Thursday, January 11, 2018

Creating Your Online Course Content: The Key To Your Personal Instructor Brand

As many writers and other artists move into the realm of teaching others what they know and are learning, online courses are popping up everywhere. This is a great thing. Whether you are sharing your knowledge with your peers in an informal Facebook group or are launching a course to subsidize your art; your personal brand should be considered as you create the course content. It will improve the experience for both you and your students. Here is what I mean:

The title of this blog post may strike you as odd. Should one really have to think of something as superficial as personal branding when creating course content resources such as videos? The short answer is "yes". Think about the scenarios in which personal branding already makes sense: the job interview, introducing yourself to a face to face class, and selling a class from your own website. In each of these cases, you are aiming to both inspire confidence in your abilities as well as engage your hiring committee, clients, and students to want to work with you again and again. Here is where creating your online course content can do double-duty and go to bat for you as the key to your personal instructor brand. There are a few items to keep in mind to keep your content as consistent, efficient, and engaging as possible:

1. Inject your Personality into It - Your voice, your sense of humour, your insights, and your photography hobby can all be engaged to bring together videos and resources that come from the same angle, let the students know what to expect each time, and create a cohesive experience as they move along your course.
2. Keep a Professional Tone - While I mention using humour in point one; of course, always keep it in the realm of workplace/professional humour even if the course is online. You don't want your professionalism to come into question and detract from your student's confidence in you.
3. Limit Distractions - Also important to remember in the professional approach is a clean uncluttered background in videos, polished presentation of content, and staying with one topic at a time. It will inspire confidence as well as promote a better learning experience.
4. Wrap up by Reminding your Audience Who You are - The conclusion is the perfect time to restate the main points, offer additional resources, and remind students of your availability. Knowing that you are there for them makes them more likely to engage in their learning and feel less overwhelmed by what is expected of them. This makes for the likelihood they will look for you as an instructor in the future because they enjoyed their time with you and already know what to expect from one of your classes.

Blog post image is from my own instagram account. The original image can be found here.
A version of this post originally appeared on my blog Tales from the Classroom

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A recipe for Writing Confidence: 6 Ways to Get There

You know that the best way to improve as a writer is to keep writing. But you also know that on days that you are discouraged, tired, intimidated, or just second-guessing how long it's taking you to break through; that something is standing in between you and your writing confidence. For those days, here is a recipe for writing confidence with 6 easy ways to get there:

1. Give yourself deadlines.

I didn't have to practice putting words out into the world before I felt like they were ready until I worked for a newspaper ten years ago.Writing articles week in and week out, I realized that no matter how my week was going and how I felt about that week's writing; I was consistently writing articles I enjoyed reading a few days later when I saw them in the paper. You can do the same for your blog readers or your beta readers. Set up a regular deadline, hit it, and read the results several days later. It will take practice to see yourself as the great writer you are.

2. Post a favourable reaction to your work where you can regularly see it.

Whether it's printing off an email from someone who was impacted positively by your work or a review from a reader who loved your book on your fridge or office bulletin board; seeing affirming words regularly helps you dispell the negative voices that can emerge in your head. That red pen wielding inner editor is good for double checking, but not so good for fighting procrastination. Building outside affirmations is a good recipe for inspiring you to take regular action and write, 

3. Connect with others who are writing and publishing.

Find others who are where you are and where you want to be. Read what they share about their journey and apply the tips they post. Much of what looks like their individual success is application of collected input from others. No one learns in a vaccum. As you are taking action and seeing improvements to your writing, marketing, or connections; share what you've learned. Seeing what you have to offer helping others is a great confidence booster.

4. Take criticism with a grain of salt.

Notice I say not to ignore criticism. Often we can learn from things others have noticed. The importance is to be discerning. Someone may have a valid point, but a rude or passive-agressive delivery. Separate what is good (noticing what you can use to make your work better) from what you can leave (lack of appreciation for your genre, projected feelings of insecurity, etc.) Good criticism will have information you can apply to make improvements. Bad criticism is simply discouraging and says more about the giver than it does about your writing.

