Blogging to adventure!
By BECKY MUSHKO

Suggestions for New Bloggers:
  • Have several possible titles in mind in case your first choice is taken.
  • Decide on your theme/purpose before setting up a blog.
  • Write your blog entries in advance so you can copy and paste.
  • Decide on your blog’s look. Blogger offers several templates.
  • Keep your blog simple; don’t add with music (unless you’re a musician), special effects, or anything else that detracts from your message.
Four Free/Inexpensive Blogs
  • Blogger
  • Eponym: Basic package, which includes 10MB of storage and 100MB per month of bandwidth, is free, but upgrades start at $4.95 per month for 200 MB Disk Space and 1 GB Monthly Bandwidth.
  • Word Press: No tutorial. I don’t know much about this one.
  • LiveJournal: Five account types: Free, Early Adopter, Sponsored+, Paid, and Permanent. All LiveJournal accounts can use LiveJournal core features, such as posting entries and comments, customizing journal appearance, and participating in communities. For additional features, you can purchase a Paid Account (benefits) or upgrade to a Sponsored+ Account (benefits).

I first heard about blogs a couple of years ago at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Blogs --on-line journals, diaries, open for the world to read -- were touted as a way for writers to build a readership. Later, at various writers’ conferences, I kept hearing, “Every writer ought to have a blog.”

I already had a website, so I wasn’t sure I needed a blog. Did I really want to tell strangers about my life, thoughts, etc.? I decided to do a bit of research. I read some blogs about writing and literature. Some were boring and self-serving. Others were doggone interesting. Some were an education in publishing.

Eventually, I started reading non-writer blogs--ones by families who posted pictures of their kids’ activities, angry young people who flung their angst into cyberspace, folks telling their family histories so the stories won’t be lost, folks with an agenda--you name it, somebody has blogged it.
I discovered the Ageless Project , in which bloggers can list their blogs by the decade in which they were born. I read a few blogs from my decade—the 1940s—and found them interesting and informative.

Then I looked at other decades. If 93-year-old Donald Crowdis could blog, maybe I could too. If  “Incendiary Granny” could shoot “sparks straight from the hip for better than eight decades,” maybe I also had some blogger ammo. If Ralph Leonard was still playing in his “Last Quarter—Game of Life”, maybe I could play, too.

Leonard identifies his blog as “musings of an old goat,” and then adds, “Reason tells me I am straining at the upper time limits of this game we were thrust into so many years ago. But I remain curious about all sorts of things. I find that the physical discomfort of living is totally overcome by the joys of living, learning, and loving. Every dawn gives promise of a new adventure.”

Ready to blog
After a few months of blog reading, I was ready for a new adventure: I wanted to blog.

I logged on to Blogger--one of the free blog sites and reportedly one of the easiest ones to use--and read the tutorial. Several times.

Posting a blog didn’t look terribly difficult. A few clicks was all it took. I could even pre-write my posts in a word-processing document and then copy and paste.

Since I write and live in the country, I chose “ruminations on writing and rural living” for my blog’s theme. Everything I blogged would be about those two subjects. Later I added “and occasionally a border collie” to include the adventures of my pup Maggie.

Because I write the humor column “Peevish Advice” for the Smith Mountain Eagle and because I live (and write) in Penhook, I called my blog “Peevish Pen.” Luckily no one else was using that name, so my blog’s URL became http://peevishpen.blogspot.com.

I studied the plethora of templates that Blogger offered. Finally I picked “Scribe” because it looked writerish. Some other templates were customizable, but I wanted a simple blog with a design that looked business-like and organized. I didn’t want visuals to overwhelm my words.

Because Blogger requires users to sign in every time they post or edit, I picked a username and password that I could easily remember--and then wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. While Blogger now comes in a Beta version with more bells and whistles, the original version has everything -- and more -- than I need. I especially like three user-friendly features:

Anonymity (or not): Blogger allows a user to remain anonymous. At first I identified myself only by first name. Then I decided if the object of my blog was to make me and my books more visible, I should identify myself. Now my blog header identifies me as Becky Mushko.

Reader Interaction: Users can choose unmoderated comments, moderated comments, or no comments. At first I chose no comments. Then I chose to moderate any comments that someone leaves. Consequently, I get an email message from Blogger whenever someone leaves a comment. Then I click to approve its posting or disapprove. So far, I’ve approved all the comments that individual posters left, but I’ve refused a couple of blatantly commercial comments from companies.

Ease of Use: The picture uploading instructions are straightforward, and three size and placement options allow all the flexibility I need for picture placement. Blogger allows copying and pasting of text from a word processing document, a feature that not all blogs offer. Blogger also allows easy editing or deletion of posts.

Other area bloggers
Several of my writer friends also have blogs. Marion Higgins, author of “When Men Move to the Basement” and who lives on the Blackwater River, blogs about “retirement, writing, puppies, and whatever else strikes my fancy”.

Smith Mountain Lake resident Jack Rupert, who for years has entertained members of Lake Writers with his stories about being a kid in the 1930s, blogs his childhood memories. His kids and grandkids, scattered all over the US, can share in his memories.

So can his friends. Huddleston resident Sally Roseveare, author of “Secrets of Spawning Run,” discovered a high school teacher still lived when she blogged about finding his book.

Sometimes blogs lead to bigger and better things. The October 2006 issue of Prime Living featured an article about Fred First, whose “Fragments From Floyd” blog  became his book, “A Slow Road Home.”

While many blogs are public, some are private. Some have more than one person who posts messages. Group blogs enable family members to keep in touch or friends with a common interest to share ideas.

Getting started as a blogger takes a couple of hours to get the hang of what all the blogging features are, to become comfortable with how things work, and to learn what icon does what. But it isn’t really difficult. After a day or two, you’ll be posting your entries in minutes.

Blogs aren’t just for writers; they’re for anyone who wants to post a message to family, to friends, to the world.

Becky Mushko is writer-in-residence for Roanoke County Schools.

Comments or questions? E-mail to comments@primeliving.net.