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Blogging and not blogging

March 11, 2011 6 comments

When I first got into the blogging thing, I found some places that gave advice on the whole business of ‘successful’ blogging. The tips included:

  • write several pillar articles – tutorials that offer useful advice or reference material.
  • write a blog post every day (and keyword/tag them well).
  • comment on other people’s posts.
  • link/trackback to other posts/websites when you refer to them.
  • encourage comments.

There was more, about getting onto blog carnivals, getting listed on blog listings, sending posts out to be used as ezine articles and such, but that was the top and bottom of it.

And, of course, I follow all this advice fitfully – there are probably four of five ‘pillar’ articles on here, mostly concerned with e-learning, written over a period of close to a year. And I certainly don’t post every day.

Mostly I post when: I have something to brag about; one of my friends has done something I want to publicise (which reminds me, Psy-tek has just composed and recorded two tracks if anyone wants to license their use); something interesting or humorous happened; or something has caught my eye, often an obscure or offbeat thing on a news report.

Mostly, though, I don’t post when nothing much has happened, or when I’m busy. I have a life. It may not be much of a life, but at any one point I probably have some distance learning material to write or update, some student work to assess, half a dozen stories in various states of completion that I may or may not want to submit anywhere straightaway because I have some longer-range plans, and ‘just normal everyday stuff’ that always seems to take a lot longer to accomplish than I think it’s going to. Plus, of course, there are occasional points when I’m actually away for a few days.

So basically, if there’s nothing new on my blog it probably means (a) I have a deadline to finish distance learning materials or mark student work, or (b) I’m on a roll with the writing and managing 1500+ words a day. That may not be a lot by some people’s lights – quite a few of the writers I know on here easily do double that, but it seems to be about my limit. All I can say is spending a couple of hours hung up on how to phrase a particular sentence does seem to mean I don’t need to spend ages rewriting and editing at a later stage!

For the last week or so the answer has been (b). In addition to the stuff I’ve been writing, late last night I came across a wonderfully surreal passage in a Thomas Pynchon novel that set me on a line of thought and by this morning it had become the solution to a plot problem in a piece I started writing in late 2009 but that hung fire for about a year because I didn’t have a way to develop the story. And now I do.

However, it will have to wait because right now the answer is (a): after a long lull, my email has suddenly filled up with student papers for assessment. So I’ll stop now…

Apparently you’re supposed to end with a question to encourage comments. Here’s two for the price of one. What, if anything, stops you from blogging? What do you see as a mark of ‘success’ in a blog?

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In with the new (but let’s conserve the old as well!)

January 7, 2011 2 comments

Have been to doctor. Now on the mend. Normal service resumed!

While I was ill, I spent a certain amount of time looking at random stuff on the net but here’s some old news that struck me as interesting.

Not a lot of people seem to know this, but 2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity. The key issue is that the level of biodiversity is declining, and we actually don’t know what the impact of this is likely to be on humans. There’s a piece by Hilary Benn on the BBC website about it – ‘Biodiversity nears point of no return‘, that came out almost a year ago (17 Jan 2010). However, even though species are becoming extinct or critically endangered, there are still new species being discovered: evidently we don’t know the Earth as well as we think we do.

<rant>

I take a Gaia-centric view on biodiversity: we humans don’t have a complete picture of life on Earth, and what we don’t know will probably bite us – metaphorically speaking, at least. So we should try to walk softly on the Earth, respect all its life forms and not cause massive disruption to the environment and climate. If we do, the Earth will still be around – it just won’t be an earth that has many humans left on it, because despite current appearances we’ll end up becoming a critically endangered species. And when we’re gone, some other species will come along in a few million years to fill the evolutionary niche we occupied. That might, for example, be the cockroach (see below!).

</rant>

Where was I? Oh yeah, new species being discovered. An article from the Guardian, posted online on Christmas Day: ‘New species discovered in 2010‘. The story is a run-through of 16 new species discovered in 2010, picked on the basis of cuteness (e.g. the long-nosed tree frog) or a ‘wow factor’ of some kind (a fish with teeth on its tongue, for example).

