Crash Course on Journalism

Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens is a University of Melbourne course taught by Dr. Denis Muller and Dr. Margaret Simons offered through Coursera. The 8 week course is geared toward the new media publishers and teaches the basics of journalism, interviewing, gathering information, and the ethical and legal implications of practicing journalism.

I thought this class would help me develop my blogging and writing skills because blogs are a part of this new media landscape and some of the highlighted topics were on my action plan.

Each week they posted video lectures, quizzes, and follow ups on the assignments.  I really enjoyed the video lectures and found the lessons on the principles of good writing, attribution, and finding things out particularly helpful. The quizzes helped to reinforce the material in the videos, and you could take them as many times as you wanted to ensure understanding.

The assignments were related to a mock investigation into the local government of a fake town. At first I tried to keep up with the assignments, but it seemed like wasted effort. While I love getting grades, I took this course to help improve the quality of this blog. I chose to focus my efforts here rather than spend hours writing fake reports that were only going to get more involved.

Overall I found Muller and Simons engaging and knowledgeable. I have already incorporated some of the things I learned from them into my blog, like writing in a clear and simple manner and focusing on word choice. They also covered topics that aren’t useful for the blog like managing confidential sources and the ethics of interviewing traumatized people, but it was intriguing material nonetheless.

This is a well structured course lead by excellent professors. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their writing skills or dabble in journalism. This course also offers a Course Certificate – Statement of Accomplishment, if you’re into that sort of thing. There are no future sessions currently listed, but based on the feedback I have seen in forums I am sure they will be back.

Do you think bloggers and journalists have overlapping skill sets? Let’s discuss further in the comments.

Book Breakdown: The Art of Living

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time inspired me to start this blog. In it Ferrazzi discusses how a 10-day Vipassana course changed his life. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation is a synopsis of that course and I thought it would help me cultivate my meditation habit.

William Hart is an assistant teacher to Goenka and he set out to provide an outline of Vipassana as taught in Goenka’s 10-day course. Each chapter is a lesson followed by actual questions and answers from course participants and Goenka and is followed by a parable. The book/course is a progression through the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Each lesson builds on the last to show you that gaining wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration will provide enlightenment.

There are some assertions in the book that seem fanciful to me. I don’t buy into the idea that the Buddha understood particle physics from meditation, but I won’t invest the time to research further since their scientific credibility isn’t a huge concern for me. I also found it took me longer than normal to absorb the meaning of certain passages. I am a quick reader, but I kept having to reread sentences and paragraphs before I understood the meaning. That might have to do with the number of Pali terms in the book that were totally foreign to me.

I did get some great insights into suffering, intention, awareness, equanimity, and compassion. Chapter 3: The Immediate Cause included my favorite story, “Seed and Fruit.” The following quote provided a flash of insight about karma and how we are make our own future.

“Our difficulty, our ignorance is that we remain unheedful while planting seeds. We keep planting seeds of neem, but when the time comes for fruit we are suddenly alert, we want sweet mangoes. And we keep crying and praying and hoping for mangoes. This doesn’t work.”

I will also give this book high marks for prompting me to entertain the idea of becoming a vegetarian. I’m not there yet, but I have never really entertained the idea until now.

I would recommend The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation to anyone interested in learning more about Vipassana, the teaching of the Buddha, or looking for some insights into the loftier goals associated with meditation.

Do you want to win a free copy of The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart? Follow me on Instagram @ppreoccupation to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced on Monday.

Asked & Answered: On Books and Blogging

Ana Spoke  is a blogger and self-published author. I have been following her blog for over a month now, and have learned some great tips and tricks about blogging. The newest idea she shared was a blog tour.

Ana is promoting her new book Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1), and in an effort spread the good word she is doing interviews and guest posting on her follower’s blogs. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to interview her! Since Ana is in Australia and I am in the US we did the interview over email, which was another first for me.

“You Go, Girl!”

According to Ana, Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1). was born when she wrote a spoof scene of Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, Book 1). The scene was about Isa, a young and dumb girl, meeting  an eccentric billionaire. She emailed that scene to her sister who found it hilarious and demanded more. At her sister’s urging she continued writing bits and pieces of Isa’s story.

“This time it had to be different.”

Ana has shared on her blog that she has started multiple writing projects, but none of them really went anywhere. When Ana had a raw draft of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1) she made the decision to turn these scenes into a book and finish it! Ana’s read a number of books and articles on plotting, character development, and creating drama, but needed some additional motivation to complete the book. She started her blog to give her public accountability in working toward her goal. The blog narrates her journey from draft to publication and beyond. Since deciding to publish the book herself the blog has also become a marketing platform. To expand her reach and promote her brand Ana has started posting helpful articles on a regular basis and engaging other bloggers.

“I love data…”

To meet her goal of finishing the book Ana needed structure to stay on track. She created a spreadsheet to track her daily word count. Ana also shared some of her blog stats with me that show the snowball effect of her recent marketing efforts.

