Five Tips to Grow Your Reach & Your Readers {on blogging}

For those of you who have been reading my words about faith and life for the last few years, the following piece might not be, how shall we say, riveting? The focus of what I share below is mainly directed to other writers and bloggers~

At the beginning of the year, God gave me the word ‘Adjust.’ Boy, has it been an apt descriptor of 2017 (and it’s only May!) Part of that adjusting has been to refine the purpose of my blog–I recently changed the tagline to read, “Encouraging Readers to Find their Voice & Deepen their Faith”. (For those subscribers reading via email, you’ll have to click on over to my blog to see it. I’ll wait.)

My passion IS encouraging other writers to find their voice. Over the 5 years I’ve been blogging, although I’ve no great numbers of followers as the blogsphere goes (I almost typed ‘glogosphere’), what I do have is rich relationships with once invisible friends. And, as a blessing and a bonus, the reach of my words has grown little by little.

Like every other good thing grows–little by little.

Blogging for me has always been about people, not platforms. The apostle Paul’s admonition is to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That’s where I want to spend my efforts.

So–here are 5 tips on how to grow the reach of your words and your readers:

  1. Talk like yourself–No one else has your voice, your vision or your view.  (click on the ‘Categories’ tab above to find other posts On Voice). We don’t need any copies or clones, we need YOU–your experience in life is the lens that shows us what you see–and we want to see it, too.
  2. Cast a wide net--submit work in multiple places. Here is a list of four places to start with. Scatter joy, as the saying goes, and see where it lands. For a random writer like myself, this is a good approach. If you’re more linear and like deadlines and sequence, still, looking at other places to submit your work is a good idea. One of my new favorite sites for moms is Kindred Mom, facilitated by Emily Allen.
  3. Comment on the blogs you follow–(I only follow a handful of people whose voices add to my life–you need to decide who those people are for you.) Over time, writers notice who’s showing up each week to weigh in and leave comments and connections are formed. Connections often lead to relationships and readers come through relationships.
  4. Participate in Link-ups to meet other writers/bloggers. Weekly ones that I like are Faith on Fire–Lyli Dunbar’s blog and ‘Faith-Filled Friday’ at Missional Women. (Links are below). The guest host/blogger has a particular day that everyone gets to post their week’s work and you can usually add your piece during the week. The protocol is to visit the ‘neighbor’ on either side of your link and leave an encouraging word. These writers will often return the favor, reading your work and commenting. When I began blogging 5 years ago I met many, many people this way, some of whom are actual, real life friends. Comments come through connections.
  5. Engage on social media–Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I originally thought Twitter had less than redemptive qualities, but changed my mind after going to a panel at a Writer’s Conference where the process was de-mystified for me. The beauty of Twitter is that conversations are 140 characters (not words) long–quick, quick, quick. Once you choose who (m?) to follow (VERY important) it’s like being at a child’s birthday party or high school reunion, with conversations going on 24/7 and you drop in at any time. Instagram is the quieter, gentler version of Facebook and people are vewy, vewy quiet….but it’s a beautiful place to meet people and enjoy some remarkable photography. (Instagram only works on phones and tablets, not computers, by the way.) If you’re not sure how it’s set up, find a teenager.  Once you have an account, you will be able to also search for people to follow, who may in turn decide to follow you. Facebook is well, Facebook, and if you can manage the time you’re on there–a constant battle–it has a tremendous upside to it. The upside for me is the virtual connections that come via conversations which open the door to being able to speak into peoples’ lives–much like real life.

Continue reading “Five Tips to Grow Your Reach & Your Readers {on blogging}”

God Can’t Make You But You Can Let Him

Just when you think there’s going to be a breather between some professional sports championship or another, a new season starts. Remember the Sweet Sixteen in basketball? Done. Now we have baseball to think about. Our Seattle Mariners have already played several games—they’re about even for wins and losses—but I still can’t get used to it.  In my mind baseball is a summer sport, but the April weather in the Pacific Northwest says anything but summer. No matter; our M’s are used to the rain and sunshine so they travel here and there, swinging at pitches, throwing, catching and striking out. It’s practice, practice, practice.

