Breaking News: Breaking News Has Lost Its Luster

As you scroll through your Facebook or Twitter feed recently, have you noticed all of the breaking news? Trump this! Hillary that! Zika this! Isis that!


You may be too young to remember, but I remember when the Iran Hostage Crisis was breaking news way back in 1981. I remember the most immediately breaking of news that took place on September 11, 2001. Since then, with the ascent of cable news networks, social media, and twenty-four hour news the items that are breaking come fast and furiously.

There is so much breaking news these days that I hardly pay attention to any of it. I have become numb to it. I scroll right past. More often than not it’s just click bait to get me to look not just at a story, but especially at the advertising that accompanies the story.

So what does that mean for those of us who are trying to get a message out into the world? There’s so much static and interference. Distractions are everywhere. Even news that’s supposedly breaking really isn’t. We need to cut through it.

Truly breaking and important news has these three characteristics:

  1. Consistently sincere. If you want people to take note, first and foremost you have to be consistent with your message. More than that, your consistent message ought to be sincere. One of the most sincere writers I know is Donald Miller. He consistently makes himself vulnerable. Vulnerability is the quickest way to demonstrate sincerity.
  2. Consistently honest. Along with sincerity comes honesty. This is one of the most difficult things to do when broadcasting a message. People appreciate honesty, but it takes guts. The most well-received messages are the ones with which we can identify. We identify with people who are similar to us. People see our similarities when we’re honest with our frailties, our faults, our failures, and even the things that make us cry for joy.
  3. Consistently valuable. People pay attention to your message when you have given them something valuable many times before. How is your message helping? Where is your message moving someone forward? How often have you given free, valuable content? When these things are consistent, your message will be received much more readily.

There’s no need to use cheap gimmicks like “breaking news.” Just be sincere, be honest, and provide value. Your message will be well-received.

How do you see to it that your important message is received?

You Have a Book Inside of You, Don’t You?

Since I published my book a couple of weeks ago, I have encountered any number of people who want to do the same. There is the guy who’s half finished with a novel. There’s another man who said he has about five books written but has never taken the step of publishing them. Then there is the woman who says she’s had an idea for years but has never taken the time to sit down and write.

A photo by Lacie Slezak.

I know what it took me to put a book together, write it, and publish. There’s no doubt that it’s a serious and time consuming undertaking. But there’s also no doubt that most anyone knows how to put some thoughts together and write them down. Usually it’s just excuses that keep people from doing something they’ve always dreamed of doing:

  • I don’t have the time.
  • I’m not a writer.
  • I’m stuck.
  • I’m not creative enough.
  • My idea is dumb.
  • No one will take me seriously.

For almost as long as I can remember I have wanted to write a book. I know the above excuses are true because they were mine. But I looked every one of them in the face and made the determination that I would write a book no matter what stood in my way. So I answered each one of those excuses:

  • I made the time by writing early mornings, evenings, and weekends.
  • I studied writing, read about writing, and followed good writers to hone my craft.
  • When I was stuck I had an outline that kept me going.
  • I used creative exercises I learned from here and here and here.
  • The thought that my idea was “dumb” was an obstacle only in my own mind and one I leapt over to begin the creation of my book.
  • The more I wrote, the more people took me seriously. Now that the book is published people see just how serious I was about doing this.

The guy who’s half finished with a novel spoke to me about it at a conference I attended last week. As we parted ways I said to him: “500 words a day. That’s all. Finish it.” He thought about it and said, “Yep. I better get back to it.”

I hope he does. The world needs his art.

When are you going to start writing your book? (P.S. I’d be happy to help you.)

Why it Takes a Village to Write a Book

I’m not a big fan of the saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sometimes the “village” has values of which I am not too fond. Having said that, I’m a big fan of using a village to help write a book. My new book, Fully and Creatively Alive: How to Live a More Joyfully Fulfilling Life, was just released yesterday. You can buy it here. I couldn’t have done it without a great deal of help.


Now that my book has been published, I want to recognize the people that helped me make it happen.

