Writing 101: Make a Prompt Personal/The Stat Connection

I am writing this post in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Stat Connection”:

Go to your Stats page and check your top 3-5 posts. Why do you think they’ve been successful? Find the connection between them, and write about it.

I don’t write for the sake of it, I write—when I want to write—to convey something of some importance. I like to take my time over what I write, to develop a point rather than rush out a half-done job. The Blogging 101 and Writing 101 courses, however, have been driving me to write daily and on things that don’t really inspire me the way I want to be inspired about my work.

One of my inspirations for blogging is Steve Pavlina. Steve writes a blog on personal development and growth that, at last count, attracted over a million views a month and earned him over $10,000 a month (he has since stopped counting). He achieved this by focussing on writing posts that delivered some kind of lasting value to his readers, something that would be of use to them years after they were written, and many of them still do. I don’t expect to come close to his level of success, of course, but taking his lead I want to write something that has more meaning and value than I could come up with in just a few hours. (A note of caution: Steve is not shy and some of his work discusses ideas that some might be uncomfortable with, even offended by. He likes to provoke people into thinking for themselves about things and this ruffles feathers sometimes.)

A case in point is today’s Blogging 101 task “Make a Prompt Personal”:

Today’s assignment: publish a post based on your own, personalized take on a blogging prompt.

I clicked through to the daily prompt and started thinking but I couldn’t come up with anything I wanted to write for my blog, so I clicked for another prompt. I had the same problem with that one and clicked through again and again. It wasn’t until I reached the seventeenth prompt that I actually found the prompt that clicked, something that I could write something for my blog with.

When I take a look at my stats I can see something striking. For the month of September, I have accumulated so far 198 views from 110 visitors, having posted 10 posts so far. The top post this month was my One Word Inspiration post; I think the views on this post and the next two were driven by the Blogging 101 and Writing 101 courses. My best month so far, however, is May with 233 views from 154 visitors. The only post I published that month was Levelling Up, and I think that illustrates what I was getting at above.

Levelling Up was my most powerful and most heartfelt post so far. I wrote it with a specific purpose of my own rather than for some course or assignment, and posted links to it in the Facebook groups of the skydiving and surfing clubs at university, which seems to have driven a lot of the views, but I’ve been sharing my posts on Facebook and Twitter since then and not generating the same amount of interest. It’s much more like the kind of thing I want to share than anything the prompts or assignments over the past week have enabled me to do.

I still want to finish Blogging 101 and Writing 101, but I’m going to try to push them more towards what I want to write in future posts. I’m starting to draft some posts and get some ideas of my own together so hopefully I should be able to share something much more substantial in the next few weeks.

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Writing 101: A Space to Write

I drafted this the other day at a branch of Costa Coffee. The Writing 101 task that day was to describe how I write and what I write with. I don’t normally find cafes a useful place to write; over the course of Writing 101 I have mostly been working from home, either in the living room or sat on my bed. I can sometimes get some useful work done here though, such as drafting, taking notes on what I want to write, and setting out outlines for future blog posts.

In the past, when working on assignments for university, I have made good use of the university library. Which part of the library I use depends on what I need. There are some airy desk spaces near the lobby, each of which has powering USB sockets for laptops and mobile devices, and I found that space good for research and taking notes as it had a ‘hubbub’ about it that gives it a sociable feel, whilst not being too noisy or distracting. The more traditional desks and bookshelves part of the library can be useful but sockets are less available, and its ambience seems much more suited to focussed head-down study. It has all the journals in it that I could ever hope to use. I spent a lot of time in these spaces over the past year writing my dissertation and I expect to do so again over the next year.

I find I do most of my blogging on my Mac. Instead of typing directly into the WordPress platform, I prefer to draft my posts in a separate app then copy them across and do any final editing I need before previewing, correcting anything if necessary, then publishing. I currently do most of my drafting in Microsoft Word but I’m on the lookout for another app for this. Word is good at what it does, but I think it’s a bit too much for what I’m using and it isn’t very good at handling cuttings and notes. I’ve heard of a variety of different apps but I’m not in a position to spend much money right now, so I’ll stick with Word until a clear alternative becomes apparent.

I do the rest of my writing on my iPad. I’ve been keeping a journal using Day One for years and right now I’m writing into Word for iOS. I have the WordPress app installed so I can either copy and paste to it here, or sync my work to my Mac via OneDrive or Dropbox and finish it off there. I also wrote some of my dissertation on my iPad, before syncing it across to my Mac and pulling it all together there. I don’t use my iPhone for blogging but I have the WordPress app installed there too and it’s handy for receiving notifications, taking down brief notes and checking out comments.

I try to keep an eye out for better tools and apps for writing with but I’m limited to a student budget so I can’t spend much money, especially not to try out something that may or may not work for me. I also need to give my mac an upgrade soon; thankfully it’s old enough that that is still possible (the latest models aren’t designed to be user-upgraded). In the meantime, though, what I’ve got seems to work well.

