Turning Your Blog Into Brand

Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.

Whether you’re monetizing your blog and want to turn it into a proper business or you have started to finally get some clout and want to make the best possible use out of it, the next evolution is to turn it into a real brand. There are countless ways to do this. These are but four steps successful bloggers can take to build their brand from their blog.

Use your personality as a jumping point

Aside from the content you post, your blog has one thing that’s unique to it: you. A lot of blogs benefit from being closely tied to the personality and the vibe of the person running it. If that’s the case with you, then consider building a personal brand, whether it’s through guest posts, taking speaking opportunities, or simply putting a more personal take on more of your posts.

Start getting out there

Your brand isn’t just for getting to know your readers; it’s for building professional connections, too. These connections might be with other bloggers or with businesses that see cross-promotional opportunities with your blog. Attending conferences and trade shows, bringing goodies with services like t-shirt printing near you, and taking the time to network with other blogosphere professionals can all help you establish yourself in the market. Additionally, these partnerships can lead to opportunities to raise your platform even further with your readers as a direct result.

Start sharing your content more widely

A lot of the best-known bloggers do not stick strictly to blogs. One of the most popular tactics is to write an e-book. This lets you expand on some of your best-known topics with the kind of insight and depth that cannot fit into a single blog post or a series of posts.

Though it takes more effort and time, turning your posts into YouTube videos may help even further. Compared to YouTube, traditional blogging platforms struggle with discoverability. It may be more effective to branch out and gain readers by converting them from viewers.

Engage, engage, engage

It’s a tip that a lot of new bloggers are very diligent in following… at least for a few months. However, as time goes on and the blog starts to get bigger, it’s easy to forget to build positive social proof and encourage word of mouth by building a relationship with your audience. Ensure you’re not only responding to comments on your posts but also using social media in a way that’s appropriate and helpful for your goals. But don’t just share your own content; share from the community and spend time getting into and starting conversations.

These tips are just a starting point. Which tools you use and how you make use of them will determine your success.


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Digital Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.

Running a small business is no easy feat, especially during these trying times. 2020 has seen countless companies collapse, as they haven’t been able to operate and thrive effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, many companies haven’t been able to operate on a remote basis. As people increasingly work from home wherever possible, limiting many in-person operations, many haven’t generated sufficient profit to keep afloat.

However, other companies have been able to operate. But they haven’t effectively adapted their working model and processes to fit the new lifestyles customers are leading. At the start of the year, print marketing may have been a viable option. Many businesses focus on this, as it’s fun, profitable, and something familiar. Print marketing is what we’ve been exposed to growing up. What business doesn’t want to see their brand on posters, flyers, or even billboards? But if you want your business to survive in the current climate, you need to focus on digital marketing.

With customers spending increasing time at home, the effectiveness of traditional and print marketing is limited. Instead, you need to target your customers on their phones, laptops, and computers. Here are a few aspects of digital marketing to knuckle down on if you want to increase profit for your business!

Make Things Easier for Yourself

All businesses have a lot on their plate right now. You may feel you don’t have time or enough help to keep up with digital marketing. The good news is you don’t have to abandon digital marketing efforts altogether. Instead, you could hire a digital marketing agency. They will complete projects and tasks, as and when you need, helping to boost sales and cover the costs while providing profit for you! You can click here to find out more.

Mailing Lists

Email marketing is now an essential tool for any brand that wants to thrive. To you first need to get them signed up to your mailing list. A mailing list is comprised of people who give you their email address and permission to send marketing communications.

It effectively puts you in touch with your potential customers and keeps your brand at the forefront of their minds. Regularly seeing your brand name in their inbox can help to create brand loyalty, encouraging customers to head straight to you instead of competitors.

Social Media Influencers

People spend a lot of time scrolling through social media, as it has become a primary source for news and updates. Every brand should have a social media presence now. If you don’t, make sure to create business profiles on the main three platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Now, these platforms can help you advertise independently. But if you want to make the most of your social media, you should consider collaborating with social media influencers. Social media influencers are individuals with a large fanbase or following on social media platforms. When they post, their content goes in front of all of their followers. This means mass exposure for your products if you can get a social media influencer to promote them!

Their followers are likely to trust the influencer’s recommendation and purchase the advertised products for themselves. This can boost sales! Of course, influencers need to be paid. If you’re short on funds right now, try offering free products instead in exchange for honest reviews.

These digital marketing methods really can help your brand out during these trying times. So, give them a go and see how they work for you!


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How to Bring a Compelling Character to Life

Before I got feedback from various readers on my manuscript, I had a feeling something wasn’t right with my main character. I worried she wasn’t someone people would care about, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I told my beta readers that was something I wanted their input on, and they did not disappoint. With their specific feedback, I was able to figure out what was missing. Not only did I fix my problem, but I used the same techniques to turn everyone in my novel into a more compelling character.

Make it Personal

At first glance, survival sounds like an excellent motivator. The situation is life or death, meaning the stakes are high for your character. But if survival is your character’s only reason for participating in the plot, you run the risk of your main character only reacting to the story rather than driving it. Why is that bad?

It’s boring. Something personal has to motivate the character to get on the other side of the trials they have to survive. Sure it’s dramatic if your character has to dodge oncoming traffic while crossing the street, but who cares if they make it unless there’s something important over there?

Even in survival-based fiction, like The Hunger Games, survival isn’t the only thing that’s at stake. Katniss wants to go home and be back with Gale, Prim, and her mother. There’s also the budding romance with Peeta. And beneath it all, Katniss doesn’t want to compromise who she is for the Capitol’s amusement. She could survive by taking an aggressive strategy and killing all the other tributes and winning the game, but she chooses her own path. She hides and hesitates, always gauging whether she has an option besides killing the person in front of her.

Add Realistic Flaws

Early in my writing days, I thought giving a character flaws meant making them inexperienced. Not necessarily naive, but certainly no expert in any field. Giving the main character expertise made me worry they were too much of a Chosen One. Inexperience can be a facet of a character’s background, but that’s not the same as a flaw. Neither is clumsiness, which seems to be increasingly mistaken for a personality trait.

They have a hot tempter, so they often argue with those around them. A past mistake makes them afraid of taking risks. The obsession with their personal goal blinds them to the collateral damage they cause.

Give Them A “Cool” Factor

Every writer is warned against making their main characters into a Mary Sue/Gary Stu/Casey Q. (Is there already a gender-neutral moniker for a flawless character? If not, Casey Q is my suggestion.) When giving your character flaws and limitations, they still need that “cool” factor, the thing that makes them attractive to a reader.

Physical attractiveness doesn’t play so well in the written medium as it does in more visual media. There are many other traits that make a character attractive to your audience. It could be a skill, like Drizzt Do’Urden‘s signature fighting style with two scimitars. It could also be an exceptionally charming personality complemented by exceptional dialogue.

Even if your character has a prickly or mean personality and generally acts unlikable, something about them has to be appealing. In Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker often comes across as cold, selfish, and cruel. But he’s a criminal mastermind and an absolute badass. I probably would never want to be friends with him, but I will happily tune in to any of his schemes because his badassary is a big part of what makes him a compelling character.

