Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Ideal Blogger (#2) Content and Consistency

Before I start off with this, I thought I'd let you guys know that I added one last section to the previous post titled "Utilize Social Media". Click here for the previous part.

Okay, let's get started (:


First off- content. This is what people judge your blog by. And this is what you should ask yourself when you open up your blog in your browser tab. "Are my blog posts actually interesting? Have I written these posts sincerely enough to catch the eye of someone who doesn't know me and probably has different interests? Is there something in the posts that a general majority should be able to relate to?"

If you're writing a personal blog, ask yourself these questons. "When I document these feelings and events, does this help me in any sort of way? Will I be able to refer back to my blog, like a diary, for these memories? Will I be able to look back at my blog to see how much has changed? Have I written sincerely enough for other people to see what my life looks like?"

The first point I'm trying to make is not about content- not yet. It's about the sincerity and depth of your writing. You can write about a circus (which is really exciting in real life) but if you don't put your heart into your words, the event will seem bland and boring on your blog- no matter how many paragraphs and lines you type away. You could write about a stroll in your neighborhood (which could be something extremely normal) but if you decide to write it sincerely and focus on the best, it can turn out to be something that your followers found worth reading.

"It is an old and true maxim that "a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall"
 So remember- you must write sincerely, whether you write for yourself or for your followers or for both. Give yourself time to do this. It's better to write one post with your heart than to write ten with your fingers. Trust me, quality over quantity.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

What are blogs usually about? If you look through most of your blogroll/blogfeed, you'll see that the majority of blogs that teenagers follow are written by teenagers. What does this tell you? It tells you that the target audience is related to blog content. You can't write a blog about your personal life and expect business/fashion blogs to follow you because your blog just isn't their thing. What you have to do is realize what your target audience is.

"... I happened to be excited about boats and the visitor discussed the subject in a way that seemed to me particularly interesting. After he left, I spoke of him with enthusiasm..... My aunt informed me he was a New York lawyer; that he cared nothing whatsoever about boats.... "But why then did he talk all the time about boats?... "Because he is a gentleman. He saw you were interested in boats and he talked about the things he knew would interest and please you. He made himself agreeable""
Fortunately, you, as a blogger, do not have to bend your back so far as to start blogging about something that doesn't even interest you (do you know what this means? This means that teenagers are interested in teenagers. Whatever you write will appeal to 70% of teenage bloggers). But what you do need to realize is that there are lots of teen bloggers out there and that most of your interests and blog content will overlap. Teenagers- especially those with personal blogs like this one- will write about a variety of subjects which would include

  • School related subjects, for example rants/studyblrs/stationary/note-taking
  • Relationships, whether it's about your parents, your siblings, your friends, your relatives, your classmates, your teachers
  • Writing, for example poetry, short stories, book reviews, fandom reviews, other rants, discussions, arguments, informative articles
  • Photography, which is a really popular subject among a great majority of teenage blogs and should be classified as separate from art.
  • Art, whether it's drawing, sculpting, painting, singing, designing, fashion
It's not so hard writing on a personal blog (a category which quite a few bloggers are in and it is these bloggers I'm focusing on). But what you need to do is to present the same information in a unique kind of way. You need to make your blog creative so it stands out from the rest of the blogging world. You need to create your own niche.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next most important thing about content after your subject is how you present it, also known as, how creative you are with your posts. Standard posts tend to involve images or gifs, but we want your post to burst with something special! How can we achieve that?

For starters, check out tumblr for images. This is a website which is overflowing with unique ideas and text posts. You know those famous "teenager posts" and "that's so relateable posts" that are a hit on Facebook? Those all came from tumblr. Imagine what else you could find there. Literally everything, including fandom related stuff. One of my favorite personal posts was created from tumblr's vast data base of images and that post quickly made it on the "Most Popular Post" widget on the sidebar. You can check it out here.

Since you're aiming at a teenage audience, ideas like that will most probably make itself a hit.

Creativity also includes font, paragraphing and divisions. Remember, you need your blog to be easy on the eyes. There are some fonts available on blogger that really make reading a chore. I know, because I used to use a really difficult font on my blog and I didn't even know it was so hard to read because I never looked at my blog properly. Lesson learnt? Visit your blog as a reader regularly and try to understand how it looks to a visitor.

Next is paragraphing. Split your writing into proper paragraphs because, let's be honest, no one wants to read a textbook styled essay. Even if you ARE writing an essay on your blog, paragraph each point, each example separately. Your readers are not your academic examiners. They are not under a contract to read each and every word. If you thrust too much in one go, chances are you're losing a reader.

Don't forget to divide the post. There's a feature in blog writing where you can write in a variety of modes, being Heading, Sub Heading, Minor Heading and Normal. Utilize these features! Apart from these, you can also use bullet points to categorize facts and important information- or just outline the entire post at the start or at the end. It's little things like these that make your posts reader friendly.

