Brandyn Blaze

Life Between The Scenes

Special Announcement: There’s Some Big Changes Going On!

“I need to write a new blog post soon,” I told myself, sitting down in front of my computer Tuesday morning. “I have about 80 drafts started, if I get my head in the game I can get a bunch of them finished.”

I typed in the address and attempted to log-in, shocked when it took me to a screen declaring my website was down.

I immediately hopped over to Bluehost and found that my hosting fees had been due on the 4th…not the 9th like I had written down on my calendar. With a sigh, I closed my laptop. It was two days ’til payday, nothing could get done until then.

I quickly shook it off and busied myself with housework. It didn’t take long until I was ready for a break, which lasted about 5 minutes before my 4 year old daughter needed me to get her some milk.  As I poured her drink, I couldn’t help but think about how far off track I’ve gotten with my blog and social media posts lately. In fact, I hadn’t really worked on the next novel much either.

I carried the beverage back to my child and collapsed on the couch, feeling exhausted. She curled up beside me and I smiled. At least I hadn’t gotten too off track with her.

I took a moment to remind myself that it’s okay to slip every now and then. Sometimes we need rest. Especially when there’s a lot of big changes going on.

With my daughter starting preschool a few weeks ago, I have been busy adjusting to a new routine. A routine that will undoubtedly be shaken up again in the very near future as the changes taking place in my body culminate in a brand new life.

Hold up…does this mean?

Yes, ladies and gents, yours truly is pregnant with Baby #2!

I found out shortly after the Fourth of July and it has been so hard to keep it in!

In fact, we went against all the usual advice and told immediate family and our closest friends very quickly. After going through multiple losses, I found that for me personally, I’d rather have the uncomfortable conversation if something goes wrong and have the love and support of my family and friends, than go through it alone.

However, we waited to tell everyone else until after we had our first ultrasound and entered the “safe zone”.  Now that that is done, I can share with you!

 

simple pregnancy announcement

My little princess is so excited!

I am now a little over 14 weeks along and everything is going smoothly. All the nausea and exhaustion is starting to subside and I’m finally feeling like a functioning human again. Of course, that’s likely to change again in a number of months, but I’ll take the reprieve, no matter how brief!

Ever since I took that first test, I have been unable to focus on anything else. I’ve been making my lists and worrying about everything I need to have done before the little one gets here. There’s all sorts of housework and decluttering to be done, a new budget to work out, and a name to choose. There’s changes to account for in the timelines of some goals.

And of course, there’s a lot of work to catch up on in terms of my career! Posts to write and schedule, a book to finish, and a few other projects to deal with…to say I’m a little overwhelmed is an understatement!

Of course, I felt this way when I was pregnant with my daughter as well.  I was a nervous wreck and had a huge list of things I wanted to do before she arrived. I wound up knocking out a good chunk of that list, and ultimately none of it was as big a deal as I’d made it out to be.

This time, I think I have some reasonable goals and am so excited to get everything in place!

Over the past couple weeks I’ve finally gotten my writing groove back and am back to work on the fourth book in my “Instruments of Life” series. In the interest of not taking on more than I can chew at the moment, I’m aiming for it to be out in March, however I am hoping to have it ready sooner than that if possible. I’m really excited about this one and I can’t wait to wrap it up and share it with you all!

With so much going on, I’m sure to have more than enough fodder for blog posts between now and then, so be on the lookout for new posts! In addition to finding them on my Facebook and Twitter pages, you can also subscribe to this blog via email at the bottom of the page.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you all and as always I want to extend a huge “Thank You!” to my wonderful readers for all your love and support!

Let the new chapter begin!

 

 

The Best Stick Figures Ever: Dealing With Criticism

As many of you know already, I firmly believe there is no such thing as bad art. No matter how skilled you may or may not be, there is always room to grow and we should always strive to improve our skills. We should also celebrate where we are in our progress and focus on doing the best we can with our abilities. Waiting until your work is “good enough” is a surefire way to ensure it never gets seen by the people who would appreciate it the most.

