Oo, Shiny: How to Make Your Writing Shine

Make Writing Shine

This book first appeared on the InScribe pro blog on May 4, 2017.

Like most writers, I want my work to shine. I’m not particularly interested in awards or acclaim, but I do want it to be the best it can be.

And now for the disclaimer . . .

I want the first draft to burst forth sparkling like a perfectly cut diamond.

I know. I know. Not going to happen!

So what can we writers do to make sure that at least some of what glitters truly is gold?

FOCUS

Speaking of “oo, shiny”—I am easily distracted. How about you? While I am eclectically interested and eclectically involved, there comes a time to reign in those wandering thoughts and firmly affix the blinders.

No matter how many projects we have on the go, we can only work on one at any given moment. It will take a long time to get anything done if we don’t learn to ignore the distractions and focus on the work at hand.

FANTASIZE

Part of focusing is actually allowing our mind to wander within established parameters. These parameters must be narrow enough that we’re not thinking about what to have for dinner when we’re plotting our novel or outlining our nonfiction book. But they must be expansive enough to allow our creativity to take us places we never imagined going.

FORMULATE

Plotters and pantsers alike (I am definitely the latter) must formulate a plan. While a plotter may know every twist and turn before they write “Chapter One,” even a pantser has to have a rough idea where they’re going.

And whether you formulate a plan for a specific writing project or simply set aside time for writing in your schedule, don’t neglect this important step. (Talking to myself here. Feel free to listen in.)

FACILITATE

We have to make time to write. We have to arrange our lives in such a way that putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard isn’t always at the bottom of our list of priorities.

Not only must we make writing a priority, but we must also arrange our schedule in such a way that we have time to revise and rework our piece. This is the only way it will shine.

This leads to the last step . . .

FIX

Since our writing doesn’t burst forth brilliant and dazzling, we must fix it—sometimes over and over and over again.

We must do the best we can to make it shine, then enlist the help of others: beta readers, editors, proofreaders.

That vein of gold or hunk of transformed carbon bears little resemblance to the treasure it can become.

Are you willing to do the backbreaking work it takes to remove the treasure from the rock?

Are you willing to spend countless hours chipping away at the impurities and subjecting the raw material to almost unbearable temperatures?

Are you willing to polish until every visible smudge is removed?

Are you willing to ask for help once you’ve done all you can do?

If so, you will have a piece that dazzles.

Oo . . . shiny indeed!

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Lessons Learned from the Great Declutter of 2017

Nostalgia

Who knew joining Kathi Lipp’s clutter free challenge would impact more than the condition of my house?

As I rid my home of excess stuff—and believe me, there’s lots of it—the most amazing changes are taking place inside of me.

So what principles am I learning that will impact my writing and writing-related projects?

Narrow Your Focus

In the past, I have tried to get my household in order. I would tidy and clean a room only to become overwhelmed by all that remained to be done and would give up.

This time it’s different. The challenge is to toss or re-home a mere 10 items per day. I rarely stop at 10, but once that’s done, I gain a sense of accomplishment and can go on with my other responsibilities.

I’m learning to approach my writing and editing projects in the same way. I add fewer things to my daily schedule and choose one or two main projects for the week.

This has helped me gain a greater sense of accomplishment and you may find it does the same for you.

Ignore the Clock

My hubby and I have been married for almost 35 years. It has taken even longer than that to accumulate all the stuff in our home. I have to give myself a break when it comes to the process of decluttering.

And speaking of time …

It may be a throwback to those old ticking clocks that reminded us just how quickly time was passing. But even without that constant reminder, I find myself checking the time in the corner of my computer screen.

Even though I’ve pared down my To Do list, regularly checking the time reminds me that I’m not going to get everything done that I would like to on any given day.

I find, however, if I focus on the project rather than the clock, I have a much greater sense of accomplishment.

What about you? Does the clock motivate or discourage you?

Rejoice in Small Victories

With each box of books I take to the library, each bag of items I drop off at the thrift store, each bag I put at the curb on trash day, I feel lighter. The same is true of every cleared surface and every emptied corner.

I’ve learned to be satisfied with even those 10 items dealt with rather than focussing on the thousands I haven’t gotten to as of yet.

