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The Most Important Thing About Writing…

…is being self-aware enough to admit when what you are writing is something that even you wouldn’t spend time reading.

There’s something liberating about realizing that a post is terrible before you actually slap your name on it and send it out into the world. It also takes a lot of understanding of yourself and your audience. It’s better to write a few good posts per month than a bad post every day.

That’s A Handy Trick

Did you know that you can schedule your posts in advance so that WordPress publishes them exactly when you want them to? Simply pick the date and time, and click “Schedule”!  Just click on “edit” next to the “Publish immediately” calendar icon above the publish button. Now if you want to be creepy you can schedule all your posts to arrive at midnight. Or 11:11. Or whatever suits your fancy.

I actually wrote this a week ago. So in case you’re confused, I just scheduled a post about scheduling posts.

Is that cool, or what?

5 Easy Ways To Make Your Blog More Interesting

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

Don’t let your blog feel uninspired. Here’s a few things I see all the time that are, in my humble opinion, really boring on a blog, and easy fixes to make your blog have a bigger impact.

1. Blog Names

It bother’s me when I go to someone’s blog and see it’s called “Jimmy’s Blog”, or whoever. No offense to Jimmy, but I don’t know him and therefore have no reason to be curious about what he has to say. Also, a statement that this is Jimmy’s blog gives me absolutely no idea what the blog is about. Don’t keep me guessing. Pick a statement to say what your blog is about, and make sure it is easy to find so that your readers will want to read more about your topic, or what you’re generally trying to do. And keep in mind that this isn’t just a diary about the details of your everyday. Surely there is some sort of underlying theme that you can draw on.

2. The general consensus on this matter is…

I love reading people’s thoughts on controversial topics. There is great power behind the written word, and it shows strength when someone uses that power to say what they really feel. Don’t pussyfoot around what you want to say, and don’t just give your readers the socially-accepted view. You will never be able to make everyone happy, so don’t try to do it in your writing. Have an opinion, and share it! We don’t have to agree with you to want to listen.

3. When you write from the heart, people can tell.

I have a perfect example of this. Readers, meet my good friend Sash. Sash, readers. Now that we’re all acquainted, I want to show you something incredible on her blog. For the past little while Sash has been blogging, and had a good response to her posts in views and followers. Well one day she wrote a piece she called Embracing Me, and with that one post everything changed. She wrote about discovering herself and the meaning behind her blogging. Her quest for self-acceptance and doing what is right for her. And she told me that that post not only felt freeing to her, but she also got a better response than she expected. When you write what you feel and really let go, people can tell. And they care. Find that power within yourself, and when the urge to write strikes, don’t hold back.

4. Infuse your personality.

Every once in a while I read a post or a comment somewhere, and feel like I’ve known that person forever. I just got such a great view of their personality, and it feels refreshing to get that nowadays. Especially on the internet, there is so much working against a writer who is trying to be free from it all (ads, emoticons, distractions and other noise). When your writing feels open, like a conversation with your best friend, people will open up to you in return. I should note that obviously this is not always appropriate depending on the type of blog. For example, “John Doe was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime he committed. Lolz teaches him to get caught haha word up, Playa!” Coming up with examples for things is super fun.

5. Start a conversation.

For some reason, people seem to be hesitant to make comments on things a lot of the time. Or maybe they’re just too lazy. No judgment, I’m pretty lazy myself. Cool things happen when differing opinions come together and brawl, though. Even if everyone agrees, the sharing of experiences is awesome and creates a sense of community, even on the internet where we are used to being hidden. Do your best to encourage people to respond, even by something as simple as asking at the end of a post, “what do you think?” You can learn a lot about people by starting a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Don’t pass up the opportunity!

What Do You Call Yourself?

Choosing a pen name is one of the most important things you will do in your beginning stages as a writer. Well, besides actually writing, of course. [And if you aren’t using a pen name, maybe you should consider using one. How would you feel if future employers, relatives, lovers read your writing? If you answered “my material is 100% positive and reflects positively on me and could never be used against me in any way, then this post is probably not for you. If it could in any way reflect negatively on you, or be perceived to reflect negatively on you, though, I recommend using a pen name. You never know who will read what you write, and once it is on the internet it is impossible to get rid of it if you decide you don’t want it up there. Just a heads up.] If you are trying to pick a pen name, here’s a few tips that might help.

