Monthly Archives: March 2007

Windows Live Writer

I’m composing this post in Windows Live Writer, a novel experience indeed. Take a look at this post in a screenshot!

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If you’re a writer and you deal with blogs, or you’re writing your book in blog format, Windows Live Writer is one tool you shouldn’t live without. I’m completely in love with it. Head over heels. There are absolutely no reasons for you to lose your blog post to a buggy internet connection again. While WordPress has an autosave feature, there are occasions when your internet connection dies (rare, but very common where i come from) when a good two thirds of my post just dissappears. And of course any good writer knows that the flow of ideas being cut off and interrupted simply puts you off from completing what you’ve started.

Features That Make Me Swoon

Apart from the inherent advantages of composing posts offline, Windows Live Writer has another big thing going for it: Ease Of Use.

The entire software is so straightforward and seamlessly integrated with my WordPress platform I’m actually finding it hard to believe this was made by Microsoft. Really, the interface and feature set is something we’ve come to expect from Apple (it rocks almost as much as iTunes!) and i’m just about jumping around with how easy it is to post, to insert pictures and maps and links and styling elements, and to actually see how my posts looks like in my blog in real time, since the program pulls my style sheets down and applies it to my words.

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There’s even plugin functionality, where you get extended features for specific blog platforms released in a community-like page, (a lot like the WordPress blogging platform and their plugins). Is this even Microsoft we’re talking about?

Amazing.

Setting It Up

Is a total breeze. You enter the address of your blog, your username and password, and Windows Live Writer handles the rest, pulling your style sheets down, finding out what categories you have, and generally making sure everything you need while posting is available to you within the program.

Note: you do need the .Net framework to run Windows Live Writer, but this shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Possible Problems

I’ve only tried it with (this) WordPress blog, and my experiences with making work with Blogger differs considerably. I got various errors and i couldn’t post or put up labels. Then again it could be temporary, since i’ve not downloaded plugins that could make this piece of software rub well with Blogger, and i have to remind myself this is still a beta version.

Nevertheless, i’m happy with it. It works well, you get to insert Maps, Pictures from your hard drive, and everything from an easy to understand Word-like environment. It rocks? You betcha.

Download it here.

How Readers Can Help Write A Book

Back when the Internet was a hidden playground for researchers (developing things that go boom against Soviet forces), writers scribbled in notebooks, on tissue paper (Roald Dahl used lipstick), and typewriters, incubating opuses written between the leather covers of spiral bound books, with spidery writing and yesterday’s tea stains. I hear the click click click of my keyboard as i’m typing out the next chapter … and i admit that i don’t like it.

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Writing is a lonely task. You sit facing your computer screen/ typewriter/ tissue paper, and then input the words to craft places and people that exist only in your imagination. It is you and your art, be it ideas, or a romance, or an autobiography.

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Once we transfer our writing to an interactive medium things open up to us. Readers read and experience your book in ‘real time’, as what you are posting up is a work in progress. It becomes harder for you to stop because what you write is out there, exposed on the web, and gosh! people are actually enjoying it! Should you ever have the misfortune of coming over a troll (nasty internet users who go out of their way to annoy other internet users), ignore him/her/it. Everyone has to start somewhere. And the internet (or the blogosphere, if you want to use that word) is just one of those places.

A few thoughts on involving your readers with your writing:

Comments

Commenting is a major part of blogging. While it may sound absolutely stupid to treat your readers as sheep, tell them to comment. The majority of readers don’t usually comment on blogs they read – don’t be disheartened, this doesn’t mean they don’t like you. I’ve read somewhere (source lost) that a good way to pull comments in is to force make them to do so. Publicly declare that you won’t post another chapter until you get one comment. 2 comments, 2 chapters. And so on.