These were some simple ways to make your posts creative. Here are some more complex ideas.
  • Use your own photographs to make gifs
  • Create text graphics
  • Use different colors and highlights
  • Present information on images (also called infographics)
  • Add your own drawings (traditional or digital) to illustrate your post
*~*~*~*~*~*~*

You could have a beautiful blog with fantastic posts, but what's the point of following you if the last post you made was in 2012? I have seen SO MANY amazing and fantastic blogs that have been inactive for years, and it just literally kills me. It's like finding a dead tree- tall and splendid, but it's not going to grow even one more inch. Most of these blogs have final posts like "I find blogging a chore now" or "blogging isn't fun anymore" or "I'm on hiatus", giving me the impression that if blogging becomes worrisome, a blogger is inclined to simply dump the project and leave.

Now, I'm not exactly one to talk. I HAVE been blogging 2011, but I actually started and stuck to this blog since 2013. Only one and a half year. I have yet to come across a period where blogging is something I want to drop and run away from- but I DO occasionally have writers block. Here's how I combat these periods.

Create a Blogging Notebook
That's right! It won't hurt to dedicate a notebook to your blog, would it? In fact, it would actually be super helpful! I've dedicated a notebook of mine to this blog and so far, it has really benefited me. 
I've tried re-sizing this to fit in the post area but it's not working -__- 
And remember- it's for rough ideas. Throw everything in there. I even stuff in my awards here since I realized spacing them out evenly is a better idea then doing the awards as soon as they come. Write down all the memes, all the contests, all the blog trends happening- even if you have too much on your plate already- because when you're out of ideas, this is what will keep your blog afloat.

But what if you're completely blank and have no idea about what to blog about? You need to sit down and give yourself time to think about it. Brilliant ideas don't come when they're wanted- they just arrive unexpectedly and that's just their nature. There's nothing much you can do about it- but here's what you CAN do to get the process started.
  • Browse Pinterest. Here's a site that will have loads of ideas, quotes, books, projects, fashion- everything available. Just sift through all the information and find something you really like- whether it's a tutorial or a quote. Post it on your blog along with your thoughts about it- turn it into a writing exercise. (If it's a tutorial that's caught your eye, DO IT and post your results on your blog).
  • Read a book from your To Be Read pile and write a book report on it! Everybody loves book reports!
  • Browse through other interesting blogs and see if something inspires you to write your own post! There are lots of writing blogs out there that gather quite the resources for their readers. A good example of such a blog is "A Splash of Ink" by Sunny Smith.
*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Are you on a writing roll? Is creativity flowing out from your fingertips onto the keyboard? Let me advise you- don't post all at once. Pace yourself. You cannot write ten posts in one week and then be absolutely blank the next. Plan out your schedule- it's okay to write everything down and prepare a blogpost, but you won't gather readers effectively if you post everything within a short span of time. Use the "Schedule" option on the side of the page when you write your blogpost. It's bursts of creativity like this that will help cover up your blog when you're having a writer's block.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Everything highlighted in pink are excerpts from the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

Part Three of this post trilogy will be Common Courtesy.

Did you find anything lacking or any new point that could be added? It would be my pleasure to add your insights and examples to this post (I'll credit you, of course).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

BookShelf: Looking For Alaska



10518900Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

~Taken from Goodreads

I've read the Fault In Our Stars and I found it pretty unique (but not as awesome or tear jerking as everyone was hyping about) so I decided to try out another book by John Green. Let me just say that I have never been to university (or college or whatever it is called) or lived alone, away from my parents- and the book was describing everything in so much amazing detail so I was obviously hooked (it was like a Harry Potter fan reading a fanfic about a normal student at Hogwarts while Harry does his awesome stuff etc xD for me anyway). Everything was described- the euphoria of a "Great Perhaps" and leaving home, making new friends, studying, ragging (it's called pranking there, apparently), getting into trouble, trying not to get into trouble and I just soaked up the details with shiny sparkly eyes LOL

But okay, back to the point. The book dealt with the death of a close friend and how such an event could be so sudden and unpredictable and have such long lasting effects. I found some of the characters hard to imagine (Alaska was one of these people. She was just... too eccentric that she seemed more like a cardboard character where you just lump everything labelled "crazy" with her but she was still cool I guess).

Anyway, I rather enjoyed reading this book (college sounds so exciting!!) and would most certainly recommend it to anyone who has read TFIOS and liked it. But the thing is, the characters are just as unrealistic as they were in TFIOS (cough) Augustus Waters (cough). It's great for light reading though- don't dwell too much on what's going on and go with the flow :D

I give this book a rating of 2.5/5 and would most likely never read this again. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Ideal Blogger (#1) Follow and Feedback

I've had a lot of spare time on my hands and I had been spending it on browsing fresh blogs, leaving comments and adding a blog or two to my personal follow list. I think I've seen a lot of blogs that seemed to be missing a spark or so and after reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, I have understood what it means to be an ideal blogger. 