  1. Allison Fallon and Author Launch. When I first had the idea to write a book, I found this platform that provides a step-by-step process to help authors write books. It’s a series of videos helping authors through each and every step of writing a book. Without this invaluable tool I wouldn’t have a book today. Author Launch has become Author Guides, and you can find it here.
  2. A team. I had four people who read the book along the way, helped with advice, promotion, minor editing, and various kinds of help. The team included Brian Fricke, Tim Wesemann, Tanner Olson, and Leah Mitchell.
  3. Creative entrepreneurs. My whole book is based on the stories of creative entrepreneurs. A good many were willing to freely give of their time for me to interview them. You’ll have to find their names and their stories in the book, but trust me when I say that they are an incredible inspiration to me and to many others. The interviews were fascinating. As I did each one of them the time flew by. This is why I’m planning on starting a podcast based on this format: interviewing creative entrepreneurs.
  4. An Editor. I am so thankful for Mark Zimmermann. He is a professional editor for Creative Communications for the Parish, for whom I have written. He was willing to help me out by being my editor. He made corrections and changes that I would have never known to make. What a valuable asset an editor is.
  5. Designers. Good designers make a book pop. They help it stand out from a distance and make it pleasant on the eyes when reading it. Megan Phillips is a fashion designer who lives in New York City and does graphic design on the side. She designed the beautiful cover of the book. Lindsay Galvin is a professional graphic and book designer who did the interior of the book. She made it look far better than I could have imagined. I can’t recommend them both highly enough.
  6. My family. My wife supported me even when I used time to write the book that could have been dedicated to her. She encouraged me every step of the way. I never felt like I was robbing her by spending time writing the book. She never made me feel guilty. She was excited for me at each milestone. In addition, both of our children, Ashlyn and Ben (and their spouse/fiancé), were so helpful in reading the book, offering feedback, and bringing support. The book would not have been published without all of them. I am eternally thankful to my family.
  7. The reader. There is no point in writing a book if nobody will read it. I am amazed at the number of people who have already expressed an interest, are already reading it, and are purchasing it on Amazon. The reader is the reason most every writer writes. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for reading the book.

When have you noticed that it takes a village to accomplish a big project?

10 Things I Learned from Writing the First Draft of a Book

The first draft of a book is a major hurdle toward getting a book published. I recently finished the first draft of the book I hope to publish in the first quarter of 2016. It was exactly 35,800 words and felt like a major accomplishment. I know that there’s a great deal of work left to do in the editing process, but I felt a true sense of accomplishment as I wrote those last few words of a first draft.

Gadgets and supplies necessary for modern business

The process of writing the first draft was fun, frustrating, and frightening. I suppose it could be compared to labor pains (although I have thankfully never had to have that experience). As I reflect on the process, I have learned some important lessons this first time around. I hope to apply these lessons for my next book (I hope this book is the first of  many), and am happy to share these lessons with you. Whether or not you are now, or ever will be writing a book, I hope these lessons will be helpful to you.

