blogging

digital brain

Brain Limits

I’ve heard you can’t really multi-task, despite people who claim they can.

I don’t entirely agree. I can do more than one thing at a time, but only to a point. For example, I can perform simple familiar tasks, like washing dishes, while thinking about something I’m writing or intend to write. And listening to a news program. In fact, I need to have some sort of mental input while doing manual work, even something like sewing, which is not simple or familiar.

But there are limits. I’ve tested them.

First, let me describe the usual scenario in my writing and blogging space. There’s the computer, with a bunch of weather-related tabs open, plus WordPress, plus Goodreads and a few others. Also email, of course. There’s an old-fashioned mini-stereo setup behind and to one side of the computer. It can play CDs and even cassette tapes, although it’s hardly ever called upon to do that. Mostly it’s a radio, and if I’m at the computer, it’s always on, cranking out music, news, or a current affairs program. Sometimes there’s music on the radio and at the same time a podcast on the computer, talking to me through one earbud. And as well as listening, I’m reading blog posts, or even writing one.

multitasking head media colourful
Image from Pixabay

Is this ideal? Probably not, but it seems to work. Is it multi-tasking? No. It’s sequential tasking. The old brain can deal with only one or perhaps two of these inputs at a time. The music seems to seep through the other stuff, but if it fully engages my attention, I disengage from the other tasks so I can listen properly. Otherwise, I’m taking in and focussing on only the words I’m reading, writing, or listening to, for sequential short intervals. I have to admit, I miss a lot of details of the radio programs while paying attention to blog posts or whatever I’m writing. Quite often, my attention is caught by the host thanking the interviewee or announcing the performer, having missed whatever was said, played, or sung. Annoying, but there it is.

When this input-juggling is working well, I can actually get things read or written and switch focus in time to get something out of whatever I’m listening to. It’s not the best way to absorb information, but it’s the only way I’ve come up with to keep up with the blogs I follow and what’s going on in the world, as well as creating blog posts and other writings.

Maybe this is why by the end of the day I don’t trust myself to write comments on people’s blog posts. The brain is worn out!

A final thought: if a long writing session is too challenging, a five-minute one jammed in between other mental tasks is manageable. Several such sessions actually produce visible results. Note: I don’t write first drafts of novels this way; that’s a whole other process!

Ideal combinations:

  • manual work + informative radio program
  • reading blogs + informative radio program or music
  • reading fiction + music
  • writing + music

Ideally, only two inputs at a time, you notice.

On the other hand, I don’t watch anything. At all. Well, maybe the odd video, but only if it’s a short one. No TV, no streaming. I read a lot of books. I do this reading away from the computer and even the radio, mainly during meals and before going to sleep.

Fellow bloggers, how do you avoid brain overload? Do any of you multitask?

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The Art of Commenting

I began blogging in 2010. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that if I wanted my posts to be read, I would have to indicate to other bloggers that my blog existed. That meant doing more than “liking” posts; I had to contribute my thoughts in the form of comments. Once I began doing that, my blog gained readers, “likes,” and followers. Now I am part of a large community of writers, thinkers, and opiners.

When it comes to commenting on blog posts, this is what I do:

  • I usually comment only when I have something to say (other than “Great post!”).
  • It’s easier to comment soon after a post has published, rather than when a couple of dozen other readers have said it all. It’s a bit lame to say, “What everyone else said,” or “Me too!”
  • I’m more likely to comment if a post has few or no comments, especially when there are quite a few “likes.” If there are lots of comments and I don’t have anything new to add, I “like” and leave.
  • I’m uneasy about commenting late in the day when I’m tired, because it’s too easy to word a comment badly and offend or mystify someone. When my gut says “Don’t do it!” I listen.
  • If a comment I’m about to post sounds patronizing or condescending, I don’t post it.
  • If I really have nothing to add, I don’t comment, but I “like” the post to indicate that I’ve read it.
  • Sometimes a “like” means “I like it!” but sometimes it’s just a way of saying “I read it.”
  • If I find a post offensive or totally unrelatable, I neither “like” nor comment, unless I can come up with a civil way of disagreeing that may add to the conversation.
  • I never say that a post is “fantastic,” “fabulous,” or (cringe) “awesome.” It’s theoretically possible that a day will come when I encounter a post that’s accurately described by one of these words (except “awesome”), but it’s unlikely.
  • The posts I find hardest to comment on are those where congratulations or condolences are the only possible responses. It’s hard to say those things in an original way. Instead of scrolling through dozens of near-identical comments, I skip to the end of the comments queue, say something brief and sincere, and don’t worry whether it’s original.
  • Otherwise, it’s often interesting to read others’ comments and even comment on them. I love it when that happens on my blog; it’s as though guests at a party are connecting without my help.
  • I always respond to comments on my blog, if only to acknowledge and thank the commenter.

