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.

what i learned in 2014

PicMonkey Collage I've never looked forward to New Years quite the way I have this year. And while I have to admit, I'm anxious to turn the page on my calendar, I also believe that reflection and closure are important parts of moving forward. So I'm settling down here long enough to punch out some of the most important things that I've learned: the ones I want to carry with me into 2015 and beyond. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination.

1. In 2014, I learned that I am a highly sensitive personI was browsing my friend Sarah's blog when I found her post on being a highly sensitive person. It was as if she had been camping out in my brain and taking notes. So I did a bit of googling, took a self-test, and was not at all surprised by the results. I am a highly sensitive person. I tend to be easily overwhelmed as it is, but if an environment is particularly busy or requires me to pay attention to numerous things at the same time (i.e. driving in the city) I am much more prone to anxiety and I exhaust much quicker than I normally would. So I have to be conscientious of that parameter and make sure I make an effort to engage in self-care.

2. I'm hungry for adventure.  I am in no way an adrenaline junkie. But I did several things for the first time this year that I never thought I would or could do. I rode roller coasters (the highest in the south east at Six Flags over Georgia), went zip lining, shot a gun, got my hair highlighted, showed up at the lovely Dawn Camp's house for (in)RL, played church softball, and saw one of my favorite musicians. Obviously some of those things are less adrenaline inducing than others, but even the small things left their marks. Sure, I didn't want to open my eyes and see how high off the ground I was, but when I did, all I could see were the lights. There were lights for miles.

3. Just do it. Pretty simple. For crying out loud, quit whining and get on the dang roller coaster. It will be awesome (don't tell my husband I said that). Also complex, in that I learned that it is okay to reach for something, to dream, to try a lot of things without being afraid of rejection or failure -- because I will fail, probably over and over again along the way. But I will also kick some ass and figure out what it is in this world that makes my heart beat fast.

4. The Nature Noise playlist on Spotify is my jam. In the office, in the shower, in the car, in my ear buds at Starbucks. Hours and hours of rainstorms, jungle calls, and ocean surf. It is so relaxing.

5. 2014 taught me to be more gracious when things go haywire. Because I know what its like when the computer system at the office is down and when people are late and the whole schedule is thrown out the window and what its like to deal with frustrated people. So by asking how are you on the phone or by telling my hairdresser to take her time, I can actively expand the margins and create space for myself and the people around me to breathe easier.

6. I feel called to some kind of leadership. Vague, I know, but I don't have a radically clear picture of what it looks like right now. Back when I was writing the identity series, I was intentional about including reflection questions that could spark conversation centered around our stories and who we are in Christ -- and I noticed that my breath caught in my chest when I considered the idea of doing a study like that with other women in my home. I got excited by the prospect of creating an environment where honesty and authenticity could take center stage. So I decided to invite a handful of women from my church to my house in January to explore what this might grow into.

7. Home is my element. I love being at home. There was a time in my life where all I wanted to do was go go go, but now all I want to do is stay. I want to cook and clean and decorate and organize and make my home a place to enjoy. I also learned that whenever I use the term "nesting," people automatically think that I'm pregnant. I'm not pregnant.

8. Nothing encourages me like encouraging you. So much, in fact, that I am seriously considering getting a masters degree or some kind of certification in life coaching. I love sitting down and talking about goals and dreams and passions and callings and gifts and parameters and how to dig deep and make it happen.

9. I heart Grey's. Like, I actually shed tears at the end of season ten, ya'll.

10. Praying for others is much easier when I'm intentional about asking how I can pray. So, friend, how can I pray for you today?

11. To pay attention to how things make me feel, and how I want to feel. Insert shameless plug for Danielle LaPorte here. For example, I prefer the doors in my house to be open because it makes me feel open. Its incredibly simple, I know, but it makes a difference. Also, my core desired feelings are creative, spacious, gratitude, aligned, and authentic. 

12. It is totally okay to enjoy girly things. For the longest time, I have been ashamed to profess my love of makeup, nail polish and hair styling. But over the past few months, I've started watching essiebutton, and I've been thoroughly enjoying diving into the wonderful world of cosmetics.

13. How to redefine "comfort zone." Watch this.

14. I can write a book. I self-published (very informally) an e-book based on my 31 Days series from 2013, and then I wrote strong and hard for 31 days in 2014. I used outlines, and edited, and each came out to be over thirty pages. It was just a matter of actually sitting down to do the work. Related: I learned that there are roughly 250 words on the average a book page.

15. Refusing to compete with the people around me gives everyone space to breathe and freedom to be themselves. Including me, surprisingly enough.

16. Bacon Numbers. Another win for Google. You can actually search for the number of degrees a famous person is separated from Kevin Bacon. Charlie Chaplain's Bacon Number is 2. Let that sink in.

