28 02 2009

Where did February go?

It’s been pretty quiet here over the last week. I think this has been because I’ve pretty much been burning the candle at both ends, work and writing colliding somewhere in the middle. Signs I’ve been close to the wall include:

– Leaving my spectacles in a variety of odd places including the fridge
– Not finishing my sentences (more than us…what was I saying?)
– Looking like someone has attached wet tea bags below my eyes
– Inability to safely traverse exercise equipment
– Scrawling of notes on my arms because I’ve forgotten my notebook AND my mobile
– Dreaming sections of plot and then thinking I’ve written them
– Randomly drawing process diagrams on whatever is to hand.

Hence, I’m now taking it easy. Normal service, whatever the hell that is, returns soon.

Nothing ever happens

24 02 2009

F*** me. This was twenty years ago:

Surely, I can’t be that old.

Sunday Updatery

22 02 2009

Yes, I wasn’t able to generate a very pithy blog title – sue me.

No, scratch that – don’t sue me: I have no money; the bank owns everything. Anyway, I’ve been focussing on writing and being very busy in the day job (I’m not complaining busy is good, at present). Consequently nothing of note has really been happening. Yes: this is another general-update-style-post.

It hasn’t been the easiest week on the writing front as I’ve had little energy and so I was mainly producing tripe that I’ve spent today rewriting, in most cases from scratch. However, a year ago I’d have finished the tripe version and then rewritten it, at least now I’m able to spot it before I’ve produced a ream of rubbish that can’t even be polished. Forever is now gathering some steam and the structural problems I had in January seem to be shifting.

I’m getting close to the end of my pile of books from Christmas and am turning my attention to the books I want to read prior to the next project after Forever. I think my biggest lesson from both The Scarred God and Forever is the sheer amount of ideas required to keep a novel length project afloat, this requires the composting of a range of material and so in order to give my self the time to synthesise it I need to start now. Also, the subject matter is deeply fascinating and much more ambitious than anything I’ve done so far. This is also why I occasionally grump about how long Forever is taking.

The TV is still banned. Although, it has to be confessed that I am keeping up with Being Human on iplayer and have somehow become horribly addicted to Battlestar Galactica despite the whole subtle as sledgehammer post-911 themes. I blame Ron Moore for getting me hooked on his story chops in the early nineties. Though I doubt he remembers me from the little writing class he took in London on a flying visit with Brannon Braga, that moment of being taken seriously – despite being just a kid – had an impact.

Anyway, in all honesty I don’t miss the TV. If anything I’m a lot less stressed than I was when I used to veg out in front of it before work or when I get in and both reading as well as writing has increased dramatically. If nothing else it has taught me that recommendations from friends are a more reliable, time effective way of finding good stuff on the box. Most importantly I feel a lot less like I’m thinking through treacle. I never used to be a great believer in the idea telly atrophies the brain but there might just be something in it. I won’t be returning to the glass teat anytime soon.

I’m sliding into the last week of February feeling like I’m more on top of the writing than I have been in a while and – whilst it’s been quiet – March promises a bit more to do. I’ve got an old friend’s thirtieth (mine looms in a few months), I’ll be in Wales around the middle of the month and we have some jobs to finish in the bathroom before we finally replace the kitchen in May. Should be fun. OK, maybe not the bathroom bit.

That’s enough for now. Laters.

Friday Flash Fiction: Tongue

20 02 2009

This post has now moved. You can read tongue here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/tongue

By Neil Beynon

“What is it?” you ask.

I say nothing.

You look up from your knees where you’ve dropped down to check why I have not moved. Your hair falls across your face, you push it back behind your ear with two fingers whose ghosts I feel on my neck and the brief glimpse of the sun through your window points out freckles I never noticed before. The room is musty still with the scent of the night before and I wish you’d opened the window while I was gone. You seem made of glass as the growing quiet between us knocks you on your arse.

…You can read all of tongue here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/tongue

Digital 101: SEO Tips for Writers

19 02 2009

I promised some SEO Tips for writers. Most of this is not a newsflash but I still see people getting it wrong and really, like web usability, it doesn’t cost anything to get the basics right. As with other posts I have writers in mind but this also translates to musicians, artists and photographers, or indeed anyone producing valuable content.

I use most of these myself but I neither invented these nor claim this to be an exhaustive list:

1.    Think of search engines as people – Search engines are meant to help people find the content they’re after and have been built accordingly. This means that just like human beings struggle to remember nonsensical web addresses and page titles so do search engines. Even if they do pick them up the major search engines (Google in particular) will push offending sites down the listings.

