Why Blog? Blogging Teaches Me New Skills and Refines Old Ones.

Before I started blogging four years ago, I was great at computer-based programs such as Word, Pages, Excel, Access. Internet programs such as Evernote for taking notes online no longer mystified me. I used Dropbox and shared files. Pridefully, I thought I was pretty digitally savvy. I probably figured I could blaze through Blogging 101 into blogging stardom, but I had a rude awakening when I stared at my new WordPress dashboard. Feeling young and much like a new puppy before its eyes open, blogging challenged me and did not let me stagnate after I retired.

MacBook Pro2

Getting Help From Home

Working at a county office of education spoiled me because I had tech support on site. As soon as I retired, that immediate access to help stopped. I had to learn to do what they did. Find my own answers. Search engines, my favorite is Google, continue to help me do almost every task from cleaning the deposits off my acrylic shower to how to edit a video. Now I am not shy about contacting authors of websites, videos and other self-help products. My biggest help, has been the friends I’ve met on WordPress whose work and personalities I got to know before I asked questions. Or their work may have prompted me to try push my boundaries and try new things.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary was, and remains, to be the most perplexing and confounding problem. Blogging vocabulary words are sometimes familiar English with new meaning applied to them, and I did not have a clue what they meant. That was frustrating when I was in the midst of doing something new, following instructions and could not understand half the words in the very first sentence or video clip. I could have saved myself hours of frustration by bookmarking sites and videos to help me.

Here are a couple of sites that might have helped me. Each of them has references to other sites.

Dynamic-Range-Magazine-Issue-2-Nov-2015-cover-page

Photography and Photo Processing

I started with no processing skills, and amateur photography skills. One of my friends, Leanne Cole from Australia impressed me, not just with her photography, but her blogging skills. We have had a few video chats, and one lesson. I just purchased her newest publication, a magazine called Dynamic Range. In photography, dynamic range is the difference between the lightest light and darkest dark which can be seen in a photo. Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights wash out to white, or the darks become black blobs. Blogs need some kind of visual material. I could steal from the web, subscribe to many services, or develop another hobby. I chose the latter. 

Writing Techniques

An elementary school teacher, not high school or college English professor, nonetheless, again, I thought I knew more about writing both fiction and nonfiction than I did when I started blogging. Once my eyes opened, I read books, read blogs, copied and practiced styles, improved my grammar, and became a little more of a perfectionist. I still make a lot of mistakes, and have a long way to go, but I’ve improved. You will learn more about that later in the book, too.

Technology

A computer geek since the 1980s, I always pushed buttons when it came to technology, usually meaning the patience of my techy husband and our technology support staff at work. Every platform’s dashboard, the screen that shows your blog’s creative center, is a new challenge. WordPress is similar to Blogger, Weebly and other platforms, but not the same. Even different themes within WordPress are developed by different web designers and have different dashboards. I learned what all teachers sometimes take for granted with their students. Learning is not all transferable between similar skills.  For example just because my student knows his two multiplication tables does not mean that learning the seven table will be easy.

My Areas of Interest and Expertise

Whenever and whatever I write about causes me to increase my knowledge. Many times I have had to look in books or go to the internet to check my facts whether I write about quilting, food, history, movies or books. Whatever I share with others, I do not know enough to sit down and write without facts around me. The result is that I become more of an expert in my own content area, and as I become that expert, people start to call me or ask me to speak. The result, of course, is that I learn even more.

Social Media

Blogging pushed and continues to push me to try new products, new technologies. Vivian Kirkfield started fiddling around with landing pages and static pages three years before I even knew what one was. I’m still learning about landing pages, as you’ll learn in later chapters. Blogging and marketing go hand in hand, even when you don’t have a thing to sell, which I did not when I started. Blogging enhanced what I already did with social media, and took me to a new level, building my credibility in my real world as well as my virtual one. No one takes out their wallet and buys a packet of credibility, but that’s a post for a different chapter.

1931X Woodlake wag-in train

Hang on, if you decide to blog, you board a train headed for unknown territory, even if you think you are the content expert in your field. Learn how you can stay vibrant and develop new skills whatever your occupation, age, or financial status. Start a blog.

Summary

  1. Blogging opens doors of opportunities I can not foresee.
  2. Blogging develops skills in technology, writing and photography.
  3. Blogging develops marketing and communication skills.
  4. Blogging refines and expands my expertise in my areas of specialty.

