(4750 words approx.)
Well, my blog has been going publicly for exactly one year today, August 22nd! It’s been an interesting and thrilling journey, with huge thanks to all those who have read and/or liked and/or commented on my posts, and/or followed To Cut a Short Story Short!
When I started I never imagined having any followers, let alone over 250! Also, it didn’t seem like I’d ever get any comments, but I’ve since written over 200 replies on my blog, plus probably half as many again to comments on my posts on Community Pool! As for publishing two books (see Shop) with material from my blog, well that was something I didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams!
Anyway, the point of this article is to give some tips, mainly fairly simple, based on my experience along the way. They’re kind of random, just things that I thought perhaps not everyone might know, and I’m on the free WordPress.com plan so they may not all be relevant, depending on your hosting/plan.
(to return to this menu simply use your browser’s ‘back’ button.)
|Removing Blank Lines etc.|
I make it a rule to always reply to comments, or at the very least, to ‘like’ them if they are brief. I usually find the easiest way is to copy the comment from my original post or community pool etc. into a separate word processing document (‘blog comments’) including the poster’s name and the date. Then I find it easy to answer them all in that document in one go, and then to paste back into the post/Community Pool or whatever.
What I’ve found really useful, is by clicking the date hyperlink on their comment, it takes you directly to the post, whether on the blog, Community Pool or an external site! So it’s very quick to paste my responses in context. Alternatively they can be answered in the notifications area (click the bell symbol in the top right hand corner and choose ‘Comments’) but the text box there is small so you can’t see the whole post in one go. Also, I usually prefer to remind myself of the previous comments on a particular post when I’m answering the latest, in case I want to refer to one.
2. Community Pool
Well, if you are reading this on Community Pool, you don’t need me to tell you that it is a fantastic forum! I saw it recommended for quite a few weeks before having a look, then taking the plunge and posting. My follower, views and ‘like’ numbers leapt up almost immediately!
It’s a great place to post links to your work and get feedback on it. Also, there are hundreds of interesting posts to check out from other bloggers.
For maximum response I’ve found it pays to get on page one, which becomes live at 12.00 local Eastern time in the USA as far as I can tell. Recently they’ve taken to posting the new page at this time, but not opening comments until up to an hour or so later. I contacted the help-desk about both matters but couldn’t get a straight answer to either, unfortunately.
3. Dashboard vs. Desktop App
I’ve found that for some things I prefer to use the Dashboard and for others the downloadable WordPress App.
It’s worth trying the same operation in each to see how you find them. As you likely know, the dashboard is reached by typing in your website name followed by /wp-admin. I’ve saved it as an icon on my browser page. Click on that and it takes me straight there.
I’ve found it handy when editing a post to have it open in both the browser AND the desktop app and to edit it in the latter. After making some changes that I wish to preview, I just ‘update’ the page, then switch to the browser and refresh the page displaying the post. –
4. Drop Down Menus
After a while the page of posts gets cumbersome, even when selected under one category (see 11. menus/categories), so you might wish to incorporate a drop-down menu. These appear when you hover the cursor over the category in the menu (you can try this now on my menu at the top of the page).
To add posts manually (which you have to if you are on WordPress.com) you go to dashboard/appearance/menus then click on ‘add post to menu,’ check the relevant box and click ‘add.’ It then appears at the bottom of the menu structure.
You then have to drag it into position below the category in question. Then you drag it a little to the right. When the menu is updated it will then appear when the mouse is hovered over the category. This process can be a bit fiddly but you get used to it. To facilitate dragging into position when there are a lot of menu items I select full screen and then zoom out until the menu items are quite small.
In my case the drop-down menus went off the screen, so I added some ‘dummy categories,’ A-D, E-H, for example and created sub-menus under each by dragging the posts further to the right. Then only the alphabetical categories pop up when you hover the cursor over the main category. You can see that in e.g. Longer Stories in my menu above. When you now move the cursor over the alphabetical categories the full menus of stories pop up.
Unfortunately, if you are on the free theme you can only have white backgrounds for drop down menus.
By this system you can easily locate any of the 160 posts on my blog from the menu along the top of every page.
