Pet Peeves Du Jour, Volume 743

I do not know why I am crabby today. It’s raining? I have a million things to do, but I’m completely uninspired? My Ricky Martin CD has a giant scratch on it? All my readers dumped me because I like “Living La Vida Loca?” Take your pick.

Preschoolers with squeakers in their shoes. When a baby begins to take those first wobbly steps, little squeaker-shoes are kind of cute. When the kid has the speed and coordination to train for the Boston Marathon, it’s time to give us all a break. Mom and Dad, you realize that the other people around you have ears, too, right?

Politicians who write off any concern for the environment as a strictly liberal agenda. The Lord gave man dominion over the animals in Genesis 1:26. Dominion is not equal to BDSM. Just because God put is in charge doesn’t mean we have the right to go all Christian Grey on the planet and screw it over every which way from Sunday, dumping poisons into the sky and water and killing our forests. Besides, I thought the notion of not pooping where we eat was more common sense than political.

Radio stations that play the same ten songs. Over and over and over. Hey, DJs! I have a secret to share! New music is released every Tuesday. And did you also know that each new album consists of more than one song? I know DJs gotta promote what they gotta promote, but those truncated playlists drive me to turn off the radio and put in a CD of my own choosing. That I will listen to over and over and over. So there.

Changes in website interface that interferes with functionality. WordPress, I’m looking at you, here. The old interface was easier for someone with my vision issues to read. The new stats page is an endless scroll in a predominately light-blue. I didn’t use my stats page a great deal before. I certainly use it less now. And let’s not even talk about the “new and improved” editor where some of the old options are either gone or so well-hidden I can’t find them. This peeve isn’t the least bit funny, actually. I spend many hours on WordPress. Functionality lost  = time wasted.

Labeling things as “artisanal.” Stop it right now! If you’ve carved a jewelry box out of a chunk of cherry wood, you’re an artisan. If you made a popsicle, you are not. Same goes for “handcrafted.”

Homophones. Why, Y, wye?!

What’s on your nerves today?

 

Recently I announced the winners of the Mixed Feelings giveaway. The grand prize winner never claimed her prize, so we went back to Rafflecopter to choose another e-book winner. Congrats to A. Burdick on winning the e-book. Of course, choosing a new grand prize winner meant turning once again to Pixel, who has the work ethic of, well, a cat. 2 bows, and a pound of catnip later, let’s see how she did.

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read, Part 2

This is the second bit of a mini-series on blog writing. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.

There are endless how-to posts about blogging out there. A quick online search for “How to write a blog” turns up 723 million results, and I do not pretend to have the be-all, end-all guide. I encourage you to read other posts on the topic to find what works for you. In this space, I’ll share what has worked for me, both as a reader and a blogger.

1) Watch the length of your posts. This is a brilliant bit of advice from Angelique at Sappho’s Torque. I agree. I prefer to read posts that are 1200 words or fewer under normal circumstances. 700 words is even better. It’s not because I have a short attention-span and am easily distracted (Here, kitty! Can I braid your hair?). It’s because shorter posts are frequently better-written. Not always. Not always. Not always. I follow some blogs that routinely pass the 2K mark, and I stick around because they are stellar. But more often, shorter posts tend to get to the point quicker and more clearly. In the words of good old Polonius, brevity is the soul of wit.

2) Understand that not everyone is going to like you. And that’s… okay. (I feel like I’m channeling my inner Stuart Smalley here.)

And that's...okay. Photo credit

And that’s…okay. Photo credit

It’s also the hardest thing for most of us to accept. We want to write something brilliant, something that will resonate with everyone. But think about it. There are seven billion people on this planet. That’s a lot of resonance for one blog. The better goal to aim for is that each time we hit “Publish,” we make someone (someone, not somebillion) laugh/think/smile/start a conversation.

Negative comments happen sometimes. I have both read and written posts that hit someone’s nerve. The bigger your audience, the more likely you are to make someone mad. Comments can be unkind. It’s up to you to handle them in good grace, and to define what “good grace” means to you. Do you delete those comments? Allow but ignore? Allow and respond? You decide. But my best advice is to grow a thick skin and let it slide.

Sometimes, worse than spawning a giant poop storm,  a post is ignored completely and quietly dies. I bet every blogger out there has a post that didn’t get the attention they thought it deserved. It happens. But if one person got one thing out of it, maybe that can be enough.

3. Make your blog visually appealing. First impressions are everything. A blog appeals to me when it’s easy to find what I’m looking for, but it’s not an information over-load. Some things are a matter of taste, of course. Here are some suggestions for layout.

