Archives For writing

You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.

C. S. Lewis

My wife and kids will tell you that I’m a bit of a book hoarder.  I love getting books in the mail, and I love supporting other authors.  I especially love to promote these books when they have an impact on my life.

This week, Andi Cumbo-Floyd released her latest book, Love Letters to Writers.  And it’s just what I needed!

Despite the fact that I am getting ready to release my own book (December 5th – Rooftop Reflections – go to rooftopreflections.com to find out more information), I have felt disappointment and discouragement regarding my own writing consistency.  I’ve allowed the busyness of life and other activities to take me away from my passion for day-to-day writing.

Andi’s new book provided the right encouragement and reminders I needed to take a new look at my writing and my approach to writing.

In Love Letters to Writers, you’ll find 52 chapters or letters designed to challenge and encourage your writing.  I love the way each letter spoke to me and brought me back to a place in my writing experience where I thrived.  If you are a writer who needs a little (or a lot) encouragement, this book is for you.

If you are not a writer but you are someone who is trying to develop a daily discipline in your life, I think you’ll find Love Letters to Writers helpful.

Pickup a copy of Love Letters to Writers today!

What daily discipline are you trying to develop in your life?  How will your life be different by developing this discipline?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

2000th Blog Post

August 2, 2016 — 6 Comments

2,000th BLOG POST-1

It’s when ordinary people rise above the expectations and seize the opportunity that milestones truly are reached.

Mike Huckabee

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they marked the occasion by setting up twelve stones as a reminder of the journey they had endured and as a reminder of their heritage.

Today, I write this post as a way of setting up a pile of stones to remind me of my journey and to mark a significant milestone on this journey.

I’m a numbers guy.  I count things and people and other crazy things all the time.  I even count blog posts.

Today, I’ve reached a milestone – my 2,000th blog post.

When I started blogging over nine years ago, I didn’t have plans or of intentions of reaching this target.  I simply planned to write one day at a time, and this remains my plan.

And yet, I think it’s important to stop to celebrate, reflect, and recognize this milestone in my own writing “career.”

When I graduated from high school, I specifically pursued a career in engineering to get me away from writing.  I did okay in high school English class, but it was a lot of work.  Math and science always came easier for me.  When I arrived at Grove City College, I soon learned that my high school English was necessary and important to help me survive and thrive in the collegiate environment.

When I graduated from college and pursued an engineering job, I figured my writing was finally behind me.  I was wrong.  I used my writing skills on a daily basis to write letters, memos, and emails to customers, clients, and coworkers.  I wrote technical documents on a regular basis to describe my engineering documents.

I couldn’t get away from writing.

And then, my friend introduced me to the blogging world.  And something changed.

I developed a new-found love for writing.  I enjoy the discipline of writing on a regular basis.  I appreciate the effort required to articulate the “stretchy” thoughts running around in my head.  And I like the process of putting something together for others to read.

Writing has provided an amazing opportunity for me to tap into the creative side of my brain.  And it has pushed me to new heights and helped to forge new friendships.

2,000 blog posts is a milestone, but it’s just a start.

I have more to say.  I have more to write.

Here’s to the next 2,000 blog posts.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.  And thanks for being part of the Stretched Community.

How do you suggest I celebrate my 2,000th blog post?  Share your ideas in the comments.

HOW I PLAN TO HIT MY TARGETS THIS YEAR

I have big plans for 2016.

I have a lot on my list of things to do, and it seems like my schedule is packed.

How will I get it all done?

I had the privilege of meeting with a coach last week, and we talked about the challenge of trying to fit it all into the time I have this year.

We all have the same amount of time.  We have 24 hours in a day.  We have 168 hours in a week.  We have 52 weeks in a year.  And this is the same for everyone.  President Obama has this amount of time.  Bill Gates has this amount of time.  You have this amount of time.  And I have this amount of time.

With this time we have choices to make.  How will we use the time?  What will stay in our schedules?  What will we remove from our schedules?

Reaching your targets for 2016 requires you to make choices.

And this is true for me.

As I said before, I have big plans for 2016, and this means I have some choices to make.

For most of last year, I posted here 5 days a week.  I felt like I needed to be consistent by posting every day Monday through Friday.  This was good, but I only have a limited amount of time to write (and to do other things).  Writing has become an important part of my life.  I have some specific goals related to my writing that I want to achieve this year, but I won’t be able to meet these targets without making some changes.

With this in mind, you may see some changes to my posting patterns over the next few months.  I will still post here regularly, but I will also be using some of my writing time to go after some other things (more on that to follow).

