AN UNBLOCKED BRAIN

Writer’s Block Party - When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?


I suppose this is where my fellow writers heap scorn on my head, but truth sometimes hurts.

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I have never had writer’s block. I have had days, weeks, where I didn’t feel like writing because I was sick, tired, on vacation, wanted to read a book or watch television. But never have I been unable to write unless I was physically ill. I always can write something — and considering my advancing years, I figure it’s unlikely I’m going to dry up.

I’ve had times when I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, needed to rewrite it. I’ve had periods where I wrote and it was a dead-end, destined for the trash bin.

But not be able to write at all? Stare at a blank page? Never happened. Maybe the problem for some writers is a too narrow focus. Deciding in advance what they should be writing, so if they can’t write that specific thing, they don’t write at all.

I will write, even when it seems off track. Inevitably, my odd brain will wind around to put me on track. Or I’ll discover what seemed to be a completely wrong direction was the right path. That’s where I should be after all.

When I write fiction, my characters tell me where to go. They are always right. It’s exactly when characters start making decisions on their own — often to my surprise and delight — that I know what I’m working on has begun to click.

If I can’t write, you can assume I’m too sick to sit up or someone wrenched the keyboard from my clawed hands. Or I’m on a big, shiny boat sailing the Caribbean and having way too much fun to sit down and write. I wish that would happen more often!

I have never understood writer’s block and I would certainly never turn it into a party, unless each writer brings his or her own food and drinks. Okay, I’ll make a dish too, but everyone else has to bring something. Hungry writers can eat you out of house and home!

FOLLOW-UP: WORDPRESS CAME THROUGH!

I have gotten so used to customer disservice, it always surprises me when they live up to their promises.

Shortly after I posted 175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS, my site became unavailable. WordPress said they were doing “routine server maintenance.”

wordpress1There’s nothing routine about having my site down in the middle of a Tuesday. Moreover, I found test files created by someone named Jason — coincidentally the name of the rep with whom I chatted at length yesterday — in my trash. When I tried to restore one (I’m nosy), it vanished. Poof. A test file. That is not part of regular maintenance. They had me offline four times for more than an hour. When I was back, my Add Media function was working the way it used to, more or less.

It doesn’t look the same. The graphical interface is new, but I can scroll and the keyword search brings up all or most of my pictures.

I would prefer the thumbnails to display data — file name, date, and maybe key words? But I’m delighted to be able to find pictures again.  I use a lot of pictures, not only as photographic posts, but as illustrations in stuff I write. Which is one reason it’s so important I be able to use stored images.

There’s a second, even more important, reason. I use 3 computers regularly and a tablet occasionally. I do not have access to all my photos on each machine. The only photographic central repository is Serendipity’s media library on WordPress.

This is why I was willing to pay for the premium package. It is customization plus bumped up storage and a domain. Other benefits include custom fonts and colors. I can customize any theme. I’ve never found a premium theme I like well enough to buy. I am too fond of changing my theme, sometimes just tweaking it, often switching templates. On a whim.

Writing is my vocation, but graphics are — always were — my hobby. To overuse an analogy, writing is dinner. Graphics are dessert. Being able to design my site, play with photos, fonts, widgets, headers — makes my day. My week.

WordPress came through. They couldn’t and probably won’t roll back the software changes, many of which I believe are misguided. They traded functionality for a prettier interface. In software, that’s always a bad trade. But I’m glad to get back most of the functionality I lost.

It’s possible my site was actually broken and needed repair. That it wasn’t software changes at the root of the problem, but something on my site had gone wrong. I’ll probably never know, but it’s okay. As long as it works, I’m happy.

I’ve invested more effort into launching and maintaining this website than I put into writing my book. I’ve refined its look, upgraded my skills as a writer and photographer. When I went to have my heart remodeled in March, I was as concerned this site be cared for as I was about the house or the bills. Serendipity has become central to my life. I would hate to lose it.

It keeps my brain from going soft by challenging me to write, take pictures, produce something creative. Every day, even when I’m tired, busy, or not feeling well. When you stop working a regular job, having something that forces you to think, create is important to good mental health. It’s a critical component of mine.

Thank you WordPress. You came through.

Thank you Jason. You kept your word.

A bit of my faith in the world has been restored. I needed that.

175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS

Today I discovered that the new format for inserting media into a post has eliminated all the search tools that worked. If you are a photographer, this is disastrous. Those of you who work with pictures will see what I mean as soon as you try to use this “new, improved” version of the software.

