Aug 132016
 

Whether you’ve been blogging for years or are a relative newcomer to the blogging scene, the challenge is the same: coming up with a foolproof way to begin writing a post. I took a few months off from blogging earlier this year, while I was undergoing cancer treatments, but when I returned to blogging, that white desktop screen was a bit daunting. Here are three ways I jump start my own posts that you may find helpful.

 Photo by Dinalya Dawes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinalyadawes/16679987154) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by Dinalya Dawes (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinalyadawes/16679987154) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Respond to what you read

Writers generally have more to say when they do something outside of writing, whether that’s visiting the state fair, learning how to surf, attending a play, reading a book, or doing anything else. Lori Lake, in Quick Ways to Jump-Start Your Writing, says you can find topics anywhere—the newspaper, television, overheard conversations, the radio, and so on. “Start making a quick list throughout the day,” she says, “about anything that strikes you . . .”

One of the best ways I come up with a blog post idea is by responding to a book, magazine article or blog post I have read, or to a comment on one of my own posts. This post, in fact, is a response to a recent comment from a reader who said she simply needs to “. . . begin something—anything at all to get the ball rolling.”

Are there certain types of articles or posts to which you’re drawn? Likely these are the same topics that will inspire you to write. Cover a different angle about the same topic, or expand on one of the points you’ve read. Argue a different point of view, or cite reasons why you agree, and provide evidence. Invite others’ opinions, cite others’ opinions, and respond to one or more of these points of view. For myself, I’m drawn to such topics as writing, creativity, crafts and mindfulness. What reading topics draw your attention? That’s your starting point.

Photo by Lori Greig (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2195971982) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo by Lori Greig (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lori_greig/2195971982) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Begin with the title

When I used to write Instant Challenges (on-the-spot creative problem-solving exercises) for Iowa’s Destination Imagination program, my writing team identified a theme, and then brainstormed titles to correspond with it. One year we had an abundance of toilet paper rolls to use as working materials, so “roll” became our theme, and the Instant Challenges were generated from roll-themed titles.

A Roll-of-Plenty

Blog posts can begin exactly the same way. Identify a theme you want to address, and then begin brainstorming titles. If you’re stumped, use a list of title starters, such as April Bowles-Olin’s 75 Done-For-You Blog Post Title Templates, posted on her blog, Blacksburg Belle. Here’s an example of how this might work for a fellow Blogging Business Artisans teammate, Sharla, whose Beaded Tail blog posts are written in the person of her cats, Angel and Isabella. The cats refer to Sharla as “Mommy.” Some of Sharla’s beaded jewelry designs feature an animal theme, and one of the causes she supports is animal awareness, especially for animals with special needs. Using April Bowles-Olin’s templates, here are some potential titles Sharla might use to begin several posts:

  • Template: Why You Should __________ Today; Blog Post Title: Why You Should Support Your Local Animal Shelter Today
  • Template: Behind the Scenes of __________; Blog Post Title: Behind the Scenes of Mommy’s Bead Studio
  • Template: The Right Way to __________; Blog Post Title: The Right Way to Feed Your Cat’s Curiosity
  • Template: The ABCs of __________; Blog Post Title: The ABCs to Building a Purr-fect Playground
  • Template: __________ Tricks to __________; Blog Post Title: Clever Tricks to Wrap Mommy Around Our Tails

Beginning a post with a title not only helps you to write the content of the post, but is also an attention-getter. “Titles matter more than most people realize,” writes April. “It’s really the ONLY thing that matters when you’re trying to get people to click to read the blog post.”

