Learn More, Write More

by Stephanie Nickel (previously posted on Monday Motivation on 9/8/14)

Our church leadership recently approved a subscription to RightNow Media. Each congregant with access to the Internet has been invited to create an account and dive into the wealth of teaching that is available. I have attended our church for over 30 years, yet this might be the greatest gift they’ve ever given me.

Young hipster guy with beard and earphones watching videos on a digital e-reader tabletWhile there are additional resources available—some free, some for a nominal charge—listening to the videos provides a wealth of knowledge in and of itself.

I have learned from well-known authors and speakers—and those I hadn’t encountered before. Each evening, my husband and I have begun listening to videos of particular interest to him. (He is more a historical documentary buff than I am.)

But what does this have to do with my writing?

Well, I am working (or should be) on a devotional book based on the gospel of John. I’ve given it the working title “If You Love Me.” In it, I am examining the commands of Jesus and what they mean to us today.

As I explore RightNow Media, I am finding several teachings based on the book of John that are enriching my perspective—and will, I trust, enrich the writing itself.

While I would never label myself a researcher, I love this opportunity to discover riches so readily available. Yesterday, I got the mental picture of standing in the proverbial treasure chamber we so often see in action adventure movies. All around me are radiant gems and sparkling gold. And guess what—the walls aren’t even closing in on me. I don’t have to make a run for it. I can marvel in the riches. I have access to treasure that will change my life—and my writing—forever.

How about you? Where do you find that wealth that inspires and enriches your writing?

Keep an eye out because it might appear when you least expect it, when you’re not even looking for it.

Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor, Writer, Coach

How Camping Improves Your Writing

Camping

Ever imagined writing the first draft of your novel in 30 days?

That’s the whole premise behind NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. In November, writers from all over the globe sign up to write 50,000 words in a single month. And many of them are successful.

Although I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, I have attended Camp NaNo on a number of occasions. In fact, I’m in the midst of the July challenge now. Camp NaNo is a virtual experience that happens in April and July each year.

Unlike its namesake, Camp NaNoWriMo is not about writing 50,000 words—unless that’s the goal you set for yourself. Instead, you can choose from a few different goals: word count, time spent writing, etc. Plus, you’re free to write nonfiction if that’s what you’d prefer.

This month I’ve set a goal of 10,000 words. That should be easy to hit before July 20, when I head out on holidays with my hubby.

So why participate?

Productivity

As I’ve mentioned, campers set their individual goal. Your homepage included a target and an arrow. As you enter your word count, the number of minutes you’ve spent writing, or whatever measure you’re using, the arrow moves toward the 100 percent ring. It’s fun to watch it move every time you make a new entry. But not only is it fun, it also motivates you to keep at it.

Comradery

Writing can be lonely work. It’s just you and the screen (or the blank piece of paper). And if you’re one of the rare breed, as I am—an extrovert who writes—this community can provide some much needed human contact. Although it’s optional, I would encourage you to join a cabin. You can let the camp directors assign you to one or your friends can choose to camp together. The lady who is hosting my cabin this time round decided to create a Facebook group so we would get notified when one of us posts an update.

Inspiration

The Camp NaNo community is fun, it nurtures creativity and allows campers to be as social (or reclusive) as they choose. You can pop onto Twitter and join the word sprints (which is how I’m finishing this post). There are also write-ins you can participate in. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to write, the team suggests optional prompts to get those creative juices flowing.

Accountability

Whether you join a cabin and report on your progress or whether you simply watch the arrow on your target move toward the 100 percent ring, the process will give you a sense of accountability. I’m finding this kind of accountability is helping me achieve the goals I set out for myself in a few areas: weight loss, decluttering, and writing.

Plus, it’s just plain fun.

From word sprints on Twitter to hanging out with your cabinmates to watching the arrow move toward the 100 percent ring. All of these are optional, but they add to the whole camp atmosphere.

Participation is free, but you can contribute funds so the organizers can keep improving the Camp NaNo experience. Plus, there is camp-related merchandise to purchase. Because I live in Canada, it makes the cost of shipping prohibitive. But if you live in the US, you may want to check out the camp store.

