Blogging Balance – Writing and Reading

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.
– Sharon O’Brien –

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
– Elmore Leonard –

My blog is like a book, and each post is a chapter. I write – you read.
Some of you readers are commenters. You write – I read.
Many of you readers are also bloggers. You write – I read.
I visit your blogs and leave comments. I write – you read.
That is what makes blogging so interesting – all these two way conversations!

The QuipperyThis all takes time, and though I enjoy every bit of it, I’m going to have to make some choices as to how many blogs I follow and how many comments I make. I need to find a better balance between being a writer and being a reader.

So perhaps all you readers and writers could give me some ideas about how you have found your balance:

1 – How many blogs do you follow, and how do you choose them?

2 – Do you respond to each and every comment left on your blog or do you only respond to a few?

3 – The second largest number of views on my blog comes from subscribers to Google RSS Feed Reader (according to my referrer stats). I have alternated between full and summary view. Which do you prefer as a reader? Which do you prefer as a writer?

Readers – I value each and every one of you. It has taken me several years to find you! (I have never had the exposure of being Freshly Pressed). I have had to attract many of you by leaving a bread trail of word crumbs around the internet! Thanks to all of you for following that trail!

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne –

I Should Have Bought a Cake

anniversary2I started this blog 91 weeks ago. For the first 62 weeks, I told nobody about my Blog. It was a place I retreated to when I felt like writing something down. It was my secret journal. I guess I didn’t really have all that much to say, because I only wrote 79 posts! But a few strangers wandered in now and then to say Hi, and slowly my little blog started to become more public.

My New Years Resolution for 2011 was to announce my Blog to Family and Friends. So in late December 2010 I invited the gang to stop by for a visit. Most of them did and some became regular readers, while some of them stop by now and then. But strangers keep visiting, and I keep visiting their blogs and truth be told, I now have some blog friends who know more about what I am doing than some of my non-blogging friends do!

If I really wanted to celebrate this milestone in a big, fat way, I would go to Costco and buy one of my favourite cakes. One is a Carrot Cake and the other is a Tuxedo Cake. Both are very good… except the carrot cake is the best… but I really don’t need all those calories, so there won’t be any cake.

Costco cake

Thank you to all of you who visit my blog! Blogging is a community, and I am very glad I joined it!

I believe the term “blog” means more than an online journal. I believe a blog is a conversation. People go to blogs to read AND write, not just consume.
– Michael Arrington –

Alphabets have 26 Useful Letters, But Some are More Popular

I’ve came to the conclusion that while the English language contains 26 Useful Letters, certain letters receive disproportional attention. Generally they are the ones at the beginning of the alphabet. When I was in school, teachers used children’s last names, in alphabetical order, to assign tasks. These included going up to the blackboard to do a tricky bit of arithmetic, or running an important errand. Often the teacher started at the beginning of the alphabet with each new day. My last name came near the end of the alphabet, which was a mixed blessing. Sometimes the bell rang before it was my turn to go to the board. But sometimes it meant I never got picked to do delivery jobs that got me out of class.

The dictionary plays up the fact that some letters are more special than others. My copy of Webster’s has lovely incised tabs, and it allots one whole tab to each of the first three letters – A, B and C. Only one other letter receives the same attention – the extremely useful letter S. All the other letters must share a tab with at least one other letter until it gets near the end of the alphabet. W to Z are all lumped together like an afterthought.

I take exception to that, as I am very fond of the letter W. It has been anchoring my last name since the day I said “I Do.” W shouldn’t be thrown in with X, Y and Z, letters that are clearly more limited in practical use. If you doubt the value of a W, think what the lovely phrase “Worthy Words” would be like without a W. “Orthy Ords” just doesn’t sound right.

May God forgive me, but the letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly. They are sly, shameless demons – and dangerous! You open the inkwell, release them; they run off – and how will you ever get control of them again!
– Nikos Kazantzakis –

Complaints Department – Too Many Words, Too Little Time

The Crabby Lady from the Complaints Department stopped by this morning. “There are just way too many words.” she griped. “They are coming at me from every direction. Phone calls, emails, text messages, internet, radio, TV… You know, people blame all the extreme weather on global warming, but I know what is causing it – all those words whizzing through the airwaves…”

Her tirade stopped as suddenly as it started. She realized she had used up most of her quota of words for the morning, and she still had a few to give to the weatherman if he forecast another day of high winds. She slapped a sticky note on my forehead, then marched back to the outer reaches of my mind.

The sticky note said, “Cut the crap. You are using too many words.” I shrugged off her stinging criticism, and opened my Google Reader. I follow lots of interesting blogs, and always look forward to seeing what other bloggers have to say. My Google Reader announced, “I’ve missed you. Where have you been for the past few days? Your absence means you have 145 unread feeds to read…” Whoa. Too many words.

