Why Blog? The Altruism of Giving Ideas a Home

A moment ago I did something that’s become habitual for me: I took the pitcher of reclaimed water off my kitchen counter, out the back door, and used it to nourish the semi-evergreen plants that live in my backyard and need watering year-round.

the perpetual pitcher

Reclaimed water?

It’s the best term I can think of for the water recycling project I began after attending a cooking presentation at someone’s house over a year ago. The hostess made just a tiny comment about how when you drain water, like off of pasta, you could save it for watering plants.

Honestly, she didn’t even say it that directly; it was just an aside, really. But somehow the idea stuck in my head. I began thinking of all the water I waste, pouring it down the drain when my plants, whether outside or inside, would probably love it. And shortly thereafter I elected a certain pitcher to live on my counter forever more and catch whatever water could be reused.

As I offered it to the bamboo behind my patio today, I got to thinking about the passing-along of ideas and how randomly it often happens. We just happen to be somewhere, happen to be with someone, when something is said or done that sticks with us and changes us somehow.

The beauty of blogging is that it removes the random factor. It allows those ideas a place to exist and be found.

This weekend my intermediate students are writing their first blog posts, wondering what to say. What can they tell the world on this historic occasion of their debut post? What’s the point, anyway?

I’m suddenly thinking that my pitcher of reclaimed water is the point: sharing ideas someone else might not think of on their own but that could alter their life — not dramatically, but in the small ways that feel like a difference.

For me on this blog, it’s about sharing ideas for reading, writing, and teaching, obviously. I think of how lost I once felt as a writer, totally unsure of how to tackle drafting and revising on the 300–400-page level. As I gleaned ideas from other writers — such as printing the manuscript out, putting it in a three-ring binder, slapping it full of post-it notes, scribbling revision thoughts all over the pages — I grew more and more confident in my own abilities.

At first the sharing/gleaning of those ideas was limited to infrequent writing conferences, but once I began blogging and reading other writers’ blogs, tweeting and reading other writers’ tweets, I discovered that social media creates a world-wide never-ending writing conference full of incredible advice.

tips from food bloggers gave me the secret I needed for moist & soft whole-wheat banana bread

The same goes for reading, where I used to get stuck wondering what to read next until I hooked up with other readers on the internet.

The same goes for nutrition, where I used to have no idea how to transition into healthier cooking until traditional-food bloggers gave me their tips.

It might be a personal experience, a recipe, a review, a unique perspective on some current issue — there are so many things to blog about. But I think what it comes down to is that when you put those thoughts into writing on a blog, even as little asides, someone else might latch onto them and put them to use.

A student of mine last semester asked me why I blog when it must take up so much time. Other non-blogging writer friends have asked me why I bother with it before I’m even published.

For me, it’s because I love to share ideas and because I’m indebted to all the people who have shared with me. My life is a conglomeration of all the little tidbits I’ve picked up here and there. Those tidbits have turned me into a writer, a reader, a recycler of water, a baker of sourdough breads, and countless other good things that make my life more fulfilling.

Maybe something I mention will ring true for someone else and help them the way it’s helped me.

What about you? Why do you read or write blog posts? What ideas have you gleaned that have changed you?

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Showing Character

A little over a year ago, I asked four of my author friends what it’s like to work with an editor. One of them responded by giving me a comic strip she’d drawn herself.

So awesome! I laughed hard when I got it, and I still laugh when I go back and read that post. Visiting her blog StoryMonster is the same kind of treat: a visual delight with plenty of good-natured humor. All of that combined with tweets from her editor at Greenwillow gushing about how amazing Heather’s debut is . . . well, I knew I had to preorder it and read it immediately once it finally came out at the end of March.

And I loved it.

Honestly. Her editor wasn’t exaggerating with the gushing. This novel is gorgeous.

Especially after the fuss I made in last week’s post, I figure I better tell you how and why.

First of all, the novel is based on the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses.


Right there, anybody would stop and tell you that’s way too many characters to deal with. How is a reader supposed to keep track of them all? There’s a very real danger of several, most, or all of them falling flat. But in Entwined, they don’t.

To keep the ages straight, she uses the trick of having the girls’ names arranged A–L: Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Eve, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and Lily. Why are they alphabetical? Because the king loves order, so even the trick itself reveals character.

