My 1000th blog post! Then & Now

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Sarah Lea Stories was born in the blogosphere as sarahleastories@wordpress.com, eventually graduating to https://sarahleastories.com/

My first blog post was published on October 24, 2013:  https://sarahleastories.com/2013/10/24/the-treasury-of-the-sara-madre/.  I was a new mom, practically a newlywed, and hadn’t even started college yet. 

Since 2013, SLS has gone through many incarnations.  I was actually pretentious enough, once upon a time, to call myself The Populist Poetess; now I’m The Post-It Poet, bridging brevity with gender neutrality (I still prefer the terms actress and sculptress, but no one uses poetess).  Now, my concentration is on getting my B.A. in Creative Writing in three years (or less) and editing everything I’ve written thus far.

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It’s rather serendipitous that my 1000th blog post would fall on this day–as I finally made it to the local writer’s group I belong to–reconnecting (outside of Facebook and one-on-one chats over lunch or coffee) with friends I’ve known since before I started this blog (and making a new one).  It’s been at least two years since I’ve attended a meeting.  Throughout the months, perhaps even years, I’ve sort of kept up with the group through the monthly group emails, not realizing how much I’d missed it, missed them, till I went back today.

I’d gotten acquainted with the group through a Facebook political page in 2012 (the page’s administrator was a local woman).  No dues, only kind critiques were required.  It was perfect.

I always learn something from each of the members, who generally share their news and a piece they’ve written; sometimes we do a writing exercise.  This month’s prompt was to create a Twitter account for a deceased person (their handle, bio, and maybe even a web address), which became homework.  I’m not on Twitter anymore (it’s so impersonal, and there’s a lot of ugliness), but I love fun, short challenges like this.

We’re a diverse group–writing everything from magazine nonfiction to children’s books to blog posts to creative writing.   Today, I read a piece I’m submitting to Shutterfly for a $500 gift card contest, writing from the perspective of the giver rather than the receiver.  

It was just so good to be able to share something in my own voice.

Every book I’ve created through Shutterfly has had special significance, and I don’t just give them to anyone.  So many hours, I’d be in the Writing Lab with its giant monitors, perfecting them, reading them aloud where no one would hear me.  That Lab was where I spent most of my lunches for the several months I worked at the college after graduation. 

I am practically the unofficial brand ambassador for Shutterfly and am finalizing my ninth and tenth book through the site.  

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Writing is what I want to do more than anything else, and if it’s in technical writing, so be it.  It is still writing and every experience I have, whether it be writing press releases, biographies for an event program, articles for a newspaper, etc., it all helps me become a better writer.  Even when I worked for my alma mater’s Writing Lab, I learned so much.  It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Practicality is what compelled me to major in Health Information Technology, but the only class I enjoyed (and I enjoyed it quite a lot) was Medical Terminology.  I still have a medical dictionary one of my professors gave me, but beyond that, it was excruciatingly painful to sit through those courses.  About halfway through the program, I realized I liked the idea of wearing scrubs and working evenings (not being an early morning person) in a big hospital more than I would like the work.  I could write about those things, but I could never be those things.  

I am finally pursuing what I’ve always wanted to do full-time.  I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and I am blessed to be able to do that now.  It just took four years of surviving, of barely making it financially, to get to that point.  

That said, no matter where life takes me careerwise, I will always blog at least twice weekly; I’ve learned a lot through blogging process:  how to schedule posts in advance, increase my SEO (by using key words), and add share buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera–all basic but useful things.  Now if WordPress would just put more attractive ads on my page (without me having to pay to take them off), that would be the cats.

As I prepare for uni, I realize I’ve been writing so much that I haven’t been taking the time to edit anything, including my Southern Gothic horror novel, which I “advertise” on Fiction Fridays:  https://sarahleastories.com/category/fiction-fridays/.

While in school, I’m going to read a lot more nonfiction (about writing), finalize my book, and wrap up all my unfinished writing projects–not to mention all the writing I’ll be doing for class.  I have the prolific thing down; I just need the perfecting, the polish.   

