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Quote on top of stacks of books: "How I've Read 3 Books This Year Without Being Much of a Reader"

When I started running—struggling to run is what I should say—one of the best pieces of advice I read was go slow. You’ll run further if you slow down and pace yourself.

I came across similar advice recently with reading, which I also suck at, from Belle Beth Cooper.

When I first started to focus on building healthier habits a few years ago, one of the biggest mistakes I made was to ask too much of myself.

I would go from reading hardly ever to attempting to read one book per week. Or from getting up at 9 a.m. most days to trying to roll out of bed before 6 a.m. every morning.

The distance between where I was starting and where I wanted to be was so great that I would fail a lot. And each failure made it harder to succeed the next day.

But, she goes on to say, if you take the habit you’re trying to create and break it down into something much smaller to start with, you have much greater odds of success.

The point is to focus on repeating the habit every day, but not worrying about how effective that habit is. In other words, quantity first; quality later.

I read that post back in January. To date, I’ve read three books this year:

I’m midway through my fourth right now: A People’s History of the United States. In fact, I read a little more than one page of it last night.

A couple things help to keep me going:

  1. Designate a time to read every day. I take the bus to and from work, so both those times are easy opportunities to get a few pages in.
  2. “Pay” for other activities with reading on the days you don’t feel like it. Remember, it’s all about getting in at least one page a day. One page counts. If I want to do something else—listen to music, browse social media, whatever—I’ll “pay” for that activity by reading one page out of my book. Sometimes I end up really liking that page and I’ll read a lot more. It’s a great way to trick the mind.

If all goes well, I’ll be updating the number in the headline of this post a handful of times this year.

Quote on top of stacks of books: "How I've Read 3 Books This Year Without Being Much of a Reader"

How to Hide a Pinterest Image in a WordPress Post

This post has a nice, landscape image just above that ends up looking great if you share it to Twitter or Facebook. But you won’t see any Pinterest images in this post.

Won’t see.

Click your Pinterest bookmarklet or browser extension, though. You should see something like this:

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That’s because the tall image on the left—all 734 X 1100 pixels of it—is hidden in this page’s HTML code at the bottom of this post.

It’s a pretty genius trick that I picked up from a food blog called Pinch of Yum. All you have to do to make it work is wrap your image code in a short div tag:

<div style="display:none;">Paste your image code here</div>

Viola! Image hidden.

Hiding a Pinterest image on your WordPress page has several advantages:

  • You don’t have to share a big, vertical photo, that’s a duplicate of your main title image, on every post.
  • You don’t have to awkwardly stuff a thumbnail of your Pinterest image at the bottom of your post.
  • You can share Pinterest-optimized images that are bigger than your blog post container.

There are a lot of other upsides to doing this, and I encourage you to click over to Pinch of Yum to read about them. You’ll also find a tutorial on how to build your own Pinterest-optimized (read: vertically oriented) images with headlines in Photoshop.

How to Hide an Image in a WordPress Post

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George R.R. Martin Iron Islands quote

Sheer need for more Game of Thrones content, to fill the time between TV show seasons, is what got me into George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series (which the show is based on). But what hooked me in A Clash of Kings—the second book in the series—were Martin’s descriptions.

This book is close to a thousand pages long. It’s no small investment of time. But by the beginning of Chapter 11, when Theon Greyjoy comes home to the Iron Islands, I knew I’d plow right through it all:

The shore was all sharp rocks and glowering cliffs, and the castle seemed one with the rest, its towers and walls and bridges quarried from the same grey-black stone, wet by the same salt waves, festooned with the same spreading patches of dark green lichen, speckled by the droppings of the same seabirds. The point of land on which the Greyjoys had raised their fortress had once thrust like a sword into the bowels of the ocean, but the waves had hammered at it day and night until the land broke and shattered, thousands of years past. All that remained were three bare and barren islands and a dozen towering stacks of rock that rose from the water like the pillars of some sea god’s temple, while the angry waves foamed and crashed among them.

