#FixThatBlog – Understanding Your Blog’s History

No matter how bad you think your current blog is, it has a history. You have posted on it in the past— maybe you posted the ‘wrong’ things, or you are embarrassed by what you posted, or your blog has had few readers, comments or visitors— but your blog has a history and now it is time to assess that history.

If you have a blog on WordPress or Blogger, your blog has ‘stats’ built in. You can check these stats at any time. You can find out how many page views or unique visitors your blog had today— or you can check your blog’s all-time history. What blog posts have been the most viewed?

Now, your oldest blog posts have had the most time to accumulate history and so they will have the most views and visitors. But some posts have done better than others posted at or near the same time. What are those posts about? And how do the topics of those posts relate to your major blog topic, or niche?

If you have an author blog, and your earlier posts were all about events in your brilliant writing career which hasn’t been successful yet, you may find a lot of ignored posts, and then a few off-topic posts that drew more visitors. Perhaps they still draw more visitors to this day.

These rare ‘evergreen’ posts draw visitors because they answer a question that people are doing internet searches for. Or maybe the title just sounds like they will answer such a question. We like getting visitors like that, because we hope some will stay and become regular blog readers.

The problem is when your ‘evergreen’ topics and your regular blogging topics don’t have much in common. You want readers who are interested in your blog’s niche, not just in your one-time rant about Elizabeth Warren or the Green Bay Packers.

One thing that helps is to look at other blogs that are in your niche. What topics do they address? You actually don’t want to address the exact same topics that every other blog in your niche does. You want to address the less common topics— to answer the questions that not everyone else has answered. If you are the one blogger who answers these questions, you will be at the top of search results and will find readers that way. You may also intrigue people on Twitter or Facebook when you share your blog posts there.

Now, the stats built in to your blog are not the only measure of whether your blog posts are being read. Google Analytics can tell you how long visitors stay on your posts— you don’t want to attract a lot of one-second visitors who will dash away because your blog post is not what they wanted. Also, any interactive comments your posts draw show that the post in question drew some interest.

When you plan your newest blog posts, you want to think about your blog’s history. What post topics have done well in the past? You want ‘more like that!’

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Setups and Payoffs in Fiction Writing

I’ve been reading Plot Gardening by Chris Fox, and he introduced to me the concepts of setups and payoffs in a fictional plot.

What is a setup? What is a payoff? Actually it’s easier to define the payoff first. A payoff is a story event for which the main character (and the reader) need to prepare. If your fantasy novel has at its conclusion a sword-fight between your hero and the Dark Lord, you need to set that up. Your hero needs a sword, and needs to know how to use it. Perhaps he needs a magic sword in order to win a fight with that particular Dark Lord.

Payoffs don’t always happen at the conclusion of a novel. Perhaps in your historical novel your heroine needs to be put into a position where marrying a (handsome) stranger seems like her only choice. This marriage is a payoff, though it will probably happen closer to the beginning of your novel. To set up for that payoff, you may perhaps need to turn your comfortable middle-class historical heroine into an orphan, and have a loathsome step-brother offer her a position as an unpaid nanny in his home. Perhaps the step-brother tells her that is her only choice to avoid ending up in a workhouse or worse. That kind of setup would make a marriage to a stranger seem like a plausible choice.

Setup scenes make the reader expect a payoff. If we are shown a firearm in an early scene, we expect that firearm to be fired in a later scene— not necessarily a self-defense or murder type firing, it could be hunting or target practice. But if something is mentioned in a significant way, we expect that it is a setup that will be paid off later in the story.

In the same way, big payoffs in a story have to be set up. Is your character going to undergo a major change— perhaps learning skills or becoming more independent? You can’t just state that fact in your climatic scene, you have to set it up in earlier scenes, or the change seems unrealistic and unmotivated.

Chris Fox says that to avoid ‘plot holes’ you have to pay off your setoffs and set up your payoffs. Setups make your future payoff scenes seem less random and ‘out of the blue.’ Actually having the payoff happen means that those setup scenes had meaning for the story as a whole.

