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Another Way Compassion Can Cure Writer’s Block

When I saw the title of Brandon’s post on compassion and writer’s block earlier today, I instantly had an idea of what the post was about.

But it turns out Brandon had a different take on the topic than I do! So I wanted to add to his ideas in this post, and suggest another way that compassion can cure writer’s block.

What lies at the heart of writer’s block?

I think for each of us, any of a number of issues might cause writer’s block.

There’s exhaustion or burnout, which Brandon dealt with in his post. There’s the sense that you’ve already covered every aspect of your topic. There’s the feeling that there’s nothing new to write. There’s a fear of writing something that others will criticize or disagree with. And then there are distractions—the things we’d rather be doing that sitting inside writing.

I think the variety of “versions” of writer’s block is one of the reasons that we find it so hard to overcome—it seems like there’s no single answer to the problem. I felt this way, too, until I saw Brandon’s post.

How compassion can cure it

As his post suggests, you can cure writer’s block by being kind and compassionate to yourself.

But another approach is to be compassionate to your readers.

Whatever the cause, we tend to feel writer’s block as a pressure to produce—we feel the demands of our blog, or our readers, or the expectations of our peers to create, and do it well, all the time.

But obligation is never a good motivator, and in my experience, while pressure can be a motivator, it tends to burn people out pretty quickly.

Instead of feeling blocked by expectation and demand, why not turn that concept on its head?

As bloggers, our job is to help our audience. So instead of feeling resentment toward the masses waiting on the other side of our blogs to race through our next post, we can approach our writing from a position of compassion:

What can you help your readers achieve today?

How can you show them that you understand their challenges? That you’ve been in their shoes? That you have some advice that could help?

What can you do to make their path easier and clearer? Their lives that little bit simpler or more enjoyable? What’s happened in your life that they might find interesting and relevant?

Turn the block inside out

If you start thinking like this, your reader immediately stops becoming an enemy you need to placate, and can be seen as they truly are: someone who’s looking for understanding and advice.

Instead of focusing on “coming up with answers,” you can focus on the readers themselves, and connect emotionally with them and their individual situations. You know how they feel, because you’ve been there too.

So show them some compassion! Write a post that really hits the nail on the head for them. Record a heartfelt video that explains how you overcame the issue they’re facing. Spend some time doing interpersonal research with actual audience members on social media to get a sense of what’s current for your readers, then sit down to write.

However you play it, a little compassion for your readers can go a long way in inspiring your writing, and helping you to break out of writer’s block not just with publishable content, but content that truly connects through compassion.

How Compassion Cures Writer’s Block‏

This guest post is by Brandon Yawa of BrandonYawa.com.

If you are a writer, I don’t have to tell you how a dark shadow dubbed “writer’s block” hoovers over all your projects like Casper, but in the form of a not-so-friendly ghost. However, I assure you, this phenomenon known as writer’s block is not an apparition that needs a force like Ghostbusters to be removed. In fact, this phenomenon is not a phenomenon at all.

If you were a pro athlete in any sport…

You would know that you could only push the limits of your body so far before your body would give out. In a pro athlete’s world, people call this “overtraining.”

As writers, however, the heaviest weight we lift is our laptop, and our physique is never tested beyond hauling it from café to café. For that reason, we easily forget how overworked our mental faculties can be.

Writing is a mental treadmill that never stops.

The day you set foot on the path of being a writer, you have inadvertently placed yourself on a mental treadmill that has no end. Everything that happens to you, whether it is conscious or subconscious, speeds up or slows down this neverending treadmill.

If you have been writing for ten years, you have been mentally running, jogging and walking on your mental treadmill for 3,650 days straight. That’s enough mileage to make you the new spokesperson for Nike, and definitely enough mental mileage to warrant fatigue.

You are not blocked.

You are mentally fatigued, whether it be from worrying about living up to your last creation, living up to your own expectations, or just living a writer’s life in general.

I will repeat, you are not blocked, you are tired, and rightfully so I might add.

Humans need rest.

It sounds so clichéd to say you need rest, but you do. In order to rest, you have to figure out how to take yourself off that mental treadmill. You have to learn to separate the material you need for writing from the material you need to be human.

5 steps to get off the mental treadmill

1. You have to show yourself compassion

You have to accept that you are mentally tired of the process of writing. Just like you allow yourself to go to sleep, you have to allow yourself time away from writing.

2. Forgive yourself for being unable to write

You have not done anything wrong, and you don’t suffer from a life-threatening disease.