Do you want to write a series of books? Do you want to win Camp NaNoWriMo? Do you want to publish an ebook?

No matter what writing dreams you have, it all starts with that first chapter, that first paragraph, that first sentence.

And when you get it written, smile, rejoice in your accomplishment, and then get back at it.

To ensure that you stick with it until your project is done, schedule it into your planner—in pen.

Don’t Become Overwhelmed

I look to my left and see one of my catch-all rooms. I look to my right and see the laundry room bulging with items we rarely, if ever, even look at.

But do you know something?

They’re a little tidier than when I start this challenge.

If I considered how much I’ve still got to deal with, I could easily become overwhelmed.

When it comes to anything, including our writing, refusing to become overwhelmed ties in with rejoicing in the small victories. It also ties in with our focus.

When you can, focus on one project at a time.

If that isn’t possible, at least zero in on what you’re doing at any given moment. Devote yourself to it wholeheartedly. Fight the urge to think of all the things you’re not doing.

Stick with It

The current clutter free challenge ends with the close of Lent. However, I have promised myself that I will continue to get rid of at least 10 items per day until our home is the way we want it.

I have many writing and writing-related goals for the years to come.

The only way to achieve these goals is to stick with it for the long haul.

What goals do you have? What can you do today to achieve those goals? How can you ensure that you will persevere until you reach them?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

A 1 Corinthians 13 Approach to Writing

Banner with Give Love

This post first appeared on http://inscribewritersonline.blogspot.ca/ on February 3, 2017.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV).

Patience

If anyone knows the importance of patience, it’s the writer. We must be patient with others, with ourselves, and with the process itself.

Kindness

Kindness goes hand-in-hand with patience. Being kind to fellow writers, writing-related professionals, and readers is crucial. But we must remember to be kind to ourselves as well.

Envy

Do you feel yourself getting fidgety? Who among us can’t think of other writers we’re envious of? Rather than letting envy take root, we can look to these writers for inspiration and motivation. If we’re deliberate in our efforts, it will become easier.

Boasting

There’s a difference between boasting and effective marketing. It has to do with focus. Boasting draws attention to the writer. Effective marketing considers how a writer can pour into the lives of their readers.

Arrogance

Just as there is a difference between boasting and effective marketing, there is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence says, “I have something important to say and the skills to communicate effectively.” Arrogance says, “I am a more capable communicator than so and so.”

Rudeness

Rudeness and arrogance speak the same language. (Just an aside … we can disagree with someone and communicate our perspective without being rude—and without compromising our integrity. This takes great skill and much practice.)

Insistence

Writers must resist the temptation to develop a “my way or the highway” attitude. After all, there’s always more to learn.

Irritability

One need only glance at their Facebook newsfeed to become irritated. The temptation is to react with our words rather than respond. In most cases, this will only inflame the situation. A thoughtful, prayerful response will usually go a lot further in getting our point across.

Resentfulness

Again, the focus of resentfulness is self. Instead of exhorting and encouraging, words written from a place of resentment will likely discourage and dishearten.

Rejoicing in Wrongdoing

Life and writing are full of tension. One of the challenges facing writers is how to maintain authenticity and honesty in the darkest times while not glorifying the darkness.

Rejoicing with the Truth

As writers we can celebrate truth whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction. As we make that truth accessible to our readers, we have achieved something important.

Bearing All Things

Laundry. Dishes. Vacuuming. Illness. Heartache. Depression. Whether it’s the day-to-day or those unexpected realities of life that we don’t see coming, as writers, we must bear what comes our way—and keep on writing. In fact, these are often the things that fuel and enrich our words.

Believing All Things

If God has called us to write, we must trust that He will guide our steps—when the path ahead is well-lit and clearly marked and when we lose sight of it because it is hidden in shadows.

Hoping All Things

Writers are familiar with hope. We hope that we’ll be able to craft something worth reading. We hope that someone will be blessed/challenged/entertained by our words. We hope that the wellspring of ideas won’t run dry.

Enduring All Things

From heartbreaking criticism to five-star reviews. From flying high to plummeting to Earth. From plain old hard work to free-flowing streams of creativity. Writing and endurance go hand in hand.

