Blogging and the Creative Process: The View From Here


I’ve been teaching writing in one way or another for over forty-five years, and yet on my sabbatical in 2014-15, I discovered an entirely new approach to the conquering the practical challenges of knocking out a piece of writing—the blog. But that wasn’t even the best part. What really surprised me was that blogging profoundly changed my thinking about writing and made me more creative, a glow that has stayed with me.

My work space in Dublin and "The View From Here"

My work space in Dublin and “The View From Here”

I spent that year living in Dublin, reading, writing, carrying out research, traveling all over Ireland—and blogging. I had never blogged before and didn’t really know what it was. For the sabbatical, I had planned a substantial writing project having to do with Irish literature, history, and landscape and thought I would also write a blog about what it was like to live in Ireland. After all, doesn’t everyone who studies or lives abroad plan to blog about it? Kimberly Knight, who managed the college web site during that time, kindly gave me a crash course in the mechanics of blogging and set me up with WordPress. Calvin Burgamy helped me with other technical aspects of using Google Drive and related applications. I named the blog The View from Here” and created a logo and a look for it. I was ready—or so I thought.

We moved into our apartment in Dublin on June 29, 2014. It took me a week or so to get the place set up, arrange for Internet, and get an IKEA desk for my computer. After going through the usual procrastination techniques such as organizing my papers and books, stocking up on “writer’s supplies,” trekking all over town to find ink for my fountain pen, and “alphabetizing the china” as Dudley Sanders likes to call these pointless activities, I started thinking about getting the blog going. Already the mysterious, amorphous blog seemed so much more appealing than my very well planned sabbatical project, so I put the latter aside temporarily.

But the blog wasn’t exactly easy to approach. What was I really going to write about? Times four! The format Kimberly and I had chosen for the blog had four boxes or frames for images on the home page, each leading to a post when clicked, so it seemed necessary to create four posts before going live. Empty boxes, I reasoned, would portray me as unproductive, a dilettante, but coming up with four stories right away struck terror in my writer’s heart. Suddenly I realized that although technically I was up to speed, I didn’t really know what the blog would be about, what it would and would not cover, what special features or characteristics it would have, how often it would be updated, or, most important of all, who I would be as I wrote and created it. I knew I didn’t want to be the type of blogger who uses the format to list daily activities or post comments like “Well, this week was really busy, but next week I promise I’ll write more.” What did I want?

Post number 52 and the dread "four boxes"

Post number 52 and the dreaded “four boxes”

The first couple of weeks were filled with stops and starts as I tried to find answers to these questions. That kind of mucking about, painful as it always is, seems to be necessary to many creative endeavors. One day in late July, I did what all writers need to do: I stopped musing, fretting, researching, and planning, and started to write. Ever so gradually, the four boxes became four pots into which I threw ideas, hyperlinks, images, and little bits of writing, waiting to see what would bubble up. Slowly they began to take shape, become distinct from one another, and emerge as individual posts. A few ideas got squeezed out and put aside for later use. As I worked out what I wanted to write about, I also began to figure out who I was in the blog, what would be consistent across the posts, and the answers to many of the questions that had seemed so daunting at first. By mid-August, I was ready to go live.

Here are the still tentative but opening lines of post number one titled “1 Greyness Run to Flower,” published on August 19, 2014:

In “The View from Here” (“An Radharc d’Anseo” in Irish) I’m writing about living in Ireland from the perspective of someone who has visited the island many times, taught Irish literature and history, helped countless friends plan their Irish trips, and led groups of students on study tours (eight so far), but never stayed longer than a few weeks at a time. I’m excited about the opportunity to see Ireland in a new way and expect everything I think I know to change during this year—to shift, deepen, flip-flop, or multiply. I take my inspiration from Belfast born poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), who talked about appreciating plurality and variousness in “Snow”:

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

I can’t tell you yet what I’ll write about—but it will come from that perspective, and it will draw on literature, history, and landscape, as well as on daily life in Dublin—where I’m based—and elsewhere in Ireland. There Will Be Poetry.

With this post I gave myself permission to grow with the blog. And I did.