It doesn’t take long for each sister to feel rounded out beyond just their age. When gentlemen begin calling, we learn that Clover is the most beautiful by how they react to her, and we also learn that it’s not easy to tell who is the oldest just by looking at the girls. But Clover’s beauty is paired with bashful stuttering to round her out. Bramble is the outspoken rebel. Delphinium likes to pretend to faint. Goldenrod hides a little in the shadow of her twin Flora. Ivy is always eating. While the younger girls are featured less prominently, we always have a sense of them and the sense that each is unique.

Maybe thanks to her storyboarding background, Heather is fantastic at showing everything. She never has to stop and explain things, you just understand by the expressions or dialogue or actions — even by the sound!


A tiny arrow, just the length of her hand with a little metal heart for the tip, had imbedded itself in the wall next to Azalea.


The candle went foof.

“Ack!” said Azalea. She smothered the fire in the folds of her skirt, leaving the odor of smoked fabric.

That gift for showing is one of the main ways she brings her characters to life. Lord Teddie is always bubbly and jovial, so when his face and voice suddenly become serious, you know how hurt he is. How much or how little Clover stutters reveals her feelings. Azalea digs her fingernails into her palms when she’s angry.

And best of all, their father is flawed and wonderful, too. They hate him for abandoning them after their mother dies, but Heather lets the reader see that he’s not mean, only in terrible pain from missing his wife.

Consider this scene:

“But it does help,” said Clover. She kept her eyes down, lashes brushing her cheeks, but she pulled the courage to step forward. “Mother would — would dance at night, too. In the ballroom — and — and you were there, and you danced the Entwine, and — you caught her, and she kissed you. On the nose.” Clover blushed deeply. “I think it was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She said it with fewer pauses than usual, as though she had recited it a hundredfold. Azalea pulled her hand away from the slate, thinking of Mother and the Entwine, the tricky dance with the sash. If Mother had gotten caught, it was only because she had let the King catch her.

The king backed up, taut, against the rosebush ledge, the dry thorny branches pressing into his back. His face had become severe.

“It helps to remember,” said Clover.

“We will not speak of your mother,” said the King. His voice was even, but harder and colder than frozen steel. “You are finished with your lessons. Go to your room.”

The words lashed. Clover cowered, swallowed, then pushed her way out of the nook, clutching her boots and limping. They could hear her choked weeping echoing down the hall.

“Oh, Clover!” cried Flora. Hands linked, she and Goldenrod bounded after.

“Oh, look what you’ve done!” said Delphinium, crying angrily. She swept Lily into her arms and took off unevenly after them. Kale, Eve, Jessamine, Hollyhock, and Ivy ran out, followed by Bramble, who shot the King a flaring look as she left.

That’s just one example of why I think this book is gorgeous: the scenes that tug your heart in two directions, knowing how much each side is hurting and misunderstanding the other, while keeping a subtle humor alive and well (oh how I love that Bramble and her looks and scolds!).

I think knowing Heather makes the humor even better, too. So check out the comic she drew for me, check out her blog, check out Entwined, and enjoy every page!

Read any other fantastic examples of novels that delight your senses and show character?

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Earaches, Onions, Books and Blogs: Electronic vs Print

Ah, the information age — and the information overload!

At 4am this morning I was already feeding a baby when another child began to cry, so I sent Hubby in to handle things. Hubby came back with bad news: “He says his ear hurts. What do I give him?”

Other mothers would probably have an immediate answer ready, but I was lacking in ear-infection experience. Tied down with a baby, I turned to my iPhone and Googled natural remedies for earaches — only to be overwhelmed by the options and frightened by the possibility that I could do something wrong and damage my child’s hearing.

How glad I was to have a book to turn to! My copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is about to reach its renewal limit at the library, but I’m glad I had it this morning. It helped me and some neighbors through sore throats a month or two ago, it gave me an amazing lotion recipe that cured my dry skin patches, and I felt confident turning to it for advice on earaches, especially since it has a section focused on children.

One of the first tips that it listed (which, yes, I had also found online, but amongst dozens of other competing strategies) was to heat an onion and let the vapors of it — those same potent ones that make our eyes water — soothe the pain in the ear. Within a minute our three-year-old was calmly nestled on my lap and no longer crying. His ear didn’t hurt any more, but I kept the onion next to it for a while just to be sure. It’s now twelve hours later and the pain hasn’t come back.


