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Refreshed and Ready by Donna K. Rice

Spring conference season presents opportunities for writers to hone their skills and reconnect with industry professionals and friends. For me, it’s also a time of refreshing. The Mount Hermon Writers Conference in the California mountains above San Jose is a favorite. The beautiful location combined with excellent teaching means several days of glorious immersion in the writing life.

A few years ago I almost gave up and quit attending conferences. My ideas were flat, I felt like I was wasting time and money, and I doubted my calling to write. I left one conference deflated and ready to pack up my writing books. Then came Mount Hermon. Since I’d already paid for the conference and plane ticket, I decided to go and enjoy some time in the redwoods. I arrived with no agenda. That’s when God can do His best work isn’t it?

As I sat in my room and reviewed my registration packet, the seed of a new book idea formed. I perused the class schedule with renewed interest. God healed the ache of despair with inspiration. Just as promised in Jeremiah 31:13, He turned my mourning into joy. Purpose filled my heart again.

I’ve attended many conferences, both for writing and legal education. Over the years I’ve discovered how to squeeze the most out of each conference without hitting overwhelm and exhaustion. Every gathering offers a multitude of classes and sessions to attend. Going to every session however, is usually too much.

Since that fateful spring, my writing journey is different. I’m not yet where I want to be, but God continues to open doors and provide opportunities to learn and grow. Mentors have come into my life through the Christian Writers Guild and My Book Therapy. The thing I said I could never see myself doing—fiction writing—I’m now doing. And loving it! My nonfiction writing is better because I’ve learned to craft stories. At Mount Hermon, God found me sorrowing over the loss of a dream, vulnerable, and at last ready to be molded into the writer He wants me to be. He began the process of refreshing my soul. Now, each spring I return to that place and embrace the work God wants to do in me so we can write together.

I encourage you, my writing friend, to find a place of refreshing in your writing career. Whether a conference, a favorite project, a sanctuary of worship and prayer, or your writing nook, the place doesn’t matter. The important thing is to let the walls fall, the ones you’ve built around your ideas about writing, and explore God’s plan. Let Him refresh your spirit and inspire you in ways you can’t imagine now.

~*~

Donna writes women’s fiction and is represented by Sue Brower of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. She’s a licensed minister, conference speaker, and estate planning attorney. She also works with GenderSave, a nonprofit seeking to empower women and girls at risk from gendercide practices in India. Contact Donna at donnakrice.com.

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Google Penalizes Sites that aren’t Mobile Friendly & Other Digital Spring Cleaning

@EdieMelson

I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but here in South Carolina spring is definitely here. And with it comes the inevitable urge I have to throw open the windows and get my house back in order.

But this time of year isn’t just a good excuse to shine up my house, it’s also a good time to do some digital spring cleaning. There are some changes on the horizon that we all need to be ready for, and it’s important to freshen up our social media pages on a regular basis.

So let’s get to work!

Item One: Recent Google Changes

This one’s important, so listen up. As of April 21, 2015, Google began penalizing websites and blogs that are not mobile friendly. And it’s not a small penalty either. When someone searches for something—even on a regular computer—if the site isn’t mobile friendly it will show up much lower in the rankings. Here’s a link to Google’s announcement.

If you’re not sure if your site is mobile friendly, you can use the Mobile-Friendly Test that Google has set up.

For those of us with Blogger sites, we’re in good shape. Blogger is owned by Google and was modified to be user friendly several years ago. But for those with other sites, and with self-hosted sites, I recommend you check and see if your site passes the test

Item Two: Check Your Links

Another thing that can drastically affect your search engine ranking is the presence of broken or dead links on your blog. The negative affects are more pronounced if the links are on one of your main pages. They’re slightly less of an issue if they’re buried within an old blog post.

I recommend taking a few minutes and clicking on every live link on the main page of your site. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s important that these links work. First because of the search engine issue, but also because a dead link irritates and frustrates your audience.

Item Three: Update any Social Media Changes

If you’ve added a new network to your list of go-to social media sites, be sure there’s a link to follow/friend you on it.

Item Four: Tidy Up Your Blog’s Sidebar

It’s easy for things to get out of order in your blog’s sidebar. But these gadgets/widgets are vitally important when you’re growing an online presence. Make certain they’re in the order of importance you assign them.