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It took me an hour today to find a photograph in my library. You cannot insert directly from the media library. All you can do is look around and see what’s there. It is dead storage. The alternative is uploading every picture and not re-using the pictures stored in your library. In which case, what’s the point of the library at all?

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How ironic that yesterday I crossed the threshold and now have more than 175,000 hits.

For all practical purposes, WordPress is saying I’ve outgrown them. I’ve invested a huge amount of time and effort into this site and have no interest in moving. I think I’d rather give up blogging altogether. When a hobby becomes work and the fun goes away, what’s the point?

Here’s the conversation. Make of it what you will. I have trimmed it, but it’s still long. I dumped most of the repetitive stuff and cleaned it up for readability.


Marilyn – The new format for media (pictures) does not let me find pictures in my media library. I have 5200 photographs. When inserting media, even if I know the name of the picture, the date, the post in which it was used, I still can’t bring it up. The search option in “insert media” are non-existent. My only choice would be re-importing each image, not reusing them. Which negates the value of the library.

Jason – Hi there, I’m sorry. I was trying to read through everything. Give me just a minute. OK, I’m happy to help you with this.

Marilyn – There is no way now to find and insert pictures from my library. You have eliminated ALL of the search functions except the search box and it doesn’t work by date, doesn’t recognize the words, finds like five or six pictures out of hundreds. You’ve eliminated scrolling, so I’m effectively unable to use my media library at all. Exactly what was your goal?

Jason – I see what you mean about not being able to sort images in the media inserter.

Marilyn – It is useless for a photographer.

Jason – If you are finding you have outgrown the free hosted version of WordPress.com, you might consider looking at a self-hosted installation. There are plug-ins which you can install on self-hosted installations that are specifically designed to add search capabilities in the media insert section.

Marilyn – So you are telling me that I cannot access the files in my library — for which I pay a premium — and that the library is essentially useless?

Jason – No, I’m just trying to offer you additional solutions since you do not find the media insert search useful.

Marilyn – If I’m going to do that, I will dump WordPress. If I have to start over, I don’t need you. I can do that anywhere. I’m already paying you, why continue since you’ve made the previously useful tools worthless? It worked fine until yesterday. You changed it . And ruined it. Was this so that I would pay more money? If so, you miscalculated.

Jason – WordPress.com and WordPress.org are two different services, and I’m only associated to WordPress.com.

Marilyn – The entire reason for my being on WordPress was that you had the tools and I didn’t have to self-host.

Jason – May I ask a question?

Marilyn – Sure, ask away.

Jason – First, this is an actual question because I do want to help. Is the issue that you no longer have access to images by date, or does it have more to do with the search function not working well for you?

Marilyn – There is no search function on insert. Just a search box. You eliminated it everything else.

Jason – OK, now we are getting somewhere. I was under the impression it just wasn’t functioning as you expected. I apologize.

Marilyn – I knew the date the picture was used, its name, the post it was in. I still could not reuse it in a new post.

Jason – OK, that should not be the case. Most definitely. Give me one minute to take a look at a couple of the settings on your blog.

Marilyn – You have to open Add Post, then Add Media. There’s a search box and that’s it.

Jason – I’m looking through everything for you.

Marilyn – No date search. No search by post. No keywords search. All my media are jpg so that’s meaningless. And when things come up, there are no titles, no information, no data.

Jason – This is all very helpful information. The search does work by searching the title of the image. When you select an image, the details pertaining to that image appear on the right of the pop-up window (title, etc).

Marilyn – That’s assuming it gets found at all. And this information is not available in the search results, only if you actually click on the image. Otherwise, it’s just a thumbnail with pieces missing. Just bring back the tools that worked. Or make it possible to grab pictures from the library and insert them into post. Right now, the library is dead storage.

Jason – This was a recent update. I will relay this to the team right now. I can’t give you an ETA on when they will make changes, but I can promise that the issue will be brought up.

Marilyn – The whole point of paying for storage is you can use the stuff in storage. If I can’t use it, I’m paying for nothing. It’s like having a storage unit, but no key to get in. How do you make changes like this without opening a dialog with the people affected?

Jason – I don’t think there is a quick solution I can offer you. I apologize for this, but I will elevate this to our development team. I’m sorry I can’t offer an instant solution, but I will submit this ticket. Hopefully the developers can come up with something that provides the information you are looking for with your images. I hope that you understand only through constructive feedback can we continue to make WordPress.com a better environment for our users. Is there anything I can help you with regarding the services we do have available? I will submit the issue regarding the Media Insert function as soon as I am off this ticket. I will pass the feedback on to the developers. I hope you do give us a little time to resolve this issue, but understand if your business can’t wait. I would recommend taking a look at a self-hosted installation of WordPress. It would allow you to directly transfer your existing site to another host and not lose data. You can find information here: http://en.support.wordpress.com/moving-a-blog/#moving-to-wordpress-org

NOTE: I guess he didn’t believe I’m not a business.

