I just checked my stats from the past 30 days, and it looks like word has gotten out about this blog. Or people have been finding their way here. The breakdowns of countries are below – this is just the past 30 days, but the range of countries is pretty extensive.
Once you have your blog setup, you need to get your overall design together. There are a lot of different choices, but I focus on the following three elements:
I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue with me on this, but for me, simplicity is best. I’ve tried different settings and configurations over the years, and to be honest, keeping it super-simple has really turned out best for me. But it’s up to you. Whatever you like and works for you, is just as good.
And always remember — you can go back and change things later, if you like. Just experiment with it, and see how it works. You’ll learn a lot, so keep an open mind and have an adventure 😉
Sidebars are the columns to the right or left of your main blog content area. Many blogs have two of them, but a lot have only one, on the left or the right. I prefer a sidebar on the right, because it looks better to me — more like a blog, and less like a regular website. There’s nothing wrong with having a design like a regular website, but the convention for blogs seems to be putting your extra stuff on the right.
Some themes will let you pick and choose how many sidebars you have and which side they’re on. The theme I use just puts it on the right, so that keeps it simple.
Widgets are the extra stuff. You find them under the menu with the little paint brush:
You’ll see the options you have for widgets, as well as where you can put them.
Widgets include “follow” buttons, email signup fields, lists of archives and recent posts, social sharing, as well as promotional and nice-to-know additions on the right. I’ve seen authors put pictures of their books on the right, and then link to their “buy page” so you can get a copy of their book. I have put extra stuff like quotes and facts and figures in my sidebars. These are all done through widgets in WordPress.
Depending on your theme, you can have a ton of different options. Here’s what I have to choose from:
Obviously, I’m not going to use ALL of them. I need to pick and choose carefully. So, after years of experimenting, and realizing that some things were more trouble than they were worth, I ended up using these:
Sharing is a really important piece of your setup, because you want to reach as many people as possible, and giving others the ability to share your posts with others. You can put a Social Media Icons widget in your sidebar, at the bottom of your posts, and you can also configure your blog to share automatically for you.
You find your sharing settings under the Settings Menu:
You’ll see this page (if you’re hosted on WordPress):
First, you want to set up your Publicize settings. Click the Publicize button:
And you’ll go to this screen:
You can see that I have only connected to Twitter. I blog anonymously, so I don’t want my posts connected to any of my “real life” personal or professional social networks. So, all I have connected to is Twitter. You may wish to connect to everything. That’s your choice.
Whenever you post to your blog, with Publicize, you’ll post to all your connected social media without needing to do anything. For someone with memory and sequencing issues, this is a godsend — you don’t need to make a checklist of where all to post after you blog something. Publicize does it for you.
That’s why it’s so important to set it up.
Next, you want to set up your Sharing Buttons (which will appear on your pages), so people can share your posts with others. You just drag all the Available Services down to the Enabled Services area. You can see that I only have Twitter, Facebook, and Email enabled, because my posts are very text-heavy and also very personal. I could put the Print button in there, but people usually know how to print pages, so I won’t take up the space on the page.
You also want to turn on the buttons for your whole blog — check all the boxes beside “Show buttons on”, and you can also put your Twitter username in there, so whenever your readers tweet your posts, your own username will show up.
Like and Reblog are also turned on for me — especially Reblog because that makes it really easy for people to share your posts on their blogs.
So, that’s the lesson for today — three basic things to do that aren’t terribly complicated but will make your blog easier to use and share with others.
WordPress is basically made up of two parts:
- A “back-end” framework, like the inner gears of an engine, that runs the whole deal. Think of the back-end like you think of an engine of a car. You don’t necessarily need to know how it all works, to pick the right car for you.
- A customizable “front-end”, using themes that change the design of your blog and offer different features. Think of themes as the “body” of a car – it has the elements that you (and others) will actually have contact with on a daily basis. Just as you pick a car based on its roominess, interior features, color, and flexibility, you pick a theme for your blog.
