Have you Pressed Publish yet?

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Press Publish in Portland, OR.

Press Publish in Portland, OR.

I’ve been on WordPress since at least 2007 (maybe earlier, but my aging memory doesn’t go back that far), but in all honesty my blogging journey was really launched on Google’s Blogger.com. In fact, it wasn’t until well into my tenure here as a Happiness Engineer at Automattic that I finally took down my Blogger site and moved everything here to WordPress.com. I still have a few self-hosted sites that I maintain (namely this one), though, and have been passionate about WordPress and its credo of open source software since I built my first, admittedly primitive self-hosted site in the mid-’00s.

Still, until I volunteered at last year’s WordCamp San Francisco, I’d never attended a WordCamp or even a WordPress meetup. I’d been evangelizing WordPress for years and built client sites exclusively on the platform, but the WordCamp universe always eluded me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was running a business, volunteering, taking care of a busy household with a professional spouse and 4 active dogs, and otherwise living a pretty full life – I still found plenty of time to attend networking events and even the occasional out-of-town client meeting or conference. But a local meetup of fellow WordPress enthusiasts? I dunno, it just didn’t appeal to me.

I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t so much the busy schedule that kept me from attending, but rather this perception that the meetups and WordCamps were all populated largely by technically savvy developers and designers, the kind of folks who literally spoke a different language and generally dwelt in the deeper parts of a software that I wouldn’t dare go.

Sure, I’d built plenty of sites, but I used premade templates and taught myself basic php — just enough to add a function or two, maybe tweak a design feature here and there. But my sites — all for small, local businesses or microentrepreneurs with miniscule budgets — were a result of some basic hacking on my part and a little help from a more tech-savvy developer friend.

I couldn’t imagine what I’d have in common with the folks who attended a WordPress meetup. I’m a writer. What do I know about plugin development and APIs?

Of course, now that I work closely with developers and designers in my everyday job, they’re not so mysterious anymore. Sure, 75% of what they talk about whiz right over my head (insert whooshing noise here), but my comfort level just being around them is so much higher now. I don’t mind asking questions, pleading ignorance, and sometimes even diving in and exploring some bits of code when it drifts by my desk. I have no desire to ever be a programmer, but it’s not quite the black box it used to be. Now, I’ve not only attended a few WordCamps but have even spoken at a couple of them. In fact, god forbid but I’m also part of the organizing committee for the DFW WordCamp coming up in the fall.

And yet.

I’m still a writer at heart. Not a content contributor or content marketer or whatever Fast Company uses now to refer to words or text strung together to deliver a message or tell a story. I like reading blogs, writing posts, and meeting other bloggers. One of the best features of WordPress.com is the Reader, which makes it so easy to keep up with my favorite bloggers and even discover new ones via the Freshly Pressed and Recommended Blogs sections.

And now, with the Press Publish series of WordPress conferences exclusively devoted to the storytellers and bloggers who use WordPress, I’ve found yet another reason to be excited about being a part of the community.

I not only attended but also spoke and helped out behind the scenes at both the inaugural event in Portland in late March as well as the most recent one in Phoenix this past weekend. The organizers packed each one-day event with a tight, carefully curated schedule of brilliant speakers and workshops, all focused on providing attendees with both information and inspiration on how they can become better bloggers and writers.

My own talks were on social media, DIY PR, and a little bit on how to make money from blogging (affiliates, ads, ecommerce). I’d like to think that most attendees found some useful tidbits of information from my presentations, but really, every workshop, tutorial, and speaker presentation was well-attended. I’m not sure that a lot of folks were especially interested too much in the monetization aspect of blogging, which is so alien to me, coming from a heavily PR- and marketing-focused universe where everyone wants to become the next Dooce.com and rake in a million dollars a year in advertising fees. In other words, I loved it. Thank god they only gave me 15 minutes for the monetization session. I don’t think I got more than one question about that topic in each city.

Yes. Writers. I so ❤ that it was all about writers.

Automattic is evaluating the Press Publish series to see if it’s something that we can and should continue, but in the meantime the videos for each event should be online very soon. If you’re a blogger and are interested in attending a future event — assuming we have others — be sure to follow the event’s official site to get the latest updates.