Persistence

There is always more to read, more to learn, and more to write. May we all continue to press on.

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

My Theme for 2017: Less

ces-jan-2017-graphic

This post first appeared December 30, 2016 on Janet Sketchley’s blog, “Tenacity.”

Having read Kevin DeYoung’s newest book, Crazy Busy, I came face to face with what I already knew: I spend far too much time doing things that don’t actually propel me toward my goals.

My word of the year for 2016 was more, as in more time spent writing and editing, more time spent in prayer and Bible study, more time seeking the Lord with my hubby and our daughter. My lack of success in these areas could be because I wasn’t focussed on the flipside of the coin.

If we’re going to achieve more, something has to give. We have to do less of something else.

So how does this apply to writing?

We must refuse to fritter away our discretionary time.

“Discretionary time? What discretionary time?” you may ask.

But let’s be honest. Do we watch even half an hour of TV most days? Do we spend far too much time on Facebook and the other social networks? Do we spend hours each week waiting on our children—at sports practice, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities?

You don’t need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to write a book—and certainly not a blog post or an article. There was one author I heard about who wrote an entire book in 20-minute increments during his lunch break. Amazing!

DO THIS: Take a look at your schedule and see where you can “steal” 20 minutes here, an hour there.

We must learn to say no.

Many—if not most—of us are not only busy, but we keep taking on more and more responsibilities. If you’re like me, you don’t want to miss any opportunity that comes along. Thankfully, I’m learning to say no; I’m learning to focus on what’s already on my plate; I’m learning to take on less.

Lysa TerKeurst wrote a book called The Best Yes. It’s about analyzing why we say yes when we are already overtaxed and really shouldn’t be taking on anything more. The book also addresses the importance of saying no or not now so we will be free to say yes when God brings a specific opportunity across our path.

If we feel God has called us to write, we must free up dozens—if not hundreds—of hours. We may find some time by restructuring our discretionary time, but very likely we’ll have to make even more significant changes.

DO THIS: Prayerfully examine your To Do list and choose one or more time-consuming items you are willing to eliminate in order to have more time to write.

We must spend less time making excuses.

There are legitimate reasons we don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but excuses often outnumber these reasons.

That voice in our head that says …

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said—far better than you could ever express it.”

“Writing is a selfish endeavour. Think of your family and friends.”

“You may squeak out the time to write, but you don’t have the time to hone your skills.”

“And you certainly don’t have the funds needed to get your work published.”

“God didn’t really call you to write. You’re delusional.”

DO THIS: Identify the #1 obstacle that keeps you from writing and create a game plan to crush it. The first step is often to simply pick up that pen or open that Word doc and get writing.

And what will I be doing over the next weeks and months? Hopefully, taking my own advice.

What are your writing plans for 2017?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

A Precious Legacy

womenHow do you write during life’s challenging times? The following is what I shared at my mother-in-law’s funeral (and also on the HopeStreamRadio podcast). Next time I’ll share some specifics about writing memoir-type pieces such as this.

On Friday, November 11, 2016, we celebrated by mother-in-law’s home-going. She had gone to be with the Lord the previous Tuesday while her granddaughter read to her from the Bible.

Although Dave’s mom could no longer speak, she could make her wishes understood. She wanted us to read from God’s Word, pray, and give her frequent hugs. What a precious way to exit this world and enter eternity!

These memories will be with me for years to come—as will the legacy she left behind.

What did I learn from my mother-in-law over the years?

You don’t have to wait until it’s official to welcome someone into your family.

Among many other things, “love is patient and kind,” as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:4.

I remember the first Christmas Dave and I were together, December 1981. Dave’s mom knit me the first of many sweaters and welcomed me into her home and into her heart. I knew then, seven and a half months before I officially became a Nickel, that I was already one of the family.

It’s an expression of love to step outside your comfort zone for the sake of others.

Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Although Dad and Mom traveled extensively, Mom wasn’t comfortable in the big city. I could tell this the first time they came to take Dave and me out to supper. We were both attending Ontario Bible College, now Tyndale, in Willowdale. I can still remember the two of them in the doorway of the school. They looked uncomfortable, but still, they were there to reach out in love—something they both did countless times over the years.