I’m learning that sometimes less is required for more.  And maybe this is what you need to come to terms with this year.

What changes do you need to make to your schedule and your current commitments in order to reach your goals this year?

CYBER MONDAY

The Monday after Thanksgiving has become a big day for shoppers.  Last year, shoppers purchased nearly $2.7 Billion on-line on Cyber Monday.  Cyber Monday was created by marketers to lure shoppers like you and me into purchasing on-line.  Shoppers are enticed with “deals”, discounts, and the allure of avoiding the chaos of in-store shopping.

I don’t know about you, but my family has found it much easier to shop on-line.  We get the things we want and need for the holidays without the pressure of the in-store experience.

Since it’s Cyber Monday and I know you are looking for that perfect gift for that special someone, I thought I should remind you of a gift that everyone wants and needs:

My book, On Track: Life Lessons from the Track & Field is available on-line at Amazon.com for less than $3.00.  This is the perfect stocking-stuffer or gift for anyone.

Here’s what several reviewers had to say about On Track:

It would be very easy for someone to read the title of this short book and think, “I only watch track every four years during the Olympics…this book isn’t for me.” The author does indeed talk about track and field, mostly at the high school level and in a very light and approachable way. But what this book really does is remind the reader that we all are surrounded in our everyday lives with little things that can help us grow, comfort us, or even kick us in the pants. We just need to be paying attention.

The beauty in this book is the way in which the author sees lessons in the little things, like the way sprinters set up their starting blocks. You do not need to be a fan of track and field to appreciate these observations. I believe that the author is more hoping to arm the reader with a few tools to look for lessons in their own everyday events that are relevant to their lives. Intentional or not, the book certainly did this for me. “On Track” then ties these observations back to recognizable verses of scripture. Much as the author hopes we’ll draw on our own memorable stories in our lives, he provides these memorable scripture passages for us to draw on as well.

I wouldn’t read this book expecting to learn much about track and field. That’s not really the point. This is a great little book to have on hand for those times that you find life getting off track (pun very much intended). It is a quick read that I will be returning to from time to time to get back On Track.  Brian S. Willem

This book is an easy read and well thought out. Jon writes life lessons in parallel with track and field events, he leads us from the starting blocks to the finish line. Whether you know track and field or not, this book is an inspiring work and leaves me wanting to read more and more of Jon’s writing. Bravo for leading the pack on your first book Jon!! Chris Vonada

Such a great read! Jon does a great job relating track and field concepts to our lives in this book. Whether coming out of the starting blocks, overcoming obstacles, or finishing strong, he incorporates stories from his own life and his kids’ lives and connects those with things that we face every day.

As a former hurdler and runner, I could especially identify with his stories and challenges and it took me back to my track days. On Track is a great book for anyone who wants to grow, be stretched, and be encouraged in their role at home, work, and in daily life. I highly recommend it. Great job Jon!  Shawn Washburn

Love that Jon incorporates his faith into his passions in life – into his family, his running, his job. On Track demonstrates how learning good, strong habits and practices are a life learning not just compartmentalized into a sport. Great read for the whole family, and would be great as a small group discussion guide. Good job, Jon! Looking forward to lots more from this new author.  Diane Karchner

Jon takes us on a journey with his love of God and his love of running. There are many lessons of life molding these two loves together. You really get a sense of Jon’s dedication to living life to the fullest and enjoying the gifts God has equipped each of us.  S. Young

Jon offers a tidy little book, a parable if you will, comparing life to running at a track meet. Readers will enjoy sharing the author’s personal experiences and will find the extra boost they are looking for to get their life back on track. An easy, enjoyable and worthwhile read.  Matt Appling

In this book, Jon does a fantastic job of teaching both about track and field (for those who are too familiar) and about life. Several key factors from the starting blocks to the finish line help to show you how to keep your life “On Track”.  Joshua Rivers

Go on-line and order your copy of On Track TODAY.

(If you’d like an autographed copy, reach out to me to discuss details.)

Do you shop on-line?  What’s the best deal you have ever found on-line?

images for blog

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Over the past few months, I have standardized on the tools and general layout for the images that go with each of my posts.  An image can make the difference in whether a potential reader stays around to read your post or leaves to find something more interesting elsewhere.

Today, I share with you my method for making FREE, eye-catching images that will keep your readers around a little longer.  If you have a blog without images or with out of date images, you can use these steps to add flare to your blog.  To demonstrate, I will be updating the image for one of the more popular posts on my blog from three years ago – How To Respond To The Election Results.

