Blogging is Hard
Bernard Finel has been trying this blogging thing for a while and finds that it’s harder than it looks. He notes that even very short posts require quite a bit of effort.
Even short posts take me forever. Not writing the text, per se, but I think most posts are useful if you include a couple or three links to relevant other pieces, quote sections of text, comment on them, etc. And that is where I think I must be missing something. For me, each time I want to link and quote, it means I have to
1. Open the other blog post/news story on a separate tab.
2. It means clicking over, copying the headline of the blog.
3. Click back and paste in headline.
4. Fix formating of the headline to remove stray/excess html.
5. Click back to post I am commenting on.
6. Copy url.
7. Click back to my entry.
8. Highlight the headline from the post I am commenting, and link the url.
9. Click back to the other post.
10. Copy a suitable section of text.
11. Click back to my entry.
12. Paste it… strip out stray HTML… format it as a quote.
Then… finally… I can add my 2 cents.
If I want to comment on a debate in 2-3 other blogs, it is upwards of 30 steps just to produce a couple of snippets of text to frame my comments.
Then I need to proof. Choose categories. Decide on tags. And finally publish.
What am I missing? Is there some magic piece of software that would somehow simplify this process?
Not really, unfortunately. There are plugins that suggest tags and whatnot that save a little bit of time but, basically, this is all work that has to be done. There are various software applications that will create blog-like posts, either by stealing posts wholesale from other blogs’ RSS feeds or by generating spammy links based on keywords.
But real blogging, especially the kind Bernard and I both prefer that includes multiple links, winds up being a lot more work than it would appear at casual glance. In addition to the steps above, for example, I tend to search for photos or other art to illustrate my posts; that can add 10-15 minutes to the process. And that’s to say nothing of the vast amount of material one has to read to find the things one wants to blog on. Or half-written posts that, upon reflection, aren’t really worth publishing at all. Not to mention various administrative work associated with keeping the site up and running.
Like most anything else, though, it gets easier with practice. I can do most of the steps Bernard outlines in my sleep at this point, having written thousands and thousands of posts over the last seven years (19,212 at OTB alone).
One “trick” that I’ve adopted in the last year and a half or so that has really helped: Getting a second monitor. It’s much easier to compose a post on one monitor with the various pages that one wishes to link and/or quote in another.
And a third, if like me, you tend to run backups and other software while doing your blogging, or you’re drawing from more than one source.
Since he’s using WordPress (as are you and I, James) one thing he might try is a Firefox plugin like “Deepest Sender” or “Scribefire”. These will allow the blogger to post to the blog indirectly using the WP API. I’ve found it useful for those situations where I only have one monitor. I use Scribefire on my laptop, for example. It does a fair job of handling a lot of the cut and paste operations better than just using the tools MS gives you.
Another helpful little bit I can suggest to both Bernard and yourself is a program called PureText. It sits in the background, and lets you set a new hotkey for copy. So instead of Control-C for example, you can set it for Control-G (what I use). And what it does is strip out all formatting from what you’re copying, and just copies it as plain text. I find it invaluable. It’s a free download, and you don’t have to register it or anything.
For those using Firefox–though NOT the most recent 3.5 update–there’s a nifty add-on: Copy as HTML. It takes care of steps 1-8 in one fell swoop. I’m hoping the author updates the add-on as it’s a real time and step saver.
The more tedious part of blogging–aside from hunting down articles in the first place–is navigating around ads and photos that interrupt an easy cut-and-paste. Too, there are sites that use Java to post their headlines which makes them generally impossible to copy. PDF documents can be a pain to deal with as well, though newer version of Adobe Acrobat Reader make it a bit easier.
Whoops! The link in the above comment actually goes to a different version of ‘Copy as HTML’ which is compatible with Firefox 3.5! It also includes an option for plain text copying which answer another issue…
The research and thought are where I find the real time is spent. The mechanics are nothing (although my being a fast touch typist might help).
John: Great tip! I’ll have to try that. I typically strip HTML by pasting into Notepad and then cutting-and-pasting into my editing window.
