Tag Archives: allume

filling in the cracks

aj It is time…

Last year, part of a major self-care overhaul in my life included buying tickets to a women’s writing conference in South Carolina. I leave again early Thursday morning… on a plane… just me and my books for 4 days.

Molly and Miriam are helping me split the hotel costs. Both are old souls to me, but we’ve never lived together for more than 12 hours. Curt thought it might be a good idea to let them in on a few particulars:

  1. There will be no sleep for Katie before 1am. She may get IN bed at 9:30pm, but that means Scandal is on, baseball is on, or she is reading. Or all three. Very possibly all three.
  2. Speaking of the tv- if you turn it on, Katie will adjust the volume so that it’s on an odd number.
  3. Katie wakes up slower than any other person on earth. It’s not personal. There will be no complete sentences within the first hour.
  4. Katie wakes up super slow but can be ready in about 4 minutes. Hold the elevator. She will not be late.
  5. There shall be no whistling at any time.
  6. Coke and Chinese food are the go-to saves for a rough day or incredibly awkward moment.
  7. Katie can read minds, body language, and between the lines. It’s super annoying.
  8. Large crowds can cause unexpected bailing. Do not be alarmed if your roommate disappears for a bit. She’s in a hallway somewhere or taking a nap.
  9. If you have candy, she will eat all your red and orange pieces.
  10. Katie is not fan of ironing, but it’s her spiritual gift. If you need to be fancy and you show up with a Coke in-hand, she’ll work her magic for you.

Fall has been a wild ride for this family. I feel like we haven’t really stopped to breathe since August. I’m so excited for a little time away to clear my head, do a little focused writing, and sit with friends. I need to eat food I have not made myself and be out of arm’s reach of small sticky fingers. I would like to use a bathroom that locks and take a shower without stepping on foam alphabet letters.

I need to fill in a few minor cracks in the self-care department, amen? I can’t wait to hear stories that challenge me to be a better storyteller, meet other women building tiny kingdoms, and laugh late into the night over chips and salsa.

What are you doing to fill in the cracks?

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Branding 101

The writing conference I attended last month offered sessions that wandered through every area of writing: faith, publishing, iPhone photography, earning money with ads, WordPress setup, telling hard stories. The options basically broke down into to categories: the practical and the abstract. Naturally I migrated to the wild and dreamy… the digger deeper and tell better stories. I went to the sessions that offered information and heart I couldn’t look up on google.

BUT

I did attend one pragmatic session. I did. Pick yourself up off the floor. I even took notes for you.

I always placed “branding” in the realm of unnecessary unless you are selling something. So when I saw that Holley Gerth, a virtual mentor of mine and co-founder of (in)courage, I was intrigued. What could branding possibly have to do with me-a girl with no agent, no market savvy, and no dreams of earning a living through blogging?

Holley says branding is simply about being trustworthy. THIS? This is a concept I like. A brand is a promise that you will be the same wherever readers find you… be it your blog, a guest post, an etsy shop, or a facebook or instagram or twitter post. Being consistent builds trust.

Branding is sitting down sitting down and defining the basics of… you, in this case. As a writer who is not necessarily selling something tangible, branding is about creating a space that visually reflects your message, your heart.

The girl who loved the first day of school with the new backpacks and school supplies and possibility… that girl who geeks out on fresh notebook paper and felt pens and organizing? That girl was excited about this kind of thinking. It would help me… and anyone… be a little more focused on who I was and where I was going each time I sat down to write. Being a bit more intentional with defining my “brand” would help me weed out stories and threads that weren’t great fits and maybe open the gates to new areas I have been holding back on.

So here are my notes on how to carve out a space- a consistent, virtual space and brand– whether you are writing for your mom or your neighborhood or your world.

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Ask yourself: what are your strengths in life? Are you brave? Smart? Funny? Capable? Consistent? Kind? A great cook? Encouraging? A decent photographer? Humble? Bold? Simple? Creative? Empathetic?

How do you love to express those strengths? Writing? Hospitality? Gift-giving? Music? Building things?