*******

Little League baseball wasn’t around when I was little, we just had our neighborhood match-ups, usually boys against the girls. I’ll never forget that fateful day when my head collided with a bat. I was playing catcher; my friend Colleen was up to bat and when she swung through her pitch, I ended up getting knocked ‘thwap!’ in the head. I fell down unconscious and the next thing I remember was sitting in the front seat of our station wagon, a rag held to my pounding head, my mom frantically driving to the hospital. We made it to the emergency room where I received a multitude of stitches. I still have the suggestion of a mild lump right above my left eye and a very, very faint scar. That’s a fun story to tell but there is nothing fun about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

* * * * *

   God’s not using a bat these days but he is budging me ever closer to playing my own position in the correct game in the season where He’s called me to practice. Because, boy, can I get in the wrong place. The field of Christian bloggers is a big one, the voices out there are many and the messages come thick and fast. I fall prey time and time again to wondering what all the other players are doing.  I don’t want to just be outstanding in my field, I want to be outstanding in everyone else’s field—looking at the uniforms, admiring the bright colors, noticing the cheer of the crowd when a star player is up to bat.

Then I hear the voice of The Coach hollering at me from the dugout, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

“No, your own ball, not that one!”

I am prone to want to be everywhere else instead of exactly where God has called me to be.

I want to sound and look like the homerun hitters, the crowd pleasers. I imagine the cheers and attention of onlookers applauding my brilliant plays. Wouldn’t it be grand to have all those followers?

And there He is again, an aside this time, just He and I standing at the edge of the grass as the sun goes down.  A whisper, “You weren’t made for the big crowds, the nameless faces. You want a personal touch when you swing your words out into the world, connecting with people one at a time. That’s who you are.”

The reminder rings true deep down.

I wasn’t called to be playing the field out under the lights, waving to the fans in the stadium. I’m more of a snack bar conversation kinda gal, chatting one-on-one with the folks in front of me in line waiting for their hot dog and coke. You know, where we can talk about the weather and our kids and our week.

I come alive when I’m sharing in an intimate group around a living room or kitchen table, talking in a small chapel or chatting with friends on a front porch. I feel the pleasure of God and the most like myself when what I have to say is welcomed bit by bit, little by little, one friendship and one connection at a time.

* * * * *

When a principle or phrase is being drilled down into our spirits, don’t we often say God is really “driving it home?” Maybe it’s because He knows how many times we have to run the bases to come around again and again to what we know is true. And I’ve been running the bases a lot.

I know my propensity for distraction, the mixed-up desires I have to be like everybody else, but I’m turning again in the direction of the dugout early and more often. When I consider the corner of the world where I’ve been given a chance to bring light to others, when a bat goes swinging and a ball comes my way, I’m learning to stand my ground and yell, “not mine! Not mine!” and let another player catch it.

If I start complaining about my position on the field, or glance at the scoreboard to see who’s ahead, I remind myself to stay tuned to the Coach. My prayers are changing from, “God please help me hear you,” to, “God, I give you permission to speak. As many times as you need to, remind me this patch of grass, right here at short stop, glove in hand is where I need to stay.”

“And if you need to, yell like all good coaches do.”

I’m keeping my eyes on the ball, and if it connects with the bat and gets knocked out of the park, I’ll let God decide who sees it. I’m just going to keep on swinging.

