician feels when he hears a beautifully-composed piece of music for the first time… appreciating its masterly creation but wishing he could produce something equally meaningful.

But despite the twinges of envy, I can sense God turning over and over in my mind and heart some of the fragments I’ve read. Somehow I know they’re important, and that He wants to use them in my life in some way, and change something in my heart because of them. But what?

These thoughts and senses have been filling my head for weeks. But it’s difficult to understand where God’s going with it all, and what He’s doing.

Slosh, slosh, slosh

When I was little and my mum bought her first frontloading washing machine, I would sit in front of it, watching the water fill up – agonisingly slowly – and the clothes sloshing around and around till all the frothy soapsuds pressing up against the glass door obscured the view.

And that’s how it feels right now. Everything seems mixed up and tumbled together, and the foam so thick I can’t see what’s going on inside. The process feels long and confusing, and I can’t help wondering if it’s going to come to something, or nothing.

I’m hoping – really hoping – that if I keep listening, God is going to end the cycle, pop open the door, and bring out something beautiful and fresh and clean, and that I’ll know exactly what to do with it!

 

How do you make sense of the creative ideas God gives you? What process works for you?

What I’ve learned about blogging so far…

photo 3 - Version 2

Last week on the Facebook page of the Association of Christian Writers there was an interesting discussion about blogging. I’m still a newbie at this, but over the past year, from reading other blogs and working on my own, I’ve learned one or two things.

1)     Knowing your stuff increases hit rates and followers

You don’t have to be famous and successful to increase your hits (though it helps!). Focusing on a subject you know well can also expand your circle of followers. The church communications blogs I follow (primarily for their focus on social media and digital marketing) as well as the food and cookery blogs I read are hosted by ordinary people with a love for their subject.

They aren’t necessarily leaders in their fields but they have knowledge they’re willing to share, and that makes them useful to me. If they consistently post in an easy to read, interesting format, providing valuable content, I’ll gladly subscribe!

2)     A great layout attracts more readers

While it might seem shallow, a good look-and-feel engenders confidence. If it looks professional, it must be professional and the information useful, we reason. (Of course, this doesn’t always apply, but if the content’s no good it won’t take a visitor long to realise.)

While the design of my own blog is not exactly as I would like it to be, WordPress is great for the variety of professional layouts it offers for free, as well as tips and pointers (through its tutorials and emails) on using the tools to make your blog more effective. Checking out great blogs on its ‘Freshly Pressed’ page can also give you fresh inspiration. For a podcast/post on setting up a WordPress blog, look at Michael Hyatt’s ‘How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less’.

3)     Brevity is best

It’s unfortunate but true that if a post is too long, most readers will give up and many will not visit again. Writing for the web is different to other forms of prose. Your visitors have short attention spans, preferring to digest bite-sized thoughts.

I often struggle to keep my word count under 500, apparently the optimum length. But my goal is to learn from those who write concise, punchy pieces. Formatting that uses bullet points, lists and sub-headings makes the information more scan-able.

4)     Put yourself out there (well, not all out there!)

Yes, great content is vital. But if you don’t share something of yourself in the process, your readers will battle to engage with you. References to your own life and experiences help readers identify with you and apply what you’re saying to their situation.

5)   Continuing the conversation

Do you usually end off your post with a question or thought that will motivate readers to comment? Many visitors enjoy talking about their own experiences, so getting them to continue the conversation can encourage others to read and follow your blog too. I find I often learn as much from the comments as from the original post. That’s the beauty of social media.

In another post I’ll share about some of the mistakes I’ve made.

What do you think makes for a great blog? And what makes you follow some blogs over others?

Why bother blogging?

shakespeare

A few weeks ago Swallows on the Stoep celebrated its first birthday! And the clever guys at WordPress, who figure out exactly what all their bloggers are up to, furnished me with a few interesting tidbits in my first annual report.

In the last year:

  • I wrote 23 posts
  • My blog had 1,365 views
  • Visitors came from 36 different countries (though mostly the UK, South Africa and the US)
  • I gained 17 followers – yippee! – people who have subscribed to my blog (a mixture of friends, family, acquaintances and complete strangers!)
  • 58 people came to the blog via Facebook
  • My most-viewed pages were ‘About Me’, followed by ‘A Psalm of Waiting’ and ‘Take the Positivity Challenge’.

These statistics (and others) are useful and interesting because they can help me improve the blog in various, tiny ways that will ultimately hopefully increase my number of followers and commenters… the holy grail of blogging!

But they’re actually much more than that. To me, the stats are evidence of a step of faith in obedience to God.

A Godly nudge

At the beginning of last year I felt God prompting me to set up the blog, but there were lots of reasons not to. I don’t know how, I argued. It’ll take serious time and effort. What will I write about? What if people read it and judge me? And worst, what if no one shows any interest in reading it! To crown it, someone had commented that blogging was now “very passé”.

And yet, there it was. That deep-down nudge of the Holy Spirit prodding me to learn what I could and get stuck in, without knowing where it would lead, if anywhere. Eventually I reasoned that even if no one else found it beneficial or encouraging or even vaguely thought-provoking, it would probably aid me.

It will help me think more deeply and clearly about what’s going on around me and in me. It’ll rejuvenate writing skills going rusty through lack of use. It might connect me to similar, like-minded people ‘out there’. It will bring me pleasure and a sense of achievement, grow my knowledge and teach me new skills.

Learning new stuff

A year on, Swallows on the Stoep has indeed fulfilled all these goals. And yet, in some ways, I’m still at the beginning. In setting it up I’ve made some mistakes I simply have to live with. It also requires constant tweaking and promoting (in addition to the posts), and I haven’t quite got the knack of time management (timely posts) and consistency (regular, once-a-week posts) yet! But I am now expanding my knowledge base to include social networking and other digital media, and I’m growing all the time.

It’s also been an exercise in increasing dependence on my loving heavenly Father, and He has been so faithful. When I ask Him to give me ideas for posts, to develop the thoughts He’s prompting in me, and for the words to say what I should, the posts are always so much better than when I attempt to churn something out with my own ability and wisdom!

Global chit-chat

In my first-ever post I explained the origin of the blog’s name, Swallows on the Stoep, recalling the beautiful little birds that would return each Spring to our stoep (patio) in South Africa, confidentially chattering to one another.

This blog is a place of conversation for me, and it’s a thrill when others take time to engage in the nattering that’s going on in my head and airing on my blog. It’s exciting and encouraging to read the posts of fellow bloggers – particularly Christians – who are having similar chats with themselves. That’s one massive chin-wag going on around the world!

Are you a blogger? What drives you to put fingertips to keyboard? And what encourages you to keep writing?