The part you really care about for your blog is the “front-end” – it’s what you can most easily control. And you usually don’t need to know any programming to manage it.
There are literally thousands of themes available for people to use. Design professionals make a business out of creating WordPress themes, and there are some really great ones out there.
You can pay for a theme, or you can get them for free. I always go for free, because my needs are basic and straightforward, and I can do everything I need to do with a free theme.
What are my needs?
- Responsive – my site will adjust to the size and shape of whatever device people are using: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.
- Customizable header – so I can change my look, if I like.
- Sidebar – so I can put in my “follow” buttons and links list and archives, etc.
- White color scheme – it’s easier for me to read.
- Social sharing – so people can share my posts with others.
- Good font size – that makes it easy to read (most themes have that now, but it’s an important thing to check).
- Free – because there are too many good choices, and I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.
So, where do you find the magic? Log into WordPress, and you’ll see an “Appearance” choice in your WP-Admin.
Choose Themes, and you’ll see this (or something like it):
This page shows you which theme is active for you, and it lets you pick from a wide array of choices.
You can see all the different options that you have for themes. There are themes with a single column, two columns, three columns, and there are themes in different colors and so forth. I have spent a lot of time looking through a lot of different themes, and I have found that in my case simplest is best. You can easily spend hours and hours looking through all of the different options, trying them out, and seeing what you like. But it is a much better use of your time, if you find something simple to use, and start with that.
If you search for “responsive white sidebar”, the page will change to show the ones that fit your search. And you can explore from there.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Twenty Sixteen. It’s responsive, it has one sidebar on the right, I can customize the header, and it does everything I want it to do. It’s fast and easy to configure, and it’s not a huge headache like other themes.
There are many, many web pages and guides out there which talk about WordPress themes, so if you want to dive deeper, scout around a bit.
To activate your theme, all you have to do is put your mouse over the theme, and the Activate and Preview buttons will show up:
You can preview your blog and see how it will look with that theme. If you don’t like it, then just close the preview. If you do like it, click the Activate button, and now you’ve got that theme.
Remember that you can easily change out your theme in the future, so don’t worry too much about choosing the exact right one, right off the bat.
You’ve got plenty of flexibility to change later.
So, have fun with it!
My hands have been giving me a lot of trouble, lately. I’ve been writing a lot – typing a lot – on the computer most of my waking hours. And it’s taking a toll.
The only problem is, I have a lot of writing I want to do. I’ve got a handful of projects that are just itching to get done – my Chronic Blogging project being the most pressing, right now. Maybe I’m just being spoiled, or maybe I’m finally getting to a place in my life — and my writing — where I’m really hitting my stride.
The latter, I think. I’ve been struggling with keeping things together for so very long, that just carving out time to write has been rough. And I’ve been foggy and fuzzy for so long, that it’s been a challenge to get the words together in decent order.
Blogging counts… but not exactly. It’s much more stream-of-consciousness, and it doesn’t require me to create a huge amount of structure around my thoughts. I can just get up, do my morning workout, get my breakfast, and then spend an hour writing about whatever comes to mind. It’s not the sort of activity that I have to plan out, structure, and then keep steady with.
Writing extended pieces takes a lot out of me. I tend to get distracted and lose my train of thought / resolve before I’ve completed the extended thought. That’s why I favor blogging – it’s “low-impact” for me, and it lets me mentally ramble more than I can in a structured work. I can also break down individual ideas into bite-sized chunks that are easier for me to digest.
But every now and then, I get a hankerin’ to write something more involved than my daily blog posts — something that demands real commitment, and which will have to do with more than the passing moments of my life.
Which brings me to my Chronic Blogging book-in-progress, and all the stuff that goes along with it. I have to figure out a way to elaborate on some really key points, without blowing out my hands and wrists.
Thus, the speech-to-text functionality of my devices.
I’ve got an iPhone for work, and an Android tablet of my own. The iPhone seems to do a much faster job of transcribing, although the Android tablet seems to be more accurate.