My biggest advice to other bloggers is that you need readers who aren’t writers–people who won’t expect anything in return except great content.  Keep cranking it out, but always bank your marketable works to submit for paying opportunities.  That is why I only post poetry (i.e. my streams of consciousness with line breaks), book reviews, and the occasional personal essay (by the time most of my essays got published, it would be old news)–never chapters of my novel, short stories, or any portion of my children’s nursery rhyme collection, which I plan on hiring a student to illustrate (same goes for my book cover).  

 By the time I reach my 2000th post, I want to have:

  • Finished editing my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley, and have it ready to publish:  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/
  • Finished my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, Golden Plates and Silver Spoons
  • Been published in the print (or online) edition of The Saturday Evening Post
  • Making a good living writing (or where writing is part of the job) 
  • Graphically designing all my blog post images myself, eliminating the need for stock photos (and using my own photos whenever possible).  I became aware of just how awful stock photography was (not the quality of the image but the lack of originality on my part) when I saw an image I’d used for one of my posts elsewhere (in three different places)
  • Read at least 100 books on writing (and reviewed them)
  • And, most importantly, developed a lifelong love of books in my daughter–she already requests “Punch and Judy” every night, which is a delight

And, by my 2000th post, I will have graduated from college a second time.  For a while, I had considered being a polysomnographer (my dad has sleep apnea) or doing something with hearing aids (I have unilateral hearing loss), but being honest with myself and true to myself led me on the path that I should’ve taken all those years ago.

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022

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Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #483: On (Blank)

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On Writing

Writers are like chemists–
the combination of words they choose
can either cause a person
(or group of like-minded persons)
to implode or explode–
& that’s before these readers even get
to the comments section.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 484

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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My writing tithe: No more than 10% of what you write should be given away for free (posted on blogs, social media outlets, etc.), but always post high-quality work. Your blog is your brand.

How dreary life would be without milestones, celebrations, & holidays. Share those that are your very own. https://sarahleastories.com/2017/07/06/my-500th-blog-post-why-blogging-rocks/

If you’ve written a book you can’t quite find a market for (yet), don’t despair. You can repurpose it by writing “creative promotions” for it on your blog. This has helped me edit my novel with a finer eye, producing some great little pieces in the meantime. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/05/06/fiction-fridays/

Even a rejection letter can make for an entertaining blog post. https://sarahleastories.com/2014/05/08/an-interesting-rejection-letter/

Book reviews are a wonderful way to get blog views, because the book you’ve reviewed (hopefully) has a built-in readership. (Not to mention you don’t have to worry about coming up with an image.) https://sarahleastories.com/2016/11/29/book-review-little-women/

Don’t repost the quotations of others (even if you assign attribution), unless you are responding to that quote. Seek to mine your own words of wit or wisdom. There is nothing worse than to go to an author’s Instagram page & see it full of other people’s words. https://sarahleastories.com/2016/02/23/thoughts-on-writing-on-books/

A blog, unlike a painting, is a multi-layered work of art that cannot be seen all at once. Unlike a book, a blog is ever-evolving & has no end.

Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Blogging

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Blog posts should not be more than 600 words long; the shorter, the better. Even a haiku qualifies as a post. Chances are, the shorter the post, the more likely it is the whole thing will get read. (If you’re not a photographer, Unsplash has many high-quality images you can use, no attribution required.)

Blogging is one of the many ways you can build your author platform. What’s great about it is that you can have it set up to automatically post to other social media sites, such as Facebook & LinkedIn. https://sarahleastories.com/2015/10/08/12-ways-to-build-your-writers-platform/

Have theme days or regular feature articles. This helps you stay on track, as it’s easier to write a continuing series than a stand-alone piece every single time. This will also help you blog purposefully, rather than simply posting whenever inspiration sparks (which doesn’t come as often as you might think). Serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week (& no less than once), preferably on the same days. Make your own deadlines, & meet them.

