My First Date...with My Blog

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blog Date Essentials: my laptop, my blogging journal, and my favorite Church Street Coffee & Books drink, the Tea-Rex

Sunday afternoon I took my blog out for a date. If you recall, last week my blog and I got hitched and I know from experience that one of the best ways to keep the fire burning in a marriage is with a date night.

So on Sunday afternoon my laptop and I went to Church Street Coffee and Books and I had a date with my blog.

What exactly is a blog date? A blog date is a time you set aside to go to your favorite coffee shop and work on several blog posts in one sitting. My goal for this blog date was to write posts for this entire week. I will continue to try to do this every weekend that I can so my weekday evenings will be free for exercise, working on freelance assignments or guest blog posts, or hanging out with my gal pals or my hubster.

It's good to go on these dates with a plan: have an idea of what you want to write about for each post. Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of time staring at a blank screen and eating coffee shop pastries. (Don't you love the cookies at Church Street?!)

Even if you don't get each and every post for the week completed (I only wrote three), a blog date is still a worthy venture. Getting out of the house will help you be more productive as you won't be distracted by the TV, the laundry, etc. And these dates can help keep you excited about blogging and prevent it from becoming a chore.

Spending quality time with your blog is the best way to keep the love alive.

How to Be a Happy Writer

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We are all familiar with the notion of the depressed writer, the scribe who is a tortured, tormented soul. Sadly enough, many of my favorite writers committed suicide -- Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, I've been on an Elizabeth Gilbert kick lately) is not OK with this notion that creativity and suffering are inherently linked or the assumption that artistry ultimately leads to anguish. She addresses this in a TEDTalk she gave a few years ago.

Perhaps some of this comes from the fact that everyone around us insinuates that our art is something we should fear -- that we should be afraid of failure, rejection, and writer's block and that even after we find success we should be afraid of never being able to top our big accomplishment.

But as Gilbert asks in her talk, "Is it rational, is it logical that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work that they feel they were put on this earth to do?"

In her presentation Gilbert offers a new way to think about creativity and this is certainly a talk all writers and artists need to hear.


Smarty Pants

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Women's Fund asked for a photograph, so I sent this one. Don't I look smart surrounded by all these books?

I have somehow fooled the folks over at the Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham into thinking that I'm smart. 

Next month the organization is honoring 12 Birmingham-area women for their "innovative" work and ideas and I can't believe I'll be in the mix. To be in a group that includes the director of the Birmingham Public Library, a successful lawyer, and a space archaeologist -- just to name a few -- is both humbling and shocking. 

I am being recognized for the work I do with See Jane Write, an organization for women writers in Birmingham that I founded in March 2011. 

We will be honored at the Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham's inaugural "SMART Party."

The Birmingham Business Journal describes the "SMART Party" as an event that will include "tweets, tags, pins and check-ins from attendees and video 'virtual' messages from guests from around the world."

The SMART Party is a fundraiser for the Women's Fund of Greater Birmingham. Lin Carleen founded the organization in 1996 with a mission to "encourage the full participation of women and girls in the community by creating opportunities for education, physical, emotional, social, artistic, and personal growth and empowerment." The group's major focus for the past five years has been on domestic violence. 

The SMART Party will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 11 at WorkPlay and if you're in Birmingham I hope you'll join us. I'd love to see you there! For tickets and more information, click here

Monday Motivation: Why Working Harder Is Not the Key to Your Success

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rest here
Image by Oliver Kendal via Flickr/Creative Commons
 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
-- Jesus (Matthew 11:28)

I was on an emotional roller coaster in church yesterday. During praise and worship -- the period when we sing songs, close our eyes, and lift our hands to the heavens -- I felt overwhelmed with gratitude as I began to count my blessings. Specifically, I was thinking about the great success I've had with landing freelance writing gigs this year and the success of my women's writing organization See Jane Write

But about 20 minutes later I started to feel guilty. Yesterday's sermon was all about slowing down, about making sure you're not so busy that your life gets out of balance and you stop spending as much time as you should with God and with your loved ones. I felt guilty because I had walked into church that morning bubbling over with excitement about all the ideas I have for growing See Jane Write in 2013. And now I felt my ambitions were somehow evil. 

