Check Your Site for Problems

When you have your own blogging website for any amount of time, the chances of something breaking seems to go up.  In most cases, the admin side is completely different from the user side, so when something does go awry, it can be difficult to notice, unless you make a point of checking your site regularly for problems.

Anytime you make changes, such as altering a graphic or installing a new plugin, go through your site from the user end and make sure everything looks and works fine.  Some plugins can cause compatibility issues with other plugins, so things like comments, user accounts and even page layout can be affected, costing you readers and making your site unusable.

When you update plugins, always do so one at a time to be sure you can pinpoint and correct any resulting problems.  Likewise, when you change the layout, graphics or design of your site, check after each change to be sure things are still working smoothly.  Be sure to check out every angle, as well, because sometimes things get broken that are seemingly unrelated to whatever maintenance you are doing on the admin side.

Staying on top of problems is definitely easier than fixing them later, and you can’t always rely on your readers to let you know when there is a problem.  I once went two months with no comments on a site, only to discover that an errant plugin made comments not work, so take the time to check on your site frequently and avoid any long term complications.
 

Fear

Is it productive or not?

I come from a family filled with members who are terribly afraid of things. My grandmother never got on a plane in her entire life because she was afraid it would crash. My mother is worried about falling down the stairs, even though she's perfectly able-bodied and fit. They both think about the bad possibilities that could, but probably won't happen. While there's certainly something to be said about being cautious, the line of letting fear cow you out of doing something is toed far too often.

At first, I completely rebelled against their conceptions of fear. I scooted off to college a few states away, to Austria, to New York City, to Seattle without a bit of pause or hesitation. I wanted to prove that nothing could happen when fear invaded rationality. I wanted to prove that I wasn't afraid of anything because fear was counterproductive to the formation of agency and personhood.

I still believe these things. Fear keeps you tethered to your tiny spot of physical space, your tiny spot of ground in your mind from which all of your thoughts and actions spring. I believe that fear is a culture that you breed in yourself, giving yourself more and more freedom to turn away from possibilities because there's something about them that's unknown and scary.

But it's increasingly difficult for me to rationalize away my fears, and it's easier for me to recognize that fear can mean something sometimes. While it's silly to turn away a piece of food because it might still have eyes in its head, sometimes fear shouldn't be overcome; instead, the thing itself that's causing the fear should be discarded.

For a long time, I had such a solid safety net that I didn't need to worry about the consequences of something potentially scary if I failed. I knew that my mother and grandmother would be there, providing me support, financial stability and options if I failed at something I tried.

Now that I'm older, I recognize that those safety precautions are still there, but I don't feel comfortable relying on them so completely. I want to be able to make a life for myself that is secure, rather than doing something so unpredictable and difficult that I most certainly will fail. At the same time, I don't want to fall into the same trap that my relatives have--if you don't make yourself try new, scary things, you'll never be any different than you are now.

To Include Photos or Not

Some may not agree, but blogging is an art form.  You have to combine the right elements in just the right way to have a successful blog, and one of those elements is photos.  Without photos, a blog post can look bland, and while photos may not be necessary to get the point across, they do make it a whole lot more interesting to look at.

Web users are very visual – they like to have something to break up the text.  A solid wall of text is very hard to follow, and many people will lose interest.  If you include a photo or two in the post, you give your readers something to look at, and a way to break up those big chunks of words.

Think of the web pages and articles you find most appealing.  Chances are, they combine different elements such as headers, bullet points and photos to add visual appeal to the page and make it easier to read, and a blog that is easier to read will naturally draw more visitors.

You don’t need to include many photos in a post, unless your topic requires it, such as with a tutorial.  One or two photos that are relevant to your topic will suffice.  If you can, align them within the text to help the page flow more smoothly.

Photos may not be necessary to a blog, but they will help your readers stay attentive and get the message you are trying to send.  You can find photos by visiting creativecommons.org and using their search function.

Finding Images for Your Blog

When you first start blogging, it can be very frustrating to source good quality images that you can freely use.  In case you didn’t know, it is not legal to copy or use pictures from a website without first getting the copyright owner’s permission.  The burden is on you to prove that you have permission, so you must be very careful where you get your images.

The very best place to start when you are looking for images is Creative Commons.  They provide a way to search for Creative Commons licensed photos on multiple sites, including Flickr, Fotopedia, Google Images, Open Clip Art Library and Wikimedia Commons, to name just a few.  You simply type in your query, check if you want to use it for commercial purposes and/or modify and adapt the photo, and then click the site you want to search.  I use Flickr for almost all of my photos.

For the most part, any images you find using Creative Commons will require attribution, which means you must provide a link back to the place you got the image.

Another great site where you can get images without even needing attribution, is Morguefile.  The images here are very high quality, and you can download and use them as much as you want.

Optionally, you can buy images at places like Getty Images, where you pay a fee for using the image.  For most of us, this option is out of the budget, but you can get some excellent photos here.

Finding images is not that difficult, once you know where to look, but you must be sure to abide by the rules of the site you get your images from or risk legal trouble.
 

Proofreading is for Procrastinators

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Proofreading is absolutely necessary when you are a writer.  But like all good things, there is a time and place for it, and if you are proofreading at the wrong time, you are simply procrastinating when you should be writing.

Proofreading should be reserved for when there is something to proof, which means you should be finished with your writing before you hit that backspace button even one time.  If you have Microsoft Word, make sure your grammar check is not turned on, because nothing kills the flow of writing like the appearance of those squiggly lines.  They are enough to drive any sane writer crazy, no matter how good your grammar and typing may be.

If you stop to proofread after every sentence, or even every paragraph, your momentum is disrupted and you have to regain your thoughts every time you start again.  By waiting to proofread until you are through, you will keep a steady flow of consciousness and your words will reflect the continuity.  If you are writing a single article or post, wait until you are completely finished to proofread.  If you are writing something large, like a book, wait until you have finished a page or chapter before proofing. 

So, in order to maximize your efficiency and keep continuity in your writing, hold off on proofreading or making corrections until you have completed what you are working on.  Not only will you write faster, but your edits will also be more accurate, improving the overall quality of your writing.

Pay Attention to Your Online Image

When you are working to make money online, the image you project in the online world is critical.  This is especially true when you are providing a service rather than a product, because your clients will deal with you on a more personal level.  While you already know that what you say in your blog will reflect on you, you may not have considered how the things you say in online forums and other communities can say a lot about you too.

In many of the online communities we writer types frequent, our clients pop in to post jobs and find workers.  A lot of people seem to forget this, because many writer forums are littered with complaints about clients or contributions that may be less than professional.  In forums that are open to search engines, clients may find the site by seeing posts about their company in Google.

Slamming other writers will reflect very poorly on a writer, and if a potential client sees that kind of behavior, it may spell the end of a potentially profitable gig.  If you talk poorly about a client, you may also be putting yourself at risk of legal action for defamation, which can have disastrous results if you have to go to court.

No matter what website you frequent, if your business is tied to your identity there, you should take care to be sure that the things you say and do on that website reflect positively on you, not only as a person, but also as a business.
 

Wordpress Security Tips

Wordpress is probably the most popular blogging platform. It is also a prime target for hackers, because of its open source framework.  Though the likelihood of your Wordpress site being hacked is very small, it is a good idea to implement some basic security practices to help make it more difficult for someone to break into your site.

Change Your Username
The username and password are your first line of defense, and since all WP installations start out with a standard login name of Admin, you are giving away half of your defense by leaving it default.  I use a password generator to generate a random string of characters for my username.  You can add a new name under Users, just make sure to set the permissions to administrator.  Use a different email address to set it up, and then delete your old User account of Admin and change the email address of your new username to the email address you want.

Install a Security Plugin
This will help keep some vulnerable spots in your site inaccessible to hackers.  I use BulletProof Security, a free plugin available through the plugins directory.  Be sure to go in and configure the settings, consulting the help files if you are unsure.

Delete Unused Themes and Plugins
Sometimes, a theme or plugin might have a weak point that gives hackers an opening into your site.  Deleting unused themes and plugins helps eliminate that possibility, because you are unlikely to update those you aren’t using, and updates are the first defense against plugin hacks.

As with any sensitive information, don’t give out your login or password, and make sure the password you choose is strong and hard to guess.  Lastly, visit the live version of your site from time to time to make sure it looks as it should – a hacked site will probably have some changes that you didn’t implement.

Interact with Your Readers

No matter what your intentions with your blog – money, fame, family connections – your readers are the most important aspect of it.  Without readers, all the time you spend writing and researching will be for nothing.  It makes sense, then, to treat them right when they show up at your blog.  One thing that is often overlooked is responding to comments.

When a reader of your blog feels the content is worthy of the time spent to write a comment, you should appreciate their efforts and return the favor by taking the time to reply to what they say.  Think of your own habits when it comes to reading blogs.  You probably only reply on a handful of posts because they really catch your attention, and if the blogger doesn’t bother to respond, you may feel as though you have wasted your time.

The same applies to your own readers.  When they comment on a post, sign up for a newsletter or like your Facebook blog page, they are sharing themselves with you.  You should do the same.

Obviously, there are some readers who interact only to stir up trouble and you should deal with those in whatever way you feel comfortable, but a genuine reader who wants to be part of what you are sharing deserves consideration.

So when your blog hits the big time and those reader comments start pouring in, do what you can to interact with those readers.  Not only will it make them appreciate you more, it will also keep them coming back to your blog.  Readers are more likely to stay with a blog they feel a personal attachment to

Ccleaner to Get Rid of Junk Files

Every day, I visit literally dozens of websites to research for the writing work I do.  You may already know this, but every time you visit a website, data is downloaded for storage offline to help you load that website faster in the future.  In addition, many sites will store cookies on your hard drive to help with certain site features.  All of this data being downloaded can create a huge drain on the resources of your computer.  To help me with my computer, I have been using Ccleaner for several years, and have been very impressed with the results.

Ccleaner is a free program you can download that will help clear up unused files on your computer, improve its speed, and even repair registry errors.  It is customizable, so you don’t have to delete certain types of information if you don’t want to, but it will remove items such as:

  • Temporary Internet files
  • Web history
  • Cookies
  • Autocomplete form entries
  • Download history
  • Recycle bin contents
  • Windows temporary files
  • Log files
  • DNS cache
  • Jump lists
  • Memory dumps


In addition to removing all those cumbersome files, Ccleaner can also help you manage your startup items, system restore points and even installed programs.

As I mentioned, I have been using this program for several years, and it has never caused any trouble with my system, but it sure is effective at clearing up the extra junk.  If you have not performed this type of maintenance on your system in a while, you may notice a considerable improvement in speeds.

So if your system is running slow, or you just want to stay on top of a new system and make sure it stays efficient, try Ccleaner.  You can’t beat the features for the price!

Life Coaches

Should you hire one for yourself?

To most people, the words “life coach” brings to mind a flighty person burning incense and talking about how to put order into the universe. This may be the preferred style of some life coaches, but many of them are all business, helping their clients to put order into their lives, careers and activities.

I worked with a life coach for several months over the last year, and was certainly pleased with the results. We focused primarily on improving my time management skills, as well as setting goals and sticking with them. Most importantly, however, she provided me with support and encouragement when I was trying to make big decisions about my life.

Most people seem to turn to life coaches when their lives are in transition, like I did. I had just graduated from college, and was doing AmeriCorps, a decidedly temporary occupation. I was depressed, per say, but I had no idea how to structure my life outside of the conveniently organized academic system. I was in a sort of malaise that didn’t require psychological counseling—there was nothing wrong with me; I just didn’t know how to get my life on-track.

The most important aspect of my life coaching was certainly gaining the tools to implement a structured life system of my own. Replacing the structure of college life with goals, timelines and deadlines that I created myself was difficult, yet rewarding. My life coach acted as a pseudo-deadline, encouraging me to reach my goals and implementing a time-based structure created through our weekly phone calls.  

She also helped me with career-based necessities like reading my resume, cover letter and other business documents, making sure that they were polished to send away. She encouraged me to create calendars and other web-based reminders so that I would finish my goals. She had me make lists of universities and possible careers, something I could have done on my own, but having someone with who to talk these things through was extremely helpful.

Perhaps people find the idea of having a life coach embarrassing, some sort of signal that they have failed or underachieved in some way. I think the opposite is true. Life coaches take people in transition—perhaps people who are currently unhappy or underachieving in their circumstances—and help them to better parse out their true desires or career ambition.

A life coach may not be permanent, but she also helped we recognize that my current situation didn’t need to be, either.

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