Blogging is a terrific way to get instant gratification (i.e. feedback) while still writing for professional publication. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/8-blogging-tips-for-writers-to-find-success

Coming up with categories for your blog will help generate ideas. Mine include Homemaking/Marriage/Motherhood, Food & Recipes, Mormon Culture, etc. One of my personal favorites was Micropoetry Mondays, with each set of micropoems having a theme.  https://sarahleastories.com/2017/08/08/micropoetry-monday-mystery/

Every April & November, I participate in the Writer’s Digest Poem-a-Day Challenges (as well as the Wednesday prompts the other months). I post the answer to the prompt daily on my blog, which gives me time to build up my regular feature posts (Monday’s Sweet Little Nothings & Fiction Fridays). http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-april-pad-challenge-day-4

A blog is a piece of literary sculpture that never dries.

 

My 500th Blog Post: Why Blogging Rocks

When I look back at my earliest blog posts, I found myself editing some, deleting others (including reblogs–don’t waste your time on those, unless your blog or name is mentioned).  I wanted my 500th to be my true 500th.  It was quite a task going through all the old stuff.  I’ve learned so much about copy editing since then, and my writing has improved tremendously.

My blog used to be something I only posted on when inspired.  Now, it’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, without fail–the other days, when I feel like it.  This self-imposed discipline has helped me become better at meeting deadlines.

I had written this piece about blogging, and why blogging is awesome, for a scholarship contest. I’ve won hundreds of dollars writing scholarship essays, and even when I don’t win, I have a nice piece to post on here or LinkedIn, or submit elsewhere.  Who doesn’t love recycling?

Blogging, for me, hasn’t just been about the product, but the process.  It’s given me great writing practice, and given me an additional creative outlet, because sharing what I write is part of the fun of writing.

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Virtually Living the Good Life,
in the Blogosphere

A blog, unlike a painting, is a multi-layered work of art
that cannot be seen all at once.
A blog, unlike a book, is ever-evolving and has no end.

With the advent of the Internet, words have more power today than they ever have before, for they can transmit in a matter of seconds to billions of people simultaneously. The Internet is a virtual pond, where the thoughts of anyone with an Internet connection can ripple forever. Like blood scrubbed with bleach, even when something has been deleted by the administrator, there are still traces of it. Once you’ve spilled your guts into a computer, it is never completely gone.

So be careful with your words—they might come back to haunt you someday.

Since I was a third-grader in Ms. Yvonne Cahoon’s class, I’ve been a writer. “I just love reading your journals,” she would say, and the spark was ignited. Those journals weren’t just logbooks, but how I felt about what I saw and heard. (I didn’t learn how important it was to include sensory details, like touch, taste, and smell, until much later). Those journals were my first taste of writing creative nonfiction. I started with what I knew, and then, as Mark Twain would say, “distorted the facts as I pleased.”

My blog, besides my child(ren) and the few whose lives I hope I touch, are part of the legacy I will leave when I depart from this world. I like to think that my descendants, a hundred years from now, will know so much more about me than I know about mine. Many of my words I will take with me, but the ones I’ve written and will write for the enjoyment, and, hopefully, the enlightenment of others, are the ones I will leave for my great-great-great granddaughter to read. I like to think even if my words don’t become famous in this life, perhaps they will posthumously (à la Emily Dickinson). I suppose that’s why I chose creative writing over journalism, for how many newspaper articles about local politics or blog posts about parenting endure like a poem or a piece of literature?

That said, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out, for with the ease of sharing, there is oversharing, as there are over 74 million blogs on WordPress alone. Though I cannot control how many people choose to follow, share, reblog (also known as the Holy Grail of blogging), or comment on my posts, I do have control over the quality of the content. I’ve found that the shorter the post (400-600 words is recommended), the more likely it is that someone will read the whole thing. (I suspect that’s why haikus are so popular.) We like our information bite-sized now. Think about it: We’ve gone from the cake slice, to the cupcake, and now the cake pop.