Little expressions of love make a lasting impact.

First Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Many years later, a simple act of kindness was destined to make a lasting impression on me. After Dad suffered his first aneurysm, Mom stepped up and cared for him in many areas he hadn’t previously needed help. By removing his shoes and socks and placing his slippers on his feet, I clearly saw her loving, selfless servant’s heart and I was challenged to love in even the most seemingly menial of ways.

Being appreciative is a lovely way to live.

The apostle Paul often gave thanks for his brothers and sisters in Christ. In Ephesians 1:16, it says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

I have to thank my sister-in-law and her husband for taking care of Mom’s needs for the last number of years. They were there for her and it didn’t go unnoticed. Although Dave and I only live 40 minutes away, too many months went by between visits. Still, Mom was always happy to see us and let us know how much our visits meant to her. She was such a gracious lady.

It’s people that matter—not things.

In Matthew 6:20, we are instructed to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

It blew me away to learn what Mom said the last time Mavis took her through the house she had lived in for years. Mom was getting ready to put it on the market and we wanted to make sure she had everything she wanted before her belongings were packed up and given to those who wanted them. Mom said that there was no longer anything for her in the house. Oh to hold onto material possessions with such a light grip!

The only things she wanted in the nursing home were her knitting supplies, some of her books, and pictures of family and friends. It was those photographs that surrounded her at the care centre, pictures of those she loved and prayed for faithfully.

Deep, genuine faith can be quiet and strong.

Colossians 2:6-7 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

While those who knew my mother-in-law would not have referred to her as pushy or preachy, it didn’t take long to learn that her faith was genuine and deep. Her response when I read to her from the book of Psalms and her folded hands asking us to pray with her when her words could no longer do so were proof of that.

Mom prayed for family, friends, her church family, and many others around the globe. She knew her Bible and through hand gestures, indicated what passages she wanted read to her, showing just how well she knew the Scriptures.

This dear lady has left a legacy for us—and I pray that many of us will learn the lessons her life exemplified so clearly.

Have you lost someone close to you? How do you remember them? What legacy did they leave?

How do you want to be remembered? Are you living in such a way as to make it a reality? What changes are you willing to make to ensure that you will be remembered for your deep faith and selfless love?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

3 Challenges of the Christian Book Lover

challenge team

This post first appeared on Janet Sketchley’s blog, Tenacity, on September 30, 2016.

Giving a Kind Critique

Have you ever been asked to critique someone’s writing or been approached to be a beta reader? (A beta reader is given an author’s unpublished manuscript for review.)

Anyone who writes knows how hard it is to allow others not only to read the words they’ve spent hours—sometimes even months or years—grueling over but also to ask readers for feedback, both what they liked and what they didn’t.

As believers, we want to be kind and encouraging. We want to build up rather than tear down. These are godly responses, but we must also seek to be honest.

How can you and I express our opinion in a way that is both honest and encouraging?

Here are three suggestions:

Before you start to read, ask what the writer is looking for in particular. Don’t give them a list of grammatical errors if they primarily want to know if the characters are believable and the storyline plausible for example.

Remember to list what you liked as well as what you didn’t. Some people use the 2-1 rule: list two positives for every negative. Others simply list the things they enjoyed first and then those they feel could be improved.

Even if you’re an editor, a critique is not the same as an edit. Try to approach the work as a typical reader rather than a professional, although there will, of course, be an overlap. It’s hard to switch off the editor brain even when reading for pleasure.

Leaving a Realistic Review

If we’ve been asked to leave a review—or simply if we choose to do so, it can be challenging if we didn’t particularly like the book.

We may not want to hurt the author’s feelings—or their sales—especially if we know them personally.

While we want to be kind to the author, we must also keep in mind those who may choose to read a book based upon our review.

Here are three suggestions:

Deliberately look for something positive to include in your review, especially if you can’t honestly give it four or five stars. Point out what you enjoyed—or what other readers might enjoy—before listing those things you didn’t like.

It’s best to leave a brief review. Even so, take the time to craft it well and read it over a few times before posting.

And when it comes to reviewing books by authors you know, you may not want agree to do so if you think your review may affect their sales and / or your relationship with them.