My original post had a simple American flag at the top of the screen.  There was nothing to indicate the title of the post or other details that would cause image viewers to head back to my site.

Here are the steps I took to create a new image for this blog post:

STEP 1:  Go to pixabay.com.  Pixabay.com is a great site for finding FREE images you can use for your blog.

STEP 2:  Type in a key word that goes with your blog post title.  For example, I searched for images based on the search word:  election.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.31.36

STEP 3:  Select an image to go with your post.  (When I look for an image, I look for an image with room for a title and other text.  I also look for an image that best represents the content of my post.)

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.32.54

STEP 4:  Once you’ve selected your image, click on the desired size (I almost always select the small size).  Then press “Free Download” to save the image in your download folder.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.33.12

STEP 5:  Go to picmonkey.com.  Picmonkey.com is a FREE photo editing tool.

STEP 6:  Select you photo to edit from you download folder.  (Once you have the photo open, check out all the great ways you can edit the folder by utilizing the editor options on the left side of the screen.)

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.38.16

STEP 7:  Select the text editor option by pressing the icon “Tt”.

STEP 8:  Select your desired font.  (I consistently use Tahoma for my images.  I would encourage you to be consistent in selecting your font type as it helps bring consistency to your blog brand identity.)

STEP 9:  Enter your text in the text box.  (Note:  I typically type the blog post title along with a tag line (Jon Stolpe Stretched jonstolpe.com) to help image viewers back to my site.)

STEP 10:  Edit the text for size, color, and orientation in the text editor box which will pop up on your screen when you are editing text.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.39.59

STEP 11:  Once you are satisfied with your image, select the “Save” button at the top center of your screen.

STEP 12:  Create a file name for your image which you can type in the left “File name” box.

STEP 13:  Press “Save to my computer” in the lower left corner to save the image to your computer.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 14.40.26

STEP 14:  Open your post editor to the desired post.

STEP 15:  Move your cursor to the desired image location.  (In my case, I clicked on the old image.)

STEP 16:  Select “Add Media” right below the title (and above the post).

Screenshot 2015-10-04 15.13.49

STEP 17:  Select “Upload Files.”

STEP 18:  Click on “Select Files.”

STEP 19:  Find your saved image, and select the image by double clicking on the image file name or image thumbnail.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 15.14.02

STEP 20:  Click “Insert into post”  once you have selected the file and added any desired information on the right side of the screen.  (I usually center my image and make the image approximately 600 pixels wide.)

Screenshot 2015-10-04 15.15.07

STEP 21:  Your new image will appear in the post editor.  Click “Update” on the right screen when you are satisfied with your changes.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 15.15.29

That’s it!  Just in case, I check out my post by selecting “View Post” to make sure everything looks good.

Screenshot 2015-10-04 15.16.49

I know I listed a lot of steps, but I wanted to make sure I detailed everything I do to create images for my blog posts.  I hope these steps will help you to brighten up your blog posts.

Do you use images on your blog posts?  Is so, what steps do you use to create your images?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

press on

Press forward. Do not stop, do not linger in your journey, but strive for the mark set before you.

George Whitefield

I almost skipped today.

I almost didn’t post on my blog today.

Life has been pretty busy lately, and I honestly didn’t feel all that inspired.

At work, I am in the midst of closing down our fiscal year which means I’ve been busy closing projects and making sure our financials are in order by September 30th.  At home, I am just as busy.  Our kids are very active (which is a good thing), but it often means I’m on the road at a cross-country meet, a football game, or a marching band show.  I’m also helping my wife as she works on building her life coaching business.

All these things are great, but I sometimes feel drained.  And there are times when I leave little margin for reflection and inspiration.

All this to say, I come to the keyboard today feeling a little worn out and a lot uninspired.

And yet, I’m sitting here writing my post for today.  I’m pressing on even when I don’t feel like it.

Why?

Some think I should just skip the day and wait for new inspiration tomorrow.  But I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily the best choice.  I’ve learned that practicing the discipline of pressing on despite lack of inspiration and motivation is the best way to get the results I want.

I’ve finished three marathons and several half marathons.  In training for these races, I’ve learned to press on when it comes to my daily training runs.  One skipped training day would lead to another and another, and I would have arrived at the starting line unprepared.

I wrote a book.  The book didn’t write itself, and it didn’t come together in one day.  Writing the book took days and weeks of writing.  I had to write even when I didn’t feel like it in order to meet my goal.