"Vanna, I Have no Vowels" & why we need Words with Friends

     My four siblings and I were raised by a scrappy, resourceful mom who loved words. Dad was around, too; he was into crossword puzzles–the Sunday New York Times. In ink–and taught us to play Scrabble. 
When my mom wanted to keep the five of us out of her hair, she’d grab 5 small slips of paper, write a jumble of letters on each one and hand it to us with a, “Go figure out this word!” to give her a few moments of peace.
     My siblings and I have been playing word games ever since.  
     Words with Friends is the online/phone app of choice now that we’re separated by many miles, some of us, and it provides a platform of connection around our love of puzzles and vocabulary.
     Even though I am the oldest child, I am by no means the sharpest pencil in the box. My four brothers and sisters regularly beat the pants off me in the game (my English degree is worthless).  Until this week—woohoo—I’m ahead of one of my sisters by 100 points.
Why? Because, as she said in her accompanying WWF message, “I have no vowels, Vanna.”  (I threw her a couple of ‘o’s in the word ‘snook’ to set her up. Let’s see if I keep the lead.)
Sometimes we just need some vowels in our lives to play words with friends.
———-              
     In the space of less than a week I had the chance to do just that, connect with my people over words.
     I made a whirlwind trip from my home in the Seattle area to Vancouver/Portland where I planned to meet up with 3 different friends for lunch, coffee and dinner AND squeeze in a visit to see my son and his family and my five grands.
     First on my crowded dance card was lunch with the lovely Elizabeth Stewart—who blogs at Just Following Jesus (link on my sidebar under ‘Glory Writers’). Elizabeth and I carpooled to the Faith and Culture Conference in 2014 and have been friends ever since, online and in real life.
     After a delicious St. Patrick’s Day lunch, she tricked me into going on a walk along the Columbia River. (It was no trick—she’s just in better shape than I am). Our fellowship along the path on the beautiful Spring day was a balm to my soul.  A holy heart-to-heart where we shared life and ministry and words. (Elizabeth and her husband pastor a church–the ministry part is who she IS.)
     When our time came to an end, I headed across the river for an early dinner reunion with Cornelia Becker Seigneur, Founder of the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Portland. I attended FCWC in 2014 and jumped in as Volunteer Coordinator last year. (you can read my post about that experience here.)
     Our team’s time of planning spanned an entire year and I ended up doing extra duty (with the amazing Bethany Jackson) when Cornelia was in a horrific accident from which she is still recovering.
     The bonds I have with Cornelia run deep and I’ve been looking forward to the day when I could visit her again in person. Almost one year since the conference, our lives and schedules finally allowed us to sit down at Happy Hour before we headed off to the Writer’s Connection meeting later in the evening.
     Over cilantro-laced tostadas, Cornelia and I reaffirmed we are kindred spirits, both committed to encouraging other Christian writers in their gifts, connecting people with each other to see them grow and communicating via our blogs in our little corners of the internet.
     “Hey,” I said, “we’re midwives!” (look for the book title some day….) She clasped my hands and agreed.
There is nothing like this kind of friendship—deep and holy; I am forever grateful to God for it.
     When we finished our meal I caravanned behind her to our writer’s meeting; there were some nervous butterflies about the occasion. I would be reuniting with other friends, attendees and committee members from FCWC as well as sharing a five minute ‘Inspiration’ message. 
     There was less than 24 hours to prep for this, so I was a little verklempt. The Holy Spirit helped me pour some words out that had been ruminating for a while and they all came together.
     My little message reiterated the importance of sharing our small but extravagant offerings right in our corner of the world. Whatever our internet reach, the scope of our voice doesn’t matter-small is often Very Good in the blogosphere. Our extravagant sacrifices—like the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ feet—are never wasted.
     The sentiments shared by another team member echoed our speaker’s—Paul Pastor—author of “The Face of the Deep.” Paul was sure the two of us had somehow read his little green notebook prior to the meeting—there was such a seamless fit of God’s message to all of us.

