Archive for November, 2009

Good Advise for Bloggers In Clear Blogging by Bob Walsh

We are currently reading from Clear Blogging by Bob Walsh (Apress 2007) in my Web 2.0 class. I’m learning a TON from this book. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to be a serious blogger. Here’s a few ideas from the book (and a few from our class) that I thought might be useful to all who blog:

  • Own Your Words. Keep a cool head and don’t get carried away. I can’t find the exact quote, but Walsh says something like: Never publish anything you wouldn’t want your grandma or boss to read, because odds are they will read it.
  • Keep an idea list. In an un-published draft page or elsewhere, keep a running list of post ideas. Sometimes we have more good ideas than we can possibly write about at the moment, and sometimes we sit at the keyboard with nothing to say. An idea list will help even things out.
  • Keep a “my bad” list as well. Notice words that you tend to misspell or mistype. Paying attention to these words will help you correct problems.
  • Use tabs, labels, or categories. Help your readers find more of what they love. Add tabs, labels, and/or categories to each post to organize your site. Your readers will appreciate being able to find things efficiently.
  • Show your favorites or “best of.” In your sidebar or somewhere else, display a list of links to your “favorites” or “best of” posts. Your audience will appreciate seeing the work you are most proud of.

If you want to increase traffic to your blog, here’s some good ideas:

  • Consider a focus. Blogs are a great for keeping a journal or log about your activities and interests. But if you want to attract an audience, choose a specific focus. People who are also interested in whatever you are focusing on will be more likely to re-visit your blog.

  • Consider your audience. Place yourself in the shoes of those who you’re writing for. What do they want to hear about?
  • Stick to a schedule. Your readers will appreciate knowing when to expect your content to change.
  • Spend some time on your post titles. The title is the first thing your readers see. They often make the decision to read or not based on the title of the post. The title should be interesting and describe what the post is about.
  • Be thoughtful about your tagline. (the subtitle of your blog) Use words that people search for. Your tagline, the titles of your posts, and the first few words of your posts are what search engines will crawl. If you have the words people search for in those areas, you will be placed higher in search result lists.
  • Include your biography and a picture of yourself. People interested in your words will want to know about you. If you’re willing to disclose part of yourself it lends credibility to your words.

Blogs can feel so personal. It’s just you and your computer, right? WRONG! Remember, unless you take specific steps, blogs are a public space.

  • Keep your safety in mind. Little details can lead to identity theft, kidnapping, and other problems.
  • Know your rights. Occasionally lawsuits are filed over the content of a blog. The EFF have posted a very readable legal guide for bloggers on their site. It’s worth checking out.
  • Consider adding a disclosure policy. If you don’t want to be held responsible for any ignorant comments people make, apparently our sue happy society requires that this be spelled out somewhere. If you endorse products or advertise for anything on your blog, you might visit for a sample disclosure policy spelling out the intent of your endorsement.

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Carol Matas’ In My Enemy’s House

**spoiler alert** It was like reading an outline! Nothing was fleshed out at all. I appreciate when a writer describes the situation so well that you feel like you’ve stepped into the action. It’s nice when they lead you to certain feelings and emotions through creative, detailed language.

I never once got lost in this book. The language was full of, “I went here, I did this, I felt this.” It was like talking on the phone not visiting another world!

As readers we all hope for the best for the protagonist of a story. But I can’t imagine any reader appreciating the way that every time the main character tried to manipulate a situation, it worked out exactly as she had planned. So annoying!

Also, the whole book is leading up to a reunion of our heroine and someone important. (Anticipating this moment is the only thing that kept me reading.) As soon as she located this person, the book abruptly ends before she reaches him. We don’t even get to be there for the reunion!

No wonder I found this book on a clearance shelf!

Jason F. Wright Recovering Charles

I truly appreciated a first-hand look at post-Katrina, New Orleans, without the biased, self-serving spin of the media or political figures. The story was charming and carried me along beautifully until the last chapter.

Wright spends the whole book weaving us into a very conflicted dysfunctional family. His main character has spent years trying to come to grips with his emotional baggage. Then, at the very height of all the drama, in a “pulled the rug out from under you” kind of move, he wraps it all up a few contrived pages. The ending felt very artificial, not at all natural for this character he so carefully dissected through the previous 200+ pages.

But it was still worth reading to gain what is hopefully an accurate perspective of this sobering event.

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Is Reading Essential to Good Writing?

This blog entry from Perpetual Prose has got me wondering about a battle that pops up in all creativity-based professions (writing included), and I would love to hear your take on this: bored womanDoes one need to study the masters of one’s profession in order to become proficient, or does the studying of others rob one of his/her uniqueness and reduce him/her to a parrot?

Wow. That’s wordy. Let me try again: If I read a lot, can I still write with my voice, or will I just regurgitate what I’ve read?

I read quite a bit and I can’t imagine turning into pen and ink parrot. It seams incredibly pompous to suggest that I would even be able to! I’m no expert, but the more I ponder this, the sillier it seams.