The Weird Things I Find Oddly Amusing #3,539

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I used to write a weekly column for a local paper when I lived in Colorado. The town leaned heavily conservative, and being a liberal, proud feminist of color, I received my fair share of nasty letters and the occasional death threat.

I was still surprised, though, when an email landed in my Inbox an entire year after I’d already stopped writing for the paper and had moved back to Dallas. What surprised me wasn’t the content but the fact that this reader felt such a burning desire to hurl virtual flaming torches at me for a column I’d long since forgotten already. This much, I remember: it was about abortion.

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What I found most amusing was that he actually thought I’d be remotely interested in engaging him by responding to the email.

Er, no. But it does make good blog fodder.

My latest favorite book (and inspiration)

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CT daily-rituals01.jpgI finished reading Mason Currey‘s Daily Rituals recently. It’s one of those books that you have to read with a highlighter in one hand and a hot cup of tea or coffee in the other. A notebook might be nice, too, but it’s not required.

I can’t remember how I first heard about this book (probably from Arts & Letters Daily, one of two websites I must read every single day if I’m going to feel complete before I tuck in at night — the other one being NPR.org), but I’m sure that when it happened, I must have immediately opened a browser tab and searched for it on Amazon. I went to several Barnes & Noble shops over the next few weeks, but not one of them had a copy. I guess I could have called each one rather than wasting so much time and gas traipsing from one to the other, but I like going to bookstores. Bookstores are my Tiffany’s — nothing bad could ever happen to you in there. You get rid of the mean reds, blues, violets, and blacks.

Except, of course, if you don’t find what you’re looking for, which was the case in my search for Currey’s book.

I wanted to give my local bookstore a chance to make me happy, especially after the disappearance of not one, but all of the brick-and-mortar bookstores in my town last year, but I finally gave in and ordered it from Amazon.com. Once I had it in my hands, I devoured it in two sittings.

It’s actually a pretty short, quick read. Currey collected interviews, essays, and vignettes about various creatives — over 200 of them — from Stephen King to Henri Matisse, Somerset Maugham to Twyla Tharp. You can dive in and read a one- or two-page written snapshot of how each creative professional worked, their routines and habits, even their tools. It’s not meant to be a little encyclopedia of artists, and Currey doesn’t really even bother explaining who these notable figures are. If you pay any attention at all to the worlds of arts and literature, you will likely at least have a passing familiarity with just about everyone featured in this book (Louise Bourgeois, Friedrich Schiller, Knut Hamsun, and Maira Kalman, are just a handful of folks mentioned whom I had to look up on Wikipedia), but really, it’s not really necessary.

Currey goes into intimate detail with many of his subjects, from Picasso’s habit of sleeping late and rising late as well, getting to his studio by 2pm to begin his work of the day; to Alexander Graham Bell’s own regimen of working around the clock, which he eventually had to modify to take his wife’s pregnancy into consideration. If you’re looking for techniques on how to be creative, or tips on how to call forth the muse when you’re stuck on a paragraph or a blank canvas, you’re better off looking elsewhere.

What I got instead, however, was a deep appreciation for the sacrifices artists must make in order to engage in the hard, unrelenting work of creating something: a book, a painting, a piece of music, or a piece of software. Austin-based writer, artist, and blogger Austin Kleon frequently laments the creative’s practice of sharing only finished work with the world and hiding all the messy, gut-wrenching process that made that work possible. Currey’s answer to that was this book, a wide-open door into what artists throughout history have had to do in order to make time and room for the act of creation in their lives. Whether it meant working feverishly around the margins of a day job, or a family’s demands, or crafting a rigid schedule of daily hours, these folks got it done.

I have it on my desk now as a reference, right next to a lot of history books and notebooks (and receipts, pens, random Post-Its, and folders), and dip into it frequently. I’m still working on a schedule that works for me and the many things I juggle with on a daily basis (home, work, dogs, volunteering, extended family needs, reading, and writing), and this book reminds me that others with far more demands on their time were able to carve out the space in their lives to make art.