5. Invest positively.

You can invest positively to grow your writing identity. Giving reviews for your favorite books on and promoting articles that were of help to you adds value to others' lives. You know how much you appreciate knowing that a book is a good buy before you invest your hard earned money on it and love to read an article that helps you out without having to go search for it. Make others' lives better in the same way. It will grow your reputation as someone in the know and will help you to see yourself the same way.

6. Be thankful for what is part of you.

Writing is something you are driven to do. Ideas come to you begging to be executed in a way that not everyone experiences. Taking the time to be thankful for that and the joy it brings to your life is a good way to connect with writer you. The process is more than the outcome. Instead of striving for a certain outcome, focus on taking action steps that support the direction you want to be moving in. Progress and growth are not a straight line. Celebrate the whole journey there.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Authentic Engagement: Connecting with Your Instagram Community and Doubling Your Followers

You know the importance of connecting with your community in order to keep yourself engaged and inspired, grow your platform, and connect organically with opportunities that networking provides. But if you've ever wanted more connections, but don't feel like you have time to search for great accounts to follow and recruit your own followers as well; you will be thrilled to know there is an approach that is authentic, enjoyable, and time efficient. (And I'm not talking about robots or follow/unfollow or any of those scammy ways to increase your following--we don't want mere numbers, we want engaged community because that's what will translate into real results.)

Here are the basics to get you going:

1. Optimize your profile to help your followers find you.

On your profile, make sure your picture is your own photo and if it is not, make sure it is in line with what your account is about (ie. a pen for writing, makeup brushes for makeup, food for cooking, etc)
When people spot you on another account, you want them to gravitate to your profile instead of waiting for the opportunity to be a featured instagram account. Adding a tagline to your profile that indicates the theme is the second step. You will see this strong move in action once you start looking for your own great accounts to follow.

2. Analyze and adjust your content to keep it consistent.

Look at your landing page to see how your images work together. Are they coherent or are you all over the place thematically? It is ok to have more than one interest. Just add them all into the tagline and try to combine them into images when you can. Then use hashtags to attract your target audience. For example, if you are a mother who writes and is interested in feeding your kids healthy food, you could present all of those interests with a kiddie food plate, notebook and pen. Check out the accounts that inspire you to get ideas. If your interests don't align well, it is also ok to separate them into separate accounts or focus on one on Instagram.

3. Find great accounts to follow.

Once you have a couple of rows of posts that look coherent on your landing page (which only takes a week or so of daily posting), start looking on the following lists of those accounts that are similar to yours or are what you aspire to be with yours. Use the profile images and taglines to determine if their accounts are aligned with yours (for instance, I look for words like writing, reading, author, editing). Then, follow those accounts. Once those accounts start following you, visit their pages to comment and like the images that speak to you.

4. Engage with those you're following.

All you have to do to maintain the connection is like the images you like and comment on them as you go through your feed a couple of times a day. Community will grow as you see your shared interests, experiences, and sometimes even locations. There is nothing to be gained by being a stalker. Participate and engage. Don't like things you don't like just to be a people pleaser. On each account, (unless it is one that truly offends you and then it's just best to unfollow it), there is going to be something you can agree on, like, or find visually appealing. Connect there.

5. Have pictures ready so you can post every day.

As you go about your day, you will spot photo opportunities. Take pictures from several angles so you have something to choose from. If you haven't posted by evening, make sure to do so and connect with new accounts before bed. Worldwide time changes will mean you are gaining extra followers, likes, and comments as you are sleeping. Acknowledge them in the morning. That's it! A simple approach that gains you interesting contacts, engaged followers, and a wider community without leaving your usual routine. Let me know how it helps you.

If you have any questions or additional ideas, feel free to comment on this post or email .

