How to start a blog: 8 steps to telling your story.

I have been something of a wallflower in the blogosphere for more than eleven years now. What began as a space to overshare bad poetry and an abundance of teen angst has, over the past decade, turned into a haven for me to grow and change and break and heal and learn. It has helped me stretch my wings and build community, and it has seen me finally find my footing just to leap all over again. And lately, I've been asked a handful of times, often by people I haven't seen in years, how to start blogging. In fact, I've fielded the question so many times that I thought it would be best for me to just go ahead and share some thoughts and tips here. I am by no means an expert -- these are just little pieces of advice that I have collected over the years and found to be helpful in my own writing and blogging. They're not meant to be prescriptive, so by all means, feel free to pick and choose what you think will work best for you.

Number one: pick a platform

Over the past 11 years, I have used Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blogspot, and Wordpress.com (all free), and now a self-hosted site through Wordpress.org (paid). I know a ton of people who have used Squarespace, but I don't have any experience using it, so for the purposes of this post, I'll stick to what I know, which is WP. While it might not be the most user-friendly, I have found that if I am willing to do a little bit of research and put in some elbow grease, I can generally get the look and feel that I want.

Number two: own your name.

As perhaps you can imagine, my blog has undergone as many identity changes as it has platform swaps. This was, at least in part, due to the fact that I was trying on new identities, too. For example, for awhile, my blog was called Egypt and Courage, and then it was called A Life like the Lilies (which is now the working title for the book I'm fantasizing about). But now, eleven years later, I feel like the only thing that fits is my own name. Claiming my own name has helped this space feel more settled and more like home.

Number three: choose a theme/design based on how you want your blog to feel to both you and your reader.

For my tastes, this means a theme/design with a lot of white space (which feels like fresh air to me), but your own tastes might be totally different. The great part is that if you're willing to stretch yourself and put in the time, you can come up with a design that is totally you. Wordpress has a ton of free themes that you can practice on, several of which are super customizable. And I'll let you in on a little secret about me: I know next to nothing about HTML and CSS coding. My blog looks the way it does right now thanks to a few hours of copying and pasting and searching forums for answers to questions like how to center my post title and how to widen page margins. Don't fret when it comes time to ask for help, because chances are, someone has already asked the question you have, and with any luck, it has already been answered.

Tip: it has helped me to check out a few blogs here and there for decoration inspo. Here are a few of my faves: 

Hannah Brencher

Jess Connolly

Erin @ Reading My Tea Leaves

Bailey @ LoveBaileyJean

Alannah @ Rose & Bliss

Number four: ditch the niche. Burn down the wheelhouse.

This is where I often get stuck, to be perfectly honest. Because there's nothing I love more than writing about Jesus, but I also really like this lipstick, and one of my recent guilty pleasures are those "what's in my handbag" posts. I'm also interested in politics and would like to highlight causes that are important to me. And I would love to do a home tour (provided I would ever clean my house, but I digress!). But then I get a little dizzy and start feeling a bit guilty, because those things aren't my "wheelhouse." More and more, I see people telling bloggers to stick to what they know, and it is absolutely infuriating to me, because we are multifaceted human beings with diverse gifts and interests. So if you want to write about your faith and your latest ride or die mascara, that is what you should write about. If you want to write about politics and that incredible pair of jeggings you picked up last week, then please write about those things. If you want to write poetry or creative fiction and do a home tour, you would be doing us all a great disservice to not write about those things. Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't share on your blog.

Number five: just start.

Let's just get this itchy fact out of the way: your blog won't be perfect. But don't ever let that stop you from writing. 11 years later, there are still things I want to change about my site, and I still find plenty of typos in my posts. If you spend your time freaking out about the things you want to change, you'll lose focus on why you started blogging in the first place, which is to tell your story.

Number six: click publish and share your story with the world.

Trust me when I say that it is so incredibly easy to fall victim to the lie that there is not enough room for you at the table. There are other people who are better writers, take better pictures, and have more followers -- so what makes you think you can cut it? If no one has ever told you this before, allow me the honor: the world needs your story. It sounds wildly cliche to say that there is only one you, but it is true. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Let me say it again. The world needs your story. 

