Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coming Down to the Wire

Writing stats, 1 day, less than 5 hours before NaNo: 

  • 50,009 words completed on my sci-fi work in progress
  • 1,000 words or less from finishing my sci-fi work in progress. YES!
  • 4 character descriptions (approx.) shy of what I would like to have before I start NaNo
  • 1/2 of an outline done for my NaNo plot
  • 1 internship accepted at a rate of:
  • 5-10 hours per week
  • 1 potential part-time job offer in the works
  Figures I'd start having actual commitments to people right before NaNo starts. Like I said last week, when it rains it pours.
  Finally got the new website project transfer completed and redesigned! It's up and running and looks beautiful.
    As far as NaNo goes, I think the biggest problem I'm having is that I've never tried to write a story like this before and my imagination is coming up short. It's a sci-fi alien comedy story. Sort of in the fashion of Douglas Adams, but I'm not that funny. I just had a bit of insight this morning into a direction I could take it, but I still don't have a solid character description for any of my main characters. I have names and a couple of minor personality traits. That's it. Starting to get scared.
    However, now that I've decided which items on my to-do list can be put on hold once NaNo begins, I feel a little better. I just am going to feel guilty every time one of them gets pushed back. My goal is to make better use of my weekends, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I'm hoping a lot of the television shows will go on break for a couple weeks. I am going to have to cut way back on those and watch them on Hulu, which I have found allows me to multi-task better than live shows. In any case, the blogs are probably going to be fewer and farther between, but maybe that will allow me more time to choose more interesting topics.
    In other news, I set up my first free Kindle promotion for the ebook version of my latest book and it has been doing pretty well. I was a little nervous nobody would even look at it, but a fair number have and have downloaded it! Now I'm just nervous that nobody will like it. I hope that the people who do read it (and didn't just add it to their libraries on principle because it was free) like it, and those that do like it leave reviews! We'll see how it plays out over the next few weeks. If it starts getting bad reviews, I may have to start writing under a pen name, though probably not Constant Writer ;)
    As to Hurricane Sandy, I hope everyone out east is staying safe and keeping their spirits up as the storm wraps up. I can't imagine what it's like to see that kind of devastation in your own backyard, but I hope that everyone knows that the entire country is sending out good thoughts, prayers, and well wishes in your direction :)
Stay strong and keep your head up.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Battle Royale: Internet: 4 Me: 1

  I've been trying to transfer my friend's website for about two or three weeks now. Originally, the domain was purchased through Blogger/Google and hosted through a partnership with Enom. It was an easy process, REALLY affordable, and it offered easy design options with the Blogger templates. Then, we wanted to redesign, but Blogger is pretty limited to the templates unless you are an HTML and CSS whiz.
    The first redesign I had little to do with, but this recent one has been a nightmare, mainly because of how difficult it is to transfer a domain from one host to another if you're not a professional IT person. I know my way around pretty well--set up my site and a subdomain on my own. But this new one was just problem after problem.
    On the bright side, it's finally transferred, and we're hoping to wrap up the design within the next day or two. At least now we know about how the process is supposed to go, but it really sucked learning the hard way on this one. Like I said, nightmare.
    It has been a busy week, dealing with problem after problem with the domain setup and design. In addition, I had two interviews, two prove-yourself tests (social media plan and paragraph revision) for two different positions (both of which I have been offered), plus, I still haven't finished my current book and Nano is only 5 days away.
    I am really getting nervous about Nano this year. With all this other stuff I have going on, and barely having time to write my book as it is, cranking out 50k words next month is starting to look really scary. I still think I can do it, but I am going to have to drop the blogging quite a bit, and the social media (between Twitter, Triberr and Goodreads, I'm amazed I get as much done as I do!).
    Anyway, looking forward to checking out a local minor league hockey game for the first time this year and getting a break from all the hubbub!
When it rains, it pours.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Whirlwind of a Week

  So, I got a job last week. And I've already left it. I can handle a lot. I'm smart. I work hard. I'm eager to please. I like to learn new things and improve my skills. However, I studied philosophy. I meditate. I am pretty in tune with myself, my abilities, and my limits. My limits were tested this past week.
    At my last job, my limits were also tested, but in a different way. I could have stuck it out there for a while. I was unhappy, but not upset. This job upset me. I was in physical discomfort and mental strain for most of the few days I was there.
I literally had a knot in my stomach working with the boss, and more than once, I was brought to the verge of tears as I drove home because of how stressful it had been. If that is happening during the first few days of a job, it isn't hard to tell that it's not the right place for me to be. There need be no further analysis.
    It was the "method" that the boss used to train that was so stressful. It was hovering, micromanaging, correcting me as I wrote an email or a document--I have never in my life experienced such a lack of trust or confidence in anything I did so much as I experienced this past week. I know I'm knew. I don't expect to get it all right the first time. I'm happy to have somebody look over my work before it's sent out or filed away. But I'm not an idiot--I haven't gained the skills I have through luck or chance. I know that if somebody rewrites my work, it's not because it was so unsatisfactory it couldn't be used. It's because they have too much focus on how "they" would do it.
    I am going to keep looking. I know there is something out there that will offer me what I'm looking for: the chance to learn some new things, meet some great people, and do a good job at whatever I'm doing.
    So, as evidenced by this post being a little later than usual, I've fallen behind because of the tumult this job caused me. I was too exhausted and stressed to get much done over the past few days, but I'm trying to get back on track.
 Know thy limits.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Do NaNoWriMo Next Month