Friday, January 20, 2017

5 ways to Make Systems a Part of your Writing Life

Systems are the functional cycles of activity, repeated habits, and procedures we put into place to make our lives easier and better. In a company, systems produce policies, manuals, standardized work checklists, and the like. At home, they can be things like having your gym bag packed the night before and setting your alarm to go and work out at the same time every morning, bagging lunch snacks into individual portions during TV time so that packing lunches is a breeze in the morning, or as simple as keeping the keys on the front foyer table so you are not looking for them when it’s time to go out the door.

By doing personal inventory, you will quickly identify the systems you already have in place and by thinking of what went well and what didn’t in the past week, you can identify where more or different systems are needed in your life.

In your writing life, the same principle applies. Here are 5 ways to make systems a part of your writing life and achieve greater results in less time:

1.Write every day.

It doesn’t matter if it’s only ten minutes. Over a week’s time you will have invested more than 1 hour of your craft. This can quickly add up to freelance writing material, blog content, or that book you’ve been meaning to write.

2. Get back on the horse.

Not hitting every goal or intention is part of being a human being living life. What ever gets done is more than would have if you never set a goal or intention in the first place. Learn from what derailed you and set a system in place to get around it next time. If you are setting too lofty of goals and are missing them more often than not, set small ones that you can easily hit consistently and work up from there. (x amount of words or x minutes per session are both effective)

3. Have a filing system.

No writing session will ever be wasted with a filing system. If you write something you are not particularly proud of or it seems off topic to your current project, simply file it for another day. Months down the road, you may see where to invest new life into it or what edits are needed or what market it may serve.

4. Keep writing prompts nearby.

Even if you don’t use them every session, nothing cuts into your writing time like looking at a blank screen. If you are not working on a specific project (and even then, decide what scene or subheading you are working on before you start your timer) pull out a writing prompt to get the words flowing.

5. Connect with other writers.

Whether it is a formal group or a friend who you meet with to discuss your writing journey, having someone else to be accountable to really make a difference. Set deadlines to have work ready to share. You can use the same accountability system to ready manuscripts for submission, save to attend a writer’s conference, or swap blog guest posts. Benefit from the systems built into community.

If you want more information on systems, writing prompts, or other writing related processes, email and ask to be added to the free newsletter mailing list.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

How to Make Your Writing Goals for 2017 Work for You

Good for you! You have some writing goals that you've set before you. Perhaps you've worked on them the past year(s) or perhaps 2017 is the first year you've set them before you officially. Having goals is awesome, but it does not automatically ensure you will accomplish them. How can you make sure this year is the one? Well, there are ways to make your goals work for you. The secret is, goals work best in systems.

What systems are:

⇒ Systems are a set of actions, behaviors, routines, and supporting structures that work together to contribute to an outcome. A business is a good example. First you have the human resource system: all of the people who make things happen -- everyone from the intern to the CEO and who they report to and consult with. Next you have the policy system: everything that guides what happens in each possible scenario to prevent the company from having crisises every time something out of the ordinary happens. Taking the time to think about and plan for them ahead of time makes the company train keep moving along the track no matter what. In the day to day operations, you have the procedural system: what everyone does, when they do it, and how they do it. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but you get the picture. Systems are what facilitates progress.

How they can help your writing:

⇒ You may not have previously paid much attention to systems in your own life, but as soon as you start looking for them, it's hard to stop. You have a system or routine to get to bed and to get off to work in the morning. When you leave for a regularly scheduled activity, your system ensures you have your required supplies in hand or are scrambling for them. When you look at your life's systems you will see why you're early to some things and late to others, why some days writing happens and some days it doesn't. Don't get overwhelmed when you're processing through them: identifying what works and what doesn't is what is going to make the difference in your year ahead. If this interests you, you may want to grab one of 10 spots in the free month long online workshop (coming in January 2017) Making Room for Writing in Your Already Full Life. Registration is now open and will be filled first come first served. To reserve your spot, email

Why you need the right mindset to accompany them:

⇒ Mindset predicts whether we will do what we always have getting the same results we always have, or if we will morph and grow as our dreams and responsibilities do. This important work was first pioneered by Carol Dweck who is facinating to hear speak Before we can change our systems, we need to identify whether we are working in a fixed mindset ("I'm not good at _____, I'll always be ____. It's who I am") or a growth mindset ("I'm looking forward to learning ____. I can change who I thought I was. Growing and improving is a natural part of life.")

