Simplify Life

I am going to keep this journal entry brief. Most of us do a lot of superfluous things in our daily lives that we do not have to but want to for whatever reason. Perhaps we enjoy it or perhaps we are paid for it, or, for the lucky ones, both. But some of these things have benefits that are so entwined with our life that we hardly ever recognise, let alone acknowledge, their existence until they are gone. To me, writing is one such thing. It is something I love immensely, I occasionally get paid for my articles when they are published elsewhere, but it is not my day job, so to speak.

I recently also bought Launch Centre Pro because it was selling for only 40% of the regular price. I think it is worth it although I do not see myself using it anytime soon. The x-callback syntaxes are simple enough, but the core purpose of the software is where my problem lies. Over the past nine months I have been on an experiment to use technology more mindfully (a report marking my entire year is due by the end of October, so I will not describe specifics for the time being) and one of the results of that has been, rather unsurprisingly, a stark simplicity in the way I use technology. I therefore have no need for automating the modification of clipboard contents and then automating its use to invoke another application, or quickly viewing select 1Password entries, or building lists of contacts and the manners in which to reach them, or logging paid purchases to a cloud-based spreadsheet, or any of the myriad, unusually specific things Launch Centre Pro lets one accomplish. I understand that some may find all of this useful, but I do not.

With my research taking centre stage and with Pixel & Paper to manage now alongside Physics Capsule, my day has become somewhat hectic. Not one to compromise on any of my hobbies in their entirety, I have decided to make my journal updates here briefer than usual: 1,000 word articles in the place of 2,000, and 700 word articles in the place of 1,000, and so on. They will also be published in fewer numbers: once or twice a week instead of four times or more.

This is partly why I restructured this website with simplicity — to convey my point that the simplest, most commonplace of things can prove to be remarkable if only you open your mind to it. I have used the classic Garamond as the only typeface and I think it looks lovely. I will still publish here and nothing changes except the frequency of publishing and the fact that brevity will be held in much higher regard than usual. It is time we all simplified our lives and stopped considering busyness a sign of prestige — it is certainly not.

The state of blogs today

I spent considerable time this week mulling over what this blog means and what blogging means in general. Specifically, I refer to the increasingly valid concern about the state of blogs today. They are so vastly different from what they were a few years ago, and almost nothing like they were back when weblogging started, that I ended up with two conclusions: one, blogging in the form that it started is either evolving or dying, depending on how you look at it; two, the spirit behind blogs, the core interests they brought to the table are being resurrected, albeit painfully slowly.

These two statements may at first seem counterintuitive, but they are not. In any case they demand further explanation. Luckily enough, over the course of this week I came across two interesting writings on this issue. One is a short post published on Seth Godin’s blog, and the other is an article by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic, published earlier this year, titled What blogging has become. (On a side note, I have found articles in The Atlantic to be increasingly more interesting than The New Yorker of late.)

Mr Meyer writes about blogging as a victim to corporate consolidation:

Open up an old blog and it was a list of posts in “reverse-chronological order”… Meanwhile, in the right rail, there was a list of other blogs read by this one. Things were generally chummy… Very, very few people do that anymore… For a couple years now, it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, single-URL game… in return, we got Twitter and Facebook… They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one… a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore.

His argument leads up to how Medium, the blogging network, is taking on the role from (or alike?) Facebook and other social networks in an unexpected turn that is slowly reviving the blog format. Following recent updates, he points out, things on the platform “just look bloggier (sic) now”. This is in stark contrast to how it used to be built around “collections” of themed articles rather than collections of articles by one writer. This is what differentiated Medium from a regular blog, but with the death of collections, this is now no longer true. And all this, in my opinion, leads us right back to blogging. It remains a fundamental method of sharing information: you have a platform, you write, you send out links and draw interesting people to read it. Everything else, in my opinion, is a twist on the same.