Make Them Protect A Secret

Giving characters a secret is something I’ve recently come around on. I actually asked author Vivian Conroy on Twitter some suggestions on introducing some misdirection and sowing distrust between characters, and she said she likes to ensure that everyone has a suspicious secret. I took her advice and gave a side character a secret. He suddenly became so much more three-dimensional, I had to give everyone a secret just to see what would happen.

Not every secret has to be central to the plot. In fact, making it appear relevant before revealing it’s something completely different is a great way to make your characters suspicious of each other and introduce a little mystery in your story (even if mystery isn’t your main genre). But making the secret something damning adds more drama and makes it feel like the characters have their own lives.

The general rule of a character’s secret: if it’s revealed, there are severe consequences. For an extra twist, consider a secret that protects someone else.

Embrace Vulnerability

This is another aspect you’ll find in other lists for compelling character traits. Again, in my early days, I equated vulnerability with flaws. “I must determine my character’s kryptonite, and then find a way for someone to use it against them!”

That’s not the kind of vulnerability you’re looking for. (Or maybe it is, but this one is good, too.)

An emotional vulnerability or insecurity offers an opportunity for your readers to empathize and connect with the character. If they’re keeping a romantic history with another character secret, the fear of what that revelation could do to a current relationship draws on an insecurity many people are familiar with. Or perhaps your character is driven so hard to succeed because it seems nothing they do is ever enough, and they’ll finally feel validated if they can just do that one thing.

What other techniques do you employ to create a compelling character?


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When Not to Make a Hobby Blog a Business

It seems everyone has a blog to drive business these days. For many, blogging is a career built off a hobby or passion project. There’s a lot of push out there to monetize your blog and turn it into a business. But not every blog should be a business. Here are my 4 reasons why you should keep your hobby blog just a hobby.

1. You Could Hate Your Hobby

Running a professional blog takes a huge time commitment. There’s managing an editorial calendar, actually creating your content, and marketing to name just a few of the big tasks involved. Even when you don’t feel like blogging, you have to because it’s your job.

You have an audience (ahem, customers) to consider. Analytics to monitor. Strategies to adapt as algorithms and markets change. If you have to force yourself to work on something that once gave you joy, you might start to resent the hobby you blog about.

2. Your Hobby Blog isn’t Marketable

Don’t confuse “marketable” with “worthwhile.” If your blog is all about analyzing every facet of every single Fast and the Furious movie, there’s probably an audience waiting to eat up your every word. But it’s not the foundation of a business.

Sure, you can add advertisements or affiliate links to make money. But a business has to sell a product or service, even if it’s a non-profit or volunteer group. It’s a lot harder to make the kind of income you need to quit your day job if your blog is just for expressing yourself.

3. You Just Don’t Have Time

Have I mentioned how much time a blog takes? I spend anywhere between 1-4 hours on each blog post. That just includes writing, editing, adding links, making adjustments for SEO, laying it out, and finding a good image to pair with it. There’s also the time I spend on making a custom social media sharing image for each post, scheduling the post to go out on different social media channels, and then going back to fix a typo I didn’t catch before.

To stay on top of a blog, you have to be able to set non-negotiable blocks of time to do the work. It really helps if you can have up to three weeks’ worth of content ready to go. Otherwise, your readers may stop visiting because you’re not meeting the expectations you set for your blog to deliver. For a fun hobby blog, it’s no big deal. For a business, it could make a huge difference financially.

4. You’re Honestly Not That Invested

Of course, your blog matters to you. When you first thought about it, it probably seemed like a great idea and you couldn’t wait to dive in. But once you got a handle on it, you realized you’d rather keep up with it whenever the mood strikes.

Your blog has readers, but at the end of the day, you’re doing it for you. And if your blog ever stopped bringing you joy, you could walk away from it with minimal heartbreak. If keeping your relationship to your blog light and casual is one of the things that makes you happiest about blogging, then don’t spoil a good thing by turning it into a job. You’re just setting yourself up to quit because of problem #1.

Bottom line: don’t make your hobby blog a business if you don’t want to.

There’s a lot of encouragement and pressure from all directions to make money with your blog. If that’s not what you’re here for, then don’t do it.


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Getting Personal with Your Personal Brand

When you start building your personal brand, one of the many things to consider is how personal you get on your branded channels. How do you balance promoting your work and your brand with glimpses into what you do off the clock?

While the answer comes down to personal preference and what works best for you, here are some guidelines to help you walk that fine line while still remaining true to your personal brand.

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What Sort of Personal Content Should I Share?

The content you can share depends on what your brand offers, your brand’s tone, and what goes on in your day to day life. If you run a cooking channel, of course you’d share pictures from when you go out to eat. Video game streamers share pictures of their pets settling in around their gaming setup. Musicians share experiences from the places they visit on tour.

Something to consider from Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s Social Media for Writers: Marketing Strategies for Building Your Audience and Selling Books:

“Little moments in life can be fun to share with your community. If those in the picture are comfortable sharing these candid memories with your network, do it. Posting your adventures away from your keyboard is a great way to connect.”

Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine

Social Media for Writers is by far my favorite book on social media. Not only does it provide specific advice for how writers can effectively use social platforms (an entire chapter on using Instagram as a writer!), but it’s also entertaining to read. Non-writers who have a personal brand would greatly benefit from the advice in this book because much of it can be adapted for your particular industry.

Why Share Personal Content at All?

First of all, showing off your personal life and activities on the internet isn’t for everyone. When you have a personal brand, however, avoiding a social media presence is a big mistake. Millions of users all around the world — your potential consumers — are on social media. If you’re not there, you’re missing out on the biggest avenues of online marketing.

Adding personal content to your branded channels reminds people that you’re not just trying to sell them something. You’re also a person. And people would rather interact with other people than a faceless entity.

Consider this from Dave Kerpen’s Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Amazing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and More:

“You have to be an authentic human being in your interactions. Anything less and your consumers might consider your attempt at conversation nothing more than a marketing ploy, no better than if you repeated a bland corporate mantra.”

Dave Kerpen

Likeable Social Media is one of my favorite guides on social media marketing. Even though most of the advice is geared toward marketing for a larger brand, it’s still applicable to personal brands. Plus the focus is on not just creating content people will engage with, but also how to act like a brand people will genuinely like.

Consider the Platform

Your audiences will vary on each social media platform, and so will their expectations of what kind of content they’ll see. Approach personal content just as you would branded content you push for each social media channel.

Facebook

For better or worse, Facebook remains the chief social media platform. In between updates about progress milestones and marketing whatever your personal brand sells, you can give a glimpse into your personality by sharing the things that inspire you. This can take the form of photos or videos. It can also be sharing websites and blog posts.

Twitter

With the fast-paced nature of Twitter, the average tweet tends to work like a passing comment. Maybe it goes unacknowledged, and you go about your day. Ideally, it sparks a conversation. Twitter is built on interaction. And since making every tweet a push to promote or sell your brand is rude, spammy, and one of the worst practices for Twitter, you’ll need to engage with others as a person.