Note: If you'd like to explore the systems mindset further, I'd recommend Sam Carpenter's Work the System and Systems Mindset. You can order the hard copy or download the e-book or audio book for free.

Congratulations! As Dr Suess, beloved author and prolific writer, says, "Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting! So get on your way!"

I'd love to hear how you feel the systems mindset could help your writing. Comment below or email and claim one of the January workshop spots.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

7 Steps to Writing with Vulnerability - Guest Post

Note from Michelle: I've been looking forward to this post for a while now. Donna Lee Irwin is such a treat in person and on the page. She is navigating the complicated world of young widowhood and shares about it with such authenticity and grace that I know what she shares will speak to your heart and inform your pen. So without further ado.... (and go visit her blog and add it to your favorites list -- you won't regret it)

Writing with vulnerability is no easy task. How do you do it without appearing out of: your mind, control, this world? Well, the first thing would be to consider your audience. Is what your sharing relevant? Does it make sense to write a vulnerable piece on this platform? Or are you divulging the emotional details of your recent divorce on your fashion blog? Make sure that what and where you are publishing makes sense.
Once you have settled on a topic suitable for your targeted audience consider these 7 guidelines. They are ‘rules’ I try to write by which have, so far, served me well.

1.  Get honest with yourself. 

Why are you writing this? Is it because you are passively aggressively using your writing platform to blow off some steam? Are you making a bid for approval or reassurance? Decide what your end goal is and ask yourself what your expectations are as a result of sharing this information. For me, it is to let others know they are not alone. Too many of us keep our stories hidden while we try to impress our peers, contributing to the vicious cycle of trying to keep up appearances with one another. It is my goal to penetrate this mirage with my small contribution of vulnerability and authenticity.

2. Decide how much you want to share. 

And remember, you’re here to tell your story and no one else’s. Sometimes this means getting creative with how we explore our story, sometimes it means leaving some things out. It’s worth it to respect and protect the privacy of others-even if you feel they don’t deserve it.

3.  Be Relevant and Relatable. 

Again, make sure the topic makes sense for your writing platform and, when choosing to write with vulnerability, be relatable! Share you experience but don’t share only the before and after “ta-da! I figured it all out!” moments. Before-and-afters can be helpful in a story but usually people just want to rest assured that they are not the only imperfect/struggling/quirky/etc. humans on the planet. This is not a time to practice or showcase perfection. Your readers will see right through the fa├žade and write you off as inauthentic and suspicious. Share your honest experience, even especially if you’re still in it.

4. Be Clear and Concise. 

Express your feelings on the subject through your experience without drifting. This is usually taken care of in the editing process for me. I like to write freely, pouring all my emotions out into as many words as I feel are needed knowing that when it’s time for editing I can carve my point out of the puzzle of words I’ve laid out to get my message across in a meaningful way. Sometimes it’s useful to share all the gory details and other times it’s TMI. A practice that works great for me is pouring my heart out onto the page and walking away from it for a few days. Sometimes when I do that I end omitting almost everything I wrote, others I’m like, “ya, that’s good. They’ll feel it.” Only you can be the judge.

5.  Be prepared for Criticism and Judgement.  

Expressing or sharing vulnerability is often seen as a weakness when in reality it is actually an incredibly brave and courageous act. Recognize that being vulnerable can trigger uncomfortableness and shame in others. Also, be prepared for people to share their stories or opinions that may be very different from what you have just written. Be respectful and kind if you choose to respond. Otherwise don’t respond at all. On the other hand, for those who are kindly sharing their own vulnerabilities with you, be sure to give them a nod of thanks for opening their hearts.