My wife and I have raised two children.  We don’t always get it right when it comes to parenting, and they aren’t perfect kids.  But they are pretty good!  This doesn’t happen if we decide to take a break from parenting when we don’t feel like it.

Pressing on inches us closer to “the prize.”  I don’t know what prize you are pursuing, but it won’t happen if you don’t persist.

This is why I am writing today’s post.  I’m pressing on, because I’ve seen the benefit of daily blogging.  And I’m confident I’ll see more results because I decided to press on even when my inspiration wasn’t all there.

What “prize” are you pursuing?  What keeps you going when you don’t feel inspired?

How would your world be different if you made the decision to practice the discipline of pressing on?  How has persistence despite lack of inspiration made a difference in your life?

(Maybe I was a little more inspired than I thought.  I think the inspiration came as a result of pressing on.)

 

ideas for writing

Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.

Paulo Coelho

 

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about the discipline of getting feedback.  As part of the post, I asked you this question:

If you could ask me any question, what would the question be?  In what area of my experience do you think I could help you?

In response to my question, Shawn Washburn had this to say:

As for your question, I’d probably ask you something blog-related. You’ve already been a huge help for me, have paved the way, encouraged me and given me advice and direction along the way. So, maybe something like “how do you keep coming up with new topics every day?”

I responded to Shawn in the comments with one idea, but I realized I had many other thoughts to help Shawn.  As I dug through my blog archives, I discovered I had already written a response to Shawn’s question a year ago.

Coming up with new topics and content for my blog takes discipline.  When you practice these disciplines, the ideas for your blog come with less effort.  Here’s what I had to share last September:

I’ve been at this blogging thing for over seven years now.  The first few years, I was fairly inconsistent, but now I publish at least five blog posts every week.

How do I find ideas to write about every day?

This is a question I get often from readers and fellow bloggers.  (And to be honest, this is a question I sometimes ask myself.)

Blogging takes effort, and coming up with content for my blog doesn’t happen by accident.

Today, I share my keys to consistently developing content for blogging.  After reading today’s post, I hope you’ll have some fresh ideas for developing your own blog content.  And even if you aren’t a blogger, I think these ideas may help you get a little more out of life.

9 Keys To Developing Consistent Blog Content

To read the rest of this article, click here.

How do you find ideas to write about every day?

What question(s) do you have for me about blogging, leadership, life, or anything else?

 

feedback

It’s impossible to read the label when you are inside the bottle.  You need somebody to speak into your life – someone who will read the label and tell you what is really on the inside.

Do you like getting feedback from others?

What kind of feedback do you like?

What kind of feedback do you really need?

Are you surrounding yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear?

Stretching can be painful, and getting feedback from others can be a stretching experience.  And yet feedback is what we often need in order to grow – in order to recognize our gifts and shortcomings – and in order to live our life to the fullest.

With this in mind, I think it’s time we start practicing the discipline of getting feedback.

Today, I need your feedback, but first I want to give you some advice on practicing the discipline of getting feedback.  By using these six steps, you will keep stretching in a worthwhile direction.

6 Steps For Getting The Feedback You Really Need

  1. Open up your mind and heart.  Do you really want to stretch and grow?  Are you really willing to listen to feedback even when it is hard to hear?  Before you even ask for feedback, you have to decide to be open to what you will hear from others.  Some feedback will be easy to hear.  And some feedback will be very difficult to process.
  2. Ask people you trust.  Asking foolish people for feedback is like inviting people to throw tomatoes at you for the fun of throwing tomatoes.  But there is wisdom to be gained from those you can trust.
  3. Examine the feedback.  Once you’ve received feedback from others, it’s important to evaluate the feedback.  Run it by others to see if the feedback is on target.  What feedback deserves attention, and what feedback should you ignore?
  4. Filter out any off base feedback.  Once you’ve examined the feedback, get rid of the off base feedback.  Feedback that misses the mark will lead you to the wrong target if you decide to listen to it.
  5. Take action on justified feedback.  Whatever is pure, trustworthy, and just deserves our attention.  Take corrective action on constructive feedback.  Continue to act on the things you are doing well, and stop doing the things you need to stop.  Make the necessary changes based on the feedback you receive (otherwise, you are wasting the time of those giving feedback).
  6. Repeat the process.  Asking for feedback is not a once and done event.  Getting feedback is an endless process that should be followed again and again.  So go back to step one and start it all over.

Now that I’ve laid out these six steps for getting the feedback you really need, it’s my turn to ask for your feedback.