Earlier this week the homework assignment for my intermediate students was to find two books they could use as resources on their chosen topics, and several asked me, “Why books?” Couldn’t magazines or something else could count?

It’s sort of a blurry question, isn’t it? In some cases you can find the same information online that you could in a book. The onion strategy wasn’t unique to the family herbal guide; I found it through Googling as well. So what’s the difference then?

Here’s where you might expect me to get all teacherly and tell you, but the funny thing is that I don’t have a concrete answer. The textbook that we’re not using (my students voted to read a variety of supplemental material instead) has a whole chapter on balancing your sources with print and electronic sources and primary research, but even their reasons feel blurry. After all, most print sources are also available electronically these days. While there are sometimes slight differences in content, like that newspapers include fuller versions of articles online than in newsprint and magazines use fewer images online than in the glossies, for the most part an electronic version of a certain title has the same info as the print one.

In my case, the difference often seems to be a tad emotional. When my child is crying because his ear hurts, I like the solidness of a trusted book over the flimsy feel of a forum of visitor-defined “facts” (the other place I found the onion suggestion). 

Maybe it’s sort of like the post I wrote a while back about writing by hand versus typing: while both accomplish the same feat (creating words on a blank surface), they utilize different areas of our brains and connect us to the words in different ways. I’m willing to bet that reading different mediums creates a similar difference in how we connect to the text.

For example, when I grade student papers that have been printed out, it’s a different experience than grading the ones submitted by email. It doesn’t affect the grade they receive (I’m careful to check myself against a rubric to stay consistent), but it does affect how I interact with their paper, such as how fast I read and the way I think about it and make comments.

On the other hand, maybe all of that is just me blowing smoke and the real underlying difference isn’t the medium at all but the level of trust and rapport you have with the author. The remedy book had a good track record with me, and I’d connected well with the author’s tone and philosophies; the forum, on the other hand, was completely unfamiliar to me. But when a post showed up in my email today from a blog to which I subscribe and the title of it suggested an answer to a question I’d had about salt intake (yep, I should have bought some Real Salt for myself as well as for my parents a few weeks ago), I read it and accepted the information gladly because I’ve become fond of the blog and have appreciated the worldview and level of research of the author. In that case I didn’t need a physical book to convince me because I already trusted the source.

Finally, I wonder if the medium only matters in so far as established habits are concerned. When I grade papers, I’m used to having a pen in my hand to circle and underline with, drawing checkmarks and scribbling questions. Having to switch over to typing comments on a screen throws me off and makes me feel slightly more agitated.

Similarly, I’m having trouble adjusting to e-books not because they’re not wonderfully convenient but because I can’t get over wanting to thumb through pages to find what I want. When I brought an e-book to class earlier this week and suddenly wanted to find an excerpt from it to read to the students, I gave up because I couldn’t just open it to the approximate page and scan quickly. I’m sure some of you are hollering, “E-books are way faster at finding excerpts! Why didn’t you just type in a search word?” So maybe it’s just a matter of changing my habits.

Funny enough, it’s even true with blogs. The medium is always electronic, yes, but I’m used to reading them on my laptop, and now that I use my iPhone more often, I’m reluctant to switch to the smaller format, so I don’t keep up with my favorite blogs as often.

What can I say? We’re creatures of habit. 

What are your opinions? When do you turn to Google? To physical books? To certain blogs or sites? To e-books? Do you have clear distinctions about what questions best suit each medium, or do you use whatever’s most handy? How do you go about finding and trusting tips for earaches and tricks with onions? Do you think there are definite advantages to books over other sources?

Leave a comment!

The Scoop on the Schedule

Thanks to all who posted helpful comments on my last post. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that the key is simply consistency. I know that I stop checking other blogs when they have too long of a posting lapse because I start to wonder if they’ve stopped blogging altogether, plus I just get out of the habit of checking them if they aren’t updated on a regular schedule.

So, without further ado, I’m announcing a change in my regularly scheduled programming. Instead of my usual twice-weekly posting, I’m going to cut down to once a week for the remainder of gestation and the first six weeks of screaming newborn.

Realistically, I’m picturing that Friday will be the optimal day for posting, since I’ll be teaching Monday and Wednesday evenings.

