A year in blogging

Nations: A Simulation Game in International Po...

Nations: A Simulation Game in International Politics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am an eternal optimist. Depending on whether you share my outlook, you will either think this is a blessing of a curse. I always tend to look on the bright side and I always think that the next 12 months will be better than the last. Even in the face of a few knocks, I tend to dust myself off, take a deep breath and carry on.

This is the year I started this blog. I already had a blog on finextra.com and an internal blog with my employer, but I set this up as a playground to write what I wanted and hopefully improve my writing skills. After 8 months, 123 blog posts, an estimated 60,000 words, 100 comments and 300 likes has it been a success?

The fact that I still love blogging is a good sign. In general, my interests tend to have a short, intensive life before they burn out in a fit of apathy. The only exception up until now was playing games which has lasted for decades. I am glad to have doubled my hobbies. In general, I spend about 6 hours a week writing blogs (and probably the same again thinking about what I’m going to write).

Although I’m probably not the best judge, I feel that my writing has improved. The style checker used to have a field day underlining my initial efforts. These days, there are fewer suggestions for improvement. Whereas I used to struggle with the dreaded passive voice, these days I now understand what it is, instinctively avoid it and I’m comfortable with where I use it – something I never thought I’d get the hang of.

WordPress is an amazing platform. The way they use game mechanics to encourage bloggers to keep going is a brilliant piece of design. I still get excited when I receive notifications. It is also an unbeatable way of finding other interesting blogs to read on a diverse set of subjects.

Everything I read about being a good writer tells me that I should read more. I’ve read more books this year than ever and it does help with both style and imagination. I’ve been careful to challenge myself with what i read as well – avoiding the usual tropes and going for books I would not have chosen before.

So what next? I would like to have a go at something a little more substantial – a novella perhaps rather than a short story. Hopefully that will be the stepping stone up to a book of some description. I would also like to have a go at getting something professionally published. Although I have dabbled this year, I will make a more concerted effort in the next 12 months.

I would like to thank all those who take the time to read my posts. To those who go further and make comments, click on the like button or share my posts with a wider audience – I appreciate it.

Have a great Christmas and here’s to a great next 12 months.

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Technical Isolation

Hursley House - geograph.org.uk - 967947

Hursley House – geograph.org.uk – 967947 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ever get a chance to visit IBM‘s Hursley Park campus, it’s well worth going. It’s a lovely mansion-house in beautiful surroundings just outside Winchester. There has been a lodge at Hursley since 1413 and the current house dates from 1724. The Heathcote family donated the house together with £5m (a figure equivalent to £116m today) to provide a hospital for US military personnel in WW1. In WW2, the house was used by Vickers to develop the Spitfire. IBM moved in during 1958 as a temporary measure and they are still there today.

The System 360 and the Winchester hard drive were developed there and IBM were granted the Queen’s award for industry for storage & CICS. Today it houses 2800 IBM employees – roughly half of which are software developers making it the biggest software lab in Europe. Altogether IBM has 59,000 employees of which roughly half are based in the USA. They are heavily into the R part of R&D with research going on into particle physics and nanotechnology among other things.

On the Hursley campus, they have an isolation lab which is a completely shielded building used to test the electromagnetic emissions of devices to ensure compliance with the plethora of regulations governing such things. They really needn’t have bothered. There is a perfectly good isolation zone on the South Coast of the UK just outside Highcliffe.

A popular retirement spot, it’s a tiny village which must be the only place in the UK where the funeral parlours outnumber the charity shops. Nothing on any wavelength passes into or out of the place which renders mobile phones completely useless. A couple of times a year, myself and some friends spend a long weekend there and bearing in mind my attachment to social networks and blogging, I find myself isolated for the whole time.

Initially, I find the experience anxious. I can’t check twitter, Facebook, yammer, wordpress or linked in. I can’t phone anyone (unless I search for some change and use the call box). I can’t look anything up on Google or check the news or how the FTSE is doing. I can’t even download the Times.