Who do your strengths most benefit? New moms? Women? Young families? Parents of teens? Working folks? Retired folks? People in mourning? Crafters?

What do others say about you? Ask people you love to give you three adjectives that describe you. Add these to your STRENGTHS list if they aren’t there already.

Now, as a writer… a blogger a journal-er a freelance wordsmith… who are your readers? Think about basics: gender, age, faith stage, heart characteristics. You have a hub- a network of people- that make up your readership. You’re the center of a wheel… what kind of people do you reach and overlap with? [resource to check out: GammaWomen.com]

Think about what those readers need. There is only one you. You fill a very specific void in this world, whether your voice is small, medium, or large. So think about those readers you defined up above and now consider what they are looking for: Encouragement? Teaching? Truth? Hope? Humor?

Why are you called to communicate right now? Holly says to write to the audience you have TODAY. You can only write about what you know.

Now that we’ve got a bit of a handle on your strengths and your general audience, let’s look at the brand part of things.

What promise are you making to your readers?

What 3 brands/authors/blogs do you love?  What key words come to mind when you think about them? What is it specifically that you like about them?

Who else is called, too? Who are the people driving the same wagon you are? How can you partner with them? Social networking is great for this: you love to cook and take pictures, you read/meet others who love to cook and take pictures, and suddenly you have a neighborhood of friends who can share ideas and information together.

What does your brand look like? Like, ACTUALLY look like? Think colors, patterns, photos. Think of your words and then how you would express those words visually. A new mom blog is probably not going to be decorated with construction clip art, you know? Not sure what your words look like? Make a private Pinterest board and starting saving photos of things you like: fonts, formatting, colors… anything. After a month, pull up that board and start looking for common threads. Those repeating themes you see are what you’re drawn to and are a great place to start.

What is your mission as a writer?

I [what] [who] through [how] so that they [why].

Holley fills in the blanks like this: I encourage women through words so they grow into all God created them to be.

She holds everything up to that mission to see if it fits. While there’s always room to stretch or even change it, having a mission statement gives you somewhere to start.

A brand is just a way to be consistent and focused. Don’t let fear or lies or comparison steer you away from the idea that a brand could be a very useful in creating trust and focus in your writing. 

And there you have it: Branding 101.

Next time we talk about branding, it will be from the farming perspective, which, funny enough, isn’t all that different from the writing perspective.

Now for a focus group study:

What comes to mind when you think of Apple Pie, Anyone? or TexasNorth?

An honest comment will enter you in a drawing for a giveaway of Gari Meacham’s new book, Watershed Moments.

[Comments are closed! A winner will be announced Monday, December 2nd.]


Allume 2013

[This is a recap of my experience at the Allume writer’s conference. It’s long, folks… but it’s my chance to work out some of my notes. Maybe you’ll catch a thread of something and run with it.]

Y’all.

They left David in the pasture. (Samuel 16:13-17) They didn’t even think to call him in… to invite or include him. Or, they did think about it but decided for him. David- David, who would be King and called a man after God’s own heart. David learned to lead, protect, and throw stones in the pasture- not on the throne. He was being prepared in obscurity. And, more importantly, he was known in the field, before the throne, when he was working alone. (from Melanie’s keynote)

God sees you even when the world doesn’t. 

Do not despise the day of small beginnings. (Zech. 4:10)

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The storm is raging outside right now, and I am struggling to put words down. I am maybe the last girl who attended Allume in October to sit down and write out some notes. I am always on the wall when the crowd is rushing in. It’s the fear of being a groupie in me. Or the need to watch first and then do. Or the desperate desire to let the waves calm before I set sail. Whatever the reason, I am slow.

I do not move well in crowds.

This conference is no different. I cling to the walls and wait for the masses to grab their seats. I hoover near my girls: Missy, Molly, Allison, Monica, and Miriam. These are my heavy-hitters. The ones who pull me back in, who hold the elevator for me, who share the covers despite only a couple hours of introduction. It has been a long time since I’ve sat at a table full of women and felt… normal. Expected. Welcome.

