Why Every Blog Needs a Theme

This is part 3 in our continuing series on blogging. First, I shared why writers should blog, and then I gave the four elements of a post. Today’s topic is the one key thing we must do before our first post: develop a blogging theme.

For my first blog Musings, I wrote about anything and everything, whatever came to mind. One day I’d blog about family and the next, politics. Following that might be a post about my yard and then, sports. I wrote about nature and weather, about geeky things and spiritual things; sometimes I’d be funny and other times, serious. Other topics included entertainment, travel, holidays, business, animals, writing, the seasons, and more. I was all over the place, and at one time, my tagline was “the musings of a meandering mind.”

My blog failed to find an audience; even family eventually gave up. I needed focus. Though my original blog is still there and receives an occasional update, I’ve started two other blogs to address specific topics I’m passionate about.

My primary blog addresses biblical spirituality, where I post multiple times a week. This is my other blog and covers writing; I post each Saturday. For both, their respective themes focus my writing and presents readers with consistency.

It took time to find my theme. First, I listed topics I was passionate about and what I enjoyed covering. Then, I eliminated those I didn’t want to regularly write about and those where I didn’t have much to say. Of the five remaining items, I asked, “If I had to pick only one, what would it be?” The answer was biblical spirituality. (Writing was second, so I do this blog for fun and variety.)

If your blog doesn’t have a theme or focus, it will likely flounder as mine did for years, but when you follow a theme, you will build an audience.

What’s your blog’s theme? Do you need to better focus your posts?

Seven Tips to Find a Mentor

A friend recently asked how to find a writing mentor.

Yeah, I’d like one, too!

One of my graduate classes was on mentoring, albeit focused on Millennials and spirituality. The principles I learned, however, apply to any type of mentoring, for most any age.

The reality is that good mentors are hard to find. The best-qualified ones don’t usually have time to mentor, whereas the people with time often have less to offer. Expertise and availability usually exist in inverse proportion.

Instead of just waiting for someone to offer to mentor you, here are seven ideas:

  1. Look at Existing Relationships: If you have a connection with an author you respect, ask if he or she is willing to consider being your mentor. But don’t make this person feel obligated; provide the space for him or her to say “no.”
  2. Form New Relationships: Network with other writers and see what develops. However, don’t approach this with an agenda; if you do, you will fail. Instead, seek to help others, give to others, encourage others, and support others. You may catch the attention of a potential mentor who will approach you. And even if that doesn’t happen you will learn, grow, and feel good about yourself in the process.
  3. Be Patient and Pray: Yes, I said to pray that someone will offer to mentor you. I could have said “wait and hope,” but prayer is so much more effective and may be your best option.
  4. Consider Peer Mentoring: You can seek a peer mentoring relationship, where two writers help each other. There is strength in traveling the writing path with a friend. If one of you falls down, the other can pick you up.
  5. Offer to be a Mentor: Often when we give to others, what we receive back is more valuable.
  6. Use Books: Books allow mentoring at a distance, be it over space or time. Of course, the information is one-way and more general, but this may be the only way to receive guidance from a famous author.
  7. Respect the Process: If you find a mentor, honor his or her commitment to you: prepare for each meeting, take diligent notes, follow through on every suggestion, be easy to work with, and seek tangible ways to give back. Also, always arrive early and never cancel.

If you have a mentor, how did it happen? If you don’t have a mentor, what are your thoughts on finding one?

What Are Your Writing Goals for 2014?

Although I do not make New Year’s resolutions, I do set annual goals. (The two are different, but I won’t go into that here.) I set personal goals, spiritual goals, financial goals, and writing goals. Not only do I form new goals, but I also review last year’s goals.

For 2013, I made four writing goals. (I also had several other secondary goals.) I want my goals to stretch me. Between pushing myself with my writing, the distractions of life, and other opportunities that arose, I only completed three of my four goals. Although disappointed over the missed goal, I know it was quite a reach, so I celebrate my three successes.

Now, I look forward. For 2014, I have these writing goals.

  1. To land an agent: Technically, this is an ill-advised goal because the outcome is outside of my control. Yes, I can query agents (one of last year’s goals), but I’m not able to make them decide to represent me.
  2. To overhaul my website: Yes, I did this two years ago, but it’s time to do it again. It needs a cleaner look, with easier navigation, more substance, and less minutia.
  3. To self-publish some of my existing writing: I know, this is a vague goal. I should make a list or at least quantify it by stating how many. The reality is that I want to do at least one and hope for more, which one I pick doesn’t matter. This could include publishing my research, repurposing blog posts, and reworking speeches. At least a dozen ideas come to mind.
  4. To rework my dissertation into a more accessible format: This is a carryover from last year.
  5. To repackage and republish A Faith Manifesto: I picked the wrong name for this book, which resulted in the wrong cover. The book was judged by its appearance and found lacking. I believe in the content and need to give it the package it deserves.
  6. To relaunch The Blog Pile into an author anthology blog: The basis for this transformation is in place. I simply need to put in the time to make it happen.