You will (usually) get more mileage out of a tercet (a 3-line poem) than a 500-word blog post; in short (pardon the pun), you will be able to make more with less (i.e. generate more readership).

Wednesdays are the only days in which I have to create new content, which frees up time for me to spend on writing pieces that may get published for pay. (Every April and November, I post my Writer’s Digest PAD, or Poem-a-Day, Prompt. This is when I get a bulk of my followers, but you will stretch yourself too thin if you try to post 365 days a year. Once a week is the minimum you should post.

My blogging journey started in October 2014, after I picked up a copy of The Writer’s Market.  I read that blogging should be a part of every author’s platform, and Sarah Lea Stories: A Flurry of Creativity, was born (which I’ve since renamed). I blogged about everyday life: marriage, motherhood, food, and many other things (none of which I am an expert, but rather just have an interest in), though a part of me felt why should I give it all away for free? Did followers really translate into sales, even though I had nothing tangible to sell, but would someday? (The only time I’ve ever bought a book from someone I knew was if they were a member of my local writers’ group. Other than that, my way of book shopping was browsing the bookshelves at one of the local bookstores, reading Amazon.com reviews, or listening to my friends about the books they’ve read, simply because anyone can publish a book now.)

So no, not for me, at least not right now.

That said, it got to a point where I struggled to find things to write about—not that I was running out of ideas, but I liked to save the really good stuff for professional (i.e. paying) publication, as once something is published online, even on your own blog (and even if you have only 100 followers), it’s considered published and you will likely never be able to submit it anywhere else. So, never publish anything online that you may find an adopted home for someday. I’ve written volumes of work I will never publish on my blog.

My advice: Never blog your book—you’ve worked too hard to give it away, and I have found that a book I haven’t paid for, but downloaded for free, is actually less likely to get read because I have so many books I paid for competing for my attention. Professionally self-publish before you ever blog your book. At least that way, you might have a chance at making a little money off of it.

Notwithstanding, you should still always post your best (but not necessarily your most ambitious) on your blog, and it should never be a dump site. When I write something (whether specifically or not) for my blog, it represents me, and it’s going to be polished to a fine patina.

Moreover, writing short on a daily basis has helped me add richness to my longer works, for what is a Great American Novel without great lines? With a blog, you see the results immediately, mostly via likes and maybe a follower or two (comments, apparently, take a great deal of effort because it requires you to actually read the article). With a novel, it might be months or years before you get feedback (much less published), besides the form letter that says it was great, but just wasn’t for them (which are the most maddening kind.)

Nevertheless, don’t let blog writing take too much time away from the writing that might make you money someday, unless you plan on making money from your blog. (I prefer the term “online column”.) Give your audience just enough to get to know you and your work (don’t just sell, but tell), because your blog will be one of your greatest assets when you publish that breakout novel.

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Don’t think of blogging as giving away your hard work for free, but as investing a little time in yourself and your brand. There are fifteen great reasons to start blogging now!

1. It helps people get to know you better. If you are at present unknown, people are more likely to take a chance on buying your book if they feel they have a personal connection with you. Blogging is also a great way to advertise your product, but make the ad entertaining. Everyone loves a story, so use a story; you’re a writer, after all. Even Jesus got people to “buy” what He said using parables.

2. It gives you a voice, an outlet. Blogging isn’t a diary, but a narrative. No one sees the world quite like you do. As Edmund Wilson says, “No two persons ever read the same book.”

3. It satisfies our temptation for instant gratification. That’s one of the many reasons why we write—to connect with others.

4. It gives you writing practice.

5. It instills discipline with self-imposed deadlines.

6. It enhances your creativity. I’m not sure I ever would’ve stuck with the Writer’s Digest prompts if it hadn’t been for needing regular content. (I always include the link to the prompt, as it helps with search engine optimization.)

