“I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you…”

“Do you think about me still? Do ya? Do ya?”

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat down and started typing a blog post. The last few months…I don’t know. When it comes to this blog, I think I started out trying too hard to do it “the right way”–not writing, but “creating content,” not communicating but “building an audience.” And then it started feeling fake, so I pretty much stopped. My words dried up. I want to keep writing, but I don’t know if I want to keep doing it this way, you know? (And it’s not like I’ve been posting that much content, generic or otherwise. We both know I haven’t posted much of anything lately. Every time I sit down to write, I start getting all knotted up over it. Not writer’s block as much as writer’s rebellion. I’m not sure what my problem is.)

While working on something for a friend, I started digging through my past blog posts–I mean the early, early days of my blogs. Have you ever read diary or journal entries you wrote more than 15 years ago? Cringe-y is the word.

And yet, while I’m embarrassed by my emotional immaturity on display in those best-forgotten days, I was struck as I read the posts by how much fun they were to read. (No, I’m not humble-bragging or post-facto-bragging or any such thing.) It was just so clear that I loved writing. I loved writing blog posts, stringing together turns of phrase and pop-culture references and song lyrics. I was much more open and unvarnished and emotive. I bled on the screen.

I think I miss doing that, a little.

Things are different now. Times have changed. I’m no longer a young man in my early 20’s with a keyboard and a broken heart. I’m now a middle-aged man in my late 30’s, with a wife and a daughter and responsibilities–not quite where I hoped I would be by now, but getting there. At this stage in the game, I don’t need to be giving full-vent to my spleen in this format. I’m an adult. I need to act like one. To be honest, I don’t really want to go back to treating blogging like a public diary–that’s what Xanga is for. (Any of you kids remember Xanga? No? Just me? Okay.)

(No, I don’t actually have a Xanga. Actually, I think I did at one point years and years back, but the log-in has been long forgotten.)

[What was I on about? Oh yeah.]

I haven’t posted anything “from the heart” since mid-July, it looks like. And who knows, maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s what you readers want: that I should stick to book reviews, interesting-link aggregation, a bit of this and that about writing and freelancing, and some Bible study blogging. Maybe that’s why you’re here, really. Maybe that can be enough.

What I’m getting at is this: the blog is just starting to feel a bit shallow to me. I don’t want that to be the case, but I’m not sure if or how I should change that.

Maybe nothing ultimately changes. Maybe I just need to start writing more and trust that it will start feeling natural again. I don’t know.

I’ve been wanting to say something to y’all for a few weeks, but I kept waiting for some great idea to kick me back into gear. The idea never came.

Here’s the update from my side of the screen: I’m busy with work, with church, with life stuff. I’m still putting off creative work that I am a bit too afraid to really commit to finishing, but even more afraid of giving up thinking about. There are a dozen things right now that need attention in my life and I’m constantly having to assess and reassess which priorities are most important.

But I miss talking to you, gang. So I’m checking in to let you know I’ve been thinking ’bout you (ooh na-na-na). And I hope you think about me still.

Happy October.

#FridayFive: 09/14/2018

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Here are 5 Medium posts to boost your writing/blogging this weekend!

How to Stop Blogging like It’s 2009 — Shaunta Grimes argues that writers and creatives should build an audience using a platform with a built-in audience (like Medium!) and an email list. Hmm… not a bad idea.

3 Minutes, That’s All It Takes To Get Better At Writing — Tiffany Sun provides some EXTREMELY PRACTICAL tips on how to improve your style and punch up your prose. Take 3 minutes and read this.

Forget About Being A Good Writer, (And Do This Instead) — Here’s my weekly recommendation of Jeff Goins (I just have to–his stuff is that good!). In this post, Jeff argues that there’s something more vital than being a “good” writer.

How to Write Medium Stories People Will Actually Read — Quincy Larson provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to improving your readership stats on Medium, and his advice is really useful. This is one I’m going to go back to a few times.

How to Easily Overcome the #1 Problem with Writing Challenges — If you’ve every tried and failed to complete an online “writing challenge” or you’ve just fallen short of goals you set for yourself, Nicole Akers has some great advice for you.

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One more thing before you go: Can I ask you for a quick favor?