Three Best Articles for Writers and Bloggers Today

As a writer, I read constantly, even more than I write. Since my education was not about writing specifically, I have to educate myself additional subjects that will make me a better writer and marketing director of my books. In the last four years I have read and written about how to use social media, how to create blog posts that people want to read, how to write dialogue, how to write first paragraphs, and anything other how to post that captures my interest and need. I’m sure you are doing the same. Then I have to keep track of all that stuff. That’s how I use my blog.

Today I read three wonderful article published Jane Friedman on her website. I want to refer back to these again, so I’m writing about it here. The website where I found it came from a Writer’s digest email advertising creating websites. Friedman’s website gets 100,000 hits a month.

Best Practices for Author Facebook Pages and Groups by Kirsten Oliphant

Great article to understand the difference between pages and groups, and learn how to effectively use them. Best advice:  Post on your page up to eight times daily, and some go as many as 20 times daily because only a few of your LIKES actually receive the updates.

How to Find and Work with Beta Readers to Improve Your Bookby Kristen Kieffer

Best advice: if you work with Beta Readers, learn to love criticism, and to pick and get to know your readers. Learn how in this article.

How Writers Can Optimize Their Book’s Description on Amazon by C. S. Lakin

This is an essential read for self-published authors who want to their books to sell. Best advice:  Cut and paste descriptions from about 10 best-selling authors in your genre, highlight, and then construct your own.

Feel free to suggest some articles that you have read recently that helped you. #writers, #bloggers, #amwriting, #amblogging

 

Four Fast Tips to Get More Traffic for Free!

Are you obsessed with your statistics?  They are fun, and free. They greet you every time you open your dashboard with a friendly little circle that blinks as you wait impatiently thinking, “OPEN, OPEN, OPEN.” My husband, Vince, asked, “Why are you interested in more people visiting your website, anyway?  Don’t you have enough?  Do you want everybody to love you?”

No, I'm not quitting my day job.

He does look sad, but that’s a thought-provoking question.  It relates right back to the website’s purpose. Even though I had a vanity blog, my real goal was that somebody would notice my blog and say to me, “Marsha, you are such an awesome blogger, would you mind if our publishing company bought some of your material?”  I did get “awesome blog here” every day from spammers, but it did not jump starting my  writing/photography career. For a vanity blog, there really isn’t a need for more traffic, but for authors who want to sell more books, or for photographers promoting their art, traffic is important.

Content Is Key

Bloggers become less concerned with statistics as they gain blogging experience. It takes time to develop good blog posts. It takes time to process photos or art. I read all the WordPress articles about bringing in traffic. Consistency is one that I took seriously. I wrote and published nearly 650 posts on TChistorygal.net. Some of them are good, some of them I removed. I thought I had to post something every day to attract traffic. On my Blogger website, I concentrated on history and Woodlake. I have 15% of the number of posts and 33% of the number of views. Yet, it was one post I did on both of the blogs about Woodlake, that attracted an editor who offered me a contract to write a book about the history of Woodlake. She liked my style of writing, but it was the content that she needed for her publisher.

Blah sky photoshopped into blue.

  • Use Tags: Since content matters, your reader has to find your content quickly. WordPress tells you which of your tags are searched most often.  Statistics exists to tell writers what subjects are most often searched, but I found that approach tedious. If you have skills, write about them. Develop, practice and refine your skills, just as I am doing with writing. Readers skim. If they like the topic, they might read it.
  • Start Well: Just like the opening paragraph captures a reader’s interest in fiction, if the first few words of an article sound boring, I look for something else. I’m working on that in my writing. I’m reading authors I like and paying close attention to how they begin each chapter. In non-fiction blogs, we can’t murder the protagonist’s best friend in the opening paragraph, but we have other techniques that work. Good authors and speakers often start with a quote from a well-known or loved person. I have a Brainy Quotes account, and I search for specific topic I’m planning to cover. Questions sometimes attract a reader. Shocking facts grab attention, too.
  • Tell a Story: Even non-fiction has a narrative.  The other day an author friend of mine came over to see me. He’d been looking at my blog, and decided it was time that I published something else. “You have more than enough material to start publishing now. Let me show you what I’ve done, and how easy it was for me to do it once I had published one book through a traditional publisher.” I sat spellbound for probably two hours as he narrated the awkward tale when he learned the truth about his birth. You can read his story, April in Paris Rendezvous with my mother. Non-fiction does not need to be boring.
  • Use Photos and Video: Our technology team at Tulare County Office of Education, where I was a consultant before I retired, spoiled me. If I needed to know how to use Photoshop, Edmoto, Google Docs, or any other program, I could get a private tutor. (The gurus learned the programs from YouTube.) This is not the case now that I’m retired. Now I have to run to Google and I search for videos. For example, when I was the Executive Director of California Council for the Social Studies, I did not have a secretary. I was it. I needed to do a mail merge, and could not figure out how to make it work. Lucky for me some kind blogger created a video just for me and put it on YouTube. I do not have any writing or blogging videos, or I would embed them in my post. You may have skills that someone needs to know. Record them. You may go viral. Just like authors make money and get established making speeches, my husband tells me that folks creating videos can make millions of dollars just posting their work and selling advertizing.