If you enjoy doing something, whether it’s writing or drawing or making music or whittling or what-have-you, sharing your work with others allows you to take credit for the time and effort you’ve put into a project and deepen your sense of accomplishment. It can also bolster your confidence as others give you positive remarks, making it easier to continue on your path.

Unfortunately, it can also bring criticism, which is what I want to talk about today.

Criticism, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Aside from outright abusive statements made purely for the sake of negativity (trolls, anyone?), criticism can be an important tool in our growth as artists. Sometimes the lesson is that everything isn’t for everyone and that we need to focus on a different audience. In other instances, it can show us where we need to work on a particular technique. It’s up to us to suss out the positive aspect of a comment that feels negative and take the necessary steps towards improvement.

Recently, I received a comment that I struggled to find the positive in, and after weeks of contemplation I finally stumbled upon the lesson, which I would like to share with you today in hopes that it may help somebody else down the road.

First, allow me to give you some context.

I’ve always been the sensitive-type. I have a tendency to take things to heart, and while this is largely a strength, there are times when it manifests as a weakness. Every now and then, I forget the lessons I have already learned and allow words to hurt me instead of rising above. After all, I am only human.

I am also a person who loves to create for the sake of creating. While my main focus has always been on writing, with music as a close second, I also enjoy reworking furniture, scrapbooking, sewing, and cooking, among other things. In the last year or so, I have also discovered that I love to draw, which is where this particular story begins.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a doodler. If I wasn’t writing stories in class, I was doodling in the margins of my schoolwork. In adulthood, I kept a pad of paper on my desk to avoid doodling on important documents at work. Once I became a full-time mom, I found myself doodling as I watched TV or as I waited for inspiration for a story. At some point, I decided I wanted to improve on these skills and began drawing more often.

Eventually, I decided to share my work on Instagram every Wednesday and got quite a good response.  My confidence soared and I began to draw more and more, pushing myself to learn new techniques. After a while, I even released some of these designs as t-shirts, tote bags, and more in my Zazzle shop.

 

criticism, drawing, bad art, embrace your talent, we all start somewhere

All the drawings I’ve posted to date. I’m still pretty proud of them.

 

Pretty awesome for someone who’d never seriously considered herself an “artist” before, I think.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Soon, I encountered a piece of criticism that stopped me from drawing altogether.

I know, it sounds silly. Letting the thoughts of others dictate what we do is far from ideal and denotes a sense of weakness. However, it is also a very human response. When we create something, it is an extension of ourselves. Having that mocked very often feels like a personal attack, particularly when it comes from someone close to you, which is precisely what happened in this instance.

While sitting around with a bunch of family and friends, I was introduced to a young lady, who incidentally turned out to be an amazing artist. The person introducing us was someone I had known for over ten years and felt very close to. She turned to the girl and said, “you just have to meet Brandyn, she’s an artist too.” Then she paused and laughed. “Okay, so she draws stick figures, but she likes art.” She laughed again as she turned her attention to someone else.

My face grew red as a mixture of anger, hurt, and embarrassment shot through me. As I looked at this kid’s work, I immediately started hating myself for being foolish enough to share my cartoony creations with the world. Were all the likes I’d received on my images simply given out of pity? A silent “oh, good for you trying to be creative” while they laughed behind my back?

Defeated, I put away my sketchbook and completely gave up.

Fast-forward a good month or so to a typical afternoon with my daughter. She was drawing pictures and asked me to draw with her. I declined. “Mommy can’t draw, honey, but I love seeing your pictures.”

She, predictably, was not happy with my answer. To this sweet four-year old, mommy’s drawings were wonderful and she wanted to create something together. To be exact, she wanted to draw mermaids. It sounded fun, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

Later, I confided to my husband that I really wanted to draw a picture of Ariel for her, but that I didn’t think I could. I reminded him of the stick figure comment and he rolled his eyes.