Marilyn – I do not want to self-host. I am not a commercial site. This is supposed to be fun, a hobby. Not a job.

Jason – I am support dedicated to non-commercial bloggers. That said, I will pass your concerns on. If there is nothing else I can help you with, I will get this ticket created.

WHERE ARE MY 4,089 FOLLOWERS?

Yesterday, I glanced at my statistics and realized I’d reached a new level. According to WordPress, I now have 4,089 4,111 followers.

That’s a lot of followers. You’d figure I’d get at least 1,000 hits a day, right? And certainly, with 1000 more followers than I had a few months ago, I must be getting a lot more hits. It just stands to reason, doesn’t it?

Not.

I have no idea who — or what — is following me.

I am convinced most of my followers are non-human. I have a couple of dozen real people in the mix. These are  my regulars who read my stuff, comment and have become virtual friends. They look at my photographs. They remember stories I’ve written in the past.

That accounts for a couple of dozen people There are a few dozen others who drop by regularly, but not daily, as the spirit moves them. What’s with the other 3,500 followers?

Image: Mashable.com

Image: Mashable.com

Where are you? You don’t write, you don’t call. Not a comment or a “Like.” What’s a blogger to do but wonder if you are real? I bet you are software spammers and cyber-bots. Unless there more than three thousand people who — for no known reason — clicked “Follow” on my site, then lost interest and never came back.

I’m by no means alone in wondering “where have all the followers gone.” It’s the deepest, darkest mystery of blogging, these elusive followers from whom one never hears. Do I really have thousands of lurkers, none of whom have ever clicked on a post?

Anyway, although I’m (technically) more popular than ever, the number of hits per day is slightly lower than it was a couple of thousand followers ago.

If you’re out there, drop me a line. Click “Like.” Make a comment.

Or not.

WHY YOU HAVEN’T BEEN FRESHLY PRESSED (MAYBE)

freshly-pressed-circle3x3I got Freshly Pressed last January. Since then, I’ve put some time into figuring out why I didn’t get it earlier — and why I finally got it after all. And why I’m unlikely to get it again.

1. Freshly Pressed is not an award for general excellence. It’s not an award for your blog. It is an individual award for a specific post. The posts that win are almost always in response to a Weekly Challenge — and happen to grab the attention of one or more editors.

2. You can write superb content every day, year after year. But if you don’t respond to the weekly challenges and/or don’t write something that makes an editor’s brain go jingle-jangle, you will never be Freshly Pressed. Think of it this way: WordPress supports millions of bloggers. The editors can’t scan them all. The challenges give them a manageable number of posts to consider. If you don’t participate, you are unlikely to get noticed. It really isn’t personal.

3. What the editors think is special will probably not be what you consider your best work. I’m embarrassed at the post that got me Freshly Pressed. It isn’t — in my opinion — my finest work, nor is it representative of my writing in general. I don’t even like it. That’s why I haven’t linked it to my Freshly Pressed badge. Many other awardees feel the same way. What inspires an editor versus what inspires you can be very different.

4. Alternate theories: You don’t write as well as you think you do. You use a lot of texting abbreviations (WTF, LOL, IMHO etc.) instead of real words. You don’t understand grammar, don’t use the spell-checker, and don’t punctuate sentences. You write to a very narrow audience and your high school classmates are probably the only people who know what you are talking about. Sometimes, the problem is you, but no one wants to hurt your feelings by telling you.


Before I got Freshly Pressed, I had no idea why a blogger did or didn’t win. It has taken me all the time between getting the nod and now to figure it out.

Why I Doubt I’ll Get It Again

These days, I rarely like the weekly writing challenges, so I usually don’t participate. I check them out, but if the prompt leaves me underwhelmed or uninspired, I don’t do it.

It’s Nice To Be Recognized, But It Doesn’t Change Anything

I got my badge and rather than making me feel rewarded for my best work, I realized it was totally random. My best work is never going to be recognized because it isn’t written in response to the weekly challenge. It won’t make some editors brain go BING!

If You Really, Really Want To Be Freshly Pressed

For those of you who wonder how come you write so much and so well — yet never get the editors to notice you, this is the answer. Stop writing what you feel like writing and start writing what they want to read. It’s also possible that your style is just not what they’re looking for. It isn’t a judgment of your writing and again — it isn’t personal. Consider that William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe would probably not have made an editor’s brain tingle. Blogging is what it is and has its own parameters.