  We are all super-busy. We all have too much on our plates. We are all one bad day away from crying in the supermarket because they don't have our favorite brand of potato chips. It happens. Life is overwhelming. Life is busy. So, taking on such a project, 50,000 words in 30 days, on top of all your other responsibilities, is no small task.
    But it's worth it. If you're a writer, or want to be, the novel is the ultimate achievement. Publishable or not, published or not, a single creative work of that magnitude is something to be proud of. But how to do it?  How can you possibly find the time to write a novel when you have so much other stuff to do?
For the why, read 5 Reasons to Do NaNoWriMo Next Month.

Here's how, in 5 steps.

  1. Say YES. 
    You can't write a novel if you don't say yes to writing one in the first place. This means telling everybody you know that you're writing it. Tweeting, Facebooking, calling up old friends, new friends, grandparents, or whoever, and telling the entire world that you are saying yes to your dream of writing a novel.
  2. Start planning.
    You need an idea. It doesn't have to be a big idea. It doesn't have to be sexy or action-packed or literary genius. It just needs to be an idea that you can tell a 50,000 word story about. That may seem like a tall order, but if you choose something interesting, something you can have fun with, it's not as tall as it seems. You can do a mind map (big bubbles on a piece of notebook paper with characters names and bits of plot steps or backstory, connected with squiggly lines), you can write an outline (I.A.1.a.i.), or you can just take your idea and run with it. It's up to you.
  3. Start writing!
    When November 1 arrives (and not a moment before--honor system!), get your butt in gear. Rehearse upcoming scenes in the shower. Write while you eat breakfast. Skip your television shows, or write while you watch. Plan your next big scene on the drive home (in your head, of course--don't write and drive!). Wherever you have to steal a few minutes to write your book, do it. That's the only way you're going to finish if your schedule is especially tight.  
  4. Keep writing! 
    Yeah, it's not that original, but it's necessary. Once you get going, you might feel tempted to give up. Don't do it. Keep writing. If you fall behind schedule--NaNo time asks for an average of 1,667 words a day--DON'T PANIC. Use your weekends to your full advantage. You can find time to catch yourself up. Snow day? Use it to write! Come down with the flu? Bring your laptop to bed and write. Whatever you have to do, this contest will teach you to use your time well if nothing else!
  5. Use the NaNo resources.
    NaNo offers a TON of resources to participants: inspirational and motivational emails called pep talks from your local municipal liaisons and guest writers; forums for writers based on various topics, genres, and locations; write-ins organized by the liaisons; videos, blogs, and tips from writers around the world to help you keep your novel going. With their help, you can power through and get your 50,000 words. 
    It is possible to write 50,000 words in a month. I've done it 3 times, and thousands more do it every year. I'm a little nervous for the first time this year because I have never been working on so many writing-related projects at the same time, but I still think I've got it in me to go for number 4. I may have to cut back temporarily on blogging (including Insistent and Persistent), TV, Twitter, and Triberr--my biggest time-sucks--but I think I can still do it. And you can too.
YOU wrote it all night long! 

Sign up at www.NaNoWriMo.org and get going on your novel!

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's Going to Be a Long Fall (Season)

  It's going to be a busy fall season! If you hadn't realized, it's already the second week of October, which means National Novel Writing Month is coming up in about 3 weeks.
    I am wrapping up one novel--with the goal to finish it before November 1, planning for my NaNo novel, also due November 1, preparing to edit a story I wrote a couple years ago--something I'd like to finish by the end of 2012, as well as continuing marketing for my recently published book through social media, guest blogs, review requests, etc.
    This marketing process will be ongoing until either A) it does so well I don't need to spend as much time telling people about it, B) it starts getting such bad reviews that I won't be able to recover, C) my next book is ready to release and I will have to devote more time and effort to promoting that one.
    And all of that is just the stuff on my "book/writing" to-do list! This is on top of my marketing work for my friend's website that I've been doing, as well as searching for a new job.