Number seven: remember that the numbers mean nothing.

This is, of course, not the case if you're trying to monetize your blog. WP has a statistics page which shows you how many people have viewed your site, which post they looked at, how they got there, and where in the world they are reading from. This is a really cool feature, but it can quickly become dangerous if you start to find your worth in it. So as a general rule, I try to avoid looking at my statistics page, but honestly, I'm not always successful in this. A few months ago, I shared a letter I wrote that meant a lot to me. To this day, it is one of my favorite things I've ever written, but the stats on it aren't all that great. I had to muddle through my disappointment for a few days before realizing that regardless of who did or didn't read the post, writing it had changed me. And that was enough.

Number eight: keep a junk drawer and write it down now.

Have an open document, either a draft on your blog or a file on your computer of words that haven't found a home yet. You never know when you could be working on something new and find the perfect place for those words that you worried would never belong. And if something comes to mind that you want to share, don't wait to make a note of it. I can't tell you how many times I have stumbled upon some new idea that I wanted to write about here and then forgotten it completely because I failed to write it down somewhere since it came at a time when I wasn't able to craft an entire blog post.

Last words:

"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." -- Ernest Hemingway

If you're curious about more specifics about WP or how I started blogging, I'd love to chat with you. Feel free to drop me a line here.

Conversations with the author. {Coming to Jesus, marriage surprises, favorite posts and more!}

You mentioned having grown up in North Carolina - so did I!  Where exactly did you grow up, and what's a favorite NC childhood memory? 

I grew up in Franklin, North Carolina, which is just over an hour west of Asheville. Its a beautiful little town, and I really can’t imagine growing up anywhere else. My favorite part would have to be Fall every year. Living in the mountains, Fall is absolutely breathtaking. People come from all over to see the leaves and waterfalls. Also, going to high school football games with my dad (who also graduated from FHS and played football when he was there) was a blast. We had more school spirit than anybody out there. :)

How did you meet Jesus?  When do you remember Him becoming real to you in a way that began to transform your life? 

I met Jesus at five years old, kneeling up against our couch with my mom and a family friend. The memory is faint, but I know that it was a really sweet moment. So I grew up in church, with the knowledge that I should be different because I was a believer. I was doing and saying all the right things, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I had that deep connection with the Lord. It wasn’t until college that I really began to look at the person of Christ and the scriptures in an intentional, relational  way. I knew that I needed to really surrender my life to the Lord, and college became a sort of rededication process.

On your About page, you call yourself a "car singer," which I absolutely love.  What songs might I catch you singing if I were a fly on your car window? 

I really love singing, actually -- growing up, I did solos in church on a fairly regular basis. Lately, you might hear me belting some Meredith Andrews, Audrey Assad, Sara Bareilles, Adele, and even some Taylor Swift. I don't listen to a lot of top 40’s songs, but Craig works at a radio station that plays adult contemporary music, so I do hear a few current pop songs now and then that I can sing along to.

When/why did writing first become important to you?  How has blogging impacted your relationship with Jesus? 

I have written for as long as I remember -- words have always been my way of processing, and of course, my faith played a role in that. But I think writing really started to impact my relationship with Christ when I began watching interviews with Ann Voskamp. When I heard her describe art as coming to the altar, and how she uses her blog to preach the gospel to herself, it totally changed my approach to writing. I have also learned how to incorporate scripture in my writing, which the Lord has really used to mold me in the past year.

You chose "rest" as your One Word for this year.  What facets of that word has the Lord been emphasizing to you or drawing you more deeply into so far this year? 

Part of the reason I chose the word “rest” was purely practical. Last year was the busiest year of my life, and so I wanted to be really intentional about self-care and recuperating this year. But more than that, I want to be intentional about resting before the Lord. My default response to life’s ups and downs is anxiety. In 2014, I really want to learn what it means to cease striving and live open handedly before God. Recently, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed at work, and so God has been using that to teach me. I’m really seeing how much intention it takes to rest.

If you could ask Jesus for anything having to do with your relationship with Him, and you KNEW He'd give it to you, what would it be? 

