More on my writing

The Refugee Trading Post

I am part of a constituency group in Victoria. I was contacted to streamline the system used to connect people with items to donate with those people who are helping refugee families come to Victoria.

I built a database driven system to connect users so that all of this outpouring of charity does the most good.

I have a compulsion to write. I have written since I could first get my hands on a typewriter over 40 years ago. In my teens, I wrote a game system with my nerd friends. I turned to writing a lot of fiction (science fiction, horror, some fantasy before contemporary pieces). I have written movie reviews, oped pieces, how-tos, radio scripts, TV scripts, movie scripts, plays-- you name it, I've done it.

Some of my earlier fiction is available here on my earlier site under the pen name of "Mike DeWolfe". I will soon be shuffling that material over to my current Shawn DeWolfe website. When that is fully populated, I will link to it.

More of my writing about writing

Shawn DeWolfe - Writing

Contests Create Losers

I got my first publication credit in 1986. Three years prior to that, my friends and I obsessively poured our souls into a roleplaying game called “Terra-3” -- kind of a train smash of Star Wars, Star Trek and several literary franchises (a dash of Dune; a sprinkle of Heinlein; etc.). It would have been fun, but it never saw the light of day in finished form. We had endless drafts and evolutions. By the time we stopped, it was a nifty little system. >>NERD ALERT<< Games in the day were on a “3d6” system (what would be latter considered the “d20” system) or a percentile system (0 is lousy; 100 is awesome). By the time our invention was done, we had a base-50 system. The average human scored 25 in his stats. That system shook hands with the metric system. If some stats were added together, you had weights (in kg), baseline heights (in cm), etc.. Great system, but it never came out. I discovered several years ago, that I became the unofficial keeper of all that excellent junk when I found it buried in one of my old boxes.

I popped my cherry on writing through Terra-3. I liked the idea of winding stories., At the start, Terra-3 was page after page of stats. 1983 was the spreadsheet Dark Ages. What we sweated over for hours, could have been done in 15 minutes. Eventually, the prose came. In the meantime, I did a lot of game rules writing and really got into that. I thought the idea of submitting stuff for publication was an unassailable thing. Instead, it was easy. I would write a pitch letter and send it through. The magazine or game company would come back with their response. Sometimes, it was a “no thanks” but often I got the thumbs up.

Flushed with my gaming success, I tried to break into fiction. That was a great wall of sadness. I actually collected a big dresser drawer full of rejection slips. I should have tossed them, but instead I held onto them for years. They were a good reminder: if I succeed, it’s because I took so many swings before I got it right. Looking back at those rejection slips, I realized why my work was not accepted. It was bad. It was very bad.

Eventually, I got busy-- too busy to write. No fiction. Very little non-fiction. All of my time went into labourous emails and documentation. More recently, it has gone into Facebook screeds. I would actually like that to taper off. After I am done my 90 days of blogging, I will keep in the practice of writing, but I blog much less and turn my attention to my other projects (helping to get an excellent candidate elected mayor; how-to ebooks; how-to articles; and that Neanderthal novel).

When I got back into writing more last year, I wanted to turn out creative stuff as well as the how-tos and think pieces. I took a safe bet. I started to consider contests. Writing contests are the Old Dutch potato chips of submissions. You shouldn’t. You will regret it and still, you do it. I like Places For Writers But when I should be zooming over to the “Calls” section, I went to the “Contests.” I look back to when I was younger. I didn’t consider contests. I only considered places to pitch. Each year’s Writers Market was my Bible for 365 days. I would pitch articles and get them accepted. More recently, I would pitch via email and get accepted. Why, oh, why would I consider contests? I think because it’s safe and I am timid, now, in my old age. There is prestige from winning something high profile. What I think is more high profile, is the affluence that comes with writing a lot and earning a lot. (Call me silly). My quest has always been to turn my work into money. Instead, I considered spending money to get a preferred seat. Something that felt like a safe bet. The entry fee doesn’t buy me a better chance. Anything but. As a man who has had to fill magazines with submissions, sometimes there is not enough to go to print. When you make a general submission, you may find your suitable work filling a niche. I swear that disaffection with the print medium has pushed a lot of people (irony alert) into blogging and self-publishing instead of submitting their work for publication.