When I read blog posts first thing in the morning, using a tablet, any comments I make have to be thumb-typed. I much prefer a real keyboard, but I’ve developed a fair amount of speed and accuracy on the tablet’s keyboard. I was delighted to discover where the apostrophe, parentheses, and hyphens were hidden. And I must say the word suggestions above the keyboard are handy (although sometimes a bit peculiar).

Fellow bloggers, what are your thoughts on comments? Please comment!

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A Decade of Blogging

Audrey Driscoll’s Blog is ten years old this month! I published my first post on May 15th, 2010.

The only reason I started blogging was because I was about to publish my first novel. Advice from other self-published authors was that a blog would support that project. Well, maybe…

Once or twice a week, I diligently beavered up a post. I soon realized I had said enough about the just-published book, so had to find other topics I could hold forth on convincingly. Reading and writing in general were the obvious choices. My garden was another, with the added feature of photos.

It took an embarrasingly long time before my posts had any views at all. For years (years!) one or two likes were something to cheer about, and a comment was a semiannual event. Not until 2015 or 2016 did this blog attract a respectable following of regular readers, many of whom contribute comments. To all friends and visitors of the blog, many thanks for reading my posts and contributing comments.

What have I learned in this decade of blogging?

  • A blog by itself does not sell books. (I don’t know what sells books.)
  • You don’t have to blog every day, but posting at regular intervals helps to develop blogging as a habit. Otherwise, it’s like starting from scratch every time you get back to your blog.
  • The best way to attract readers is to follow other blogs, read posts, and leave comments, or at least “likes.”
  • You can’t follow every blogger who follows you. I now follow more than 100 blogs and struggle to read all the posts in my Reader each day. Confession: I skip a lot of them. Some super-bloggers publish many times a day. I read only a few of that deluge of posts. Before following yet another blog, I check how often the blogger posts and usually avoid the overly prolific.
  • It’s great when one of my posts attracts comments that develop into a discussion, with commenters responding to one another as well as to the original post. It’s like a slow-motion conversation. Asking questions at the end of a post is a good way to generate such a response.
  • Most of the people (entities?) that follow your blog won’t read, “like,” or comment on your posts. Why? No idea, but that’s how it is. If you have a couple of dozen regular followers who read and comment on most of your posts, you’re doing well.
  • Adding keywords to your posts probably attracts more views. On my statistics page I see almost equal numbers of views from the Reader and search engines. Keywords help people other than your followers to discover your blog.
  • Adding photos or other images to your blog makes them visually appealing, but involves extra work. Loading photos, resizing them if necessary, finding copyright-free or public domain images — these tasks can take longer than writing posts! Except for garden-related posts, I generally stick to one or two images, and now that I have a well-stocked Media Library, I don’t hesitate to re-use an image.
  • If you reblog someone else’s post, any images in that post are uploaded to your Media Library. If you’re concerned about copyright issues or just want to conserve space, it’s best to link to the post after the first paragraph of text, instead of hitting the “Reblog” button.
  • Upgrading from the free version of WordPress to a paid plan is worthwhile to get rid of advertising, now that it’s become intrusive and offensive. (Fungal nail cures, anyone? Or how to get rid of ear wax? Do you really want that stuff in your posts?) You also get more space for photos and other media.
  • When it comes to blog themes, I’m not adventurous. I changed themes more in my early blogging days. At that time, you could find theme titles in the footer area of other blogs, so if another blog’s theme looked good, you could easily find out what it was. That’s no longer the case. My theme (“Suits”) suits me, so I’ve stuck with it. I like having a sidebar that’s visible all the time (although not on phones or tablets).
  • One thing I appreciate when visiting other blogs is a Recent Posts list. It gives a quick impression of a blogger’s style and posting frequency and allows me to sample their freshest posts.
  • It’s helpful to have a bunch of post ideas in your Draft folder. When you get an idea, click on Add New Post, make up a title, and key in the core idea. You can always flesh it out later. When you can’t think of a post topic, one of these idea drafts might be inspiring.
  • One of the main rewards of blogging is the connections I’ve made with other bloggers. Which is why it’s helpful to visit and follow other blogs, read posts, “like” them (or not), and contribute comments.
  • The other major benefit of regular blogging is it forces me to organize thoughts and express them in words. Even when I don’t have a major work in progress, blogging keeps my writing skills alive.

Every now and then Almost every week, I decide I’ve said everything and have no more to contribute to the blogosphere. I even have a final post in my Drafts folder, helpfully entitled “The End.” I haven’t used it yet!

Have any of you been blogging for ten or more years? Have you ever struggled to keep your blog going? Has blogging brought you any surprises, good or bad?