Authentic AssessmentsR

My experience confirms that content will draw in traffic quickly if someone wants to know what you are doing. My editor told me, “Marsha, you do not need a big following of readers. We look for people who have readers, and have relationships with readers, but not necessarily lots of readers.”

We have no idea when we first start blogging who will read our content. The most popular post I ever published on my random blog is “Authentic Assessments for History Social Science.” I had written part of a project for California Department of Education that may or may not have ever been published, but I learned from it, and wrote this article as one of my first blog posts. Every year it gets hundreds of hits because at least one university teacher uses it with her college students.

If we tag our posts accurately, create a catchy beginning, weave the story, and make it visual and auditory, we will quickly draw an audience, without having to pay $29 per 500 clicks or $10 per boost. So what content will you use to build your next post? No one can do it quite like you do. Enjoy the process.

Blogging Badge2

 

Resolution: Start Blogging, But What? How? Three Easy Steps

Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.

Amy Tan
Railroad Museum
Yes Mom, you can post my picture in your blog.

Millions of people blog. Millions of people don’t. Which are you? According to WordPress Live Report bloggers created more than 540 million posts a month.  That’s more than I can read in a lifetime. But if you want to blog, don’t give up. If you want to write, you need to blog.

Since I began blogging four years ago, I have spoken to several groups about blogging. The purpose of this article is not to give mechanical or technical information about blogging. You can watch YouTube videos by the dozens that will show you the steps to physically start a blog (and please do.) I remember life as a  neophyte blogger. Blogging experts wrote in a foreign language, as did photographers. My blogging friends still help me learn new techniques, and I will pass what I’ve learned on to you

  1.  Decide the Purpose of Your Blog – and state it clearly and often. Knowing your purpose guides everything you do. The only reason to blog is to put your words out where someone else can read them. I have five blogs, one for each different purpose. My first blog, tchistorygal.net ,which is still my main blog, is a vanity blog. That simply means I do not sell anything, and the purpose is nothing except to learn how to blog and to have fun. I wanted to learn about blogging, make some friends, and it’s accomplishing its purpose. My posts keep track of what I’m doing and learning, and my friends know what I’m doing as well. It is not likely to gather a huge following, but that is not my purpose, so it’s ok. Like you, most people do not have much time to read, so if they can identify your purpose quickly, they are more likely to visit again and again. How will you measure success? This blog is to help myself and others to just write better. 