Meanwhile the Arizona State University International Institute for Species Exploration has its ‘Top 10 New Species’ list – okay, so the 2010 list is for species discovered in 2009, but it’s still an interesting list. Who would have imagined new species are still being discovered in the US as well as in remote rainforests and deep oceans?

Some of these, like Omars’ banded knifefish – Gymnotus omarorum – are redesignations of previously known but misidentified species. Others are cute, weird or wonderful, like the green bombers, Swima bombiviridis, which are deep-sea critters with a defence mechanism that involves modified gills that can be cast off and are luminescent – presumably to confuse predators.

So how many new species have been discovered recently?

The Institute publishes The State of Observed Species (SOS) annual reports, with data published each year for two years previously – well, it takes time to compile this stuff. So the 2010 SOS Report, which deals with species discovered in 2008, lists an incredible 18,225 living species and 2,140 animal fossil species described as new in calendar year 2008.

The cockroach thing I mentioned earlier – I don’t know if it will make it into the 2012 SOS report, but new species don’t only exist in weird and far-flung places. Among the new species discovered in 2010 was a new cockroach, amazingly found by two high school students and collected from their professor’s apartment in New York. Technically it may yet turn out to be a subspecies, but it’s still impressive. The full story is ‘Big Apple Bugs‘ on GrrlScientist’s blog. Actually she has several blogs and there’s a lot of cool stuff on them – this story was from the beginning of the year, 4 Jan 2010. The other intriguing thing about it is that high school students are adept enough these days to do DNA barcoding… things have evidently moved on since I was at school.

Also, an update on some news that came out in early December. The ‘arsenic based life form’ that was apparently found by NASA’s Astrobiology Unit in Mono Lake, California, isn’t quite as advertised. It’s true the microbe can utilise arsenic as an alternative to phosphorus, but it’s not ‘arsenic based’ in any real sense – it’s still a CHROPS life form. Details are explained in Pharyngula’s (aka PZ Myers) blog, in the article ‘It’s not an arsenic-based life form‘. The interesting thing, which still hasn’t been addressed, he argues, is how the microbe is adapted to live in an arsenic-rich environment and able to substitute arsenic for phosphorus if that’s all that’s available.

CHROPS, incidentally, is a shorthand for the six key elements involved in living organisms: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur (or sulfur, if you’re from the US). That puts paid to the traditional greeting used by aliens, then – ‘Greetings, carbon-based life form!’ Oh well, we have to move with the times.

The bit I liked was this:

It [the NASA research] doesn’t say a lot about evolutionary history, I’m afraid. These are derived forms of bacteria that are adapting to artificially stringent environmental conditions, and they were found in a geologically young lake — so no, this is not the bacterium primeval. This lake also happens to be on Earth, not Saturn, although maybe being in California gives them extra weirdness points, so I don’t know that it can even say much about extraterrestrial life. It does say that life can survive in a surprisingly broad range of conditions, but we already knew that.

Finally, it turns out some species thought to be extinct aren’t: they had become rare and gone into hiding. Details are in the Mother Nature Network article ‘Lazarus species: 13 “extinct” animals found alive‘.

The term ‘Lazarus species’ is a Biblical reference to Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, though there’s nothing religious about the article.

Don’t, incidentally, bother reading the comments on the Lazarus post unless you want to trawl through about 30 pages of unintelligent flaming from people who are into intelligent design and creationism, and even more general insult-trading based on nothing in particular. Quite why this blog in particular would have attracted those kinds of comments is beyond me.

Not being much of a scientist, I’m not going to make any more detailed comments on the biology, chemistry, botany, or environmental issues, etc. etc. But there’s a lot to think about in all this stuff and indeed things to develop for the purposes of writing stories. I guess, as a final comment, it’s just interesting that being ill and unable to concentrate much, just doing the odd bit of web-surfing, has had an unexpected side-effect in terms of me finding out things I didn’t know about before.

Freelance, creative, blogging and successful?

December 2, 2010 3 comments

If you’re a freelance ‘creative’ – writer, musician, artist, sound engineer, or any of a thousand other skills – your income is going to depend on being able to generate business. I’ve been fortunate enough to generate some large projects and continuing relationships with a few big organisations that continue to commission me, but the world doesn’t stand still and neither can I – or you.