“Because that’s in line with everything you know about perseverance,” he said.  “The right thing to do is prove ’em wrong.”

I gave a small laugh and shook my head. He was right, giving up because one person doesn’t like my work is certainly against everything I believe in. If all the artists I admire most had given up because of a few mean-spirited words, none of the things I enjoy would exist.

With this in mind, I thought about my own work a little bit more. Sure, I don’t draw in a realistic fashion, I’ve never set out to. I love cartoons and doodles, so that’s what I create. And while I’m not a mind-blowing artist, I enjoy what I do and it’s not cringeworthy. It is what it is, and some people may dig it and others won’t.

The next day, I grabbed some paper and a mechanical pencil and sketched out a picture of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, then dug out my colored pencils and filled her in.

 

Fan art Ariel the little mermaid, ariel holding a mirror, mermaid, colored pencil, dealing with criticism, no such thing as bad art

Can I just say I’m extremely proud of her hand? I’ve always hated drawing hands.

 

She may not be perfect, but this is the way *I* draw her, and I think it’s pretty damn good.

My husband apparently agreed, as he took one look at it and said, “And you think you can’t draw?!”

I blushed and put it up on Facebook. I was shocked when it got a ton of likes, and in that moment I realized that it had been ridiculous to allow someone else’s words to keep me from doing something I love.

And that is the lesson I want to impress on you all. Never let anyone get you down. If you draw stick figures, draw the best damn stick figures you can and be proud of them. Someone out there will get it and appreciate it. Take all criticism with a grain of salt, and learn to differentiate good criticism, which can be helpful, and worthless criticism,  which does nothing but bring you down.

Wherever you are on your creative journey, you’re doing great. Keep learning and growing and honing your craft. One day you’ll prove them all wrong.

 

Linked up at: Wine’d Down Wednesdays

The 10 Biggest Blogging Mistakes I’ve Made and How To Avoid Them

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: until very recently, I was considering 10 views a day to be a “good day” for this blog.

To some of you, that may seem laughable.  To a lot more of you, that probably seems very relatable. Putting all the time and effort into creating the best content you can, only to have it read by a mere handful of people can be disheartening. It’s also extremely frustrating, especially if you’ve had some previous successes.

Before I shut it down, “Life, Motherhood and The Pursuit of Happiness” was doing really well. I was getting a few thousand views a month, tons of comments, and actually getting shares from other people. I had a fair amount of subscribers and the Facebook page for that blog had 700 followers, which I naively believed would just naturally migrate over to the new blog.

I was sadly mistaken.

A few people followed along, but I saw a dramatic decrease in traffic and watched my social media following stall out. As you can imagine, this also impacted book sales and brought my other ventures to a halt. It was terribly frustrating, to say the least. For the last year and a half, I have been plugging away, trying to figure out what was going wrong.

When my husband and I started kicking around the idea of me sucking it up and finding a “real job”, I knew I had to do something.  I’ve worked so hard to establish myself as a legitimate author and designer, throwing it away was not in the cards.

I began thinking about all the things I had done to make “Life, Motherhood, and The Pursuit of Happiness” a successful site and decided to apply all I had learned to this blog. Although this site has been up for close to two years, I had to start thinking of it in terms of a brand new blog and start from scratch. A daunting feat to be sure!

Within a week I noticed a dramatic change in my stats. Soon, I was back on track.

I decided to share what I’ve done to bring this site back from the dead in the hopes of helping fellow bloggers increase their reach.

 

blogging mistakes, blog tips

1. Being Generic

When I first started blogging, I was deathly afraid of alienating people. This led to me keeping things pretty bland, which obviously did nothing to keep people reading. I made the same mistake when I started this blog, in the hopes of looking more professional. In both cases, I found that as soon as I started publishing heartfelt pieces and injecting more of my true personality into my writing, my views went up. So did engagement. Don’t water yourself down out of fear. Trust that the right audience will appreciate your authenticity.