Medium is now a platform and no longer the network it intended to be. Whether this is a good thing or not is a debate best kept for another day. But are they not all blogging platforms? Facebook and Twitter too have reverse-chronological updates written by people in various lengths, from one character to a thousand. And, like Medium, they too have “streams” of content waiting to be devoured; the only difference is in how they began — Facebook started as a place for writing something personal, Twitter for sharing interestingness quickly, and now Medium is like a platform for people to look trendy. But today, are all three are little more than burdensome social marketing tools where everyone has vested interests and over half of all spoken words are either influenced by corporations or ooze dishonesty to portray life like people want it to be rather than like it is.

It was in this context that Seth Godin wrote his recent blog entry on why blogs matter, perhaps more now than ever before. “Good blogs”, he rightly says, “aren’t focused on the vapid race for clicks that other forms of social media encourage. Instead, they patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect.” This about sums up blogging for me. The reason why blogs have lasted until the present time is quality — and I say this because, while a couple of decades might not be long by most measures, it is a few lifetimes on the internet, and that, I think, is something we should pause and absorb when we see how long blogs have lasted: nearly the entire lifetime of the modern internet. The fact that a blog belongs to a person quite naturally makes it a responsibility, unlike social media; and the fact that a blog belongs to a person also makes it a representation of that person, unlike social media (how many people visit the profiles of everyone they follow everyday?) and this quickly makes blogging something that, to the blogger, has immense value. And it is precisely this value that a reader of said blog will reap.

That is not to say all blogs provide value or are worthwhile. On the one hand this is a subjective issue, and on the other the internet has an unintentionally inbuilt system that weeds out low-quality blogs (low traffic due to bad content leads to lower traffic much like high traffic due to good content will lead to even higher traffic). This ensures that only good blogs survive or, at least, that only good blogs reap the benefits that make them worth updating regularly. Such a habit of offering quality content without seeking anything (read, personal tastes and product usage patterns) in return has made blogs the enemy of social networks in some manner. “Google doesn’t want you to read blogs”, points out Mr Godin, citing how the company shut down its feed reader service, “And Facebook doesn’t want you to read blogs either… but RSS still works. It’s still free. It’s still unfiltered, uncensored and spam-free.”

Indeed it is no surprise that RSS has long been my sole means of following my favourite blogs on the web. And what I find most interesting is that the “right rail” that Mr Meyer talks about (or a sidebar as it is better known) still exists almost religiously on all physics-based blogs that I follow. Understandably a majority of the blogs I follow are written by fellow physicists, and nearly every single one of them has a dedicated blogroll — not necessarily maintained, but not taken down either, despite the fact that WordPress (the largest software powering weblogs today) pulled the plug on blogrolls a long time ago. I used to have a blogroll too, but decided to keep it private. The link sharing and follow through to other blogs, which was the role once played by such lists, is now accomplished by a liberal use of links and citations — at least on my blog and on several of those I have seen.

To believe that blogs matter to the average reader, however, would be pompous. The collective community of well-written and fully functioning blogs — the blogosphere — most certainly matters, but individual blogs rarely do (unless you know the blogger otherwise, often personally). However, to look at this as the insignificance of a blog would be just as wrong. Blogs still carry a raw, personal feeling, a brutal honesty in words of the sort one only ever utters in the private walls of a home. This is a benefit few magazines can offer. By restricting oneself to a magazine restricts one’s perspective, causing it to lean towards that of the magazine; to subscribe to several magazines will soon become too expensive to justify. Blogs, therefore, are the answer. The only complaint — the quality of content — becomes moot because if one searches enough, they will almost certainly find bloggers whose quality is on par with any magazine. The discussed, thought-out, and merged perspectives of a board of editors can be afforded by following several blogs and, in the end, using them to think for oneself.

I have often said this and will say it again: blogs have a unique place on the Web, and they will continue to. Until a radically new form of expression comes up — one that can trump writing, which is no small challenge — blogs and magazines will co-exist, the latter offering investigation and coverage only their large funds can help realise, and the former offering perspectives and opinions only possible by someone not influenced by corporations and establishments. So read blogs; good blogs can be incredibly rewarding.