Even while still fretting about “the four,” I started coming up with ideas for future posts. At first my ideas were too big for the blog format I had sketched out, but I soon realized that a big idea could give birth to reasonably-sized baby ideas that were more manageable. I realized early in the process of sorting through possible stories that blogs are most successful when they take advantage of the medium, offering hyperlinks, photographs and other images, audio and video clips—all the enhancements that don’t work or work as well on paper. My role as a writer suddenly expanded to that of resource collector and designer. I tried to think creatively about the kinds of links that would enhance a story, sometimes following digressions as well as providing the basic URLs. The ability to use more than one medium and create a multidimensional “scrapbook” story was exciting and inspiring for this “words are everything” person.

This photo inspired a blog post about chandeliers and plasterwork and learning to appreciate new things

This photo inspired a blog post about chandeliers and plasterwork and learning to appreciate new things

I began to go on “photo shoots” around the city, snapping pictures for an existing story or two, while eyeing things for future stories. Sometimes an idea for a post would even originate in an image or a photo. Everywhere we traveled around Ireland during that year, I was on the lookout for story ideas or for connections for stories already in the hopper. There was so much to write about! I set up a calendar of posts and dates, reminding myself to be flexible, so that if a post I had planned for a certain date wasn’t coming together, I could switch it one from the back burner that seemed more doable. I created a “waiting room” for topics and rough rough drafts and for sentences or paragraphs that needed more time to gestate. So many ideas were bombarding me that I set myself the seemingly impossible goal of posting one thoroughly researched and revised essay every Monday—fifty-two posts for the sabbatical year. I worked ahead of the posting schedule so that when I was going to be away from home, Monday’s post was always ready to go. I had to force myself not to write all day long or on the weekends. I was on fire.

The creative process behind the blog was the most exhilarating thing I had ever done with writing, but that exhilaration increased dramatically once I started having readers. Friends, acquaintances, and eventually total strangers were willing to read what I had written each week and sometimes even to comment! Their interest filled me with wonder and gratitude. Some readers even kindly said they looked forward to my Monday posts. Knowing people were reading inspired and encouraged me and gave me the confidence to keep going. Thank you to all the people who read silently, many of whom told me later they had “been there all along”; and thanks especially to those who read and commented because you let me know you were out there, interested in what I had to say and engaged enough to open up a conversation.

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I traveled miles out of my way to visit this lighthouse that played a part in D-Day–because I wanted to write about it

During the early stages of the blog, a realization was starting to creep up on me, an annoying ghost haunting my thoughts. A “sabbatical project” idea would emerge in my mind, only to quickly morph into a blog post or two with the photographs, links, and the lived experience that made it more engaging and compelling in my mind than the manuscript limbo where the other would necessarily be trapped. By mid-September, I’d already posted eight or nine essays on the site when a friend from graduate school, Maureen O’Leary, came to visit from California. She had read the blog, and while we toured Dublin and parts of Ireland together, she talked to me encouragingly about it. One day Maureen said out loud the realization that was also hovering in my mind: “Your blog is your project.”

She was right. When I looked back at the formal sabbatical proposal I had written a year earlier, only the organization or format of the material in The View from Here differed from what I had proposed to write. During the course of the year, instead of writing five or six chapter-length essays as proposed, I ended up creating a far more diverse array of fifty-two revised and researched pieces. To write and post one of these every week meant that some had to be shorter than others—they ranged in length from a few hundred words to closer to 3000—and the different lengths made variety in approach a necessity. The ability to add images and links to the writing greatly expanded my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and certainly added to my enjoyment of the writing process. The online format and the existence of readers, known and unknown, made me more comfortable adding a personal dimension to many of the stories, something readers told me they craved. Blogging had shifted the genre of the work a bit but in the end had given me many more ideas and made the work—I really believe—more original, deeper, more authentic.

Giving myself permission to experiment with a new way of writing, the many dimensions of the online blog format, and, the presence of readers who expected weekly posts and cared about what I was doing changed me for the better as a writer. That was the big surprise of my year as a blogger.

The View From Here--I named my blog after the gorgeous view from our Dublin apartment

The View From Here–I named my blog after the gorgeous view from our Dublin apartment

Growing Portfolios in the Classroom


Taking advantage of the D-Center as a resource, Professor Mike Schlig asked Summiyah Sideeq, who coordinates the center, to visit his classroom to discuss ways to improve on student portfolios. Here is Dr. Schlig’s recap of the experience:

The students in this semester’s iteration of Spanish 380 topics course (Between “El Dorado” and the “Madre Patria:” Trans-Atlantic Migrations in the Hispanic World) are presenting their written work in the form of blog entries using WordPress.org rather than traditional typed papers.  We started the semester with a brief introduction to WordPress and blogging basics but have since focused mainly on content and not on the structure and aesthetics.  With more content on their pages it became evident to me that we needed an expert and experienced eye to help students (and professor) tweak the blogs to make the content easily accessible and to provide a clear indication of what each category or page contains.  Clarity in navigating the blogs is now especially important since students need to separate and organize two tasks on their blogs.  One includes regular entries that examine current events and that comment on assigned readings, and the other is a research project with entries that highlight the process of their research: initial proposal/thesis; annotated bibliography; outline; final draft; works cited, etc.).  Summiyah examined each blog (including mine) and offered positive feedback, critiques and suggestions for improvement.  I have asked that each student follow up with Summiyah and/or her staff to make their work shine.

Think Global: Part 2 What’s Next?


This week marks the return of over two hundred Scotties embarking a weeklong Global Journey’s Trip. As the upperclassmen enjoyed two full weeks of Peak Week and Spring Break, first class students were traveling to over 14 places including New York, Morocco, Chile, Manchester, Trinidad and Central Europe. Upon returning we’ve heard nothing but great reviews! SUMMIT here at Agnes Scott is still in it’s beginning stages but from the looks of it, the future is very promising for the future students who will walk among this campus. So now what? You’ve gone away for a week. For most students it was their first time riding on an airplane or traveling without their parents. Many had the opportunity to try different foods that they normally would never try, or see plays that would never be shown here in our small town of Decatur. The purpose of the Journeys trip was for more than just traveling. Students have come back with a broader view of learning and deeper desire to think globally. Now they are working on applying their strengths and talents to change the world around them. Over the next few weeks I will be sitting down with some of the first years to hear more about their experiences and to learn how their Journeys trip has changed their perspective on life!

Until then check out these photos from students.

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Think Global: Part 1- Made for More


This afternoon, I sat down with Jennifer Lund, the Associate Dean for International Education at Agnes Scott College. In less than four weeks she and 14 other faculty members will soon be leading small group of students across the world as part of Agnes Scott College’s Global Journeys.  As a Senior, the Summit initiative and Journeys trips is all new to a lot of us. (If you listen closely, you may still hear upperclassmen joke around and ask “What is Summit anyway?”) The new direction for Agnes came abruptly, although I’m sure there are years of work and planning under it all.  As of 2016, 100% of first years have had travel experience and it will continue to be this way from now on thanks to Summit. Many upperclassmen have already taken a semester off to study abroad and a high percentage of our students are international, coming from countries such as Zimbabwe, South Korea, the UK and Ghana.

As the first years prepare to pack there bags and depart on their journey of their lives I feel like it’s important for all of us to put on our Global lenses and see the world for more that what it is. If you’ve already experienced different states and countries then you are probably already aware that even a three-day trip can change your life. You realize that where you currently reside isn’t the entire world. You’ve experience different cultures, dialects, food and architecture. And once you return home, wherever that may be, you’re hungry for more. More high end experiences. More struggles between languages. And more of finding out who you really are. If you’ve never traveled much before you’re probably filled with a lot of questions. Or maybe you’re content with whatever you’re about to experience, like I was when I took a semester off to study Spanish in Costa Rica. One thing that we all have to remember is that Agnes Scott has prepared us as much as Agnes can only do. It’s up to us to do the rest. If you are preparing to take off in the next four weeks, start preparing mentally today. List your goals and what you want to get out of your new experience. Journaling and scrapbooking may just become your new best friends. For those of us who have already traveled and returned, continue to share your story! In class discussions bring up your experiences so that people can see how life differs across borders. While you’re giving others a vision of a different world, your’e also encouraging them to travel as well.

Imagine this: A world where everyone who has the opportunity to travel actually took it. Can you picture the new diversity, deeper conversations, more acceptance among different cultures? One thing’s for sure, us Scotties are already one step ahead. We’re setting the example for the world before us and we’re not to be messed with.

 

 

 

The Power of Small Aperture


In photography, we can control the amount of light reaching the image sensor by changing the f number, which is aperture. Different from our typical definition of “largeness” and “smallness”, a large aperture in photography should be a small f number, while a small aperture should have a really large f number, such as f-16. In this post, we are going to talk about the power of small aperture, which is taking photos with a large f number.

LANDSCAPE

By using small aperture, we can create a depth of field in the landscape. Instead of being blurry, all the details in the background will be clear in the photo.