6. A Word of Caution.

 Make sure if you include names or photos of anyone that isn’t you in your writing to GET PERMISSION first! Preferably in writing. Remember, you’re telling your story, not theirs.  If you’re talking about your kids, again, get their permission, show/read them what you have written/picture you are using and make doubly sure that they are comfortable with it. Don’t assume you know and don’t bully them into compliance. Especially don’t share anything that may prevent you from getting a job, get you sued or cause conflict in a relationship. Again, it can be helpful to step away for a few days and come back with fresh eyes.

7. Lastly, Let Your Art Go. 

Once you hit that publish button…it is finished. And that’s great! Be proud! You took something raw and honest of yourself and shared it with the world. That is a beautiful thing. Whenever we give any gift to someone we accept that it is no longer ours to decide what to do with. Look at it as a gift and feel good about your giving. As Glennon Doyle Melton says in one of her blog posts, “Create! Call it good! Rest!”

Well, there you go! 7 steps to writing with vulnerability in a nutshell. I applaud all you writers out there who are willing to step into the arena of writing with vulnerability and look forward to reading some of your work. Even when we share different views the courage it takes to ‘write naked’ is immense and nothing short of humble bravery! Wishing you luck on you ‘naked writing’ ventures!

Donna’Lee Irwin
Founder & Writer of


*Sidenote: If you really feel passionate or curious about writing a vulnerable piece of work but don’t have the right platform to feature it, follow these guidelines and consider submitting to another platform where it will be more relevant. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Establishing Writing Project Deadlines for Yourself: 5 Elements to Include to Make the Process Easier

Good for you! You have a writing project going or have an idea you want to execute on. How can you make it happen if you don't have a publisher, agent, or editor to motivate you with their deadlines, advance cheques, and book tours? The truth is, you can do it yourself by establishing writing project deadlines for yourself. Here are 5 Elements to include to make the process easier.
1.    Make it realistic.
You may have a lot of ideas you want to execute and if you have all the time in the world, it may be possible to start work on them all now. If your time is more limited, you will want to have separate and staggered timelines for each. As a new opportunity arises, measure its potential against the rest and plot it on your timeline accordingly. Stay clear of self-sabatoge in its many forms: perfectionism, tackling too much at once, or talking about your project more than executing on it. Break your project into small tasks and get to work.
2.    Set a productive pace.
If you space out your writing sessions too far, you risk wasting time getting back into your project each time or having to familiarize yourself with it again. Have an outline or another goal visual (x amount of query letters, contest entries, or novel pages) and hold yourself to it, no matter how small your planned execution each time. Slow and steady will still win the race.
3.    Build in momentum.
Making progress on your project will excite you and you will likely spot other opportunities to build on it as you go along. Be discerning. Not everything needs to be done at once, but something small needs to be happening all the time. Don’t let your inspiration, marketing, contacts, or opportunities shrivel up and die from lack of attention. Build in dates on your calendar to address the many facets of your writing project. (and yes, pre-marketing even if it is as simple as a single web landing page or author page on facebook is a good idea. Your publisher will ask you if you have one. An author with an audience is an easier sell)
4.    Affirm yourself.
It sounds silly, but even a chart with gold stars for completed tasks will do the trick. You don’t want to give away the impetus for your project with over-talking about it (psychologically it makes us humans less likely to do the grunt work as talking about it makes us feel like we’ve accomplished more than we have) Affirming yourself means you can use your talking time to see what your audience wants. Engage in community by helping. It’ll help you too.
5.    Grow by challenge.
Most of the time you will be doing things you are already comfortable with – hitting your word count, writing your blog post, coming up with a new scene idea. Plan for every 4th session in a 5 day a week model (adjust accordingly for your schedule) to be something that stretches you a bit: try a new genre, comment on some different blogs, offer to teach someone else what you know (whether by post, youtube tutorial, or in-person workshop), or try something new on your social media account (giveaway, guest post, picture of you at work, etc)

There you have it. Plan to make good on your vision and take those small frequent steps to make it happen. A note as we part: don’t be scared to change up your strategies. That doesn’t indicate failure. How you get there matters less than getting there. Find what works for you by taking action.