Speed vs. accuracy — the eternal quandary!
Anyway, I’ve been testing both of them out, and this weekend I’ll do some more work on my Chronic Blogging project, dictating rather than typing. I dictated about 1/3 of the book yesterday p.m., and it’ll be good to just plug it all in and edit it, rather than tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard.
I need to break things up, anyway, and this will be a great way to do it.
So, as usual… onward.
The first order of the day is to get your blog properly setup and configured. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and what you do here, can really help you in the long run.
The first I’ll discuss is the basics of setting up your blog to make your life easier. With technology, it’s easier than ever to complicate everything — to the point where you just don’t want to do it, anymore. I’ll keep things simple here. I also won’t cover every single topic I can think of — just the basics you should consider.
There are a lot of great books and websites out there that can offer you in-depth tips and tricks. Use them as much as you can. There are lots of smart people who share really useful info with the world.
In this guide, I’ll talk about using WordPress, because after years of blogging and using different systems like Blogger and Typepad (and some others I can’t recall the names of), WordPress is my favorite for a number of reasons.
- It’s stable and well-supported. It’s not just a side project of some folks who needed to do something fun and fulfilling on the weekends (that happens more often than you think). It’s managed by real people who do it for a living. And it’s actively supported. Sometimes they make changes to the interface that drive me nuts, but overall, it’s worth the hassle. There’s a ton of help and documentation about how to different things, but you can do a lot with just a little bit of information. There are many, many themes (designs) that give you a lot of different options, and they are also well supported.
- You can do a lot with a little — for free. You can sign up for a free blog and be publishing your work in a matter of minutes. There are a lot of different customizations you can do, but you don’t have to do many at all, to get a functioning blog that looks good. Simplicity is important, if you just want to focus on your writing, instead of configuring your “technical platform”. And it doesn’t need to cost you anything other than your time and attention.
- It has a lot of SEO stuff already built in – like “human-readable” urls, correct html, consistent page designs, and the ability to optimize your images so search engines love you. That is so important — I think one of the reasons I rank pretty high in Google, is precisely because I am on WordPress.
- You’re automatically connected with a wider community. WordPress has a ton of bloggers on it, and they’re all connected via the Reader feature. You can easily find others on WP who write about the stuff you’re interested in, and they will show you the tags that people are using, so you not only find out who’s writing, but what they’re writing about the most.
- They make it really, really easy. Signing up is easy. Setting up is easy. Blogging is easy – and you can also password protect and schedule your posts, if you like. Promoting is easy, too. For example, if you want to tell the world whenever you post to your blog, you can hook up Publicize to post to FB and tweet automatically whenever you publish. That’s important for your wider community.
I could list many, many more reasons why WordPress is my blog platform of choice, but the five above should be enough to convince you to give them a try.
In this section, I’ll talk in some detail about the basic things you want to do for proper setup.
- Picking the right theme (design)
- Setting up your blog with the most important elements – sidebars, widgets, sharing, and pages
- Making your blog readable
- Managing publishing, comments, and ongoing discussions
- Making sure search engines can find you
You can read the tips and tricks in order, or you can take them piece by piece in whatever order you like. You can skip around and do what you please, and any one of these changes can make a positive difference. We don’t need to “boil the ocean” here – dealing with chronic health conditions is a big enough challenge, let alone adding a regular writing practice to the mix. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but even in its simplest form, a blog can make a positive difference in others’ lives.
Dear blogger – I want to help you become better at what you do.
Especially if you blog about chronic health conditions (spanning mental health to physical conditions), you’re in a great position to help others who share your same situation and concerns. Many folks with chronic health issues are housebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world. Some are isolated by their conditions, and many have lost their social support network because their one-time friends just couldn’t deal with their problems.
You know first-hand what it’s like to be hampered by chronic conditions, so your voice can help others to better understand their world, as well as feel less isolated.