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PORTRAIT:

We can show all the details and textures on figure’s skin by shooting with small apertures. The usage of small aperture in portrait shooting can bring viewers a feeling of being close to the figures inside.

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STILL LIFE:

With small aperture, the features of the still life will be completely exhibited through image. For example, when we take pictures for flowers with small apertures, we can clearly see the textures of the pedals and the piles on the stems as if we are observing closely.

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Customizing Your Space: How to Install Unique Themes for Free!


When creating your digital portfolio through WordPress, perhaps the only piece that rivals the importance of the content is the layout. You will notice that under the appearance section, the first option for cosmetic change is a change in theme.

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When you select it, you’ll be taken to a list of pre-installed themes.

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You’ll notice that you can also click “Add New” in the upper-right hand section of the page. This will allow you to rifle through a list of hundreds of new themes and import them into your main list of go-to themes. But what if you don’t like any of the pre-sets themes? This blog post will teach you how to import new themes from online sources for your own blog.

 

Step 1)

Go to your browser of choice and enter the query: Themes for WordPress. You’ll notice several different sources for blog templates will pop up. For the purpose of this blog, we will use my favorite source, Colorlib. You are free, however, to explore other options as well.

https://colorlib.com/wp/free-wordpress-themes/

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I like using this particular website because it is constantly being updated with new, sleek themes that you can download and install for free. They are also verified and do not carry viruses, which is crucial to consider when dealing with online sourcing.

 

Step 2) Go through the list of templates. When you come across one that appeals to you, it’s time to download. You’ll notice on the bottom of each theme there is a button that says “More Info/Download”.

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3) Once you click this button, you’ll get to this page:

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Step 4) Click download. When you do, a zip folder will appear at the bottom of your screen. Open the folder, and click the tool button.

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Step 5) This is VERY IMPORTANT! Click Compress “name of file” (this will change based on which one you choose.)

Step 6) Now, go back to the themes page. Click “Upload Theme”

Step 7) Click the “Install Now” button and select the file you just compressed from your downloads. Once you select it, the compressed file will be unpacked and you will see “Theme installed successfully” at the end of the upload.

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Step 8) In this final step, you will be presented with three options. If you want to preview this theme with your content, click the Live Preview option. If you are ready to have this theme as your final layout, choose Activate. But if you want to experiment with a few more themes, you can return to the themes page to select from more installed themes.

 

I hope this helps you in your quest to make your portfolio just a little more custom. Happy Blogging!

The Irvine Tip of the Day: Images


(reprinted from February 7, 2017 Irvine)
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say, but at the very least, a snappy little image can certainly enhance your The Irvine post. To get the most out of your post, we have some handy-dandy tips to share.

Image Choice – Choose carefully 

  • Make a statement with photography. If you’re using photos, try paring down the color in the surrounding design to make the images the central focus. You don’t have to be a photographer in order to get professional quality photos. There are a number of stock photography websites to choose from, like UnsplashStocksyNew Old StockCan Stock Photos and Little Visuals.
  • Avoid excessive text in the images you submit. Due to the small size of images, such text rarely reads well. Take a look back through a few editions of The Irvine and think about what images work well and which images are hard to read.

Image Size – Smaller is better

  • Make sure your images are sized correctly to avoid squishing or stretching. Include only the most essential images to keep the file size down. Most images in The Irvine are displayed no larger than 200 pixels wide, so plan accordingly. Complex or cluttered images are not ideal because of the small size.

Image File Type – No PDFs Please 🙂

  • JPG, JPE, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files are safe for campaigns. PDF, PSD, and AI file types cannot be used as images in a campaign because most browsers cannot display them.

Image Prep – Web-Ready

  • Taking the time to prepare images yourself will give you a better sense of how they will look in The Irvine. Web-ready images are typically 72 dpi while print images are 150 dpi or more. Please try to prepare and submit images no larger than 72 dpi and 200 pixels wide. PicMonkey is a great, free online image editing tool to help you prepare your images.
  • And don’t forget, Agnes Scott students, faculty and staff have access to Lynda.com, so if you want to learn more about preparing images for display on the web, it’s a fantastic resource!

Remember, images may not be submitted in place of text for the content of your The Irvine post. PDFs, Word documents and PowerPoint slides will not be accepted as images for submissions.

Photo Editing Software – Photoshop


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There are so much photo editing software to choose from, how do we select the right one to polish our photos for an ideal image?