Selfless Self-Promotion

Whether we write, edit or proofread, we may have to promote our work. As Christians, we may find this difficult to do. After all, humility is a godly trait. However, humility doesn’t mean denying the gifts and abilities the Lord has enabled us to develop.

I once heard of an author who said if he didn’t believe his book would be valuable to his reader and worth their financial investment, he had no business writing it. What a great perspective!

The same is true of any creative or professional endeavour we are involved in. And if it has value to others, it makes sense to make them aware of it.

How can we do so without coercing others or allowing pride to motivate us?

Here are three suggestions:

Truly consider how others will benefit. Keep them in mind when developing a marketing strategy and promoting your product or service.

Be generous. Many creatives, even those who aren’t believers, give away bonus material that is of significant value. They may offer their first book free. They may record podcasts or webinars that are more than simply promotional tools. Follow their example and seek to bless your readers or clients.

Although this may sound overly “spiritual,” believers ought to pray about this, as they should about all areas of life. God will show you how to engage in selfless self-promotion if you ask.

Will you accept these challenges? What could you add to these lists?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

The Extrovert Writer’s Survival Guide

connectivity

Are you one of the rare breed, the extrovert writer?

Yes?

Welcome to the club, the exclusive club.

Creatives are considered a strange lot by the world at large. And creatives who are extroverts are considered stranger still.

So how do we get anything done when we’re (sigh) alone in our office staring at a blank computer screen or gleaming white piece of paper?

The following suggestions may or may not get your fingers flying, but they are likely to help the extrovert survive the isolation of the writer’s life.

YouTube

Listen to songs like Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin’” on repeat and develop your chair dancing skills.

Listening to motivating music and getting the blood pumping can energize anyone’s writing (providing they don’t find it too distracting), but for extroverts, it’s nice to have the company.

And speaking of virtual company . . .

Podcasts

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of podcasts in cyberspace of interest to writers. There is so much to learn and all this free information from experienced authors is great—if we apply it and don’t simply spend hours “hanging out” with our new friends.

We may want to limit ourselves to one podcast per day. <averts eyes and hums>

Facebook (and Other Social Media)

Facebook has made it easy to make hundreds of “friends.” But do we really need to read dozens of posts in our newsfeed throughout the day?

And with Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the other social media networks out there, we can waste (yes, let’s be honest) hours every day.

Instead of frittering away our time, why not set a timer and sign out when it goes off? Some writers have chosen not to be on social media, while others find it helpful to have a second computer, one they use exclusively for writing.

Online Communities

While much of the time we spend online may be better spent doing something else, writing for instance, we were all created for community and the internet provides us with opportunities previous generations never even dreamed of.

Where else can we connect with experienced writers further along the journey than we are? Where else can we hang out with other creatives, especially those who live on the other side of the globe? Where else can we soak in encouragement, inspiration, and motivation when our family and friends don’t “get us”?

There is the temptation to spread ourselves too thin and become members of too many online communities, but if we’re selective, it can fuel our writing. Plus, we can encourage others as well. (Even bestselling authors need encouragement.)

Coffee Dates

Of course there’s nothing like spending time with a friend in person.

Many introverts write at their local coffee shop. For extroverts it may be too distracting. But why not try an experiment? Make a coffee date but arrive 1-2 hours early in order to write. Allow the sensory input to add to, rather than distract from, your writing.

So what other survival tips would you share with the extrovert writer?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

7 Wonderful Ways to Avoid Writing

Just Write

Here’s a list of things that can keep us from writing. You’ll notice that these aren’t “time-wasters.” In fact, they’re necessary, but they can become excuses for not writing.

Books, Blog Posts, and Podcasts

My shelves, both physical and virtual, are bowing under the weight of unread volumes—many of them on the craft of writing.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of blogs and podcasts for writers and we could spend the rest of our live reading and listening. But all the know-how in the world won’t get our words on paper (or the computer).

It’s best to write while improving our craft, not after we’ve learned everything there is to know because that’s never going to happen.

Downtime

Times of refreshing and doing nothing aren’t bad, but rarely will we find the motivation to write while plopped in front of the TV or nodding off in a hammock chair.