A simpler way to blog

In my last seven years working on WordPress, my workflow has remained unchanged. As I had once detailed on the colophon (now updated) I used to write either on the WordPress dashboard for convenience, or on Ommwriter when I was offline (or intended to reduce distractions so I could write the article quickly), but this too would ultimately get moved to my WordPress dashboard for publishing. It was a process that worked, but I was never happy with it. It was inconvenient, the WordPress dashboard is functional but ugly, and I have lost an article or two on spotty connections despite offline saving and revision archival. And on the material side of things, the writing environment was pitiable.

In these seven years I have also come across countless programmes being suggested to writing for a website. Back when I was on Windows, LiveWriter was a rare gem from Microsoft that got everything about offline blog management right. Sadly, and surprisingly, there is no Mac equivalent. The closest would be MarsEdit, but it still is just as ugly as the WordPress dashboard. That said, if I wanted an offline blog management tool on my Mac right now, I would pick MarsEdit with my eyes closed: it is the best programme of its kind, hands down. Anther option I used for a year or two was Blogo, which was sometimes a hit or miss — but it was remarkably helpful when it was a hit. Following the launch of their iOS companion app, Blogo switched to a continuous subscription-based model that I was not a fan of and hence I gave up on the software. Like MarsEdit, Blogo is a good product in active development. Another alternative many have talked about is Desk, which I have not tried and cannot speak about.

However, with time I came to realise that what I wanted was not an offline blogging tool at all. To run and maintain a WordPress website I know of no means to keep the site updated and secure without visiting the dashboard itself. The aim then was to have a workflow involving the entire publishing process in as quick and efficient a manner as possible while I visited the dashboard no more than once or twice a month to maintain the backend of the website and work on some code. That is to say, I was really looking for a publishing solution, and I had my answer in the excellent Mac and iOS application, Byword. (I have since briefly talked about Byword on my asides site, Marginalia.)

Byword now has a place on my MacBook Air, Pro, iPhone and iPad, although I use it most on my MacBook Air to write articles — including this one right now:

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 12.43.33

The way in which I use it is straightforward as well: I start an article anywhere an idea strikes, but the manner in which I take it down varies. Specifically, while on my notebooks I write the actual article, whereas on my mobile devices, I take down points. I do this all on the same .txt file — “Tee-ex-tee for posterity”, as I like to say — making sure the points are noted down below the body of the article and get added to the body as I go and get deleted from the points list. This is simple and it works. Links are shared this way too, and since everything is written in Markdown, the text looks neat and readable and the links are full URLs and not mysterious clickable text, which is always a plus because, firstly, it makes things easy if I want to use the link elsewhere (in my opinion and for the way I work anyway), and secondly, it is always helpful to have the full link visible should any wrong or incomplete links creep in.

In short, Byword keeps things simple but not dumb. With referenced image upload support and support for WordPress, Medium, Tumblr, Blogger, and Evernote, the programme is not just a text editor anymore. It is a full-fledged publishing tool (with support for custom fields, which I happen to use a lot on WordPress) and lets me cross-publish my article to both my website and Medium, after adding a small note to it along with a link back to my website. My rather limited workflow on iPad must not be taken as inability on the part of the device. For articles like the 600 words long aside I wrote on Marginalia (linked to above) I used my iPad. And the iPad is a device that can do “serious” work just fine, contrary to popular belief: Federico Viticci, Myke Hurley and others have been vocal about their move to iPad for a majority of their everyday work. But I do not do the kind of work they do, and quite a lot of people likely do not — we do not earn a living from our websites or run several podcasts, for example — so the extent to which various devices play a role in our work and personal lives varies. However, I can definitely see where iPad can be a mainstream device, even replacing a MacBook. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but this is not for me yet, which is why I use it to note down points or restrict it for writing asides rather than lengthier articles.

Cutting past whatever takes time without providing value in your blogging workflow is one key aspect where I spent time mulling over specifics. Byword offers no way to upload an image to my media library and then let me access it. This is not the most helpful of things, but the rest of the app was so good and did so much for my writing workflow that I was willing to work around it rather than complain. Now the reason featured images are good, besides beauty, is that when people share your article, most websites end up putting whatever image is on the article (often in the order that they appear) as the thumbnail. Specifying a “featured image” tells other websites what you want the thumbnail to be. I was not particular about this, and beauty comes second to substance on this website, so I decided to let go of featured images altogether and put in an image in the article. This works and I certainly like it so far.