7. It’s free. (You don’t even have to pay for images.)

8. It can make you money. Attract enough followers, and this can happen to you.

9. It can get you speaking engagements. This is where many writers make a lot of their money.

10. It sharpens your observation, makes you become more aware. Everything, and everyone, has a story.

11. It helps you learn. You can learn as much by researching as you would by being taught.

12. Depending on the job description, it looks great on a resume.

13. It leaves a legacy. Like any distant star, there is a chance someone might land on it.

14. It replaces the dreaded Christmas letter. (This is if you post personal stuff on your blog, and some do, for friends and family.)

15. You get to know yourself better. Though writers often live inside their heads, they don’t always self-reflect, especially if they’re used to making things up. I’ve learned how to capture the ordinary, and make it extraordinary.

I’m still learning everyday how to become a better blogger, website designer, photo editor, and someday photographer.

Blogging, if done right, will not take a great deal of your time. What’s great about it is that you have complete control over your content and can even write ahead for it if you know you’re going to be short on time. (I did this during my summer medical internship, with months’ worth of Monday and Friday blog posts “in the can.”)

Blogging is a great way to unload some pent-up creativity—a way of shedding the excess, so you can focus on writing down the bones.

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

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1. Rather than trying to submit to everything, read and study certain publications that interest you and write for them.  If you want to submit a book to a publisher, study what the publisher publishes, and that should give you a fairly good idea if your work will be a good fit for them.

2. Blog at least twice a week.  (I’ve found that posting my Writer’s Digest Wednesday prompts really helps me keep this goal.)

3. Try to submit as often as you write.

4. Seek to entertain others, rather than sell yourself.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not followed someone back on Twitter because every tweet is about their book.

5. Write at least 500 words (committed) 700 (uncommitted) words a day.  If you can do more, great, but I found the 1667 daily words required for NaNoWriMo overwhelming.

6. If you have an unfinished novel, finish it.

7. Remember the Dictionary.com Word of the Day by using it in a well-written sentence.

8. If one of your novels isn’t picked up by an agent or publisher by (insert time frame), make a commitment to self-publish.  It can work for you:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/the-martian/andy-weir-author-interview/

9. Manage your time like you would manage your money.  Allocate not only the amount of time, but when to use it for certain activities.  (It’s always too early in the morning for social media).

10. And this is the most important:  make time for people, for other activities, so that you will have a good life—a life worth writing about.

12 Ways to Build Your Writer’s Platform

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Being a writer is a full-time job (though most of us only work at it part-time because we have paying jobs).  It’s been said that we should spend 80% of the time (normally spent writing) engaging others, and the other 20% creating content.  I confess I am backwards in this, because I never feel like I get enough writing done as it is; it is also quite easy to spend hours online, posting, tweeting, retweeting, commenting, reviewing, etc., and feeling like I get very little response back, besides a “follow” or a “like”.  (Retweets are what I am after.)  And often, I have discovered that one only follows me because they want a follow back, so never follow someone back unless their page interests you.  (“Ain’t nobody got time for that!”)

So I was searching for sample “killer” query letters because I’ve had a novel I tailor-wrote for Harlequin romance (never heard back, even though I’ve heard they read every submission).  I believe in the project, so I went to http://agentquery.com/ to pitch it to other publishers.  Though I already had a query letter prepared, I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be; I started doing my research, and found two great posts that helped me with that:

The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

However, I realized that I needed to reevaluate my writer’s platform.  What inspired me to start a blog in the first place was an article I read in “The Writer’s Digest” more than two years ago about this very thing.  Only within the last several months have I stepped it up by joining Twitter, which I think is a must for any writer.  I’ve started promoting myself on there by having every WordPress blog post immediately publish to my Twitter page (in addition to my Facebook account, and once in a blood moon, LinkedIn); I strive to make all my tweets entertaining, rather than just self-promoting, which gets boring (author Amanda Patterson tweets great stuff).  I will never spam people by private messaging them on Twitter, asking for them to download my e-book, etc.–that is what your newsfeed is for, and yes, sometimes things get lost in the virtual shuffle, and so I believe it is perfectly acceptable to retweet such a request no more than twice a week (the minimum number of times we should blog to be considered a serious blogger, according to most).

