What I Learned After Exercising for 181 Consecutive Days

Monday, June 30, 2014

Today is an important day.

It marks the end of my GirlTrek challenge to walk/run 100 miles in June and...

Exhausted after a 6-mile walk/run but still smiling as I pose with my GirlTrek mile-tracker calendar for June!

I did it!

I laced up my Nikes and pounded the pavement of my favorite trails all month long. Some days I walked two miles; some days I ran six. But in the end it all added up to 100 miles!

Today also marks the halfway point of my yearlong challenge to exercise every single day in 2014. I haven't missed a day yet!

Exercising for 181 consecutive days has taught me a lot about myself.

I've learned that I need both variety and routine. I get bored very easily. In fact, boredom pushed me to take on the GirlTrek 100-mile challenge. Believe it or not, exercising daily has become easy to do. M workouts are now as much of my daily routine as taking a shower or brushing my teeth. So I needed to spice things up a bit with an extreme challenge.

Yet, I still like the sense of routine that a challenge offers. I knew to meet my goal I needed to walk or run most days of the week and so there wasn't much wondering about what my workout of the day would be. So I learned that I like routine but I like to change up my routine every month or two.

I think I will apply this to my writing. As I said, I get bored easily -- even with my blog. Every month I come up with an idea for a new blog that I'm tempted to dump this one for.  Instead, I think I will set a routine of blogging three days a week and do a different blog series every month or so in order to not get bored.

Variety truly is what helped me get through these 181 days of exercise.

I've spent many days walking and running on my favorite trail and even in community races such as the Color Me Rad 5K and the Girls on the Run 5K.

I've exercised at a boxing gym, a spin studio and in my living room.

And I've had fun every step of the way. Six months down. Six months to go.

Are you a fitness blogger in the Birmingham area? Then you don't want to miss the See Jane Write Bloganista Mini-Conference, a one-day conference for fashion, fitness, and lifestyle bloggers. You can get more information and buy tickets at thebloganistaconference.eventbrite.com. Use the code WRITEOUS for $5 off your ticket. 

Why Do You Blog?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Image by Mike Licht via Flickr/Creative Commons

Who do you want to be in the blogosphere?

The answer to this question can help determine your website's content, the tone of your writing, and even what you do and don't share on social media.

But answering this question can be much harder than you might think.

I've grappled with this question for months, maybe years. Do I want to be the go-to girl for all things related to writing, blogging and social media? Or do I want to the face of southern feminism?

Then one day I felt God whispering to me in the voice my Granny used in church when I was a little girl and she needed to tell me my slip was too long for my dress. I felt God saying, "Honey, your arrogance is showing."

I'm a church-going gal and so I see this little blog of mine as a ministry, which means it's not supposed to be about me. It's supposed to be about helping other people and giving God glory in the process. But there I was trying to figure out how I could be exalted, how I could be lifted up from the earth and draw all feminist writers unto me.

But even if you're not a Jesus lover, there's a lesson here for you too.

To have true online success you must know your purpose in the world (wide web). Why are you blogging?

My answer to that question is simple: I want to empower women and girls, especially those who write and blog.  But somehow I lost sight of the women in the blogosphere and became too focused on the woman in the mirror.

A couple weeks ago I gave a talk on blogging to high school journalism advisers, taking them through simple steps toward building a blogging plan. I now realize I need to practice what I preach.

I told them to answer several questions before launching or relaunching their blogs:

  • Why are you blogging? Write a mission statement for your site. 
  • Who are you writing for? Identify your target audience. 
  • What will you write about? Develop content related to your purpose and relevant to your audience. 
  • When will you post new content? Create an editorial calendar. 
  • Where will your blog live? Decide on a domain name and choose the best platform and hosting service for your site. 
  • How will you spread the word? Develop a promotion plan for your blog. 

Looking over these questions you can see that most of them are in someway tied to the initial query: Why are you blogging? What is your purpose in the world (wide web)? 

Can you answer these questions? Can you tell me, can you tell your readers, why you're here in the blogosphere? 