For personal brands, Twitter can be the after-work cocktail party of your social media platforms. You talk shop with your peers, thank the people who love your work, and maybe pull out your phone to show off pictures of your pets and kids.

Instagram

Instagram offers personal brands the opportunity to tell their story visually. You can share teasers, moments from events, and other beautiful photos and videos that tell your brand’s story.

What if you already have your own personal Instagram account? Do you share your branded content there, or make a separate account just for your brand?

The answer depends on what will serve your brand’s needs best. If your brand is regularly creating and selling new products or services — thereby giving you more original content — you might consider a brand-dedicated Instagram account.

It can still feature the occasional glimpse into your private life, should you choose to share any. But if you have a lot of fresh content people will be looking for, you probably won’t want to bury product news under your vacation photos. Bear in mind that if you post more personal content and less about what your brand is up to, you might lose followers who care more about the brand and less about your #foodporn pictures.

What if your brand produces fewer products over large periods of time? It probably isn’t worth trying to maintain a separate Instagram account that will only have sporadic updates. You’re still working on new things, of course. And you should absolutely tease that content. But until you have something ready and available for public consumption, you can only spend so much time talking it up.

LinkedIn

As the social media platform for networking professionals, content on LinkedIn generally sticks to themes of professional advice, industry insight, and thought leadership. Most personal content, then, wouldn’t really be appropriate here. However, you can share photos from seminars, workshops, or retreats. You could also write about personal experiences in your industry, such as dealing with stress, creative problem solving, and growth you experienced. The occasional peek into your workspace as you’re working on your next product or service wouldn’t be out of place, either.

A Final Thought on Personal Brands

The most important thing to remember: when you’re sharing the personal side of your brand — opinions, humor, what you do in your spare time, and the like — never forget that everything you reveal about who you are as a person reflects upon your brand.


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Lessons From a Day with Dr. Kristen Iversen

In October 2013, when I was an undergraduate writing student, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Kristen Iversen, author of “Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.” We read her book in my nonfiction writing class, and she was coming to present a lecture later that day. I was one of a handful of undergraduate students selected to attend some additional, more personal events with her.

When the day of Dr. Iversen’s visit arrived, I woke up terribly sick. Between my fever and the number of antihistamines I took, I went through most of the day in a sweaty, lethargic, dizzy haze. While the smell of cherry cough drops rekindles a few memories, most of what I remember about that day comes from the notes I took.

At least some part of me was clear-headed enough to make sure I could remember getting personal insight from Dr. Iversen for a day.

Part One: Dr. Iversen’s Graduate Writing Workshop

Our first stop was a workshop session with graduate writing students in one of Arnold Hall’s plain white classrooms. There were eight graduate students total, as well as three of my undergraduate classmates. We had all read four of the grad students’ essays over the weekend to prepare for the workshop.

However, no one wanted to be the first to speak. I kept my mouth shut as long as I could. Mostly, I didn’t feel like my feedback meant much to a graduate student, especially with a published nonfiction author sitting right there. But I also didn’t want my fever-brain to make me say something stupid. I don’t remember anything I said, but one of the graduate students liked my comments enough to find me later at Dr. Iversen’s lecture to discuss his essay further.

Dr. Iversen broke the silence for us, introducing us to an exercise to help figure out where the real interest of the story is.

The idea is to read the piece of writing, then flip it over and ask yourself what you remember most about it. She also asked where we thought the actual story began. Even though each piece we read was completely different, we consistently found the most memorable part matched up with where we felt the story began. Strangely, those moments always happened on the third page.

Dr. Iversen said she knows she’ll cut almost the entire first chapter from anything she writes, but she still has to write that first chapter to warm up. She told us about one assignment she did as a student where she had to bring in a completed draft of a novel. She said as everyone was seated, her professor went around, grabbed the first 25 or so pages, and threw them in the trash. I spent every fiction class after that worried one of my professors would do the same to my work.

Part Two: Lunch with Dr. Iversen

After the workshop ended, we went to lunch at the Gryphon Tea Room. Carved woodwork crown the ceiling, shelves of antique books arranged by color line every wall, and white-cushioned chairs surround every table draped in white cloth. It’s a popular place for a fancy brunch, afternoon tea, or lunch.

Only four of us were able to attend lunch: Dr. Iversen, one graduate student, myself, and a professor. The other student and I asked Dr. Iversen our questions, and she talked about how she balances reading with writing and touring.

Since my primary concerns then involved staying hydrated, graduating college, and getting a job, I didn’t pay much attention. Going on tour to promote my book seemed like such a distant daydream. It didn’t occur to me that I might find her insight helpful further along in my career.

Part Three: The Lecture

We all went our separate ways after lunch. Dr. Iversen went to visit Flannery O’Connor’s house along with my professor. Nearly tapped out of energy, I went back to my dorm room for a much-needed nap before the lecture.

I rested enough to go to the lecture with a fresh bag of cough drops in my pocket. I remember being startled by the shift from personal insight over lunch to a more general discussion of her book. She gave a brief history of the Rocky Flats nuclear facility, what happened to the surrounding area, and what’s happening with the facility now.

After spending the whole day hearing her personal writing experience and advice, I expected more of that from her lecture. With so much of that personal touch missing, it seemed nothing resonated with me enough to merit writing it down.

While I don’t remember much of the lecture itself, I do remember that getting to know the writer mattered the most to me. That may be because I was more confident in my writing skills then and wanted advice on being a writer.

But even now, I love learning about their writing lifestyle almost as much as how they view the craft. After all, the way they live as a writer informs how the write.


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4 Early Mistakes That Can Kill a Blog’s Chances of Success

Before you even launch your blog and hit publish on your first post, there are numerous mistakes you can make that will set you up for failure.

At the encouragement of several friends and the results of a Twitter poll, I nearly started a food blog last year. I purchased a domain, designed the site, and got to work creating content before launching. Even though I worked at it for a couple months, the blog ultimately failed. I didn’t renew the domain this year and I deleted my empty site.

The main mistakes that kill a blog: lack of content and lack of commitment. They might sound like easy fixes at first, but they contribute to a host of problems that can make it almost impossible to move forward.

Not Committing Time to Creating Content

Blogging is very time-consuming. You pick a topic, do your research, draft a post, edit the post, format it with headings and design elements, pick engaging images to use with it, add links, and publish. All that doesn’t include taking the time to craft custom messages for sharing your post on social media that are more effective than automatically sharing.

For me, a blog post can take anywhere from three hours to a couple of days from start to finish.

If you don’t want your blog to fail, you have to be willing to commit the time. That means scheduling blocks of your day to work on it around your other responsibilities.

Not Enough ORIGINAL Content

There are loads of places to get content for your blog. Writing prompts posted by other bloggers, sponsored content, reviews, blog idea generators… But readers won’t come back to your blog if they’re not interested in you.

In the case of my food blog, I only had a handful of original recipes ready. Some were still in the testing and tweaking stage. And I needed great photos of each one. My mistake was not having at least a dozen recipes ready to go.