  • Three must-have widgetssearch, email follow, social media follow. Sometimes a post you wrote sticks in someone’s mind. Make it easy to locate. Also, an email follow button is appreciated. Clicking “Follow” at the top of a blog means that blog shows up in someone’s reader where it can get buried really fast. Give folks the option of appearing in their email inbox where they are more likely to see (and read) it. Social media widgets give readers more options for how to follow you.
  • Choose a theme that is easy to read. No white text on black, please. Or that deadly “Google blue.”  Show old eyes some love. WordPress has so many themes to choose from, and you can give them a tiny test-run before you commit. Many are free.
  • Consider carefully the location of your widgets. Nine times out of ten, widgets that run down the sides of the page are more useful than ones clustered at the bottom. It’s a cleaner look, and the widgets are more obvious. I followed one blog for a year before I realized the widgets were all at the bottom of the page.
  • Limit the number of posts that appear on a page. On WordPress, go to WP Admin>settings>reading, and then choose how many posts should appear. 10 or fewer is best. When a reader has to load every post you’ve written, it takes forever. Slow-load means fewer readers.

One blog I love is Peas and Cougars. If you visit Rae’s site, you’ll see she has an attractive header and image widgets on the sidebars that are pastel and not too distracting. There’s plenty of white space and just enough going on to make it interesting.

4. Lift the seat before you pee. Whoops. Wrong…list… my bad.

5. Blog about what interests you. There is nothing more appealing than someone sharing something they really love. I love a fanatic. One of my favorite Tweeters is passionate about sports.  I don’t know a futbol from soccer (see what I did there?), but she does, and her enthusiasm (and sometimes rage) is entertaining and contagious.

Some blogs have a focus topic tight as a laser-beam. I always know what to expect when I visit. Others are a mixed-bag, always full of surprises. Both can work well. Alexandra began her blog taking photos of her exotic cat. Later, she began adding posts and a shop to raise money for homeless cats in her country of Montenegro, where there are no cat programs or shelters. She handled her focus-change neatly by adding a menu bar at the top of her page to help readers find the posts that most interest them. To learn how to create a menu, go here.


So that’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll post a part 3, and then we’ll talk about blogging and social media. If you use Pinterest or Instagram to promote your blog, please  let me know. I may go out on a limb and offer a guest post position on these two, since I don’t have direct experience myself.

Fun Friday: Walking Among Giants

Every day I have the privilege of working with people who know so much more than I ever will about our shared field. It is inspiring, sometimes frustrating, always humbling. Speaking of humble, do not EVER tell the guys I said they were brilliant and awesome because they would never let me forget it. Kthnx.

Today, I introduce you to another giant. In my new job,  am working with species that are new to me, including this one. I bet she’s new to most of you, as well. Meet our female Plated Leaf Chameleon, Brookesia stumpffi. Click to enlarge.

I call her Gigantor.

I call her Gigantor.

This species is endemic to northwestern Madagascar and is typically found on the forest floor. Here’s another photo. This one’s my favorite. Click to enlarge.

Brookesia stumpfii and an American quarter, which outweighs her by 2 grams. I should call her Big Mama.

Brookesia stumpfii and an American quarter, which outweighs her by  about 2 grams. I should call her Big Mama.

She’s a big girl, right?  And if we’re lucky, she’s carrying eggs. They lay 2-3 at a time, which are quite large given her diminutive size.

I love my job. Always something new.

What’s new in your world?

 

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Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Lessons Learned

Life has a way of teaching us what we need to know if only we are paying attention. Some lessons are easy; some we learn have to learn the hard way.

Intriguing. Watson, take notes...

“Hey, little buddy! Let’s play!”

Today, Pixel learned about stinkbugs. Yo, fuzz-face! There’s a reason they’re called that!

UUUGH!

“Oh, $%#!”

It looks like she’s learned her lesson.

That was terrible! I wonder if they only smell bad on Wednesdays...

That was terrible! HORRIBLE!  They can’t always be that nasty.  Hmmm….I think maybe they only smell bad on Wednesdays.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

 

Hey, listen. If you entered my drawing for the ebook and grand prize back in November, be sure to check the email you used when you entered. We’re trying to get in touch with the winner. Beth B, are you out there?

 

How To Write a Blog So That People Will Read

This year, one very popular resolution  has been to either start a blog or to be more involved with an existing one. I think I can help you guys out!

No one asked me for advice, but I’ll pretend they did. I think I’m pretty qualified to make some suggestions, not because I’m a blogger, but because am a reader. I read blogs. A lot of them. Every, single day. A significant portion of my lunch break at work is devoted to catching up on my blog reading. I enjoy reading the work of old friends, and I adore discovering the next great voice.