With speed and convenience comes sacrifice: besides featured cover images I also let go of rigorous SEO practices of keywords, checking for keywords in h1 tags, repetitiveness, the Flesch reading test and so on. Instead of moulding my writing for Google, I decided to wait for Google to mould itself to truly recognise good writing. Consider this simple example: in Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, the most commonly occurring word which is not a conjunction, preposition, or article, is the word prince, which repeats 1,885 times. The word war itself only occurs 298 times, and peace still less often at 114, in a novel of 3,110,642 words. What Google would consider as keywords then have a “keyword density” of a meagre 0.01% of the text, which is terrible SEO (Google and SEO gurus once said keep it at 1 – 10%) but we all know Tolstoy’s is excellent writing. In 2016, Google is getting smarter, but is not quite there yet.

Once you let go of stringent SEO and flashy images, you are left with a block of text and that is precisely what I built my entire writing workflow around for my website. Substance and perspective are what define blogging in my opinion, and for that, the old adage still holds: simple is effective.

You should start a blog

For as long as I can remember, I have been recommending to people that they start blog; to write as frequently as possible, no oftener, no rarer. And to have the patience to let blogging become your hobby more than your habit because that is when the many dimensions of the craft become clearer, and that is when it starts to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. Blogging, once nurtured as a hobby, has the potential to have an impact as deep as reading itself and all this is simply because blogging is not entirely different from journaling or essay– or diary–writing and the like: a common art that have been around since mankind itself in different manifestations.

There are two ways to look at this: the first takes a mechanical outlook where you realise blogging can help you to publish books eventually and so on, to grow a community, to gain subscribers and, at the end of the day, ears to listen to what you have to say. These are what some call niche blogs. The second perspective looks at it from an entirely selfish angle, but one that I, myself, would recommend: blogging makes the writer (or blogger if you will) a better person.

It helps you grow and opens you up to several ways of looking at something and as a result makes you a better person. From its humble start as little more than a way to make daily logs on the web (hence web log, hence blog), to its eventual growth into a journal, an essay book, even a personal diary, and at the height of it all, a form of journalism, the root of blogging has remained intact in spirit, but has otherwise been largely forgotten. From Ariana Huffington’s rise to fame with The Huffington Post, now an online news aggregator and publisher (once a blog) to Raif Badami’s unfortunate imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, blogging has traveled far and wide. This has also skewed its image: marketing experts use blogs as nothing more than a marketing tool, and corporations even used it as a means to appear more human and get close to their consumer base.

When you step back and take a good look, blogging is still about one party writing and several others reading and then, either carrying on discussions offline, on the blog itself, or on social media sites. This is what has led to many scales being established to measure the worth of a blogger, but when one delves back into what started blogging — the art of writing, the desire to share something worthwhile, the intention to spark a healthy debate and to collectively provide people innumerable reads — one realises that blogging is a journey of the blogger and it really ends there. That others tag along in the journey, even other bloggers, is icing on the cake.

Mind that we only talk about personal blogs here; the sort of blogs run by one or a handful of people without an editorial board or a formal structure and organisational hierarchy calling the shots. We talk about a blog that is and feels personal. Niche blogs, then, are something that can be used as a marketing tool, although they is not all they are. (All blogs, personal or not, are ultimately a form of branding and need to be marketed to some degree, either actively or passively.) However, if you sought any advice whatsoever on how to become a more popular blogger, this is one piece of advice you are certain to be handed in a silver platter. If I did not no better, I would think some people actually looked at this like the one secret you should know to become a successful blogger, which brings us to the question, who is a successful blogger? How would one define success in terms of the blogosphere?