I share my writing goals to encourage you to make your own (and for some self-accountability).

What are your writing goals for 2014?

I Blog, Therefore I Am: The Blogs of Peter DeHaan

This year, marks my sixth year of blogging, with my original blog, Musings, still online, although I’ve moved it a few times. Lately, however, it hasn’t had much activity, with my focus shifting to my other blogs.

Over the years, Musings has had various taglines; here are the ones I remember:

  • “Peter DeHaan’s Musings.”
  • “The Musings of Peter DeHaan, covering nothing special and everything under the sun.”
  • “The Musings of a Meandering Mind.”
  • “The Musings of Peter DeHaan.”
  • “Peter DeHaan’s Blog.”
  • “The Musings of Peter DeHaan: Sharing a Slice of Life”

Musings has over 500 posts and 100,000 words: enough to fill a book or two. In my spare time, I’m working on a project to take the best of the posts and compile them into a book. When I finish, I’ll let you know.

Today, I’m still blogging as evidenced here in Byline, but Spiritually Speaking is my main blog. Altogether, they account for more than 1,400 posts and a quarter of a million words. That’s a lot of blogging.

René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

With respect to him, I’d like to update that to “I blog, therefore I am.”

Five Ways to Create a Legacy

I’m a movie buff, enjoying most genres and all eras, including silent movies and especially Buster Keaton films. One of them, Our Hospitality, set in 1830 Appalachia is a classic tale of boy meets girl, who only finds out too late that her family is set on killing his. Will love prevail or will their family feud end all chance for happiness?

I digress.

Buster Keaton codirected and starred in Our Hospitality. Released in 1923, the flick is ninety years old. That’s incredible.

Though I don’t know Buster’s motivation, I suspect he merely wanted to earn a living, using art to do so. I presume that creating something enduring – outlasting him and becoming his legacy – was not his goal, but just a happy outcome.

This gives me pause. Will my writing survive ninety years? Will people still read my words in nine decades? It’s a laughable thought, ridiculous as well as arrogant. While I do suspect some of my work might resonate more with the next generation than this one, lasting longer is unlikely.

Yet, I do want my writing to be my legacy, to outlive me and benefit future generations. While this isn’t something I can orchestrate, I can be intentional:

Avoid the Short Term: In my first blog, I’d often write about sports, politics, and the weather. These topics have a lifespan measured in days, not years. I want my writing to mean something in the future, so I’ve stopped covering current events, instead writing about biblical spirituality.

Make it Meaningful For Today – and Tomorrow: I try to make my writing practical for now, as well as applicable for later. This means taking a long-term view. Although harder to do and time consuming, the results are more likely to remain.

Focus on What Will Last: Even if I could pepper my prose with pop culture references and use trendy jargon, in ten years my words would emerge as nonsense, at best, and incomprehensible, at worst. I strive for relevance, while avoiding words and references that will date my work and limit its long-term value.

Produce Your Best Stuff: Good art lives on; people dismiss mediocre output and forget average work. I strive to always do my best, while working for continual improvement.

Know When to Push Boundaries: One reason Buster Keaton’s work prevails is that he did things no one else was doing and did so with brilliance. I marvel at his genius. Teachers instruct writers on what to do and how to do it, that opposing norms will doom our work. This is true, yet breaking away from the status quo may be what makes a work unique – and lasting. The key is discerning whether deviations from the expected are gimmick or genius. Often we won’t know until later.

It’s unlikely anyone will read my words, or even have access to them, in ninety years, but I work to do what I can to provide the potential for that to happen.

Six Reasons Why Your Blog Needs a Reader Profile

Recently a blogging guru encouraged me to write some reader profiles for my blog. Intrigued by the exercise, I gave it some thought. Before long I had penned profiles for five types of readers for my main blog, “Pursuing Biblical God.” I edited them today and have a bit more tweaking to do, but already the benefits of these reader profiles are apparent.

Reader profiles will help to:

Clarify Our Audience: Although I possessed a subconscious understanding of my target audience, it lacked clarity and sometimes shifted from day to day. With established profiles, the image of my audience will remain consistent.

Inform Our Writing: As I compose posts, writing them with one or more of my readers in mind will help ensure I will better connect with my target audience.

Eliminate Off Message Topics: Without a clear vision, it’s all too easy to write an interesting post but for the wrong people. If this happens too often, regular readers will give up.

Avoid Writing to Ourselves: I realize some past posts, although on topic, were more for me than my audience. In writing to both them and me, I serve my audience and engage myself. But if I end up writing only for me, I risk losing my audience.

Escape Digressions: With a firm understanding of who I’m writing for, I remain focused on my core audience and saved from penning pieces for a secondary group. Becoming distracted or diverting my attention is a disservice to my readers.

Guide Guest Bloggers: Though I’ve not yet had a guest blogger, if I do, being able to share a reader profile will sharpen their work, making it a better fit for my readers.