I am going to turn back to professional writing as a sideline in a few weeks. When I do, I am going to stick to my personal commitment: “No contests.”

7 July 2014, 8:44pm

Blogging for Fun and Profit - Part 3 - Marketing and Exposure

Marketing and Exposure If a tree blogs in the forest will anyone reblog it? When writers turn to blogging, they often do it to gain a voice and work to attain some popularity. Some bloggers have a pre-built audience when they start. If you’re like me, you have to build that popularity from scratch. You have to prepare for popularity and then push it out there into the respective channels.

Prepping For Popularity

In your site design, you can make your content easy to share with a few easy steps.


Make your site’s content catchy. Be a little bit lurid-- you’re not gunning to be the next New York Times, you’re gunning to run the next Buzzfeed or Huntington Post. Sedate approaches will have less impact. Make your site easy to read. All of the good technology and earnest marketing will not counteract a hard to read website. Look at the design piece from last week for more about design.


Inside of every web page there is the HTML source code. The source code has a preamble element called the head. It holds lots of supporting information. Of special importance, it holds “metadata.” Metadata talks to search engines and other automation systems to convey what the page is all about. Don’t miss the opportunity to implant useful information in there to be sucked up by search engines.

Most content management systems have extensions available that can be used to make your site ideal for search engine uptake. Using a plugin or module (“SEO By Joost” for WordPress; “Meta Tags” for Drupal; “SEO & Metadata” for Joomla) you can make your site friendly to search engines. When in use, make sure these extra fields are well used. Fill out as much as to can to give your content special relevance.

Sharing Tools

Make you content easy to share. To do this, you need to make your website easy to share by placing links on your website and dressing them to make them obvious. Some content management systems have this sharing capacity built in. The web service has a set of sharing tools you can add to your website.

Routes to Popularity

Once you have your content and a design made for easy uptake, you need to get the word out.

Social Sharing

Ten years ago, this would have been a tertiary approach at best. Google used to rule the roost with the majority of traffic coming in via Google. Nowadays, social sharing is the main conduit for new pageviews. You need to share your posts with others. I usually share them in two directions: to friends (read: Facebook) and to strangers who are listening (read: Twitter).

Organic Search

An organic search is a search that generates traffic results without going through paid advertisements. These are often considered more earnest and worthwhile.

With one busy website I used to do a lot of work for saw 55% of their traffic come in via Google. Nowadays, Google gives me 4% of the by blog’s traffic. For others who are much more keyword rich content, they can see a large share of the traffic come in from keyword searches. Well scoring content can remain in a good position for some time.

Paid Search

Paid search is traffic obtained through banner advertising and other paid placements. Paid search can be really effective in getting instant trap, but I find it’s like taking a hair dryer to a balloon. Once you get it going, traffic flows. As soon as you stop paying, the traffic goes away.

If you want to pay for love, there are some some good places to go for cheap traffic -

Blog Directories

You can list blog in one of the many blog directories that exist. The number of blog directories has died off a little. This is a link to a decent number of existing blog directories. Some of these directories cost money to submit to. Even if you have the budget and real desire to get listed, I would say, “don’t pay for love.” I have to think that eventually Google and other search engines will discriminate against paid listings. if you have to pay for a listing, it could actually set you back.


Join a blogging group. I am part of several blogging groups. These groups share tips. They urge fellow members on. Ultimately, they help each other. One of these groups is Blogging for Business. There are a number of blogging support groups out there, especially groups to support niche bloggers. Track one down. If you can join one of those groups, then join, play along and try to get some exposure.