A Letter to My Single Self

Friday, June 20, 2014

Check out my latest piece for B-Metro, "A Letter to My Single Self."

Could walking make you a better writer?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I hope to boast this badge soon!
At the start of the year I announced on this blog, on all my social media channels and even on WBHM 90.3 FM that I plan to exercise every day for 365 days. I haven't missed a day yet. But in May I started to get a bit bored. Exercising daily was no longer difficult because it had become a regular part of my day, as normal and as necessary as taking a shower or brushing my teeth.

I needed a new challenge and I found what I needed in GirlTrek.

GirlTrek is a national nonprofit organization striving to inspire black women and girls to live healthy lives simply by walking. GirlTrek launched three years ago and through social media campaigns has grown to include over 20,000 women who are lacing up and logging their walks online. (Last year I wrote a story for WBHM on the Birmingham chapter of GirlTrek. You can read it here.) 

GirlTrek recently challenged participants to walk 100 miles in the month of June. I knew taking on this challenge would keep me motivated for the rest of this month. I've been going for a 3 to 6-mile walk/run most days of the week. And if I do walk/run 100 miles this month I'm going to reward myself with some GirlTrek gear!

I recently learned, however, that this challenge could make me a better writer too.

Earlier this month USA Today reported that a new study from researchers at Stanford University suggests that taking a walk could boost creativity.

From USAToday.com:

"Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goal of increasing creativity," write authors Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz in their paper, published in this month's Journal of Experimental Psychology.
To test the influence of walking on creative thinking, Oppezzo and Schwartz divided study participants into four groups: Those who walked then sat; those who sat then walked; those who only sat; and those who walked indoors vs. outdoors. Participants were given two different tests, both widely accepted by the psychological community as valid measures of various aspects of creativity: Guilford's Alternate Uses test, or GAU (people were asked to come up with alternate uses for everyday objects in a short period of time), and the Compound Remote Association test, or CRA (people were given three unrelated words and asked to come up with a fourth word that connects with all of them. For example, upon hearing "cottage, Swiss and cake," a correct response would be "cheese.").
Overall, Oppezzo and Schwartz found, walking enhanced the performance on these creative tests, particularly the GAU: 81% of participants showed an improvement in test scores while taking a walk, regardless of whether they sat before or after. The researchers also noted that the effects of walking lingered: Even after returning to their seats, people who had taken a stroll showed a residual boost in test scores. "When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks," they wrote.

I've blogged before about how GirlTrek helped me approach my writing goals in a new way. When I wanted to run my second half-marathon but my body objected to the high impact training I decided I would walk the 13.1 miles instead. This new approach to one of my fitness goals urged me to think outside the box about my creative aspirations as well. 

I've also blogged about how completing challenging fitness pursuits can encourage a person in her writing pursuits as wellIf you can finish that marathon, you can finish writing that book. If you can stick with that Insanity DVD for 60 days, you can stick with your blog. If you can bench press all that weight, you can press send on that pitch letter to your favorite magazine. 

But now this study makes the connection between my writing and my workouts even stronger. 

So talk a walk, writers. Of course, you should check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, but even as little as 10 or 15 minutes a day, two or three days a week can be a good start. If you need motivation to get started join a group like GirlTrek. 

Now excuse me I need to go walking.

4 Things I Learned at Y'all Connect

Monday, June 16, 2014

I think I need to go to conference rehab.

Today starts the fourth week of my summer break and I've already been to four conferences.

I need help.

On Friday, I had the chance to attend Y'all Connect, a blogging and social media conference held in Birmingham and directed by local communications consultant Wade Kwon.

I had a wonderful time hanging out with some of the ladies of See Jane Write who attended the conference and Wade was kind enough to allow me to make an announcement to the crowd about See Jane Write's upcoming Bloganista Mini-Con, a partial-day conference for fashion, fitness, and lifestyle bloggers. (Get more info and tickets here.)

a few lovely ladies of See Jane Write

And, of course, I came home with pages and pages of notes. Here are a few things I learned at the conference.