I might add that one company I work with has been bought and sold twice in the last five years and reorganised in between times. Some years they’ve accounted for about 75% of my income and other years, 25%. I’m pleased I’ve been able to stay with them, though conscious that the world moves on and one needs to keep an eye out for the next possibility.

Hence a blog about blogging strategies for freelance creatives in modern, internet-based times, and trying to attract attention and new business. By way of a disclaimer, I’ll admit I haven’t done all of this stuff myself as diligently as I should have done. But I will, honest…

First of all, here’s a diagram. Below, there’s a discussion that highlights a few of the issues it might raise.

Using blogs for success?

Using blogs for success?

What are you selling? Mostly, for creatives, what you’re selling is you – your vision, style, and expertise. Even if you have equipment, like a PA system, or are a band or performer, what you’re selling is still you and your vision, style and expertise. Your internet presence needs to put those things across. If you blog, the usual advice is to post a number of ‘pillar articles’ that people are likely to want to refer to. Those pillar articles may be informational, or commentary, or useful links, or whatever. Leaven the heavy stuff with lighter, maybe slightly personal (but not too personal) stuff.

How are you selling yourself? Visual stuff attracts attention – for blogs, having a picture or illustration with each blog is good advice (which I should take myself more often).

Who are you selling yourself to? This is potentially a difficult question. Is it obvious who your market is? For example, I’m a writer. I’d like my potential readership to know I exist, but primarily I want the people who are likely to publish my stuff to pay attention – companies in need of training packages, higher education, publishers. But without some clever keywording, the people most likely to read my blog will be others in the same position as me. Areas to think about: do different potential client groups use different social networking sites? I notice for example that one company I work for found me through Freelancers in the UK (which costs me a small subscription each year but has been worth it), though individuals in the company tend to link to people via Linkedin (personally I haven’t yet found it a good source for generating actual income, but maybe I need to get out there more). All that said, my conclusion is: you’re trying to sell yourself to people.

I’ve had the experience, for example, of writing a blog that got read by someone in the US, who commented on it, whose comment appeared in their blog and was in turn seen by someone in the UK who wasn’t in the training field but knew someone who was. And I ended up – about a year later – with a request to do some work. If connections are going to be that random, I’d suggest you just need to accept this and not worry too much about ‘target marketing’. Just be clear in your profiles about who you are and what you do.

Some other thoughts:

1. All the advice on networking blogs is that if at all possible, do one blog per day. This keeps the blog itself fresh. Empirically, people I’ve discussed this with get large numbers of hits on their blog of they do this and don’t if they don’t. I’ve been managing two or three bogs a week, so I need to change my habits!

2. The stuff in the diagram about going out there, finding people and commenting on their blogs – it works.

3. If you use RSS feeds to spread yourself around different social networking sites, remember that tags don’t always get included in the feed. You will need periodically to visit all the sites you feed to and deal with tags manually.

4. If you have the skills or know people who do, YouTube and Vimeo seem to be good ways of getting examples of your work out there. Be creative! And make sure everything you do links back to whichever blog is your ‘hub’.

5. If you don’t instantly get enquiries and business, it may be frustrating but it’s normal. Remember the anecdote above about how putting something out got me some new business a year later…

6. The name of the game these days seems to be community building. If you’re able to build or become part of a community of people with multiple skill sets, you can raise your game hugely through collaborations.

The chaos theory of blogging…

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The other day I was reading a friend’s blog, a post that was just a quick this-is-what-my-day-was-like post, ending with ‘how did other people’s day go?’. So I replied, briefly, and said I was working on a new story. Gave headline details of what it was about, just the basic proposition/situation I envisaged for it. My friend replied with a comment on just one incidental point contained in my brief details. But this made me realise that that single point – originally intended as just a bit of context and descriptive colour – was actually the key thing that should drive the story and be the focus of it. Fortunately I was only 1000 words in to something that was only ever intended as about 2500 words, though I don’t know how much of what I’ve written is reusable – but the new focus is very, very cool and if not unique, then certainly only rarely explored.
So it’s one of those cases where a butterfly’s wing of a comment created a mental hurricane that should result in a piece that will be striking and original.

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