  1. I need guidance. I found my guidance in the form of an online “course” that helped me, called “Author Launch.” Author Launch is a series of weekly materials and videos that walk writers through the process of becoming authors of books. I can’t recommend Author Launch highly enough. I would never have written a first draft without the things I learned.
  2. I need encouragement. It’s tough to spend the hours and days writing a book without encouragement. I found it in three places: My wife who constantly encouraged me to sit down and write; a Facebook page set up by Author Launch where all those in the program encouraged one another; and a team of four people I put together who held me accountable and applauded me for my milestones. Encouragement is a nearly essential ingredient in getting a first draft written.
  3. It is good to get away. About two-thirds of the way through the process I was able to spend a week in a cabin the North Carolina mountains thanks to the generosity of some friends. I was at the point in the writing process where things had come to a screeching halt. The time away was just what I needed to dig deeply down and accomplish a great deal toward getting the first draft complete.
  4. It took me far longer than it should have. I began writing the first draft in February and didn’t finish it until December. I let too many distractions and “life” get in the way. I used too many excuses not to write. Had I really buckled down I probably could have finished the first draft in about three months. That will be my goal in the future.
  5. I enjoy interviewing people to learn from them. The book I am writing is largely based on the interviews I did with people. As I did them early on in the process, there were times when friends or family would listen in on the interviews. After I was finished with each one I wondered whether the people who listened found them as fascinating as I did. To a person they all did. As a result, I hope to launch a podcast in the new year that will be patterned after the interviews I did with the people I questioned for the book. I’d also like to use this tool for future books.
  6. I need a team to surround me. As I said, Author Launch encourages writers to create a team: 1. An Ideator; 2. A Writer; 3. An Editor; and 4. A Marketer. These people were kept apprised all along the way, and will now serve very important roles as the book moves from the first draft into the creation of a book that will be edited, published, marketed, and read.
  7. I love Scrivener software. Many authors use Scrivener software. It allows a writer to jump from one place to another (for instance, from chapter to chapter) as you write, instead of having to scroll through an entire document like you have to with a Microsoft Word document. It helps with organization and even publication. You can even use the software to publish a book to Kindle platforms. It’s a powerful tool.
  8. The best way to write is to sit down and do it. It may sound obvious, but you won’t write unless you’re sitting in front of the computer with a blank screen and an idea in your head. You have to commit to writing. It takes dedication. It takes effort. It takes time. It won’t happen unless you make the commitment to do it, and then…do it.
  9. The best time to start writing a book was yesterday. Finishing a first draft showed me that I can, indeed, write a book. It’s something I always wanted to do. Now I have. I have learned that I wish I would have done it a long time ago. I should have started writing “yesterday.”
  10. You can write a book, too. If I can do it, you can too. Trust me. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about me or my ability. I simply sat down and did something I had always dreamed of doing. I have no doubt that you could do the same. Really. Start writing now. You won’t regret it.

If you would write a book, what would be the topic?

Honesty Is Not Always the Best Policy

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that recent posts have been fewer and further between. To be honest, I’ve hit a bit of a slump. Oh, I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts. The problem is, those posts would have been far too honest. I have encountered hurts and heartaches, ideas and brainstorms, thoughts and plans that simply were not for public consumption. At least not yet. Perhaps someday they’ll find their way into a post, or into a book.

justice statue with sword and scale. cloudy sky in the backgroun

Honesty is not always the best policy. Sometimes silence is a better policy.

Sometimes it’s OK to be controversial or to post something that draws a great deal of discussion. But there are times when it’s simply better to remain silent. Some of the posts I considered might have damaged already frail relationships or brought more stress where more stress was not what I really needed.

A few lessons:

  1. Silence is sometimes better than forcing content. In this day and age of over-sharing on social media, there are times when we’d rather you remain silent than post something that might hurt or offend.
  2. Honesty, when it reveals more than ought to be revealed, is best kept for another time. Jot notes. Keep a log. Write posts for publication at a time when times change, relationships have been healed, or things are different.
  3. Tap into creative reserves. One of my mistakes through this dry spell is failing to find creativity in areas of life in which I have not been preoccupied. It would have been well for me to do this or this.

How do you deal with creative drought or thoughts that ought not yet see the light of day?

6 Tips to Generate More Response From Your Social Media Posts

It was a privilege for me last week to sit in on a seminar on Short Content Form Writing presented by my friend, Gretchen Jameson. Gretchen is the owner and principal of PurePR, whose mission it is to “support people of passion and purpose to build the conversations that shape communities and change our world.” I believe in Gretchen’s work, because I have had the first hand experience of seeing how it had a positive impact on our ministry at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

At the seminar, Gretchen drew us in with some fascinating and interesting facts about writing for social media. If you think you know everything there is to know about writing for social media, think again. Did you know these facts?