Basics to get right: Put your site on a web address that makes sense to a human being (and relates to the content,  see example below) and always have proper page titles (these also need to relate to the content).

An example of a bad web address for your page: https://neilbeynon.wordpress.com/page.php?post=666
An example of a good web address for your page: https://neilbeynon.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/seo_tips_for_writers/

2.    Be different – As soon as search engines became popular less scrupulous marketers and various dodgy Internet types realised quickly that content was king. Consequently they began stealing content and repackaging it on their own sites so they could divert web traffic their way and make money off it*. Nowadays, search engines compensate for this by calculating (or trying to) the uniqueness of the content. If you repost the same content or use the same page titles there’s a risk you’ll be perceived as spam and ignored by the search engines. Search engines are huge, they don’t care if you’ve been caught by accident and there is no right to appeal.

3.    Keywords – Again, in the early days of search engines** meta data was seen as vital to being found on the web. As search engine algorithms have improved and become better at scanning content their importance has decreased. The metaphorical jury is split on the importance of meta tags. However, for sites run by people with little to no digital marketing budget (and that’s who this post is aimed at) my own experience is that they do have an impact.

Whether you use the old meta tags hard coded into your HTML or use your CMS’s built in functionality (usually called tags and/or categories) the most important thing is that the tags/categories relate to the content on the page. Simply putting keywords you want to rank for without it relating to the on page content is called keyword spam and will get you ignored. Remember Tip 1 – don’t just think about what you search for (particularly if you spend a great deal of time online) – think about what other people will look for.

4.    Link me up – If uniqueness is one side of the coin then the number of sites linking to yours is the other. Search engines use this count as a proxy for how valuable your content is (called authority in some circles). It’s very simple: the more legitimate sites that link to your website the better, if those sites also carry related content that will give you even more search engine juice and so link building should be an essential part of every website’s strategy.

Basics to get right: link freely to other websites that you enjoy and produce content that relates to your own; comment on related blogs***; ask friends with websites to link to you****; participate in community forums related to your website.

5.    Computers can’t think (yet) – Search engines are just websites made up from software (AKA code) that runs on computers and so they’re not very good at knowing that the image you put on your post is of a garden full of snow unless you tell them. When you put images on your site it can really bring a piece of content to life but it could also be driving web traffic. Search engines with image searches work by using the html code behind your image to tell what your image is about.

Basics to get right: you should always use a filename that relates to the image and you should make use of the Alt tag to describe the image content. (See below).

Poorly coded image: <img src=”http://somesite.com/image359.jpg&#8221; width=”666″ height=”666″/>
Well coded image: <img src=”http://somesite.com/catandbacon.jpg&#8221; alt=”A cat, some bacon, some tape. Well, did you really think he wasn’t going to do it…” width=”666″ height=”666″/>

* This would be a type of search engine spam, this type of spam is – like every other form of digital spam – deeply irritating and gives legitimate marketers a bad name. Don’t. Do. It. You should also never link back to a site that is reposting all your content as this will in turn cost you traffic by making you look like spam yourself.

** Anyone else remember Altavista?

*** Leaving generic, automated or off topic comments is another type of spam. It is not recommended and it really irritates people.

**** You should obviously link to them first and I’d limit this to people you know in the real world in the first instance.

Minor Oasis

18 02 2009

I’m really quite busy at the moment juggling extra work at the day job and trying to plough on with Forever.

In lieu of actual content and, indeed, a review of the gig I went to at the beginning of the month here is a video clip from the gig. Amanda’s slow version of Oasis:

If you think the UK music channels and radio stations are being tools, and I do, let them know. Details here.

Tender bits

15 02 2009

Twitter followers will know that I had a small accident last week.

I have been trying to take a little bit more exercise recently as I’ve discovered it seems to help my energy levels in the evening. On Wednesday I attempted to, as per normal, use the exercise bike but at the same time – because it’s next to the bike – I tried to put a book on the bookshelf. And because I’m a gobby shite when I want to be I was also talking to G.

In short: I wasn’t paying attention.

I slipped, swinging round and grappling with handlebars of the Not Screwed Down exercise bike in an attempt to stay upright. Gravity took over at this point and I hit the floor, colliding with our coffee table (otherwise known as a solid wood chest full of old computer manuals), moving it two feet with the force of the landing and bringing the bike down on top of me. I was more or less OK, suffering just a few bruises. However, my lower back is quite painful. Thursday was the most sore but, somewhat oddly, the best day as because I was so bruised I was careful. By Friday the pain had subsided to the level where it only kicked in if I sat down wrong, which I have been doing frequently since I keep forgetting I’m hurt.