1. Pick something you like the sound of.

This name is going to represent you. It will be the first thing that people see when they pick up a piece of your writing. This name is you for however long you choose to use it. And if you pursue a career in writing, you want something that you will want to use for decades in the future.

2. Choose something realistic and timeless.

In the Chicken Soup For The Soul book that I got published in, I read through all of the stories, and tried to decide if my pen name fit among all of these names that may or may not be real. I came across one that sounded like it was chosen by an 8 year-old. I was immediately questioning this person’s credibility and wondering how much I care about their experience. Yes, I judge that quickly, and other people might too. You don’t want anyone to question whether or not you are real or worth reading.

3. It should fit your content.

Depending on what style you write in, the interesting, more modern names might be appropriate. Names have come a long way in the past decade. There is even a baby alive who’s name is Hashtag. Yes, like from Twitter. I don’t know what those parents were thinking… If you’re going to get creatice and use something unique, make sure the name you choose applies not only to one specific thing so you don’t feel boxed in if you decide to go in a different direction. Or if your reference becomes obsolete. Think more classic… maybe a famous writer or favourite musician. Something you won’t get tired of. Err… just don’t copy their name exactly or with tiny twists. Michaela Jackson? No thank you.

* Masquerade *

(Photo credit: pareeerica)

4. But don’t get too crazy.

Being creative or quirky isn’t a bad thing. But keep in mind that if you want to be taken seriously, don’t call yourself Roxy Starr. Or Amanda Hugnkiss. Or Jimmy McJimJim. I hope the point has gotten across because that hurt me to write.

5. Need inspiration?

When I was coming up with my pen name, I decided that I wanted to keep my initials. So I went to Google, and found out what the most common “J” first names for girls are, and most common “R” names. And then I strung a couple together and voila! Using your initials might be a good place to start. Or maybe you really like your middle name. My boyfriend uses his middle name as his first name, and the name of the street he grew up on as the last name. So look around, maybe there is something in your life that has really shaped your being. Like that trip to somewhere or that person who was a big influence in your life.

6. Imagine using it.

Write it down. Maybe write down several options. Try out different combinations that you feel flow well together. Introduce yourself to your mirror as your new name. Does it fit with who you are? Does it fit with who you want to be?

7. When in doubt, keep it simple.

The realm of names is gigantic and exciting. If you don’t know what direction to head in, go for something timeless and classic. No one will question whether you really are a Christina, Rebecca, Thomas, or David. You don’t have to be a Jane Doe or a John Smith, but just keep in mind that names have meanings behind them. In fact, looking at the meaning your selected name holds is probably a good idea. I haven’t done that yet, but I’m going to right now.

And at the end when you have something you think is great, go back to the first point, and make sure you really, really like it. Enjoy your new identity. You can now become somebody else. Or you can freely be yourself if you haven’t been before. This name holds great power. Use it wisely.

[More] Tips For Creating a Better-Than-Amateur Blog

Hey there readers. I’ve been doing some more research on what makes a good blog, and thought I’d make a post answering some questions I’ve gotten in response to my last post about blogging. That post was mostly about what to write/the content of your blog. Unfortunately, though, having awesome content isn’t enough to bring in a whole batch of readers and convince them to stay. So let’s talk about the things that can get in the way…

1. Headline to impress.

Hi everybody, headline goes here please

Hi everybody, headline goes here please (Photo credit: reinvented)

You know how a frog will sit and wait, and just when an unsuspecting fly goes by, it will launch a long, sticky tongue to grab the fly and pull it in? You want a headline like that. One that will reach out and grab people. So get creative! Add your own flare and personality! You have something worth saying, so make sure people hear you.