The Chaser

Ask people if they want to be “on your list” -- a mailing list. Hang out a “subscribe” form on every page of your site. When you build a list of followers push them cool stuff. Give them extras. Give them your content before you post it to your blog. And monetize. Give them something to buy from you.

The Bow (Or Is That The Bow?)

Next week, let’s talk about pulling all of these elements together with a common goal of making a good blog that is easy to read, easy to market and easy to turn into a source of revenue.
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

16 June 2014, 7:03pm

Blogging for Fun and Profit - Part 2 - A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

A picture is worth 1000 wordsBlogging is about good prose and links to helpful information. Images are important to the presentation of your content. Here are some tips for how to make images, layout and looks improve the delivery of your message.


The Super Basics

There are some real basics that, just when I assume they’re well known, I get surprised.
  • Images should be made in three formats:
    • GIF: good for tables and line art; bad for photos
    • JPEG: good for photos and it's the all around the middle bowl of porridge
    • PNG: these rock, but they come with a hit. They’re large files but they can be made to be partially transparent. I like them, but if a site is slow to load, it may be because of a run amok love of portable network graphics.
  • Make sure your image is small enough to fit into your blog.

The Other Stuff

  • Make sure your image matches the subject matter. Don’t go so generic that the image could be coupled with anything.
  • Use an image you have rights to use. Take the photo yourself. Or source out Creative Commons images. More on Creative Commons.
  • Make sure you use an alt tag and a title tag in your image call. For example <img src=”example.jpg” title=”Example image” alt=”Example image” /> these tags will be picked up by web browsers used by people with accessibility issues. Likewise, search engines will read these tags and this practice apply context to the image.

A Tale of Three Images

With all of my blog posts, I build three images minimum:
Teaser Image: My front page puts small images beside the teaser text for each post. I have a rule that the images are all 200-pixels wide and then I play with the height to suit the image. You may want to have may all of your images set to a consistent width and height.
Headline Image: I put a large image at the top of my posts. Headline images set the tone for the piece that follows.
Social Media Image: When you share your post on social media, you need an appropriate image that will be coupled with your post. Ideally, you need to have two images, a small image referenced by og:image should be at least 200 pixels in both dimensions.
When you share your post ... you need an appropriate image that will be coupled with your post.< /a>< /div> The large version of the image should be preferably 1500 pixels by 1500 pixels. When you post these large images to the likes of social media, they will crop the top and bottom of the image-- keep this in mind, otherwise you might see some unfortunate cropping. Images will be often downsized to 470 pixels wide by 245 pixels tall. In Drupal, you can add the social media message to the Meta Tags functionality. In WordPress, the SEO By Joost plug-in allows for the coupling of your image to your post for uptake by social media sharing.



I remind myself of this time and again: break up your text. Too often do I have a long complex and interconnected idea that fits inside of one paragraph. If a paragraph fills a page; or if the content is overtly dry, you have to break it up a little.
Ways to break up a long pieces of text:
  • sever the paragraph where you can get away with it.
  • snug in a small image, right aligned.
  • use a callout to pull out some winner phrase or factoid.
  • lists (see what I just did?)


Writing for the web is decidedly different from print. In print, columns are a necessity, but pages are only magazine or broadsheet sized, they go on and on. Novices to the web will think the concept of columns map into print. What they usually miss is that additional columns are common, but they contain sidebar information that take people away from actual piece; or add backgrounder information related to the piece. If you have to make some scroll to read down the page, that’s a fail.

Call Outs

My vision is shot. On a bad day, I may only read call outs-- those big excerpts of wisdom is articles. You can add those into your blog posts. More than that, you link them to Twitter as words of wisdom.

<div style="width: 200px; font-size: 18px; font-weight: bold; float: left; margin: 10px;"><a href="" target="twitter">Tip #1 : The price you set on yourself intrinsically affects how customers value you as a freelancer.</a></div>

If you don’t feel like making a call-out, I’m here to help! I built
a little call out builder!