    Blogger Russel Ray
    This is my blogger friend, Russel Ray in San Diego.
  2. Attract Followers: Unless you are just writing a diary, you need followers. Bloggers get competitive over their stats. You can buy followers on Twitter. You can boost your posts on Facebook, but is that your purpose for your blog? If so, by all means, buy away. If you are short on cash, try these tips:
    1. Be positive (most of the time anyway.)
    2. Write medium length articles – 500 to 750 words. Break longer posts into parts and schedule them later. Photographers sometimes do not write anything. They might get lots of likes, but no one knows them. Good pictures are not memorable until you get to know the photographer, and writing puts your personality out there.
    3. Develop your own sense of humor and collect stories. These kinds of didactic articles only go so far, and (yawn) people get tired of them.
    4. Edit so that you don’t have tons of mistakes to come back and stare at you when you read your post two years later. I still find them in mine, but that may be what holds me back sometimes as a writer. It hurts, but let someone else read your work and give you honest feedback.
    5. Answer your comments. How rude to leave people hanging. It takes time to write a comment. It even takes time to press like. If you have lots of time go to their website and check out what they are saying. If you really like what they are saying, feature them on your blog.
    6. Blogs NEED at least a few pictures to grab the reader’s attention. Daytime bloggers enjoy music, but songs and videos load slowly, and impatient blog surfers may give up. Videos are helpful if you teach a skill. Sleepless bloggers with families won’t listen to your music at night unless they have a blog cave, or their families are deaf. Cat yawning
  3. Organize Blogging Categories – It does not take too long before your blog needs a haircut. Articles grow like hair on an old lady’s chin, and if you do not keep them trimmed and in order, you will be overwhelmed. I write often about organization because it is a huge task, and I have to work hard to keep this scattered self of mine organized, so I’ve become pretty good at it.
    1. Organize posts with categories. You can add menu items later, but categories helps YOU find your posts later.
    2. Tags are different and more specific. These help World Wide Web searchers to find your blog because they are looking for specific information.
    3. Don’t forget to label your pictures so you can find them, too. A label like IMG209472659.jpeg is not helpful when you want to reuse a photo later. By the way, sometimes when you copy something from the web, it has a different extension after the name of the photo, like IMG209472659.tiff. I cannot tell you how frustrated I have gotten when I press insert into to post, and nothing happens. I do not learn, and press it again, and it happens again. After about five time I remember the rule, the name of the picture should end with an extension that looks like this .jpeg.
typing
This is my bear Manny visiting a blogger friend, Ralph in Spain. He has his own blog, Manny’s Blog. He’s still developing his voice just like I am.

That’s enough for today because you need to go finish your first post, and I need to go to bed. I’ve been up since 3:55 a.m. blogging. (Unfortunately, that’s no lie.)

 

Blogging is YOU in Words – Three Steps to Help People Know How to Know You Better

As you read blogs, what do you admire? I love organized blogs. I love blogs that help me. Mostly I love blogs that have a real person with a fabulous personality and deep thoughts. I can’t give you tips to improve your personality, but I can help you learn to organize your blog so that people can find out who you are. I’m just getting started on this blog. I’m defining and building it, and you can watch it as it grows. Now, I just have to take my own advice.  If you want to see my more established blog you can check tchistorygal.net.

typing
Manny at work – photo by Ralph
  1. Create Pages That Work
    1. Only use a few (3-7) Main Pages, and create sub pages if you have lots of information. Examples might be: About, Start Here, Resources
    2. Main Pages are short, but highlight your purpose.
    3. Spend the most time refining your About page because people will go there first to see if they want to spend any time with you. Invite readers to your social media accounts. (I just redid mine.)
    4. Include contact information for readers to fill out, if your purpose is to build readership and/or sell products.
  2. Publish with Social Media
    1. Social media, even if you don’t understand it, builds statistics, and may build long-term readers. Many people who have had blogs or even used Facebook don’t take advantage of social media. It is constantly growing, so that’s another learning curve. Establish social media accounts, such as Facebook, Google +, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and others. Invite your email contacts to build each platform. Set WordPress to link automatically to social media.
    2. To build readership and relationships check your social media often and learn how to use it.
    3. Join social media groups so you can send posts and pages to specific groups who would be interested in those topics. It helps to add hashtags (see the bold # below) when you post so that groups will be notified.  (You can make these up yourself.) For example one blogger, Suzyspeaks,  has a special place on her Twitter account to tweet your posts, but only on Sundays. This is how another blogger took advantage of that opportunity and tweeted her post:
      Errin Krystal ‏@ErrinKrystal

      Read about my new serial Midnight Redemption: The History, The Synopsis & The Cover Art Reveal

  3. Revise and Repost
    1. After a few months, or years depending on how much you blog, clean up and reorganize your blog. Remove or revise posts that haven’t attracted viewers.
    2. Revise your writing based on what you have learned about that skill from blogging. For example eliminate passive verbs and pointless adverbs like quite or really.
    3. Copy the link of your revision and repost them on social media.  Assuming that your social media presence has grown, it’s amazing how many people didn’t see it the first time, but now know you, and will visit it now.

These are my goals for 2016. What are your plans for your blog this year?