If you’re participating in Camp NaNo or have done so in the past, I’d love to hear about your experience. And whether you “win” or not, you’ll be that much closer to your writing goal.

 

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

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

Finding Your Tagline

Who Are We Man Woman MirrorWhen I brought my various blogs together under one umbrella, “Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests,” I added the tagline “Everything but . . .” as in “everything but the kitchen sink.” I thought it was clever—sometimes a writer’s first mistake (grin).

However, over the years I have learned that our website should be ourname.com. I have a website on which I have begun to post more regularly. (I’d be happy to have you pop by stephbethnickel.com—and my blog, which may one day be moved to my website.)

I have tweaked both sites. (Any constructive criticism is most welcome. They’re works-in-progress.) The header on my blog is “Steph Beth Nickel’s Blog” and the tagline under it reads “Eclectic Interests Explored.” As of yet, my website has no tagline; I’m still working on that.

The Best Taglines

The best taglines sum up our essence and/or clearly promote our “brand.” It is how we want to be known. It is not simply a marketing gimmick. We’ve all had enough of those. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it to increase our sales, but in my opinion, that shouldn’t be the #1 reason we choose the tagline we do.

Mary DeMuth, one of three gracious professionals who took the time to join us at the Write Canada conference via Google Hangouts, has branded herself based on what is most important to her. Her tagline summarizes it well, “Live Uncaged.”

While sharing with us from her home thousands of miles away, a wonder of the cyber age, she led us in a fairly interesting exercise. She encouraged us to write down three of our favorite movies—quickly, without overthinking it. She said we should examine our choices and decide what they had in common. By doing so, she said we would discover our tagline.

Contemplating a Tagline

To one extent or another, I’ve been chewing on this ever since. (It didn’t come as easily to me as it did to the others. It all began when I couldn’t remember the name of my all-time favorite movie, which is Freedom Writers by the way. Sigh!)

While up until recently I would have been happy enough saying, “I’m all about relationships,” I was subsequently challenged at my writers’ group to dig even deeper. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

From favorite movies to favorite books to projects that fire me up, I have begun to see a common thread emerging. Nurturing those who have been cast aside by society and those who don’t recognize their own worth . . . sort of “the unlikely hero” but with a more long-lasting emphasis, one that redirects the entire course of the person’ life. I’ve yet to determine how that will translate into my brand, my tagline.

Self-awareness is a good thing. Self-absorption isn’t. Don’t get too wrapped up in the process. Like “Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests” and “Everything but . . .” your choices aren’t set in stone. Think about the message you want to get in front of people and give it a test drive. You may even want to include a graphic like Mary DeMuth has done. But if it doesn’t work for you—or if at some point, you want to change your emphasis—feel free to do so.

What about you? If you were to choose a name for your website and/or your tagline today, what would it be?

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES Editor, Coach, Critique Specialist

Stephanie Nickel

Stephanie Nickel

Christian Writing Today

I’ve been browsing ChristianWritingToday.com this afternoon. Great stuff!

Posts in their writing craft category include  titles such as “Copyright: What are the Boundaries of ‘Fair Use?,'” “8 Writing Tips from C. S. Lewis,” “How Many Words Make a Book?,” and “Do You Need a Literary Agent?” Lots of variety. Lots of help. Other categories include book reviews, Christian retail, self-publishing, trends, and more.

I subscribed today and am looking forward to receiving the feed. You can add it to your iGoogle page or whatever reader you use.

Donald L. Hughes – writer,  editor, and publisher – edits ChristianWritingToday. He has been active in Christian media for over 30 years. You can read more about Don here.

Take a minute now to click through to this terrific site.

Look What I Stumbled Upon!

Today I stumbled upon a new online adventure – StumbleUpon.com. I learned about it from the Web Evangelism Bulletin. First, it’s a fun way to find websites focused on your particular interests. Try doing a search for “creative writing” and then start stumbling! You’ll be surprised what all you will find.