Scrivener; for Microsoft Windows
    However, I have an ace up my sleeve this year: I recently bought (with my awesome NaNo winner discount) the software program Scrivener. If you haven't heard of it, it is a writing software that can help you organize and lay out writing projects more easily. It features outlining, pinboards, keyword assignment, and too many other things to name. I've started using it with my current book, and I can't tell you how much easier it's been for me to figure out what I need to do next, which sections need to be added to, where previous characters appeared, and refer back to my outlines, character descriptions, maps, and other planning documents.
    Granted, I had to spend some time getting all those things in order first--uploading files and separating them out, adding the keywords,  etc., but since then, it's been so much easier to go back and work on chapters that need additional scenes or find any anachronisms in my timeline.
    Once I get to the editing process, I think this program will be even more helpful, rearranging scenes, matching up subplots, organizing the timeline, and catching any plot mistakes.
    Last year, I did a post on why you should do NaNoWriMo (make sure to read the comments!). This year, I'm going to go over how to do NaNo when you have a schedule as busy as mine or busier. You know what my schedule looks like for the remainder of the year--this is all on the schedule regardless of whether I get a part or full time job in the meantime. Check back tomorrow for the follow-up, "How to Do NaNoWriMo Next Month."
Ain't no rest for the wicked.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Back to the Future: Part 2

If your blogroll is
that long, do everyone
a favor and put it on
its own page!
  Yesterday, I started enumerating some of the issues I found in a number of blogs that I had visited, looking for people to review my book. The list and explanation came out so long that I broke it into two posts: here's part 2:

3) Layout problems were incredible. Lots of these bloggers have sidebars that keep going and going and going and going down the page, sometimes far beyond the end of the posts they display on their home page. Now, this particular issue is really easy to do because sites like Blogger and WordPress let you add as many sidebar items as you want, but that doesn't mean you should get carried away. Not all of that junk needs to be on a sidebar, which is something that a visitor sees on EVERY SINGLE PAGE of your site.

    Case in point, this one on the left. See where the red ad is. That's the end of the content on this page. I spray-painted over the names and face of the author to be nice and protect them from being the known object of ridicule, but seriously, if your blog roll is that long (it took me 3 or 4 screenshots to get the entire page from top to bottom), put it on its own separate page, not in your sidebar.

    Not only were the sidebars excessively long in some cases, many blogs also had photos and widgets that stuck out over the edges of the sidebar area. This is a rookie mistake. Many new bloggers only check out the "administrative"/back-end of the site where they create posts and set up the layout on their own, so they don't realize that stuff is going to look different on the "front-end" of the site that visitors see.

    Usually, if a blogger is really focused on making their site a place people want to stay and read posts, they start previewing posts and checking how the site looks on the front-end when they make changes or want to add a new widget. I would venture that many of these bloggers hadn't seen the front-end of their blog in months if not longer.

    Another point, don't do the thing where your page just keeps loading older posts as a person scrolls down. People hate how Facebook does it because it always loses your place, and it drives me nuts because you can never find out what's in the footer. An archive is completely sufficient for people to view your older posts. Nobody is actually going to read all 214 of your posts in order in one go. 

4) Layout problems lead to load time issues. What's load time? It's how long it takes a web browser to display your site from the time someone clicks a link to the time the page and all its bells and whistles finish displaying. If you're running twenty tabs on your browser at once, this is going to slow down any web page. But if all those sites have a ton of photos, Javascript, and 3rd party applications running on them, it's going to slow down the load times even more.

    For example, if you open 20 tabs on Craigslist, you're not going to have much trouble with load time. Most pages are comprised of basic HTML and text. But if you try to open a bunch of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Pinterest, Chipotle, HBOGo, etc. that have auto-reload functionality, Flash or Javascript code, or lots of (especially high-resolution) photos, all at once, they're all gonna take their sweet time loading.

    And some may not load correctly because the browser is so bogged down trying to open all the pages with complex code on them that not all the requests to the server are completed. When this happens, you end up with a site that has gaping holes where photos or widgets should be, marked by X's, blank boxes, or half-loaded pictures. 

    Nobody wants this. Especially not your readers. Worse than that, especially for new visitors, if the page doesn't load fast enough, they might leave before it finishes and decide not to come back.

    You know what else slows down page-speed/load time? THIRD PARTY APPLICATIONS/WIDGETS/PHOTOS. This means your "Networked Blogs" widgets, your Flickr/Photobucket slideshows, GetGlue widgets, or ANYTHING you got the code for on another website to add to your site. Even if it's an image link from another site. Every time somebody visits your website, these applications and widgets have to send a request to these third party/external servers to find the information that populates them. Because the web browser is now sending requests to several different servers at the same time, it takes longer for all of them to respond.