Thanks for the positive comments the other day; I feel like I’m starting to get to grips with things again. I want to move on to writing something more substantial than Writing 101 seems to allow for, but now I’m getting back on track I feel more confident about completing the course. 🙂

Writing 101: Opening the Floor

One of the tasks for Writing 101 last week was to set up a poll or contact form to source some ideas for a future blog post so I’m opening the floor for some ideas. One of the areas I had originally intended to write on was Asperger Syndrome and how it affects me; I might also be able to offer some suggestions and advice based on my own experience. I have gone from shy, withdrawn and hopeless to social success, scoring consistent 2:1 grades at university and even occasionally jumping out of aeroplanes for fun, so I figure I’ve probably got something useful to say. Alternately, I could share some experiences of the other things I get up to.

I must admit, this makes me a bit nervous as it sets up an obligation to respond. With Freshers’ Week this week, and university term itself starting the week after, I’m not going to have as much free time to write as I have done over the past two weeks (and I’ve already got a bit behind with things). At the moment I’m just collecting ideas for future posts and I don’t want to commit myself until I’m sure I will have the time for it. For now, I’m going to look on this as something to try out and see if it fits in with my life.

I’ve set up a contact form (https://adamelkins500.wordpress.com/contact/); alternately, leave a comment below and I’ll respond if I can. 🙂

Coffee Update

Writing 101, Day 10: Update your readers over a cup of coffee

Mmmmm… Coffee 😉

I’ve let my Writing 101 and Blogging 101 tasks slip over the past few days. I’ve got several tasks to catch up on from both of them and I hope to get through at least some of them over the next few days. Meanwhile, I’ve come back to my Dad’s house for the weekend before term starts and this morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee and some cuddles with our cat, Sassy. Sassy also likes coffee, although apparently it isn’t good for her.

I’m compiling a list of tasks I’ve missed so far from Blogging 101 and Writing 101 and I hope to cover a few of them over the weekend. The problem I’m having is that whereas while I was keeping up I had only one task to do for each, now I’ve built up a backlog I find myself trying to juggle several at once. Although I’m already behind I need to slow things down a bit and take things one at a time or I’m going to get further behind.

So far I’ve got the following to do:

For Blogging 101:

  • Write an ‘about’ page
  • Be a good neighbour: share a few comments on other blogs
  • Write a post based on one of my comments
  • Set up a ‘blogroll’ of blogs I follow (I was hoping to do that anyway)

For Writing 101:

  • ‘The space to write’: on what I use to write with and how (drafted already), then set up a poll or contact form for ideas to write about
  • ‘Expand a comment’: this sounds similar to one of the Blogging 101 tasks!
  • Write an open letter

That’s about five and a half tasks in total once duplicates are consolidated, and it’s potentially a lot of writing. I’m not going to push myself too hard, especially as the start of term is nearing, but I’ll do what I can.

Future

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss

Yesterday I was drafting my response to the day’s Writing 101 task and was struck by something that knocked me back. I am about to go into my final year of university and I’m starting to experience a lot of apprehension over what happens next. I wrote the following:

I was just drafting my response to today’s Writing 101 post when I realised that I’ve got something more important that I want to reach out about.

This will be my last year at Southampton university, unless I go on to postgraduate study or something similar. Soon I must start making decisions about what I’m going to do next, decisions that could potentially affect the next thirty years of my life, and I’m getting increasingly anxious.

I’ve had a challenging time at Southampton, and though I’ve managed to overcome these challenges I feel that I’ve had to give up far more than I had wanted. One of the biggest regrets of Southampton graduates is that they didn’t take full advantage of the range of extra-curricular activities they had when they were here. In my case I have certainly tried, but I’ve had several challenges to deal with—some of which was under the university’s control and led to an appeal being upheld—that have prevented me from doing so to the extent that I’ve wanted, some of which I think were preventable.

While part of me will be glad to leave and put these problems behind me, I don’t want to let go of the range of opportunities that I’ve been exposed to. I’ve had my successes of course, but if I’m struggling in this environment how can I hope to succeed in any other?

I’ve come to realise that while there are some parts of university that I’m ready to see the back of, there are other parts I’m not ready to let go of. What I’m experiencing is not unique to me, but thanks to my condition I’m experiencing it much more strongly than others.

People with Asperger syndrome have a strong need for structure and consistency in their lives. Change, even one that is planned for ahead of time, can bring uncertainty about the future and this can make us anxious. While I still have one year of university left, I have to figure out what I’m going to do afterward and whether I’m going to have to move away from Southampton to do it. What I’m most apprehensive about, though, is losing the social and recreational life I’ve built up over the past year and having to start over again.