2. Not Joining Blog Hops or Groups

When I ran my first blog, I was joining several blog hops (also known as link-ups or linky parties) each week and sharing my posts in several blog groups across various social media platforms. Originally, I had avoided that on this site. To me, having those badges on the bottom of my posts (or in my sidebar) looked unprofessional. However, we all have to start somewhere and in the beginning you are basically writing for other bloggers. From there your audience can grow quite well, but it is definitely a community, not a one-man show.

3. Not Using Social Media Effectively

When I was starting out, I was barely using social media at all. Eventually, I found myself with the opposite problem and using it too much. You want to find the sweet spot and focus on the platforms you actually enjoy. Trying to keep up with 20 different profiles leaves little time to focus on creating content. Personally, I mostly focus on Facebook and Twitter. I also use Instagram for all my images, and have it automatically publish to my Facebook page and my Twitter account, which is a great time saver. I also have my Facebook posts publish to my Twitter account so I don’t have to write as many separate tweets. I use FPTraffic to share daily images and links to Facebook to cut back on the amount of time I have to spend posting things as well.

The other key is to avoid constantly promoting yourself. Share things from other sources as well, share bits about yourself and your life. Keep a well-balanced mix of content to avoid burning out your followers. This is something that has worked very well for me in the past and that I’ve been working harder on implementing for this blog with great results.

It is also worth noting that the occasional promoted post can do wonders. While part of me hates the pay-to-play aspect, if you have something you want to make sure gets seen it can be a useful strategy and can often result in new followers.

4. Not Interacting With Other Bloggers

This kind of goes hand in hand with joining blog hops and groups, but I think it’s important enough to stress here as well. You need to be involved in the community to grow! Comment on blog posts. When someone shares something on social media be sure to like, comment, and share. Email other bloggers. Strike up friendships!

Not only is it always nice to add to your circle of friends, but you never know when you may need someone else’s expertise. You may even be able to help them out or join together in a project that benefits both of you.

5. Thinking It Will Take Off Overnight

Every now and then I feel down about how long it’s taken to get this site off the ground. However, when I think back on my first blog, I realize that it took me about two years before I finally gained some traction. It takes a lot of hard work to build your following. You’ll spend hours writing content, editing images, and promoting your work only to feel let down when it doesn’t immediately pay off. There will be times when you wonder why you are even doing this. Stick with it! One day something will stick and open up more doors for you. If you enjoy what you’re doing and have a little faith, you’ll find the right audience. Just keep doing the best you can and learning along the way.

 

blogging tips, quote hard work, working hard, blogging mistakes

 

 

6. Not Treating It Like A Business

Even if your goal isn’t to make money off of your blog, if you want to be successful you absolutely have to treat it like a business. Figure out exactly what you want out of your blogging experience and go for the gold! You need to carve out enough time to do it well and guard that time with your life. Let others know how important it is to you, and treat your blogging time with the same respect you’d treat your working hours at any other job. One of the great things about blogging is you can set your own hours and be flexible, but don’t let that slide into you putting it on the back burner. If you need to focus on writing next Wednesday and can’t agree to that lunch invite, plan lunch for another day. Do whatever you have to do to make your work a priority.

Half-assed efforts lead to half-assed results.

7. Not Knowing What Your Goals Are

Why do you blog? What do you want to offer to others? What results would you like to see? What are you willing to spend? How important is it to make an income from your blog? How much do you eventually want to make?

These are the sorts of questions you should know the answers to.

When I started blogging, it was just something to do to fill the time. I wanted to get used to sharing my work and to possibly help others as I shared my experiences as bits of knowledge I’d acquired. Eventually, I decided I wanted to turn it into a career.  For me now, this blog is a hub that allows me to express myself, andto  provide encouragement, support, and information to others. It also serves to lead people to my products. For others, the blog itself may be the product.

Whatever you wish to achieve, you must have it well defined in your mind. Write it down, and figure out how you are going to get there. Break it into smaller milestones and develop an action plan to achieve them. What do you need to do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to make it work?