When they first started picking up steam, about 15 years ago, blogs were a novelty. They were something only egomaniacs bothered writing, and only voyeurs bothered reading. They were dismissed by “serious readers”, partly because the medium had not had a chance to mature. But over time, the depth and breadth of blogs written by genuinely good writers, has won over countless readers. And some bloggers share the same regard and influence as well-known journalists – some of them enjoy even more.
I’ve been “chronic blogging” about my ongoing recovery from repeat mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI/concussion) since around 2008, and it has been a long, slow process developing both the blog and a readership. I started out wanting to just help others with information I gathered, as well as sharing my experiences. And there were times when I just didn’t write very much at all. Also, at the start, I was very verbose… rambling… overly emotional… kind of a mess. But some of my readers complained, and I stopped whining constantly.
I wanted to do something really useful, not just vent all the time. And so I changed things up, tried different approaches, and I learned from my mistakes and successes alike. As of this reading, my blog Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind (brokenbrilliant.wordpress.com) has had 433,743 views from 192 different countries. That’s a result of posting nearly every day for the past several years – 2,615 different posts since 2007.
By far, though, the most gratifying thing has been the feedback I’ve received from others. There are a lot of people like me out there, who feel isolated and alone and without access to support. Their feedback has been so welcome, so fantastic, so heart-warming. It’s not always easy to hear people’s accounts of their own difficulties, but knowing I’ve helped ease their pain – even just a little – makes all the effort worthwhile.
It’s still an occasional challenge to keep from whining – and sometimes I don’t manage to suppress it very well. But I’ve found a lot of satisfaction from researching my own health issues and sharing what I find with others, as well as publicizing the work of other brain injury and chronic health challenge bloggers. There really are a lot of great folks doing fantastic work out there – and we can always use another strong voice.
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog, or you’ve got one going and you’re looking for ways to increase your exposure and grow your readership, I may be able to help. I have been working with this “web stuff” for 20 years, now, so it’s second nature to me. But it’s not obvious to most folks. SEO, in particular, is shrouded in unnecessary mystery (probably to keep consultants employed), however you’ll probably find that common sense trumps gimmicks every day.
Ultimately, it’s really about building community – reaching out to others who need your help or could use a friendly voice – and making us all stronger in the process. I’ll do my best to provide truly useful tips and tricks, without overwhelming you.
Try doing some of this a little bit at a time, and really give a lot of thought to each piece of the puzzle. It’s a discovery process, and it may take months for things to turn around for you, but I believe that these changes can really help you a lot in your blogging.
If you’ve got something to say about managing a chronic health condition, and you want to help others, by all means, join us with your blog. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of dedication and discipline, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
So, I had a long day, yesterday, and I got home late. Which means I ate late. Which means I went to bed late… and then I couldn’t sleep. I was pretty emotional and uptight, and I couldn’t shut my mind off.
I finally got to sleep.
And then I woke up around 3:30 a.m. So, I’ve had about 4 hours of sleep, or thereabouts.
Not my favorite thing.
I know I’ll be fine today. Just dragging a bit, and uncoordinated. And that means I need to be extra careful on stairs, and while driving. And I need to get in bed early tonight.
But for now, I’m making the most of my time and doing something productive with myself. Working on my “chronic blogging” writing. I’ll be posting something shortly.
If I’m going to feel like crap, I might as well do something productive. I’ve already had my morning exercise and now I’m working on my breakfast. And I’ll get an early start on the day… and make an early night of it, tonight.
Work is actually going really well, right now. I’m making huge progress, which I can document (and have been). And I have three more days of an open schedule ahead of me.
The contact from my old job who contact me, hasn’t gotten back to me. I’m not holding my breath. I have plenty of other options out there to work with, and I know what I’m going to do.
So long as I’m not laid off, I’ll keep steady where I am, unless something really promising comes along. If it does, I’ll consider it. But I’m not making myself crazy over it.