Here’s a helpful video that explains the process in detail:
I like to keep track of my followers, as they have been good enough to take an interest in my blog! On WordPress.com there’s no easy way to do this and no way to print them out either.
When I get a new follower I get an e-mail notification so periodically I copy and paste the followers’ names into a spreadsheet, together with the date, and the most interesting-sounding of the three posts listed. That takes about a minute per follower.
Then the spreadsheet can be sorted by name or date and it’s simple to click on the post link to check out their blog at a later date.
If the follower number goes down (it does happen!) I go to ‘enhanced stats’ via dashboard/site stats (click on the Show Me button just below the date) and click on ‘followers’ in the top right hand corner. This list can be ‘zoomed’ in or out, unlike the app version. Then I go down the list versus my spreadsheet (set in descending date order) until I find the one(s) who’ve unfollowed. People sometimes change their account names, but you can match them from the date and there’s normally still a clue in the new name and/or their avatar. They are then moved to a separate spreadsheet. Sometimes they refollow at a later date. I don’t stress about the reasons for unfollowing!
6. Getting Help
In brief, I’ve found the quickest and easiest way to get help (on the free WordPress.com plan) is to e-mail ‘firstname.lastname@example.org.’ A ‘Happiness Engineer’ will normally respond within 24 hours. If the answer isn’t particularly helpful (not unusual!) then another, hopefully more appropriate, answer is less than another 24 hours away! [But see section on displaying HTML in posts at end of this article.]
7. Indents, fonts and ‘white space.’
Normally I paste text into the editor from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) after removing blank lines and new line codes via textmechanic. (Another way is just to paste it straight into HTML view.)
To get an indent of approx. 0.5 cm, I go into HTML view in the editor and add the following code at the beginning of the first paragraph of text:
< div style=”text-indent: 20px;” >
(there should be no space after the first and before the second angled brackets)
Then I go back to the Visual screen and go through the text, hitting ‘enter’ wherever I want a new paragraph i.e. indent. It will now automatically indent the text at that point. I haven’t found an easier way as yet, despite some spurious ‘advice’ from the help-desk! (Seems like you have to be on a paid plan to do it via CSS).
Fonts: In the customizer select a nice clear font for your display text and be sure to include some ‘white space,’ i.e. blank lines. I’ve seen blogs with huge paragraphs of unbroken text that are just too hard to read, unfortunately. I use Cinzel for headings and Lora for display, both ‘regular.’
Creating blank lines can be a problem. If there’s a blank line in the editor but not in the preview (not uncommon!) then you can go to HTML and delete any superfluous < div > symbols, or just put a period or dash in the text and colour it white with the text colour tool in the menu. This latter method has the disadvantage that the dashes/periods will appear in black under certain circumstances, e.g. when printing and in the WordPress Reader.
Incidentally, if you don’t want a blank line inserted in the WordPress editor when you press Enter, then use Shift-Enter. (That also works in Facebook, Whatsapp etc. to force a new line instead of sending.)
8. Index and Contents pages
If you want to go a step further than just a menu you could create separate pages for index and/or contents lists. I do this by having spreadsheets of the entries and periodically copying these into the blog pages, having added the latest stories/articles.
Once the page is uploaded I might edit it before the next update, e.g. remove ‘scheduled’ from scheduled posts, add a link etc., so to make sure I have the latest version in my spreadsheet before updating the next time, I copy it from the web page (in edit mode) back into the spreadsheet.
What I found was that to copy from the blog page into my spreadsheet (Numbers ’09) – in order to incorporate any online changes I made – I have to do this from the browser (I use Firefox), one column at a time. To paste back into the page I have to use the desktop app. Then I simply erase the old table from the index or contents page and paste in the new spreadsheet table to replace it.
I have found issues with copying and pasting WordPress that didn’t used to exist – for me, anyway – so to enable some copying and pasting within WordPress using Firefox I have to do the following:
In a Firefox tab, type ‘about:config,’ accept the warning, then in the search box type ‘dom.event’ From the few that come up select ‘dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled’ and toggle the value to false by double clicking. I don’t find it necessary to restart the browser, it works straight away. Then I can copy and paste from one post to another with e.g. coloured text, links enabled etc. When I’ve finished I toggle the value back to ‘true’ and close the tab. Otherwise I can’t copy and paste to e.g. Facebook. Problems, problems ….