I’ve found the more I write, the more energized I become. That’s rarely the case when I’m watching television or sitting in my backyard, though it is lovely thanks to my hubby’s hard work.

I encourage you to limit downtime and honestly evaluate whether it actually makes you more productive.

Eating

I’ve heard recently of a couple of writers, friends of mine, who forget to eat. Let’s just say I can’t imagine that.

Eating small, nutritious meals throughout the day is a good thing. So is keeping water and healthy snacks close at hand while we write. But most of us know what it’s like to be distracted by food. Why not grab a snack after you’ve written x number of words rather than before?

Exercise

As a former personal trainer, I know the many benefits of regular physical exercise and I’m an advocate of making it part of your daily routine.

I would encourage you to schedule cardio and resistance exercises into your week. I would even encourage you to take breaks from your writing to stretch, get up and move around, do a little chair dancing, whatever.

But don’t allow a commitment to exercise to take you away from your commitment to write. It should, instead, enhance it.

Family Time

Time with family is crucial. They should never feel as if we would rather be back at our computer than spending time with them.

As much as possible, it’s best to work our writing around time with family. This may mean sacrifice on our part (less downtime, less sleep, less pleasure reading, etc.), but our family deserves our loving attention.

The temptation is not to make these sacrifices, but if our writing is important, we will make time for it.

Housework

I rarely use this as an excuse not to write. Actually, I rarely use this as an excuse for anything, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility.

I’m not saying you have to let the dishes pile up or wait until your carpet gets “crunchy,” but if you write from home, you do have to avoid distraction. There is always something that needs to be done—especially around my house.

You may have to take your laptop or your notebook and pen out of the house to a spot where you won’t be tempted to grab the vacuum. I’ve heard this is a real thing for some people.

Volunteer Responsibilities

This can be a toughy. And unless you write full-time, people may not understand why you can’t take on a certain volunteer project. But if your writing is to be a priority, you have to know that it’s okay to say no.

In her book The Best Yes, Lysa TerKeurst discusses how to identify why we say yes when we shouldn’t and how to overcome this tendency. If we don’t say no, we won’t have the time or the energy to dive in when our “best yes” opportunity comes along.

I also love what Robert Benson says in Dancing on the Head of a Pen: “Any writer worth his ink stains can think of a small army of things to keep him from writing. If he does not have enough imagination to invent the excuses necessary to keep him from writing, he likely does not have enough imagination to write a book.”

Now go and use your imagination to fuel your writing.

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

Branding and Re-branding Yourself by Steph Beth Nickel

old typewriter

This post first appeared on InScribe Writers Online. 

Ask These Questions

What can you see yourself writing about five years from now? Ten years from now?

What is the overarching theme of your writing? What fires you up? What can’t you stop talking—and writing—about?

How do you want to be known? Close to home and out in cyberspace?

If you can narrow your focus in these areas, you just may have found your theme, your tagline, your brand.

Narrow Your Focus

The name of my blog was originally “Steph’s Eclectic Interests.” That should give you an indication of how not focused I am. A dear friend and fellow writer said, “Each blog you post is focused on a single topic.” Talk about gracious!

A few years back, another dear friend said my tagline should be “Riding Shotgun.” And although I gave her a funny look when she said it, when she explained her reasoning, I was humbled and honoured. Because I “come alongside” others and assist them, she thought “Riding Shotgun” would be descriptive of that.

Not being a country music fan (don’t hate me), I never did go with her suggestion, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget it.

Like so many other people, I’m what I call “stupid busy.” It isn’t that I don’t like what I do—to the contrary. But it is long past time that I had a singular focus. And just a few days ago, I found it. <bouncing up and down, clapping>

A lot of factors came together to make it happen.

On June 25, I attended the Saturday sessions at the Write Canada conference. There, Belinda Burston stopped me to take my picture. Brenda J. Wood joined me in the shot. And I’m ever so glad she did! That picture is now plastered across the Web. It’s one of those shots that makes me grin—me with my newly dyed burgundy hair and Brenda with her flowered hat. (Who says writers are a stuffy, serious lot?)

That picture was a significant contributing factor to what followed. And late Thursday night, a tagline popped into my head. It was perfect: “To Nurture & Inspire.” I headed off to Dreamland flying high.