I'm not saying my blog is ideal, but that we could all work together to the goal of being so with the blogging epiphany I had. I'd like to share my ideas and opinions with you and it would be fantastic if you guys shared something back. So, without further ado, I present to you my blog post trilogy.


Following and receiving feedback is something you cannot achieve without your readers. If you want more comments and more followers, you need your readers to do it for you. So here's the question.

How can you make your readers do what you want them to do?

"The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.
What do you want?" 
So what do most bloggers want? Let's make a list.

--> increased traffic on their blog
--> comments on their posts
--> new followers
--> a feeling of importance or pride for their blog and their writing.

Let's face it, people are usually thinking about themselves whenever they do something. When bloggers design their pages, they think along the lines of "this will make my blog beautiful" - "This will increase my traffic" - "This will make me look better" instead of thinking along the lines of "this will make navigation for my readers easier" - "this will help readers find something they want to read" - "this will keep my readers interested".

There is a subtle difference between the two streams of thought. One focuses on what you want, the other focuses on what your readers want- and I think we all know how important attitude is!

"If there is any one secret of success," said Henry Ford, "it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own"
 If you want someone to comment on or follow your blog, why should they do so? Would talking about how feedback makes me happy or how feedback makes my day better or how much love feed back make you want to do it? No it doesn't! Think about it this way.

Reader: Hmm, this blog is nice, I suppose. The posts are average but it has over 50 followers. Perhaps I should leave a comment with my blog linked in it.
Blogger: Please leave a comment! I love comments! They make me happy!
Reader: I know they make you happy- heck they'd make anyone happy! The question is, will you actually look at what I had to say and will you come to my blog and see what I write about too?
Blogger: I have 200 followers! I'm too busy to comment back- did you see the 160 comments on my last post- let alone follow a noob blog like yours that only has 10 follows! I have better things to do!
Reader: Then why should I bother commenting on your post or follow your blog?
Blogger: To make me happy of course!

This is an imaginary conversation a reader has with a blogger who "loves feedback" but hardly ever gives anything in return.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Trying to appreciate your readers before they comment is not a good idea and is fairly annoying if that's your tactic for garnering more comments. What you need to do is offer your readers and incentive to comment and later on, follow. Here are some example for the text that appears before the comment form

Bad: I love comments!
Good: I reply to each and every comment!
Bad: Please share your thoughts on what I wrote!
Good: Please leave a link to your blog so I can comment back!

All this discussion was for new bloggers and new traffic. But how can you get your current followers to engage with you on their blog? Here's a list!

#Give Them Honest Feedback

No, this doesn't mean you point out their errors or start arguing with them. It means you take the best of their post and trying making the blogger feel important. You must be
"...hearty in their appreciation and lavish in their praise..."
No flattery! Sit down and read the post! Think along the following lines.

"What part of this post stood out? What part did I find interesting? How would I describe this post? Did it inspire me in any sort of way? Did it amuse me? Did it remind me of something I used to do myself? Would I like to read something similar again?"

Did anything positive come to your mind? Good! Write it down in the comment section.

#Tag Them in Awards

Here's your chance to talk about the things you love and answer questions made just for you and  keep your readers engaged- because they're the ones who are going to be nominated! Make sure you correctly mention their names, their blog's name and link it properly. It also wouldn't hurt to write a couple of sentences about each nominee- maybe about why you nominated them, what kind of blogger they are or just a heartfelt compliment. Remember, we are aiming for our readers to feel important. Your words should make them realize that you read everything they say and that you are genuinely interested in what their response to your tag/award would be.

#Add Their Blog to Your Blog

There are lots of ways you could do this. Here are three such ways.
  • Swap buttons with your readers
  • Place their blog on the blogfeed widget that can be put on your sidebar
  • Mention their names and blogs on a post that was inspired by something they wrote.

#Utilize Social Media

Do you have links to your twitter/facebook/tumblr/other media? Are you giving out your blog email for contacting? Well and good- but remember, you need to CHECK up on those links too! There WILL be occasional bloggers who tweet to you or decide to email to you (they will be uncommon, or even rare, but they exist. Trust me, I'm one of those random people) but what I've noticed is that once a social media profile is set up for a blog, it is usually abandoned or simply inactive. But- there are some brilliant bloggers out there who are on social media and who actually take the time to reply to you.

