Uncharted Waters

Elaborate sandcastle on the seashore with sun setting and child in background

Image above © mojourner

Smooth between sea and land
Is laid the yellow sand,
And here through summer days
The seed of Adam plays.

Here the child comes to found
His unremaining mound,
And the grown lad to score
Two names upon the shore.

Here, on the level sand,
Between the sea and land,
What shall I build or write
Against the fall of night?

Tell me of runes to grave
That hold the bursting wave,
Or bastions to design
For longer date than mine.

Shall it be Troy or Rome
I fence against the foam,
Or my own name, to stay
When I depart for aye?

Nothing: too near at hand,
Planing the figure sand,
Effacing clean and fast
Cities not built to last
And charms devised in vain,
Pours the confounding main.
--A.E. Housman
(More about this poet)

Featured image by Saif Memon on Unsplash

As we head into summer in our hemisphere, this felt like the right time to share this poem by A. E. Housman. We are fortunate to live very close to the sea and I will never tire of the delight of seaside sunsets.

Sharing a poem by a different poet each month is the feature that speaks to me best, if not exactly my stated course goal.

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Theme vs. Design

“No one spends more time on your blog than you — make sure you love the way it looks.”

If the object of your website is to have people easily find interesting (or specific) tidbits, then isn’t it better to think about arranging your site content for the way your visitors might use it? Are “looks” all that important? In my experience, they may have been at one time, but not so much these days.

Most online content is read today on portable devices, in RSS readers (like the Reader here) or relegated to AMP pages (making the web look like a feature phone, circa 1999) if your site is arrived at through a search engine result or via a twitter link. Those apps strip away anything that is not content. Thankfully, WordPress.com has made checking what your site looks like on mobile devices really easy.

Open up your Customizer. At the bottom of your browser window on the left, you’ll see this:

Preview your entire site easily in the Customizer

The controls at the bottom of the Customizer sidebar allow you to preview the entire published content of your website. The default view is the web browser (looks like a computer monitor), but you can also choose tablet or mobile device. Granted these views are generalized and not device specific, but you’ll have a better idea of how your content is being displayed on mobile. (To really get a good idea how your post displays, sign up to follow your own site!) Preview your draft posts and pages to see how features like the Cover block, Block Patterns and the other suggested content displays on mobile. You might be surprised.

More importantly, do you arrange or customize your content to encourage site visitors to explore beyond the post or page they landed on? Do you use categories and tags? Do you have a focused menu or other layout items, like a Posts block or Related Posts block? (All those are good SEO practices as well.) Because this is all content, the information will appear when someone visits your site online and on a mobile device (if not always as expected), but not when viewing in an RSS reader.

Working my way through the “Love Your Layout” assignment, I found the quote above mildly discomforting. When I’m on my website, I’m usually in the Editor, not looking at the public side of my site, unless I’m previewing it. Is that unusual? Should I be worried?

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Reader, Reader

Never have the first 35 words of your blog post meant so much, or possibly so little!

My WordPress.com “Blogging for Beginners” assignment this week is to get to know the Reader feature and follow 5 new blogs, guilt free. When I open the Reader, I see the few sites I’ve already followed:

  • Whatever John and Athena Scalzi’s blog. (Yes, that John Scalzi.)
  • The Task at Hand someone I followed many years ago, lost and found again. (And had to laugh that her blog showed up in the course’s Reader image.)
  • The Writing Website whose stated purpose is to help writers write!

Notice a very narrow focus there?

To find new sites to follow, I tried Search and this is what I got:

Click this image to open in a larger window.

At the top of the page, just below the Search box, are a few suggested topics, and I’m not sure how they are determined. Then comes a scrolling list of sites, which perhaps is based on those suggested topics. Displayed in that list are a large thumbnail image (featured image), then the post title and then a short post excerpt.

Thinking about your own site, do you feel your post excerpt will pull in new readers? (If you don’t create a post excerpt, or don’t have that option, the first 35 or so words of your post will be displayed.)

Then I thought about adding and following topic tags in the Reader. At first “Blogging for Beginners” looked to be a great way to find blogs of the other participants in our course. However, looking at the tag search results, what do you think?

Not quite what I expected, either. While I understand that the goal of the lesson is to find and follow blogs of interest in the Reader, for this coming year I would like to follow my course mates. At the moment it doesn’t seem like there’s an easy way to do that.

If you know or have an idea how to do that, please speak up!

Success is not measured in Likes

My assignment for Blogging for Beginners this week is to consider what I think of as success for this blog. First and foremost is returning to writing more frequently and in a more natural voice. To accomplish this I’m also, heaven help me, taking a separate self-paced online writing course. From time to time you may see my assignments on this blog. My second goal for this blog is to set up a weekly or bi-weekly feature; still pondering what would best suit the nature of my blog. My last goal, although it might be the most important one, is to connect with other course participants in a more meaningful way through commenting on posts that resonate with me.

Being an old-school kind of gal, I’ve watched the internet grow from a place of email list discussions (anyone here remember list-serv, or flame wars?), to online groups (yahoo groups long before the FB was even an idea), to blogging, to instantaneous feedback through Likes and, well, their like. Personally, I’ve never really counted “Likes” as a means of showing appreciation for a post. Oh, all the big internet and app companies might have already convinced you otherwise, but how much thought or effort does it take on the part of someone to click a button to “Like” a blog post, a tweet, a FB post? To me, “Likes” are a “veni, vidi, vici!” without that last bit. How can we even know if that person took the time to read our post or left their “Like” behind just because it might entice you or others to click through to their site?

