This morning I wanted to devote some time to write up a post as part of the Newbie Blogger Initiative. On the weekends I have a lot more time to allow a post to gestate before actually sitting down to write it. This morning is no exception, as at this point I have gone out and gathered breakfast, milled out in a game for a bit and finally have sat down to start writing. As I wandered around in game this morning I struggled to figure out just what I wanted to say, that might in some small way benefit someone starting out in the Newbie Blogger Initiative.
Then it dawned on me… maybe I should write about my process. I have written a bit about this in the past, but I figure it is always a decent topic to revisit. On April 26th of this year I embarked on what I like to call a Grand Experiment. The experiment is that I will blog something every day, and while I have done this a few times… I try my best never to use the calendar to schedule a post. I feel like the majority of this is an exercise in getting me to write something fresh every single morning. The results are mixed, I have a stable group of readers but for the most part I am not breaking down any walls as far as readership.
I started my blog back in 2009 and made several conscious decisions when setting it up. I am a web developer by trade, but the last thing I want to do when I get home is do more web work. As a result I wanted to keep things as simple as possible, yet retain as much control over my own site as I could. I had previous experience using Blogger.com and WordPress.com and both felt extremely limiting. Since I have long had a really solid webhost it was an easy decision to roll my own WordPress.org install.
There are a lot of things you have to consider when rolling your own website. Firstly the security of your website. WordPress is without a doubt the most commonly used open source CMS on the planet… as a result there are lots of exploits floating around. This means once a day even if you are not posting, you need to log in and make sure none of your plugins or the core wordpress need updating. This is far more maintenance than most bloggers want to deal with, but doing so keeps you as safe as you reasonably can be.
The tradeoff for the hassle is that you can have more opportunity to brand your website and configure it in the way you want it to work. As a result I use a large number of off the shelf plugins as well as custom bits of code to build the site that exists today. As I said in the last post my blog has changed quite a bit over the years, it went from WoW Tanking, to General Rift, to the current game agnostic build. In all of these times I have not really changed the overall template for the site, just reskinned it. The template I am using originally was a generic WoW skin, and then over time I have mutated it to where very little of the underlying template still exists.
I’m using a little bit of blogception here, but this is a screenshot of me editing the post I am currently working on in Live Writer. Ultimately when I decided to start writing I wanted it to be as fool proof as I could get. On a daily basis I simply did not want to fiddle with anything… I wanted to be able to write up a post, post it, and get on with the day without a lot of tweaking. Early on someone suggested to me Windows Live Writer, and I have been using it ever since. If you are on Linux I know there are Drivel and Bloglio that work very similarly. Basically it is Microsoft Word for your blog.
When you first configure your blog in Live Writer, it pulls in all of the style sheets that you use for your posts. After this process when you compose in tool it looks almost exactly like the final post. The other nice thing about it is that it manages all the interaction with the WordPress media system, so inserting an image in livewriter with automagically create a thumbnail and a full size image and upload both of them to the media resources section of your blog. The feature I like the most however is the ability to do Word wrapped images extremely simple allowing you to definte the gutter for the image. Basically it is a desktop publishing software for blogging, and if you have ever used something like that it feels extremely familiar.
Most mornings I have a thing that I want to talk about, so I just sit down to write whatever that thing is. However there are some mornings like this one in particular where I sit down at the keyboard and nothing comes out. Having a process in place for blogging when your ideas run freely is important, but even more so is having a process in place for how to recover from writers block. There are basically two things at my disposal that I use to help me through mornings like that.
Firstly I have my blog roll, and namely my RSS reader that contains my blog roll and some other industry sites in it. Personally I use Feedly, but so long as you have a resource to fall back on for reading. When in doubt react. Through the course of reading a few posts you should find something that peaks your interest enough to ramble on about it yourself. I think it is extremely important in this case to not only follow blogs that are like minded, but also follow blogs that almost always take an opposing view. It is hard to think of things to write in an echo chamber.
Secondly I keep a google doc going with ideas, snippets and various things that I think I might want to write about someday. I limit myself to only one post a day, and as a result there are often things left on the cutting room floor. Since I write early in the morning, it is pretty easy to forget what these other things are when you are under pressure to perform. Having a google doc ready and waiting for you to prune ideas from is a really good thing. I tend to add to the document whenever I think of something I might want to explore, and then when I use a topic instead of removing it from the list I cross it out… that way I can sometimes revisit old topics if I want to… and I know exactly which ones I have used in the past.
This was the hardest bit for me, was to establish a time when I was going to write no matter what. Most mornings I get up, shower, make coffee, and then it is writing time until I go off to work. I usually leave myself an hour or so to find a topic, write about it, publish it, and advertise it on social media. This has worked fairly well for me, and on the weekend I notice that NOT having a time limit, often causes me to dawdle around and not get things done as efficiently. Having a fixed amount of time, puts my brain under pressure… and I have always been able to perform better when the adrenaline is flowing.
This works for me… but you have to find what works for you. I have known many bloggers that wrote as soon as they got home from work, or wrote last thing before they went to bed. Any time works, but the important thing is that you reserve a bit of time each day to write. Even if you like to work on super complicated posts that take multiple days to finish… devoting a small bit of time each day will make those posts come easier. Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint… and it took me a long time to realize this. You have to put in place practices that keep you posting regular content rather than slinging out posts in short bursts. The one thing that I have learned… and had to learn the hard way… consistency is more important than content.