So how do you make your blog stand out? I’m a WordPress user, so some of my suggestions are specific to this platform. If you use Blogger, you’ll need to check and see if your platform has similar features.

1) Decide your intended audience: Ultimately we should write for ourselves, of course, but most of us hope to have some readers.  Knowing your audience will help determine your approach to a given topic. Blogs intended to be read only by family, for example, will likely have a different focus than one that is meant for a wider readership. A back-to-school post meant only for grandma might consist of a snapshot of little Lulu and her giant backpack with a caption “Lulu on the first day of preschool. What a big girl!” A post with a bigger readership will need a bit more meat to it. Those related  to her actually care about Lulu. The average reader won’t. A back-to-school post may still be appropriate, but it will need to be handled a different way. A tortoise blog directed toward the scientific community is going to be much more technical than one aimed at the general public.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

Word to the wise, cats make a poor intended audience. They tend to be snooty and judgmental about grammar.

An aside here: for  parents who are new to blogging, decide from the get-go how and if you are going to present those kids in your blog. Will you use their first names? An initial? A nickname? It’s a personal decision, and it makes no nevermind to me as a reader, but I’ve talked to a number of parents who wished they had given more thought to using their kid’s name. Once that name is out there, it’s really tough to take back.

2) Post regularly. This bit of advice is on every how-to list you’ll find. There’s a reason for that. Posting regularly helps people get to know you. Writing regularly also helps to hone your skills. Posting daily is fine, especially at first, but don’t feel like you have to, and don’t expect all but your most loyal readers to read every day. I only follow a few daily blogs, including this one. I don’t have time to read a ton of dailies. You’ll find that certain days of the week get more traffic than others, anyway. No point in wasting your brilliance on a Saturday if all of your readers are at the beach.

3) Don’t post more than once a day. New bloggers are very excited and have lots to say. Publishing multiple posts in a day can be a hardship for readers, however. Assume that anyone following your blog also follows others. Be respectful of their time. Use WordPress’s  auto-post feature. Schedule posts out over the course of a few days, a few weeks, even a few months.

4) Use SEO to your advantage, but don’t abuse it. Search Engine Optimization simply means tagging your posts effectively. If all of your posts are uncategorized, it’s harder for a search engine to point readers your way. Use relevant tags.The important word here is “relevant.” I’ve seen a few bloggers try to boost their traffic by using tags for hot-topics that aren’t related to their post at all. Tagging a post about taking your cat to the vet with “Ferguson” or “Bill Cosby” may bring some traffic, but it will also land a blogger on WordPress’s naughty list and will turn off conscientious readers.

Don’t forget to tag your images, too. Which brings us to…

5) Throw in an image or two. Pictures help break up walls of text. We humans are visual creatures. Gimme something  to look at. And you don’t have to be a great photographer or even own a camera. There are plenty of good quality images available under Creative Commons. Here’s a great article on where to find free images and how to properly credit the image owner. Pick smart. Don’t steal. Karma is a you-know-what.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It's our Little People nativity illuminated by a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

I was hoping for a place to share this image. It’s our Little People nativity illuminated by the soft glow of a leg lamp. I need people to know that I am classy.

6) Use social media properly. Now that I follow a gazillion blogs, social media is my favorite way to follow new ones. Use the Publicize feature on WordPress to automatically publish links to your post on your favorite social media sites. Be aware that most of your Facebook friends will never see your post in their feed unless you cough up some cash. Twitter, however, directly publishes to all of your followers.  Be careful that your Twitter isn’t cross-posting to Facebook, which then cross-posts to Twitter, which then cross-posts to… This is a common mistake. Check your social media settings. Sometimes I’ll see six identical posts in a row from the same person because their all of their social media is set to cr0ss-post everything.

7) Be yourself. My favorite blogs have one thing in common – they are unique. Amy’s blog is very different from Nicole’s blog, which is nothing like Linda’s blog.  None of them are trying to be anybody else. Be who you are. Unless you’re mean. Then go right ahead and pretend to be something else.

8) Write what interests you. We talked about intended audience and all that, but your first reader is you. If you don’t like what you’re doing, no one else will, either. I write about tortoise belly buttons. Because it makes me happy.

9) If a reader leaves a comment, respond if you can. Answering comments helps to build a sense of community. Never, ever responding to comments completely is kind of rude. Sometimes we’re not available to respond immediately, or we find ourselves with 80 comments in the queue,  or an individual comment gets buried in the notifications. Readers get that. And sometimes a comment is antagonistic, so withholding an answer is actually taking the high road, but most readers are earnest in their comments. Answer when you can.