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The beautiful and unplanned theme running through all the keynote speakers at Allume was There Is Room. There are loud voices and quiet voices and each one is necessary to tell the Big Story of redemption. Some voices are pretty and polished create a mass following. Their church is big with members that read like a Who’s Who in the believing world today. Some voices are specific and holy, but quiet and on the fringe. Their church is small but quirky and very, very cool. Low lights, lots of guitar. Others are just pretty, plain and simple. And still others are hurting and wild and mining for Truth in dark places.

 The size of your audience doesn’t matter. It matters that the audience is listening. (Randy Pausch)

Everyone has a voice.

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Holley says we writers are in the foot-washing business. We wash feet with words. She says it’s worth doing well- this writing thing- because it’s a ministry and I am reminded, again, how Aaron sings we have been changed to bring change. Ann says we are Esthers. We must use the life we’ve been given to give others life. Lisa preaches that there is ruin in a flood of empty words (Ecc. 5-7). Be see-through, she says. Tell stories in order to ready hearts and nudge people towards personal insight, but be focused. More words make less impactEdie says we have been sent to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim the liberty to the captives, and Jenni reminds us that we cannot set anyone free until we are reconciled ourselves. Bianca begs us to let our pain have a purpose, that success is in rehabilitation and revival– dry bones coming to life again. (Ez. 37). Emily wants us to move toward what makes us come alive. She reminds us that we are art because we were all created in His image. We are art, and therefore we create art. What is most alive in us now that we can offer to someone else?

I’m predictably overwhelmed. I’m inspired, absolutely… but overwhelmed.

I’m just a mom right now.

Oh, trust me… that retreat was for me, absolutely. It was for Believing women who love using words and who want to be better at using words. That’s me. I want to tell stories. But, I’m a mom with a small, grass-roots audience. I’m a girl with a complicated but fairly boring history. I’m a writer without an agent or paid editor or a premium blog template.

I am the writer who sits down after the kids are tucked in, after the dishes are done, after the gates are closed. Twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday nights, I sit and I write for maybe an hour. And then I edit for spacing and formatting and photo layout… which often takes longer than the writing. And then I click “schedule” so the essay will go live the next morning. That’s it. I am not the prolific thinker that has 10 drafts saved for later. Ideas don’t run rampant through my brain, begging to get out on the page. If I think it, I write it- now- or it is lost forever to staleness or, more likely, forgetfulness.

I am the most undisciplined person I know when compared to my husband or left to my own devices, but give me a deadline or an expectation or an idea… or, better yet, A CHALLENGE… and I am on it. Thus, the 2 day per week discipline of story-telling. It’s the one thing I’ve managed to keep showing up for through feast and famine. It helps that a good attitude is negotiable and yoga pants are a given. It helps a lot. 

I don’t write about politics, theology, environmental issues, cooking, or technology. I write about life. Specifically my life as it’s intersected with others. I write about faith, farming, depression, special-needs parenting, and memories. Narrative. I write narrative. I think I do ‘funny’ pretty decent and I am learning to self-edit- to prune, to be specific, to focus in and be direct.

Obviously, not today.

My ‘church,’ my ‘platform’… it may never be bigger or louder or more visible than it is right here, right now. But it can be better. I love to write and speak and tell stories and I want to practice at it. I want to get better at creating a space to share stories- to share life. Come early, come late… just be comfortable.

I’ll be out in the pasture- waiting to be called in.

Like, seriously.

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Since returning:

1. I bought the domain applepieanyone.com (it sends you here) so that I can start building a home there with front porches for us to sit on and chat with lemonade and screaming children and pie. Definitely pie. TexasNorth.com will continue on, but I wanted the blog to have its own identity apart from the farm. Eventually, TexasNorth.com will be a home-base website for the farm that will connect to the blog here.

2. I called The Moth and pitched the Buck Story to their answering machine. Because it’s a great story. And I miss being on stage and telling stories. Will they call me back? Doubtful. But, I did it. And, it felt awesome.