I like to stick all those tiny, actionable steps in my planner and tick them off as I go. You may have another system that works better for you. Maybe you like lists or charts. Maybe you like to keep it all in your mind. Regardless of how you track your progress, you absolutely need to have a clear vision before you can make something a reality.

8. Not Having A Content Calendar…Or Being Too Reliant On One

I know, I know, that sounds contradictory. Allow me to explain.

When I first started out, I was just winging it. Sometimes this worked well, but more often than not it would lead to stress as I stared helplessly at my keyboard, trying to find something to write about. Eventually, I started keeping a list of ideas that I could pull from and that helped a little.

Then one day, I decided to plan out a year’s worth of posts in one go. I sat down with a fresh notebook and wrote down all my publishing dates (I used to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), and then I planned a topic for each of those dates. Some of them were very concrete ideas (like a tutorial or recipe) and others were more vague (like “something about Father’s Day”). I remember feeling so relieved to have the hard part done. Now all I had to do was write!

What happened was, I still found myself struggling. Sometimes I didn’t feel about writing the post I had planned or it turned out I didn’t have as much to say about the topic as I thought I did. Other times, I’d get a great new idea I wanted to write immediately or I wanted to write about something that was currently trending. Then I’d stress for hours as I tried to rearrange my calendar. Often times I’d just let those ideas go to stick to my schedule and later wish I hadn’t.

What I’ve learned is that it is absolutely helpful and ideal to have a content calendar. Knowing what posts to write next and being able to write in advance and schedule things for later definitely eases the burden. However, shoot for smaller windows of time and allow for changes to be made. Sure, you may know that you want holiday themed posts on a certain day and can reserve those well in advance, but I find it is better to plan everything else a month or two out at a time and keep the other ideas in a separate list to get to later. This affords the opportunity to move things around more easily if the need arises.

9. Paying Too Much For Hosting — Or Not Paying At All!

While I absolutely understand starting your blog on a free platform (which is where I began!), eventually you’ll have to pony up and pay for hosting. A website looks much more professional when you have your own domain name, and it goes a long way towards branding. There’s also something to be said for owning your own page.

There are many affordable options nowadays, so purchasing your domain name and getting hosting is a breeze. Shop around and find a company that fits your budget and needs–just be sure to do your research! Unfortunately, the internet is full of scammers, so always be sure you are purchasing from a reliable source.

Personally, I use Bluehost for my hosting. I have had great experiences with their customer service team on the rare occasion that things have gone wrong and they offer several packages that are easily affordable.

10. Worrying Too Much

This is by far the biggest mistake any of us make in our day to day lives. Whether it’s worrying about our blog stats or wondering if we are doing a good enough job, or worrying about something in our personal lives, this is something we could all stand to do a lot less. Worrying does nothing but rob us of joy and keep us from performing at our best. In fact, I’ve found that the posts I was most worried about have consistently been my best performing pieces.  Relax and enjoy your work! Keep learning and doing the best you can, and do what makes you happy! The rest will sort itself out.

 

quote abraham lincoln worry, blogging mistakes, blog tips

 

I know blogging, or any creative pursuit, can be full of hurdles. No matter what problems you’re facing, attack them head-on. Never stop searching for solutions and never lose site of the dream.

The Inner Workings Of A Flake

I’ve always been a flakey person. I get big ideas and get excited about them, only to shelve them immediately when something new pops into my head. I change hobbies faster than some people change their underwear, and am constantly re-evaluating my opinions on just about everything. I overbook my weekends and cancel plans. I forget to return borrowed items, leave birthday gifts sitting by my front door for months before actually getting them to the giftee, and somehow manage to forget that my phone has the ability to dial out.

I’ve always been this way, and I’ve made some great strides in learning to keep my head down, but it’s tough.

The other day I ran across this old post I had written for “Life, Motherhood, and the Pursuit of Happiness” where I explored the perpetually distracted nature of my mind.

I laughed as I read through it, realizing that I could just as easily write the same post today. I’m still just taking this thing one day at a time and learning to implement more mindfulness to combat the flakiness.