Like a lot of other things in blogging, this too attracts multiple opinions: a blogger with a thousand monthly page views is more successful than someone with a hundred. A blogger with fifty–thousand e–mail subscribers is more successful than one with a paltry fifty subscribers. Or someone with a hundred guest articles is better than one with ten. The measure can go on and will go on depending on which of the many available scales you choose to measure with, but, in my own experience blogging for nearly ten years now, I think the answer lies closer to home: do you feel like publishing on your blog everyday, and have enough to share that you find yourself wanting to write and update your blog and your readers however few or far between? If so, then you are already a successful blogger. The error creeps in when people look at running a blog like running a company: the two are not the same. In a blog, you only ever have to answer to yourself. Let us rule out corporate blogs entirely for the moment. That leaves us with trying to sound as real and as human as the next person for any reader to take you seriously; this does not exclude journalistic, opinionated or stay exclusive to personal articles, but it does render corporate representation out of the question.

This is classic, timeless advice and take it without a single grain of salt because it works: be you. If people want to read about monolithic corporations and their products, they would go to blogs like L’Oréal’s (“This weekend we brought you all the tools, you and your salon need; not only to boost business, but to…” — an actual line from L’Oréal’s blog). People want to read other people. And if you want to get close to people hire actual ‘content creators’, real people with a really free rein regarding what to write and with no restrictions regarding product placement. Like Ghost and Belle Beth Cooper.

But in the midst of all this, it is important not to lose track. Because if blogging is to become your hobby and a thing of pleasure, it will have to stop being something you fit into your day and instead be something that is a natural part of your day. That means you cannot afford to spend an awful lot of time writing your blog. That is not to say you will spend hardly any time thinking about it, because you will: thinking is a big part of blogging, but the trick is that once you have thought and noted down some key stuff (I recommend Evernote), the actual act of writing your blog posts should, preferably take less than an hour. In an edition of his podcast, Michael Hyatt talks about how he writes a blog post in under 70min. You should definitely make time to watch that episode, but for now these are the steps he outlines:

  1. Start the night before
  2. Use your downtime to think
  3. Cut down distracting programmes
  4. Listen to music
  5. Set a timer
  6. Have a template or structure
  7. Do not edit till you finish writing
  8. Edit, format and tighten (add images)
  9. Proofread in preview

I would add an important edit to step one, which is that it ought to start not the night before but rather whenever an idea strikes you and you start noting it down, adding to it etc. and then you begin by writing it. And then use your downtime to think about it. Steps three to five are fairly straightforward, and for those interested in my music playlist, I listen to a lot of Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy on Apple Music. I do have a problem with step six, however: having a template is not always a good thing unless you plan to market your services with your blog the way Mr Hyatt does. But most personal bloggers — Jenny Lawson (probably cuss words) who I do not follow but have heard of on occasion, Leo Babuta, whose excellent blog I subscribe to and, for that matter, myself — do not actively market any product other than our writing and our writing is varied in structure as demanded by the subject.

I have to pause to highlight the seventh step: it is extremely tempting to go over and over the written word and this, more than anything else, can quickly make your blog seem like a chore. Let your first intention be to get words on paper and if that takes all your time, forger it: return to the post another time, even another day and proofread and edit it before publishing, but pausing to beautify before even writing things down will only prove to be a poor decision.

That said, my next qualm is with the editing section where Mr Hyatt talks about small paragraphs and making your entire blog post scannable so people can consume it in bite sizes. I am somewhat traditional and recommend sticking to whatever length you need to effectively convey your message through your words and I simply do not believe in sacrificing words to please the increasingly short attention span of the 21st century reader.

So now what happens? You have started your blog, written things. Do you sit back and watch the magic happen? Unfortunately, things are not so simple in the blogosphere. You are one among a million and that is not a good thing. Like everything else, blogging takes perseverance and believing in yourself is the only way to get through dry spells where it will appear like nobody on the internet — or off it for that matter — cares about your blog. It is in these times when it helps to look back at why you blog; look at that selfish reason that says your blog is about you and so long as it makes you happy, keep at it. As Belle Beth Cooper points out, it can take years for a blog to take off. My own blog used to get a handful of readers in its earlier days and gets over a hundred–thousand per month now because that is how a blog grows, with time and with constant content. That is not to say you must force yourself to write, because that rarely ends well: you get terrible publications that will seem obviously forced, and your blog will die eventually. Embrace the slow blogging movement (which is probably dead now, but was thriving once upon a time) — write when you have something to say and not by schedule. However there is a counter–argument here: do not wait for inspiration, just stick to a schedule. I suggest you try both and go with whatever you find comfortable.