I’ve always lived near the ocean. This was one of those passages that was so vivid and accurate in its description of the sea that it pulled me right into the page.

I know what that sound is like—waves slamming on rocks and birds warbling on and on. There’s an area of my brain that can recall the smell of salt in the air, the way you’d remember a song or a password. I can feel uneven ground twisting my ankles as I walk and rocks pressing against my feet through the soles of my shoes.

Martin gets a lot of credit for his plotting, characterization, and his focus on a “realistic” fantasy world—and he should. But I’d almost argue that those points would be moot if it weren’t for his skill at painting pictures with words.

It’s an awesome ability to be able to describe things the way Martin does. And it’s a tremendous value as a writer to read—again—near-thousands of pages of this stuff.

Here’s that Amazon link to the book.

George R.R. Martin quote from A Clash of Kings

How To Build A Content Calendar Quickly

Fancy Calendar

I spend a lot of time at work building content calendars, either for blogs or for social media. It’s not easy. It sounds easy until you sit down to create two weeks’ or a month’s worth of posts and realize that posting on the same subject matter day after day can get monotonous fast.

I’ve come up with a simple solution for avoiding that fatigue, and it’s also something that can help you potentially optimize your content. Here it is:

1. Figure out what topics you want to post about

Before you even start, you should have an idea of what you’re posting about within your niche. If you’re planning content for a home decor blog, maybe you have a handful of categories like product reviews, DIY, Q&A with an expert and design inspiration. Whatever it is, figure that out and write it down.

2. Decide how often you want to post about each topic

This is key, especially if you’re interested in keeping your schedule under control. If you don’t yet know which types of content perform best (more on that in a future post) you can start by weighting them based on what takes up the most of your time. For the topics I mentioned above, DIY and Q&A will probably take the most time because they involve an interview and a lengthy content piece, respectively. A product review might take a bit less time, and design inspiration is probably the shortest because you’re essentially curating other people’s content.

Assign a percentage to each one. Don’t think about it too much, because you can adjust it later. For this, let’s just say: Design inspiration, 50%; product reviews 30%; DIY and Q&A, 10% each.

3. Divvy up your calendar per the percentages

Let’s say I’m blogging five days per week for one month, so, 20 days. Ten days are dedicated to inspiration, six to product reviews, three do DIY and three to Q&A.

4. Scatter ’em, or theme your days

I like to mix things up and keep readers guessing. You may want to set up a system where every Tuesday is product review day, or something like that. Whatever you’re comfortable with is what’s best.

I still build my content calendars in Excel because that’s what I like. It doesn’t matter what you use, but I do recommend writing the topics down, day by day, somewhere. The visualization will help keep you organized.

5. Write

This is the hardest part, but once it’s done, you’re done. All you have to do then is plug your content into the slots you created in Step 4.

The “bonus” part of this is optimizing your content based on which topics perform best. That’s easy enough to do, but it’s another set of instructions for another post, which I’ll write about soon. Check back, and let me know in the meantime if you have questions or feedback.

Photo: Windell Oskay / Flickr

When You Hear ‘Just Be Yourself’ (On Social)…

This is what is meant.

My Comment To The FCC On Net Neutrality

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You can—and should—send a comment to the FCC regarding their 180-degree reversal on net neutrality. Here is what I wrote to them:

I don’t have a comment so much as a question: What is the benefit of the FCC’s recommendation in this case to the American people?

There’s an obvious and direct tie to how ISPs would benefit from this new rule—that is, they’ll be able to turn the Internet into cable TV, where there are “basic” and “premium” sites—but I don’t see how it is at all beneficial to the average American.

Currently, I enjoy the same access to all sites across the Internet. If the FCC implements this new rule, I will not—simple as that.

What is the benefit?

You can submit your own comments (Note: It took me several tries, so keep submitting until you get a confirmation page) by doing the following:

  • Go to http://www.fcc.gov/comments
  • Look for the proceeding number, 14-28, and click it.
  • Fill out the form and keep submitting it until you get a confirmation page.