If any of these articles was helpful or interesting, can you comment below and let me know? I want to make sure I’m providing content you enjoy and find valuable.

You can find my other work on Medium. You can also reach me on Twitter.

Have a great weekend, and keep the good folks in the Carolinas in your prayers as they weather the hurricane. See y’all next week!

3 Gifts That Convert Readers into Fans.

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I’ve almost become immune to being “pitched.”

It’s practically a given these days that when you’re consuming online content, there’s a hook–an e-book for sale, an online seminar registration, some sort of monthlycoaching or one-on-one training.

Honestly, I don’t have a problem with this. In fact, at some point, I may be asking you, dear reader, to purchase a novel or two from me (assuming, of course, I actually get around to finishing them).

I’m not mad about it when an article on how to tighten up my blog posts or punch up my Medium headlines ends with a link to the author’s premium content. You know what? You go get your money, baby. (Although, I’ve shared elsewhere how likely I am to pay for premium online content.)

Premium-content pitches have become the highway billboards of blogging: ubiquitous and usually benign, but with the most flamboyant and obnoxious offenders turning away more people than they attract.

That’s why I was stunned and pleasantly surprised when a writer/blogger who’s making a living with his words took a few moments to give me something for free.

I can’t recall how I found out about Jim Woods’ “Finish Your Book” Summit, but I signed up for his mailing list anyway. I figured if nothing else, I’d receive some useful tips and encouragement. I had interacted a little with Jim on a Publishous Twitter chat (shout-out to #PubChat!), and he seemed like a good dude.

But I noticed something unexpected when I received a “welcome” email from his mailing list: Jim asked a question, invited the reader to reply, and promised a personal response.

Confession: I didn’t quite buy it. I figured, if anything, it would probably be a canned response that he had stored in his drafts folder to fire off, depending on the question. But, what the heck: okay, Jim, I’ll bite.

I wrote back with a question about the struggle with balancing family, work, and creative life. To my delight, Jim responded with an actual email. He provided some advice that was pertinent to my situation, and encouraged me to keep at it. And that was it. He dropped a link to his blog at the end, but didn’t try to up-sell me on anything.

In an industry and medium where writers and coaches must self-promote to survive, Jim Woods stood out by giving me 3 things:

  • He gave me his time. Sure, it was just a minute or two, but he made the decision to spend his time helping out a reader. I don’t know how many emails he gets, but I know that even with my minimal inbox traffic, it still takes me forever to respond to people, even my friends. (Also: Sorry, Mike. You should receive a reply by the time this posts.)
  • He gave me his word. It was right there in the email: if you email, I’ll respond. And when I tested him on it, he followed through. I’m reminded of all the times that I’ve told you, dear reader, that I’d post something at this or that time, only to show up, hat-and-excuse-in-hand, much later than promised. I appreciated that Jim said he would respond, and then did.
  • He gave me encouragement. He listened to my question, replied, and encouraged me to follow-through. On his website, he offers coaching for writers who want to finish their books, and I got a taste of that coaching in his correspondence, as he urged me to keep looking for inspiration to write.

These are all small things, to be sure, but meaningful and appreciated.

At the end of last month, I linked to Tim Denning’s Medium piece on building a following through giving. This is just another example of how that works. By just being a cool guy and taking a few minutes to write out a personal reply, Jim gained himself a new member of his digital tribe. Turns out, being a nice person pays off.

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Question: What is one way that a blogger/writer went the extra mile to earn your attention? Post that in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

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The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

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There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

#FridayFive: 07/20/2018

You know the deal–let’s do it:

Teens are Flocking to Youtube to…Study?: If you’re a computer-based office worker like me, one of the most important elements of your workday is background music to drown out the sound of your coworkers loudly calling out to each other. Especially your boss, who has no sense of–oh, that’s just me? Sorry. So yeah, background music is essential. I sometimes listen to podcasts, but when I need to focus just a bit more on the less-data-entry-like aspects of my work, it’s distracting. That’s why this article turned me on to what is becoming a lifesaver in my particularly slammed workdays: lo-fi streams on Youtube.

The Trophy: An Essay on Fatherhood: As the daddy of an…almost-one-year-old [*choking back tears*], essays about fatherhood hit me hard. Goins’ posts are always a good read, including this one.