All said and done, never lose sight on what blogging gives back to the writer. Joshua Becker wrote a considerably long list of such things which include such things as becoming a better writer and a better thinker, living a wholesome life, developing healthy habits, meeting new people, inspiring others and so on. But at the end of the day, blogging is nothing less than an experience so (it is free, which means you have no excuse not to) start a blog, write some, keep at it for a year or two and then decide where you should head from there on. I, for one, am nearing ten years and have no plans of stopping.

From start to finish: details and tips on how to write a blog post quickly, yet thoroughly

As promised in my recent article, I am going to dedicate this one to detail my blogging method. Generally, how to write a blog post so that it saves time, not takes it all away. Many people have asked me specifics before, and, over conversations with other bloggers, I learnt that this is one of the most frequent questions established bloggers get: how exactly do you blog?

When you come down to it, the thing is pretty simple; but some dumb it down so much that it loses meaning. A lot of thinking does go behind a blog post, and my intention today is to explain to you exactly what I do and how I do it. Particularly, the physical process of turning an idea into an article.

If, in my last writing I was unclear that I would talk about the mental approach rather than the physical technique, I apologise. In this one, we will surely talk about doing things — typing and things along those lines, yes. And I hope to keep this article quite short.

(Also note that, in an attempt to address the largest possible group of people, I will be focusing on writing on a WordPress blog. Except for a couple of specifics, however, the process should largely be the same.)

An idea strikes

Like everything else, blog posts too begin with ideas. At the start, it is one at a time; then it floods like a barrage gave way.

That is when you will need two apps I strongly recommend to all you serious WordPress bloggers. Firstly, get the WordPress app (download for Android or for iOS — or download your blogging platform’s app; Blogger, Tumblr, they all have one). Secondly, get Pocket (download for Android or for iOS — other options like Instapaper may serve just as well, although not on your pocket).

It is a universal rule that you get topics to blog about when you are in no position to actually blog. So twist this rule of nature using the two apps above. Ideas that come from offline go straight into your WordPress app: create a new post, title it and leave a note to yourself in your blog. Here is the screenshot I had used in my previous post, just to jog your memory:

Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save it as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.

Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save its status as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.

When you have time to blog and you sit before your computer, voila, WordPress is updated.

Some prefer to use dedicated note-taking applications for this. But in this case I find that complex and unnecessary because you end up noting down in one app and having your phone around when you blog, and copy things over between your blog and computer (or even across apps within a computer if that is the case). The method I have explained above works beautifully.

But what if your idea strikes while online? You can use the Press This bookmarklet in your WordPress Tools > Available tools menu if you are on your PC, but, if you are on your phone, switching to your WordPress app may not be the most time-saving option.

You can instead save to Pocket using a pre-determined tag. I use the tag #ToBlog which is not intuitive, so I never use it anywhere else by mistake. When I need to look things over, I quickly search for all #ToBlog saves and I have the stuff I want.

Organise your dashboard

This is an integral part of blogging. Other services may call it different names, but as a namesake I will call it the dashboard (which is what WordPress users are familiar with).

To focus on your blogging, let no part of your dashboard cry for attention. I have gone the extreme minimalist way and re-designed my dashboard to look something like this (hold on while I jump to my administration home and take a screenshot — there you have it):

Screenshot (115)

The VHBelvadi.com desk is the same as the WordPress dashboard, but it has been fully customised to suit my needs with lots of quick access links. Please click to view it large.

You may not be able to make yours look exactly like this without some unnecessary effort (for most personal bloggers, anyway) but the point is not so much in the looks as in the pending notifications, alerts, messages, errors and the like. Deal with it as they come. Approve comments, make them private or public, reply — the whole aside process.

Now you are set to write and do nothing else.

The writing process: how to write a blog post

a. Where to write

This is a big question to many bloggers. Some of us bloggers hated the original WordPress writing area. And most bloggers hated it because everybody else hated it too. The new version, with the distraction-free writing option, is something I am quite fond of. But I never use the distraction-free editor because I cannot add tags, featured images, excerpts without switching around and that takes time. (I sometimes do these things halfway through an article.)