Beyond blogging, many of these same benefits apply to having a reader profile for a book or article.

How can your writing benefit by having a reader profile? What’s your next step?

Do You Write in a Spiritual Community?

As a writer, I write alone; it’s a solitary activity. So it’s good for me to periodically emerge from my self-imposed cocoon and spend time with other people — and other writers are the people who understand me best, those with who I am most comfortable to be around.

I just returned from a Christian Writers conference. It was a great time, full of information, encouragement, and rejuvenation. While writing was the focus, God was the foundation; it was a spiritual time.

As my buddy, Gerald the Writer,” and I headed home, we processed out loud what we had experienced. It was community, a spiritual community. The only problem is that it only occurs once a year.

However, the writing critique group we started happens every month. It’s also a spiritual community. We’re with kindred spirits and God is in our midst.

Our group’s focus is writing and helping each other hone our craft. Sometimes what we write is about God and other times, not, but regardless, it is all done for God.

Though we may sometimes pray, it’s not an obligation to do so according to schedule. Though we may sometimes talk about the Bible, it’s not a preplanned activity. And if the subject of theology comes up, we quickly push it aside — it is not our goal to critique that.

Those who advocate a formula for spiritual community would dismiss us as missing out because we break all their rules.

But for us it is our spiritual community and our most significant one.

Are you part of a spiritual community? What does it look like?

The Spirituality of Writing

A couple years ago I went on a 24-hour prayer retreat. This was a time of relative silence, with no Internet, no computer, no cell phone, and no television; there would be no technology to distract me. I did take a couple books to read, my Bible, my journal, and the expectation it would be an epic spiritual adventure. It was.

I walked and prayed and rested and read…and I journaled. Boy, did I journal. Some of it was between God and me, but most was to share. So when I returned (to coin a word, I “unretreated”) I transcribed pages of handwritten entries. It took hours.

Recently I went on another retreat. I went to the same place and left behind the same technologies — except for my laptop. If God prompted me to write, I wanted to be ready. He did — and I was.

Boy, did I write. And as I did it became a most spiritual experience, even though much of what I was writing was not overtly spiritual. I was creating and the creator was pleased.

That’s when I realized writing is a spiritual experience for me, but I had to go on a retreat to see it.

Author Peter DeHaan Launches New Website

Peter DeHaan announced the unveiling of his new website, PeterDeHaan.com, which addresses his writing life and career. The site highlights his current and future writing projects, provides a hub for his blogs, and details his writing services. It includes a Twitter feed and two blog feeds. It also allows for site search, as well as to simultaneously search all of Peter’s dozen-plus websites using Google Custom Search.

“I’ve wanted this site for a long time,” said Peter DeHaan, PhD. “Some people know me as a blogger, others as a columnist, many know me as a magazine publisher, and a few know me for my academic research. I also do freelance work and enjoy assisting other writers. This site pulls all that information together, serving as a hub for my writing career.”

Peter DeHaan has been writing for over three decades, publishing his first article in 1983. Since then, much of his writing has focused on the general business market and telecommunications. He has published hundreds of articles and written four academic research papers, including two PhD dissertations. An active blogger, Peter currently publishes five blogs, all of which are available from his new website. He is currently working on two memoir-style books about spirituality.

For more information, go to Peter DeHaan’s website.

Buy One Book, Get Two Free

At the Breathe Writers Conference, I attempted to follow my self-imposed limit of one book per conference — a practical step given my proclivity to acquire books faster than I can read them.

I bought the latest book by our keynote, Caryn Rivadeneira. Her book, Grumble Hallelujah, was just released in August. I classify it as a memoir style. Yet one person bristled at that characterization, preferring the label of spiritual development. Caryn writes in a conversational and accessible style, with enough self-disclosure to draw in and connect with readers.

Her speaking style is much the same. I noticed that in both of her presentations, she read her introductions, but delivered them with such skill and pacing as to be largely unnoticed. Then she would segue to an outline for the rest of talks. Her transitions from script to notes were imperceptible.

When I asked her to sign Grumble Hallelujah, we had a chance to talk a bit. I complimented her speaking style and she surprised me by professing to be an extreme introvert. I guess most writers are, but I would have never guessed it with her.

The next day, at a lunch session with Timothy Burns about writers groups, I answered his opening trivia question and was awarded a free book: Your Exceptional Life Begins Now. It is a collection of stories, one of which was written by the speaker. (Can you ask a contributor to an anthology to sign the book? If so, on the title page or the chapter they wrote?) The question I answered was “What were the Inklings?”

At the conference’s concluding session, my name was selected to win a book. Drawings had been occurring throughout the event, but the odds were not in my favor. With only a trio of give-a-ways remaining, my name was called. In this case I did judge the books by their covers. Two had prominently pink designs, giving off a distinctive feminine vibe. I grabbed the third, a novel by Nancy Rue, called The Reluctant Prophet. I can hardly wait to start it.

So, despite buying only one book, I came home with three.