Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cars are for writing

My favorite place to write is in my car. Not while I'm driving of course. It is a quiet, comfy, different, and no pressure environment for planning a chapter or drafting from notes. I have a sprial bound notebook I carry with me to jot down ideas, make sketches, and do preliminary work. I can lean back in the car seat during my lunch break and work on my book without interuption.

Why do I prefer to sit in a car to write instead of at my desk, hands poised over a computer? It is a lot more relaxing and a more creative environment. The computer is great for writing things down quickly and formatting, but it can be a killer when trying to come up with ideas. There is something about putting pen to paper in a different enviroment that jump starts my brain and encourages more creative thought.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Planning a Blog (or any site really)

There are many features, widgets, and other elements of Blogger that can be adjusted to customize a blog. While it is possible to randomly add page elements without any real thought to how they affect the overall look or concept of the blog, a little planning will help mold the blog into a user friendly place.

There are several different techniques I use when planning a site:

  • The Post-It Note Method
  • The Photoshop Mockorama
  • Whiteboarding
  • Sketchbooking with pencil and paper
  • Powerpoint slides
  • Creating a default template in a CMS, Blogger, or Wordpress and manuevering the elements until something sticks

The post-it note method as shown on AListApart a few months ago is a very quick method and good for when widgets and other movable elements are involved. Cracking open Photoshop to create mock-ups is another popular method. It is more time consuming, and messing with the fonts so early on can be annoying. Whiteboarding is good for collaboration and when you don't want to get bogged down by visual elements. It should be more about the layout and structure.

Sketchbooking is a precursor to Post-It and Photoshop. A napkin or used copier paper works well too. The advantage of the sketchbook is it can be scanned, and there is a chance old designs will be stumbled upon later.

Powerpoint may sound like an unusual choice, but it is easy to draw boxes and position fonts. The actual sizing can be off, but an overall structure can be quickly worked up and easily shared with the powers that be.

The last method, creating a default template, is a good way to get a better feel for the tool and what the template can do already. It can be tested in multiple browsers before downloading it and using an html editing tool to customize the template. It gives the designer a base line or starting point.

Monday, October 1, 2007

How to write a chapter in 7 days

My first chapter is due October 7th. I know what you're thinking. At least she has the weekend in case she gets behind! I have pulled some late night sessions writing chapters before. Chapter 1 has got to be one of the hardest chapters to write. Ideally, this would be the last chapter I write. Then I could pull on all the information I already wrote and distill it down for Chapter 1.

Instead, I start with my outline and section titles and try to picture the general flow of the book in my head. It helps to think of an example reader, commonly known as a "persona" in the web design industry. A persona is a description of the type of audience you expect to have, detailed as an individual. It could also be called a "profile". Some even include pictures of people to help marketers and designers visualize who they are describing!

Here's a sample persona:
Margaret has used blogger for several months to post examples of her artwork and to display her entries for the Friday competitions on IllustrationFriday. She wants to add a custom header image to her template, add a twitter widget, and figure out how to add a picture gallery to her site. She also wants to learn about using feedburner, and how to add Amazon books to her sidebar.

When the audience is described in a more personal way, it is easier to create sites, books, or cars that serve the user. Ok so how will this help me write the first chapter in seven days? Well the hardest part is the actual writing. Commit to writing at least a page a day, even if it is stream of consciousness, and things will be easier. Editing whatever has been written tricks the brain, since it doesn't realize actual writing is taking place. It's just editing, right? No pressure.