What I Have Learned From Blogging 150 Days In A Row

Blogging consistently for 150 days in a row is no mean feat. It takes time, effort, and brain power, and a bit of self-discipline really helps, too. I’m thinking very clever things of myself today, but that’s not the only positive outcome. 

When I first started blogging, I was a bit here and there with it all, which is perfectly fine. Over time, though, I noticed that the more consistent I was, the more consistently my posts were being read. When I managed a three or four day streak, I felt like I had really accomplished something constructive in terms of getting myself “out there” as a blogger,

At the beginning of this year, one of my resolutions was to blog more consistently. I can certainly put a check in that box!  Now that we’ve reached the middle of the year, I have spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned from doing so. 

Goals are highly motivating. When you’re on a long streak, it’s very easy to dismiss thoughts like “I’m too tired” or “not today” and get it done. 

Planning is essential. Sometimes, deciding what to write about is the hardest part. Planning helps to overcome this.  I have developed a list of themes, post ideas and issues to explore. That way, I’ve always got something to write about if there is nothing pressing or timely bobbing around in my head.  Participating in special “months” like Women in History and “National Poetry Month” has helped me to focus my posts during those specific times. This has helped me to attract different kinds of readers to my blog, which is generally quite eclectic in the topics I cover. 

I still want to improve the way I coordinate my planning. I’ve started to time my Shakespeare-related posts to coincide with #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter so that I have an audience to reach that is automatically curated for me by someone else’s design. That’s proven to be very handy, so I want to find more opportunities like that to fit with my interests and content. 

Reblogging is a great way to share sand add value to someone else’s content. I often share other people’s posts via Twitter, and do so very gladly. When I discovered how to reblog someone’s work, that was a revolutionary moment for me. It enabled me to share their work in a more meaningful way than just tweeting it – which is meaningful and helpful, but it doesn’t add any value to the content. 

Reblogging makes it possible to add comments or a reflection of my own on the topic. This is helpful to both them and myself: their content reaches another blogger’s audience, and my content is enriched by theirs. It is also a very good thing to be inspired by what someone else produces, and to let that fuel my own thoughts and words. 

It’s also fair to say that there are times when the tank has been dangerously empty, and those bloggers whose work I have shared have literally saved my day – both by inspiring my post, but by encouraging my mind and spirit when life has been hard. 

Varying the topics attracts different readers. There are blogs dedicated to just one topic. Some of those bloggers do it extremely well. I am probably never going to be one of those people. 

I like to discuss different things that interest me. By mixing it up, I’ve been able to find new readers who like history, or poetry, or horror, or Shakespeare, or who are Indie authors and interested in the issues that relate to our awesome little corner of the publishing universe. These audiences often cross over, so if someone isn’t interested in what I write one day, they probably will be on the next. 

Over the past 150 days, I have seen my readership grow, measurable by the increase in followers on my blog. I find this very exciting, as when I started out, I thought having ten followers was incredible. Actually, given that I had very little clue what I was doing, it probably was incredible!

Consistency increases visibility. I’ve noticed that I’m getting more post likes and engagements from people who weren’t following me previously. I can only assume that this is because my posts are gaining visibility via the WordPress reader as well as on Twitter and via my very amateur attempt at SEO. My rather thorough use of categories and tags might be helping, too.  Whatever the source of the magic, I’ve enjoyed some great feedback and questions from readers that have been both helpful and stimulating. 

Accuracy and accountability matter. When you say something on your blog, you need to be able to back it up. Thankfully, as a History teacher, this is something I’ve always known. So when a reader asked me recently, “What’s your source?” I was able to answer promptly and easily.  I really don’t want to start providing a bibliography for every post I write, but it does matter that I can verify my content when I am called on to do so. 

People want to know who you are, Even though a blog post focuses on a particular topic or idea, readers respond well when you show them something of who you are or what makes you tick. I do not suggest making it all personal or discussing all your private issues in detail, but if readers can see that you are genuine, they will respond to you in positive and encouraging ways 

I am better at blogging than I used to be.  Part of that is in the development of my skills by learning as I go, and part of it is confidence that can only ever come from experience. This has, in fact, been the most motivating lesson of all. If I keep going, I’ll get even better. I don’t know if the world is ready for that, but I am. 

There are, however, still things that remain a mystery to me: 

How do you actually get people to click “like” before they leave? 
How can I get more people to leave a comment or question? 

Those are questions that fall into “next level engagement”. I’ll write that into my goal-setting now. 

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Writing About Family and Friends.

Authors: keep your writing from causing problems with your family and friends.

Writing about family can be fraught with danger. The last thing you want to do as a writer is offend or alienate your family, especially if things are already fragile in some way.

 

That poses a challenge: what happens when there’s something you desperately want to write about? For starters, writers should know to always, always change names and details.  If possible, don’t mention names at all. Even when writing about positive feelings or experiences, people who aren’t used to putting themselves out into the public eye might hesitate to have something written about them and published. A great idea for a story or poem should never be pursued at the cost of an important relationship.

 

When I do write something about friends or family, I make sure they’ve seen it first, and I tell them I’m going to publish it. That way, they can’t say they didn’t know.