Back garden overview June 2019 with kale tree in bloom

Advice, Advertising, and Anxiety

Blogs are full of advice for writers and self-publishers. How to start a novel. How to finish your novel. How to make your novel great. How to publish, promote, and market your novel. Etc.

No, this isn’t another rule-quibbling post. (Well, actually it is.) This one is about the advice contained in these posts. Or not contained, when the post is written by a service provider of some sort. After outlining a topic crucial to the success of writing and publishing efforts, the post proceeds to describe how that topic is addressed in a course or book. The real objective, of course, is to sell said course or book.

We writers and indie authors are a huge market for services. Editors, book doctors, writing coaches, and publicists are eager to tap into this market. That’s totally legitimate, but let’s not forget that we aren’t just a bunch of dewy-eyed airheads desperate for advice on creating and selling products (our books). We are a market, and should select paid services judiciously.

OK, most of us authors-who-blog are promoting our books (often to one another). But the relationships among authors are different from those between authors and those from whom they purchase services. We’re like a big, happy family sitting around socializing. “How’re the kids books?” “Oh, here’s a picture of the latest.” “Ooh, so cute gorgeous!” Etc. Then the doorbell rings and it’s a sales representative peddling a product. Do we invite that individual in and offer them a drink? Maybe. Do we automatically sign up for that gym membership they’re peddling? Maybe not.

I pay WordPress not to display ads on my site. I spend time and trouble to make my posts look good, so why would I want them uglified by ads for fungal nail cures or how scantily-clad women can make mega-bucks “without working”? That was the last straw. I forked over cash (well, credit) to be ad-free. And I willingly donate to the Wikimedia Foundation to keep Wikipedia and their other sites ad-free.

Ads, however upbeat, are designed to induce anxiety. Your life isn’t good enough, you’re not having enough fun, your writing won’t be its best if you don’t take my course, read my how-to book, or pay for my expert services. There’s enough anxiety in the world without adding to it by exposure to ads.

Fellow writers, how do you feel about ads? Do you create or purchase ads for your books? What do you think of the ads that come with the free blogging option?

Image from Pexels

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A Little Discussion Spices Up a Blog Post

After nearly 10 years of writing blog posts, reading blog posts, and commenting on blog posts, I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a blog post: an interesting (to me) topic, well-written, and relatively short. Good comments by other bloggers are a definite bonus. They can elevate a post from statement to conversation.

What are good comments? Ones that add something to what the blogger said, even by arguing disagreeing a bit. Remember what we’re always being told about our fiction writing — conflict adds interest. No one likes vitriolic troll-spew, but when every single comment is blandly positive (Great post! Thanks for this! Got to bookmark!), or there are no comments at all, the reading experience falls flat.

For example, a while ago, I read a reblogged post advising writers to use “sensitivity readers.” I knew from elsewhere that this topic is controversial; some writers see it as bordering on self-censorship. Several bloggers “liked” the post, but no one had anything to say about it. I’ve seen this happen often enough to wonder. Did all these readers just think, “Oh, okay,” and move on to the next thing? (And did I put in my 2 cents’ worth? No, actually. Being in the Far West of the world, I’m often among the last bloggers to read a post, and there’s not much point in formulating a comment only the original poster will see.)

Some posts lend themselves better than others to discussion-type comments. If someone is announcing a new book or sharing a milestone of some sort, no discussion is needed. On the other hand, posts offering advice to writers, or strongly worded screeds taking a particular position on an issue, are vastly improved by comments.

I’m not advocating flat condemnations or being argumentative for the sake of it, but sometimes I wish people wouldn’t appear to swallow all advice with a bland affirmation. If you have reservations or questions about advice given or opinions expressed in a post, articulate them! If you’re a published writer with any measure of success, you have a ground from which to comment and question.

Perhaps bloggers are reluctant to differ with or question opinions in a post because they fear being labelled as negative. In the culture of “positivity,” an apparently negative attitude is perceived as a major flaw. I agree that whiny, bitter screeds full of self-pity, or personal attacks are never acceptable, but a bit of civilized discussion can add dimension and interest to a post.

We’ve all heard this piece of advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” I suggest modifying it to: “If you don’t agree with something, turn your disagreement into an opportunity to discuss.”

So, fellow bloggers, what do you think? How do you feel about a bit of civilized quibbling? Feel free to disagree!

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Maxed Out Blogger!