If you still hate the WordPress editor, try an alternative such as JustWriteBlog for Chrome. I do not use it myself, but have tried it and found it usable on a regular basis. (Why do I not use it then? I do not see the need for an alternative to my VHBelvadi.com desk — not yet, anyway!) Alternatively, ScribeFire for Firefox is an equally trusted and (perhaps better looking) option. It is also available for Chrome as well as for Safari.

b. Know your WordPress editor shortcuts

If you use an alternative editor to the default WordPress editor, skip this section; if not, you will have some fun here.

When typing an article, know that all the regular shortcuts work. But make sure the cursor is clicked within the visual editor area. Hit Ctrl+B to embolden; hit Ctrl+I to italicise; hit Ctrl+Z/Y to undo/redo; similarly Ctrl+C/V/X will copy/paste/cut; and Ctrl+A will select all text.

Deeper shortcuts include several things you can do with the combination of Alt+Shift+shortcut where the shortcut (key) can be any of the following: D to strikethrough, N to spell-check, U to start a bullet list, O to start a numbered list (that is O, the letter, not 0, the number), M for image, and Q for quoting.

This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a type -- sorry) so please click to view large.

This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a typo — sorry). To view it exactly the way I do, please click on the image.

You can also hit Alt+Shift+W to go full-screen (distraction-free editing) and once there, special shortcuts work, such as Alt++ to increase width of the text area, and, conversely, Alt+- to decrease it. If you messed it up, Alt+0 will return it to the default dimensions (and it is 0, the number, here and not O, the letter).

Hitting Ctrl+number will quickly format your writing. 1 goes to heading 1 style, 2 goes heading 2 all the way to 6; then 7, 8 and 9 will turn it into regular paragraph text, pre-formatted code or address text.

Also make it a habit to hit Ctrl+S to instantly, temporarily save as you write, so that you do not lose your work.

Mac users, remember the eternal lesson: Ctrl = Cmd. Also, not all of these may work on all browsers.

c. What single button do I use most?

I am a big fan of the preview button at the top-right. Some lucky people can hit Ctrl+Alt+I to preview instantly. This gives me an idea of how my post will look once it is published for the world to read. I do not have to return to bulk-edit my work after publication, because that would be a foolish thing to do.

Using the preview capability helps not only to keep track of the post length (sometimes 2,000 words seem short in the editor) but reading in the actual format and design that the article would ultimately be read in, in my experience, makes it a lot easier to manually spell-check.

d. Add any images

It is generally a good idea to add images to your writing. It acts as a buffer between large chunks of text and gives your reader some rest. Five images in a 500 word article is too much, but three or four for a 1,000 word article is a good measure.

I add images at the very end, because doing so while writing is not only distracting, but also time-consuming. This, of course, is unless I have to make references to any content inside the image.

e. Tag, file and save

Finally, tag your post. My limit (and a good limit, unanimously accepted) is no more than five tags. Two things to remember when you tag your posts are, first, whether each tag represents the whole article rather than a portion of it. If you have only two words that truly represent your article, tag it with just two words.

Second, avoid long, spaced out, phrase-like tags. These are not only unnatural but may backfire by narrowing down your results too much; on the contrary, try not to be too vague either. For instance, I have tagged this article with the words blog, wordpress and technique.

h. Copying from elsewhere

I know a few people write their articles on text editors like Word. When you copy and paste across softwares, things get real jazzy. But the dangerous part is sometimes code is added to your copied text that does not make a visual difference when you look at it, but its presence is quite harmful for robots indexing your website.

Once you paste, WordPress has a handy tool called the remove formatting button. In the kitchen sink (Alr+Shift+Z) it is the sixth button (next to the paste from Word button with a W). Hit that and, even if you noticed no changes, you are good to go.

Publish or schedule it

Ah, the end.

You can publish your article right away, of course, but if you were feeling particularly energetic and wrote three in a day, you would not want to throw them all out at once, so hit schedule to post at your preferred time and date.

Then sit back and talk to your readers. It’s the second most rewarding part of blogging.

 Cover image: Flickr/Christine and Hagen Graf 

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