5 Weak Words that Make Your Writing Less Effective: Another Goins post, this time on the weak/filler words that creep into our writing and water it down.

Why You Don’t Need to Read Those Productivity Guides: Although the author drifts dangerously close to “not having an act is your act” territory, he makes some good points here about “enough,” a word that is almost anathema in productivity discussions.

A Choose-Your-Path Twitter Fairy Tale: This is SO GOOD that I furious with myself for not thinking of it. Every so often, there’s a moment–one shining moment–where we all stop and realize, “hey, social media is actually a pretty cool invention that can bring people together in an interesting way.” I think this is one of those moments.

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Your Turn: Any cool stories or blog posts you want to recommend? Throw ’em in the com-box below!

The4thDave Reads: “Real Artists Don’t Starve” by Jeff Goins

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I need to begin with an apology. Jeff Goins’ team graciously sent me a hardcover copy of Real Artists Don’t Starve to review…around a year ago. It was right around the time we were working on Season 1 of Presto! Fairy Tales (now available on Youtube!) and I started the book but quickly put it down. It wasn’t because it was boring; on the contrary, I was really enjoying it. Rather, I think I stopped reading it at that point because it was making me…uncomfortable.

The premise of the provocatively-titled Real Artists Don’t Starve (hereafter called RADS) is that the myth of the “Starving Artist” is just that–a romanticized myth that does not need to be the reality of anyone pursuing creative work. Goins’ passion is helping creative people to step out and discover how they can bring their passion to life, and throughout RADS, he does this by contrasting the Starving Artist with what he calls the “Thriving Artist.” In the twelve main chapters of RADS, Goins examines these two visions of the artistic life, as a series of contrasting statements. For example:

  • The Starving Artist strives to be original. The Thriving Artist steals from his influences.
  • The Starving Artist waits to be noticed. The Thriving Artist cultivates patrons.
  • The Starving Artist always works alone. The Thriving Artist collaborates with others.

Goins uses these contrasts to examine the assumptions that creatives make about how the creative life “should” function. In doing so, he presents a series of “rules” of the Thriving Artist, such as the Rule of Creative Theft (scandalous!) or the Rule of the Patron. By proposing these basic principles of what Goins calls “the New Renaissance,” he encourages the reader to rethink how he or she approaches creative work. RADS is organized into three sections, addressing the creative person’s mind-set, market, and money–the creation, connection, and commerce that are all part of producing and promoting your art.

So why was I uncomfortable when I started reading RADS? Because I’m in a season of life where some of my creative goals seem to be on hold. I say seem to be because Goins’ writing (and his podcast, The Portfolio Life) consistently challenge me to get going and stop making excuses.

If you’re a new reader, you may not be aware that I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I’ve got several false-starts and unexplored story ideas that I’ve been kicking around for years. Every so often, I’ll pull one out, play with it a bit, and then decide to put it back because it’s “not the right time” to (re)start writing. Beyond that, the typical discussion of “platform” and “self-marketing” always grosses me out a little bit. But as Goins addresses these issues in RADS, he challenges some of the stigmas around the business of art that I have been holding onto and forces me to admit that the reason I don’t try harder to make it happen is that I’m scared to fail.

What’s crazy is that despite my fear, these stories won’t let me go. These characters creep into my idle thoughts and want to be seen and heard. In some small measure, my attempts are regular blog posting are warm-up exercises for the transition to re-engage with the writing life. Or they may be a filler or replacement to give my itching fingers the illusion of motion.

(…Where was I? Oh, right, book review.)

Real Artists Don’t Starve is another excellent work by Jeff Goins that challenges the reader to get real about why they may not be pursing the creative life of their daydreams. His advice is practical and encouraging. The book itself is fast-moving and readable, but the reader should resist the temptation to speed through it. Instead, it may be beneficial to take each chapter at a time, and give the ideas some breathing room to germinate in your mind. Such contemplation will be well worth it. I would definitely recommend this book.

[And Jeff, I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. But if you think about it, it’s really your fault for writing something that got under my skin, ya know?]

#FridayFive: More Medium Madness!

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for five more interesting Medium articles I’ve read in recent months. Here we go!