Paul Pastor reading from his book about the Holy Spirit,
“The Face of the Deep”
   It was good to be among friends—excited/nervous/happy—and hear of the ways Jesus was living through people’s work. We were also ministered to–Paul is a gifted and anointed storyteller! From Lyla in the motorized wheelchair to Linda with her poems ‘only five people might read’ it made for an exhausting but encouraging day.
    The next morning I met another long distance friend for coffee—Carol—a writer who lived in the area and is part of Glory Writers. 
This is the first time Carol and I had sat down for a heart-to-heart and the time went by way too fast. We talked about writing—practical stuff, dreams we have, avenues we’re pursuing—but when I drove away my heart sang. Words and writing brought us together but the fellowship was the greatest gift.
——-   
     Closer to home is my bosom friend Kimberlee Conway Ireton. I first ‘met’ Kimberlee online when I began blogging four and half years ago and was delighted to find she lived near me. Yippee! Because I was brand new to blogging and faith writing I wanted to connect and ask her a million questions.
     There was also a chance to give some encouragement to this new mom and author who was juggling life with 2 year old twins and a 6 and 9 year old. I’ve had the opportunity to do so during lunches, picnics, coffee dates and visits to the park. I adore her kids.
     Kimberlee’s and my friendship has grown over these last three years as we’ve discovered a similar soulful response to the way we share our words and want others to be encouraged in their writing. Out of our shared convictions and commitment to this cause, Kimberlee and I co-lead a writer’s retreat last year called ‘Abide’. Out of THAT retreat came the birthing of Glory Writers, a Facebook group–open to anyone–and a place for ministry and fellowship and sharing words with friends. (click on the GW photo, also on my sidebar).
     Kimberlee and I met for coffee the other night to discuss our upcoming retreat, (“Dwell”–see page tab above), alternating clasping hands and bowing our heads, waving our arms in the air (that would be me) as we poured out our hearts about our dreams, our delights and a couple of dares. We discussed writing, the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit and we talked soul deep about the books that were speaking to US.
     I have waited over 20 years for a bosom friend like Kimberlee, someone who shares my passions, who understands my tears of joy or my laughter and song. A friend who will grab a book to make a point and announce, “let me read you this,” and I match it with a passage of my own from the book in MY bag.  
     The connection is our love of language, our love of the Creator and our love for each other. Because sometimes the words that sing the song in your heart are written and said by someone else.
I’m so grateful to God for my words with friends.  Who are YOUR vowels?
Take heart….it may take a while to find them.
~~~~~~~~~~~

On Writing in Your Own Voice

“Come away with me by yourselves and get some rest.” Jesus, Mark Chapter 6

Pushing the patio chair into place undercover, I scan the deck for my little table. I want to sit a while and take advantage of the peace and quiet to listen.
Not read my Bible, read a book, look at my phone, just sit with my journal and pay attention to what I hear, what I see, what my heart wants to tell me.
But I need my footstool first.  My legs are too short to touch the decking and I can’t relax ‘til my feet are in place. Ah, there it is hidden under the plastic tablecloth out of the rain.
Now I’m settled. My eyes train on the birds at our feeders. I grin at their acrobatic antics, bouncing marionette-like from feeder to tree, swooping like jets coming in for a landing. I’m quite certain the only reason God created birds was to delight us and him.
Instead of writing anything, I begin to read the lines I penned over the past year; little conversations with Jesus and I show up on the page. ‘Aha’s’ are circled or highlighted, questions I pondered and the answer that came after it are underlined. There are pencil scratchings in the margin, messages from the Spirit of God right to my soul.
Someone asked the question recently, ‘What is saving your life right now?’
And here’s what I have to say–the spiritual practice of listening, stopping to hear God’s voice to me, and hear my own voice.  This is what I know:
  • When you give God time to touch you, He will.
  • When you give Him space to speak, He will.
  • When you give Him room to move, He will.

 

Part of my conversations with Jesus lately have been about story—mine, in particular.
Story that includes things like the day job I have and how it affects my understanding of God.
Or the love I have for books and their power to move me. And maybe others.
Or the passion I have about social issues and shining a light in dark places.
My random thoughts can run all over and it’s hard to rein them in.
At the end of the day I sat with my bedside journal–I have lined volumes in many, many places in the house. I scanned the lines I’d written, finding over and over again the truest parts of me on the page.

The line that caught my eye before I turned out the light was, “Trust your voice.” I felt the Holy Spirit say, “I have a story to tell of my goodness and love through your life alone. I have a way of encouraging others through your testimony and your story.  Stop trying to be like everyone else and write what you know, tell the world what you hear.”

I woke with that in mind, full of a confidence that God will guide my thoughts , that I’ll hear Him speak not only to me, but through me, as I continue to give Him space and time to speak.
How might you take some time or space to make room for God to speak to you this week? Trust what He says…and trust your own voice—we need you.
~~~~~~

Linking with Modern Mrs. Darcy and 

Kelly for #Small Wonder Link up

Five Things I’ve Learned in Year Five {Blogging}

     

     When I went back to school to become a teacher  at the ripe young age of 36, I joined a growing wave of what became known as ‘re-entry students.’ Our particular wave was comprised of young men, business folk and young moms like myself. Our credential program consisted of getting a four year degree then embarking on the California state-mandated ‘fifth year’ training.