And, by the way, this little nugget doesn’t count as a post this week. I’m still excited to put up the post I’m working on, complete with photos. It’s just turning out to be a more time-consuming post than I realized.

See you Friday!

To Blog or to Revise?

Sorry that I haven’t posted a second blog this week until now. First there were grades to turn in for the end of term, manuscripts to read for fellow writers, then the flu knocked me onto the couch for 24 hours, and when I pulled free of that all I wanted to do was revise my novel and finish the baby’s room in the two weeks (just two weeks!) I’ve got before fall semester starts.

Oh, and I had an ultrasound Tuesday that estimated my baby’s current weight at 7 pounds, 9 ounces. Um, I’m only 36 weeks along. This means the baby’s either coming early or he’ll be 9 pounds by the time he gets here. Yikes!

So yeah, I’ve been feeling like it’s time to concentrate on finishing my novel before it gets shoved down to a much lower priority. A writer friend of mine sent me fantastic chapter notes that I’m working from right now, and it’s exciting to see how close I am to being done, finally doing much smaller revisions than I have on previous drafts.

But in the mean time, I’ve obviously put off blogging.

It’s sort of a tricky question as a writer. To blog or not to blog until you’ve published is a debate all by itself, some people telling you that agents and editors will want to see your web presence while others say it’s completely unnecessary. But then what about once you’ve established a blog and you’re trying to maintain followers and consistency? Should the blog come before your work on your writing? Which is more important?

The writing is, and yet  . . . the blog’s important, too. I admire writers who find ways to balance both, consistently posting interesting blogs without sacrificing too much time on their manuscripts.

So what do you think? Where are the lines? How do you find that balance?

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Six Months, Six Thank Yous, and Six Favorite Posts

This week is a blogiversary of sorts, marking six months since I started “publishing” my thoughts for the world with no clue who would read them. And even though I haven’t won an Oscar and don’t need to thank the Academy, somehow *sniffle* I still feel the need to thank all the people who have made my blog not feel like a waste.

Thank you, WordPress, for making it all possible. Heaven knows my html skills are primitive, and my CSS skills non-existent, so I couldn’t have done this without you.

Thank you, crocheters everywhere, for that mega-boost in stats the week I posted “How Writing Is Not Like Crocheting (Or What Random Analogies Teach Me About Process).” I know you came for the photo, not the post, but that’s okay. You came by the thousands, and for stats, that’s what counts.

Thank you, tweeps I follow, for all the inspiration. I can’t tell you how many times I was stumped on what to post and a timely tweet showed me the way.

Thank you, fellow bloggers, for interesting discussions on your blogs that have been the models for how I wanted mine to be.

Thank you, authors, for the amazing books I’ve read and written about here. This blog would not be possible without books, and books would not be possible without authors. Give yourselves a huge pat on the back!

And finally, the biggest thank you of all goes to those who visit and those who comment on the blog. I couldn’t do this without you. If no one visited and no one commented, I wouldn’t have made it to the six-month mark. I would have given up much sooner. Thank you for believing in me! *sniffle*

And now, a look back at my six favorite posts:

  1. At the end of September during Banned Books Week, I wrote “Homophones, Nazi Cows, and Other Banned Books Dangers” — the first post where I felt like I was really talking about something important and helping to get the word out.
  2. The three-part series “Movies Explain the World (of Writing)” was tons of fun for me. I have a great time as a teacher using movie clips, and adapting that strategy for blog posts was right up my alley. I surprised myself with how much I had to say and what analogies came out of it.
  3. “Interview with a Comic Creator” was a cool experiment I need to repeat, using the blog as a space to introduce other creative friends and have them describe their artistic processes.
  4. I also liked “10 Writers I’m Thankful For” as a nostalgic-but-useful look at writers who have shaped my view of writing.
  5. “Change the World” felt important again, and I’m always a fan of that. My dad even ended up showing it to his middle school students, which has to make a blogger feel good.
  6. And then most recently, “Women’s Lib, Strong Female Characters, and YA Lit” turned out to be a fantastic post mainly because of the comments. I loved reading the various perspectives that visitors shared, especially a comment from the author whose book I’d mentioned in the post. Yeah, that was a pretty cool day, and I wish every post could be like that.

What are your favorite things about blogging or reading other people’s blogs? Hearing about great books? Discussing ideas? Interacting with other people with similar interests? What makes it worthwhile for you?

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