  • 1,863 blog followers
  • The week of 09/06 – 2,092 views from 923 unique visitors
  • 21,477 Twitter followers

Ana assured me this was a big jump from the approximately 20 followers the blog had in the first year. Having these data points to track progress have been very motivating for Ana, and have helped her achieve her goal of becoming a published author!


  • Consistency – blog once a week and have a daily word goal.
  • Try to learn something new every day.
  • Have fun!

Thank you, Ana for the wonderful insight into the world of blogging and writing. I am going to start tracking my daily word count so I can review my own trend lines, and hopefully see some improvement! I also can’t wait to jump into Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1). I’m through chapter 2, and am looking forward to really getting into the book over the weekend.

If you’d like to see what all of the fuss is about grab a copy of Shizzle, Inc (Isa Maxwell escapades Book 1) and head on over to Ana’s blog!

Asked & Answered: A Dilettante Approach to Meditation

Gabriel Harren and I are both on the Community of Practice steering committee at sdg. At our last meeting we discussed Gabriel’s upcoming CoP presentation about demystifying meditation. The presentation is scheduled after my 66-day challenge so I invited Gabriel to a meditative breakfast. I was excited to discuss meditation with someone who had practical experience, but hadn’t made it their career or become a recluse.

 “Clarity of mind.”

Gabriel indicated that he has always been a little high strung so 4 years ago he started practicing meditation regularly. He currently meditates 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. His routine consists of coffee, an inspirational quote, the Skimm, and making himself comfortable in a plush chair before listening to a guided meditation from Headspace.

Some of the tangible benefits of meditation he has experienced include lower anxiety, better ability to focus, and clarity of mind. Improved concentration has allowed Gabriel to be more productive and focus on his sales goals.

He has also experienced the intangible benefits of meditation that let him be more engaged with family, friends, and colleagues. His passion for meditation and self-improvement has allowed him to add value in other’s lives. He feels like he is a better listener and more patient.

“Everyone should be doing it.”

Because Gabriel is so willing to share his experience with meditation he has had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about creating this habit. He maintains he is not a guru, but can certainly help people come up with an action plan. For most it seems like getting started is the hardest part. Change is difficult, but Gabriel recommends trying to understand the why before digging into the how. If you understand your goals and motivation it will be easier to dive into the tactics.

“…enjoying a blissfully balanced life.”

Gabriel’s overall goal is to clock 10,000 hours of meditation, which is the generally accepted benchmark for mastery in a field. By meditating for 1 hour a day in 30 years he could be enjoying a blissfully balanced life. I know that’s something I want!


  • Headspace!
  • Get a good night’s sleep and do your sit first thing in the morning,
  • Create a routine of your practice.
  • Recognize the “gremlins in your head” and get your mind out of the way.

Recommended Reading

I had a wonderful time discussing practical applications for meditation with Gabriel and discovering new ways to grow my practice.

What tips discussed here will be the most useful for your meditation practice? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Book Breakdown: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up


When browsing Goodreads shortly after I decided to start this blog I noticed this book on a friend’s to-read shelf. The title alone sparked my interest because it seemed like exactly what I needed to help improve my writing skills.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between is presented in 2 parts. Part 1 defines creative non-fiction and is full of general tips for improving your writing. Part 2 focuses on how to successfully write creative non-fiction by analyzing some well known works in depth.

Creative non-fiction is “true stories, well told.” By focusing on the story and characters you can frame your work by building scenes that embed the non-fiction elements you want your readers to learn about. Storytelling will allow you to engage your audience and help them push through the dry, informational bits. Gutkind calls it the “creative non-fiction dance,” and teaches the reader the basic steps.

There are 18 exercises peppered throughout the book. I am particularly excited to try immersion (exercise #6). “Just watch, listen, take notes… and see what happens.” I am going to a family reunion this weekend and it is the side of my family that I am not very close with. Approaching the event with a writer’s eye has made me less nervous about meeting 28 new family members for the first time.

I don’t know that I will adopt a creative non-fiction style for all of my blog posts, but some might benefit from a more stylized approach, especially the ones that deal with my interactions with other people.

Overall, this book is well structured and insightful. I recommend it to anyone with a great idea for a non-fiction piece who wants to reach a wide audience. I would also suggest it to any fan of Malcolm Gladwell, Rebecca Skloot, Janenette Walls, etc. looking for insight into why their pieces work so well. It’s an entertaining book with excellent tips on becoming a better storyteller.

Want to win your very own copy of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between? Just follow this blog to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced Wednesday.

If you already follow my blog (THANKS!) and want a chance to win, just leave a comment.

Meditation Monday – The Middle

Top picture from my photo journal.
Top picture from my photo journal.

I halfway done building my meditation habit so let’s take a look at the stats!