One day away from my computer and I was snowed under. So I spent several hours picking my way through other peoples words, and came up with a few promises that I think the Crabby Lady can live with. Feel free to use any of them, because my Crabby Lady thinks some of you use way too many words too.

1. I have resigned from the WordPress Postaday 2011 Challenge. I don’t have the time nor topic ideas to churn out something worthy enough for you to read each day. That is not to say I won’t someday write a pithy post about breakfast cereal, but I will spare you from posts about how I have NOTHING to say. Leave that to Twitter.

2. I will Proofread what I write, and I will take out all the words that don’t add anything to the meaning. Most of my posts start out at around 700 words, and end up at about 500 words. If I have a very long story to tell you, I will make sure that each and every word adds content, and that it isn’t just a long post because I was too lazy to edit.

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.
Mark Twain

3. I will do some Research before I express opinions on something. I will acquaint myself with at least the rudimentary facts about an issue or idea. Factless, regurgitated opinion is a waste of words.

4. Not everything I write about will be of Interest to everyone. Sometimes even The Car Guy isn’t interested, but I ignore that one small flaw in his character. But there will be one little bit of truth or wisdom in every post I write… unless I accidentally edit it out. Sometimes I cross out a few right words too.

(And this is what 501 words looks like.)

To Comment or Not to Comment, That is the Question

I have heard writers say that their Characters take on a life of their own, and the author is just there to transcribe. I didn’t really believe that until I started this blog. My blog is the voice of just one character, yet most times I have no idea where this person is going to go until I start to write. (I have been accused of sometimes opening my mouth to speak before engaging my brain, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.)

Once upon a time… I think I have written this before.

Oh, I might have an idea of what I think I want to say, but I really don’t know where the topic is going to go, nor what it will look like, until it is done. I just start with a beginning, work through the middle bits, and end it by checking to see if I am anywhere close to confirming what I started with. Then I’m finished, hopefully in less than 500 words and a picture or two. (Blogs are very short stories…)

I send it off to the Blogosphere, where you, the readers and critics, decide its fate. For the most part, you are a silent bunch and I really can’t see your heads nodding or your faces frowning no matter how hard I envision it. Some of you leave Comments to let me know you are out there, but most don’t. No time, no interest or maybe a hesitation to commit. After all, a Comment requires a name, an email address and a thought, at the very least. That is a lot to ask of a casual passerby, isn’t it?

Comments have a purpose, though, well beyond a congratulatory pat on the back. They give you folks – the editors, critics, and review boards – the chance for input. They let fellow bloggers leave a trail of crumbs to other blogs and ideas. They create a community. Writing may be a solitary process, but blogging isn’t

End of Week Notes:

Did you know that your Email Address is safe when you leave it in a comment at a blog? WordPress won’t let anyone steal your address and then send you spam. The Happiness Engineers told me so.

Google Search is an amazing tool. I wrote a post about our 1980 Corvette, and when I Google it, it shows up on the 4th page. Google found it because it is the name of the title, I guess. But if I Google 1980 Corvette Wendy, Google moves it up to Number 1. Google found Wendy in the content of the blog, and thought it was the best match for someone looking for a 1980 Corvette  named Wendy.

Lastly, someone wisely said, “To be or not to be … I think it’s a trick question.” And that brings me back to the beginning of this post, sort of. 

Bloggers that Post Once a Day

Happy April Fools Day, all. When we were kids, we called it April Spruce Cake. Our misinterpretation of the intent of the day was based, I guess, on our hope that there was something more to it than a few lame jokes.

Totally unrelated to the day: WordPress has a Post-a-Day Challenge called Daily Post. The idea is that WordPress Bloggers post something every day, thus building a community of people who want to be more active writers, bloggers, and creators. While I admire those who can do this, I’m not sure I can keep up with doing a daily post. But it is something I am willing to try.

I’ll have to find something much interesting and creative in order to post once a day. Unfortunately, I have yet to come up with the right thing. Others have, though, and here are some of the ones I’ve found. Maybe they will inspire you to start a blog of 365 things too. Or maybe you will think of something very creative that you think I could do and blog about for 365 days… If you have some ideas for me, remember that I am a Jack of All Trades, Master of None, basically quite lazy person.

A LEGO a Day: Combining LEGO mini-figures with actual backgrounds, the LEGO a Day site is well into the second year of publishing entertaining dioramas. The site just celebrated 1 million views, a tally I expect on my blog in about 54 years.

Skull-a-Day: Now into his fourth year of skulling, Noah Scalin, posted his own creations for a year. After that, skulls took on a life of their own, and Noah posts submissions from his readers. At least three bloggers took on skull-a-day projects as well.

The Julie/Julia Project: Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. 365 days. 536 of Julia Child’s recipes. It worked out well for her. A Book deal, then the book was made into a Movie. I liked the book, and loved the Movie. But her personal life got a bit strange after that, so I quit following it in the media.