Let’s discuss the pros and cons of Adobe Photoshop.

Pros:

1: Pixel Editing:
Pixels are the basic elements of photos. Pixels are the “dots” in dpi (dots per inch) that make up the image. Pixel editing in Photoshop can help people edit images with precision.

2: Layer Editing:
The functions of layer editing can separate images into different layers, adding convenience and flexibility for editing with the ability to adjust specific areas.

3: Editing Tools
In addition to adjusting hue, saturation, and contrast, Photoshop can function as a drawing and text editing software.

4: Filter choices
Photoshop has almost 100 filters, which can provide users broad choices in editing.

Cons:

1: Batch Processing
Photoshop focuses on the editing a single image, therefore, it is inconvenient if users need to edit multiple photos at the same time.

2: Quality changes like adjusting scale
The quality of an image can be lost when increasing its scale; becoming blurry and losing clarity.

Why Syndication?: The Main Reason you should Syndicate your site!


Syndication is a beautiful, beautiful thing. It’s like having your cake and eating it too! If you aren’t familiar with syndication, thats okay– I am here to help.  I have made it my personal mission to understand the basics of syndication. I hope I can convince you that syndication can make the most of your writing life online.

An open Google search, defines syndication as “the transfer of something for control or management by a group of individuals or organizations.”

For our purposes, syndication is simply the transfer of a feed (a stream of posts or comments) from one platform to another–without doubling your work. RSS (or: real simple syndication) allows me to distribute my information in various locations while creating it in one single site. For example, I am sharing information between my fashion blog, Inbetweenlooks and my Agnes Scott Digital portfolio. By syndicating I only post once but the work shows up on both sites. Most major social media platforms use a type of syndication tool to share information on various platforms.

Syndication is WordPress, is essentially a plugin that you download to your site.

Syndication decreases the work involved if you have two sites, or if you post to various platforms. If you have a tumblr blog or if you post reviews on sites owned by other people, by syndicating your feed will show up on your home site seamlessly.

Syndication allows for multiple platforms to live under one roof without chaos or confusion. The syndicated post links to your original feed, wherever it appears, in case the viewer wants more context or is interested in you as an author.

I have found that I am engaged in multiple social media platforms, and probably this isn’t going to change. To accommodate the progressive times, plugins like Syndication are here to help better navigate the digital world.

Here’s what I mean.
In the video below you can watch me download Syndication plugins to my WordPress, demonstrating the seamless interaction of my two separate website!

Getting “there” with your blogging


If you’ve been around a kitchen for most of your life, you’ve probably heard the phrase “a watched pot never boils”. A few days ago I stood in my residence hall kitchen with a resident who slowly became angry as the water in her pot did not start to bubble. She stood right over it, face planted in the hole of the pot, begging for even the slightest bit of steam to appear. In reality this is how we always feel when the results we want in life don’t come when we want it. The process and the journey seem long and annoying and we often forget the joy that will come out of waiting, such as my resident being able to eat her spaghetti with soft noodles instead of crunchy ones.

When we start our first blog, the blank white page looks hopeless compared to our peers around us who have the perfect theme, 7 different pages with 30+ posts, and moving photos and words. Breathe. The process is a long journey that will be worth it in the end. Just as a watched pot never boils, our blogs will never become what we want it to be if we focus on the outcome instead of the small everyday details. So what are these steps to becoming known by the world?

  1. Work on your website everyday. This doesn’t have to be for hours! Working on your website could be writing a post that sparked your interest, uploading images, changing your them, learning about about coding or even learning the background of working with WordPress
  2. Have someone look over it. Feedback, whether it’s good or bad is always good. Through this process you’ll learn how other view your site and what could be done to make it better.
  3. Stay consistent with what you post. You are your own person, so try to stick to themes that are relevant to you and your passions. Don’t upload things that are not your best work, unless you are showing your progress.
  4. Make it attractive. Browsing through themes can be addicting and you’ll probably even change it more than 3 times until you find the one right for you. Just make sure the theme fits what you’ll be posting on your site, whether it’s more text based or imaged based.
  5. Share Share Share! Once you’ve become confident in your work, and others agree, start sharing your site like crazy. Post on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and even your resume. This will allow others to browse your site and share to their community as well.

In the end, many of us were not made to become internet famous and that’s okay. You still want to make sure that your work is creative, inviting and can make an impact on others. Keep sharing your work no matter how discouraged you are. Who knows who may stumble across it!

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