Action Plan Progress:

  • 37 of 66 consecutive days of meditating for at least 10 minutes a day.
    • 546.97 meditation minutes logged (~9 hours).
    • Average 15 minutes a day.
  • 37 of 66 daily photos taken of my meditation locations.
  • 1 of 2 books on meditation read.
  • DONE – Connected with 7 of 2 people on meditation.
  • DONE – 3 of 2 classes on meditation attended.
  • DONE – Experimented with 5 different meditation techniques.
  •  5 of 10 weekly blog posts on developing my meditation habit written.

Grade: A+

Lessons Learned:

For the first month of building this habit the photo challenge aspect of my action plan was getting in the way of my practice. I had time to meditate, but finding a space that was visually interesting to meditate in made it harder to achieve my primary goal. I realized this was a problem once I signed up for Headspace.

Headspace has a Foundation Series with 3 levels that are 10 sessions each. They recommend making your practice part of a routine and doing it in the same place at the same time everyday. I didn’t want to abandon my photo journal so I have recently started meditating twice a day. I do my Headspace guided mediation right after I wake up and then I meditate again later in the day in a peaceful space. This way I am working my habit into an existing routine, and increasing my meditative time by practicing more throughout the day.

My meditation practice has improved my ability to focus and the way I deal with stress. When I first started meditating I had a lot of negative-self talk at that beginning of my sits, but that has quieted as I continue to practice. I am very happy with the progress I have made so far, and sincerely hope I can turn this into a lifelong habit.

Follow my Instagram meditation photo journal while it lasts @ppreoccupation!

Inspiration and Implementation: Blogging

Blog Inspiration

I created a blog inspiration board on Pinterest. Out of all of the resources I pinned the 4 listed below have been the most useful in refining my blogging habit.

  1. Inspirational Blogs

The first thing I did when I decided to start a blog was make a list of all the blogs I like and read on a regular basis. Interesting Thing of the Day has been the biggest inspiration to me, because the breadth of topics they cover really speaks to my varied interests. They write about anything that happens to catch their fancy. I don’t love every topic, but I have been a loyal reader for years. They post on a consistent basis which means I always have something interesting to look forward to on uneventful days.

Critically reviewing the blogs that I find inspiring allows me to reflect on the goals I have for my own blog. Now I am reading them for their entertainment value and for ideas to improve the quality of my posts.

2. First Site Guide

The “Start a Blog” section of First Site Guide is very well done. I was drawn to the site because of their fun animation, and stayed for their comprehensive videos. I watched all of the videos in the first week of starting this blog and was able to get all my ducks in a row before I started posting.

3. Resource Libraries

I have found some very thorough resource libraries that I have been putting to good use. It’s hard to know what you don’t know so having access to the A-Z guides has given me a broad overview of topics I am sure will come in handy.

4. Creative Nonfiction

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind and the Creative Nonfiction magazine he founded have bee great resources for “true stories, well told.” I am trying to develop great content, but I also need to present it in a way that potential readers find compelling. I just started reading Gutkind’s book, but I can already tell it was a great choice!

The magazine is actually running an essay contest that might be a fun challenge for me. Building this habit is supposed to get me out of my comfort zone and I have never entered an essay contest before!

These resources have been extremely helpful in getting this blog off the ground. They have provided a great foundation for my blog and improved the content of my posts.

Do you have any great writing or blogging resources? Please share them in the comments below!

Writing Wednesday – The Middle

I have successfully completed 32/66 days of my blogging habit. The half way point seems like a great time to pause and reflect on my progress so far.

Action Plan Progress:

  • 32 of 66 consecutive days of working on my blog for at least 1 hour.
  • 1 of 2 books on writing read.
  • 1 of 2 people interviewed about blogging.
  • 3 of 8 modules completed in the Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens Coursera course.
  • 5 of 10 weekly blog posts on developing my blogging habit completed.

Grade: A

Blogging Stats:

  • 11 posts
  • 47 visitors

Based on my action plan progress, I am making great strides in building my blogging habit. Even though the blogging stats are not part of my primary goals, they are interesting to review. As I continue blogging after my 66 day challenge is completed I will probably set new goals around these stats.

Lessons Learned:

The hardest part of this habit is staying ahead of my posting schedule. I really want to have my posts done a day or two in advance, but there are only so many hours in the day. Writing 300 words a day has helped to get my shitty first drafts out of the way, but I’m still not completing them any earlier. I haven’t missed a deadline yet, but I need to try to get ahead of the game.

Another problem is that my posts feel incomplete because habit building is a work in progress. When I investigate different aspects of a habit it feels like there is more I could do and experience before I’m ready to write about the topic. I just have to keep reminding myself that I am doing this to improve myself, not to become an expert.

I am really enjoying the challenge of cultivating this blogging habit. It has kept me motivated to keep up both of my daily habits, and by branching out of my comfort zone I have felt really good about how I am spending my free time.

Check out my Twitter account @ppreoccupation to continue following my blogging progress.