9. Internal hyperlinks
In this article I listed all the ‘tip’ subjects at the top (under Contents) and set links to jump straight to them. So internal hyperlinks can be pretty useful!
Creating an internal hyperlink in a WordPress document is not completely straightforward, but is quite easy once you’ve done it a few times. The process involves going to the point you want to jump TO and typing an ‘id’ into an HTML tag. Then, in the normal Visual view, you set a hyperlink from the point where you want to jump FROM.
The link below explains the process well, but I’ll give an example. In my contents list I have an item – Widgets. So in HTML view I locate the header for that item. It is a level 3 header so it will be in the form of:
< h3>Widgets</h3 >
Then it is modified to:
< h3 id=”widgets”>Widgets</h3 >
(there should be no space after the first and before the last angled brackets)
Note that I could have named the id, “Fred” or anything I wanted, but here “widgets” seemed sensible!
Then I go to Widgets in the contents list at the top and in the usual Visual view I double click the word Widgets and then click the link symbol. Then in the URL box I type a hash symbol, followed by the ‘id’ I wish to jump to, in this case #widgets. Now once the page is updated and previewed, clicking Widgets in the contents list jumps straight to the relevant paragraph. Neat!
When I look at other blogs I usually have two questions. What is the blog about and what is actually on it? Often it is by no means obvious! Sometimes it’s just a long page of posts of indeterminate length and you even have to scroll through them to find the titles, they’re not listed elsewhere.
So, ‘What is the blog about?’ is easy, just have an informative ‘about’ page and an obvious link to that page. You can set it to be the Front Page (via the customizer), so that people land on it when they go to your blog. And clicking the header in any page takes you there too.
‘What is actually on the blog?’ is more complex but I’d recommend at the very least you install the ‘recent posts’ widget.
The main menu in my theme (Sela) appears across the top and I was able to add pages and categories to it via dashboard/appearance/menus. You could add posts to the menu but it would quickly fill up the menu bar.
So every post is assigned one or more categories, and will then be listed in chronological order when someone clicks on that category in the menu. In my case, for the most part I chose length of story e.g. ‘longer stories’ but you might choose travel, food, humour or whatever.
For a more sophisticated approach see 5. Drop down Menus
11. Publishing your work in paperback/eBook/audiobook form.
I wrote quite a comprehensive article about this recently. Basically, if you have 5000 words or more (50,000 plus is good) of decent content, then you can compile it into a document and upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing, where you can also design a cover. The process is pretty straightforward, very flexible, and ‘free.’ The cost of printing a paperback comes out of your 60% royalty when sold. Your book/eBook appears on Amazon worldwide within a day or so! The article also covers audiobook production.
12. Removing Blank Lines etc.
When posting from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) to the WordPress editor, new paragraphs are represented by blank lines instead of indents. Occasionally it doesn’t matter but it usually does.
There’s a useful site, textmechanic.com, where you paste your text, click on ‘remove empty lines,’ then paste it into WordPress. It strips all the code responsible for generating blank lines in WordPress, as well as empty lines.
It also strips italics so they have to be put back in manually (as well as any blank lines actually required) and I indent the paragraphs as described in ‘indenting text‘ above.
There are many other useful text tools on the site.
13. Scheduling posts from blogs you are following
If you don’t want to receive notifications about new posts ‘as and when,’ you can arrange a delivery window to receive them. Firstly, go to the Reader, then click Manage under Followed Sites. Then click Settings on your followed sites and decide how you want to receive e-mail notifications from each of them – instantly, daily or weekly, or turn them off.
Then click on the little avatar symbol to the left of the notifications symbol at the top right of the screen. Then click Notification Settings/Reader Subscriptions. You can now set a day/time slot to receive scheduled notifications.