Dave: Quite so. Blogging is, among other things, a way to organize and aggregate the various things I’m reading into something more useful.
huh. It’s been so long since I actually thought about the process…(It’s becomce something of a motor skill) that I’d forgotten.
Bernard, I strongly advise you, if you’ve not do so already, to install the MCE plugin to your blog. This will allow a far greater range of macrobuttons than the stock editor…. one of which is “paste as text”. Another handy button I use often is a ‘paste from word” button, since I tend to use Word a lot as a blog editor. I’ve found using word macros… some of which I’ve developed for blogging purposes… and the auto spell checking… to be very time-saving. The import from word button completes that process.
Virtual Desktops are almost as good as multiple monitors, course Windows still hasn’t gotten around to implementing them. A clipboard manager like Glipper or Klipper can also help, copy the URL, headline and text in one shot, then paste them one at a time into your post.
There are specifically designed blog editors out there that probably do a better job than Word.
But not for Bit. He’s an old fart, set in his ways and unwilling to change.
Oh, and GIT OFFA HIS LAWN!
Real old farts blog in Emacs. The fact that he still uses Windows leads me to believe he’s just unaware of the alternatives.
I have been using Scribefire for years and find that it simplifies a great deal of what Bernard is finding problematic. With a Scribefire window and tabs in Firefox, it is far easier to switch amongst the stuff I am blogging (and grabbing urls and whatnot) than if I try to blog from within WordPress. I can see both the story I am blogging and what I am writing.
Some other tricks:
use two browsers. I use IE to write (and sometimes crosspost) the posts. I use Firefox for looking up the material
Save links using Instapaper (instapaper.com) Great website, better than saving links in bookmarks.
Keep a text file with certain elements you use again and again.
I’ve tried Scribefire and other non-integrated editing systems several times — including this morning after seeing your reminder — and always wind up coming back to the WordPress editor. The fact that Scribefire doesn’t insert the title tag into links and doesn’t have an obvious way to flip back and forth between WYSIWYG and raw HTML are non-starters for me.
Why not just two windows of the same browser?
I’m going to have to back off the recommendation for the copy-to-HTML program I linked. I’ve just installed it (it’s a different program from the one I had before, the one that was awaiting an update). It does the ‘copy as plain text’ thing quite well. It’s not doing a ‘copy as HTML’ at all!
I use an older, ‘expanded clipboard’ program called “Ditto” that allows multiple clips. When necessary, I can copy all the various parts of a piece I might want to write about while on the source page. Then I can paste them in order on my ‘write post’ screen. This saves masses of back-and-forthing.
I’ve heard that having two screens increases productivity in all facets of work. Frequently I’ll have Bernard’s problem in my regular work. I want data from one file, but can’t copy it. Or I can’t copy it quickly (I’m a hard core data user and most people pass me data is really crappy format). So I tab back and forth. All the while losing my place, making sure I’ve got the right column, and then tabbing back and making sure I’m once again in the right colum, place, etc.
I found it easiest just to quit blogging.
hehe. Emacs: The editor for real men.
Actually back in those days I tended to use an editor called “TheDraw”. I used it to make a lot of ANSI art for the BBS I ran back then, and it was my weapon of choice for text editing, including batch programming and C.. and …(Snicker) …Pascal.
Seriously, there’s a number of reasons for me to be using Windows/ Word, not least of which I support Windows enviroments for a living. Second, my Palm has an editor I use frequently for remote blog posts that generates word files. I have several half-finished posts at any time in my palm… and can whip them over to the desktop to finish them as the mood or inspiration strikes.
Beisdes that, a couple places I submit to only take Word formatted files. So… It’s the multi-platform thing that’s got me using Word for blogging at the moment. I’ve got word fairly heavily macroed now to push things along.
What annoys me is that nobody has written a macro to inteface the word editor directly to the WP API, like someone did the Blogger API some years ago. It’s the one thing I miss about Blogger.
I take it back… I did use The Draw for color ansi… but the text editor of choice was Q edit. Forgot.