I’ve been blogging since May of 2010. Almost a decade! For the first few years, I was pretty much talking to myself. Since 2015, I have observed a steady increase in numbers of likes, comments, and follows, probably because I’ve done a fair bit of liking, commenting, and following myself. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

I’ve decided, for what it’s worth, to document my blogging practices, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

I’m now following 117 blogs, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed. My policy, as per my About page, is that every time someone whose blog I’m not already following likes a post, I visit that blog and read a few posts and/or the blogger’s About page, if they have one. When one of my posts gets a few dozen likes (which is great!), it can be hard to keep up. Posting only once or twice a week allows more time to react and respond.

Likes. If I “like” a post, that means I’ve read it and actually (surprise!) liked it, or, in the case of reblogs, the intent behind reblogging it. If I decide not to read a post, I just leave. I don’t use the “like” button to just to say “I was here.”

Comments. I don’t always comment, even on posts I like. Sometimes I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say, especially when there are already a lot of comments and mine would say the same thing. I’m in the Pacific time zone, so I’m usually a latecomer to posts written by folks east of me. And sometimes I start to comment, but a little voice asks me if I really want to say that. I’ve learned to obey that voice, especially if it’s late and I’m tired. Better not toss off a remark that might be misinterpreted and unintentionally offend or puzzle someone.
I always reply to comments on my posts.

Follows. I don’t routinely follow everyone who follows my blog. I know some bloggers assume their follow will result in a follow back. Sorry, no. I’ll visit and read a post or two, and maybe like them, but the only reason I follow a blog is because something about it — the content or the writing style — interests me. When I follow a blog, it’s with the intention to read all new posts on it. I sometimes wonder at some of the bloggers who follow me; they seem to have nothing in common with me at all. But then, life is full of small mysteries.

Not mysterious at all are a few things I find discouraging. They pretty much guarantee my quick departure from a blog. First of all, gifs. I hate ’em; they make reading almost impossible. I can read around the occasional gif if the subject of a post is interesting, but if someone has studded their post with snippets of people yelling, jumping, twitching, dancing, or collapsing, I’m outta there. Second: popups offering newsletters or deals of some sort. Nope, I’m not coughing up my email address, especially if the popup appears before I’ve had a chance to read anything. Third: the prospect of a daily deluge of posts. I already follow a few high-volume blogs, and hesitate to take on another, unless the posts are super short and/or riveting. A flood of posts means either a s**tload of email notifications to delete or a Reader that needs to be triaged — OK, let’s read this one; no, not that one, maybe that one, not that one… It adds to the fatigue factor.

Griping aside, I’m happy to see lots of visits, likes, and comments. I’ve “met” many delightful and eloquent bloggers in the past near-decade. I’ve learned stuff, I’ve been appalled, delighted, and enlightened. I have blogger pals all over the world. I’m looking forward to another decade.

Image from Pixabay

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Pictures in Posts: Add Them AFTER The Text!

A Revelation (otherwise known as a “duh” moment): First you write the text, and THEN you add the pictures.

Blindingly obvious stuff follows. Expert WordPressers may wish to ignore.

Full MoonI’ve been writing posts for this blog since 2010. Most of them, and especially the Garden ones, include photos or other images. When I wanted to get the effect of text wrapping lovingly around a couple of well-chosen shots, I tried the alignment feature — left, right or centre. But it never worked for me. The text would be awkwardly placed, or pictures would end up on top of each other. Aargh. Rather than stop to figure it out, I just centred all the pics with text above and below.

Last week I actually looked at some of the Help notes WordPress provides. Turns out the alignment refers to text, as in, “Do you want to insert the image to the left or right of the text?” Which suggests the text should be written before the images are added.  I’d been creating posts this way: Type the title in the “Title” space. Type text in the post text space. Insert a photo. Type some more text. Insert another photo. Type more text.Crescent Moon

No. Text first, pics later.

Like this. When I inserted the crescent moon picture, I selected “align right,” which put the picture to the right of this text. For the full moon picture above, I chose “align left.”

Okay, so I’m a slow learner. If there was a Clueless Blogger Award, my blog might be a contender (if it wasn’t Award Free, that is).

 

Papaver rupifragum

Spanish Poppy (Papaver rupifragum)

Now that I’ve figured this out, I can have a bit more fun putting posts together.

Moon images courtesy of Pixabay

purple anemone and flowering currant

Wordless

The thing about both gardening and writing is that when doing them, one isn’t doing other things, like blogging.

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A happy spring combination — perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and pasque flower or meadow anemone (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

I’m back!

It’s great to be back in the blogosphere! Fortunately all the data from my dead computer was recovered and transferred to the new one. My bookmarks! My garden photos! All those Word docs! I’ve been having a reunion with them all evening.

And now I’ll be able to “like” blog posts and comments again. For some reason it wasn’t possible to do that using my husband’s computer.

Once I’ve recovered from this experience (I was really fond of the late HP Pavilion) and from finishing up my income tax return, I hope to beaver up some real posts.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.