Daily Drop Cap: Jessica Hische posted an illustrative initial cap each day to prettify the internet and beautify readers blog posts.

A Year of Slow Cooking: Stephanie O’Dea has done well with her Crockpot. She has lots of recipes, and a couple of books! I think the recipe called Slow Cooker Root Beer Pulled Pork is one I could pull off…

365 Spiders: Amy makes her spiders out of wire and beads. They are very beautiful little creatures.

Well, it just dawned on me that I could do a Post-a-Day of photos of Unfinished Projects that lurk in all corners of the Red House. Like this nice little cross-stitch English Country Scene that is about 1/3 done.

Wait a minute – here is a blog called The Unfinished Project Project. But this person actually tries to complete all the unfinished projects. As does Mama Bee at Mama Bee’s 101 Things in 1001 Days.

I, on the other hand, don’t have those expectations, so perhaps that would make my blog unique… Maybe I have found my 365 project – The Red House of Unfinished Things... 

Versatile Blogger Award

There are a number of Awards that Bloggers bestow on one another. These awards are very nice, because they don’t require a nomination committee, nor a round of voting. They are just one blogger saying they like the work of another blogger. All very civilized.

One of these Awards is the prestigious Versatile Blogger Award. At least, I’m going to assume it is prestigious because I see a number of very fine bloggers have gotten one. So I was honored to have received this award from Tien at Tien Unscripted. Tien is an International Student in New Zealand, born in Malaysia. She is an enthusiastic new blogger as you will see when you visit her site. Thank-you Tien!

A Blogger Award is a bit like a chain letter. My friends will tell you that I am usually the dead-end link of any chain that arrives at my house. Of course, these usually involve recipes, and I really don’t want another 100 or 2000 ones that I will never cook. But a Blogger Award is a different animal.

So I will accept it with honour and abide by most of the RULES: The recipient has to:
– Thank the person who awarded you and link to his/her blog
– Tell 7 random facts about yourself
– Pass the award to 15 new found bloggers
– Contact each blogger you want to pass the award on to, and let them know you’ve done so, and let the giver of your award know you accept it…or not.

7 Random Facts:
1. I am short. I can stand up under the overhead luggage compartments of an airplane without stooping at all.
2. My Christmas tree is still up. No decorations, but it is still up.
3. I eat a bit of dark chocolate every day.
4. I like Murder Mysteries. I like to watch them. I like to read them.
5. Calvin and Hobbes is my all time favourite cartoon strip.
6. Honour and Favourite can be spelled with a ‘u’ and I wish the spell checker would quit marking them as  misspelled words.
7. We have a Bone Marrow Transplant survivor in our family.

Next, I have to pass this award on to 15 new found bloggers. As you may remember, I am interested in statistics. So, if I pass this award to 15 bloggers this week, and they each pass it on to 15 bloggers next week, and each of them passes it on the following week, (the philosophy of the chain letter at work here) then in just 6 weeks 11,390,625 bloggers will have received this Award. I Googled “Versatile Blogger Award” and found 967,000 results relating to an award that appears to have been born in mid 2010. So I guess quite a few people have broken the chain!

While I don’t plan on breaking the chain, I would like to send this award to just 5 Special New Blogs that I’ve found. All of these people are very Versatile. It is just one of the many skills a person needs in order to carve out a life after the intensity of diseases such as cancer.

1. Hemlock1981 – a Bone Marrow Transplant survivor in the American Military
2. mar510 – a Bone Marrow Transplant survivor. A very short story. I hope the writer is okay.
3. Miss Melanoma – a Melanoma Cancer survivor.
4. Reservoir Blog – an athlete with cancer.

Please be sure to visit each and every one of these blogs. Their stories are remarkable, and their blogs will lead you to many more blogs that tell stories of remarkable courage and determination.

Cancer is not a sentence, just a word.
– John R. McFarland, from Now That I have Cancer I am Whole –

It will come as a shock to no one that cancer isn’t something you put on your “List of Things to Do Today.”
– Erma Bombeck, I Want to Grow Hair… –

Blogs that Use More than Mere Words

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why Bloggers like to use one or two per post. Apparently, the average attention span of blog readers, once they have decided to read beyond the title and first few lines, is about 500 words. The average blog reader, then, would spend about 2 minutes to read a post of this length. It would take only a few seconds to view a picture, but that would be like adding a thousand words to the blog, yes?

Some bloggers make extremely good use of pictures to tell their stories. Some of these artistic souls are:

Angie Stevens shares her sketches at Doodlemum. If you have children and a cat and a husband, or have ever known children, cats or husbands, you will be absolutely smitten with this blog.