  • Writing for social media not about YOU. When you write, write from the perspective of the “fan.”
  • Posts of 80 characters or less get the highest engagement rates.
  • You have got to show people that you’re listening by the way you respond to their “likes” and “comments”. (By the way, did you know that there are 6 phases of engagement on Facebook? Here they are…and see if you haven’t followed the same flow yourself: Lurk, Like, Like a comment, Post a Response to an Initial Post, Make an Unsolicited Post on a Page, and Share a Post.) Acknowledge those who are liking, commenting, and sharing your posts.
  • Be LIKEable, Kind, Curious, Empathetic, and Generous.
  • Think of social media like an actual social event. If someone commented on something you said at a social event, would you just ignore her and walk away?
  • Be brief. Briefer is better.
  •  Use the word YOU.
That’s all great stuff, but here are six tips from Gretchen Jameson that are sure to help you get more response from your posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media:
  1. Lead with what matters. Say what you need to say right up front. Whether it’s an attitude, idea, or concept, make the main thing the main thing.
  2. Tap into human needs. People want to be validated. They love things that are “exclusive.” They appreciate it when they feel as though you have been helpful. Be an authority on something. And know that people give you time before they give money.
  3. Make it personal. An effective post is a post that is emotion-rich. That means you ought to have fun with your posts, make them positive, but write it so it sounds like it could come from anyone.
  4. Be Useful. Give a new idea. Lead with a number (Did you notice the title of this post?). Start with “how to.” List it out (people love lists that they can quickly read through). Share secrets.
  5. Use A Digit, a Power Word, or a Promise. These three things are very likely to draw people in.
  6. Have fun with your Facebook Page or Twitter Account. Coca-Cola got HUGE response when they tweeted something like this: “We’re trying to get exactly 10,283 likes and 8,761 shares on this post.” Guess what? They got more than both of those numbers.

What tips do you have for creating more engagement…and more fun!…with your social media posts?

5 Blogs You Ought to Be Reading

At the Apple Store today I received incredible service from an employee who just happens to be a young, upstart filmmaker. I give the guy all kinds of credit for following his passion and pursuing his dream. He and a couple of friends are starting their own company even as we speak. I have a heart for young people who are doing the one thing they are passionate about. We have two children who are doing just that.

So while we were talking and closing the transaction, I wanted to do whatever I could to help him out. I recommended that he sign up to receive Seth Godin’s blog every day. I know for a fact that if he reads it, and follows what Seth says, it will help his young company thrive. Godin’s advice isn’t always easy, but it’s always right on target.

It dawned on me that since I have been on Twitter, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined from some fantastic blogs that I discovered there. I want you to reap the benefits, too. So here is a list of five blogs that I almost can’t live without. Pick and choose the ones that are best for you. They may not all fit your station in life, but there just may be one that does.

1. Seth Godin This blog, by the bestselling author if Linchpin and Purple Cow, comes to your inbox every single day. It has to do with marketing, standing out, doing life and business in a purple cow kind of way in this web 2.0 world.

2. Michael Hyatt This blog on Christian leadership applies even to those who don’t feel as though they are leaders. It applies to many areas of life, and may just get you to carry out your own “life plan.”

3. Allison Vesterfelt  Ally’s writing tugs at my heart just about every time I read it. Her blog is so diverse that both my 23-year-old daughter and I love it. You will think deeper thoughts about both yourself and your faith life when you read this blog.

4. Jon Acuff This bestselling author of Stuff Christians Life and Quitter is brilliantly funny with perceptive commentary on the Christian faith and life.

5. Donald Miller Another bestselling author, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz (which is now also a feature film) and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Now he has rebranded himself to encourage people to “live better stories.” If you read his blog you almost certainly will.

Click one of the links above and begin exploring. Your day will be better for it. Your life may even be better for it.

Which blog would you recommend that others read?

Are You Wrecked?

Today my acquaintance and friend Jeff Goins releases his first book, Wrecked. I’m sure it won’t be his last.

Wrecked wrecked me. As I read my pre-publication copy I found it be challenging, smart, and yet easy to read. But it’s not easy to translate into real life. Which is a good thing.

This is an extremely important book, and one you should read. You won’t regret it.