One way to start thinking about setups and payoffs is to think about your climactic scenes. What payoffs will happen at that time? What might you need to do to set up those payoffs? And if you have a scene, often near the beginning, that feels like a setup, think how that scene can lead to a payoff. (If your scene sets up something that will never lead to any kind of payoff, it may not be an important scene for your novel.)

Assignment: Read a favorite novel and note scenes that seem to be setups or payoffs.

KetoLife: The Learning Curve

In The Complete Guide to Fasting, Dr. Jason Fung tells how he got started using fasting for his diabetic patients. He had been trying to get them to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet. He gave them information about it, and then had the patients keep food diaries. And found that many of his patients had no clue. They proudly announced they had given up bread— and their food diaries showed that they were eating crackers, pasta, or even pita bread in its place. It was easier to tell some patients to eat nothing at all!

The biggest lesson that we need to learn when we are starting keto/low-carb is that it is different than low-calorie/low-fat dieting, and that the rules are different. We don’t count calories, we count carb grams. We don’t embrace hunger, we take it as a sign to eat something (on our allowed-foods list.) We don’t shun fats as long as they are natural, more-healthy kinds of fats— our bodies actually need fats, and they keep us from being hungry and get us into ketosis (which is where we want to be.)

One of the major rules we have to learn is how to avoid carbs. We need to know what foods have carbs in them, and that all carbs count. We can’t eat the carbs in bananas just because bananas are fruit. The carbs in a slice of whole wheat bread count just as much as the carbs in white bread. Carbs are carbs!

In the early learning phases, we need to learn lists of what foods have carbs in them and are to be avoided. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes (french fries) and sweet potatoes are as forbidden as bread and oatmeal. Even non-starchy vegetables, since they have carbs in them, need to be limited to the allowed quantity. Some low-calorie diets allow you as much lettuce as you can stuff down. We can’t do that— even small quantities of carbs add up when you take the ‘free-food’ approach to things like lettuce.

Dr. Atkins recommended that if you can’t get into ketosis in the Atkins Induction phase, you cut back on your allowed vegetable salad— having one a day instead of two. Some people these days try the ‘carnivore diet’ to get into ketosis— after all, our Paleolithic ancestors probably ate meat alone during the winter seasons, or when the kinds of vegetable food they ate were not currently in season. They couldn’t go to the supermarket and get apples and salad greens year round!

This is why it is so important to measure your state of ketosis. Those urine test strips Atkins recommended are better than nothing, but the best approach is to test your blood for ketones. It’s a similar procedure to testing your blood sugar, but you need the right kind of meter and test strips. Since the test strips are $1 each, I can’t afford that system myself (I’m on SSI disability) but I have a Ketonix breath ketone analyzer which I use daily.

You may have read (on ‘keto’ diet food packaging) that you are supposed to count the ‘net carbs’ or even ‘sugar carbs.’ That is not currently recommended. I’d suggest keeping your eye on the total carbs of a food item. The important thing is what carbs are measured by your body. A high-fiber keto tortilla may not be something you want to eat too regularly if it sends you out of ketosis.

Key Character Traits: Just Say It

Recently I’ve been reading Mercedes Lackey’s more recent books in the Elemental Masters series, which features Sherlock Holmes as a character. Arthur Conan Doyle, the character’s creator, has I guess been dead long enough that other writers can use his character. But what do we know about Sherlock Holmes?

Perhaps you know that Holmes is a great detective who uses deductive (or inductive) reasoning to solve cases. Or that he is a brilliant man with loads of obscure knowledge. How do we know this? Because Conan Doyle told us so!

You may believe that writers should be more subtle than that. But really, how else can we convey that sort of information about our characters? We can write a scene that illustrates, we think, that a character is highly intelligent. But if we don’t say the words, some of our readers will conclude that the character is of average intelligence or even not that bright. Readers don’t all experience stories the same way, and many miss out on the subtle intentions of the author.

P. T. Barnum’s circus was the greatest show on Earth. We know that because Barnum plastered those words on every circus poster. He was not subtle. But he had the greatest show on Earth— because he said so.

Muhammed Ali (born Cassius Clay) was The Greatest. How do we know? He said so, repeatedly. And now, after his death, when they do a television documentary about his life and death, the words ‘The Greatest’ are used by a great many people who knew him.