Then my pastor explained that he wasn't telling us we should just give up everything and do nothing. Some of the activities that fill our schedules can actually be life-giving, he said. But the ones that aren't, the ones that leave us feeling empty inside, will eventually lead to burnout. 

The work I do for See Jane Write certainly is life giving, but I still left church knowing I need to work on living a more-balanced life. I must make time to recharge and refuel through prayer and quality time with family and friends and sometimes by just taking a freaking nap! 

All my life I've believe that if I just work harder and harder and harder my dreams will come true. But I'm starting to realize that is not the case. I've always hated the saying "Work smarter, not harder," because I interpreted that phrase as "Take all the shortcuts you can." But that's not it at all. 

During the sermon my pastor compared taking time to recharge and refuel to sharpening a saw. Many of us let our saw get dull and instead of taking a break to sharpen it we keep hacking away at that tree, believing that if we just swing harder and with more might we'll get the job done. But if we would only stop and take time to sharpen the saw then we could chop down that tree with a single swing. 

This week while you're going after your goals and chopping away at your to-do lists, don't forget to sharpen your saw. 

My Writeous Week and the Solution to Blogger's Block

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012. calendar
Image by Asja Boros via Flickr/Creative Commons

Ask any social media guru the keys to successful blogging and at some point the word "consistency" is going to be spoken. But, unfortunately, that's usually one of the hardest things to achieve. Getting "inspired" to write a fresh blog post three to five times a week is tough. But having a plan can help you conquer the blank screen. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you need an editorial calendar. In a way a publishing schedule can serve as writing prompts. It's Tuesday night and you're not sure what to write for the next day. Just check your editorial calendar. It will help you focus on a specific topic which will help you come up with an idea much sooner than you would if you decided to just kill time on Twitter for a minute or two or two hundred. 

So here is my new editorial calendar, or as I like to call it, My Writeous Week:
  • Monday Motivation -- quotes from famous writers or personal stories that aim to offer encouragement to my fellow writers, bloggers, artists, and dreamers. 
  • Tuesday -- Life as a Birmingbelle (my clever little term for a modern belle in Birmingham. Y'all know I love making up words for nicknames). This will be my time to show off my city by highlighting a local event or profiling a woman who is working hard to make Birmingham a better place for other women. 
  • Wednesday -- Writer Wisdom. These posts will offer practical advice for writers and bloggers, through tips gathered from either my own experience or from other writers and bloggers.
  • Thursday -- Social Media Day. These posts will run the gamut, but will be in someway related to blogging and/or social media. 
  • Friday -- My Writeous Weekend: These posts will give me another opportunity to write about what's going on in my city as I will chat a bit about my plans for the weekend, but the post will mostly be devoted to sharing links to interesting articles I think you writer-types and blogging babes should read while you have a couple days away from the day job. 

What's your editorial calendar for your blog?

I Now Pronounce You Blog and Wife

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blog Girl, after Norman Rockwell (detail)
Image by Mike Licht via Flickr/Creative Commons

Last night I decided to marry my blog. 

I've already confessed to falling asleep spooning my iPad so it only makes sense that I take this relationship to the next level. 

So I'm marrying my blog. No, I'm not leaving the hubster. (Does this make me a polygamist?) Let me explain. 

Tuesday night, thanks to a post on, I discovered an essay on writing by Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert and read this passage:
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.

Yes. This. I absolutely believe that writing is my calling, but I can't say I've treated it as such. I've blogged about the importance of writing consistently and seeing writing as a practice, but I've failed to practice what I preach. 

But perhaps if I take my calling as a writer as seriously as I take my calling as a wife to my husband and a daughter of my God I might finally accomplish my goals. 

Gilbert's metaphor resonated with me because I know that when I neglect spiritual practices such as prayer and study of Scripture my relationship with God suffers. God feels distant. Likewise, when I don't spend quality time with my husband our relationship suffers. He feels distant. And when I neglect the practice of writing my relationship with myself suffers. Writing isn't something I do, it's who I am. So when I'm don't write I don't feel like myself. My true self feels distant. 