Not Considering Design and Navigation First

Before you can get to the fun part of blogging (actually writing and publishing your content), you have to design your site. It should be aesthetically pleasing, well-branded, and provide a good user experience.

Rushing past this step is a critical mistake. If you fail to take the time to get the look and structure of your site set up first, it can present serious challenges when you’re trying to find the right place for each piece of content.

You might be tempted to put this part off until later. While it’s a good idea to periodically evaluate whether your design and structure need some retooling, you’ll double your work if you don’t put the time into this step first. The old saying “if you don’t have time to do it right, you have time to do it over” rings true here.

Not Thinking It Through Before You Start

A good blog is well thought-out on multiple fronts. Picking your niche, defining your audience, establishing your voice, building a schedule… Even if your blog is only a hobby, not taking the time to come up with a plan will lead to frustration. It’s hard to feel fulfilled by blogging if you don’t have any goals in mind.

What mistakes have you made with your blog, or seen others do with theirs?


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6 Ways to Take a Break When You Work From Home

One of the dangers of working from home is skipping break time. These 6 tips on being mindful can help sustain your energy throughout the day and ensure you’re working efficiently, not constantly.

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1. Schedule a Mid-Day Break and Other Smaller Ones

Like an in-office lunch hour, your mid-day break is a great time to walk away from your work and eat a tasty meal. You can either prep your lunch ahead of time, or incorporate fixing a simple meal as part of your break. Good, healthy food will keep your energy up for the second half of your day. Just be sure not to eat at your desk! Aside from possibly making a mess and getting crumbs in your keyboard, eating in another room gives your eyes a break from screens.

By scheduling when you take your breaks, you can keep focused on your tasks during work-time and stay positive while looking forward to break-times.

2. Stay Hydrated

Keep a glass, cup, or reusable bottle of water on hand and drink throughout the day. In addition to the well-known benefits of drinking enough water each day, staying hydrated while you work staves off tiredness and headaches that can keep you from concentrating. Getting up to top off your water also makes sure you don’t spend too much time sitting.

3. Bend, Stretch, Set a Movement Break

Take a movement break within your physical comfort level after every hour or hour and a half you spend sitting. If you can’t go outside for a walk, just walk around your home and visit every room or every window — making a little game out of it can help you not feel silly.

If you want to get more active, there are an endless number of five-minute workout videos on YouTube that range from cardio to yoga to some basic stretches. Get your blood flowing to stay energized, and help reduce your risk of developing conditions from sitting too long.

4. Perk Up With Something Funny

Get a funny desk calendar, keep an amusing picture by your desk, visit an entertaining social media page, or watch a fun video. Smiling and laughing is a great stress reliever. Plus it’s good for your mental health to remember there’s more to life than work. Just don’t fall down the rabbit hole and lose an hour to TikTok!

5. Find Your Mental Sorbet

Just as sorbet cleanses the palate between courses in a meal, you can refresh your mind with a special treat. Read an article or a blog post that will get you thinking.

6. Pick a Quiet Place to Unplug

Even when you’re not in a typical office, things can feel hectic and overwhelming. Find a place inside or just outside your home where you can take some time for yourself. You can go there during your mid-day break, or after hours as part of your “commute” out of work mode.

Your happy place at home should be silent and free of disturbances. This is not the place to look at your phone. You can meditate, read a book, doodle, or color in a coloring book. Take a few deep breaths and relax.


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Ideas That Matter with Emilie Kefalas

I invited Emily Kefalas, author and illustrator of “A Capitol Dream” and “A Call to Congress,” back to offer some insight on the craft of writing. One of her core beliefs as a writer is that there are no bad ideas, and she was more than happy to share her thoughts on this subject.


You are a passionate believer that “all ideas are good ideas if you put pen to paper and write like no one’s opinion matters because it doesn’t.” What does that mean to you?

My one wish for all adults, in whatever field or stage of life they find themselves in, is they wake up and understand the majority of the “truths” fed to them since birth are, frankly, wrong.

I hesitate to use the collective “we” in this scenario, but think about it. Millennials are significantly more vocal about mental health and the wonders of therapy. Why? We’re sharing our “unlearning” and “truth debunking” online. 2020, among many things, is the peak of our digital age, which means we are more connected on a global scale unmatched in the history of mankind (yes, I know, VERY dramatic).

Now what does this have to do with my belief “all ideas are good ideas?” We’ve been conditioned to find, I believe, specific ideas or types of high concepts “good.” I trace this discussion back to the argument of the subjectivity of art. What makes art? What makes art “good?” Does it really matter if art is good to justify its existence?

I believe though there may be recognized communities of notable experts and scholars, we should not limit or challenge our ideas as “not good enough” based solely upon the merit of a handful of opinions on a planet with BILLIONS of brilliant human brains.

“All ideas are good ideas” means do not, DO NOT, let anyone dismiss your untold stories. Sure there are no new ideas, only rewired approaches, but rain water doesn’t flow through different pipes uniformly. Why should ideas?

The first time you start to doubt whether your idea is any good, how do you confront that doubt and keep working with your idea?

I always ask myself, “what about this is making me think it’s not worth it?” Often, I find specific subjects will trigger unresolved and untrue “beliefs” in my subconscious. Sometimes I pause my progress because I’m scared I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m wrong.

Newsflash: No one is ever “right.” Keep going.

What do you do to silence the mental ghosts of other people’s opinions?

This goes back to debunking years’ worth of “truths.”

I’m the oldest of three daughters and, for the longest time, I was an unapologetic people-pleaser. I invested YEARS in doing what my inner child thought would make everyone happy. By everyone, I’m mostly talking about my parents.

Since January, I’ve been doing deep cleaning in terms of my “truths,” and it was only a month ago I fully grasped how much energy I invested in the reactions of my parents. These responses to my health, career, interests, overall LIFE had an overwhelming impact on my anxiety and crippled my journey to self-love. I was “fawning” as someone I no longer was, because I thought that’s the version of me they wanted. 

Now, the reality is this was all in my head. The brain is brilliant. The mind is a mess. My parents are wonderful role models, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. No one is.

And that’s when it hit me: They are two people with unique personalities. Two. People. How many people do I know? Yes, they’re my parents and I want them to know I love and respect them. But at the end of the day, they’re just two people with different life experiences. Different stories from me.

For you, how do you know for certain that you’ve got a good idea?

When the creative juices flow freely and you as an artist trust how those juices will taste, intuition is the best indication of an idea weighted with impact.

How did this come to be such a strong belief for you?

I was yanked from my limiting beliefs when I:

  1. moved away from home and experienced life in multiple geographic regions and communities
  2. read “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero and more recently “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie and “The F*** It Diet” by Caroline Dooner
  3. actually permitted myself to be vulnerable in a creative space and learn from fellow artists that I was not a pariah in my frustration with “gatekeepers” and “creative hierarchy.”

What would you say to someone who doesn’t quite “get it” or feel like it applies to them?