According to Goins, to be wrecked means 

to have a transformation that goes beyond mere words — to be introduced to another way of life, to follow in the footsteps of a teacher who is calling you through the eye of a needle. Often it involves being catalyzed by an encounter with pain. The process is horrible and ugly and completely gut-wrenching — and at the same time, beautiful. It is real and hard and true. Most of all it is necessary. (p.32)

The term originally came from missionaries who came back from the field and said they would never be the same. They had been “wrecked.” Wrecked is getting out of the comfort zone. It means experiencing pain and being changed. It’s going through an experience that will permanently set your life in another direction.

If you buy the book (only about $10 at many online outlets) before August 5th you will receive $158 worth of free stuff. Go to for all the details.

I find myself literally in the middle of being “wrecked,” out of my comfort zone, being daily challenged to do something new, and discovering the needs of a community that’s in the midst of changing me and the people I serve. More of those stories will be forthcoming here on this blog. But for now, check out Jeff’s book and see how it changes you.

How have you recently been wrecked?

How Under-Scheduling Children Might Just Help Make Great Art

Anna Quindlen recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Agony of Writing.” In it she admits a number of things including that she hates to write, her effective writing times are between 9 and 3, and she always stops writing mid-sentence. She surmises that the easiest way to begin writing the following day is to simply finish that sentence. Hmmm.

Those things were all interesting, but here’s the part of the column that really caught my eye:

…One of the reasons I so fear the over-scheduling of today’s children is that most creative thought happens when you are staring into the middle distance, doing nothing at all.

“Inspiration comes during work, not before it,” Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, and for that to happen you must sit down in a chair. I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s not that sometimes you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write well. Experience has told me that writing poorly sometimes leads to something better. Not writing at all leads only to reruns of “Law and Order.” Which I love, but still.

Now there’s a concept that may not be too popular in today’s culture of hyped up competition: under-schedule your children. It just might lead to higher creativity, greater art, and brilliant artists.

And this concept isn’t just for children. I can testify to the fact that when my schedule was over-busy, overcommitted, and with few cracks of time between dedicated events, my creativity was stifled. My weekly sermon-making suffered. It was like taking a pliers to a wisdom tooth in order to come up with anything even slightly creative and memorable.

Recently our singer-songwriter son, Ben, has taken to dedicating some “dead time” to writing music. He takes out his guitar, paces the floor, puts post-it notes on the wall, and delivers better songs than the ones he struggles to write in the middle of a busy week.

More than one wise person has told me that in order for regularly expected creativity to take off, I need to actually schedule “free time,” “down time,” or whatever you want to call it. That time is needed in order to process, make connections, brain storm, brain rest, or simply brain freeze, so that something new and exciting is conceived and born.

It works.

That is not to say that this scheduled down time is free and easy. It’s work time. It’s time to take your brain from point A, to point B, to point Q, and see where there might be a connection, an aha! moment, or a newly discovered “way.”

“The middle distance” (the place where you are doing nothing at all) isn’t just for children. It’s for pastors, teachers, architects, businessmen and women…anyone who needs a spark of creativity for her or his work (and don’t we all, really).

I challenge you to find “the middle distance” in your life today.

Do you believe that under-scheduling children or, for that matter, adults, will help create great art?

Never Too Tired to Say Thanks

I’m so tired right now that I can barely even think of writing. But writing is one of the things I love to do. It helps me relax. It enables me to think through events and circumstances in my life. And it allows me to share my thoughts with you, the reader.

Since I started my blog I’ve had tens of thousands of “views” of my pages. Some drop by for only a few moments. Others linger for a long time. But each view means someone took the time to click a link and have a look. And for that I’m grateful.

To paraphrase the old band, Boston: When I’m tired and thinking cold, I hide in my writing, forget the day… And I’m humbled and honored that anyone would want to read what I have to write (usually very late at night…as I forget the troubles or trials of the day).

So I just want to take the opportunity to express to you — yes, you — the one reading right now, my thanks for taking the time to stop by this web site either occasionally or faithfully. Whatever your level of engagement, I always appreciate feedback and look forward to any comments you have to express.

I’ll try to be more creative with my next post. But for now I want you to know that you are appreciated. I love to write for the sake of writing. But writing becomes even more enjoyable and fulfilling when that writing is read.

So, thank you.