2. Theme Theme Theme.

As with most things, the theme you choose should reflect the material you’re talking about. If you’re documenting your travels or cooking adventures, pick a theme that lets you put lots of pictures up and makes them easy to navigate. If you want a more serious and alluring blog, pick a simple theme you can customize to meet your needs. Using the example of my blog, I wanted my writing to stand out, and also wanted to maintain the black-and-white theme to go with the whole typewriter thing I’m trying to do here. Think about the overall layout as well. Some themes make it hard to read what you’ve written because of the way they group your text. And be careful of themes with animation because even though they are fun and quirky, they might take away from your content. (A personal pet peeve of mine is the balloon theme. It’s cool that the balloons move and all but they block the words and I find myself scrolling up or down trying to get them to move out of my way. I curse at the balloon theme.)

3. People are lazy.

Profound, I know. More than likely, though, you didn’t bother to read all of what I said in number 2. Well, unless you were really interested in themes. Why? People are lazy, and big paragraphs are intimidating. If you want someone to listen to what you have to say, divide it up to make it more reader-friendly. Also don’t make any one post too long. Unless it is a story that really keeps your attention, it is likely people will start skipping down to the end to try and get the gist of your post. And you don’t want people just skimming your blog. You want people to actually read what you took the time to put down in writing.

4. Don’t let your use of pictures get in the way of what you’re saying.

Annoyed Husky

Annoyed Husky (Photo credit: Chris Hagood Photography)

Have you ever read anyone’s blog where they put in a whole bunch of pictures in a post that are only vaguely related to what they were talking about? And even worse, when they make the text group in weird places that

Annoying Orange: Kitchen Carnage

Annoying Orange: Kitchen Carnage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

just make it exhausting to try and get through? I have, and it is really annoying. I hope we’ve all learned something here, because this point has hurt me to make..

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

5. But that being said, don’t be afraid to use pictures for emphasis.

If you look at all the posts on “Freshly Pressed”, they all have pictures. It’s kind of a highly-recommended pre-requisite to getting freshly pressed, in fact. Oh, but make sure the pictures are cited. As one person commented on one of my posts, “plagiarism is for squares”. And an easy tip to help with that, if you go to Dashboard>Users>Personal Settings, you can let Zemanta look for pictures for you when you’re writing a post, and it will automatically cite the source so you don’t have to worry about accidentally plagiarizing.

6. Reblogging, videos, and other media.

Sometimes you just can’t seem to find the words to say what you are thinking. On days like that, there is nothing wrong with posting a cool video, or an article you found interesting. Just don’t use this as a fallback so that you can post every day. A few high-quality posts are better than a bunch of so-so posts.

7. Use of names to protect privacy.

I’m all for being anonymous and protecting the privacy of the people you’re talking about. Instead of just using their initials (“C and R and I were going to the movies, but R was fighting with G, and C is friends with G, which made things complicated…”) give them a name. A real name. It makes reading sooo much easier. But don’t give them a that’s-obviously-a-fake-name kind of fake name. (ie. “Watermelondrea”, “Obamaniqua”, “Sha’nay nay”…or anything else in this ridiculously funny video) (Seriously, watch it, it’s gold. I don’t mean that in a racist way if anyone finds it offensive I apologize!) Err…what was I….oh right, names… And when in doubt, keep their first initial so you can keep track of who’s who. Or write it down. That’s even safer.

8. Widgets.

This is a crucial step. If you don’t know what widgets are, head to your Dashboard and check out the options it has there for you. Widgets make your blog pretty and interesting. In a lot of ways they can also make your blog easy to navigate. You can use your widgets to control what people are likely to click on. I like having my recent posts and posts people liked a lot easily on display. Don’t just use widgets to fill up space, though. No one cares that Akismet has caught 99% of the spam that has found its way to your blog. Use only widgets that add to the experience of navigating your blog, and think about the order you want them to appear, too. You don’t need to make your widgets the same as everybody else’s, but think about why people used which and why they are in that order.

9. “About me” page.