There are, of course, downsides to this technique. The first being your work being so new or so hard to read that nobody actually cares if you post a new chapter. But i still remember a particular blook posted on Blogger (while the National Novel Blogging Month – NaNoBloMo – still existed) about a female vampire and her first love that utterly gripped me from the get go. Only two chapters were posted, and even though us readers posted comments the blog eventually died away. It was thrilling, beautiful, and very, very addictive. So this technique might work if you write something amazing – but what if you’re still learning?

Lulu Blooker Prize 2007 Shortlist

The people at Lulu has released a shortlist of the 2007 nominees of the Blooker Prize. Among them is Seth Godin‘s Small Is The New Big; an interesting novel posted online that i’ve been keeping track of – Methuselah’s Daughter, and a political, non-fiction blook written by Daily Kos‘s Markos Moulitsas, in partnership with Jerome Armstrong called Crashing The Gate.

Besides the three blooks mentioned above i’m keeping a keen eye on The Doorbells of Florence, branded as ‘cult fiction’ – that stemmed from a Flickr photoset about doorbells, of all things. Apparently the blook is about each of these 36 doorbells showcased, the stories behind them, and the lives of the people that may or may not live behind those doors.

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Quite a novel idea, pardon the pun.

The other book which i’m watching would be a webcomic called Mom’s Cancer, which i’m betting will win in the 2007 Blooker Comic category. I might give a description of what it’s about, but the introductory passage at the site is loads better:

My mother was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer.
I made a comic strip about it.

Mom’s Cancer is the true tale of my mother’s battle with metastatic lung cancer. The story describes how a serious illness affects patient and family, both practically and emotionally, in ways that I’ve discovered are very common. Many readers wrote to tell me how surprised and relieved they were to learn they weren’t alone.

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Sadly Brian Fies had to take down the web comic due to copyright issues, when he published Mom’s Cancer in book form. Apparently content cannot coexist online and offline – at least to prevent copyright headaches from popping up later on. Nevertheless, the story is touching – about mortality and loss, and the webcomic itself won the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic in 2005. More information can be found in this Wikipedia entry.

The winners of the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize will be announced on Monday, May 14, 2007.

Good Friday

We all love Fridays. Great cups of coffee at Starbucks and lazy nights not doing any work watching movies. What better time to write about The Friday Project?

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While Lulu may be big and bustling (no ideas on its returns at the moment), The Friday Project is its indie equivalent. Small, focusing on quality (not quantity) and with a very homely feel to the design. They plan to publish 45 books for 2007, and the thing about them is this: all their books have something to do with the internet.

No, not about. Sit down and let’s have a cup of tea together, they say, or a croissant, or a beer. It’s more of the connection the book has with the internet that counts. While some aren’t so apparent (i find In Search Of Adam very interesting, as i’ve not the foggiest what it had to do with the internet – posted online, perhaps?), other books like Blogged has apparent internet origins.

The Friday Project isn’t self publishing, nor is it publishing on demand. It appears to be a small publishing ‘house’ based in London, with a closely knit group of editors. I’d say that margins are low, but they’re different by the stuff they churn out. And their catch phrase: “Turning the Best of the Web into the Finest of Books” is clear, and tells you immediately what their speciality is about.

For other writers nosy enough (to want to get published) here are links to two of their directors: Girl Friday and Me And My Big Mouth.

And because they’re about the written word and the internet, i’ve added them to Novelr’s blogroll. They’re doing great stuff, merging two forms of media together in an accessible way – not the first, but definitely different.

Combating Writers Block

It just seems to hit sometimes, doesn’t it? You cannot seem to write anything of worth, and reading your words out loud makes you cringe. Worse still, what seems beautiful to others – your friends and family – is superficial to you. You didn’t mean that! You didn’t write those lines of prose, those lines that lie about your state of being! It’s a mockery. You want to take an eraser and threaten the very existence of those words! But you’re afraid … if you do so you’ll have nothing better to write about.