10) Read other blogs. Don’t just read them, engage with them. Leave a (meaningful) comment where appropriate.  Not in the hopes that they will return the favor, either. Engage with other bloggers. Build your own little blogging family.

What do you love in the blogs that you read? This post may morph into a mini-series, so additional tips are welcome!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pixel Gets a Job and a Winner

A couple of months ago I announced a giveaway for a remarkable debut novel. And then I took an unannounced break from blogging due to carpal tunnel. My bad. And then we adopted Pixel’s sister, Bellatrix, which brings the cat-count up to four. Cat food is expensive, so I decided it was time for Pixel to get a job. She decided she’d like to be a life-coach because she likes telling people what to do, so I said to myself “Self, why don’t you combine the giveaway with Pixel’s career aspirations and let HER pick the winner?” Good enough!

Now, Rafflecopter did its little job and picked three names for us. They are:

Very Bangled

Beth B.

Linda G.

Pixel’s assignment was to choose the grand prize winner. The name of each winner was written on the bottom of a different color Christmas bow – her favorite toy of all time. All she had to do was pick one up.

 

She looks ready, doesn't she?

She looks psychotic  ready, doesn’t she?

Sometimes I forget she has the work ethic if a cat.

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

 

10 minutes, a quart of catnip,  and endless attempts later, nothing doing. Pixel was summarily released from her contract. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care. But wait! Who is that in the wings, ready to pounce? It’s BLOSSOM! 15 years old and ready to do the job! (click to enlarge)

Very Bangled and Linda, you guys win e-copies of Mixed Feelings. Beth, you win the grand prize pack! Congratulations!

Kate from Candlemark & Gleam will be in touch via the email address you guys used to enter the drawing. Thanks for playing! And worry about Pixel. She still gets to tell me what to do.

 

True Confession #657: I Don’t Like the New Year.

There. I said it. I hate the New Year. And not just this new year, either. I have nothing against 2015. It is the year of my 20th wedding anniversary, and it’s divisible by five; what’s not to like? The year itself looks pretty promising. It’s not the new year that intimidates me. It’s the New Year, the one with capital letters, the one that carries in one hand the high expectations of making a change; and in the other, failure.

My New Year tends to go something like this:

January 1 – Get drunk on the possibility of changing every aspect of my life.

January 2 – “Holding strong. Look at me! I’ll do it this time!”

January 3 – “What was so wrong with the old me? NOTHING!”

January 4 – “Screw it. I’m going to watch Malcolm In the Middle and eat MoonPies until my eyeballs fall out.”

Later, rinse, repeat.

It’s a nice idea, really.  A new year is a blank slate with endless potential. We don’t yet know what the coming year will hold, so just for a second we stand weightless on the precipice of the future. For one shiny minute it feels like nothing is impossible. And therein lies the trouble. Each new year becomes New Year; it becomes THE year, the one in which we will finally lose weight, exercise more, succeed at a hobby, stick to a budget, drop a bad habit, pick up a good one. This is the year I WILL FINALLY BE PERFECT!

It never happens. Fear of failure creates failure. By February, the budgeting software lies collecting dust in the back of the closet, the new treadmill is a coat rack, and failure takes its place at the dinner table like an old friend.

It’s lose/lose game, and I’m not going to play anymore. I’ve done my reflecting on the old year. I know what didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, and I know where I went wrong. They’re my mistakes. I own them. Will I change them? I’d like to. But I have to find a new way to do it. Making a blanket promise to the New Year hasn’t worked for me. This time I’m starting small. My new motto is this: “Just for today.”

It’s not just mine. I borrowed it from my 12-step friends. It works for me. I need that reminder that I don’t have to change my entire life, I just have to change my right now. I don’t have to do anything forever or even tomorrow. Just for today. Tomorrow can take care of itself.

I do have goals. Not for the year, but for the near future. They’re general ones, things I have some control over. I want to blog more and create enough of a focus that it doesn’t devolve into the ramblings of a crazy cat lady. I want to edit/rewrite a book I wrote last year, one I have been too afraid to look at since April. I’ve made a good start, working on it four consecutive days already. And I’ll do it again today. Even if it’s just today.

One foot in front of the other. That’s how these journeys go.

"And you may wanna take another look at that cat-lady goal, Mom..."

“And you may wanna re-evaluate that cat-lady thing, Mom, because it looks like you’re heading in that direction.”

What are some of your goals?

 

An Open Letter On My First Day Back To Work

Hey, Sweetie,

Today’s the day. I’m so sorry. I’ve been home with you for over a week now, and it has been so great. I’ve had a good time being with you. You surprise and amaze me all the time. You make me laugh.