This is such an interesting question. I don’t know that I would necessarily ask for anything specific to change in terms of my circumstances. I really believe that I am here for this particular time in order to become more like Him and bring glory to His name, and the Lord uses all kinds of circumstances to accomplish His will. What I want more and more is increased passion for who He is and what He is doing. Also increased sensitivity to His voice.

How long have you been married?  What has surprised you about marriage thus far? 

1071673_10151733024640821_341502573_o

Craig and I got married on June 22, 2013. For the first time ever, here are his words on my blog: “I would say the most surprising part about marriage was how hard it was for us to move in together as a married couple. We both had all of our stuff, and while we have plenty of room for it, getting it organized is an ongoing pursuit.”

What are a couple of key things you've learned about yourself in the last year or so? 

I have grown up SO much in the past year. My life looks so entirely different now than it did a year ago. In the past year, I’ve gained such a renewed reverence for life. I’m also a lot more self-aware now than I was a year ago, but if I had to narrow it down to two things I’ve learned, the first would have be that confidence for me really comes with experience. I am not naturally one to just jump into something totally assured, so I’ve had to really learn how to be patient with myself as I process things. Secondly, I’ve learned that it is not just okay, but needed, to have something just for me to take pride in. That’s a big reason behind my investment in this blog, especially recently.

Where do you and your husband see yourselves in 10 years or so, in terms of life vision, goals, etc.? 

Practically speaking, we would like to have both of our student loans paid off. We also want to start a family, whatever that looks like; and we are looking to decide in the future about getting masters degrees. Also, we still plan to have crushes on each other in ten years. :)

What's your favorite {or one of your favorites} post you've written?  Could you share a link and tell us a little about why you love it? 

At Christmastime, I wrote about the song “Oh, Holy Night” in a post called “If You Don’t Recognize Holy Tonight.” Reading that post still brings me to tears, because it truly is the heart of the gospel. Those words are so extraordinary, but not because of any effort I put in. Words have been pouring out from a place that is not of me. I’ve started to view my blog as a place where God speaks to me, perhaps even more so than I am speaking to you. His presence was so tangible to me as I wrote that particular piece.

Teaming up with my dear sister, Dana.You guys seriously do not want to miss the beauty happening over at her blog. Thanks to her for such fun and interesting questions this week. If you want to check out my interview with her, be sure to visit her space on the web. Do you have a question or want to share a story? Here's how to get in touch. {Linking up with #AskAwayFriday this week.}

walk

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Email

A Letter to my Sisters {Five Minute Friday}

rp_five-minute-friday.jpg Dearest, most wonderful Sisters,

Professors had warned me that life outside of my small Christian college would be lonely. They told me that I would never again have that sort of genuine community. In many ways, though this past summer was joyous, it was also one of the loneliest times of my life. I was newly graduated and married, in a new town, and without a job or  a car. Even though family and friends were still close by, I felt heartbreakingly disconnected.

And then, I met Hannah. I don't even remember the circumstances of our introduction, but despite being half a world away from each other at the time, she made me feel right at home. And she invited me to a party one Friday night that would change not only my writing, but the heart that those words flowed from.

For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. -- Luke 6:45 (NKJV)

In the beginning, I must admit I was shamefully wary -- worried that whatever community I found here would be shallow at best, and that life and faith would be portrayed in a woefully unrealistic manner. I thought I would find snide perfectionism,  even competition, and I assumed that no one would want anything to do with life and God as I knew them.

I had beautiful community  in college, but the last semester was laced with hurt at the hands of someone I was hesitant to let in in the beginning. The wound was deeper than she knew and I struggled to let go of the pain and forgive.

But what I found here was everything humble and broken and life at its very best. What I found here was Jesus, again, between the lines of tweets and blogs and comments. I found genuine community to come alongside me in my joy and in my frustration. I found sisters encouraging each other in the wee hours, holding fast to the promises of God. And now there's hardly a Friday night when I don't weep over 140 characters of pure, unadulterated grace.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -- Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

It filled me past the brim. Oh, that we can take part in the restoration of souls. In the past six months, I have made friends that will be kept for a lifetime.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. -- Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NLT)

You all are a gift. Living proof that the Lord knows what we need and His timing is perfect. Each of your lives are brimming with evidence of His goodness.