14. Scheduling your writing
Some people like to publish posts whenever they feel like it, whereas others prefer to schedule. I’ve come to definitely prefer the latter, with maybe an extra post on special days such as Christmas Day or Valentine’s Day. I think a weekly schedule is best but to push myself a bit I schedule every five days. Nearly always between 12.00 and 13.00 local time.
It’s useful to have a time chart of different time zones handy so you know what time it is around the world. In my naivety I thought I would just get views from Britain and maybe the USA, I had no idea how truly international WordPress is and I’ve had views from places as far-flung as Azerbaijan, Gambia and Papua New Guinea!
The dashboard has a nice view of scheduled posts on the home page and it’s very easy to edit the scheduled time and category via dashboard/posts and the ‘Quick Edit’ buttons that appear under the post names.
To facilitate scheduling and writing generally, I keep a ‘writing assignments list’ on the wall by my desk, sorted into descending date order, which I update and print every couple of days or so. That way I can be sure to start on a story/article in good time. I nowadays always try to finish something with a few days to spare, then work on something else in the meantime, before coming back to finalize the former. Then I can see it with much fresher eyes and improvements/corrections usually leap out at me!
Askimet seems good and I only once had a problem with Spam. The answer was to check the boxes for ‘Comment author must fill out name …’ and ‘Users must be registered …’ as shown in the screenshot below under ‘Other comment settings.’ I’ve only had once since. At least I think it was Spam …!
16. Stopping ‘self-pings’
If you publish a post that contains links to another of your posts, you are likely to get e-mails alerting you to ‘ping-backs.’ I used to publish my index as a post and I would get over 100 e-mails, and on my phone too! The solution is to uncheck ‘Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article,’ as shown above under ‘Default article settings.’
Any post can have up to 15 tags and categories in total (more than that and it won’t be displayed in the Reader). If you go to the Reader, click on Search and type in some tags (in the desktop app you can type them directly) you can get a feel for how quickly a tag’s ‘timeline’ moves from the times/dates on the posts. So ‘creative writing,’ for example, is a fast-moving stream with a lot of viewers, whereas ‘curious fiction’ has hardly any posts other than my own! I aim for a mix of fast and slow-moving streams. If you tag a post ‘creative writing,’ for example, you are likely to get a quick burst of views, than that’ll be it!
Now, when you publish a post, any follower who has subscribed to e-mail alerts will see either an extract from your post or the full post (depending on your settings in dashboard/settings/reading/‘for each article in a feed …’). This is followed by a list of your tags. If you’re showing just an excerpt, then a lot of space can be taken up by the tags and there’s less room for the excerpt. Also, who wants people to see all your tags? I don’t.
I couldn’t find any way NOT to display them, but found a simple ‘workaround.’ You simply wait until the post is published THEN, after receiving e-mail confirmation of this, add the tags. I go into dashboard/posts and simply copy tags from a similar previous post, perhaps amending a couple. Or you can paste them into a blank document or e-mail, edit them and paste them back in. To see the tags make sure they are enabled in Screen Options via the button at the top right.
Personally I prefer to have excerpts displayed in the e-mail. Otherwise people have no need to visit the blog and so won’t see the nice formatting and picture 🙂
18. Uploading Multiple Images to Media Library
It can be a chore doing this singly. I’ve found I can get a bunch of images (usually from Google Images or Pixabay) and upload them in one go. First I save them in a folder called ‘images.’ Then I go to dashboard/media/library and click ‘add new’ at the top. Then in the window that opens up (with the dotted line around it) I click on Select Files, highlight all the ones I wish to upload (shift and click, or command click if non-contiguous) and then click Open.
Other routes to upload images I’ve tried don’t seem to allow more than one at a time.
It takes a little while for all the images to upload but if you’ve got something else to do in the meantime I find this the better method.
On WordPress.com we don’t have access to the wonderful world of plug-ins available to self-hosted sites, but some of the widgets available are pretty useful. As mentioned above, the ‘recent posts’ one is great. Anyone looking at the blog can instantly see and click on the list, although of course it doesn’t indicate what the post is about (if it’s not obvious from the title) nor its length. Widgets are selectable via the customizer.