See: exercise is bad for you.

Work on Forever has gotten into more of a routine this week and I am pleased with the progress I’m making. I have sent two more of my inventory of short stories out to markets and I’m thinking about a new short story that I hope to write in the next few weeks. Oh yeah, I’ve noticed that it seems to be quite hard to shift stories over five thousand words, anyone else picked up on that or is it just my imagination?

Valentine’s day was good.

Dengue Fever

14 02 2009

I really am quite fond of these guys:

This is not my usual type of thing and so I am a little lost to explain it. G things I’m nuts. OK: more nuts than usual.

Friday Flash Fiction: Thirteen

13 02 2009

This post has now moved. You can read it here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/thirteen/.

Bit of a scheduling error this week and so this is a little later than planned. Also, constant readers will recall Arches by Gareth L Powell was one of my favourite short stories of last year and GLP has an excerpt up on his site – check it out here.

Here’s my offering:

By Neil Beynon

There are tears in my eyes as we reach the summit and I can barely see.

Your hand slips into mine to pull me up. Your skin is soft and I feel light as air. I wouldn’t know you were holding me if it weren’t for the coldness of your flesh against mine. You do not linger against me. There is something you want to show me as you move across the flat plateau.

You look back at me from the cliff edge. The grey before the dawn makes you look like you walked off the silverscreen of some ancient movie and my heart is contemplating exploding from the ascent. It feels like we’ve climbed to the top of the world although, in reality, it’s only been a thirteen-minute climb; the feeling of height has more to do with the gradient of the hill and the flatness of the plain around us. If it were daylight we would be able to see across to the Crystal ranges where you were born.

…You can read the rest of this post here: http://www.neilbeynon.com/fiction/thirteen/

Digital 101: What to build?

11 02 2009

Apologies for the delay, these posts were meant to begin last week but were delayed due to snow. *coughs*

In this initial run of Digital 101 for Writers (and other one-man-shops) I want to look in a little more detail at how to give yourself the best fighting chance at garnering an audience online. It should go without saying that the most important of these is content and you should never lose sight of this. There are no shortcuts.

Venturing onto the Internet to promote your work (writing, photography, music, whatever) can be daunting, especially if you’re not someone who spends much time online. Here are some basic tips on how to decide what kind of online presence you need.

1. Know your turf – If you don’t spend much time online then you need to get to know the environment before you leap in with both feet. Even if you are no stranger to the Internet spending time looking around the sites of people you admire (and who work in the same area), participating in online forums for your community and checking out emerging other places your audience are likely to spend time online such as Facebook and Twitter are useful prompts. Spend time thinking about how they might work for you.

2. Pick and mix – Assuming you want a website (and most of you will), you’ll need to decide what type of site you want i.e. a blog, a portfolio, a multimedia extravaganza, brochureware, online shop, etc. The key is to make a decision that takes into account your skill level and/or your budget (for example you might want to get someone else to run it), it’s better to run a small and simple site well then a behemoth badly.

3. Create not code – Use a CMS. I’ve written about this before but it merits restating. You’re trying to break through as a creator of content (in whatever form) not as a programmer and so you don’t want to sit there manually coding HTML, manually fixing site links and doing web maintenance.  Your time is valuable make it easy on yourself.

4. Keeping it up – A constant challenge for small web operations but critical. If your site is not reachable when users click through or type in the web address then you will be irritating the crap out of them and if search engines can’t get to your content because the website is down your audience won’t even know you’re there. Select your hosting with care, do your research about who’s good and try to make sure you’ve got headroom in case a high traffic site links to you. Moving hosting providers is a pain and you want to minimise how often this is needed.

5. You gotta work at relationships – Your goal should be to build a relationship with your audience and so it’s important to give some thought to this when your building your website rather than as an afterthought. It is possible to do this as you go along but it’s easier if you think about how you can make life easier for returning users to stay up to date from the beginning (email alerts, RSS feeds, linking your content to Twitter via TwitterFeed, etc.). I’ll touch more on feeds when we come to copyright but I’d suggest you create a decent RSS feed as a minimum, I use feedburner.

That’s it for now. Next we’ll focus on SEO for Writers (and other one-person creatives).