I’m in the process of evaluating my writing focus and I really need your help.  I am going through this exercise to help me stretch and to help others stretch.  I started this process by asking myself to write down the names of 20 people who I think could truly, genuinely benefit from what I have to say.  I filled a page in my journal with these names.  Then I spent time considering the most common questions people ask me.  Here are a few of the questions that came to my mind:

  • How do you have time to do everything you do?  (And when do you sleep?)
  • When are you going back to Guatemala?  (And can I come?)
  • How did you and your wife raise such great kids?
  • When is your next book coming out?
  • How did you get into that (home-brewing, chicken-farming, blog-writing, etc.)?
  • Do you have any advice for long distance running?
  • How do you stay so positive all the time?
  • Can you be my mentor?
  • How do you stay so consistent?
  • What have you done to get to where you are now (and what do I need to do to get there myself)?
  • How do you live out your faith in a faithless, fallen world?

To confirm I’m on the right track (or to add to the list), I have been intentionally asking the 20 people on my life (and a few other people) to give me feedback.  I’ve been asking them this question:  “If you could ask me any question, what would the question be?  In what area of my experience do you think I could help you?”

It’s a little scary to ask these questions, but it’s an experience I need to have.  I need this feedback to make sure I am on the right track.  I need this feedback to help me see what is on the inside of my bottle.

And it’s feedback I need from you as well.  I value your feedback as a reader and participant in The Stretched Community.  And so, I leave you with this question, and I hope you will take time to leave me a comment.  I need you to help read the label on my bottle.

If you could ask me any question, what would the question be?  In what area of my experience do you think I could help you? 

Please take time to leave your response in the comments.

Keep On Struggling

June 1, 2015 — 4 Comments

struggle

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
Napoleon Hill

My posting recently has been sporadic to say the least.  I don’t know if you noticed, but this is how I feel lately.  I’ve struggled with inspiration, with time, with intentionality, and with motivation to keep writing.

I don’t want to fall into the pattern of posting just because it’s what I’m supposed to do – to keep the streak alive.  (Although, I think there is something good about pushing through it even when you don’t feel like it.  For all my posts about discipline, I think this may fall into the discipline of showing up.)

I don’t want to post garbage content.  I want my content to mean something to me and to those (few or many) who read it.

I don’t want to write simply to chase traffic.  This is a trap I see many getting themselves into.  They follow the “formulas” of other “popular”, “more successful” bloggers in an effort to grow their lists, to sell their latest product or book, or to get their name out there for the whole world to see.  I get it that this is almost required in order to make a name for yourself and to get published.  It just seems like there are too many people pulling others into their funnel with promises of wealth, fame, and success if they just try the next greatest webinar, seminar, book, or mastermind group.  I can understand how these things may work, but it also seems to border on using people.  Please don’t take this as criticism.  It’s really just me reanalyzing my writing and how I approach my writing pursuits.

And I’m not alone in these feelings.  I see it in the writing of some other bloggers like Larry Carter who wrote last week about his own wrestling in a post titled Changes In Blogging.  Chad Jones wrote about it the week before in a post titled Things Forgotten:  The Work Is Its Own Reward.  And earlier in May, Dan Erickson expressed reasons he was cutting back on the blogging in a post titled Why I’m Putting Less Emphasis On Blogging.

Maybe it’s the approaching “laziness” of summer, or maybe others are facing the need to reanalyze their priorities, their prizes, and their perspectives.

First and foremost, I want my writing pursuits and all my other pursuits to bring glory to God.  If I can get this right, I think the rest will take care of itself.  It’s too easy to get distracted – to divert our eyes to “prizes” that won’t last.  I want to chase the prize that will last forever.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Corinthians 9:24-27

I will keep writing.  But I may be a little sporadic for a bit as I continue to let God shape my heart, my thoughts, and my overall being.  I hope you’ll stick with me as I continue on this journey.  I believe God has given me a voice.  I just want to make sure I’m using it wisely.

Have you ever struggled with something like writing?  What steps did you take to overcome this struggle?

writing quote

This week, I have the privilege of answering questions for students at Fairview Christian School in Seattle, Washington.  A college friend is a teacher at Fairview, and she contacted me and another classmate (Cindy Starr Stewart) about being part of the schools Ask An Author program.  The kids from kindergarten through middle school sent me a list of questions for me to answer.  Since I couldn’t be there in person, I created this video to answer some of the kids’ questions.

Even though I wrote and published the book over a year ago, it was fun to look back on my journey to becoming an author.

After you watch the video, answer the questions I asked the kids by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

If you were going to write a book, what would your write about?  How do you think writing a book would change your life?