17. #idhtbptbb. Thank you, Nester.


{Linking up with Emily Freeman today.}

A Release: Coming to the Altar

I first met Aliza when she became a writer for (in)courage. I'm so thankful that out of the hundreds of applications submitted, hers was among the group selected. Aliza is an aspiring artist, dreamer, and adventurer who is learning the grace that she is enough just as she is, and believes that you are enough, too.  In 2013, Aliza traveled to Rwanda, where she fell in love with blogging, Africa, and Jesus. Now, she is spreading cheer and sweet caffeine as a barista, and making the prettiest words you ever did see. She is a gorgeous hope spreader, an encourager, and the dearest of friends to me. I'm thrilled to welcome her to the blog today, and honored by her words.


Text by Aliza Latta:

I'm preparing myself to come to the altar, and a mixture of fear and apprehension sit in the pit of my stomach.

As I ready myself to begin the journey, my offering tucked tightly within my folded arms, I'm aware of the knowledge that a sacrifice is looming shortly ahead, and the truth of the matter is, I've never been one to find surrender easy.

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I place my offering on the altar that has been built for me - my disappointments, my shame, my feelings of not-enough. They all get plopped down with a heavy thud.

I'm wary, looking at them. I'm wondering if maybe these offerings aren't...right. I'd like to give Jesus my talents or gifts or glory, but at the moment, these measly insecurities are all I have to extend heavenward.

In Coming to the Altar, with a way that is both elegant and refreshing, Erin gently explains and assures us that we are home, we are safe, and we are loved by a Father who accepts us as we are. There is no need for striving, nor perfection, nor having it all together. Erin says that "even in our mess and waywardness, [God] longs to commune with us. He is jealous for our affection, spread thin in so many other places."

As I read Coming to the Altar, I felt a sense of utter rest. Erin talks about how this is the word she has chosen for her year, and how ironic it is that we must choose to take rest. But Erin makes this choice easy, with her poetic and enlivening prose.

Erin encourages us to find "deep, soul joy," and after reading Coming to the Altar, I believe that I can.

So now, I look at my altar, my offerings displayed vast and large across it. And I know that my altar is unnecessary now. I don't have to sacrifice myself, because Jesus has already sacrificed himself for me. And in that sacrifice, he displayed the greatest act of love ever known, and with that love I can rest in this: I am home, I am safe, I am enough.

Read Coming to the Altar. You won't regret it.

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On Writing: the Why and the How

Admittedly, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the internet these days, and lately I've really been trying to steward my feelings well. Sometimes, that means immediately blocking a social networking post that I find offensive, instead of reading it repeatedly and stewing on it. Sometimes, it means that I deliberately avoid articles on certain controversial topics, even if I happen to find them interesting. I've thought a lot recently about the company I keep and what kind of material I allow to engage my thoughts and feelings. Lindsey is not just online company I'm proud to keep, but she's actually my down-the-street neighbor in real life! Her voice is so authentic, and she has greatly encouraged me as I do life as a young adult and discover my passions and what the Lord has called me to. And today, she's asked me to chime in with my thoughts on writing: What are you writing or working on now?

Right now, in the few quiet moments that my life allows, I'm working on a short e-book for my subscribers. It is brimming with scripture and things that the Lord has used to grow and challenge me over the past few years, and I hope that maybe those things can translate in a meaningful way for someone else.

I have also written a couple of guest posts for a new website called Hashtag Hope. Its a community that really emphasizes the power of our stories, and that no matter what kind of background we come from, we have something valuable to bring to the table. My newest post for them will be published on July 29, I believe.

How does your work differ from other writers of your genre?

This is a really interesting question. My answer may seem cliche, but I believe that everyone has a story, and even though sometimes our stories may overlap, each of us has a unique voice to convey those things. I think that it is important to keep that in mind, especially for the days when you feel like you don't measure up, or that all of the words have already been said. The world needs people who are willing to be brave in sharing their story.

That being said, I have a community of amazing bloggers who challenge me daily, and I'm so thankful for them. Some of my other influences include Ann Voskamp, Flannery O'Connor, and Donald Miller. And seriously, I catch my breath every time I read the opening pages of Eliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity. 

Why do you write what you do?

This blog is essentially my journal. If I had a leather bound diary on my nightstand, it would probably have the same words. Like Lindsey, I write mostly to build altars. When I go back into the archives of my blog and read posts from a year, three years, five years ago, it really resonates with me how tangible the Lord's presence has been in my life and how much He has grown me in and through writing. Basically, I write here to preach to myself. I need the reminders to slow down in the middle of this crazy life and spend time with God, and for as long as I can remember, words have been my way to do that.