Blogging is my primary way of practicing my writing so that's the reasoning behind my bloggy matrimony. 

But here's the thing: I'm going to screw up. I'm going to announce a new editorial calendar (that's coming tomorrow), I'm going to stick with it for a few weeks, and then something's going to come up and I'm going to fall off the wagon and skip a day or two or five. That's why the following passage from the Gilbert essay meant so much to me: 
As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness (which comes from a place of kind and encouraging and motherly love).

Forgiveness is essential in any sacred relationship. I sin and God forgives me. I have a bitchy attitude for no good reason toward my sweet husband and he forgives me. I fail at publishing a new blog post every day and I must forgive myself. 

So here we go, writeous blog. It's me and you, together forever. Writing, you are my soul mate and what God has joined together let no man put asunder.  

Monday Motivation: How to Keep Your Dreams Alive

Monday, September 10, 2012

Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

When I was 15 years old I declared, "When I grow up I'm going to start my own magazine." And for the next few years I would talk to anyone who'd listen about my magazine dreams and even carried around a red binder with plans for my future publication.

Then came adulthood and the decline of journalism and my dreams started to seem more and more impossible. Eventually, I decided it would be best to just abandon this goal.

But no matter how hard I tried to let go of this dream, it refused to let go of me. So today I am declaring that:
God willing, I will one day start my own magazine.

After deciding to make this declaration once again I started thinking about how we all can keep our dreams alive and here's what I've come up with:

Remember to let your dreams evolve. As a teen when I imagined myself as a magazine editor/publisher I imagined myself producing a print publication in chic office in New York. But things change. I changed. Today my dream looks a lot different. My publication will most likely be online and the office I now daydream about is a cozy one in the Innovation Depot here in Birmingham.  But still the dream lives on.

Remember to choose your friends wisely. I have a few close girlfriends that I've been chatting with recently about renewing my commitment to my dream and they have been so encouraging. They've been getting me fired up about going after my goals. If you have friends that are notoriously negative, keep your dreams to yourself (until you find some new friends).

Remember it's not all about you. A woman I know once said that it's important for her to pursue her passions not just for her own sake but for her daughter's as well. It's important for her child to see her be brave enough to go after her goals. Though I'm not a mother I completely understand what she means. Because I don't have kids I'm able to devote a lot of my time to empowering other women -- which is what I think is my life's purpose. So I'm not striving to achieve my dreams simply for my own sake, but to show other women out there that they can do the same.

What dream are you fighting to keep alive?

Looking Good, Birmingham: Fashion's Night Out

Friday, September 7, 2012

My gal pal Sonya and I at Birmingham's Fashion's Night Out

One night a year people all around the world get together to party in the name of fashion. This global shopping event, known as Fashion's Night Out, was first launched in 2008 and coordinated in the U.S. by Vogue magazine, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, NYC & Company and the City of New York. It's been called “the best fashion party in history."  And last night the party made its way to Birmingham. (You can read my preview story on Birmingham's Fashion's Night Out here on Magic City Post.)

The Magic City made me proud with its celebration of Fashion's Night Out. I was very impressed that style mavens had options. Instead of there being a single event at one shopping mall, there were specials at the Summit, Colonial Brookwood Village and at a number of locally-owned boutiques in downtown Homewood. 

My gal pal Sonya and I decided to go to the Summit for the evening. We left with a goodie bag full of samples from fragrance and cosmetics counters at Saks and got a great deal on some purchases at Juicy Couture. J. Crew was giving out free gourmet popsicles from Steel City Pops and I nearly fainted when I saw the cupcakes from New York City's Magnolia Bakery at Belk. 

Megan LaRussa discussing some of fall fashion trends

Belk also featured a special presentation by Megan LaRussa of Southern Femme on fall fashion trends. Three of the key style statements you'll see this season at Belk are: My Fair Lady, Town and Country,and Vivid. 