And if I do get laid off in this merger, then I’ll contract for a few months in a role that I know I can do with my eyes closed, while I look for a permanent position that gives me everything I’m looking for.
So, let’s just take that off my plate, why don’t we? Just keep on keeping on. Keep my resume updated, keep my LinkedIn profile tidy. And document the progress I’ve made at my current job. Just in case.
Now, on to the “chronic blogging” guide.
Yesterday was a low-key day. I had to do a bunch of things at home in the morning, so I was late getting to the office. And then I was up to my eyeballs in crunching data all day long.
One of my coworkers didn’t even know I was there, till they were leaving and walked past my cube. Then we chatted for half an hour about home repairs and the best way to store lawnmowers over the winter. I picked up some good tips that I’ll have to try.
I need a new lawnmower. My current one is 10 years old, and it’s on its last legs. And the next time around, I will do a better job of taking care of the equipment I have, so it lasts more than 10 years.
So, now it’s Tuesday. My week is pretty open, which is nice. It will give me plenty of time to focus on some projects I’ve got going, which need many hours of thought and consideration.
The merger situation is progressing. Still, nobody knows what will be happening. I got a message from one of my old coworkers, asking if I’m still interested in coming back. They are hiring for the position I seek. I told them “perhaps”. And gave them my phone number. We have been missing each other — I didn’t see their message from last week, until yesterday. I hope the situation is still viable.
Then again, maybe I don’t… I left that old job for a reason. It wasn’t the best reason, but it was a reason.
Anyway, we’ll see what happens. I’m in a holding pattern, and it’s annoying me. Then again, it is giving me freedom and leeway to focus on some of my other projects… I’m writing up a short guide for “chronic blogging” – to help other health bloggers reach more people and help folks who are in need of information and support. A few other brain injury bloggers have contacted me for tips, as I’ve enjoyed a bit of success in the space. I’m happy to help — we need all the strong voices we can get. And we need to hear from real people, not just companies selling products.
So, that’s what’s happening this week. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.
I’ve slightly revised and updated my work 10 Things I Wish They’d Told Me After My Concussion. I’ve also changed the title from “Concussion! Now what?” I think the new title is more clear. Click here to get the free full-size PDF.
I also created an eBook for Kindle and other eReaders (Windows PC/PocketPC, Mac OS, Linux OS, Apple iPhone / iPod Touch, etc.) – it’s $2.99, and if you’d like to support this site, you can download it here.
Additionally, I’ve got a longer book in the works, which has more background and discussion of scientific research and personal experiences behind what I discuss. We’ll see which version is more useful for people 😉 I’ll admit, I’m an anatomy-and-neuro-geek, so the things that fascinate me may not light others’ fires. And since I’m not an official academic, some of my conclusions and discussions might not sound ideal to the advance degree experts who do this stuff for a living.
It’s something, though. And for me, it’s the kind of book I wish I’d had access to, 8 years ago, when I started to realize how much TBI had affected my life. I’m really writing the longer book for myself — the person I once was, who needed help… but couldn’t find it anywhere.
I’ve also been looking for ways that people can support this site. Some have asked what they can do to contribute, but I’m not actually comfortable taking donations. I need to give people something in return for $$$ they contribute, rather than just take their money.
I blog just about every day, and I’ve got nearly 800 followers on WordPress, 111 followers via email, and 955 followers on Twitter, so I’m putting something out there. But even if no one were paying any attention, I’d do it anyway. Because this is my daily “ritual” that helps me check in with myself and keep myself honest. Accepting money for it seems a little wrong to me.
So, I’m starting to publish some of my posts as eBooks (and probably print books, too). I’ll be publishing individual articles, as well as collections — with themes, like anger and memory and sensory issues, as well as most popular posts that people continuously come back to.
It’s also my hope that this publishing can spread more information around about TBI recovery, to show people that it CAN be done — even after years of difficulty and suffering. Even persistent TBI issues can become manageable. They may not disappear 100%, but they can be managed.
I’m living proof of that.