What I’ve learned from my mistakes as a writer

Someone recently asked me, “Did you even stop and think about what would happen if you wrote what you did?” Many years ago, the answer would probably be, “Nope.” It just popped into my head, so I wrote it.

Today, the answer is almost certainly, “Yes, I thought about it all night long.” And I prayed about it; I probably ran it by some trusted editor friends; and if it was a tricky subject, I probably shed some tears. It’s exhausting, but I consider it part of my job.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by stevepb via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Writing about your kids? Watch your mouth.

She got her sons’ permission to write everything she writes.

Yeah. So what? They are your children. Your relationship with them is not a contractual obligation where one party can sign away their rights to dignity and privacy just because their mom has a deadline and a grievance

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

10 Ways to Insult a Catholic Blogger (and Why You Shouldn’t Bother)

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1. You’re just trying to get attention with this! Oh gosh-all-whillikers, not attention! You mean that I made an effort to write in such a way as to persuade people to click on the headline, think about what I said, and elicit a response of some kind? Is outrage! Next time I have a thought, I’ll jot it down on an orange peel and bury it under the shed. You know, for the greater glory of God.

(If I’m writing flagrantly click-baity headlines, attaching photos of Mila Kunis’ chestal area, or just plain lying about stuff, then that’s no good. But just being interesting? That’s my job.)

Read the rest at the Register.

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So you want to start a blog?

This isn't a picture of a blog, but it is a picture! Always have a picture.

This isn’t a picture of a blog, but it is a picture! Always have a picture.

 

Every so often, someone asks me for tips on launching a new blog. Here is some general advice for the typical popular blog. I don’t take all this advice myself, but it’s still all good practice.

Experienced bloggers, what would you add?

 

To increase your audience:

-Always include a picture. People are much more likely to read and share a post that has an illustration of some kind.*

 

-Post everything on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus once or twice, and make good use of keywords and hashtags. Also consider using Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.-Post regularly. Aim for three times a week, if not every day.

 

-Make post titles short, snappy and searchable. Questions make good titles (but not for every post). Intriguing trumps descriptive.

 

-Before you try to get any big traffic, do a “soft launch” by having about 5-6 posts already published. If you intend to have a comment box (which is not necessary), find a few friendly people to leave comments in those first posts, to give it a “live” feeling.

 

-Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to bigger bloggers who have an audience that might be interested in your writing. Don’t expect to hear back from everyone, of course, but many bloggers are happy to do a quick, general “Here’s something new, might be interesting” post on social media, so cast a wide net.

 

-Put a link to your blog allllll over the place: in the signature of your email, in comments that you leave on other blogs, in the heading of whatever social media you use, etc.

 

-Include the option to subscribe to your blog via feeds and email.

 

-Link to other bloggers on your blog, either within the content or at the end of the post in a “related reads” list. Share other bloggers’ work on social media.

 

*Bloggers, even tiny little ones, are getting sued more and more often for using copyrighted pictures! Make sure that you only use images you have permission to use — either your own photos, or images from sources like Wikimedia Commons, Wellcome Images, Pond5, or other sources of royalty-free images. Make sure you attribute them correctly (the sites will give you directions for how to attribute).

 

For the writing itself:

 

-Write about things that you really know about, rather than Things People Really Ought to Know. People really like to get snapshots of worlds that aren’t anything like their own, OR snapshots of worlds that they know all too well, and wish other people understood. Dialogue, vivid description, thoughts that popped into your head – these are all much more captivating than explanations or analysis.

 

-Let your unique voice come through. A consistent, authentic voice that becomes familiar is what will keep people coming back. It’s okay to assume a persona that’s not exactly you, as long as it’s consistent.

 

-It’s fine to be dramatic and punchy; it’s not fine to be sensationalistic. People are very, very tired of the breathless “You’ll never believe what happens next!” kind of stuff that’s everywhere, and they resent being tricked into reading a story. Let the writing and subject matter be compelling on its own.

 

-It’s fine to be controversial or critical; it’s not fine to be nasty or to get personal. If you’re angry, be angry, but be other things, too.

 

-There is nothing wrong with latching onto a hot topic, news story, or celebrity name and using it as a hook to talk about something that you have insight or experience about, but don’t let every post be like this.

 

-Keep posts short, under 1,000 words. This isn’t applicable for every type of blog; but the typical reader has a pretty short attention span. And for crying out loud, use paragraphs. Too many bloggers offer a solid brick of writing, and I, for one, refuse to read bricks.

 

 

For the blog:

 

-Seems like common sense, but search around to make sure no one else is already using whatever name you choose. You don’t want to be constantly explaining, “No no, I’m Musings of a Random Guy, not Random Guy’s Musings.”

 

-Have a picture of yourself somewhere on the blog, and make sure there’s an “about me” or “what we do here” page.

 

-Include contact information. It’s a good idea to have a separate email just for you blog, so your inbox doesn’t get too cluttered with blog stuff.

 

-Remember that you don’t owe anyone a platform. People are free to start their own blogs, if they have something to say! If you do decide to have a comment box, consider moderating comments before they get published. It’s nice to have a lively comment box that feels like a community, but if the jerks feel too free to say whatever they want, then decent, sensible people won’t bother getting involved, and you’ll just have a cesspool.

 

-Use tags; have archives on your sidebar; and once you get going, consider having a “my favorite posts” or “most popular posts” list on the sidebar, to keep people browsing around.

 

-Keep it as uncluttered as possible. Avoid pop-ups and autoplay ads.

 

-For the love of mike, don’t use a dark background and light print, and don’t use any kind of gimmicky font.  Make it as readable as possible or . . . dun dun dun . . . people won’t read it.

 

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