The Theme

Make sure your blog’s theme is mobile friendly-- that is commonly described as “responsive.” For the sake of consistency, you may have to compromise your design just a little: some whitespace may have to persist when you show off your blog on a high resolution view if you want the small mobile view to have some passing resemblance to the large version.

The Colors

Everyone has favorite colors. Black text on white is a classic, but you can consider other combinations that play well together. Go with a color scheme that is easy to see at a glance. Even if your blog is about pirate booty, think carefully before you cast your brown text on a stained treasure map background.

The Font

Use a font that is generally available on all browsers: Arial, Times New Roman-- they’re safe bets. If feel like you’re up for it, your font can be a web delivered font. Some services off web fonts for a small fee. Google offers web font for free:

In the quest to deliver good content, try to remember images, looks and the layout.
Image is compliments of Pixabay. Pixabay, let's go for a beer sometime.

9 June 2014, 12:17pm

Blogging for Fun and Profit - Part 1

I started publishing online in 1996. I wrote all of these nifty pages. More than once, my site has been nuked through various cataclysms-- more often than not, the old content got buried under sedimentary layers of newer content. I love information architecture and good site structures. When I looked at the older incarnations of my site and the jumble of buried stuff, I winced.

The current incarnation of my blog has been clean, clear and concise. Here are some tips for how to get your site into good shape. In the first of three parts, here are some of the basics about my take on blogging. After this intro, I will do a follow-up piece of the technicalities of blogging; and then a piece about publicizing your blog.

Choose a decent platform. I do a lot of development with Wordpress. I also do a lot with Drupal. Drupal is flexible and extensible. I like that I can build report like structures called, “Views.” I can make elaborate content types. I can organize and display it in cool ways. The best part of Drupal: “Meta Tags.” The module will let you make your site ideal for uptake by search engines and sharing via social media. I selected a responsive theme that made the site look good on all devices. There are some other add-ons that lean on, but you can have a successful blog with a handful of strong modules.

Choose a decent host. Speed matters. Choose a host that can deliver your site at a good speed. This blog’s hosting speed is a little sluggish. I souped it up using the CloudFlare service to improve its delivery. CloudFlare is a "CDN" or a "Content delivery network" - it sits between your website and your users to change the delivery of content (pages, images, style sheets) to make them come from a speedier and often closer resource. Blogs are less interactive than e-commerce sites, so you can get away with a CDN with little jeopardy.

Choose a vibe. Because of my schedule, I am round robining through a number of topics. The sampler method isn’t ideal (yet, here we are… here. we. are.). Pick a range of topics that fit you and your interests. Make sure that your range of topics has legs. Make sure your range of topics can connect with an audience. Positivity rules, so if you cannot write 50 positive pieces on a theme, that topic doesn’t have legs. You don’t have to write them all at once-- just have the capacity to write them eventually.

Scribble. I use and abuse Google Docs. Whenever you have a blog idea, slam it into Google Docs. Fish one of those out and turn it into a full piece when you need new material. Unlike Drupal and WordPress, you can post an article, share it for comments, fleshing out and editing. When you have a good final version, cut it from Google Docs and paste it into your blog to take it the last coupe miles.

Blog on a schedule. I am in the middle of a 90-day challenge. It’s a little grueling. Find a schedule that fits with your lifestyles. Ideally: blog weekly or semi-weekly. Blogging on a monthly basis is too infrequent. You can put out a whole newsletter monthly, but people are not going to tune back into the planetary alignment of your blogging event.

Tune next Monday for the next installment.
Image compliments of Pixabay

2 June 2014, 4:18pm

50 Places To Write

I have made Mondays my unofficial "writing day" on my blog. This week, 50 places where you can write for some reward. I did have a bigger list than this, but I just went through that list and weeded out the duds. Likewise, I took out all of the one that everyone know about. oDesk? I bet you know them, you use them or you hate them. I made no promises beyond my one pledge: "These links worked an hour ago."

26 May 2014, 9:49am