Draw a mind map

When you aren’t getting anywhere with topic and title lists, you may discover that a visual approach to brainstorming is helpful. Vicki Meade, in How to Use Clustering to Jump Start Your Writing, points out that one of the best ways to come up with ideas and find a direction for a writing piece is clustering, also referred to as mind mapping. “Clustering is a powerful tool,” Vicki writes, “because it taps into the right brain, which drives creativity. Our right brain is where fresh ideas and original insights are generated. The left brain, in contrast, is more logical and orderly.” Being left-brained or right-brained, of course, has no basis in scientific fact, as both sides of our cerebral cortex are involved in creativity, but left and right brain terminology does describe people’s inclinations and resulting behaviors. Sometimes we get caught up in criticizing our initial ideas so much that we stem the flow of our own creativity. This results in what is commonly referred to as writer’s block.

The way that clustering, or mind mapping, works is through the process of free association, using word-and-image connections. You begin by identifying a word, phrase or image that represents a central idea. You circle that word or phrase, and then add any words, phrases or images that come to mind after that, circling and connecting them with lines to the original circle. These words or phrases may also suggest other ideas to you, so you continue the process of jotting them down or drawing them, circling them, and attaching lines between circles to suggest connected ideas. There is really no right or wrong way to do this. If you wish, use colored pencils or markers, and use squares, triangles and other shapes, in addition to circles. Stop when you’ve either filled the working space, or when you can no longer think of connections. Keep in mind that your working space could also be a dry erase board or even a wall on which you adhere sticky notes. When you’re finished, look at related ideas and group them together to establish the focus of your post. Finally, begin writing. Make sure you don’t stop along the way to edit your post. When the post is finished, return to your post to correct grammar, punctuation and syntax, and to add images and needed links.

Photo by Jessica Mullent (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicamullen/3230262686) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This mind map is centered around the concept of information, with related ideas radiating around it. It is important, when you free associate, that you don’t edit out your ideas, as that limits your final outcome.  Photo by Jessica Mullen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicamullen/3230262686) via: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

A great resource for discovering how to use mind mapping is Tony Busan’s book, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, which focuses on paper-and-pen methods. Truthfully, I prefer to use paper-and-pen, but if you’d like to preview an electronic method of mind mapping, the six-and-a-half minute video below of iMindMap, admittedly an older video, provides a great sneak peek into electronic mind mapping principles in general.

Some of the advantages to using mind mapping software are that you can save, print, edit and share your mind map. There are many applications that you can use on the Web or on your mobile devices. Ideally, mind mapping software should sync between Web and mobile devices. You can refer to the list below to compare apps. Consider that a free app will have fewer features than a purchased one, but that there may be an option to upgrade to a full-featured version for a reasonable fee.

Obviously, there are more than three ways to jump start your blogging than the ones I’ve outlined in this post, but I have found these methods to be personally useful. What are your favorite methods of kickstarting a blog post?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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May 062015
 

It’s easy to feel as if the blogging inspirational well is running dry when you write frequent posts and don’t sense an audience is present. You might feel as if you’re a fisherman, casting a net for fish that swim in anyone’s waters but your own.

“Seems like most of my followers are from this [Etsy] team,” reports one of my Etsy friends.

“I think most of my (blog) followers are teammates, too! I get some outside traffic, but not many followers,” says another person.

Photo courtesy of  Dhammika Heenpella, https://www.flickr.com/photos/photosofsrilanka/. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Photo courtesy of
Dhammika Heenpella, https://www.flickr.com/photos/photosofsrilanka/. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

The standard blogging advice, if you’d like to see more followers, is that you need to read others’ blog posts and comment—you need to reciprocate, in other words. It’s considered good blogging etiquette, too, to respond to comments that need answers. Not all of them do. Be genuine with both your comments and responses. It also helps if you share links to your posts on your favorite social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and other sites. But you may still feel that you aren’t gaining followers if you don’t see the count on your “Followers” widget go up, or if you aren’t getting many comments in response to your blog posts. That can be discouraging, but you might be surprised to learn you have more readers—perhaps silent ones—than you think.