Instead, congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished thus far. Even if it’s only that you got out of bed, opened your laptop and pressed your fingers on the keyboard. Congratulate yourself for trying, and then congratulate yourself for having the compassion to know when you are passed your limits.

3. Don’t allow the outside world to affect how you feel about yourself

You are not a machine whose sole purpose is to produce. Instead, as a human being, you decide what your purpose is. If you choose writing, remember it’s what you chose on your own terms, and that’s how it should remain.

4. Find hobbies that take you away from the writing world

Sometimes just shutting our mind off isn’t enough. We need an object or objects to assist us in shutting off that mental treadmill. See the world, travel your city, play video games, or read books that relax you (not ones that inspire you to write).

5. Learn to love yourself whether you are writing or not writing

Whether you are producing Shakespearean material, or creating child’s play, learning to love yourself totally (the good and the bad) not only gives you an immediate place of refuge, it arms you with a sensitivity that knows when too much is too much.

True compassion starts with the individual before it is shared with the world.

Brandon Yawa is the author of BrandonYawa.com. A blog built to show you new ways to tackle the same old human dilemmas.

What Studying Haikus Taught Me about Writing Blog Posts

This guest post is by Steve of Do Something Cool.

A form of Japanese poetry, haikus have been around for hundreds of years.  Blogging has been around for roughly two decades. 

On the surface, these two different forms of writing don’t have anything to do with each other.  But surprisingly, understanding haikus has taught me a lot about writing blog posts.

The key to a good haiku (and blog post)

I once read that haikus are best described as “a one breath poem that discovers connection.”  That’s about as good a description for haikus as you’re going to find. 

A well-written haiku gets the reader to discover a connection to something new and meaningful.  And the way you do that is by writing from a unique and interesting perspective no one else has seen.

That’s also what makes a good blog post.  A good blog post gets the reader to discover something in a meaningful way through a unique and interesting perspective.

Since I’ve started to study and understand haikus, I’ve taken a new approach to writing my blog posts.  Just like a Japanese haiku writer in the 1800s would have analyzed and observed every angle to find the one perspective no one had considered before, I try to write posts with a similar twist.

My blog posts have now become just as much about discovery as they are in haikus.  It’s not my goal to churn out blog posts just for the sake of publishing something.  I try to offer unique and meaningful posts for both the reader and myself in everything I write.

I’ve been told that a good haiku writer can look at a famous photo thousands of others have seen and written about, but still discover a perspective no one else had previously been able to see.  Who wouldn’t want that ability for writing blog posts?

Often it can seem as if everything has already been written before.  I’ve felt that way at times.  After scanning through thousands of blog posts online, you might ask yourself how you could possibly come up with something new.  Hasn’t everything already been written before?

Understanding haikus has taught me to see things differently.  There are endless ways to write a blog post simply because there are endless numbers of perspectives and viewpoints to write about.  There will never be a point when nothing new can be said about a subject.

Think about it this way: people have been writing haikus for hundreds of years.  There are hundreds of thousands of them that talk about nature alone.  Yet each one can be completely different.

I was in a group of students writing haikus once.  We were looking down at people crossing a busy street.  Each student observed the same scenes and wrote down several haikus each.  It was amazing how varied all the writing was.  Even those students who wrote about exactly the same things could find new and unique ways to write about it.

It comes down to perspective.  Writing haikus teaches you to notice details or angles no one else is seeing.  A dozen people watching one scene on a street could write in twelve different ways.  For the same reason a dozen bloggers could write about one topic in a dozen unique ways.

Of course, not all bloggers do that.  Many repeat what others are already saying without putting their own spin on things.

But you can train yourself to find that unique perspective.  Ask yourself:

  • What is being missed by everyone else?
  • Can something be added or subtracted from everyone else’s opinion to make it new?
  • Is there a bigger or smaller detail that others are failing to notice?
  • Could a different approach to this topic come up with something different?

It helps to think of it this way: writing a haiku is like looking through the lens of a camera.  You can zoom the lens in or out as much as you need to, as long as you eventually find details in the photo that make your perspective unique and new.  It can be a small, important detail or something much bigger.  But it has to be something your camera sees that no other camera has caught before.

Blog posts are a lot like that.  What you write is the lens and the way you approach the topic is the angle of the camera.  Put the two together in an original and interesting way and you have the beginning of a great blog post.

If you were to look back over the past two centuries and explore the millions of haikus that have been written, you would find that the number of perspectives and moments they capture are endless.  The same is also true for blog posts.  And it should be.  After all, you’re working with a lot more words.