Today, I would like to share that post as it ran on January 3, 2014.

***

A few days ago I noticed a picture on the wall in my Almost-In-Laws’ den (which is currently serving as our bedroom). It’s a picture of the 3 Stooges on a firetruck with a caption that reads, “When disaster strikes, don’t send a stooge…send three!”. I’m sure it’s always been there, but somehow I never saw it. This isn’t a rare occurrence. For some reason, my brain just flat-out ignores most of my surroundings.

This malfunction of gray matter annoys the living daylights out of Almost-Husband, as he feels it is a detriment to my personal safety. Now that we have a little one, it worries him even more.

I’ve never seen it as a hindrance to my safety, as I’m quite certain that I wouldn’t miss a raving lunatic heading my way or anything that drastic. It is, however, a trait I wish I could get rid of. Mostly I think my brain is too focused on itself and providing me a constant stream of ideas, worries, and insights for me to truly focus on much else. Maybe it’s a product of my unmanaged anxiety disorder, maybe it’s due to my (also unmanaged,) ADD, I’m not really sure. What I am sure of is that I hated the way meds make me feel and this is the way I’ve been for as long as I can remember.

I’d love to be able to be truly present. I strive to better myself in that direction and try hard to make it happen, but it exhausts me. While I’m washing dishes, I’m writing a new song. While I’m playing with my daughter, I’m mentally preparing my to-do list. While I’m watching a movie, I’m analyzing how and why I came to be who I am now. I’m constantly dreaming, thinking, and scheming. I’m imagining a future conversation or mentally revising an old one, contemplating how different things would be if I’d said something different. My mind just never shuts off.

This contributes greatly to my extreme clumsiness, as I’m too preoccupied to look where I’m going. It causes frustrations with others when I have to ask them to repeat what they’ve just said…often numerous times, as my mind drifts off. I lose things constantly. I forget things easily (which might have something to do with my over-reliance on lists).  But nowhere does this state of constant distraction cause more chaos than when I’m driving.

Not only is it presumably dangerous to be driving while distracted, but my lack of observation skills means that I’m pretty much always lost. Even though I’ve lived in the same small, Iowa town for the entirety of my 26 year existence, I never know where I’m going.

 

flakey person, easily lost, confused all the time, space case, Adult ADHD

If it wasn’t for GPS I’d never get anywhere…ever.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve driven the same route a hundred times. I somehow manage to get myself completely lost and confused. This stresses me out, as I know I should be able to get around on my own, and that stress causes more stress to those who have to deal with my stress (which is a task most often reserved for Almost-Husband). Their stress adds to my stress and well, I’m sure you can see the infinite stress magnification that occurs and the melt-downs that can ensue.

I don’t know how to fix this problem beyond trying to force my brain to listen to me and focus, which hasn’t yielded many results thus far. I do, however, have a theory as to where my sub-par directional skills originated.

I think that at least in that particular instance, it comes down to this: as I kid, I didn’t have to pay attention to where we were going, so I didn’t. Some adult (usually Mom) was driving and I trusted that they would get us to our destination, so I busied myself with other things. I focused intently on the music playing on the radio or I contemplated life’s mysteries or thought about which Barbie I was going to play with when I got home. You know, kid stuff. I never once tried to memorize landmarks or took any notice of what was going on outside of my own head. Once I learned to drive, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know where anything was. I still don’t really have much of a clue. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve gotten lost in my own home at least once.

Luckily for all of you (I hope), a good portion of my zoning out now leads to amazing blog posts like these. You’re welcome, by the way. For your sake, I hope I never get a hold of my runaway imagination. For the sake of my sanity and that of my family, however, I hope someday I’ll be able to reign it in enough to give people the attention they truly deserve and really be in the moment during those special bonding moments. Additionally, I get pretty tired of being known as the flighty, space cadet blonde who couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag. I guess until I find a solution, I just have to embrace it or drive myself nuts.

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