I think what I need is some confidence about the future. I want to know that I can continue the with the successes I’ve achieved so far and continue onwards. The problem is I’ve come to depend heavily on the social structures around university (sports clubs for example) and during the summer, when those clubs aren’t active, I feel lost. I look on graduation in the same way, but there’s no return to university afterwards to bring it to an end; I’m going to have to learn to navigate my way without it.


Putting this into writing has helped me to put things into focus and I’m feeling more secure about things now. I’m already starting to think about what I can do after university; apart from finding a job, I’m already starting to think of a few ideas. I’m not sure I want to put this up, but I’m going to do so anyway as I’m sure something positive will come of it, and it would be misleading to only talk about the good stuff without acknowledging things like this.

PSA: Back Up Your Stuff

One of my friends from university has been travelling in the U.S. over the summer. Yesterday her phone died and, with it, thousands of photos seem to have been lost. I’m taking this as a prompt to urge everyone I can to back up your stuff.

There’s a lot of advice out there, some of which conflicts with other advice, but the essential idea is to have a way of making copies of your data so that if the originals are lost somehow the copies are still available. Preferably multiple copies will be available, for added security.

I have three devices to back up: my MacBook Pro, my iPad and my iPhone. I back up both my iPhone and iPad using iCloud backup, which runs automatically every night when they are plugged in and connected to wifi. I’ve had to restore both of them from their respective backups in the past, and doing so returned them both to the state they were in at the time of the backup. I think I lost a text message once, but that’s about it. Photos are currently not part of this backup but are saved to, and synced via, iCloud Photo Library so I can restore them to a device in the same way.

I back up my Mac in two ways. Firstly, I use Time Machine, Apple’s built-in back up software, with a 1TB external USB drive. This makes a full backup of my mac then takes incremental backups of everything that has changed every hour as long as the disk is connected. This includes a local copy of my iCloud Photo Library, all of which is downloaded to my Mac. I admit that this doesn’t happen as often as it should as I use my Mac in various locations around campus and at home where having USB leads trailing around isn’t such a good idea (such as sofas). A USB drive would be fine for a desktop computer that doesn’t move about, but ideally I would prefer to have a wireless drive to back up to (i.e. Apple’s Time Capsule) if I could afford one.

The second way I back up my Mac is using CrashPlan. CrashPlan supports several different types of backup; I use it to back up selected data from my Mac (again including my Photo Library) to CrashPlan’s online backup service. This ensures that even if my time machine backups fail for some reason (such as fire or theft) I still have a copy of my most important data available online. I was initially prompted to set up online backups following the winter of 2014 when a vast tract of the Somerset Levels, not far from my home, was submerged in 90 million cubic metres of floodwater. Somerset does not often see extreme weather events so this was a bit of a wake-up call.

I consider myself lucky not to have suffered a major data loss; I’ve lost data in the past that a backup would have been able to recover, but none of it was particularly important. Since enrolling at university, however, backing up is something I’ve been more proactive about and I’m thankful for these early lessons as my work is now fully backed up. The systems I have set up are largely automated, affordable on a student budget and (in the case of my Mac backups) compliment each other by covering each other’s respective weaknesses.

I don’t know much about Windows and Android devices, but I expect they have similar backup capabilities to the ones I use. I currently recommend to follow Scott Hanselman’s ‘Rule of Three’: three copies of your data, in two different formats, including one off-site backup. A couple of points I will make in addition to his advice are that DVDs appear to be on their way out (especially for Mac users), and that sync services like Dropbox can’t always be relied on as a backup themselves as any loss or corruption of data will be synced back to the cloud, destroying your backup.

It’s too late to help my friend recover her photos, but hopefully I can persuade some of my other friends to back up their stuff and prevent this from happening to them.

A goal for this blog

I’m trying to write something for today’s Writing 101 task but I’m struggling for inspiration. I think I’ve been pushing myself a bit too hard over the past couple of days and might have over-stretched the creative side of my brain a bit, so today I’m taking it easy.

One of the things I want to do with this blog is to attempt to address some of the problems and challenges people with Asperger syndrome can encounter, based on my own experiences. I follow a couple of Autism/Aspergers pages on Facebook and sometimes see posts asking for advice where I think I can help. This might take a bit of time though, making notes about points I want to make, perhaps researching a bit, before I can draft a post. This relates to today’s Blogging 101 task, but is something I’m going to have to leave to one side for now and return to later. It’s possible I might not be able to find time for it at all once university starts up again, though I hope this isn’t the case.

I went for a walk around Southampton Common this afternoon and encountered this rather charming cygnet. Unfortunately I didn’t take any bread with me but there were some children about with bread, which sparked a bit of a feeding frenzy.

Can I have some bread?
Can I have some bread?
All of the ducks, and a good deal of other birds too
All of the ducks, and a good deal of other birds too
Map of the Common
Map of the Common

The map of the common ties up nicely with the theme of today’s writing task. That’s handy. 🙂