How poetic! As a fabulous former professor of mine used to say, let me include a little “flick” here to remind your readers of my first response.

If you don’t “get it,” don’t feel like something is wrong with you. I’m not here to force toxic positivity or make you feel as though I have all the answers (HAAAAA). Truthfully, this belief “no idea is a bad one” might not resonate with you if you actually love everything you produce (in any artistic medium) AND you love yourself. Even this mantra is the result of us being aware and mindful of the complexity of creation in general.

In fact, I’d argue that if we all loved ourselves shamelessly and didn’t pay a dime to anyone’s opinions of us, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The limiting beliefs passed down generationally as they pertain to artists are, in short, discouraging.

You don’t have to “get” it. You don’t have to do anything. Just ask yourself where your beliefs come from and if they are *really* true. Only then will the switch flip.


About Emilie Kefalas

Photo of Emilie Kefalas, author and illustrator of "A Call to Congress."

Emilie Kefalas is a writer, productive daydreamer, and lifelong doodler currently writing her third book in her “Capitol Dream” series, “The Library’s Alive!” She’s also gearing up for the release of her new children’s book, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers.” More recently, you can find her diligently developing her production company, RandEm Productions, LLC.

Connect with Emilie and find out more about her history-making children’s books “A Capitol Dream” and “A Call to Congress” at acapitoldream.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Note: Emilie is a friend, former colleague and fellow Savannah College of Art and Design alumna. Read more about author interviews and promotions.


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10 Thoughts on 10 Years of Blogging

Summer 2020 marks a pretty significant milestone for me: a solid decade of being a blogger. We are a long way from where we started (ahem, light trash talk about assignments and classmates in my 12th grade English class). In all that time, I’ve learned a lot. So after 10 years of blogging, here are 10 pieces of blogging advice.

Please note: This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, they will help us keep this site up and running! Please check out our disclosure policy for more details. Thank you for your support!

1. Don’t Let Lulls Get You Down

Coming back from gaps in posting consistently feels like you’re back at square one with trying to find your audience. Some loyal readers are happy to have you back, while others are no longer interested.

It’s normal to struggle in the beginning to gain a readership. Still struggling after a year or more can be very discouraging, though still realistic. You might consider abandoning your blog, which isn’t always a bad idea. Maybe you just need to tweak your content, voice, or strategy. Or maybe a whole fresh start is in order.

2. Images Don’t Need to Be a Pain

Strong, eye-catching images are essential for getting eyes on your blog. Unless you’re a pro photographer and/or it’s part of your blog, you don’t have to take all your photos yourself. It can be time-consuming to search for the right photo, but it will always be a worthwhile use of your blogging time. And with sites like Pixabay, finding images that are free to use is painless.

3. Blogging Builds Professional Skills

A lot of jobs in every industry value strong writing skills. It’s part of communicating clearly and efficiently. Blogging is a good way to practice those skills and keep them sharp if you’re between jobs.

Blogging builds experience in the growing field of writing for the web. With how content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and Squarespace are so widely-used, getting familiar with their systems on your own time can prepare you to use them for a full-time employer.

4. Making Money Means Thinking Like a Business

A long-lasting blog that generates an income needs to be treated like a business endeavor. Especially if you want to make a career out of blogging, you have to think like an entrepreneur.

That means being GDPR-compliant, understanding how to handle blogging income when filing your taxes, making sure you’re in compliance with the FTC and other governing agencies. And don’t forget keeping updated privacy policies, terms of use, and disclosure statements on your site.

5. Remember Why You Started Blogging

Think about why you wanted to start blogging. Even if your blog is only a hobby at this point, it takes up a big chunk of time and energy to maintain (and it really adds up if you keep going for 10 years).

There are ups and downs. Victories and frustrations around every corner. If you want to keep blogging for a long time, you can’t lose sight of why you were passionate about it in the first place.

Some things will inevitably change along the way, but you have to stay true to the soul of your work if you want it to make you happy.

6. Blogging Grows Your Network

One of the most effective ways to bring attention to your blog is reading and commenting on other blogs — as long as sure your comments are relevant and not just shameless self-promotion.

In finding other blogs you want to read regularly, you have the chance to forge a connection with the creators behind those blogs. These are people you can tap for guest-written content, industry advice, recommendations for other professionals, and other opportunities out in the real world like seminars and conventions.

7. Some Things Suck at Every Stage

Maybe you’ve heard this one before: your earliest attempts will always suck.

True, you can only grow and improve the longer you work at it. But the thing about writing on the internet is that it’s always changing. Trends come and go. Algorithms change. New topics become relevant as old ones fade into the background.

8. Your Readers Change, Too

Your audience might change in a couple of different ways. First, they might outgrow your blog. They might no longer be interested in the topics you cover, or maybe it’s you, not them. Either way, they can move on without you.

But the audience you want to reach could change, too. Maybe you started writing content for a particular age group, but now you want to be more accessible to readers of any age. Everything you write for a blog is going to have your target audience in mind, but that target isn’t set in stone.

9. It’s Never Too Late to Pivot

Whether you’ve been blogging for 10 months or 10 years, there’s never a bad time to shift your blog’s focus. And you don’t need to make a huge public announcement about it, either. Start moving in your new direction once you have a clear idea of what that is.

You don’t need to tear down everything you’ve already done and start from scratch, either. Content from an early area in your brand’s life is still valuable content for your archives. You can easily tweak the design of your blog to better suit your new direction.

If you do overhaul the design of your blog, set aside some time to check all your old posts for formatting problems. Changing themes and styles might have affected older content that still receives traffic. You could lose out on site visitors who click away as soon as they see broken or ugly pages!

10. There Are No Substitutions for Tight, Quality Content

In 10 years of blogging, one thing has never changed: quality content is the key to success. Your content doesn’t only have to focus on an interesting topic and provide value to your readers.

One of the pitfalls of blogging and writing for so long is complacency. Don’t rely on the assumption that your readers will keep coming back no matter what. Your attention and dedication to quality must remain consistent.


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6 Ways to Turn Blogging Into a Career

Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


With so many blogs out there, turning your blogging hobby into a full-time job can be a challenge — to say nothing of how hard it is to stand out from the many others. To ensure you can successfully make the switch to a blogging career, here are six vital tips.

1. Write About What Excites You

Before creating a target audience or picking your niche, you must understand yourself and what interests you. Everyone has something they are particularly interested in, or maybe more than one something. Evaluate all your passions and pick one or two that interest you the most.

2. Understand Your Audience

Now that you have figured out what excites you, it’s time to define your target audience. It’s at this stage that you really find your footing and ultimately build a brand.

The next step is to understand what interests your audience and the type of content that will resonate with them. You can use search engines to see what people in your niche are talking about.

Then you can, in turn, create valuable content on topics of interest to your audience.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Money

It’s completely possible to blog for free… but that only works if you want to run a good old fashioned, online journal. If it’s a financially successful blog you’re aiming for, then you’re going to have to dig into your pocket a bit. 

While there are free blogging tools out there, many lack the beyond-the-basics options that help make your blogging career successful. Some of the downsides include low monetization potential, limited domain customization, and minimal security.