After a while though, the anxiety ceases and I feel liberated. I get used to being away from email and social networks. I even start to like the idea that I am completely out of contact with anyone. Maybe we should go there more often! Of course, on return, the first thing I find myself doing is checking my email, blog, social networks etc. but it was nice while it lasted.

I’m obsessed by statistics!

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

My wife thinks I’m crackers, but I am glued to the stats that get produced from the two blogging platforms I use. When I post something, I want to know that someone has read it. Not just that – I want to know that they have enjoyed reading it. Not just that – I want to know that my readership is increasing and not declining. A neutral observer might say I am obsessed.

As a blogging platform, WordPress provides excellent stats. The way that they have used game mechanics in the blogging dashboard is first class, and I feel that they must share some of the responsibility for my obsession.

There is a little tiny notifications icon in the top right hand corner. When your blog achieves something, that beautiful little icon slowly starts to glow, and almost in perfect time, I start to smile with it.

However good the blogging stats are on WordPress, they are not perfect. I find that sometimes I get a like when the number of page hits doesn’t go up. Sometimes, the counters get out of sync’ but no matter, they are still a useful barometer of activity on your blog.

When I get a follower, my heart soars – someone has subscribed to my random musings – I must be doing something right. When I get a “Like” on one of my posts, I cannot help but smile. When I post something and nothing happens, I descend into misery. But then that little notification icon glows slowly into life and I am bouncing off the walls again – such is the bipolar life of a blogger.

I find that I am not the best judge of my writing. Some of the work that I am most proud of has fewer “Likes” than some of the work that I’m maybe less proud of. But whichever way you cut it, all feedback is good. When people take the time to comment on one of my posts, I love to see their perspective. Somehow I haven’t managed to inspire the level of engagement of some of the blogs I admire, but any comments are a start.

I find that being part of the blogging community myself has changed my behaviour when reading other people’s blogs. Where I read a blog now, I look for some way to give the author feedback. I know how much it means to them to know that someone is out there and they care about what they are reading. I would urge you to do the same.

If you read some good work – congratulate the author. If you disagree with what you read, comment and argue your point. If you don’t like what you read, give feedback (but please be gentle).

Whatever you do – don’t play possum.

My writing career so far…

WordPress

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

It never occurred to me that I could write.

There was the odd success at school, but nothing to suggest that I ought to forgo all other careers and take to life as a wordsmith. A couple of years ago, I started to write updates for my department at work. Encouraged by feedback, the update email blossomed into a blog. A few people suggested I blogged for a wider audience and I began the Finextra.com blog.

It was only a few months ago on a trip to Cornwall that I picked up a writing magazine purely on a whim. As luck would have it, that particular magazine was all about electronic publishing and I spent much of the holiday tapping away on my keyboard setting up my brand new wordpress blog.

WordPress.com is superb and thanks to the ease with which you can set up your blog and publicise it, I soon had a regular following. WordPress is heavily gamified and you find yourself glued to your stat’s page watching the page views creep up. I still remember my first “Like” and when I excitedly told my wife that my first comment had arrived, she looked at me as if I was mad.

Since then I have joined a local writing group made up of an eclectic set of individuals. Collective imagination is so much more powerful than anything an individual could conjure up and we have had some fun with some group writing. One such exercise has the first person starting a story with one sentence. The second person has three sentences to develop the story. The third person has to either finish the story or bring it to a cliffhanger with only two sentences. At the end of the exercise, we had twelve stories; two or three of them were brilliant, half a dozen were very good and only a handful were ropey. Not bad considering we only had ten minutes.

I have also submitted some short stories to a publisher, thinking what’s the worst that can happen? Ignoring success for a moment, in order; silence, then “Thanks, but no thanks”, after that “No thanks, but here’s some feedback”. I was chuffed when I was rejected with feedback – at least I could learn from the experience.

All in all, I have enjoyed writing immensely. I’ve been humbled by some of the people I have met in the process and cannot believe I have had hits from 58 countries.

Somehow I doubt it will replace the day job, but you never know…