    This is not to say you need to get rid of all the third party functionality on your site. Just use them in moderation. Try them and see how long it takes for your page to open. If it's more than 3 to 5 seconds, it may not be worth it. I use third party functionality on my blog, but most of my widgets are native to Blogger or are images I uploaded myself. Images are usually not a big drag on load time unless you have a LOT of them or unless they are all being pulled in from external websites.

Summing Up:

    For me, I look at these kind of issues two ways: 1) long, disorganized sidebars, links and content show you really have a lot to share, and you want to show off your appreciation for readers, fellow bloggers, etc. On the other, if these issues are really bad, e.g. it takes me longer than about half a minute (including load time!) to find what I'm looking for due to either bad navigation/organization or slow page speeds, it kind of ruins your site for me. You might have a lot of great information to share, but I'm not going to stay on your site long enough to find out because your site is an eyesore or tests my patience taking too long to load. I am on my computer enough as it is that I don't want to have to spend more time waiting for all your third party apps or gigantic headers to load. I've got other things to do.
    The only reason I stuck around long enough on most of these sites is because I was on a mission. I wanted to find people in the writing/book community to begin relationships with in the hopes of promoting my book. So I was patient. If I had been a reader looking for reviews on a book I wanted to read, I wouldn't have stuck around for many of them.
    All in all, take pride in your blog. It's a part of your online identity, and people like me who don't know you personally are judging you by it. Make it your own, but make it accessible and enjoyable to the people who also care about it--your readers.
Design matters. Ease up on the widgets!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back to the Future: Part 1

  I feel like I took a trip into 1999 last night. I've mentioned my recent entry into self-publishing, and I've been on the prowl for marketing options for my book. (Something I'm not crazy about, as I explained in last week's post.)
You remember sites like this. I hope you've updated yours
to fit into the 21st century a little better!
    So, I've been searching for blogs and websites where I can write guest posts, do interviews, or solicit a review from the blogger, and I am sorry to say that even in this modern, tech-savvy, drag-and-drop web-builder world, too many people still have awful-looking blogs and websites. Why do I bring up 1999? Because that was a time when you only build the most basic of websites if you didn't know much about coding or design. And some of these sites I looked at gave off that same feel--like the person who created them had no idea what they were doing and just slapped a bunch of stuff together and called it good.
    To be fair, some people had really beautiful sites. But they are in the minority. I must have looked at over a hundred different blogs and websites last night, and I was plagued by slow load times, an excess of 3rd party widgets and plugins, gigantic headers, ridiculously confusing navigation, poorly arranged photos and widgets that didn't fit the content/sidebar areas of the site, and things that were just plain ugly, like background images, colors, logos, poor quality photos, etc.
    I worked at a web design company, so I probably notice this stuff a lot more than the average person, but, especially with the slow load times, I don't know how these people have so many page views and so many followers with a site as disorganized/ugly/confusing as that!

  Because of all the problems I found, I'm going to break the analysis and advice into two parts. Part 2 will be up tomorrow.

1) Some of these people had gigantic headers, like took-up-almost-the-ENTIRE-screen big. Most of them were really pretty, and often, these were some of the better designed sites, but as far as attracting new visitors go, gigantic headers like that are one of the worst things you can do, no matter how pretty is it. Why? People spend the majority of their time on a website homepage ABOVE THE FOLD (i.e. the part of the webpage you see when you first arrive on a website without scrolling down at all).

Apparently these guys specialize in gigantic headers. Which might work for some products,
but for most sites, a big header is taking away from all the other great stuff you have to offer.
   Aside from not giving a new visitor any idea of what you do beyond what's in your header image, these big images can really take a toll on your load time/page speed (i.e. how long it takes for a web browser to load all the elements on a webpage from the time that a person clicks a link to the time that the page finishes loading.)

2) Confusing navigation was another issue. The majority of the sites were book blogging sites that published book reviews and accepted review requests from authors and publishers. The majority of them also had a review policy page which explained what types of books they accepted, among other details like whether they preferred print or ebook format.

    However, I would venture to say that at least a third of the sites I looked at had hidden this page somewhere on their site. If it's a big part of what you do, it should be ABOVE THE FOLD, and it should be easy enough for someone to find if that's what they're looking for. This means it should be in the navigation menu or in a widget or text box at the very top of the page. Some people had them hidden in "about" pages, "contact" pages, or profile widgets, and some of them were just little links hidden halfway down the homepage in between two other garish images or flashy widgets.

    That's it for today. Consider your website or blog and ask yourself if you commit any of these faux pas that can wreck your new visitor stats. Make sure to check back tomorrow for the rest of the list!

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