My theme is Sela, which is free. I’ve looked at all the widgets available to me and the ones I use are as follows:
Translate. I’ve no proof as to whether anyone has ever used this but it translates everything, even the comments! Of course, it’s not perfect, but I’m sure it could be helpful and it’s quite fun to see your blog in some weird and wonderful language! Also very useful if you are actually learning a language!
Custom Menu. I set links to my About and Contact pages. The About page can always be reached by clicking the header, but just in case people don’t know that …
Recent Posts. I set this to 14 posts and entitled it ‘Posts Published in the Last Ten Weeks’ (as I post every five days).
Archives. A drop down box that enables readers to select posts by month. Entitled ‘Older Posts.’
Top Posts and Pages. I ordered this by ‘likes’ and displayed it as an image grid. I think this looks very nice on the page and invites visitors to click on the images.
Follow Button. There are a few ways for people to sign up to follow a blog. This one seems very simple. It’s a blue button which also indicates the current number of followers (if selected). Click on it and you are asked to confirm, then you are signed up. You receive an e-mail about any new posts, unless you unsubscribe from e-mail notifications. (You can always view the posts in the Reader anyway. Just click on ‘Followed Sites.’)
One thing I found is that if you are a follower (I follow my own blog too) and you click on the button again (‘to see what will happen’!) you are unsubscribed, without any request for confirmation in my own case!
My Community. This is great! I have three of these on my blog. It displays a grid of avatars of those who have liked, followed or commented on the blog. I have one under the follower button, set to display followers only, then two in the footer, set to display ‘likers’ and ‘commenters.’ The first two show 50 avatars and the latter shows a smaller number, chosen from recent commentators. My favourite widget!
Recent Comments. This displays the avatar of the commenter together with their name and the post commented on. It doesn’t give any of the comment itself but clicking on the post name takes you directly to the comment in question.
Tag Cloud. This displays all the tags you have used on your posts. The more often they’ve been used, the larger the font. Click on any tag in the ‘cloud’ and it takes you to a page with all thus-tagged posts on it. You can set the maximum number of tags and also exclude any you don’t want displayed.
20. Writing Matters!
Well, I sincerely hope you found some of the above information to be useful. To round off the article, here are a few miscellaneous remarks about writing content, whether fiction or non-fiction.
Writing: I published an article, Flash Fiction Matters, which details how I wrote the stories on my blog and includes links to a number of useful books and websites.
Dictation/screen readers: I haven’t explored dictation myself as yet, but I have found it useful to use a screen reader to read my posts aloud. Then if there are any ‘typos’ I’ve missed it’s easy to spot them. Also, despite its limitations, it does also help to find unnatural sounding dialogue. My MacBook has quite a number of voices/accents available, or there are online resources too.
Touch typing: If you are using the ‘hunt and peck’ system of typing then I can’t recommend learning to touch type highly enough. That way any thoughts/ideas can be transmitted directly to the screen without the ‘barrier’ of having to find the letters first. It only takes a few weeks and will save countless hours in the future!
Timer: I have personally found a timer very useful for writing. I set it to 20 minutes and get up and walk around for a few seconds when it goes off. After three 20 minute sessions I’ll take a 15 minute break if I’m going to do any more writing. Of course, you stop the timer if going to the loo, hunting for ink cartridges etc.!
Displaying HTML code in posts: Well, this was a hard one! I’ve tried everything I could find online and also e-mailed the ‘help-desk.’ They sent one reply that didn’t work and haven’t yet replied to my response, and it’s OVER THREE WEEKS since I originally wrote to them. VERY disappointing service in this instance.
The problem is that if you display HTML code in your post and switch to the HTML view for whatever reason, then the code is implemented when you switch back to Visual, changing its appearance. You can write it normally as long as you DON’T switch to HTML view before publishing. The usual advice is to use ‘code’ tags but that doesn’t work here. So where I’ve used code in the sections above, I’ve put a space after the angled bracket and an instruction to ignore the space when actually using the code. I’d be most grateful if anyone reading this could let me know how to display HTML in WordPress posts that doesn’t change when switching between Visual and HTML views!
If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.
Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.