One of my favorite bloggers, Riley Sinclair tweets every now and then and I tweet back to her. She's super nice and makes me feel really special when she thanks me for my responses to her updates. Learn from the pro bloggers who make YOU feel worth it. Remember, blogging is a social platform. You're not getting a fan-following on your blog- you're making a circle of friends!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Let's sum up what we're going to try to aim for from today onwards.

*A change of attitude- focusing on what your readers want instead of what you want and find something that satisfies both parties.

*Offer your reader incentives to comment/follow

*Make your readers feel important as an individual blogger.

*Be genuinely interested in your readers and encourage them to talk about their opinions.

 *~*~*~*~*~*~*

Everything highlighted in pink are excerpts from the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

Part Two of this post trilogy will be Content and Consistency.

Did you find anything lacking or any new point that could be added? It would be my pleasure to add your insights and examples to this post (I'll credit you, of course).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

BookShelf" Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore



13538873The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

~Taken from Goodreads

Secret book clubs with an awesome name and ultra cool hide-outs and exclusive membership and activities bordering rituals- how awesome is that?! Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is definitely an interesting tale of book lovers, book societies and books! But that's not all that is discussed. A more pressing issue of ebooks vs physical books is also shown along with the part played by mega corporations which ultimately lead to the decline of the culture of reading and buying books.

Why did I like Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore? I think it's because the writer has taken our world and the world of books and has created a world in between -a world where you can just barely see all the others coinciding and overlapping each other. I just loved the feeling this book gave me- it was inspiring because (this might sound very weird) after reading a book about books, I found myself loving books even more and totally motivated to read tons more! The idea of writing a codex was intriguing and I found myself toying with the idea and concept that the writer had presented.

All in all, this book was really good- not as exciting as you'd think it is, but still satisfying and overall, extremely realistic- a quality not many fictional books seem to be able to pull off *cough*.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Attempting the MCAT

The MCAT examination is a test conducted by the University of Health Sciences, Lahore, abbreviated to UHS. If you want to enter into a government run medical college, you MUST give this test which is held years in August-September. In preparation for this test, many academies spring up with summer MCAT courses where they revise the syllabus given bu UHS. Academies are very popular, with almost 70-100 students in each class at the start of the course.

I personally attended the MCAT session of KIPS academy, a chain school with a branch in G-10 Islamabad and another branch in Rawalpindi while it's roots lie in Lahore.

Despite having tests daily, followed by Full Length Papers (FLPs) afterwards, KIPS has failed to actually inculcate the ability to clear the examination efficiently in students. KIPS focuses more on completing and revising the syllabus, as well as introducing novel questions- as though preparing the students to be able to solve the entire paper. Alongside this, they take (in my opinion) a very extreme approach to the negative grading aspect of the test, by constantly stating "if you don't know the answer, leave it" (nahi ata, chor do) without specifying the maximum number of question you should be allowed to leave.

Perhaps they genuinely think they are equipping their students with enough to solve at least 90% of the paper, thus making guessing unnecessary. However, not all students are such super geniuses (myself included) and most of us are probably only able to correctly solve 50% of the paper, the remaining paper consisting of
  • questions answered incorrectly
  • questions whose answers may be ambiguous or may have two answers that appear correct
  • questions related to topics the student has not studied (something common for A Level students) and thus cannot even produce a probable answer
For all these cases, which I assure you is a majority, the advice I got from KIPS is absolutely stupid and in the heat and pressure of the examination, will be the only reason for your downfall.

So what's the solution? What's actually helpful?

Solve the MCAT in the exact same way that the SAT is solved. Make educated guesses. Solve at least 90% of the paper, don't leave more than fifteen questions blank under any circumstances. Just go with your gut feeling in questions which have two options that look correct to you- chances of success are 50%.

Why adopt the SAT style of solving the MCAT? First of all, the MCAT has much more lenient marking than SAT. Work it out. The SAT scores involve +1 for correct answers and -0.25 for incorrect answers. Convert it to the MCAT scoring (multiply by 5) and you get +5 for correct answers and -1.25 for incorrect answers. What does that mean? The SAT cuts 0.25 marks more than the MCAT, and educated guessing is actually encouraged in SAT- the complete anti-thesis of the fear that MCAT students are given regarding their examination! (The pros of educated guessing are given in more SAT1 books, for example Barron's)

Is this not unbelievable? The negative marking is actually a good thing- you could guess at six questions and if you get only one right, your balance will be at zero! So imagine how many more marks you could score if you made rational and logical guesses- giving you a success chance of 50%!

To sum up, the illogical approach to negative marking taken by academies should be revised. The fear that these approaches breed in students is a major cause of the downfall of otherwise hard-working and capable students who have been cheated of a chance of studying in a medical program.

Tags- MCAT, KIPS Academy Review, How to attempt the MCAT, The Cons of KIPS
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