Bent Objects
Terry Border shares his designs at Bent Objects. Everyday objects are transformed into, well, imaginative works of art, with a few bits of wire! A good example is this one: A Pair of Lovers.

Salman Khan Educational Videos
Here is an interesting TED talk by Salman Khan, explaining the concept and development of the Khan Academy. The goal of the Academy is to deliver a world class education to anyone, any age, anywhere in the world. The Khan website contains links to over 2100 videos covering many subjects. Each series starts with a simple explanation of the topic, and then gets progressively more complex.

Royal Wedding
I’m not a big follower of Royal events, but I couldn’t resist posting this link to a pattern book by Fiona Goble called “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding“! The little characters are absolutely wonderful! A bit of British Humour at its best!

WordPress Snub – So You’ve Never Been Freshly Pressed

Freshly Pressed – to a WordPress Blogger, it is like winning the lottery. It puts your little blog on the Freshly Pressed Home Page, and that brings thousands of readers to your door.

What are your chances of being Freshly Pressed? I think you have – well, I’m not sure what your odds are, but there are about 50 posts chosen from approximately 59,000,000 posts written each month. That is an awful lot of posts to choose from, which is why being selected has a lot to do with luck.

131 WordPress Freshly PressedThe Freshly Pressed posts are chosen by reviewing the Tags that you add to your posts. These tags are gathered up and displayed on tag pages which link back to the posts. Certain tags are chosen from these pages, I guess, and the posts with those tags are the ones that will be reviewed. There will still be an awful lot of posts to choose from, so they are weeded out by picking the ones with clever headlines. What is clever? That is a tricky question. I know what I think is clever, but I don’t know what the Freshly Pressed Editor thinks is clever.

The clever headline posts have to pass a content test and be Typo Free. I don’t know what the criteria is here, but I have seen some Freshly Pressed posts that I’d like to correct with a big red pencil, so there is obviously some latitude.

If the content is good, then they would like you to Include Images (original or properly credited). But this isn’t a hard and fast rule either, I don’t think. I’ve seen Freshly Pressed blogs that had no images, or images without any obvious credit.

I’ve seen Freshly Pressed blogs that came from brand new bloggers, and ones from bloggers who had a million views. So I don’t think size and audience figure into being chosen.

50 Freshly Pressed posts a week times 52 weeks is 2600 posts in a year. That does not mean, however, that there are 2600 different bloggers. For some reason, once you have been Freshly Pressed once, this honor seems to follow you like a lost puppy dog.

Update 2015: The WordPress Daily Post recently discussed ‘The Dark Side of Freshly Pressed‘. My take from this article, and the comments that were left: 4 people pick the Freshly Pressed posts; they have some favourite bloggers, which is why some are Freshly Pressed many times (the record is apparently 16 times); Freshly Pressed is going to be replaced by an online magazine called Discover.

I think there are too few resources (staff people) doing the picking, which might explain why the whole thing has come to resemble the work of a High School ‘In’ Group.

Blogs and Pets Have Lots in Common

There are a lot of similarities between Blogging and Owning a Pet. To start with, the decision to start a blog is similar to picking the animal. You can agonize over it for months on end, or you can pick one up on a whim this afternoon. Next, a blog needs a Home just like an animal does, and this can be a simple spartan place or an elaborate one, depending on what you like. Blogs and animals have Personalities and these can be modified to a great degree or no degree, depending on what you want to do.

The aspect that gets the least consideration, but is the most time consuming, is the Care that blogs and pets need in order to thrive. But while pets need regular and consistent care, blogs are much more forgiving if attention is sporadic. That is not to say that a blog will thrive if it isn’t exercised regularly. But blogs are more resilient than pets, and are able to sustain long periods of neglect and bounce back after an apparent death.

The Demise of a blog is much less traumatic than the demise of a pet. A Blog owner simply erases all the content and walks away. What blog owners fail to realize, however, is that the blog will have an Afterlife. This is as a result of the way Search Engines, such as Google, cache pages. Each blog page gets photographed by the Google Search Engine if a search spider happens to crawl over it. These snapshots are what Google looks at to decide if it has found a good search match. When the search engine returns the search results, it offers to take you to the actual page the snapshot refers to, but it will also offer to take you to the cached page. (It is an interesting exercise to Google some of your own pages and see what is in the cache.) This cached page is updated each time the Google spider crawls the web and comes to your blog to update the index. Bing and Yahoo also cache pages in a similar manner.

Many pet owners take their animals out with them when they go Visiting. (Just remember that I don’t want your Rover on my sofa any more than you want my cat sprawling on your bed…) Visiting exists in the blogging world too, except the host has all the control over who gets to stay over, and for how long. They do this with things called Links. All mighty neighborly, and a great way of making sure that no blog gets left behind.

I’m sure you can think of other similarities between Pets and Blogs. And a few dissimilarities – blogs don’t poop on the carpet…