I came across this light 9rules note (their term for discussion) about Writers Block. John Baker‘s reply made me chuckle:

People aren’t commenting on this because they don’t want to be associated with someone who has that particular disease.
So, what you should do is go read a book or walk in the countryside.
Find something as stress-free as possible and keep at it until you’re bored out of your skull.
Next time you sit down to write you’ll be a different person . . .

And on went the rest of the 9rules community helping out poor dook with his writer’s block. They suggested

  • screaming at CNN @ McDonald’s
  • drinking tea (rather than coffee)
  • forget about the task you’re doing
  • have a good rest/sleep/nap
  • writing all your ideas down in a notebook
  • write crap until you strike gold

And, my favourite:

  • go off the Internet. Like right now.

Personally I’ll walk my dog, or take a seat in a fairly busy public space and watch time and people pass me by. Or I’ll take a stroll in a park enjoying flowers and the sweet smell of grass. Life is too short to waste time sitting in front of a computer screen, willing words to travel down your neurons to your fingers.

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Write clean, write sharp, write right. Go take a walk.

Blogging Platform for Authors Roundup

After eight days we’ve come to the end of our Blogging platforms series – written from an author’s perpective, with limited coding skills. Let’s take an overall look at each of the 6 platforms:

Blogger:Pros: Flexibility, a good amount of theme control, ease of use. Cons: Bad reliability at times, as well as less than satisfactory speeds. Recommended for blooking, or posting a book in blog form.

WordPress.com:Pros: Complete feature set, good looking themes, active development, good support. Cons: Severe limitations – almost no customization (can customize CSS if you pay). Stay away, unless they allow you a greater say in your blog’s theme.

WordPress.org:Pros: Robust, stable, in active development, comes with complete support base, open source, free, the list goe on and on. Cons: Steep learning curve for non web professionals who want to customize their blogs, needs own server. The perfect solution for writing a blook because almost anything can be done with WordPress.

Blogsome:Pros: Flexible, WordPress features, ease of use with theme customization, hassle-free plugins. Cons: Reliability, no ability to use own domain name. An okay choice, but the inability to use your own domain name (short of using a redirect, which is a waste of time) should detract you from it.

Terapad:Pros: One stop location for everything you need in a blog, good cuztomization options. Cons: Interface can be improved – not very easy to use for the first timer, only four themes. Terapad is a wild card – still very new, but promising. Only time will tell as to how it all shapes up.

And, last, but not least:

Vox:Pros: Ease of use trumps all other 5 selections, huge selection of themes, seamless integration with third party web apps. Cons: Social orientated, so not suitable for blog promotion, no commenting for non Vox users, no theme customization. Use this only if you don’t even know what a blog is. Great for beginners, or for creating fictional blogs of fictional characters. Otherwise, stay away.

And this is the conclusion of the series! Should you ever wish to blog your book, take a stroll through these reviews – I do hope something in there will be helpful to ensure choosing the right blogging platform sets you off to a head start in blooking.

Vox for Authors

This is post is part of the ‘Choosing the right blogging platform – For Authors‘ series started ten days ago. We’ve reached the end of our series with this review, and of all 6 blogging platforms we’ve talked about Vox is probably the one least suited to writing a blook. But i’m including it in this series, mainly because of its popularity and simplicity.

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When Vox was first released by Six Apart it was touted as the social blogging experience. Made for personal blogging, Vox is a cross between a blogging platform and a social network, which can easily be seen in what is called ‘Neighbourhoods’ – a collection of friends, family and other blogs that you read and maintain relationships with. While this doesn’t seem like a proper platform on which to write a book, i chose to review Vox mainly because of its attractions to the everyday user – something an author who is more used to paper and pen might appreciate.

Ease Of Use

Of the other 5 blogging platforms reviewed, none comes close to Vox in successfully integrating text, pictures, audio and video in a single, beautiful posting interface. It’s terribly easy to fall in love with posting in Vox – there even is a question of the day that appears everyday in your dashboard, setting off that spark of creativity whenever you feel lethargic and loath to cook up a post. But is this any good for writing a book online?