4. Build an Email List

Even if you don’t plan on selling anything, building an email list allows you to promote your content without directly relying on search engines. Sites like https://www.templafy.com/ provide solutions on how to easily manage your email lists.

5. Have a User-Friendly Interface and Encourage Engagement

When creating your blog’s website, make sure it’s easy to access and navigate on both desktop and mobile devices. One of the many reasons people don’t comment on blogs is because they have trouble navigating.

When it comes to engagement, you can encourage interaction by writing about things that get people talking. But don’t let the conversation stop there; respond to comments and maintain an open dialogue.

6. Provide Valuable Content

If you only remember one thing from this list, let it be this. Informative and entertaining content is what keeps people coming back to your blog. Give your posts captivating titles and eye-catching photos to complement your writing.

Your writing should be easy to read, digest and engaging enough to keep readers hooked.


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Q&A with Emilie Kefalas, author of “A Call to Congress”

What do you get when you combine a passion for American history, a lifetime of doodling, and a literary challenge? Emilie Kefalas, the children’s book author and illustrator behind “A Capitol Dream” and her newest release, “A Call to Congress.”


What started your love of Capitol Hill and American history, and how did that love turn into a desire to write children’s books?

Emilie Kefalas: I credit the unbelievably passionate history teachers I was fortunate to learn under as my cornerstone for my love of history, world and American. My love of Capitol Hill and all its moving body parts came about as a result of me following my love of history to Washington, DC one summer. After my freshman year at Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame (my pre-SCAD days), I interned in the office of Congressman Rodney Davis from my home district in Illinois. That experience is the reason I just swoon and adore all the Hill is, was, and will be.

Physically discovering the Capitol reinforced my fascination with American history, because suddenly the events and people I’d only read about to that point became alive and preserved in this beautiful building, this OFFICE. The Capitol is not a museum but in fact an office for our Legislative Branch. It’s living and breathing and making history every day.

It’s like loving chocolate then going to a chocolate factory where you not only get to eat the chocolate, but also WITNESS its creation.

The idea to write a children’s book about the Capitol itself manifested in my doodles from my internship as well as my mom’s encouragement this kind of book was necessary for children. Look around the literary world. Plenty of titles exist about people in DC, the city itself, history itself, but so few take you inside the Capitol and show you what a real tour would.

Giving tours of the Capitol to constituents who visited our office was hands down my favorite duty as an intern, because I got to show them history as it happened. I got to show them the chocolate factory.

Emilie Kefalas, author of "A Capitol Dream" and "A Call to Congress," reads her book to an audience of children in a bookstore.

What was it like combining civics, history, and a physical tour of the House and Senate chambers into a story for young readers?

EK: The task to weave those elements harmoniously was, in a word, challenging. You want nothing but facts and purity in a children’s book about a place too many Americans view as a hotbed of deals, disagreements, and political games.

My desire from the beginning was to keep this story, “A Capitol Dream,” unbiased, representative of multiple American narratives, and FUN. What I didn’t want was to write a lecture, a class lesson that would lose readers after page four because it sounded “too school-ish.” That’s not what I wanted when I started reading in my youth, and you know the saying, “write what you would like to read.”

To oversee this process successfully, I sought input from trusted former teachers, mentors, and some of my favorite childhood reads if for no other reason than to acquire perspective. I also kept my Capitol tour guide pamphlet from my days as an intern within an arm’s reach, because every stop included in “A Capitol Dream” is straight from the tours I used to give.

With history, because it’s so vast, I had to kill darlings and keep each historical fact “digestible.” As I said, when combining civics, history, and even architecture, you absolutely must keep it lively, up-tempo, and moving. I discovered when writing “A Capitol Dream” and observed when drafting “A Call To Congress” that my goal is not to write a history book. My goal is and always will be to bring our American stories to life as they are experienced in the Capitol itself.

Photo of Emilie Kefalas signing copies of her book, "A Capitol Dream," at the US House of Representatives.

What was your favorite moment of working on “A Call to Congress” (besides when you finally got to hold it in your hands!)?

EK: My second book, “A Call To Congress,” came together so quickly thanks to the high I was riding from doing press for “A Capitol Dream.” My favorite moment was undoubtedly receiving the confirmation email it was all set for pre-order. When money enters the picture, the legitimate nature of publishing feels “real.”

I’m awaiting this moment right now, actually, as my children’s cookbook, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers” has been postponed due to COVID’s impact on the publishing community. Once I open my inbox to find that email with written confirmation readers can finally purchase the book, I will exhale.

Then, I’ll continue illustrating my next book!

What’s been the greatest challenge for you as an author and illustrator so far?

EK: Especially as an independent author actively seeking an agent, the greatest challenge lies in the details of my process. The cleanup in illustration. The meticulous copy-editing my manuscript. The quadruple fact-checking of all my information. The communication between me and my publisher.

These all require patience, and I’m notorious for wanting everything to happen at the snap of my fingers. I’ve adopted a mantra Winston Churchill used during World War II, “Action this day,” which has the power to pull you from a rut but really raise your anxiety when you want things to happen fast and happen NOW. Often, these are components of the publishing process out of my control.

Practicing patience and trust in the process are two great challenges I face constantly as I continue to navigate this territory of authorship.

With a whole “Capitol Dream” series in development, can you share what readers can look forward to in future titles?

EK: I’m on a mission to flesh out my “Capitol Dream” series with several new titles about the other extraordinary buildings of Capitol Hill, from the Library of Congress to the Supreme Court. Once those are complete, I have a decision to make: Do I desire to leave Capitol Hill and write about our nation’s executive branch? You see, with stories about the Capitol (Legislative Branch) and the Supreme Court (Judicial Branch) in the books (pun intended), do I continue with our country’s third branch of government so my “Capitol Dream” series follows a cohesive arc?

Now I have time to marinate on this seeing as I’m knee-deep in illustrating my third book about the Library of Congress, “The Library’s Alive!” In tandem with that, I am in the process of editing a children’s web series based on my “Capitol” series called “A Capitol Day.”

This is the new frontier of children’s programming, I believe. “A Capitol Day” will star the main character of my “Capitol” series, Tour Guide Emilie, and it will be a very short, single-camera show for young Capitol Dreamers about our Legislative Branch and Capitol Hill. Thanks to the amazing team at AudioBrew (fellow SCAD alumni!), “A Capitol Day” has a theme song sung and written by myself but significantly enhanced with their composition wizardry.

I mentioned earlier I’m awaiting the delayed release of my children’s cookbook, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers,” which I created with the incredible help of another SCAD alumna, Antonella Martinez-Gugliotta. She breathed illustrated life into my vision for a cookbook featuring recipes from the files of my two grandmothers, my Nonnie and Yia Yia. In addition to this title, all of the recipes in the book will be shot and edited to exist in the digital space as well. I’m currently filming baking tutorials for my Nonnie’s Irish Soda Bread and my Yia Yia’s Baklava, both of which will be available for viewing on the book’s official website, randemrecipes.com.