You, mothers, who saturate every character with love for your children. You, wives, who strive to serve your husbands in all that you do. You, who struggle deeply with insecurity and every word is infused with your need for Jesus. You are so important, so magnificent in all of your everyday grit and hope. I admire each of you so deeply for faithfully coming to the altar every Thursday and Friday night. You have made me better.

Jacqui, your testimony of loss and redemption has been such an incredible example to me. Your friendship has made my life so much richer. And Sarah, its hard to paint a more realistic picture of life than you have. I so deeply appreciate your willingness to be broken before the Lord and before others. Dana, your calling to open your home to the broken -- the orphan -- you are doing the Lord's work. And you write it all out with such an incredible, tangible passion. Lisa-Jo, all of this is really because of you -- your faithfulness has brought all of us together. Fridays on the internet are like holy ground.  None of this goes unnoticed. So if you haven't heard the words thank you in awhile, please don't ever forget that your willingness to put your life into such beautiful words has changed mine. 

I could literally go on forever -- there are over two hundred of you. Even as I punch these keys, salty liquid joy spills across my cheeks. I so wish there was space and time to mention each and every one of you by name.

Lisa-Jo wrote this week about how much our words matter. And its so, so true. Another professor of mine frequently spoke of the power of our communication. Our words hold the ability to image the Father.

Because in the beginning, God spoke, and all that is went through the process of becoming. And He's still in the business of collecting the dust and creating something beautiful. He's still the God of miracles -- each of you is evidence of that. He declared that everything He made was good, and He is singing goodness over you, even now. He's so in love with you.

Thank you. Thank you for taking me in, and for being so faithful to encourage me in this journey. Not a day goes by that my prayers are not for you, that Yahweh would come alive in you, that you would sense His presence in your lives and the lives of your families.

Surely, no eye has seen and no ear has heard -- but every Friday night, I see glimpses and hear whispers.

Psst! Obviously this took a little more than five minutes to put together, but it was so worth it. You are so worth it. Back in August, I didn't know the first thing about "linking up." If you're a blogger in search of constructive community, stop by Lisa-Jo's place. You'll find that Five Minute Fridays are about so much more than weekly writing prompts. Linking up this week with 200+ of the most fabulous, brave women on the planet. 

Resting in uncharted territory. {Scripture for the 2014 journey.}

psalm1162Three hundred and sixty-five days lie ahead in 2014. Its a new chapter, a new opportunity to respond well to the truth of the gospel. But of course, no one really knows what these days will bring, and that lack of knowledge can be daunting. 2013, in all of its glory, was also a year that, for me, was marred by anxiety.

In the midst of it all, I was thrilled by the congruence of scripture. Perhaps that idea is elementary, but for me, it became revolutionary. I fell in love with the Word afresh and anew in 2013. I came to understand what it means to hide the Word in my heart. In Proverbs, scripture speaks of writing the Word of the Lord on the tablet of our hearts so that we will not stray.

This space, my writing, has ultimately become a note to self -- a reminder of sorts of the faithfulness of God. When life seems tumultuous, this is where I come, with my Bible and a cup of tea -- to whisper His love over and over. The white space, silent like a prayer closet, waits patiently for me to wander in with my words. And as I look back over the past twelve months of blogging, I see just how much the Lord has used 2013 and this place to mold me.

I wonder, was my choice to be anxious so much of the time really me trying to test Him? Have I only been dipping my toes into the pool of faith?

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there will be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. -- Malachi 3:10-12 (NIV)

Its no secret: its hard to offer up our whole selves. Especially when we cannot see or touch Him. But even seeing and touching us didn't make it any easier for Jesus to offer up his life in our stead. Yet he said "not my will, but Yours." 

Oh, Love. Mercy, find me when I struggle to live out the Image.

The nations will call me blessed when I surrender to Him, the God who knows everything I need and desires to give me even more out of His goodness. And that goodness is constant. He does not change or falter. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And He is the author, the perfecter: love incarnate.

He is before all things. What do I have to fear? This, this is how our souls find rest.

 Linking up with a host of beautiful people from all over the world for OneWord365. Have you chosen a word to focus on in 2014? Share it in the comments below!