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Well, Vox makes blogging understandable – even your grandmother can post pictures and videos and bring it all together on an good looking blog. Working with the assumption that the average author knows basic word processing skills, Vox can and will be able to accomodate a blook and make it easy for anyone – even if you’ve never heard of a blog – to post up chapters.

Looks

Vox has a whole plethora of themes, most of them beautiful, jaw dropping, but with limited cuztomization. The most they allow you to do is to upload your own header picture and determine the sidebar positions, but while this may seem harsh, the sheer amount of quality themes they provide more than make up for this. Vox themes allow you to select 3 collumn and 2 collumn variations, as well as sidebar elements and postitioning, thus making sure Vox blogs not only look good, they look different.

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There’s not much else to be said about Vox’s looks, other than it looks extremely polished and well thought out, from the homepage to your posting screen to even the ads that pepper the service (they blend in with the background). It’s is free and its themes are click aplenty. End.

Terapad for Authors

This is post is part of the ‘Choosing the right blogging platform – For Authors‘ series started eight days ago. We’ve covered Blogger, and three blogging platforms that use WordPress, so now we’re going to take a look at Terapad – a new player in blogging, but one with quite a lot of promise.

Terapad is a fairly new member to the blogging world. Apparently their creators took a look at what was available out there, saw that there were all these disparate functions on blogs, and then decided to bring it all together in one nice package, free of charge, but ad supported.

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Ease Of Use

Terapad is above average in ease of use. You sense that they absolutely refuse to allow you to touch code, giving you little blanks for sidebar categories to paste your sidebar elements in, and allow seamless integration with third party services like Meebo and Google Analytics. It may take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with where the shiny ‘new post’ button is, but once you do it works slick and fast and easy.

The dashboard for Terapad is tabbed, and cleanly labelled, and each of these tabs when clicked shows you the options page, with a short explanation for what all the elements on page are about at the top. I’d have preferred it if there were little pop-ups telling me what the various options did, but all I got were non-informative little icons.

When it comes to handling text and the written word however, Terapad works brilliantly with no complaints on my part. It has a good editor, plenty of functions, and an easy to understand file system for organizing your pages and/or posts.

Looks

Terapad looks extremely polished. There are only 4 themes at the moment (unfortunately), and you can only touch the CSS for these themes, but everything from the ‘front-end’ to the ‘back-end’ looks beautiful. The Mac icons on each of the menu pages scream OSX, but at the very least it’s plagiarisism that oozes cool.

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As for the blogs themselves I’ve yet to see anything jaw dropping, as most of the ‘top 10 sites’ all use one of the four themes (yawn). But a look at the style sheets behind each of these blogs told me that there’s quite a degree of custiomization available to the end user, and as time goes by I’m sure we’ll start seeing good, unique looking blogs powered by Terapad.

Features

Terapad comes bundled with its own stat service, as well as forums, a store, a careers page, an events page and an image gallery. When you actually think about it, all of these tabs can be used by authors, with the possible exception of the careers page. The blog section will be for the blook, the events section can be used for book tours and readings, forums are just another way of reaching out to the reader, and the store can be used for eBook selling and/or blatant self promotion.

Blogsome for Authors

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This is post is part of the ‘Choosing the right blogging platform – For Authors‘ series started six days ago. From the more common wordpress platforms, we’re now going to look at Blogsome – also a free WordPress Multi User service, but with major differences. Let’s see how good it is for writing a blook.

Blogsome has been around for quite some time, and the age of the service shows the instant you log in – Blogsome is using an extremely dated version of WordPress MU (multi user edition, as they say so themselves). In contrast to the current versions of WordPress, Blogsome’s user interface is grey, and not as attractive, as we’ll see for ourselves soon enough.