3. I created a Home Team of close friends to help me figure out- specifically with writing- what I’m decent at, what I’m not… what works, what doesn’t. Because my brain doesn’t see myself without a filter and I so .

4. I started taking better notes at church. I need to know and remember Scripture better. I am excellent with stories an topics and concepts… not so great on the specific references, and for myself, I want to be able to link it back to Truths and Old Stories. I need to see how it all connects.

Allume 2013 summary:

I heard keynote speakers Ann VoskampMelanie ShankleGari MeachamJennie AllenBianca Oltoff, Emily Freeman, and  Jeff Shinabarger. I attended sessions led by Holley GerthEdie WadsworthLisa Whittle,  Lisa-Jo Baker, and Erika Morrison. I volunteered to write cards for Mercy House Kenya and Switch 42:16 for my service project.

If you’ve read this far, 1. I love you for it and, 2. leave a comment to be entered in a giveaway of Ann’s latest book The Greatest Gift. Blessings to you today, friends!

[update on Wednesday night: comments are closed! The winner will be announced Thursday, 11/21!]


I should tell you, I should tell you.

[That’s a line from Rent, folks.]

[If you got that reference, we are bffs forever.]

Oh, Missy. The day is quickly approaching when all will be right with the world and we will finally eat chips and salsa together before going to bed at 8pm and sleeping like we have nought a care in the world under hotel sheets with continental breakfast dreams. I cannot wait to be at the Allume conference with you in October.

Can. Not. Wait.

Following Logan‘s lead, it is perhaps best if I let you know a few things about me up front. We’ve been friends for a year now… a deep and fast friendship anchored by the Dayspring (in)courage group we both breathe through as moms of kids with special-needs… but we have never shared a room together. It’s the next level for girls, really: roomies. And it’s an important step that demands respect, cable tv, and knowledge of morning rituals. SO. In an effort to make the most of our weekend together, here are a few things you should know about me:

1. I snore. Actually this is a flat-out lie, but Curt said I had to tell you. I am neither pregnant nor hay-feverish at the moment, so I don’t think the snoring will be an issue.

2. If there’s a football game on, I will watch it. As you are Alabama alumni and I am Aggie alumni, I trust our football loyalty genes are quite similar… down to the color-coding, even. We will put aside our rivalry instincts and be the true Southern Women that we are: kind and loud.

3. If there is a Cosby Show rerun on, I will watch it. We get very limited cable at TexasNorth, so hotels and their encyclopedia of channels is like Disneyland to me. I love a little Heathcliff Huxtable while I’m not doing my hair in the morning.

4. I panic in large groups of women. I either make small talk like a champ and then sleep for 48 hours out of exhaustion or I freeze in a Mean Girls anxiety attack and hide in corners. There’s no rhyme or reason to which Katie will show up. I’m hoping the constant flow of chips and salsa plus your effervescence will be the comet I ride on. Consider me your sidekick.

5. I may attempt to cut your food into smaller portions and remind you to eat everything you’ve been served. I am sorry. You get it, but I am sorry.

6. While I have a healthy respect for personal hygiene, my morning and evening rituals leave much to be desired. I will sleep until the last second, having planned my wardrobe and hairstyle around this lifestyle. I shower at night, if Cosby’s not on. I do always brush my teeth and sometimes I floss. That’s not true. I never floss. I don’t. Please still love me.

7. I read. Everything. I read everything fast and furiously. If given the option of sleeping uninterrupted or reading uninterrupted, I honestly can’t tell you which I’ll pick. But I promise you I have had to relocate to the hallway on more than one occasion because the Husband is trying to SLEEP FOR PETE’S SAKE. Have no fear. I will not let me reading interfere with your slumber.

Really, what’s not to love?

Excited. That’s me: excited. Four days of fellowship with a dear friend, extended cable, and conference goodie bags? I may never come home.

I may never GET THERE if I don’t buy some plane tickets and soon.

Look out, South Carolina. Katie and Missy are comin’.

If we were roommates for the weekend, what would I need to know?