       This fifth year included intense study in all manner of things educational, intern time in classrooms and the opportunity to put all the nuts and bolts of what I’d learned into actual practice. I finished that year with a 6 month stint Student Teaching in Kindergarten and lived to tell it.  Then they handed me my credential and said I could go change the world.
~~~~~~~~~
       I may not be changing the entire world, just the one right in front of me. Five years ago this week I sat in my study staring out the window at the snow that had trapped most of the world inside for 5 days. School was cancelled—yippee!–and I got to figure out the world of blogging.  I queried the internet universe—“just what exactly is a blog?” and after noodling around, was drawn in particular to some very kind folks at The High Calling.** Lo and behold, they each wrote me back. I took their advice and dove in.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned as I head into year 5:

1.  IT’S PEOPLE, NOT PLATFORMS The best way to build blog readers is to build relationships. When I began this journey (and trust me, I didn’t know what I didn’t know…) Glynn Young (Faith, Fiction and Friends) was one of the kind souls who encouraged me to visit other bloggers and comment on their posts. This practice has stood me in good stead. 
     If I participate in a weekly link up, my practice is to always say  a virtual ‘hello’ to the folks who’ve posted links on either side of me.  These online friends tend to read in the same circles and I enjoy their familiar faces.
     As a result, I have built bridges and made connections with strangers who have become friends—either virtual or in person. The community of blogging has been as real to me as the folks in my congregation at church.
     I also subscribe to a handful of blogs and comment on them as regularly as I can.  There’s a world of words out there and I make it a point to encourage where I can. It’s just plain nice to be noticed. “Why, someone read what I said! And it touched them!” Imagine how thrilled you are to find that about your own work—you can do the same for others that you are drawn to. Find someone to bless that doesn’t have a lot of comments on their posts. It’ll make their day.

2.  I’D RATHER GO DEEP THAN WIDE Having said that, for my own sanity and focus I am always making my world a little smaller, blog-wise, culling emails in my inbox and—shhhhh….unsubscribing from blogs from time to time. Not that I don’t just love everyone out there, but God has called me to a small and close circle of friends. I do best in groups where I feel like I’m having a cup of coffee with someone, knowwhatImean? So…..after about a year or so, I pulled way back from my involvement in weekly link ups. I felt like I was obligated to read each person’s post and some of the groups had over 100 links in them and….I don’t have that kind of time. You probably don’t either.
      (Practical tip: For convenience sake (and to theoretically keep me from spending SO much time on Facebook) I posted many of my favorite blogger’s links right on my blog page. When I open my browser, Three Way Light is the first page to come up. Voila! The folks I want to hear from are right there on the sidebar where I can click on the link without falling into the virtual hole of Facebook. Sometimes….)

3.  DO IT WRONG—The first year I started blogging—2012—I entered 143 blog posts.    By the end of 2015 I had written 85 blogposts. I’m not awesome at math, but that’s almost 40% less than when I started.  When I began, I was feverishly trying to keep up with weekly link ups that were so popular at the time and listening to all the advice out there about how to ‘do it right.’
   Every year I’ve been blogging I’ve written LESS than the year before and I have more people reading and responding. Go figure.  The results from this ‘less is more’ approach might be explained by  the fact I’ve cultivated relationships via real time and virtual time with my readers. Again, going deep, not wide.


4. CONSISTENCY IS HIGHLY OVERRATED. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO POST ON YOUR BLOG TWICE A WEEK. You don’t even have to post regularly. Really.

      Putting myself on a schedule to write IS not only grueling but feels insincere; I end up writing ‘fluff’ instead of substance, filling the space for that week or time because I have to.  And here’s the reality—I am a Random/Abstract thinker. There is nothing regular or sequential or consistent about the way I work or process things. I am consistent about only one thing—I want to make Jesus look good through my words. 
           That being said, I DO have a couple of series I post in regularly–something new, a ‘Favorite Things’ round up, always on Friday, but not every Friday. And my “Just Because” posts–a Scripture and a photo–always on Thursdays.  but not EVERY Thursday. (and last week I posted it on Wednesday, because, you know-life.)  ‘Sporadic’ is probably a better descriptor of any blogging ‘formula’ I have. Bottom line–I want to listen to God’s voice in me and through me to write what feels real and true in my spirit, not because the experts say I ‘should.’
     (Sidenote-it’s imperative you decide for yourself what God has decided is ‘successful’ for you. What are your goals for blogging? To write a book? To be well-known? It’s a LOT of work….but it can be done. It’s just not for me. Small is definitely better.)


5.  WRITE REAL AND BE YOU (see ‘insincerity’ above). The first six months I was in the Christian blogosphere I poured on the churchiness and Christianese. Why I would dazzle with my brilliance, shine with incomparable spiritual knowledge, impress with mighty metaphors. My first posts were embarrassingly long.  What’s my point? To paraphrase, I believe, Mother Teresa, “People don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”
     The words that have resonated the most with readers are those where I write honest and real about where I’m at. Where what I believe about Jesus is making a difference in the way I think or feel.  Sometimes the world is gray, sometimes the world is beautiful, sometimes it’s just hard.

BONUS: Writer’s block dogging you? HAVE FUN or Take a Sabbath Go for a walk, unload the dishwasher, take a shower (the most remarkable revelations come to me in the shower or under the bathroom faucet!) Sort the laundry, go pull some weeds. Your brain does so much better with some exercise, fresh air, some fun—blow bubbles, sit outside and watch the birds, dance by yourself, dance with a partner…the list is endless. 
                ~Live your life then write it down~
***
L.L. Barkat, Laura Boggess