The Film the NFL Doesn’t Want You To See — I find myself really conflicted about this. As much as I have enjoyed NFL football (and cheering on my Texans), it’s hard to watch this and not consider how the game I love to watch seems to be devouring the men who choose to play it. I think that reality has implications on me as a fan, but I’m not sure (or not comfortable with) what that might mean.

Steve Jobs’ Secret for Eliciting Questions… — One of the hardest things for me when it comes to teaching Sunday School (or leading any kind of discussion) is creating a space where questions can be asked freely. My tendency is just to deliver content (or preach!) for 45 minutes and then ask for questions with about 30 seconds left in class. I’m looking forward to trying the approach described in this article.

How Jack Reacher and I Grew Apart — Proof that being a best-selling novelist doesn’t mean you’re that skillful of a writer. Even the most widely-acclaimed writers fall into bad habits and tropes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s comforting or disheartening.)

The Video Game That Shows Us What the E-Book Could Have Been — I’m intrigued by books that challenge the conventions of what a book is. (You’ll see that in an upcoming “The4thDave Reads” review.) This book…game…thing sounds REALLY fascinating.

Show, Don’t Tell: Character Development through Action… — As I’m working through how to restart a novel I began writing, this article about storytelling through action was eye-opening, as it dissects the opening sequence in my favorite Bond film.

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That’s it, folks. Have a great weekend!

Your Turn: Did you find any of these links helpful? Let me know, so that I can keep an eye out for more useful content to pass along! Have you read any interesting blog posts lately? Share them below!

 

 

 

 

“Guess who’s back…back again…”

“Good grief, Dave, the first post in 2 months, and you lead with a 20-year-old Eminem reference?”

Shaking the rust off, dude.

“What about all those promises to post reviews of books you read this year, remember that? Regular content, you said. I assume you *have* been reading books. So where are the reviews?”

Yeah, about that…

“You have talked frequently about spending less time on social media and more time ‘creating.’ You even wrote a Medium post about that. And that was it–just talk. Are you still on Twitter and Facebook?”

I deleted the apps off my phone.

“What about the browser? Are you logged in to them on your phone’s browser?”

“Look, man, I don’t mean to come at you so hard, right out of the gate. But you keep telling me that you want to write consistently. You have interesting ideas to explore. You wanted to do a whole series of posts about The Federalist Papers, remember? You wrote 4 or 5 posts before stopping. That was 16 months ago. And it was an interesting idea. You should follow up on that at some point.”

Yeah, I keep thinking about that.

“There are book reviews to write, sermon manuscripts to share, maybe even some short stories or poetry. Remember? You used to write poetry, too.”

That’s true. My wife really enjoys when I write poetry.

“See? All I’m saying is, it may be time to start delivering on the promises and good intentions you’ve been carrying around for all these years. How old are you now, 38?”

I’m 37. Birthday’s in October.

“Okay, then, 37. How about this? We start now with some regular content. Start flexing the ol’ creative muscles. And then we start working on the manuscript to your NaNoWriMo novel, Good Shepherd, and get that baby done before 40 comes around.”

That’s…not a bad idea. I still really like that story.

“You’re right, it’s not a bad idea–it’s a great idea. That story should be told. But we gotta baby-step this one. It starts with writing consistently.”

Okay, I’ll do it. Starting today, I’m gonna–

“STOP. Stop making promises. No more resolutions. Just do it. Don’t tell me about it. Just do it.”

Okay. Today, then.

“Today.”

Done.

#FridayFive: Another 5 Interesting Medium Posts

Hey folks! Back this week with another group of Medium posts that I found informative and/or challenging, and that I think you may appreciate:

Confessions of A Failed Female Coder – Caroline McCarthy tackles the topic of women in STEM (specifically in Computer Science) and provides some perspective on the infamous “Google memo” by James Damore. McCarthy’s insights on how education and learning style influence the way girls interact with STEM subjects gave my wife and I some good things to discuss regarding how we will raise and educate our daughter.

Las Vegas, Murder, and Gun Control – Rick Thomas wrestles with some of the political/cultural conversation around the latest mass shooting in the US. Most helpful for me was his breakdown of the 3 arguments used by cultural evangelists, in regards to guns.