It’s also important to toss any gadgets/widgets that are no longer relevant. Spring cleaning isn’t just about organizing, it’s also about getting rid of the junk that’s accumulated.

Item Five: Give Your Site a Facelift

Spring is a good time to update the overall look of your site. This could be a minor font color change, or a major overhaul. If you’re thinking about making a few changes, I’d say the time is right.

All of these may seem like minor tweaks. But each one can have a major impact if it’s in disarray. Now it’s your turn. What digital spring cleaning tips do you have to share? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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3 Reasons Twitter & Writers are a Perfect Match

I remember the first time I ventured onto twitter. It’s an intimidating site, full of unfamiliar terms and strange rules. Beyond that, the more people I followed, the more confusing the newsfeed became. To my untrained eye, all those 140 character bursts were just disjointed and disconnected chaos.

I really didn’t understand how anyone could get anything good out of this network.

Luckily for me, I didn’t give up. I kept digging for articles to help me understand the value of Twitter. And that’s when I began to unravel the Twitter chaos. As I became more familiar with this alien landscape, I began to appreciate why Twitter and writers are a perfect match.

  1. It respects our time. Interacting in 140 character bursts keeps conversations focused and moving quickly.
  1. It helps us write tight. If you’ve spent any time at all studying writing, you’ve heard the advice to write tight. This means eliminating unnecessary words.
  1. It’s a networking superconductor. There is no social media platform out there that is better at allowing us to find connections with like-minded people.

How Connections are Made

So how do we tap into that networking superconductor? First, lets back up and evaluate the reason we’re all working at building an online presence. We are looking to deepen existing relationships and build new ones. But building new ones can be difficult if the only people we interact with are those we already know, either online or in person.

We can get a little bit of exposure to new folks through introductions from our existing connections, but that’s a time consuming way to go about it.

Twitter offers a better way—hashtags.

What if there was a way for someone to search a given social media network by topic and find new, interesting people to interact with? That would be a great way to grow our connections.

THAT, in the simplest of terms, is the purpose behind hashtags.

If I do a search on twitter for the popular writing hashtag #amwriting, I’m instantly able to discover people that I’d never have known existed.

AND if I include the hashtag #amwriting in one of my tweets, people who are searching for writers can find me, even if they’ve never heard of me from anyone before.

When you compose a social media update that includes one or two hashtags that summarize the topic, you are giving folks a way to find you.

For example, I’m working on a new series of Steampunk novels. Because of that, targeting a specific type of reader—one who reads Steampunk. I find those readers within the larger group of people who read science fiction (ABA – secular) or speculative fiction (CBA – Christian).

Here’s a sample tweet I might send out, targeted at those specific readers: 

Step-by-step instructions to help you turn a plain top hat into a #Steampunk masterpiece! Via @EdieMelson http://bit.ly/HoGs3w #Specfic

Let’s break down how I composed this update. I know that the Steampunk community loves to create costumes. So I’m giving them information they’d find useful and interesting.

  • I used #Steampunk so that anyone searching Twitter for others who are interested in this genre can find me.
  • I also included @EdieMelson, because on Twitter, that is a clickable link that takes them directly to my Twitter page.
  • Finally I used #specfic, because that’s the hashtag for speculative fiction to pull in readers who might find this interesting.

If I was targeting the general market reader, instead of #specfic, I would have used #scifi.

NOTE: Use # (hashtags) to denote a subject, and use @ (at sign) to denote a person or organization. With organizations, you’ll find some that hashtag their names and others use the @ sign.

Twitter isn’t the only social media network that has hashtags. You can use hashtags in the same manner on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. There may be other networks that also use them, but those are the main ones.

Hashtag Etiquette

Try to never use more than three hashtags in any one tweet. If you can make it two that’s even better. Otherwise you end up looking like a used car sales man. If you’re trying to reach more groups, schedule multiple tweets, at different times, about the same subject and target your groups two at a time.

Always research your hashtag before you use it. Never assume it’s the correct one. For example, I was targeting military families with tweets about my devotional for military families and I thought #military would be the logical hashtag. No, turns out that hashtag is frequently used by those trying to date someone in the military. Not really the demographic I was trying to reach. The hashtag I wanted was #militaryfamily and #deployment. The best place to research hashtags is also the easiest, just type it into Google or the search engine of your choice.

Now it’s your turn to ask me any Twitter questions you have. Or share how Twitter has helped you make more connections. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments sections below.

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