Troubleshooting or Shooting Trouble

A comment on Pat Bertram’s recent post made me giggle. Part of her day’s activities had been trying to troubleshoot a printer connection and repair a wobbly daybed. Then there was gardening begging for attention and a pile of boxes needing to be moved, but an injured knee made both tasks difficult. As she relayed her woes, she finished up by trying to find a theme for her post, “because without a theme, blog entries so often sound like a child’s diary entry.”

“Maybe,” she wrote, “the theme is troubleshooting. My knee, my room, my daybed, my computer, my yard certainly are all causing (or have caused) troubles that needed to be shot.”

Troubles that need to be shot? If I’d been sipping my coffee at that moment, I’m sure I would have spewed the mouthful. Only a small group on my church’s Audio-Visual Team would fully appreciate the implication of the shooting image (a ‘blooper’ was involved, but that’s all I’m going to say).

As last weekend approached, our church website began to… lag, I guess is the best way to describe its reluctance to connect. It took longer and longer, until finally on Saturday a ‘this website cannot be reached’ error message came up. I quipped on Facebook that I hate Murphy and his laws. There couldn’t have been a worse time to suddenly lose our ability to provide the recorded service that has been the alternate means of access to worship for our congregation since the Covid-19 pandemic closed church buildings in mid-March.

There are a lot of computer problems that I can figure out by my systematic trial and error approach, but troubleshooting the kind of problems that bring a website down is beyond me. Fortunately, I know a helpful technician whose knowledge is always a quick email or phone call away, 24/7. In this instance, after a bit of investigating he admitted he was stymied, too, but knew where to turn for more in-depth probing. Further checking produced a partial diagnosis and a partial solution. The website is now up and functioning again, but we all know there’s a last hurrah in its future — its near future. Decisions will have to be made, and soon.

Our church has had a website — actually an evolution of three websites — since 1998, which is longer than I’ve had this blog. As ‘webmaster’, I’ve had to deal with periodic complexities and crashes that frustrated me, but one way or another, someone else always managed to right whatever was wrong. Sometimes it involved finding and removing malware, sometimes upgrading of certain components, and once a brand new website was required.

I know my limitations and am so thankful for those who have the expertise I lack!

I’m fortunate with this blog. Today marks its twelfth ‘bloggaversary’ and I can recall only two occasions when it was offline. In both cases the WordPress gurus did their magic in the background, and in a couple hours, with no effort on my part, ‘Carol’s (formerly Careann’s) Musings’ was up and active in cyberspace again.

This past week has challenged my technical patience. In addition to a faltering church website, there was new church equipment to learn to operate before Friday’s recording deadline — a video recorder and two sets of microphones — a new YouTube account that still stubbornly resists my setup attempts, research that stalled when it hit the weekend, and… and…!  There came a moment when I might have taken a pot shot at every obstacle if only I’d had the opportunity.

But then this morning arrived. The church website behaved itself. The Sunday service video ran without glitches. Sunshine bathed our ‘Wildwood Acres’ and as I sat on the deck soaking up the early summertime warmth, I caught two Rufous Hummingbirds on video, flitting around between greedy gulps of nectar. A peaceful, restful, worshipful Sunday. No troubleshooting required. Ah-h-h.

So, I’ll take a deep breath as I send off this post — WordPress tells me it’s number 1,174 — and be thankful for all the blessings as I move into my thirteenth year in this space.

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Writing Time vs Online Time (It’s all about balance)

I did say this post would be coming last ‘Friday’, didn’t I? Mmm, yes. This isn’t Friday, is it? Some bloggers might be inclined to say, “Oh, well, suck it up and let’s get on with it.” Personally, I wouldn’t think that was a polite way to respond. I’m more the apologetic type. “So sorry,” I’ll say. “Unavoidable interruptions. Sincere apologies.” Now suck it up and let’s carry on.

We writers sometimes need a jolt to unsettle our complacency. In my previous post I mentioned a comment from a book I’m currently reading by Jeff Goins. I went to his website for the URL to share with you, started reading his post and that’s where I got today’s jolt.

“…what do writers do? They write. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it — you just have to show up and commit to doing the work. Place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this, of course, is where most writers fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.”

I think that makes last week’s post even more appropriate. Not only is our “crazy social media platform maintenance” frenzy a form of stalling, the talking, thinking and reading about writing are all equally effective deterrents to any success.

It’s decision time. Time to make strategic choices that will provide the resources we need while allowing us to spend the majority of our time pursuing our creativity. So, what will those choices look like? Take a moment to…um, I’d say smell the roses, but it’s too early for them…so maybe just admire the snowdrops (they’re everywhere in my garden right now), then grab your notebook and start planning.