1. Free can really pay big.

In his morning keynote Syed Balkhi discussed how entrepreneurs can wisely use free as part of their business model. Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. "Going the extra mile to offer free help allows you to win big," Balkhi said. Case in point, one day several years ago Balkhi noticed that a guy named Michael Hyatt was having some website trouble. Balkhi was a teenager at the time but he knew a solution to Hyatt's problem. What did not know was who Hyatt was. But he helped him anyway. Then he found out that Hyatt was (at the time) chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Because he was grateful for Balkhi's help, Hyatt hired Balkhi to help him some other problems and paid Balkhi quite handsomely for his work. Helping someone for free today can pay off big tomorrow.

2. Bloggers, just like business owners, must know who they are and the people they serve.

Whether you like it or not, you are a brand. In her presentation "How to Be Really, Really Attractvie on Social Media," Birmingham entrepreneur Jen Barnett asserted that knowing your brand -- knowing who you are and what you're trying to accomplish -- is the first step to developing good content. If you're having trouble defining your brand, brainstorm some adjectives that describe who and what you want to be. Identify your values and your key stakeholders. And speaking of stakeholders, to be attractive on social media you must know your audience. Through research and trial and error determine what they like and don't like and figure out which social media channels they use most.

3. I'm on to something with the Pomodoro technique.

I've blogged before about how I often tackle daunting to-do lists using the Pomodoro technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is simple, yet brilliant. You break down your work in 25-minute intervals, taking five-minute breaks after each one. After four work periods you take a longer break of about 20 minutes. Working in very focused time blocks was Balkhi's top tip in his afternoon talk "Time Management for Bloggers." Balkhi also recommended getting up earlier instead of staying up late to get more done. He suggested setting deadlines and recommended that we bloggers reward ourselves when we meet a deadline but also penalize ourselves when we don't. So if I don't update my blog three times this week I won't allow myself to watch my favorite TV shows this weekend (which is great motivation because True Blood returns this Sunday). 

4. If social media is like a cocktail party, visual content is your little black dress.

Whitney Breaux and Kim Garst both gave great tips on how to better use social media.  Breaux is an accomplished communications, marketing, and sales strategist who founded the Baton Rouge Social Media Association and helped with the start of the Alabama Social Media Association. Garst is the co-founder and CEO of Boom! Social, a corporate branding and social media consulting firm. Forbes named her as one of the Top 50 Social Media Influencers in 2012. In other words, these women know their stuff!

Garst reminded conference attendees that social media is like a cocktail party. Just as you wouldn't make a sales pitch as soon as you started talking to someone at a party, you shouldn't do that on social media either. Add value to your followers. Share useful and interesting information. Ask questions. Remember that social media is a two-way conversation, both Breaux and Garst said. Don't treat social media like a billboard.

In her talk, Garst spoke a lot about the value of visual content. Articles with photos get 94 percent more views, she said. She believes every brand should develop a visual content plan. Garst has even written an e-book to help you do that. You can download 17 Quick and Easy Ways to Create Visual Content here. Listening her talk I realized that if social media is like a cocktail party, visual content is your little black dress. It makes you look good and gets people's attention. And once you have it you can show that you're beauty and brains.

The Things I Don't Blog About

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On Monday I spoke at a workshop for high school journalism advisers sponsored by the Foundation for Progress in Journalism. My presentation was about how to start and maintain a school blog. And part of my talk focused on using social media to promote a blog, business or message.  Ironically, I've been pretty quiet for the past few days both here on my blog and on my social media channels.

My mother was in the hospital. I was scared and I was sad and suddenly social media and blogging seemed about as significant as pocket lint.

My mother is much better and she's back at home. But as I sat down to catch up on social media and to brainstorm my next blog post I began to think about how most of us only show one side of our lives online.

Though I do believe great friendships can begin online (and many of mine have) I don't think you can truly know a person simply through virtual connections.

My life is not my blog. My life is not a status update, a tweet, or square snapshot with a sepia filter.