Layering a peplum dress with a feminine silk top is an easy and elegant way to achieve the My Fair Lady look. Add a metallic clutch and you're ready to hit the town. 

"Every woman should own a metallic clutch," LaRussa said. "It's a great way to take your look from day to night." 

The My Fair Lady Style Statement

If you're into the Town & Country look, LaRussa said Ralph Lauren is the brand for you. And if you've been skeptical of the colored jeans trend, try a pair in an autumn hue. 

And, of course, you can't go wrong with tall boots over skinny jeans. 

The Vivid look is all about mixing and matching colors in fresh, new, and unexpected ways. So be bold and sport a teal jacket with a red top and a neon clutch. 

I left Birmingham's Fashion's Night Out with many ideas on how to update my wardrobe for fall, but what's more important is that I left feeling good about my city. My friend and I had so much fun at this event proving to me once again that Birmingham really does know how to show a girl a good time. 

Love & Birmingham

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dear Vulcan, I promise to try to love our city with all my might!

"I never realize how much I like being home 
unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while." 

Despite my belief that unsweetened tea is an abomination before the Lord and my ability to make words like "pants" and "man" three-syllable terms, I've been accused quite a few times of not being a real Southerner. For example, I'm not a huge fan of soul food and I hate to cook. Furthermore, everyone knows I'm a big city girl at heart. I love the grit and grime, chaos and congestion of a major metropolis.

Nonetheless, when I moved to Birmingham a little over three years ago, I made a promise to myself and the big man above (a.k.a. Vulcan) that I would try my best to fall in love with my hometown.

I spent Labor Day weekend in Chicago, a city I hadn't visited in 10 years, and I worried this trip would threaten my efforts to fall for Birmingham. But, believe it or not, my trip to the Windy City actually made me love the Magic City more. Don't get me wrong. Hubs and I had an amazing time in Chicago, strolling through Millennium Park, shopping downtown and in the hip and quirky Lincoln Square neighborhood, and having one delicious meal after another.

But the moment I was tempted to sigh and say, "I wish we could move here," I realized that I can enjoy many of the things that I love most about Chicago and my other favorite cities in Birmingham too, and without having to live in a $1,000 per month studio apartment.

Birmingham has great restaurants, kitschy shops, and wonderful parks. We have a thriving arts and literary community and plenty of progressive young professionals hosting fun events and launching important initiatives to make this city a better place to live.

It is possible to have a great life in Birmingham -- you just have to work for it. No, this is not Chicago or New York or even Atlanta. You can't walk out the door and expect excitement to hit you in the face. But people who say there's nothing to do in Birmingham are either lazy or not paying attention. There's plenty to do, you just have to look for it.

Sure, there are many things about Birmingham that make my heart hurt and my stomach ache. Decades after Jim Crow laws were abandoned, ours is still a segregated city. Our school system and local government are a mess. And many everyday things that residents need to function in a city --  from banks to parking meters to voting polls to the DMV -- are embarrassingly antiquated.

But that's what love is like, right? You take the good with the bad. Then you work to make the good great and the bad better. Isn't that what we do with family, friends, and lovers, too? And this is just what I'm going to do for my city.

And now, snapshots from our Chicago trip...

We were in Chicago for the wedding of a good friend of ours.
Here she is coming down the aisle. Isn't she gorgeous?!

Here we are on the rooftop of Hotel Palomar, where the wedding reception was held.
That reception was one of the best we've ever attended. Everyone was one the dance floor all night long! 

There was a photo booth at the reception. I think we went in there about 5 times. 

Great view of Downtown Chicago from Millennium Park

Another great view of downtown from the Art Institute bridge

Faces of Chicago
Perhaps the only time it's OK to spit on kids

Of course we couldn't leave the park without taking pictures of The Bean!

I took a picture with NPH! OK, not really, but check out the little boy in the background. Hilarious!

Of course the word nerd had to hit up the local book stores. 
I love that The Book Cellar posts staff recommendations around the shop.
And I love that they are fans of Emily Dickinson!