Second, if you have an author’s site (or any website) or a blog, you can add your page. Simply sign up for StumbleUpon (it’s all free). Then go to your profile page and click on “Add a New Page” (bottom of left column). I just added several of my sites and blogs. Will be fun to see what happens. Here’s some of what the Web Evangelism Bulletin had to say about StumbleUpon: “I’ve used Stumbleupon (the online page sharing system) only slightly over the years, and have been seriously missing out as a result. It can drive many visitors to your website. Now admittedly, they are getting a somewhat random ‘lucky dip’ choice within a category they are looking at, unlike a targeted Google search. Nevertheless, I was surprised. I added a few blog posts to Stumbleupon, and within minutes had hits coming in. After 36 hours, there were about 100.”

Let me know how your stumbling goes!

What’s Stopping You?

Since you subscribed to this newsletter, I must assume that you are a writer. So how is the writing going? Perhaps you have an idea for a book but don’t have a clue where to start.

Or maybe you have written several chapters but are stuck.

Perhaps you have finished a book manuscript (or a poem or a play or whatever) but don’t know what to do next. You might even be afraid to show it to anyone. What if it’s not good enough?

We are about to enter a new year. What better time to move ahead?  If God has given you an idea, a message to share, he will certainly help you! Begin by asking for his help, his guidance. Ask him for wisdom and courage. And then step out in faith!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you
which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

Let us know if we can help in any way. If you have an idea but don’t know where to start, perhaps our step-by-step book writing would work for you.

If you have already written your article or book, maybe it’s time for fine-tuning. Even the most accomplished writers need another pair of eyes to polish the work off. We have several levels of editing and would love to work with you.

No matter where you are in the process, we are here to help. Please feel free to email me with your questions. With God’s guidance, we can work together to find your next steps.

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This and That

Three weeks ago I told you about the hosting service I use for my other site, FindChristianLinks.com. I have found iPage gives wonderful service and many extras to help you get your site going. I especially like their Weebly site builder. If you don’t know HTML, you’ll find it makes site-building quite easy. If you are a techy, iPage offers more advanced solutions you will enjoy.

If you don’t already have an author website, start the new year out by building your own! iPage is offering a special for $2.95/month! This offer is only good for one more day, so check it out!

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Your Comments, Please

I’d love to hear from you! I welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions. And please consider following this blog so you will receive the posts by email! (See top  right column.)

Build Your Own Website

Build Your Own Website

We just added a resource page offering ideas and tools for building your own website. Effective marketing must include an online presence.

Have you considered building your own site? If you’ve never done anything like that, building an author’s site might sound overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Visit “Website: Build Yours” for a few ideas and tools to help you get started.

I use iPage hosting service to build my Find Christian Links website. I recently rebuilt that site (see more below) and was able to do it in a fraction of the time I’ve used with other builders. I use the Weebly site builder offered by iPage. If you don’t know HTML, you’ll find it makes site-building quite easy. If you are a techy, iPage offers more advanced solutions you will enjoy.

Follow Our Blogs

Are you following Monday Motivation and From the Heart of Dixie yet? If not, you are missing a blessing. Stephanie and Dixie offer prompts, writers’ tips, encouragement, and inspiration.

Visit From the Heart of Dixie – you can read the archive of posts and start following the blog by clicking on the “Follow” information in the right column. Dixie is an award-winning children’s author who also writes and edits for adults. She really does share her heart in the blog and will bless you.

And then take time to visit Steph’s Monday MotivationYou’ll want to follow her blog as well. Steph offers wonderful prompts and will give you some chuckles along the way.

Visit My Other Site: Find Christian Links

For several years, I’ve been developing Find Christian Links. I hope you’ll take some time to browse through it. You’ll find a myriad of links to Christian ministries, services, and products – and great writing topics.

With my recent update of the site, I am focusing more on getting others involved. I’d love for you to contribute your comments and ideas for me to post on the site. Tell about outreach ministries you are involved in that have been effective. Resources others may find helpful. Parenting tips. As you go through the site, you’ll see that your opportunity to contribute to the site are endless. I’d love to hear from you! Fill out the contact form or send me an email!

And another blog to follow! My Find Christian Links blog is new. The posts will cover a great variety of topics, even opportunities to take a stand for what you believe and reports about missionaries who are making a difference. Please check it out.