Has poetry or literature influenced your blog post writing? Share your unique perspective in the comments.

Steve is the writer behind Do Something Cool where he blogs about travel, motivation, personal growth and adventure.  He’s always looking for ways to make life more interesting.  Get tips on living life to the fullest through his Facebook fan page and Twitter.

Blog Accessibility Essentials: The Complete Guide

This guest post is by Steff Green of the Disabled Shop Blog.

Digital content has opened up a whole new world of possibility for people with print disabilities.

Previously, very little printed material was available in a format that blind and low vision people can access, (Braille, audio or large print), and these formats were costly and time-consuming to produce. But now, adaptive software has meant that content available electronically can be accessed by practically anyone.

With more resources than ever moving online or to electronic formats such as ebooks, people like me with low vision have access to more content than we could ever imagine.

It is estimated that there are around 25 million adults with significant sight loss) in the US today, and more than 285 million people around the world. That’s not including people with other disabilities who use adaptive software to access information, such as learning disabilities or motor impairments.

All these people could be reading your blog, so it stands to reason that you want to make sure they’re able to enjoy everything you have to offer.

A blog is never going to be perfect for everyone. There are so many conditions and disabilities in the world that it’s impossible to cater to all of them. That’s why many people who have disabilities use adaptive technology to help them access the web—they have to create the optimum conditions for themselves.

When creating an accessible website, what you’re trying to do is create a site that’s both easily viewable in its normal state and optimized to perform well when viewed with adaptive software.

As a bonus, an accessible website also happens to be extremely user-friendly for your whole readership, as well as being great for SEO.

What is adaptive equipment?

Adaptive equipment is any type of device that helps an individual perform an activity that they would not otherwise be able to perform due to a physical or mental condition or disability.

A blind person cannot access your blog in the normal way, so they must use some kind of adaptive equipment in order to enjoy your content. The most common piece of adaptive software is a screen reader: a program that reads out websites using synthetic speech for people with vision problems. A person can use keyboard commands to navigate through the site (since using a mouse is impractical).

Other adaptive software includes: zoom software, such as Zoomtext (I used to use this, but since switching to Mac, all the necessary software is inbuilt), Dragon Naturally Speaking. and a refreshable Braille display.

Blind and low-vision users aren’t the only people who need accessible websites. Other users have motor skill issues that make using a mouse difficult, or might have dyslexia and have difficulty understanding text when they read it. Adaptive equipment such as switches and keyboards controlled by the feet, head or other input methods can be used.

Making a blog post accessible

So how do you ensure that your blog is accessible? It may surprise you to learn that creating accessible blog posts is easy, and you’re probably doing a pretty good job already.

But understanding why you format blog posts in a certain way will help ensure that you continue to create accessible blog posts.

Headings

Heading levels are an important part of the functionality of adaptive software. The screen reader can navigate through headings, much like skipping through the chapters in a book. This enables the reader to choose the content they want to read.

Problems arise when bloggers don’t use the heading tags correctly—usually by bolding a heading instead of using an h1, h2, h3, or h4 tag, or by failing to use headings in a cohesive way.

Adaptive software retains the hierarchy of headings, so a user can navigate through post titles (h1) or subtitles within a post (h2) or headings underneath a subtitle (h3-5). But if you don’t use these headings consistently, the reader will become confused.

How can you improve?

  • Always use the heading levels to denote headings—don’t simply place headings in bold.
  • Nest headings correctly, so the heading hierarchy makes sense in a screen reader.

Images

You might wonder how adaptive software deals with images. Screen readers read out the alternative or alt text, and this tells the listener what’s in the image.

So to make your images accessible, you need to ensure each and every one has an alternative text description that explains what’s in the image. It doesn’t have to be long and wordy: “infographic displaying social media stats” is fine, as most of the info will be in the text surrounding that image.

SEO gurus recommend putting your keywords into the alt text, which is definitely a good idea, but only if they make sense in the context of the image.

How can you improve?

  • Ensure every image has an alt text description.
  • Use descriptions to explain what is happening in the text, not just to add keywords.
  • Add titles to your images (this helps with navigation, though it isn’t necessary).

Links

Hyperlinks within your post (and across your whole blog) should be able to be easily read and understood on their own. This is because screen readers can give the user a list of the hyperlinks on a page. Having ten hyperlinks reading “here” doesn’t help the listener figure out where she wants to go.

Meaningful hyperlinks (especially those containing keywords) are also good for SEO, so it’s a good practice to get into.