Everyone needs this page. It should be easily accessible from your main page, too, because the first thing I want to know when I read something I really like is “who wrote that?”. This is one page that no matter what else you say on your blog, should be 100% you. From the type of language to the style of writing to the actual content. If you’re weird, be weird. If you’re chill, be chill. And pleeeease don’t write it in the third person. It ends up sounding like an obituary written in the present tense, and it creeps me out because I wonder who is narrating your life. Like I said, no matter what type of content you post, be yourself on this one page. You don’t need to hide who you are, and if you try to, people will be able to tell. Be honest. Say what you want to say. Post a picture you like of yourself. If you want to have a photo shoot with your webcam, do it. People want to know the person behind the words. Why not let them know the real you?

10. Blog etiquette.

Etiquette (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone a...

Etiquette (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend recently introduced me to the concept of blog etiquette by saying “they followed me so I felt obligated to follow them back”. Don’t let someone else following you lead you to have a long list of people you follow but never read. If you check them out and genuinely like their style and their blog, definitely follow. But don’t follow people just because you feel some sort of weird pressure to. The same goes for people’s comments. You don’t have to answer every single comment. But also remember that someone took the time to comment on what you had to say, and sometimes comments will really spark your imagination. Let them know if you enjoyed what they had to say, or if it has sparked a conversation. People like knowing when they impact someone’s life for the better.

Phew that was a long read. Hope some of it is helpful! Rock out!

The Power Of Anonymity

People have told me they like how honest my writing is. Well, the only reason I am willing to do that is because I don’t know most of you. In fact, only one of my readers actually knows me in real life. The rest are all strangers, and that’s a powerful thing. With strangers you don’t feel the need to hold back, or try not to offend. You can say what you mean, and if they don’t like it they aren’t required to stay and listen. There is a kind of freedom in being anonymous that lets you really let loose.

Masked.

(Photo credit: .Andi.)

To be honest, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you probably understand me on a deeper level than most of my relationships. I don’t even let my boyfriend read most of what I write. That’s because in real social situations we behave in a way to try to please the people around us. Where you are significantly affects how you act (like the differences between hanging out with friends and having dinner with your significant other’s parents. And if you act the same in both those situations…I’m not sure if I envy you. I find the whole concept boggling.). We are all constantly watching, judging, coming to conclusions based on small pieces of information because that’s all we are being given from each interaction. And if you think you aren’t judging, you’re lying.

Well, what if you were in a place where no one was watching?

It occurred to me that no one here would know if I was telling what appeared to be the honest truth, or blatant lies. For all you know I’m a monkey with the clever ability to string words together. I might be an 80-year-old man living in Peru who gets kicks out of pretending to be someone else. You just don’t know.

transparent

(Photo credit: I Woke Up Today)

Obviously I’m neither of those things. Though sometimes I wish I was just a clever monkey. Or maybe we’re all just clever monkeys. In any case, everything I say on here is the complete and honest truth. And it is a wonderful thing to be able to actually say what you want to without worrying about how you come across, or whether you offend someone, or whether they like you.

And despite all the differences between us, people are able to find commonalities, and it brings them together. We want to be with people who are like us. We need that sense of belonging to be able to function. We need to feel like even though there is a lot we can’t control in the world, there are still people out there who want to help, and are willing to listen. For many people including myself, that is exactly what blogging is able to give them, and it’s enough.

And I think that’s pretty damn cool.

An Amateur Blogger’s Tips For Creating A Better-Than-Amateur Blog

When I surpassed 50 followers, I wrote a post thanking all my readers for listening, and got a lot of feedback. I got asked how I created a blog that 50 people thought was worth reading in just 2 months, so I decided to make this post. (Not that I think my blog is super great or anything. Cause I don’t. I just try to make something that I would want to read.) So here are some ideas that might help take your blog to the next level.

Actually, I liked that thing I just said. Let’s make that #1.

1. Make a blog you would want to read.

This is your space. You have freedom to make it something that is 100% uniquely you. So don’t be afraid to change things that aren’t working for you to make it better. I’ve redone my “About Me” page, which should be quite simple, about 10 times. And I will continue to do so until I’m happy with it. This step will also help you figure out who you are writing for. Knowing your audience will help you write posts that those people will find interesting.