For your readers who may be wondering, I refer to my creative alter ego as RandEm, and she’s definitely going to appear in future books!

Now that you have two books published and are planning more, how do you celebrate when you’ve finished a book?

EK: Once you taste the success and pride of publishing, you’re hooked. This drug of holding your book with an honest-to-God ISBN and seeing it sold in bookstores gives me a high I don’t plan to quit as long as I’m of sound mind.

My personal “victory march,” so to speak, consists of sharing what I’ve created physically with local businesses, schools, libraries, and digitally on social media. Celebrating includes creating Facebook and Instagram-specific content about my baby and what makes her special (yes, my books are my babies and of course they’re feminine).

To be honest, though, my favorite way to truly step back and acknowledge, “Wow, I just birthed a book,” is participating in interviews and doing press. As one who has a background in journalism and media management, I love being on the other side of the recorder/camera.


About “A Call to Congress”

Emilie loves sharing the history of the U.S. Capitol Building as a Capitol tour guide, but what she loves even more, is learning from those who lived the history she teaches to constituents of all ages! In “A Call to Congress,” the second in Emilie Kefalas’s “Capitol Dream” series, she unexpectedly meets former Congressman and U.S. President James Madison. What follows is an impromptu tour of the U.S. House and Senate chambers.

This guide introduces young constituents to the functions of the U.S. Legislative Branch and is the perfect companion for any visit to the U.S. Capitol.

About Emilie Kefalas

Photo of Emilie Kefalas, author and illustrator of "A Call to Congress."

Emilie Kefalas is a writer, productive daydreamer, and lifelong doodler currently writing her third book in her “Capitol Dream” series, “The Library’s Alive!” She’s also gearing up for the release of her new children’s book, “RandEm Recipes For Beginner Bakers.” More recently, you can find her diligently developing her production company, RandEm Productions, LLC.

Connect with Emilie and find out more about her history-making children’s books “A Capitol Dream” and “A Call to Congress” at acapitoldream.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


All photos are courtesy of Emilie Kefalas.

Note: Emilie is a friend, former colleague and fellow Savannah College of Art and Design alumna. Read more about author interviews and promotions.


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How to Get Readers Returning to Your Blog

A successful blog is one that hooks in readers and keeps them coming back. But just how do you build a loyal readership? Below are a few ways to encourage readers to keep returning to your blog.


Please note: This is a contributed post. View full disclosure policy.


Set up social media pages for your blog

Social media pages can help alert readers whenever you post new content. On top of this, it can be used to remind readers of old content by sharing past posts. Sharing to social media also allows people to leave comments regarding your posts on those platforms. This interactivity can help build loyal readers.

Facebook and Twitter are two of the best social media sites for sharing blog content. Posting at specific times and using enticing descriptions with each post can help to increase engagements.

You can add social media buttons to your blog that allow readers to easily follow you with the click of a button (provided they are already signed in). Just make sure these social media buttons are clearly visible.

Allow readers to join a mailing list

A mailing list can be another way of keeping readers alerted whenever you publish new content. Using a bulk mailing program, you can send updates to all readers that have subscribed to your mailing list. There are many ways to encourage visitors to subscribe, such as adding buttons and pop-ups to your site and advertising your mailing list on social media.

One important thing to note: never add people to your mailing list without their permission!

On top of email marketing, you can also use SMS marketing to build a mailing list. This allows people to add their phone number and receive updates via text. SMS messages are often more likely to be read than emails, although it can be more difficult to get people to sign up to these lists.

Enable comments on your blog

Enabling comments on your blog can help to encourage interaction between you and your readers. By answering any questions or engaging in civil debates, you can keep them coming back to your blog.

Create the content your readers want

To keep readers coming back, the best thing you can do is provide content they have a genuine interest in.

Every blog should have a target audience in mind — you should make sure your content is consistently crafted for them. This means narrowing your content down to a handful of topics and not writing about anything and everything.

You can find exactly which types of posts draw in readers by using analytics reports. Pay close attention to the posts people are visiting from social media and your mailing list — these are the posts your loyal readers are interested in and is the type of content that will keep them coming back. You can also consider which types of posts people are most engaging with on social media.

Prioritize SEO

You might think of SEO (search engine optimization) as the key ingredient for attracting new readers. While using best practices can push your posts to the top of search engine results, SEO can also decrease bounce rate and help you build a loyal readership. 

Good SEO means the people visiting your site want to be there. They’ve searched for something specific, and they’ve found a page on your blog that will help them. They trust you, they see you as an authority, and so they are likely to return time and time again. 

If you’ve got a large collection of posts, going back over old content to optimize for search engines can be a daunting task. Getting help from AdInfusion can ensure you rank highly for even the most competitive keywords while leaving you free to focus on the parts of blogging you love. 

A Letter From Isolation

Hi. How are you doing? How loud is isolation-insanity knocking on your tightly bolted doors?

I’m alright. I mean, I did decide to cut my own hair and give myself bangs. It went well. Self-isolating is how I got through college since I didn’t have the money to afford a social life. Plus, since we just moved to Indiana and hadn’t explored much before hunkering down, you could say I have no idea what I’m missing out there.

Besides, there’s plenty to keep me busy inside. Like baking every weekend. I’ve made six loaves of bread so far, I think. Lots of made-from-scratch-waffles (actually, thanks to Chuck Wendig for introducing me to my new favorite waffle recipe). And a disastrous batch of scones. Oh, and 48 cinnamon rolls. For just two people. I’m not even going to count the number of pizzas. Give it another day or two and I’ll have some banana bread done, too.

A photo of freshly baked sourdough bread loaves and cinnamon rolls.
Behold the fruits of a single afternoon’s worth of labor! Beautiful, delicious sourdough everything.

I’ve been writing, too. Here and there. I’ll sit down on the weekends, blink, and magically have a couple chapters done. Also, several hours have gone by. Not sure if some mischievous creature is doing the writing for me while I catch up on my sleep or I have finally achieved Productive Writer Status and can write actual, coherent scenes without having to wait for my flaky jerk of a muse.

Now for the not-so-great part of isolation.

I spent the better part of April making lots of back and forth trips to our local VCA animal hospital. That’s still ongoing, but will hopefully be over with soon.

It started with Bianca throwing up. All cats do it, so nbd. Then she wouldn’t eat anything, which is kind of a problem since she’s diabetic and I can’t give her insulin shots if she doesn’t eat.

She stayed at the hospital for a week. Between barely sleeping and getting updates from the doctors at 6 a.m., I remember spending a lot of time crying. I couldn’t go in with her. Someone came to my car in the parking lot and took her away. As the days went on with few answers, the only comfort they could provide was telling me that I’d be allowed in if I had to say goodbye. It was a rough time to say the least.

Photo of a sick cat.
When Bianca first came home from the hospital, she couldn’t eat on her own. She mostly slept and needed to be carried from room to room.

But after a week, they sent her home with a feeding tube surgically attached to her neck. And lots of medications. The first problem: diabetic ketoacidosis, which we treated by feeding her a liquid diet through the tube. Every 6 hours.