Afterglow

The best part of winning is having the badge to display on your site. It’s like getting into an exclusive country club, then realizing you don’t play tennis, don’t like the food and have little use for the other members. You can brag about membership, but you don’t really want to go there and hang out.

FIVE DAYS OF BLOGGING – PROMPTS TO CHALLENGE YOU

There is a trend here on WordPress to give titles and themes to each day of the week, thus heralding the nature of that day’s post. I’m a big fan of challenges and prompts because well, they prompt and challenge me. I thought “Gee, Marilyn, why not dip your oar in those waters.”

Here are five great themes for you. Or should I call them challenges? Prompts? Challenging prompts? All to help you, my good friends, get through your blogging week without ever encountering a moment of writer’s block.

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Mawkish Monday – I dedicate Monday to overly sentimental remembrances of the past, especially childhood and former marriage partners. Omit anything bad that happened. Everyone, everything was perfect. It never rained on your summer picnic. Your parents were fantastic. Your relationships were stress free. You were always amazing.

Because we’ve all had that kind of life, right?

Tantrum Tuesday – Rant day! Whatever you are pissed off about, let’er rip! Don’t hold back. How do you really feel?

Whiny Wednesday – Today I encourage you to rake up all the self-pitying bullshit you suppress the rest of the week. If you suffer from baseless feelings of entitlement and believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that life has cheated you, this is your day.

Complain how everyone else gets the good stuff while you get the dregs. Full details of any appalling thing that’s happened to you are welcome.  Let me wallow in your misery because I don’t have nearly enough angst of my own.

Thankful Thursday – Praise the Lord! Forget what you said on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Today you praise God (or whoever, whatever) for the wonderfulness of your life, friends, family, marriage, job, shrink, unemployment benefits and social security checks. And food stamps. You can get back to sniveling next week. Today, you are full of joie de vive and want everyone to be jealous of your extraordinary life.

Freak-out Friday – Whatever your mental illness, this is the day to discuss how crazy you are. The bizarre shit you do that you would never tell your closest friend, but given the anonymity of the Internet, you can tell everyone in the electronic universe everything and it won’t come back to haunt you. You can be as weird as you want. I will understand.

After the bragging you did yesterday about your terrific life — you made me feel like crap, but that’s what you had in mind, right? — today you can tell me what a load of garbage it was. Because really, you’re a sociopath, narcissist and maybe a serial killer.

Whatever secrets you’ve been hiding, this is your day to let it all hang out.


I’ll leave weekends unstructured because frankly, I’m exhausted from the last five days. Aren’t you?

IT’S YOUR FAULT. YES, YOU!

Sleepy Time – More and more of us go to bed too late because of sleep procrastination. What are the nighttime rituals that keep you up before finally dozing off?


I blame you, WordPress. Until I started blogging, I’d go to bed, read a bit, then clutch my pillow and be off to dreamland for a few restless, miserable hours. Now, I have to check (and recheck) my blog. See how today’s offerings look on three differently formatted devices (tablet, Kindle, small computer). Find the typos. There are always typos because I am The Typo Queen and no one can put more typos in a small post than I can. If typos could be made an Olympic event, I would have a gold medal — but I digress. What was I talking about?

Oh. Sleep. The whole “bedtime procrastination” thing. I don’t think we could be classified as a bedtime procrastinators because we have no schedule. As retirees, we rarely need to get up at a particular time. Unless there’s something on the calendar. The only other thing remotely time-sensitive is trying to shop for groceries on Tuesday when the supermarket gives its senior discount.

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Personally, I think they should give us a discount every day. Tuesday is a mess of scooters, walkers, and bewildered people trying to remember why they are in the bread aisle and if they are lost or truly need bread. And where’s the list? They can’t find their money at checkout and are frequently confused as to where they left the car. Since we aren’t that far behind them, mentally speaking, we wait patiently as they work their way through the equation of life. Soon that could be us. I’m willing to bet this is unrelated to the hour at which they went to bed.

Hopefully, we won’t be stuck behind them as we exit the parking lot. They drive so slowly. If we had a manual transmission, we’d never make it out of first. They have to compete with the other slow, bad drivers who are decades younger. The younger folks can’t drive because they are too busy. Texting, talking on the phone, adjusting radios, yelling at kids (husband, dogs, themselves) while swerving all over the road.

It’s a nightmare out there and it has nothing to do with getting enough sleep, although it is possible that some of the slowest drivers are taking a nap, don’t realize they are at the wheel of a car and supposed to be moving.

Have I forgotten anything? Where’s my list?