2. Feel what you write.

When I’m creating a post, it usually takes no more than a few minutes to fully formulate it (and maybe you can tell? I hope not.). That’s because I write about things that are important to me, or that I’m passionate about, and it all flows out very naturally. Don’t be afraid to infuse your personality into your style of writing, either. This isn’t a grade 9 essay. If you’re trying to struggle through a post, why are you writing about that topic in particular? Is there something else that really spikes your interest instead? 

3. What are you trying to accomplish here?

Come up with an overall theme. It doesn’t have to be too specific. If you are just writing about whatever comes to mind, and sometimes it’s really dull, your readers will be able to tell. Even a very general idea, like “travelling” or “food” or “parenting” will make your blog flow better and keep you focused.  And you don’t want your blog to seem bipolar or schizophrenic in its content. (Metaphorically, of course. I mean don’t try to do everything at once. You might have two very clear themes, which would make two awesome blogs. Putting them together, though, might make your blog seem confusing and overly broad. A blog about schizophrenia would probably be really cool.)

Writer's Block

Writer’s Block (Photo credit: thorinside)

4. Look around for inspiration.

There are so many awesome blogs out there! Check some of them out! And don’t be afraid to like things and leave comments. It’s an easy way to possibly bring traffic into your site as well from people with similar interests. Notice how people are using titles, pictures, videos, menus, categories, etc. and how those things make the blog unique or easy to navigate.

5. Watch your tone.

I was reading one blog where the person was just bitching about things. And as good as it feels to get that stuff off your chest every once in a while, it isn’t too pleasant to read. Reading hate just spikes my blood pressure and gets me all worked up. I do that enough on my own, thanks. So think about how you want your work to come across, and speak accordingly. Swearing too much is also a no-no because it makes you sound rude and uneducated. (But like all rules, there is a time and a place for swearing, depending on what you blog about. If I see a cookie recipe riddled with curse words, I will flip a table.) AND TRY NOT TO YELL. IT IS ALSO VERY UNPLEASANT.

6. Not everything you write will be a goldmine.

I have done a lot of posts where no one liked it, and that whole day just became a big crevice in my stats report. That’s good, though, because now I know what people don’t care to read about, or maybe it was the style of writing that pushed people away. Making mistakes is a good thing because it gives you feedback you can learn from. Even the best writers write terrible things sometimes.

7. Post often.

I follow a lot of blogs, but some of them only get updated once a month or so. And now I’m questioning why I’m following them since they never say anything. Also, after a few hours your posts get pushed down the list and replaced by newer ones, so posting often increases your chances of bringing in new readers. You don’t need to post every day, but if you can make some sort of schedule where you’re posting at least once per week, your readers will hang on to hear what you have to say next.

8. Tag smartly.

I was definitely guilty of not doing this when I first started. Tags are a good thing to help people who would be interested in your blog discover it. Think about what you might search for, though, and use only those tags. For example, if last Wednesday your dog got sick and you had to take it to the hospital, don’t take it “Wednesday, dog, sick, hospital”, but instead using things like “dog lovers, family” etc. No one is looking for posts about Wednesdays.

9. Don’t be afraid to say what you mean.

Some of the best posts I’ve read are about things that people are hesitant to talk about. A little bit of controversy can be a good thing if you’re able to do it respectfully and not attacking people who have conflicting views. It will keep your blog interesting, and make people want to hear what you have to say next. Don’t be afraid to shake things up once in a while.

10. This is not a diary.

Dear Diary

Dear Diary (Photo credit: incurable_hippie)

Well, actually some might be, but those are the exception. You don’t need to give all the details of everything you’ve ever done, especially not the boring ones. Whenever I’m writing something, I ask myself if I would care about what I’m reading. And a lot of the time I scrap it because no one cares. But that’s a risk you take when you go off on tangents. Which is why you should edit things. A few hours later your post will sound very different to you than it did the second you were writing it. Which is why I wrote this post yesterday, and published it today.

Hope some of this helps! WordPress has a help page with lots of neat tips as well, so for more inspiration I recommend going there next.

Rock on.