Net neutrality is the only thing keeping the Internet from turning into cable TV. If you don’t want to have “premium” websites that you have to pay extra for—think YouTube, Facebook or anything else you like—make sure the FCC hears you on this.

Photo: Arbri Shamenti / Flickr

Don’t Forget What Technology Is For

Image of a green field under blue sky

All this social media, all these iPhones, and Google Glass, and streaming TV shows online—let’s not forget what it’s for. We built all this stuff to make our lives easier and more convenient, so we’d have more time to experience the world.

You no longer have to get photos developed.

You no longer have to go to the bank.

You don’t even have to actually talk to your friends to keep up.

I promise that a boatload of Likes and retweets will be waiting for you on Monday. Today, go out and do something.

Photo: Tobias / Flickr

Google+ Is Dead, Unless It Works For You

Image of a Dead End sign

A favorite pastime among tech bloggers is declaring stuff “dead.” They like it even more than declaring stuff living, which is weird, but people love being able to say, “called it.”

I’m always skeptical of those kinds of predictions. Even when they’re right, and they sometimes are, “dead” doesn’t really mean dead so much as “past the event horizon of a supermassive black hole, but without noticing it, and still has a long way to go until certain doom.”

With this week’s Google+ news, I’m not even sure that’s true, so it’s a little suspect for TechCrunch to declare Google+ “Walking Dead.” Maybe they did it for clicks, maybe they just got a little overzealous—who knows? And who cares! If you’re a Google+ user, this is all that matters: Google+ is as dead as your audience there.

Should you pay attention to this stuff? Absolutely. Like any social network, you should know how much you’re getting out of it. If that ROI decreases, you should find out why and react accordingly. But don’t freak out. Just because a social network isn’t one of the popular social networks doesn’t mean it can’t work for you. Shit, you guys, there are audiences to be found on fucking MySpace.

If you spend your time chasing every fad network that pops up and jumping off old ones as soon as people start talking shit, you’re going to fail. Where’s your audience? Figure that out, and you could end up without a Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat page and be the most successful social media strategist in the room.

Photo: bill lapp / Flickr

What Social Media Has In Common With A 5-Year-Old Kid

Kid Goad

I was in a grocery store a few months back, standing in line in front of, respectively, a woman and her 5-ish-year-old kid, and a white-haired guy in his 60s/70s. Without prompting, the kid looked at the old man, and then at his mom, and said, “Mommy, that man’s really old.” The guy seemed to take it in stride and laughed a bit, and the mom, who was obviously embarrassed, said “you shouldn’t say things like that” and apologized. But then, the kid said something even worse: “Is he gonna die soon?”

Awkward. Bomb. Dropped.

The old man, again, tried to play it off. His mouth said, “Heh, I hope not,” but his eyes said, “probably.” I didn’t stick around long enough to hear how the mom reacted to that one.

If your brand is on social media, you are the mom, your audience is the little kid and your product is the (hopefully not 70)-year-old man.

People still don’t get this. Social media is not a space for everyone to like everything you do. It’s a space where brutal honesty, and often times downright snark, reigns over all else. If your product is good and of actual value, people will like it and engage with you. If it’s not—if it’s decrepit, decaying, or just plain sucks—social media won’t fix that.

In short, your social media is a reflection of your product, not the other way around. Make good stuff, and make yourself useful on social media, and support will follow.

Photo: Koen / Flickr

The 1 Reason I’m Not Reading Your 82 Blogging Tips

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I get the need for evergreen content, but here’s why I don’t read posts like “82 blogging tips” or “100 of the Best Twitter accounts”:

  1. It’s too fucking many.

If you have 82 blogging tips, you have enough content to produce a nice-looking whitepaper, perhaps in PDF format. I don’t want to spend time trying to reformat your weird blog into an acceptable print format, nor do I want to stare at a computer for 82 tips.

Speaking of evergreen content, Buffer has some great suggestions for how to make it work.

Photo: Bonnie Rambatan / Flickr