I spent the best parts of Friday re-branding myself online. I had to find the right background (thank you, pixabay.com), the right font and the right graphic (thank you, picmonkey.com).

Follow These Quick Tips

So, to close, I’d like to recommend six quick tips for branding (or re-branding) yourself:

  1. Pray. As Christians, it’s amazing to think that God cares about every detail of our life.
  1. Keep an eye out. You never know when inspiration is going to strike. Re-branding myself wasn’t on my To Do list last week, but one thing led to another and then another, and finally, “Poof!”
  1. Get creative. Explore sites like Pixabay and PicMonkey. Let your Inner Creative out to play. It’s amazing how much fun you can have. I admit that I’m more of a “pantser” when it comes to these kinds of endeavours. However, if you like to be more deliberate in your planning, you can find how-to YouTube videos on just about any subject.
  1. Know when it’s time to hire a pro. You may not have the time or the know-how to create your own brand. However, you will want to work hands-on with whomever you hire. You want to be able to say, “If I could have done it on my own, this is exactly what I would have done.”
  1. Your brand isn’t forever. At least it doesn’t have to be. If your focus narrows or changes, even if you just get tired of it, it’s alright to rework it. Don’t get me wrong; if you’re well-established, it may take some time for your readers to adjust, but I would venture a guess that most of them will.

And …

  1. Enjoy yourself. Even if your message is a serious one, I believe there’s something satisfying about choosing a profile picture and tagline as well as colours and graphics that are an extension of your message—and further, an extension of yourself.

Do you have a brand? Are you pleased with it or is it time for some revamping?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

I CAN DOES NOT MEAN I SHOULD

Should IThe original version of this post appeared on “Tenacity,” Janet Sketchley’s blog.

Oo, shiny!

That’s how I often feel when I hear of a new opportunity. You too?

I have what I refer to as the Butterfly Syndrome. I love to flit from one thing to the next to the next and then back to the first thing. While I don’t think it will ever be my approach, I do admire people who are able to stick with a single task until it is completed before moving on to the next. There are definite advantages to this approach.

But since I have several interests (and am easily distracted), potential opportunities come at me from all sides. I am learning s-l-o-w-l-y that I can’t pursue them all—as much as I’d like to.

Add to my natural tendencies the fact that I’m a Christian and don’t want to miss an opportunity God brings my way and I’m off and running … figuratively speaking. The joke that says, “If I’m running, it’s because something or someone is chasing me” pretty much describes me.

But even as Christians, we don’t have to say yes to every opportunity, every request. (For more on this, I highly recommend Lysa TerKuerst’s book The Best Yes. She guides readers through the whys and wherefores of identifying when they should say no so they’ll be ready to give their best yes.)

I COULDN’T.

Now, I believe there should be a progression in every Christian’s life, every writer’s life. Many of us, when presented with a new opportunity, think—or even say, “Oh, I could never do that.” (At least this is the case if we’re not busy flitting about, trying our hand at everything that comes along.)

MAYBE I COULD.

As we learn more, we may come to the realization that just maybe we could write whatever it is. I’ve found myself thinking, “I could do that? Cool!” Hopefully, there comes a time when we realize we’ve learned enough to at least try our hand at a new writing project, and beyond that, that God has equipped us to do things we never imagined possible. This is an exhilarating mindset. And it’s very in-keeping with my “oo, shiny” attitude.

BUT SHOULD I?

Not that long ago, the Lord brought me to a new realization. It may seem self-evident. And I wouldn’t blame you if you said, “Well, d’uh!” although I know you’re much too polite to do so. The final step in this three-step progression is this: when someone asks us to do something or we become aware of an interesting opportunity, we should … wait for it … we should ask, “Lord, is this something You want me to do? And if so, what should I set aside in order to do it to the best of my ability?”

I’m still learning Step 3. But it really is even more exciting than the second step. After all, knowing God will give me wisdom and direction and will guide me step-by-step … now that is truly amazing.

Will I always flit from one thing to the next? Most likely. But with God’s help, I will try to stay in the same corner of the garden—at least for a little while. Care to join me?

 

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor