Category Archives: Blogging

Arcane Thoughts: Tips for Daily Blogging

Last Thursday I wrote a post on The Benefits of Blogging, which has turned out to be quite popular. One of the comments mentioned how easily you can become overwhelmed trying to create posts daily. I thought I might share a few of the tips that I’ve picked up to make life easier.

Use tools

I use a variety of tools to create my blog. My first pass is done in Microsoft Word. By using an editor I can keep copies of my blog posts locally, should something happen with my blog. (Backups are always a good thing.)

I then use a posting tool to help with the pushing of my entry to the site. Currently I’m using Microsoft Live Writer Beta (http://get.live.com/betas/writer_betas). I cut and paste what I’ve done in Word over to it, and add in embellishments such as graphics or additional HTML. I can swap back and forth between presentation view and html easily.

To do my graphics I use two tools, WinSnap and Paint.Net. I’ve already blogged about WinSnap (http://shrinkster.com/oif), and you can get Paint.Net at http://www.getpaint.net/index2.html. Both of these are free tools.

Finally, if you plan to paste Visual Studio code samples into your blog, an indispensible tool is the “Copy As Html” add-in. I’ve blogged about this as well at http://shrinkster.com/oig.

Write in advance

Using the tools above also allows me to write my articles in advance. Often I’ll pick one or two evenings a week or a quiet Sunday afternoon, and write several articles at once, then post them as each day arrives.

This allows me to take a little bit of the daily stress off, as I don’t have to worry about a post every day. Second, it allows me to write a series of posts much more coherently. You can break large subjects up over multiple days, which means you avoid posts that are too big and won’t overwhelm either your readers or yourself.

Obviously there are times or blogs who are not suited to this. Daily tech news sites, for example. But for most of us, having a week or so worth of posts ready to go is a reasonable balance to achieve.

Write Now. And Later!

Another benefit to writing in advance is that it gives you time to review what you’ve done. You can write the post, then walk away for a bit, several hours at least if not days. Once you’ve had that break, you can come back and re-read what you’ve created. Make sure it still makes sense.

There have been many times I’ve gone back and revised entries I’d written several days earlier, prior to posting. I think it only makes your writing stronger when you can have a break so you can look at your creation with fresh eyes.

Use a Reviewer

When I’ve written something I’m not sure about, or have an especially long piece I want checked for accuracy and consistency, I will ask one of my co-workers or on-line friends to act as a reviewer or editor. I’ll e-mail them the post, and let them make comments. I’ll then incorporate their feedback into the post.

It’s important though to select someone who you have a good relationship with, someone who will give you honest feedback. One way to get good feedback is to use a technique I picked up in Toastmasters: Ask the person what three areas could use improvement, and what three areas did you get right. People aren’t so reluctant to criticize when they know they will also be able to say something positive.

It’s also important to pick someone who is knowledgeable enough about the subject to be able to provide worthwhile feedback. I recently did a series on SQL Server Compact Edition in C#. A coworker, who is good with C# and SQL Server but new to SQL Server Compact Edition, was a great choice to act as a reviewer. In contrast my lovely wife, who is good with computers but doesn’t know a thing about C# or SQL Server, would not have been able to provide the quality of feedback I needed.

Use Illustrations

While not every post is a good fit for a graphic of some sort, many can benefit by having a simple picture or code snippet included. These are pleasing to the eye of the reader. Be careful not to make them so big they dominate the page though, unless you actually need them to (such as in a ‘step by step’ set of instructions).

Use Categories (Tags)

Most blogging tools I know of allow you to add tags or categories to your posts. Use them! And don’t be afraid to use a lot of them, you never know how your readers will need to find the information you are providing.

Additionally, it makes it easier to help others who are interested in a particular topic. Remember the point I made about mentoring in my benefits article? I’ve been surprised at how many times I’ve said “just got to my blog and look at my posts under the XYZ category.”

Be Flexible

Sometimes you need to be able to change what you had originally planned to post. Perhaps some company makes a new announcement you feel the need to respond to. Or perhaps a comment on your blog inspires thought, such as this post. I originally had another post ready for today, but when I read a comment made last night inspiration struck, and this post came to life.

Set Reasonable Goals

My final piece of advice is to set a reasonable posting goal. For me, for various reasons one post per weekday seemed a reasonable goal. You will notice I don’t usually post on the weekends or holidays, to give myself some time off.

Your life though is not mine. You may find three times a week to be enough, or even just once a week. It’s important though to set a goal and stick with it, make it a commitment, just as if it were a job. Just be careful not to set your goal too high, or else you’ll wind up burning out and growing to hate or resent your own blog. Consistency though is the key, again select a goal and stick with it.

Well there you go, a few of the techniques I use that allow me to keep up the pace of daily blogging. Please feel free to leave a comment below with your own tips and tricks.

Arcane Thoughts: Benefits of Blogging

This week marks six months of serious blogging for me. Nearly every weekday I’ve tried to provide some new piece of information. A couple of important milestones have been achieved, as well. Last week this blog rolled over 50,000 hits, and also got its first day with over 1000 hits in a single day.

To celebrate I decided to give the blog a little face lift, and picked a new look. I thought all the blue looked somewhat Microsoftish. I also liked the 3 column look.

Over the past months I’ve been surprised, pleasantly, by some unexpected benefits to keeping up this blog. I thought I’d share some of them with you, should you decide to take the plunge.

Meet and Greet

Through the blog I’ve met some interesting new people, and it’s made a good tool for introducing myself to others.

Self Documenting

I’m sure you’ve heard the notion that well written source code is self documenting. Well this blog has let me document a lot of the things I’ve done in the past, so I can go back and reference it later. Not unlike a personal wiki.

Self Promotion

Like most folks I have an exaggerated sense of self importance. Blogging just reinforces my narcissistic streak and inflates my ego even further. Seriously, if you have an interest in writing, speaking, etc., a blog serves as an important tool in promoting your skills and desires to others.

Mentoring

I guess the biggest surprise has been the ability to use the blog as a mentoring tool. When someone asks a question, it’s been great to be able to say “oh yeah, I wrote a post about that on such and such date, go take a look”. A real time saver too, and it means I don’t overlook telling someone a critical piece of information.

Education

OK, I admit it, some days I’m just blocked. Not a clue what I want to write about. On those days I pull a book off the shelf, open to a random page, and read something. Try some code, and next thing you know I have a post, and I’ve managed to learn something new in the process.

Giving Back

Finally, but I think most importantly, blogging gives me a chance to give back. I’ve learned so much by reading the contributions of others, I feel an obligation to “pay it forward” (so to speak).

Well, what can I say? It’s been a lot of work, but a lot of fun as well, and quite an education to boot.. Thanks for the nice comments and the visits, I look forward to see what the future has in store.

Arcane Thoughts: Tidbits from the web

I’m headed out on a road trip, so this will most likely be the only post this week. Just wanted to hit a few interesting tidbits I’ve found on the web this week.

If you haven’t been keeping up with .Net Rocks lately, you should (see the Arcane Links page). The last few shows have been some really good interviews with lots of super geeky, in depth technical content. The Kate Gregory show was really great (“It’s the speed of light. We’re screwed.”) The MLB show was really good on WCF and card space.

Want to see something disturbing? Thanks to Carl Franklin, I may never look at another chicken mcnugget again. http://www.alnyethelawyerguy.com/al_nye_the_lawyer_guy/2007/03/so_what_really_.html

There’s an interesting list of top 10 lists on Coding Horror. http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000822.html

One of my posts got quoted on the CBS blog report. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/03/19/blogophile/main2586598.shtml

And finally, someone I know just started her blog, go check it out: http://robin-newhorizons-bhm.blogspot.com

Have a good week!

Arcane

Arcane Thoughts: Ze Frank’s Web

Ze Frank has had me thinking about the role of creativity on the web. A lot. There’s a great deal of talk about Web 1.0 versus Web 2.0. Certainly there are some compelling new technologies that some might consider falling into the 2.0 field, such as AJAX.

I don’t think Web 2.0 can be defined by technology though. I think it’s more about the way people use the web. Web 1.0 became strongly driven by business. Sure, individuals had pages, but it was business who dominated Web 1.0.

With 2.0, it seems the individual has moved to the forefront. Blogs, podcasts, videocasts, twitter, all examples of the individual extending his or her creativity to the web. Not only does it give a place to host, but to communicate. An artist can get immediate feedback and interaction with their audience. A global, world wide audience.

In the interest of extending my own creative streak, I’m branching out, trying some of the new services. I’ve setup new twitter and tumblog accounts. Twitter, well I’m not sure why, to be honest I’m not 100% sold on the usefulness, but what the heck.

My tumblog will host my pictures. I’ve had a long interest in digital photography, and I’ll put some of my favorites here for you to enjoy.

http://twitter.com/arcanecode

http://arcanecode.tumblr.com/

Don’t worry, I’ll still be posting .Net magic here, but everyone has to find ways to be awesome. How about you?

Robert Scoble is a Space Alien and I’m Carrying His Love Child

[Picture of Tony Robbins] Self help guru and life trainer Anthony Robbins (http://www.anthonyrobbins.com/) talks about a principle he calls CANI, Constant And Never ending Improvement. As part of my process of continuous self improvement I was looking for advice on writing a better blog.

[Love Child] First let me set the record straight, I’m not really carrying Scoble’s love child. It can walk (well, slither) just fine on it’s own, thank you very much. And the space alien thing is just a rumor. Really. Any resemblance between the love child (above) and Scoble (below) is purely coincidental, antenna not withstanding.

[Robert Scoble - Space Alien??]In a recent post (http://scobleizer.com/2006/12/07/help-a-san-jose-mercury-news-columnist-blog/) Robert was giving some helpful hints to journalist Mike Cassidy (http://www.mercextra.com/blogs/cassidy/) on how to attract folks to his blog. Some really great tips, including using a catchy, controversial name for your entries. Oh, something like “Robert Scoble is a Space Alien and I’m Carrying His Love Child”.

In his advice, Mr. Scoble also suggests making the subtitle of your blog more meaningful, and focused on your target audience. This is good advice that I have implemented. You may notice in my header I’ve changed from “Computer Sorcery at it’s Best” to “Making Microsoft .Net Development Magical” which isn’t as catchy but does a much better job of describing the general theme of my blog. Of course this isn’t the first time Scoble has dispensed blogging advice, he has good information in his Naked Conversations work. (See http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2006/08/9_random_though.html ).

Robert’s not the only one in the family with good advice on blogging either. His lovely wife Maryam had a great post on her site titled 10 Ways To Write A Killer Blog: http://maryamie.spaces.live.com/Blog/cns!9592F3DEF41537A3!2373.entry#comment )

Looking for other good advice, I found an excellent post from someone named Helen’s. Her post “Increasing Traffic To Your Blog” can be found at http://imhelendt.wordpress.com/2006/09/16/increasing-traffic-to-your-blog/ . Over at ProBlogger, they have created a whole page full of good articles called “Blogging for Beginners” (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/02/14/blogging-for-beginners-2/). Even if you are not wanting to make money from your blog, there is still a lot of good info here.

Dennis Mahoney has some good advice on writing for the web in his post “How To Write A Better Weblog” (http://alistapart.com/articles/writebetter/ ). While his advice is aimed at the blogger, overall it is sound for any form of written communication.

I’d like to wrap this up with a little advice of my own. First and foremost, offer value. One of my goals is to offer readers a little something extra that they might not find elsewhere. Perhaps it’s through consolidating information, like I’ve done here, or providing details that I have not seen elsewhere in the blogosphere, like my Virtual PC Step by Step entry.

My next piece of advice would be to write nearly every day. Consistency is the key to creating an effective blog and attracting an audience. It’s very disheartening to find what looks like it could be a good blog, but seeing it only gets updated once a month. I create new entries every week day, generally taking the weekends off.

The number of entries you post in a day is up to you, and the nature of your blog. Since I like to teach and try to do that through my blog, I tend to post one new item a day. Mike Cassidy (see link above) has a news oriented blog, so he too would typically want to present one story a day unless there was breaking news of some kind. Robert Scoble, however, tends to produce many entries a day because his blog is a mixture of quick newsbites mixed with personal observations.

If writing every day seems a bit too much, then do a weekly blog, or do what I do write up your entries in advance and then post one a day. As I mentioned, consistency is the key.

Finally, even if you are not interested in writing your own blog, I would encourage you to read through some of the links I’ve included. It will help you in providing quality feedback in your comments, and I highly encourage you to leave comments! It’s very helpful to us bloggers to hear what’s on your mind, if you found our items useful, and what we can do to make it better.

Paid Blogging

Over on today’s blog post, Robert Scoble mentions some company that does pay per blogging. It’s an interesting concept. After all, folks like John C. Dvorak have been getting paid to talk about their opinions for years, they just do it in a magazine format or on TV. How would it be wrong for an average joe to get paid for his thoughts? Of course there ought to be a few basic rules.

First and foremost it should be disclosed there is payment going on, and who is coughing up the bucks. And second, it ought to be clear if that payment has an effect on the posting. That helps us to understand the difference between a true opinion piece like the afore mentioned Mr. Dvorak might write, and something that resembles a late night infomercial.

I can think of a lot of reasons why someone would not want to accept money for a blog, or certain situations why it might not be appropriate. On the other hand, I can think of some situations where it would be OK to get paid for their thoughts. After all, we we don’t own our thoughts, who does?

Oh, and just for the record, I ain’t making squat for this.