 

For example, I recently wrote a poem after two completely separate events: one was the wedding of my nephew, the other was a conversation with a friend who had recently lost her own nephew in tragic circumstances.  The poem, titled My Child, does not mention anyone by name, nor does it mention those particular situations. It is an expression of my feelings – and my friend’s feelings – for those whom we have loved, held, and helped to raise.  This is what I sent to “my children” and to my friend, well over a week before I posted it. That same text is what I posted on my writing blog where I published the poem today. Poem My Child

 

The other alternative, of course, if you feel you must write about something or someone, is to disguise the situation and details enough so they don’t know it’s about them. I’ve written plenty of poems about broken friendships, people in my life who have been determined to cause me trouble, and others who really deserve some special treatment from Karma, but it’s always been presented as me facing an invisible, unnamed challenger or enemy… or a certain black cat named Friday who metes out justice to people who really deserve it. It is not possible for anyone to identify who I was writing about at the time, and that’s a very good thing.

As a writer, it’s important to protect oneself. The last thing you want is something coming back to haunt you.

 

And if you’re a friend or family member of a writer,  remember that age old piece of advice: Never annoy a writer, or they might put you in a book and kill you. It’s true. 

 

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How to Achieve A Visually Attractive Twitter Feed.

Just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people commenting on how they love the new 280 character limit for Twitter. I’ve also noticed a lot of people writing long tweets with no line breaks, and barely any space in them to take a breath.

My message here may be unpopular with those folks, but it must be said: just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Remember, people are basically lazy. They don’t want to have to work to figure out what you’re saying, and they don’t want to wade through thirteen hashtags to do so, either.

When it comes to writing tweets, I’ve always assumed that the rule of “less is more” applies. I want my message to be short, easily understood and digested, and easily acted upon.

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I’ve always tried to keep my tweets to well under the 140 characters, as short as 100 characters if possible. A short, effective message is more attractive to people than a slab of text.

As an author, I’ve heard more people than I care to try to count tell me that they don’t like reading. (I know, right? I don’t understand it either.) However, it’s something that I’ve taken to heart when writing anything promotional. Any ad, tweet, or invitation is completely ineffective if it puts people off before they even really look at it.

I always leave a line of space between my main message and my hashtags. It breaks up the tweet so it looks more accessible. I also think that it makes the hashtags a bit more obvious, given that some people might take notice of those before the actual message.

When it comes to hashtags, I wrote a few months back about ‘How To Avoid Hashtag Hell’ in social media. I advised then to use two well-chosen hashtags, and no more. Given the increased word limit, I’m about to start experimenting with using three to increase the discoverability of my tweets, but that would be my upper limit. This isn’t a rule, as such, but simply my desire to keep my tweets looking simple and attractive. I’m no expert in advertising or design, but I go by what I experience myself: when a message is easy on the eye, it’s going to get more attention.

On that same assumption, I always include an image. People are very visually oriented and will, more often than not, look at the picture before the text. I try to make the image relevant to the post, and will often superimpose text and web addresses on the image in a way that won’t detract from the visual effect I hope it will achieve. Where appropriate, I use logos that will build familiarity with my work. Otherwise, I use my own images or stock images that are copyright and royalty free, so that I’m not infringing on copyright, either. There are lots of places that offer them, but I find pexels.com and pixabay.com to be excellent sources of quality images that are free for reuse for any purpose.

ScreenHunter_437 Feb. 20 21.33I use a link shortening service so that half the tweet isn’t taken up by an enormous web address or link. Bit.ly is free, so are many others. I use Buffer to schedule my tweets, and it shortens links automatically, so that’s a double win!

A further advantage of using Buffer is that it enables me to recycle my tweets so that I don’t have to spend hours each week coming up with new content. I regularly change the hashtags and messages on a reused tweet so that I’m not just giving people the same old thing time after time.

When it’s done a few rounds, I’ll rest a great tweet for a while, and pick it up again down the track if it’s still relevant. I save them in files in Evernote, so all I have to do when I come back is copy and paste it into a new message, attach the image, and off I go.

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Some of my tweets don’t have links. This is a deliberate decision on my part – sometimes I just want to offer a thought, a joke, or a compliment to my audience without asking them to do anything in return. That’s not a rule either – it’s just how I like to do things.

Finally, mix it up. If all you tweet is ads for your book or service, or quotations from your work in progress, it can get a little humdrum. I keep things varied by tweeting about great books, free reads, short reads, book reviews, magazines, great blog articles, and interesting tidbits of history, science and general interest far more than I tweet ads for my own books. My books are worthy of advertising and attention, and I would love to find more readers, but I don’t believe in shoving them in people’s faces at every opportunity, either.

I know all that seems like a lot of work, but being active on social media does take effort and thoughtfulness if you’re going to have something meaningful to offer.

Since I have been following these guidelines, I have had new followers every day. I started 2017 with just over 300, and now I have 3000 more than that. It’s slow growth, but it’s organic growth – my audience actually wants to be my audience! And that is worth far, far more than being able to fit a bunch of stuff in one tweet.

T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  I really hope you’ll take the time to read it. 

Every now and then, I stumble across an absolute gem of inspiration. Sometimes it’s in a book. Sometimes it’s a quotation. Sometimes, as it was tonight, it was a blog post written by someone else.

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  It’s beautifully put together and composed, and the content is just magnificent.

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It’s something every author, whether published or aspiring, should read because it addresses that infernal question with which we all torture ourselves: What’s the right way to do this? And the answers come from T.S. Eliot himself, esteemed 20th century author and poet.

I really hope you’ll take the time to read it.

You’ll find the post titled T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer on the Nothing In The Rule Book blog,