I don't write here to suggest to anyone that I have it all together. I try to paint a really accurate picture of my life and what it means to me to follow Christ. I think the world already has too many people who try to look like they have it all together, and that mentality can be so damaging, not only to other people, but also to the individual. Honestly, I've tried to live my life that way, and I only end up pushing other's away and isolating myself. Not only is having it all together a lie, but its really lonely.

What does the writing process look like for you?

It is usually a long, drawn out process. What you see posted here is almost never the first draft of something. I edit a lot while I'm writing, so I'll type out a paragraph to begin with, and what comes out in the end might be something totally different. I read a lot of scripture as I write, and usually have music playing in the background. I don't really have a specific time of day that I have to write in, but most of the words typically come out in the later afternoon and evening hours (right now, I'm writing this in a couple quiet minutes at my office). Sometimes I'll have an idea or a verse hanging out in my head for a few days before I really sit down to write about it, but for the most part, I have to try and write something down right away so I don't forget it, and it will sit in my drafts folder until I'm ready to come back to it. Also, I have an ongoing love affair with all things literary, so I'm constantly checking the dictionary and thesaurus and thinking about devices to use in my writing.

 

There you have it! Now, I'm tagging three of my favorite bloggers, my friends Hannah, Lauren, and Sarah.

a letter to my fifteen year old self.

Dear fifteen-year-old Erin, 315_40079260820_2003_nIts me, twenty-three year-old Erin. It may seem impossible to you in this moment, but believe it, girl, because we are here, and here is sticky sweet like all the sweat and honey.

Let's be honest, though: you're feeling like your life just fell apart.  Mom decided that she enjoyed the idea of freedom more than she enjoyed being married to Dad. She'll choose other men over her husband and children, and your friends at school will tell you that divorce is normal -- fun, even, because you get two of everything now. And even though it might be normal in 2005, you are painfully aware that there's nothing fun about it.

Your friends will end up ditching you because you feel too much. And it isn't really that you feel too much, its more like you don't know where to put your thoughts and feelings, so they're kinda mashed up right now.

Those angsty poems you've been writing lately? Yikes, girl. I'll let you in on a crazy good secret: someday, your blog will be read in thirty-three countries.

You might not feel like it right now, but you are important.

Not because of how many countries your blog will be read in someday, or in that shallow, "I only wear A&F and Hollister and date the cutest guy in school" kind of way, though. You might think you want that, but trust me, deep down, you really want more than that.

I know that you used to get made fun of a lot when you transitioned from homeschooling to public school a few years ago, and it seems like that has worn off a little. But there's this one girl who just has it in for you, and you have no idea what you did to ignite such a hateful blaze.

I've learned that they naysayers are everywhere. There are a few every now and then with skin on, but most of them live in your head, and they're much harder to get rid of. Stick to your guns, girl. You possess a strength beyond what you can even comprehend.

You'll fight hard with depression, even before your mom decides out of the clear blue sky to call it a day and wash her hands of eighteen years of marriage. It won't make sense and it will be scary, and you'll feel like hiding all day long. And I still have days like that, but they are much fewer and far between. We are making it, one day at a time. And that's okay.

People will tell you that your standards are too high. It happened to me, just the other day. I was doing an activity for job training (by the way, you're going to be a social worker someday) where we talked about personality traits that we sought out, or at least tolerated in a mate at sixteen versus the ones we looked for and tolerated at thirty. The instructor will be shocked when you tell him that you would in no way tolerate someone being disrespectful to you at sixteen. He'll make fun of you, and you'll feel sad, but only for a nanosecond. Then you'll brush it off and pat yourself on the back for the fact that even at the flighty, impressionable age of sixteen,  you never settled for less than what you deserved.

Speaking of dating and finding a mate -- that guy in the yearbook you thought you would end up marrying? You don't marry him. Instead, you'll go off to college and find out that the man of your dreams was living just three hours away the whole time, and you'll think its hilarious how God does it. And let me tell you, he is cute and sweet and quirky and all the things you wrote down in your journal that you want to find someday.

The Lord has a plan. I know that sounds super vacation Bible school, even to you, but its true. Hard things will happen to the people you love, and you'll question. You'll shake your fists at a God you've believed in all your life, and you won't know it at the time, but He uses those things to take you to places you have never been. Your faith will grow in ways you never thought possible, and you will learn that all is, indeed, grace.

You'll realize that you're important, not because of what anyone else thinks of you, but because He loves you. And your soul will fall in love with life in a thousand and one beautiful ways. Your heart will overflow. You will find joy in the most unexpected places.

In the meantime, keep going to football games with Dad and screaming your head out for the Panthers. Keep believing that in spite of everything, these are the best days of your life. Eventually, you'll realize that everyday is the best day of your life because everyday is an opportunity to grow.

You are awesome, and I think about you all the time.

-- Me

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Contributing to the beautiful Emily Freeman's collection of letters and shamelessly plugging her amazing book for young women. You can check out Graceful here on Amazon.

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