If I visit your post and leave a “Like” I’ll also leave a comment because that has far greater meaning to me as well as to you. Comments don’t have to be, nor should they be, an entire blog post (but, you can do that through pingbacks!) nor should they be a one- or two-word response such as “Nice site.” Yes, that means taking more of that most precious commodity we all have so little of, time, and yes, it also means fewer interactions with other bloggers.

To quote a friend of mine,

While “Likes” are nice, comments are the spice of life.

Agree? Disagree?

Table for One

One of the singular topics of this course is understanding who you are writing for. There’s allusions to something called “reader personas,” which makes it sound like one has more than a single reader. Not likely at this stage.

It feels like many (successful?) bloggers have a clear notion of who they’re writing for as well as the topics that motivate them which resonate with their readers. The rest of us struggle with this, mightily! I created my blog to inspire me to write more often and find again that voice I feel I’ve lost. Does that mean my Ideal Reader is a struggling writer? I’m not a “writer,” meaning I’m not looking to publish anywhere outside this blog, but I think many people do struggle with writing.

So welcome to the Guild of Struggling Writers! If you feel a kinship with that title, and belong to the current round of WordPress.com’s Blogging for Beginners course, leave a comment and I’ll figure out how to set up a blogroll or link to you so we can encourage one another.

Note to self: Too terse!

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Saying Hello

  • Why are you blogging publicly instead of keeping a diary?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what do you hope to accomplish?

These are some of the suggested topics for our first post to share with the other learners in our course.

There’s still a lot I don’t know about blogging itself, which is why I’m taking the course, but at the same time don’t yet have a feeling for what this blog will be about or who it will be for, other than myself.

I mentioned in my introductory post that one of the goals I have for my year of Blogging for Beginners is to get back to writing in a more natural voice. During the 15 years preceding my retirement I spent my work day, every day, writing business communications for two older colleagues that effectively changed the way I wrote. My own writing became far more terse and abbreviated. I’m not an author looking to publish or someone with a mission looking for followers; just someone who wants to write more fluidly and descriptively with a less “shopping list” approach.

“Writing in a more natural voice” is pretty broad and doesn’t speak to a particular topic, so I might flounder around a bit until I find a topic that resonates with me and hopefully you, too. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

The authenticity of who you really are, as opposed to who you wish everyone thought you were, is what your audience is looking for.

C. Robert Cargil

A note on commenting: Feedback is the lifeblood of any blog, but all first time comments are held for moderation. Thanks for understanding. Not sure what makes a thoughtful comment? Check out the Comment Guidelines.

Block Basics

Experiment with the block editor by drafting a blog post using at least 3 different blocks. Be creative!

WordPress.com Blogging for Beginners

Have to love that “Be creative!” That there is the biggest hurdle, right?

At least three different blocks. And “Be creative!” Are there certain blocks that encourage creativity? If I put text next to a picture is that considered creative?

Having thus seen how ceramic productions illustrate the art ideas of all nations, having touched upon the influence of pottery upon art in general, and having glanced at its present aims and possible accomplishments, it will not be forgotten, after what has just been said, that the combination of the useful and the beautiful is the great charm of the ceramic art, making between them a new beauty which finds its best place in the household.

That is an interesting thing called a Block Pattern and it comes with all kinds of options after you add it, but no information about working with it. A link to some kind of explanation would be helpful. I mean, I can click and add something to my post and say “Hey, that’s nice!” but knowing more about what I’m adding or how to change it is better.

I did discover that the big question mark in the lower right corner of the editor screen allows you to search for information without leaving the editor or opening a new window.

  • December 9th – Signed up for WordPress.com Blogging for Beginners

  • December 10th – Completed first assignment: Introduction

  • December 12th – Completed second assignment: Block Basics

And that is a Timeline block. The settings are very confusing! I don’t understand how I changed the text color in the sidebar in the top entry, but can’t call up that setting again to change it in the bottom one?

Some blocks require you to have a Premium subscription or better. Is it really worth $100 a year?

  • uploading video directly to your site and embedding
  • nearly all payment options
  • Calendly
  • What’sApp button

Finding my own voice-Introduction

It’s been a struggle, really. I’m not entirely new to blogging, but for upwards of a decade and a half, I spent my entire day (and sometimes night as well) writing in someone else’s voice while my own writing and other creative pursuits dwindled to almost nothing. When it came time to put that period of my life behind me (yes, I’m a retired Boomer), I discovered that my own writing voice and style had disappeared.

Going beyond the limited vocabulary used in business communications is a huge challenge for me because I’ve forgotten so many words (English is my first language, but it’s not the one I use every day). My biggest stumbling block is falling into cliches, like the one I just used to describe the difficulty I have.

I’m currently taking WordPress.com’s “Blogging for Beginners” and while I might not be a complete beginner to the tech behind a blog, my goal in this course is to relearn to write and learn the ins-and-outs of blogging with others.

I hope you’ll join me, but for the meantime, my writing attempts are being published privately until I feel confident enough to share them with you.


If you’re already here, maybe you’d like to read these other posts?

A note on commenting: Feedback is the lifeblood of any blog, but all first time comments are held for moderation. Thanks for understanding. Not sure what makes a thoughtful comment? Check out the Comment Guidelines.

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