Midnight, 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., midnight. Rinse, repeat.

After two weeks, she went back for a checkup. The DK cleared up, but it’s still unclear what caused it in the first place. The leading theory is some kind of yet-undiagnosed gastrointestinal problem. She’s on a prescription diet now that should keep her healthy.

Of course, even after she started eating well enough on her own, I still had to use the tube to administer her various medications. I think the primary ingredient in her special food is chicken liver. Everything smelled like chicken liver. Our kitchen, where I was liquefying it in the blender. The washing machine, where I had to keep washing rags I used to clean up the food syringes.

Me, of course. I smelled like chicken liver. I might still, but I can’t tell anymore. I’m part chicken liver now.

We had another unexpected visit to the vet earlier this week. See, Bianca hates collars of any kind. I explained to the vet that she will try to rip her own throat out with a regular collar on. Her feeding tube is held in place by a cloth collar.

Unsurprisingly, Bianca has taken to scratching at it. And a couple days ago, I came out of the shower to find she had got it all twisted and looked like she could have been choking.

I hope wrestling a sick cat while naked and soaked isn’t a sport somewhere. But if it is, I’d be good at it.

Her tube wasn’t moved too much, but enough to be uncomfortable. The doctor working that day got it all settled, sent Bianca home, and called the following day to check in. I’m back to losing sleep, just making sure she isn’t scratching at her neck.

Photo from behind of Amanda working in isolation at her computer while Bianca the cat lays in the desk drawer.
Trying to stay productive in isolation while also constantly keeping an eye on the cat. This is our new normal during work hours.

I go back and forth using a paper cone the vet sent home. On the upside, it keeps her from scratching. On the downside, she keeps walking into things and getting the edge of the cone in her litterbox and her food bowl.

There is good news, though. She’s scheduled to have her tube removed on Monday. I have no idea what my aftercare instructions will be. Probably still keeping her from bothering her sutures until they heal.

That’s all. April was terrible. There is a whole Thursday I don’t remember because I napped so hard when the sleep deprivation caught up to me. For all I know, tomorrow is actually June.

In the meantime, I’m considering ways to raise money to offset all the unexpected vet bills. Someone suggested a Go Fund Me page. Or I might put together a serialized story and let people subscribe to new chapters with a donation. I’m still exploring platforms to decide whether that’s a good option.

If you’d like to help with Bianca’s vet bills, you can head over to my Ko-Fi page and donate there.

Photo of a sleeping orange cat with a feeding tube attached to her neck.
Bianca thanks you for whatever help you can provide!

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Draft First, Outline Later

There’s a mountain of advice available on how to outline a novel, but I’ve found very little helpful with my writing. I tried bulleted lists, webs, storyboards, post-its on my wall. Neither the dramatic arc nor the three-act structure helped me plan a story.

My main struggle with following an outline is that if things don’t feel natural when I’m writing, I get an itchy feeling under my fingernails. I can’t force myself to write through something I know isn’t going to work. After some heavy procrastination and denial, I go back to find where things stopped working.

Once I’ve found the problem and fixed it, everything after that point in my outline is no longer relevant. However, I recently found a way to make an outline that actually works for me. But I didn’t figure it out by outlining as the first step.

Outline After Writing the Draft

It seems like a backwards way of doing things, doesn’t it? Not really.

Your first draft (and second and third and fourth, if you’re like me…) is for discovering your characters and letting them define the story. Once you go back to revise, making an outline can help you find where you might need to tighten your focus (ahem, cut things that don’t help) and where you might need to add a little more.

With The Thieves of Traska undergoing heavy rewrites — and my frustration after having spent so many years on it growing — I decided to try another outline. I had a good idea how I wanted the story to go this time around and needed to write it down before life got in the way and I forgot.

Normally when I try an outline, I only use bullet points for major events and get through as quickly as possible. The downside to this method is that I can’t always tell how the characters were supposed to go from one point to the next. I just knew that two characters would have a falling out before the main heist and someone would be revealed as a traitor. I put the burden of figuring out those details on Future Amanda.

A Better Outline with The Hero’s Journey

To get a better handle on the structure of my story, I tried to map out what I already had with the 12-stage structure of The Hero’s Journey. Thieves had maybe only 5 of the 12 elements, and they were all out of order. Yikes! No wonder it was impossible to gauge where you were in the story.

So I opened up a new document and tried to build an outline that would guide my next revision.

12 Stages are Better than 5

Like many, I have had to use the 5-point dramatic arc to map out a book’s plot for class assignments. Also known as the dramatic structure and Freytag’s Pyramid, the visual diagram is well-known.

The 5-point dramatic arc: exposition (or introduction/prologue), rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (or denouement).
The 5-point dramatic arc: exposition (or introduction/prologue), rising action, climax (or conflict/confrontation), falling action, and resolution (or denouement).

Many writers will tell you how great this structure is for plotting your novel. I am not one of them.

For me, this structure is too limiting and generalized to be of any real help. It feels like the first chapter is your exposition, almost everything that comes after is “rising action,” then one incident is your climax, followed by the “falling action” (a term I admit never made much sense to me) and your eventual resolution.

When using this diagram, all I could focus on were the major events. The all-important inciting incident (running away from home) to propel my characters from the exposition to the rising action. An exciting heist as the climax. A job well done and a paycheck as the resolution.

Yawn. That’s not exciting to read or write. And as a guide, it offers no logical progression from each important event of “rising action” to the inevitable climax.

Compare to my custom diagram of the way I visualize The Hero’s Journey:

The 12 stages of The Hero's Journey: ordinary world; call to adventure; refusal; meeting the mentor; crossing the threshold; tests, allies, enemies; ordeal; reward; the road back; resurrection; return with the elixir.
The 12 stages of The Hero’s Journey: ordinary world; call to adventure; refusal; meeting the mentor; crossing the threshold; tests, allies, enemies; ordeal; reward; the road back; resurrection; return with the elixir. I added “the final reward” as a 13th stage because, as a writer, we need to include a little resolution after the final events.

Just look at all those fun angles! Look at all those specific events that make up the rising action, leading you straight toward the final climactic encounter (Resurrection)!

As a writer, this is so much more helpful to me. When my characters turn on each other, I have a much better idea of where that needs to happen in the story.

Beyond Bullet Points for a Better Outline

Instead of using bullet points to vaguely guide me in a direction I hoped the story would go, I wrote paragraphs. I stopped thinking about this document as an outline. For each stage, I wrote a full summary of everything I wanted to happen. Every location change, every conversation, every revelation, every major plot point.

In total, it took me three hours to get through it all.

But the end result was worth it. It was like reading a book report on my own story. Every victory and setback was there, and it all made sense. Now I had a plan for how to lead up to those characters having a falling without their fight seemingly coming out of nowhere.

What About You?

Of course, there’s no law that says you have to do an outline at any stage. If it helps you, great. If you do just fine without outlining, excellent. Your writing process is what works best for you.

What kind of outlining strategies have you found success with? Let me know in the comments!


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