I blog about my fitness goals. I post to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter when I run six miles, go to a spin class, or conquer another Jillian Michaels DVD. I blog about being determined to exercise every day this year despite suffering from a connective tissue disease. But I don't blog about the times when that disease nearly gets the best of me and I'm in so much pain I cry myself to sleep.

I blog about being a feminist wife but not about the days when my marriage is nowhere near as perfect as it seems.

I blog about the latest small group I'm leading, but not about my doubts regarding whether or not I should be attempting to lead anyone through anything. I don't blog about the days I feel out of God's favor. I don't blog about how I feel out of place in nearly every Christian circle I'm a part of because of my liberal beliefs. I don't blog about how sometimes I wonder if the conservatives are right.

I didn't blog about my dad losing his job or the financial and emotional stress I endured trying to support two households with a teacher's salary.

I don't blog about the days I want to quit EVERYTHING.

I don't blog about these things because The Writeous Babe Project is my blog, not my therapist.

This isn't to say I don't blog about my problems. I do. And I think I should because no one trusts a person who pretends to have it all together. No one trusts perfection. But I make it a point to write about my junk after I've made my way through it so that I can help my readers sort through their junk too.

But my point here is this: don't judge a person by her blog or her Facebook status updates.  Don't envy a person because of the fun, happy pictures she posts on Instagram or the delicious meal ideas she pins to Pinterest. They don't give the full picture of a person's life.

I love blogging and social media and probably always will, but they are simply one dimension of this crazy, beautiful thing we call life.

Blog, Baby, Blog!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last month Birmingham-based communications consultant Wade Kwon came to speak to members of See Jane Write about blogging. Kwon is the director of the social media conference Y'all Connect and he was one of the founders of the award-winning website Magic City Post

Kwon's advice to us was much simpler than I expected. His secret to success: "Blog, baby, blog!" Kwon stressed the importance of consistency and gave great advice on how we can keep our blogs alive. 

Wade Kwon addressing See Jane Write members at a recent workshop
(Photo by Audrey Atkins)

Pursue your passion. "Tap into something you could write about all the time," Kwon said. But you still need to know why you're blogging. What is your objective? What do you want to get out of your blog? 

Tackle your tagline. Develop a phrase that succinctly describes everything you want to cover. When Kwon and his partners started Magic City Post, they figured out that their site would celebrate all that's right about Birmingham. The site's About page read: 
Magic City Post in two words? Unrelentingly Positive! 
MCP in 18 words? A daily look at the Birmingham metro area that shows off the best the region has to offer.
I believe that if you can describe your blog in a concise way such as that, you can use that tagline as a mission statement that will not only help you decide what to write but also help you make decisions about posts from guest bloggers, sponsored posts and more. 

Create catchy content. The thing new bloggers struggle with most is usually a lack of readership. Kwon offered some practical advice on how to get the word out about your blog. First, create content that will be shared over and over. This can be compelling, controversial posts but it can also be posts that are very useful. For example, if you write a hyperlocal blog, consider a post of highlighting important city events of the year or a list of local restaurants open on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Throughout the year stop and ask yourself what kind of information are people seeking right now. 
Be sure to share your content via social media but don't underestimate the power of email marketing. Your blog should have on its front page a way for readers to sign up for regular updates about your site. 

Click here if you'd like more highlights from Kwon's talk. 

Kwon's talk left me with a lot to think about. I'm at a point of truly trying to figure out who I want to be in the World Wide Web. Do I want this blog to be the place people turn to for writing tips or do I want this blog to be full of feminist musings? Do I want to be a fitness blogger? (After all, I am exercising EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Do I want to blog about my love for Birmingham? Or do I want to blog about my life as a teacher? Or perhaps there's a way I could blog about ALL OF THIS, but then I run the risk of being a Jane of all trades and master of none. 
I'm not sure how I want my writing career to look.
But until I figure out what I truly want I'm just going to blog, baby, blog. 

The Writeous Babe Summer Reading List

Monday, June 2, 2014

As a teacher of early American literature I essentially read for a living. But summer is that time of year when I can take a break from bad students essays and books by dead white dudes. (Although, I do usually read some Edgar Allan Poe in the summer. I love me some Poe.) 

