Jun 19 2004

A Writer Starts From Scratch – Learning to Blog for the Non-Techie

My wife Amy – who is a writer – decided she wanted to try blogging (both reading and writing). She’s intrigued by my fascination with blogging and thought it might be easier than trying to get her novel published, especially since she’d have to finish it first.

I decided that rather than set her up, I’d watch while she went up the learning curve. Amy’s comfortable with computers (she’s no luddite), but she lusts for the days of DOS and WordPerfect (“DOS was good enough – what was wrong with F7 to exit WordPerfect – Lotus Agenda was so cool!”). So – this would be an interesting experiment and would be insightful for anyone who is a non-techie and is thinking about creating a blog.

We sat down in front of her computer at 11:15am this morning. I suggested that she start by setting things up to be able to get RSS feeds and read blogs. I recommended NewsGator since she spends much of her time in Outlook doing email or in Word writing stuff.

From the NewsGator site, she went to download the trial software. NewsGator determined that she needed to update her Windows configuration (she’s still running Windows 2000 Professional), so we started that process. The magic Microsoft technology ground away for a while updating “critical” things and eventually rebooted her computer (boy – her computer is slow – Ross – defrag, more RAM!)

Back to the NewsGator site to download the trial (11:40am). Lots more downloading (.NET Framework, NewsGator, etc.). “So far this hasn’t been super-exciting,” says Amy. Finally, it’s done.

(11:50am) We open Outlook. The NewsGator trial page comes up and Amy digs in. She got about halfway through the NewsGator tutorial and decided that was enough and it was time to start using it.

We added a couple of blogs (mine, Jenny Lawton, Jerry Colonna). She gets the reader side quickly.

“How do I find blogs about writing?” asks Amy. I suggested she try searching Google. “You won’t believe this, but I don’t think I’ve ever used Google.” Google gets another new user and Amy immediately finds a bunch of things that are potentially relevant. We surf around writingblog.org and writtenroad.com. “I have a hard enough time keeping up with the stuff I’m already reading,” ponders Amy.

She’s got it (12:25pm) – time to go create a blog.

I showed Amy some Typepad sites and some Blogger sites. She chooses Typepad because it both looked nicer and had a bunch of list options (she loves lists). “Will this mean that anyone can see my blog?” Amy asks with trepidation. After I respond yes, she says “well – then I won’t put anything interesting on my blog yet until I decide whether I want my thoughts to be public.”

We go to Typepad (12:40am) and set up a trial account (we chose Basic for $4.95 / month rather than Pro at $14.95/ month, even though Amy wanted “the best one”). There is a little agony over the name – she settles on anchorpoint.blogs.com (“It feels so permanent to have to choose this now.”).

The first obvious option is “Create a Weblog”. Amy decides to name the blog “Thoughts in Random Patterns“. Weblog folder stymies her for a while as she thinks of something better than “thoughts_in_random_patterns”. She settles on “amythoughts”.

It’s time to create a post – she titles it “First Thought, Best Thought”. She creates a category called “Writing”. “This is kind of fun”, says Amy (the first time so far this morning that she has used the happy Amy voice). Her first blog is a typical “hello world / testing” type of post. She hits publish (and the anticipation of the blog taking shape).

We “View Site”. “How do I change my colors and stuff?” I suggest she try “Design”. “I’m going to spend more time messing around with formatting than writing.” She settles on Classy. Amy notices the “Email me” link. “I don’t want people to email me – what if they send me horrible stuff?” We go to Design->Contents and delete the “Email me” link.

I suggest she gets rid of the “Powered by Typepad” link (“It’s a stupid link”). “But doesn’t it help them?” says Amy (ok – she’s a girl and I’m a boy).

We struggle with category archives a little. Eventually, she figures out that she needs to go to Configure->Archives. She also changes from Monthly to Weekly archives.

Amy starts playing with Typelists (“What’s a Typelist – I like lists”). Being a writer, she immediately starts playing around with book lists. (1:00pm). “Cool – let’s create a new list”. She now has “First Novels” and “Good Books” as lists.

We finally get to “Ordering” the page. She understands this immediately (having looked at a few blogs) and moves stuff around to put in it in a nice layout.

I get up to go to the bathroom and when I come back Amy is editing her first post to make it a little deeper than “Hi – here I am”.

“How do I put in the HTML stuff?” I describe why she’d want to create a link which she figures out quickly (she once helped write a book on HTML), gives it a shot and says “got it – that’s fantastic” – as she links to Jerry Colonna’s blog.

It’s 1:20pm. She’s madly typing away at the first blog entry – editing it, twirling her hair as she thinks – staring pensively at the monitor. I power up my Movable Type page and edit my “Blogs I Read” list to include Amy’s new blog.

At 1:25pm, she hits Save. After reading the blog after it’s published, she decides to make some changes and fiddles around a little more. By 1:30pm, she’s done.

Welcome, my love, to the world of blogging.