Winter Snowdrops

(Winter Snowdrops – Galanthus)

  • Restrict social media networks to the few that are the most useful

We agree: we can’t do it all. Ideally, the best networks will be the ones where we encounter people of similar interests, the sites where we will find the information that is most suited to our purpose or that will reach the most people who are likely to be interested in our product or subject matter. It isn’t necessary to constantly explore cyberspace. Once we’ve found them, settle on a select few sites.

I have a group of writing friends on Facebook in addition to my family, church and purebred dog connections, so next to my blog, that’s my network of preference. I check in on Twitter occasionally, but don’t spend much time there, I recently quit Google+, and I’ve avoided Pinterest entirely because I know it’s addictive.

My list of regularly visited blogs and websites have been whittled down considerably this year to include those of a handful of friends, fellow authors, and writing mentors, the Seekerville writing community, and a couple inspirational sites. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally visit some that are on my earlier lists, or go to places like Amazon and home-decorating sites, but they are no longer places to dally on a daily basis or let eat into my writing time.

  • Allot specific amounts of time to spend online

How long do we realistically need to check and respond to e-mail, to peruse a limited number of favourite blogs or websites, to do the research for a particular writing project? Determine that ahead of time and set a timer. Knowing it’s counting down should keep us more focused on our task and less inclined to dawdle. Once our ‘social’ time is over and we move on to the day’s work, I try to resist checking in online every few minutes. If it’s a writing day I might work for an hour and then allow myself a ten minute break to check for messages, get a Coke or a coffee, and carry on. Your daily tasks will be different from mine, depending on your day job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. How much time we allot to social media is up to us but we need to be disciplined, honest and realistic about how we ration it.

  • Include opportunities to ‘give back’ to the writing community

It’s easy for writers to become immersed in our fictional worlds and believe the online hype we try to create is all about us. It’s not. We relish the support and encouragement of those we look up to, those whose efforts have brought them success, and in turn we should be ready to offer what help we can to others. Whether it’s leaving comments of encouragement, interviewing newcomers on our blogs or offering book reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, we can show appreciation by giving back, regardless of our level of expertise or inexperience.

  • Schedule time into the day for creative refuelling

Whatever our workday consists of, it’s important to make sure we carve out a niche for personal refreshment. (And that doesn’t mean to go blog-hopping!) Some of my favourite writing books aren’t actually on the craft itself, but on nurturing the writer within. Julia Cameron recommends artist’s dates — going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or museum, spending quiet time in an environment that is personally rejuvenating. It can be a whole afternoon, or just fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s “me time”.

That’s about it. I’m not all that proficient when it comes to how I spend my online time, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. When I succeed, I’m surprised at how much more I get done in a day.

As for those links I promised, here’s a list in random order of some of the more helpful writing sites I particularly like (no, I don’t visit them everyday, and you’d better not, either!):

Writer UnboxedWriter’s Digest, Anne R. AllenK.M. Weiland, Jessica Morrell, Chip MacGregor, Rachelle GardnerJane Friedman, The Write Life, Seekerville, The Writer’s Alley, Write to Done, Story Fix: Larry Brooks, The Kill Zone (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows; I write cozy mysteries!), Jeff Goins, Pub Rants, Molly Greene, Kirsten Lamb, Live-Write-Thrive: CS Lakin, Jody Hedlund, Agent Query, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, The Passive Voice: The Lawyer Guy, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Writers Helping Writers, Absolute Write WaterCooler Forum, Bookends Literary Agency blogWriting World: Moira Allen (blog has concluded, but has sixteen years of archived articles). 

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The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

GoldenEarsWriters

A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

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Working on Websites (Oh, my!)

I’m not a computer dummy, but neither am I a guru. I deal with my computer and make my way around the internet in a fairly competent manner, but some days it isn’t without a degree of stress.

Some writers have multiple websites or blogs. I have just one, but have established cyber locations for three organizations and three other writers. Mostly it has involved using WordPress templates and has been relatively easy.

Then the day arrived when it became necessary to revamp my church’s website! (Yes, that sentence was meant to end with an exclamation mark.) The original server was going down, and it was the opportune time to start over from scratch.

It was decided we needed a professional look, not achievable with a blog template. This time we would have a brand new site, created by a professional web designer.

While the new website is beautiful, it’s requiring a steep learning curve for me, and that’s both challenging and stressful. I’ll survive, but I’m sure it’s going to be quite some time before this shiny new website is ready to ‘go live’.

Website Screenshot 2

For those of you who have gone this route, too, how much value do you place on the aesthetics of a site? I tend to think first impressions are important — that visitors judge the appeal and suitability of a congregation/writer/product by its cyber-face. Am I wrong? Is the bare message conveyed by text and photos more important than a polished presentation? When you visit a website, how do you react to your initial encounter?

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