I hate to leave you. I love my job so much, and I’m not sorry that it’s there waiting for me, but it breaks my heart that going to work means I have to leave you behind.

Don’t give me that look. There’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing lasts forever, vacations chief among them. Besides, Dad will be here all day. All day! You guys can play. He loves to play! You just have to remind him when it’s time to eat. He’s skinny and sometimes he forgets.

You’ll have fun. You’ll see. The time will go so fast, and I’ll be home before you know it. You won’t even have time to miss me. When I get home, I’ll give you a big hug, and it’ll be our turn to play!

Cheer up, dear one. I’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Who did you think I was talking to? Squish did a dance when I was leaving this morning.

Who did you think I was talking to? Squish did a dance when I was leaving this morning.

 

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What Pixel Wanted For Christmas

Dear Santa,

I have been very good this year. I am very sorry that I pooped in Mommy’s lap when she trimmed my nails. Nobody’s perfect. I was just as surprised as she was. And I’m sorry for climbing the Christmas tree. It didn’t fall over, so it’s all good, right? And I’m sorry I ate your MoonPie on Christmas eve.  I didn’t know it was for you. It was good, though, so this family must really like you. I did leave you the milk. I might have sneezed in it. I don’t remember.

I made a wish for Christmas, Santa. I believe in magic.

Love, Pixel

Pixel

Not up to no good. Not at all. Nothing naughty to see here.

Dearest Pixel,

You’ve been a good kitten this year. As you said, nobody’s perfect. Your wish is a big one. Let me make some phone calls and see what I can do.

Love, Santa

 

Dear Santa,

Thank you. Thank you.

Love, Pixel

Welcome home, Bellatrix

Welcome home, Bellatrix

 

Dreaming, The Second One

When we last met our heroine, she was all giggles and happy sighs because two fantastic things had happened – one, she had a piece published in Writer’s Digest, and two, she found a galley that not only did not make her want to gouge her eyes out with a blunt instrument, she loved so much she wanted to promote it. And give it away. All caught up now?

So here, you get part 2 of my interview with Olivia R. Burton, author of the decidedly awesome Mixed Feelings.

Me: If you could have a super-power, what would it be? What power would you NOT want to have?

Olivia: I’m always torn on this question when it’s not multiple choice! I would love something that lets me be more efficient at life, like stopping time or the ability to teleport, but I’d also adore a fun power like being able to talk to and understand animals. My cat Martin and I already have long conversations, but they’d definitely be more interesting if he could meow words other than, “NO!”

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Having Rogue’s life-draining superpower would be pretty unfortunate, as it would make sex all but impossible. Having a superpower like Gwen’s wouldn’t be that great, either, if you didn’t know how to control it. In one of my other series set in the same world, we meet an empath who knows how to utilize the power and it’s quite a boon. Gwen is pretty passive in her empathy at the start of the series, however, and it uses her more than she uses it.

Me: What advice would you give to readers who hope to publish their own books one day?

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Olivia: Take criticism, but know your audience. I’ve had a lot of writer friends who want lots of people to read and give input on their books, but I think they overextend. I don’t like high fantasy, so having me read your epic Tolkein-esque adventure tome isn’t going to do either of us any good. If you write technical sci-fi, find your friends who like that sort of thing and get their thoughts. Listen to their input, and evaluate your work honestly, but don’t lose confidence in what you’ve written if they have a lot of criticism. A few mistakes don’t mean your work is crap, it just means it could be better.

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Always be willing to give back, too. Don’t just expect others to read your stuff if you’re not willing to help them better their craft as well.

Me: Gwen likes sweets of all kinds, and yet I am not sure she has ever had a MoonPie. Do you have something against them, or have you not gotten around to writing them yet?

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Olivia: I’ve heard of MoonPies, but I wonder if they’re regional, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here on the West Coast. I have nothing against them, I just haven’t gotten the chance to feed them to Gwen. From my light and recent research into what they are, I can promise you Gwen would be all too eager to stuff them into her face.

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Rest assured, were she real, she would fight you for the last one in a bin. Whether she wins or not would depend on if you have fighting experience and if you are smart enough to distract her with another sugary treat. You could probably just chuck a Tootstie Roll and go, “Fetch!” and the MoonPie would be yours.

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Now, who wants to win their own copy of Mixed Feelings? Just click here to visit Candlemark&Gleam where the lovely Rafflecopter is set up just for you! The only reason you log in with your email is so that we know how to contact you if you win! So easy! No salesmen come calling.  Would you rather buy it? No problem! It’s only $5 right there on Candlemark&Gleam’s site!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

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***I do apologize for the formatting this morning. Word and WordPress don’t play nicely together.