You Weren’t Very Persuasive Today – Cody Libolt provides some good ideas on how to have productive and persuasive discussions with people with whom you disagree. In an age of people screaming past each other into the digital abyss, this post is worth some consideration.

Killing Television – Michael Marinaccio cites a few Pew Research results about the demographics of news consumption and media trust, as he considers the possible effect of a generational shift from visual news back to print news as a more trusted resource.

Why You Should Quit Reading Paper Books – I disagree with Andy Sparks’ premise entirely*, as do apparently ALL of the commenters (the answer to your problem, Andy, is a combination of marginalia, pocket notebooks, and highlighters), but I’ll admit he has some useful tips for how to capture and review ideas and quotes from your digital reading. So take that for what it’s worth, and leave the rest, I guess.

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There you go, gang. Some fun reading for the weekend.

If you’re on Medium, let me know! I’d love to check out your work. I’m on Medium, too, if you want to follow me there–though I haven’t produced much of anything in that forum. Yet.

Have you read any useful or challenging articles online lately? Post the link in the comments below!

 

 

*Much to the possible dismay of Mr. Sparks, I’m actually playing around with the idea of reading EXCLUSIVELY print books in 2018, and limiting myself to books I actually own as of January 1. I figure it’s a good way to battle my tsundoku tendencies.

#FridayFive: 5* Interesting Stories I’ve read recently on Medium.

So I have a confession to make: I use the “bookmark” function on Medium entirely too much.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Medium is a free public blogging platform in which anyone can submit articles. (And I mean anyone.) If you subscribe to certain people’s feeds or click that you are interested in certain topics, you can get a daily (or weekly, I imagine) digest email from the site with links to articles that might interest you. And you can even “bookmark” things you want to read later.

What happens when you bookmark a whole lot and don’t actually read that much? You get a backlog of articles that may number into the several hundred. Or so I’m told.

So I figured, at least for a few weeks, I was going to go through this backlog and pull stories to tell you about that I found interesting, informative, funny, and/or generally worth reading.

Disclaimer: I will try to warn you in advance, but in these posts I will link to articles with bad language from time to time. I’m going to trust that you and your conscience will make good choices, based on your convictions. If I link to the article, it’s because I think the content is worth reading, despite objectionable verbiage.

So here you go–5* stories I’ve read recently that I thought were worth sharing:

I Envy Your Fake Life — Stephen Altrogge talks about the confluence of social media and comparison. I appreciated his honesty, and the reminder of how God’s sovereignty speaks to our contentment.

The Only 3 Types of Writing People Actually Want to Read — Okay, so a lot of the stuff I read on Medium has to do with content creation, writing, publishing, etc. This piece by Ayodeji Awosika was a very useful and direct reminder about what people want to get out of online content (or really, any written content).

Read Like You’re on a Diet — Okay, this one hit a little close to home, as Cody Musser describes the glut of reading material online, the temptation to try to catch it all, and how overwhelming it can be. He’s also frank about how writers’ motives can cloud how good or useful content is. And he emphasizes the need for creating, not just consuming. Worth considering. (NB: language)

23 Ways to Immediately Get more Traffic to Your Blog — Okay, this post is SEO’d to the max. Unsurprising, since it’s Jeff Goins, who’s a pro at platforming. BUT it’s also got some good and useful ideas for boosting the number of eyes that land on your writing, so if you’re into such things, this is a good one to read.

Reading to Learn: Why You Shouldn’t Read Beginning-to-End and What You Should Do Instead — Michael Motta discusses what looks like a very effective method for reading non-fiction (especially textbooks) with an eye to better retention and comprehension. If you’re in school, this may especially be worth a look.

BONUS:

Jesus Took Away My Freedom of Speech… — Couldn’t wait until next time to include this one. Billy Schiel reminds us in this great article about the implications of being servants of Jesus Christ, including how it affects the way we speak (or blog or tweet). Don’t miss this one.

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There you go: the first “Medium” edition of the #FridayFive. If you are already on Medium and are so inclined, you can follow me there. No, I don’t have much content up at this point, but I will be rectifying that in the next few weeks–both with cross-posts from this blog and some Medium-exclusive content as well. Looking forward to that!

Have a great weekend, do something fun, be with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day if you’re a believer, and I’ll be back next week (hopefully).