When I first started Twitter, I was tweeting snippets of poems, usually a screenshot, but didn’t add any hashtags (don’t do that; I add hashtags in the reply box).  I’d also read that every blog post should have an image (we’re such visual people), but I rarely use any stock photography.  I think most of it looks bad, cheap, and unoriginal (and the high-quality kind, like Shutterstock, is pricey).  Try to take your own pictures.  I, personally, do not believe we need images to make a post come to life.  That is what the headline is for.

I got a lot of great ideas on how to promote myself/build my writer’s platform, some of which I’m already using.  I revitalized my LinkedIn account by posting my college essays and publishing some of the scholarship essays I wrote (not the Zombie Apocalypse one, though; LinkedIn is supposed to be a professional site).

So I’m doing the social media blitz, even publishing the novelette (about an apostate Mormon missionary) that inspired my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley” on goodreads.com (see:  https://www.goodreads.com/story/confirm_explicit/405523?chapter=0).

Here are some of the 12 ways of author promotion I found the most useful.

  1. Monetize.  I had never thought of repackaging old blog posts and selling them as an ebook, and I’m not sure why someone would buy something they can get for free, but it’s a thought.  If you’ve published a lot of poetry on your blog, this might be for you.
  2. Create a resource page.  Share your list of resources on social media and with your email list.  I do this on my Websites for Writers page:  https://sarahleastories.wordpress.com/websites-for-writers/
  3. Learn and use appropriate Twitter hashtags.  Here’s a great resource by Caitlin Muir at Author Media: http://www.authormedia.com/44-essential-twitter-hashtags-every-author-should-know/
  4. Set up your YouTube channel.  According to Robert Lee Brewer, the “poet laureate of Writer’s Digest”, poetry is almost always better when read aloud.  My brother wrote a melody to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, and I could just imagine adding some desolate beach scenes to the audio.
  5. Invest in yourself.  Find courses, books, conferences, and people that can aid in your learning and success.  I am taking a Creative Writing class at the college right now, and will be investing a little money into getting a short story critiqued through Writer’s Digest before self-publishing it on amazon.com.
  6. Pitch a guest post.  I’ve already pitched a motherhood/lifestyle article to the Huffington Post (no pay, but great exposure), and there are a few others I am considering.  The main thing for me is posting at least twice a week on my own blog.  If you do get published on a guest blog, you will want your reader to have something worthwhile to link to.
  7. Create some link love.  People love being mentioned or quoted online.   Take the time to email the author or blog owner and let them know they were mentioned in your article.   They might possibly share a link to your article with their followers.
  8. Be everywhere.  Or at least be wherever your ideal readers are. Consider incorporating one or more of these social media networks into your platform building strategy:  Goodreads, Wattpad, Amazon Author Central, Pinterest, and Google+.
  9. Set up a social media schedule. Schedule time for activity on the social media platforms you are active on.  I have found that just checking my notifications is enough Facebooking for the day (still working on making this an everyday reality); as for Twitter, set up a special list, just for writing, so you don’t miss valuable tweets (like calls for submissions) because someone else you follow loves to tweet (and retweet) a lot.
  10. Start commenting.  If you already have a blog, you know how difficult–and how rewarding–it is to get comments on your posts.  Take the time to add insights, ask questions, or provide feedback on other author blogs.  A reblog is always nice, too.
  11. Create your Facebook Author page.  I don’t believe I am quite ready for this.  I feel I need to wait till I get something published to justify an author page (I could be wrong), and that means getting paid cash for my work, not just getting published.
  12. Setup your professional website.  Having a .blogspot, .WordPress, or .Typepad in your domain name denotes amateur status.  Before the end of the year, this is my goal.  It doesn’t cost very much ($18/yr.), and if I can’t design it so it looks more professional, I will hire someone.  I am quite frugal, so it has been hard for me to come to the point of paying for something I can get for free.

Source:  http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/actions-to-build-writer-platform/