On the flip side, how would someone who’s never read, know anything about writing? To some degree we all learn by example, don’t we? We can’t learn everything by trial and error. Perhaps I’m not considering everything. Please feel free to point out what that is.

All that we read rattles around in out head and together with our experiences forms our voice. Since no two sets of experiences and repertoires of books read are alike, I don’t believe we should be troubled about mimicking others.

The more important question should be: Where is the balance between reading too little great literature, and reading to the point of distraction. How do we know when we are reading enough to understand what is valuable in a work of literature and leaving ample time and energy to practice writing ourselves.

Obviously that has to be a personal choice, as does the definition of value in literature. So perhaps one can be a great writer without reading after all! We just have to allow for that person’s definition of value in literature. If he/she is happy with what they produce, then so be it.

However, if he/she wants to appeal to an audience or get paid for their writing, they’d better widen their definition of value and start doing some research. Namely, reading.

What do you think?

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: Writer’s Block

We all dread that moment. You know the one. You’re staring at the empty page or screen, painfully aware of an impending deadline, ie: a commitment to publish a blog post on a certain day every week (Oops, sorry again), but you have absolutely nothing to say. Aarg! What do you do about that?!

I’ve noticed a trend when this happens to me. There’s almost always something in the way. I’m hungry or tired or angry or stressed out. Often there’s just too many thoughts rattling around in my head.

So the first I do is address my needs. I eat or take a power nap or go for a walk to calm myself. If there’s too much going on inside my head, I take a minute and write down all the thoughts that demand attention. Once my needs are addressed, and my mind is cleared, I am almost always able to write.

Of course more often than not, I cannot meet all my needs before beginning. So in that case I turn to a few exercises to get me going:

  • If I have any great lines I want to include or points I want to make, I get those down first. For example, I wrote the last paragraph of this post right after I wrote the second paragraph of this post. Who says anything has to be written in order? I’m rarely able to think in order, so I rarely write that way.

  • I make an outline. Even if I’ve already done that. When there’s a few parts written out, I start fitting those into place and summarizing what needs to go in between. Once the in between parts are labeled and identified, it gets easier to write those parts.

  • My husband gave me a brilliant suggestion last night. He said if worse comes to worse, start writing alterations (the healthy, hungry hippo has to hijack a houseboat) or rhymes or work on some other literary trick. Write an elaborate description of an event or place. The point is to get the wheels turning in your mind. I haven’t tried this yet, but it makes sense to me. I bet it works.

  • John August suggests setting a time limit. He pledges to attempt writing for 20 minutes and then gives himself 10 minutes of freedom. I think it would be wise to use that 10 minutes of freedom to do something very non-mental. I would listen to music and stare out the window or at the ceiling for 10 minutes. I’d be ready to mentally engage after that.

  • David Hunter of The Writer’s Den suggests shuffling through discarded ideas and removing distractions like internet, phone, and TV.

  • And while reading David’s post from The Writer’s Den (don’t visit if you hate colorful language, sheesh!) I thought of another good idea: switch mediums! If you always type, try good ‘ole pen and paper for a bit, ect. Ask someone to take dictation. It might just be enough of a change to refresh.

  • Brian Clark of Copyblogger warns that writer’s block may be a sign of fear. (fear of rejection, fear of mediocrity, fear of success) He says don’t allow yourself to be your own worst enemy. Work past your fears.

  • Melissa Karnaze, also of Copyblogger actually believes a block can be a “secret weapon.” In her post she gives some great steps to reach clarity, find what it is you want to say, and most importantly, remember why you wanted to write that piece in the first place.

Well that’s it for me. Of course if none of this works, and the words still won’t come, listen inward. Maybe you shouldn’t write your story or paper. Maybe the timing is off, or your heart’s not in it. Trust your instincts. Put the thing aside. But good luck explaining that to your boss or professor! Now there’s a real problem!

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

The small, farming community of 1950’s Holcomb, Kansas is overwhelmed and devastated by the brutal murder of an entire family.

Whether or not Truman Capote is a true genius has been debated, but there is no question about the quality of his work in In Cold Blood.

In Cold BloodThis book is insanely well written, a masterpiece. Without deviating from the time line, Capote kind of spirals us around and down through events in individual lives into the climax. His use of vignettes is unparalleled.

The tie-in factors between each glimpse is amazing, considering every horn-honk, every crunch of gravel, every blade of grass mentioned in the book is factual and documented. (except for one fictional encounter thrown in at the end meant to help the reader climb back out into reality again) The symbolism Capote pulls out of everyday objects is inspired.

I believe this may have been one of the first times an author ever attempted to invoke sympathy for the killers in a factual murder. In that regard, as in many others, Capote left large shoes to fill.

The questions raised made this a difficult book to read and left me (as it should) very unsettled. Be warned this does not wrap up into a neat little package, but read it anyway, for its brilliance.