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Essential Elements of Blogging : Generosity.

We’ve talked diligence and design, but this third and final installment in the essential elements of blogging is the most important :

Generosity begets generosity.

I’ve learned that if you want people to pay attention to you, you have to start with paying attention to them first.

It’s how you build community. You can write great content, but if you’re not actively engaging with others through their blogs and social media, your blog will remain a lone little island of you, your mother, and that stranger in Romania.

Also, I should distinguish between positive and negative engagement.

It is the difference between demanding versus inviting, marketing versus dialoguing.

No one wants to be put on the spot to share or endorse your work. No one needs another sales pitch.

When we share good, honest, vulnerable, true stories in our work and engage others in their honesty and vulnerability and talent, we don’t have to beg.

If we give and share unconditionally, if we admit that nothing is original and that creativity is cultivated best through community, everything will grow organically.

My blog didn’t start growing until I started connecting with others through comments, Twitter, and content sharing. I didn’t meet other writers until I fell down the rabbit hole of the blog world. The tandem of blogging and tweeting has connected me to the deeper network of writers that have inspired and changed me. And I learned to engage them without expecting anything in return. I learned to build relationships.

A short but extremely important list of people I’ve discovered :

Ally & Darrell Vesterfelt | Jeff Goins | Samantha Shorey | Joe Bunting | Leigh Kramer | Lore Ferguson

And this is why I won’t ever stop doing my Inspired By series; it’s an unconditional exercise in hospitality and giving credit where credit is due. I would be an empty, inert vessel if I wasn’t reading and exploring other blogs and books and articles every week. What I read has an enormous influence on how I arrive at my own content. I share because otherwise my content would be two-dimensional, and in a sense, dishonest. I share out of gratitude. I share because I want you to be inspired to explore and grow, too.

Check back tomorrow for a full list of lovelinks that helped me develop good blogging habits, or jump in right now by perusing my “Inspired By” links in the column to your right.

Share your own thoughts : What are the golden rules of blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be generous in your work?

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Design

Yesterday we talked diligence as an essential element of blogging, but today we’re going to talk about the funner, sexier side of blogging : design.

I have a background in art, although truthfully, I never finished my dual major in English and Art (I opted for English only, and then simplified that to Communications). Certain professors may read this and scoff at my rather liberal use of “background in.” I never even took a digital tools class (although I have basic experience with Illustrator and InDesign through my job).

And yet, I do care about good design and remember a few things from my art classes in high school and college. Plus, I lived with design majors for four years, so their pretention and jargon had plenty of time to rub off on me.

And if that weren’t enough, I’ve found a plethora of well-designed blogs that have trained my eye for this one essential design principle :

Grab ‘em above the fold.

Or in other words, make a good first impression. Get them at first glance. Give the blog your style, but make sure that the design is easy on the eyes. (Another huge thanks to my fairy blog-father Darrell Vesterfelt for designing my blog!)

Don’t believe that crap about good design only being necessary for design bloggers. The design of a blog is especially important for writing bloggers because bad design distracts from good content.

A couple of tips :

1. Build a blog that looks unique, but sophisticated. Your header is a reader’s first exposure to your brand, so make sure that you’ve at least found a way to customize it in some respect – a font, a color scheme, quality photos.

I would recommend picking the most basic template your blog host has to offer, not one of the templates that has flowers and birds all over it. Why? Because the flowers and birds templates are usually less customizable and harder to read. And also, approximately 1.5 bajillion other bloggers have chosen the same template with the same crazy 70’s floral pattern that burns my retinas and forces me to click away before I can read anything.

2. Make who you are and what you’re about immediately apparent. A profile photo and a 1-2 sentence bio will give them a foundation for understanding your voice and your content.

The blog/blogger that has been most influential in helping me comprehend good design is Bri Emery of Designlovefest. She has great tips for creating a clean and unique space. My dream is to someday attend her Blogshop class.

Here are some great examples of simple, sophisticated blog designs that inspired my new blog design :

Snippet & Ink | Smith & Ratliff | Brynna Lynea | Le Projet D’Amour | fieldguided | Hither & Thither

You’ll notice a few common design denominators that most, if not all of them, exhibit :

  • Lots of white space, and a simple color scheme. You won’t see a whole bunch of boxes and lines squishing their columns and content, or crazy patterns, or a rainbow of blinding colors. You have to give your content room to breathe! Make it feel zen. Make it feel like they’re reading a good book on their back porch on a sunny day.
  • A commanding header.They’re simple, with one or two fonts and one or two colors. These headers are sleek, professional, and to the point. And above all, they’re sexy. Again, no crazy colors or overly treated (distressed, frilled) or cliche fonts. Also, you’ll notice I have a thing for dramatic ampersands. Hey, if you’re going to emphasize something, pick the one thing that’s easily customizable!
  • Their ads aren’t everywhere. If they have them, they’re in their proper place, which is to say, they’re not interrupting their blog content! And also, they’re giving the ads equal weight by making them all the same size, or at least the same column width.
  • Their text is formatted. No CRAZY SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS or underlining, bolding, and italicizing every other word.  They write in an even tone, which means their readers can read in an even tone. And they bullet when necessary, highlight when necessary, and their text layout isn’t all over the place.
  • Their width for photos, columns, and text are all consistent.  It keeps everything orderly! Just take a look for yourself. 

 

What design details entice or deter you from reading a blog? Designers, do you have any thoughts to add to this? 

 

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Essential Elements of Blogging : Diligence

I am not a how-to blogger.

You know the kind. They tell you how to instantly improve your blog in 3, 5, 10, 30 easy steps. They talk about platform and SEO and influence. All of those things are important and I do read some of the good how-to bloggers out there, but I don’t count myself among them because I’m a writer; I find more challenge and value in poetic, reflective, personal writing than I do in building my particular brand of advice-giving. Everyone wants to give advice, but no one wants to take it.

Yet I do think it’s important to take time, in light of launching my new and improved blog, to share some things I’ve learned in the last three years since starting She Writes and Rights. So over this week I’ll share one key element of blogging every day, three in all, one for each year that I’ve blogged. The list could go on forever, but when we boil it down and strip away all the specifics, the things I’m sharing are the most essential parts and they can be implemented in a lot of different ways.

Because it’s not just about what to do, but why and how to do it effectively.

So here’s my thought for today :

Be diligent, even if no one is paying attention to you.

Even if your stats tell you that you only have three readers, and you know for a fact that one of them is your mom and the other two are you and some stranger that lives in Romania, be diligent.

Diligence is about consistency, habit, and building your voice.

I lose my diligence easily. My habits ebb with my mood, and for a long time my writing suffered because of it.

The thing that helped me break my habit of non-diligence was creating a weekly series, or blogging about the same general topic on the same day each week. I don’t always follow the series rule, but generally, you can expect me to share a post in my bookish series on Mondays, poetry posts on Tuesday or Wednesday, short, freeform essays/poems on Wednesday or Thursday, and my Inspired By posts full of lovelinks every Friday.

This strategy has helped me face the blank page without fear. It has taken away the “what should I write about?!” anxiety that comes with blogging, or writing in general, for that matter. In effect, I’ve given myself a weekly assignment, or prompt, to help me focus my thoughts.

And that’s the other thing, if you create a structure of consistency, cranking out 500-700 words suddenly doesn’t seem like a big, scary deal anymore. Or, in my case, editing it down to 500-700 words doesn’t seem so hard. Miracle of miracles, I’m learning to write more efficiently. My English profs would be so proud!

What are the ways that you’ve learned to be diligent in your blogging? Or if you don’t blog, how have you learned to be diligent in your work?

The Best Recipes Are Our Own [Eventually]

I don’t follow recipes well when cooking.

My method usually goes as such:


1.
Look up several different recipes, compare and contrast.
2. List common ingredients and steps.
3. Ask: what can I do to make it my own?
4. Give it a go.
5. Take note of the missing flavors and textures; tweak it for next time.

This is the closest thing to a scientific experiment you’ll ever find me doing. Except that it’s definitely not scientific, nor is it proven fact. It’s just me and my independent streak. Today I made beef stew from scratch, plus no-yeast biscuits from scratch. (Note: the no-yeast part is important. I try to avoid finicky ingredients at all costs.)

To make the stew I looked at nearly a dozen different recipes. Most of them were very similar, so I wrote down the basics and then gave it a shot. With the biscuits I only found one recipe that had only the ingredients I already knew I had in possession. (Flour, milk, shortening, salt, baking powder.) When I began to knead the dough I realized it was too dry and added one egg white – the perfect glue!

As I worked on my dinner, which I planned to serve not just to myself and my husband, but to our friends who were coming over (eek!), I began to get nervous. What if it doesn’t turn out? What if the stew tastes bland and brothy? Did I put too many onions in it? What if the biscuits come out hard as rocks? Did I make enough food for everyone?… Why is it that I always decide to get gutsy and experimental when company is coming for dinner? You’d think I would stick with the easy and familiar instead of risking my culinary reputation over a desire to master the art of a beef stew on my first try.

Why didn’t I just make something I already know how to make? Good question. There are plenty of soup and stew recipes from my mom, aunts, grandmas, cousins and in-laws that I could have used instead of hodge-podging my own recipe. Why am I so damn independent?!

And yet. It’s not that I don’t love or trust their recipes. They’re like old friends, and a little like the people that handed them down to me : comforting, familiar, faithful, reliable, full of family quirks and personality. But the recipes aren’t my own. If you know me, then you’re probably nodding your head (Mom, Grammy, Aunt Bev?) “Recipes, schmecipes” – That’s me. As it turns out, my instincts were not off base. My biscuits turned out soft and crumbly, very nearly like the correct texture and the flavor was light and buttery.

For next time: use buttermilk instead of 2% and a few tablespoons less flour. The stew turned out to be a soup, but the flavor was good. For next time: make sure the base of the soup is thicker. After browning the meat, add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of flour to the meat drippings in the skillet. Heat and stir until thick and golden brown. Add a cup of beef broth to the mixture and stir thoroughly until it thickens. THEN add to the rest of the broth, plus the meat, veggies and herbs in the slow cooker.

And my life?

Instincts : good.

Foundation : solid.

Flavor : delicious.

Recipe : it’s a work in progress, but it’s my own.

The best part : I’m learning.