Are you really without readers? Take a look at how many posts you have written, and how many comments they have garnered. This is my 344th post, and to date my posts have collected 1,548 comments. That’s an average of 4.5 comments per post, much more than my own perception, sometimes, that few people read this blog. But there is further evidence that there are readers out there beyond the comments we bloggers crave.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some years back, I set up a StatCounter account to track how many unique views my blog was getting. Beyond that, I didn’t really look at the other statistics that StatCounter’s basic (and free) account provides. Here’s a rundown of just a few statistics that StatCounter gathers that will help make you feel you aren’t blogging for an audience of only six or seven people, and in turn may help you feel more inspired to blog:

  • The number of page views, unique visits, first time visits and returning visits from today to the time you created a StatCounter account
  • Your most popular pages (or posts)
  • Where your traffic comes from
  • What keywords visitors use to find you
  • How long visitors stay on your site
  • What items are being downloaded from your site
  • What links on your site are being clicked on

Perhaps your problem, when it comes to blogging, is not that you think you don’t have an audience. You know you do, and you don’t want to disappoint folks with a lack of fresh content. Your challenge is coming up with new topics. Here are five strategies that may help you target the perfect blog post idea(s).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Network with others. Start a question exchange with one or more other bloggers, building a list of questions you each can use to write blog posts. Your questions (or requests for information) should be open-ended. Here are a few to get you started:

  • What would you do if . . . ?
  • How do you . . . ?
  • Tell me more about . . .
  • When was the last time you . . . ?
  • Explain what . . .
  • What is the best way to . . . ?
  • In what ways can you . . . ?
  • Why (or how) did __________ happen?
  • What did you learn from . . . ?
  • What’s the best that . . . ?
  • What’s the worst that . . . ?
  • How can you change/modify/adapt . . . ?
  • How can you solve . . . ?
  • How can you extend (or shorten) . . . ?
  • What’s a good substitute for . . . ?
  • How can you maximize (or minimize) . . . ?
  • What happens if you . . . ?
Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Begin with the title. When I write Instant Challenge activities for Iowa’s Destination Imagination program, I often begin with a list of potential titles, and write the content to match it afterward. This works well when you have one or more brainstorming partners because then you are bouncing ideas off each other. Using this method, a friend and I came up with a common theme: rolls and tubes. We then generated related titles that we transformed into A Roll of Plenty (practice Instant Challenges, that is!):

  • Future Tube
  • Roll Out the Red Carpet
  • Roll Play
  • Jelly Bean Roll
  • Test Tube Towers
  • Tube Shot
  • Magic Carpet Roll
  • Roll Out a Rescue
  • Tube Trek
  • Let the Good Times Roll
  • Tough Tube Tower
  • Tunnel Tubes

Still lost? Don’t know how to begin? Visit Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator, where you enter three words and click on a button that says “Give me blog topics.” The app automatically generates titles for you, and then you write the content.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pick a topic from a list. There are many online lists of blog topics that others have posted on the Web. Some are business-related, some are not, but all of them contain a seed that just needs your creativity (and maybe some research) to bloom. Here are a few:

If all else fails, visit Handmadeology and enter “blog ideas” in the search box. You’ll find more ideas here than you will find time to implement!

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Revamp an old post. Perhaps you explored one aspect of a topic a year ago, but there’s another point of view you didn’t address, or the topic was so broad that you only covered one tiny corner. Pull out that post and brainstorm a list of related topics. Then, research the topic, interview people, seek or take photos, and write your post.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Keep a swipe file. I had never heard this phrase until I ran across Kevan Lee’s The Ultimate List of 95 Blogpost Ideas for Creating Craveable Content to Share on Social [sic], but essentially a swipe file is a collection of resources from which you can “swipe” ideas when you’re running low on inspiration. Anytime you run across a blog post, article, photo, image, quote or anything else that captures your interest, jot it down, snap a photo, pin it, photocopy it, print it, or file it away physically or electronically. A Pinterest board is a kind of swipe file, as are software apps such as OneNote and Evernote. Similar to Pinterest is another free app called Trello. It really doesn’t matter why you collect the topics you find interesting, challenging, amusing or puzzling; you just want to have a parking lot for them when you need ideas to write about. A swipe file is a starting point. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open, and collect trivia in the same manner a sponge soaks up water.

Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whenever you’re feeling discouraged because you don’t seem to have readers, remember that many of your visitors are silent. Prove it to yourself by reviewing the facts. Check out the number of comments you’ve collected versus the posts you’ve written. Look up a few StatCounter statistics. Visit your Etsy Stats page, change the time frame to “All Time,” and check out how many times people arrived in your shop location after visiting your blog. Remember to visit other blogs and comment, and to respond when necessary to comments on your own blog. And whenever you need some fresh ideas, look up one of the five idea-generating strategies in this post. You’ll want to bookmark this post for future reference. Do you have a blog post idea-generating technique that works especially well for you? Feel free to share it in the comments below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Feb 092015
 

What’s your daily source of crafting inspiration? For me there are general and specific answers to this question. The general answer can be found in the ways that color, texture, and pattern meet to produce a story. The “story” is the tale the final product tells: what it is, for whom it’s designed, and how it’s beneficial. Make no mistake—every product tells such a story to varying degrees.

The gratitude journals I design, for example, are written meditations for those who want to bring about, through mindfulness of what’s really important to them, a more positive outlook on life.

Rose Garland Gratitude BookThe blank books I craft capture an individual’s fleeting thoughts, interesting quotes, bits of poetry, doodles, or mini sketches—in general, expressions of creativity or inspirational reminders.

Sweet Petunias Mini Blank Book

The specific elements that provide my crafting inspiration usually come from nature, particularly from flowers, leaves, birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

Botanica and Wings Collage

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I am not much of a gardener—honestly, I forget to water plants and then, not surprisingly, they don’t survive. But I do love flowers nonetheless, even if I don’t find inspiration in my non-existent garden. Instead, I rely upon a mixture of imagination and illustrations from old calendars, books, magazines and Web searches. Especially helpful to me from my personal library is Gardens Flowers, by Matthias Hermann. The book, published more than 40 years ago in Germany (but translated into English), includes exquisitely detailed engravings from famous painters such as Albrecht Dürer, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Moritz Michael Daffinger and others.

Gardens Flowers book

Sitting on a shelf above one of my sewing machines is a garden-themed mini-pillow I stitched, along with other garden-themed items I have collected over the years.

Garden-inspired sewing

Another wall in the sewing room displays blown glass birds and flowers, as well as a dolphin and elephant that don’t quite match the rest of the theme, but are special because they were gifted to me by family members.

Blown glass garden inspiration

My paper crafting studio showcases mixed media wall art, “Mountain Mommas,” designed by Tennessee artist Sam Willoughby, as well as nature-inspired folk crafts from Kentucky and elsewhere that John and I picked up during our travels.

Garden-inspired paper crafting

I keep a collection of old calendars and regularly use the pages to cover binders. Invariably, flowers and winged creatures are prominently displayed in the illustrations.

Repurposed calendar pages

My love of birds probably began when I was a little girl and spotted a robin’s nest outside my window sill. But that affinity for birds likely grew when I owned various parakeets, both as a teen and as an adult. In this 1972 photo, my late father is playing with the family budgie, Tony.

Daddy plays with Tony the parakeet

I even sketched and embroidered a portrait of one of my birds back in 1976, when crewel embroidery was popular.

Parakeet love

When we lived in southern California many years ago, I missed the changing seasons—especially autumn. The love for fall persists today, even though we live in Iowa, where seasonal contrasts abound. As a result, I collect buttons and other embellishments that remind me of my favorite season, and enjoy creating items that incorporate a fall palette of colors.

Fall Collection

In short, I surround myself with what inspires me, not consciously, but because these items appeal to me visually and evoke images, sounds and scents from my past. I suspect this is true for everyone who creates. In the comments below, describe the source(s) of your crafting inspiration. Feel free to provide a link if you’ve blogged about this same topic.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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