Links should also open in the same window, as opening extra windows can make navigation cumbersome. On WordPress, you can do this easily by setting the Target at “Open in this Window/Frame” in the Link box.

And, finally, when designing your blog, make sure links stand out from the text. Use bold, underline, and different fonts or colors to distinguish links from your main text. This helps everyone locate your links with ease.

How can you improve?

  • Avoid links like “Click here” and “NOW” and “More”.
  • Ensure the text of hyperlinks provides a meaningful phrase when read out of content.
  • Make sure links are easily visible—by being a different color, bold, and/or underlined.
  • Ensure links open in the same window.

Tiny links and icons

Tiny things are cute: tiny houses, tiny hands and feet, and tiny kittens. But tiny links and icons are just plain difficult. If you have some vision, like me, you may spend several minutes looking for a link or icon on a page, when you’d have found it easily if only it were a little larger.

One of the hardest things to find are those little “X”s or “close” links in the corners of those pop-up boxes (which I also loathe, but more on those in the next section). On some sites, these are practically impossible to see. I’ll click away if I can’t get rid of that box without straining my eyes.

Tiny links are also difficult for people with poor motor control to locate. Likewise, having lots of tiny links close together, such as social media keys on a navigation panel, means your visitors are often clicking the wrong thing by accident. This is frustrating and often forces readers to look for information elsewhere.

How can you improve?

  • Look at your site. Are you links identified visually? Can you easily determine where you are and what the focus of each page is?
  • Can you make hyperlinks longer than one symbol/word so they’re more obvious?
  • Can you make icons larger and use more space between them?

Dynamic elements

Pop-up boxes, slide out menus and other dynamic elements may look great, but they are extremely difficult to navigate.

If you’re slow on the mouse, the panels can disappear before you’ve clicked on the link you require. And those pop-up “sign up to my newsletter” boxes are extremely frustrating, but I understand why some bloggers are reluctant to get rid of them.

How can you improve?

  • Think carefully before using dynamic elements on your website.
  • Test your site by attempting to navigate it using the mouse in your non-dominant hand. If you’re struggling with navigation menus and tiny icons, maybe it’s time to improve your design.
  • Ensure your site is coded correctly so adaptive software users can easily skip past or stop dynamic elements such as menus or updating Twitter feeds.

Captcha

Okay, captcha services are one of my pet accessibility peeves. They seem to be getting progressively illegible, with letters layered on top of one another, squashed up like they’ve gone through a sausage machine, or struck through with so many lines and swirls they’re impossible to read.

You might say, “Oh, but there’s that audio button beside it. That makes captcha accessible.” Which is a fair comment. Except, have you ever tried to use the audio function? Half the time it doesn’t work, and the rest of the time it’s so garbled it’s impossible to understand.

How can you improve?

  • Choose captcha screens that are readable: letters and numbers spaced apart with a non-distracting background, and small letters instead of capitals.
  • Choose services without sloping letters.
  • Use a tick-box that says “Uncheck if you’re human,” or another, non-captcha method of determining spam from legitimate comments.

Other tips for improving blog accessibility

  • Have you created an audio or video post? It would be awesome if you could also provide a transcript and captions, so that everyone could enjoy the information in their preferred format.
  • Using blockquotes to identify longer quotes helps those using a screen reader to distinguish between your voice and someone else’s.
  • Instead of using the dash—or other symbols—to show items in a list, use the ordered or unordered list tags. The screen reader can then tell the listener that the items are in a list.
  • Unplug your mouse. Now try to navigate through your site. Can you do it? Where do you get stuck? That’s the same place that will trip up adaptive software.

By following these simple rules, you’re creating accessibility best practice on your blog, and ensuring that more people are able to access and enjoy your content.

It only takes a few extra minutes to check that your blog posts are accessible, and after a few weeks, accessibility will become second nature.

The more you learn about accessibility, the more you come to understand and appreciate how different people access information, and this makes you a better—and more considerate—blogger.

Accessibility resources

Steff Green is a legally blind freelance writer, blogger and illustrator. She writes about disability news, adaptive equipment and advocacy for the Disabled Shop Blog. Check out her latest post on Christmas Gift Ideas: Children’s Books about Disability.

Planning for the Year Ahead: My Approach on dPS and ProBlogger

I’ve had a lot of questions about the process my team and I go through to plan for a new year of blogging on dPS and ProBlogger, so I’ve put together a bit of an explanation of what happened at our recent planning day:
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