Ease of Use

Blogsome’s option organization is pretty clear cut from the outset, and fairly easy to understand for anyone who’s ever touched a blogging platform. It may be ugly but it’s clean and ugly (wow, talk about a new term for web design), and it gets the job done . There is absolutely no fuss since you don’t upload plugins or themes (more on this particular point later) and the visual editor bundled (with an activated plugin) is barebones and pretty much keeps everything you wish to use a click away. It’s impossible to get confused working on Blogsome, and that’s a very good thing.

Another thing about Blogsome is that there is absolutely no risk of something funny happening with the code, especially when installing plugins. A whole list is right there, waiting for you to activate them one by one – which is a very straightfoward process. Theme selection is based on one page, and the great thing about it is that not a line of PHP is seen anywhere throughout the platform. Good news for beginners, indeed.

Looks

As mentioned before, Blogsome uses an early version of WordPress, which means the user interface is not quite as pretty as the current blue, saliva inducing one. The themes however, do not lack. Blogsome uses a collection of 4 files to create a theme – one for the main page, one style sheet (css, obviously), one for posts and one for comments. This function is marginally better than Blogger’s and allows for greater theme control on a WordPress platform. Which can only be good, since you have trackback and the little bells and whistles only to be expected from WP.

Blogsome uses xhtml. It’s easier to understand, easier to use and flexible enough to allow for good looking themes. And since the only code you’ll handle on this platform is xhtml, authors can spend more time concentrating on the story and the plot, minimizing the time needed to bring their work online. Some may argue that you don’t truly have total theme control, but what it allows for is enough freedom for you to choose how your blog should look like.

WordPress.org for Authors

This is post is part of the ‘Choosing the right blogging platform – For Authors‘ series started five days ago. We’re going to move up from WordPress.com to the downloadable WordPress platfrom, and seeing how it fares for writing online.

The downloadable WordPress platform is the Firefox of bloggers – free, open source, reliable and powerful. The question is this: is it too daunting for the average author to use?

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Ease of Use

WordPress.org is very big on ease of use. Captions like ‘Our famed five minute install’ and its whimsical software upgrade pages poke fun at what they know to be a good user experience.

But while the application insists on its ease-of-use all through downloading, uploading, installing and then customizing, my personal experience two years ago with the platform, as ‘an average user of the internet (who understood basic HTML)’ deviated from the normal ‘5 minute install’, mainly because I used a dicky zip program, didn’t know what FTP was, and uploaded everything into the wrong directory. All in all it took me 2 hours to get everything up and running on my server. Not a good start for such a famed blogging platform, I thought then.

Hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?

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But i’m getting slightly ahead of myself in this review. Allow me to explain roughly of what consists of a WordPress installation.

First off, you download the package from WordPress.org. It contains a collection of files, mostly PHP, that make up the platform. You open up one file and edit a few lines.

Next, you get your hands on an FTP client (Filezilla is recommended) and then upload the hundred-plus files to a MySQL server. It must be noted that good, free and reliable hosts with PHP are very hard to find (in a year’s worth of searching for a friend the best i could come up with was F2O), but WordPress.org has a list of good hosts that you have to pay for.

Last of all you go through a breezy setup process that clearly shows why WordPress is so loved – smooth and easy, tongue in cheek.

WordPress sounds daunting, but for a platform as powerful as it is the setup and day-to-day running is well designed enough for almost anybody to use. Added features (through plugins) and themes are installed simply by uploading and activating (one click only). It’s top of the line where blogging is concerned, but if you ever intend to edit a theme or write a plugin with no knowledge of PHP, things get tough very fast.

Looks

I’ve already written about how good WordPress looks in my WordPress.com review, and everything is equally good, if not better with the downloaded version. Themes are created by a huge community of users, some good, others ugly not to my taste. The great thing about WordPress is that almost anything is possible in theme designing – Ajax, easy integration with Flickr, Flash, and it’s all done on a platform that’s dedicated to producing standards complaint code. If you don’t understand what that means just buzz it out and understand that it’s good, all good.