Blogging 101, Day Seven: Start Personalizing

A previous Blogging 101 post focused on choosing a theme for your blog, making sure to try out a bunch of different ones in order to find something that really suits you and your purpose. Day seven’s assignment is to go a little further: create and upload a simple header, background, or both. And if you’ve already done that, try a custom widget.

Personally, I like a blog to look fresh and clean and organized, which is why I’m not a big fan of backgrounds. It’s all about your personal preference, of course, but I find that background images on a page that is then going to be covered in walls of text almost always winds up looking very messy and difficult to look at. The most important thing on your blog is the words, so you don’t want anything distracting away from them.

Headers, on the other hand, can be a very simple and excellent way of distinguishing your blog. The proper image can give a clear, instant impression of what your blog is all about. When I first started this blog I found a stock photo of a blank piece of lined paper with a pen and a pencil laying on top of it. I used Photoshop to overlay the name of the blog and my name, and that was my first header. I liked it because my intent was that anyone who came across my blog would immediately recognize me as a writer, and I thought that the pen and pencil on paper achieved that nicely. A little while ago I came to think that it was actually a bit silly to have a blank piece of paper as the token image for a blog called “No Page Left Blank”, so after a bit of thought I decided on something significantly more personal. I grabbed a few of my notebooks – the ones that I scribble just about everything in when a computer is not available – turned them each to a random page, piled them on top of each other, and snapped a photo. BAM. Instant impression, and one that matches the title of the blog a lot better.

As for the second part of today’s assignment, if you look to the right side of my page you’ll see that I’ve already played with my fair share of custom widgets. WordPress has quite a variety of options that you can play with to customize your blog, and I’ve chosen the ones that I think are the most helpful to my purpose. The first one is simply a photo widget so that everyone can get a glimpse of who I am…remember, people care about you more if they feel like they know you. The second widget down is a link to my Facebook Author Page, something that is becoming quite popular and important to an author platform. The third is an embedded Twitter widget that allows you to follow or tweet directly to me, and also shows a couple of my most recent tweets. Finally, there are a few organizational widgets that allow you to search my blog via archive (by month), category, or search field, and an option to follow my blog via email. All important stuff, in my opinion, but also neat and easy on the eyes. It’s easy to get carried away with widgets and wind up with a messy-looking site, so keep that in mind when choosing which of the many options you want to use.

All in all, the big thing is to make your blog something that you love, while also keeping it useful and uncomplicated. You want people to come across your blog and stay because it looks interesting; you don’t want to scare them off because it took them ten minutes to locate the “leave a comment” link. 😉

Caution: Avoid At All Costs

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

43. Mistakes to avoid in manuscripts

My three answers to this prompt are based on personal experience with what I’ve seen people do when submitting excerpts to be critiqued on Critique Circle. If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments.

– One major thing I notice is that tons of people (at least when they’re looking for critiques) pass along pieces of their work that are drowning in spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. This is a huge turnoff for anyone who is reading the piece, whether it be for critique, editing, or publishing purposes. I know that no one is perfect, definitely not myself, and that mistakes will be made, but when you’re reading a piece and you find ten spelling errors in the first half a dozen sentences, you begin to wonder if the piece was submitted to you by a five-year-old. Additionally, I’m sorry, but if you don’t have a half-decent grasp on grammar and punctuation, you might have to reconsider your field. Again, I know no one is perfect – I myself often feel that I’m putting in way too many commas while also feeling that every single one is justified – but if the person reading your piece is finding at least one mistake in every single sentence, you are absolutely not going to be taken seriously.

– Word abuse is a complaint I’ve come across many times, and I can definitely understand why. Have you ever read a book in which the author seemed obsessed with a few particular words or phrases and used them constantly to the point that it was both noticeable and annoying? I definitely have. It’s not something that any writer does on purpose (at least I don’t believe so), but sometimes there is just a word you enjoy and so it weasels its way into your work over and over again. I myself have a tendency to overuse the word “incredulous”. I don’t know why, but it seems to come up constantly and makes editing a nightmare as I struggle for different words to use to break up the bad habit.

– The dreaded Mary-Sue Effect, or more recently known as the Bella Swan Conundrum. If you’ve never heard of a Mary Sue, it’s a name given to characters who are unnaturally perfect, with no discernible flaws to speak of. These characters are written to be the ideal person, loved by everyone, someone who never makes mistakes and is naturally perfect at everything that matters. These types of characters have existed for a long time, but one of the new pop-culture-reference examples is Bella Swan from the Twilight Saga. Bella is not special in any way, other than for the fact that the psychic vampire Edward Cullen cannot read her mind. And yet, despite her decidedly common nature, she is portrayed as (to put it bluntly) the Center of the Universe. All the male characters love her, except for the ones who think her important enough to want to kill. She is constantly surrounded by danger, drama, and conflict, and she always comes out of it completely unscathed. She succeeds in everything she tries. This is not how a main character should be. Some readers love this kind of character because they like to imagine that they are that character…this is called wish fulfillment, and while it can serve it’s purpose, it is not good literature. Good characters should have flaws. They should make stupid mistakes and suffer for them. They should have to struggle for their successes, and they should have to deal with all the same issues that life throws at all of us. If you want to make a good character, make them real, not ideal.