Here's what's on my reading list for this season:

John the Revelator by T.J. Beitelman

For the record, I'm totally OK with reading books by living white dudes in the summer, proven by the fact that Beitelman's book is at the top of my list. Black Lawrence Press describes the novel this way:

“Every prophet needs a home where they can hate him,” says the black buzzard of the title character’s nightmares. Part reluctant Tiresias, part locusts-and-honey outcast, teenaged John stumbles into the darker thickets of human insight—the high arts of vice and violence—and the small Alabama town he calls home will never be the same when he comes out the other side. T.J. Beitelman’s John the Revelator is the novel that Francesca Lia Block would write if someone dragged her kicking and screaming to Alabama and she started writing from the darkest corners of the Southern Gothic tradition.

Oh, did I mention that Beitelman is my co-worker. T.J.is a creative writing instructor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, the school at which I teach, and he's one of the nicest people on the planet. I can't wait to read his book.

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

Several friends have recommended this book to me, saying it's a must read for women writers. Cleage is one of the most popular playwrights in a America and a bestselling author. In this autobiographical work she retraces her struggles to hone her craft in the midst of a tumultuous personal and professional life.

Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

In 2007 Copeland became the third African American female soloist and the first in two decades at the American Ballet Theatre. Memoirs by women are my favorite thing to read, which the rest of this list will clearly reveal. Even though I'm a writer, not a dancer (unless you count me killing it in hip-hop fitness classes) I am especially eager to read about Copeland's life.  She's a role model to many of my students -- of all races -- who are in our school's dance department and I'm kind of obsessed with her Instagram account.

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris Perry

This book has been on my summer reading list for the past two years because I'm a huge fan of Melissa Harris Perry. It's quite pathetic I haven't read it yet. In this book Harris-Perry examines the most persistent stereotypes black women face today in America such as the hypersexual Jezebel, the devoted Mammy and, of course, the angry black bitch.

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

This too is from a previous summer reading list. Baby Proof tells the story of Claudia Parr a successful editor at a publishing house in Manhattan. While Claudia is a devoted sister, aunt, and friend, she's never wanted to become a mother--which she discovers is a major hurdle to marriage, something she desperately wants. Then she meets her soul mate Ben who, miraculously, feels the same way about parenthood. The two fall in love and marry, and begin a life of adventure and discovery together. Then, one of them has a change of heart. Someone wants a baby after all.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Here's how Amazon describes this book: 

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support parenting, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids? 
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion. A must read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, Why Have Kids? is an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.

Yeah, there's a bit of a baby theme here. I've always been told that the baby bug would bite me when I turned 30. Well, I'm 33 and no bites. But I'm reading this and Baby Proof to see if I get the itch. I'll keep you posted and let y'all know if there are any plans for a Writeous Baby. But don't get your hopes up. I adore my child-free life. 

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Dr. Angelou's death last week hit me hard. I never met her but I felt as if I'd lost a great aunt when I learned of her passing Wednesday morning. I'm sure other many other women can relate. Dr. Angelou knew that her female admirers viewed her as family and fortunately she saw us as family too. Her book Letter to My Daughter is a collection of essays dedicated to the daughter she never had but saw in all the women of the world who looked up to her. 

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

In Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes an impassioned and compelling case for the need to redefine what it means to be successful in today's world. But I'm also buying and reading this book because Huffington is speaking at this year's BlogHer conference and I'm determined to get her to sign my book (and take a selfie with me). 

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

Another white dude makes the list! Fun fact: renowned food writer Michael Pollan was my thesis adviser at when I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley. Since he helped me get my thesis project in shape I'm hoping he'll help get me in shape too as I strive to change my eating habits for the better. I recently purchased a special edition of Pollan's Food Rules that includes illustrations by Maira Kalman. This handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely. Kalman's paintings remind us that there is delight in learning to eat well.

Vagina: A Cultural History by Naomi Wolf

Vagina - I have one, it's pretty important to me, and I would like to learn all I can about it. Enough said.

What are you reading this summer?