You may wrinkle your nose up at the idea of just telling readers about a character’s most important trait. Isn’t that telling instead of showing? Yes, it is. But that beginning writer’s mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ is not a commandment from On High. Both showing and telling have a place in our stories. I mean, which works better, telling the reader that a character has green eyes, or writing an otherwise unnecessary scene to show the reader the character’s eye color?

Character features that you tell directly unify the reader experience. Everyone who reads your story will know that John is clever, Mary is clumsy, Jack is homosexual, and Marco is a black man. Being more subtle, and showing, means you are leaving readers out of the loop. I remember reading two different books in which a major character was black, but I didn’t know until the latter half of the book. The writer was just too subtle about it.

The question is, which character features are important enough to tell? You don’t want to make a long list of things to tell— that bores readers. That’s why we have the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, because some beginning writers want to write lists of character traits into their story. You need to reserve the telling to no more than one or two important traits— traits that make your character who he is in the story.

Descriptive items and diversity status are also things that should usually be stated flat out. You don’t need to make a big deal about it. You just need to let your readers know to picture the character as thin, fat, tall, short, Asian, Caucasian, Gay or straight, wheelchair-bound or able-bodied. These things need to come in near the beginning— when you introduce the character for the first time.

It’s good practice, when telling about an important trait, to mention it more than once. I remember the James Blish novelizations of Star Trek episodes. He mentioned, again and again, that Lt. Uhura was a black woman. Sometimes he called her a ‘Bantu woman.’ I’m sure today he’d have to do a major rewrite. But none of the readers of his Star Trek books missed out on the fact that Lt. Uhura was a black woman of African origin. If he hadn’t repeated the description, I’m sure that some skimming-through readers who had not yet viewed the TV series might have pictured Uhura as a blonde white woman, or an Asian woman. Or one of those green-skinned ladies they had on the original Star Trek.

Telling, like showing, is an important writing tool, if done correctly. You need to learn when and what to tell, and what to show, in order to communicate your story to readers.

KetoLife: Dr. Atkins’ Fat Fast Diet

You may have heard the term ‘fat fasting.’ Maybe you think it’s a kind of fasting. Maybe you think it is fasting from fat, as the low-fat diet advocates seem to want. But the truth is, Fat Fasting is a kind of temporary diet, used by Dr. Robert Atkins with his patients who had hit a weight-loss plateau. That is, they were continuing to do low-carb but the weight loss they were expecting had stopped.

‘Fat Fasting’ is not fasting at all. It is a kind of low-carb and low-calorie diet, based on some scientific research, that helps some low-carbers. It usually calls for 4-5 mini-meals a day, which have to be composed of certain percentages of the macronutrients. Dr. Atkins might have had people eating 4 to 5 handfuls of macadamia nuts on a Fat Fasting diet day.

Dana Carpender, author of many low-carb cookbooks, has two cookbooks out especially for the Fat Fasting diet. These recipes open up the Fat Fasting diet, and give you a lot of choices for your mini-meals. You still can’t do the Fat Fasting diet for too long at a time— it’s meant to be temporary. (That’s why we can call it a ‘diet’— it’s not our lifestyle!) Get her Fat Fasting books to learn more about Fat Fasting.

Many modern Ketonians don’t use the Fat Fasting diet, but use actual fasting to deal with weight-loss plateaus. Dr. Jason Fung has some books out, including The Complete Guide to Fasting, which can help you learn more about how to use real fasting safely and effectively.

But sometimes the Fat Fasting diet may be what you want to do. Maybe you are having a hard time getting into deep ketosis, or staying there. Maybe you just have a hard time not eating anything at all— or you live with loved ones who will get frantic if you skip even one meal, no matter how heavy you are.

I have tried the Fat Fasting diet a few times, before I got Dr. Jason Fung’s book on real fasting, and it worked, though I’m lazy enough to like the break from actual cooking you get while you are real-fasting. I also use a few recipes from the two Fat Fasting books in my regular low-carb life. A few I adapt— the two mac-and-cheese recipes call for shirataki noodles, which I dislike, so I use a good serving of green beans or perhaps canned bean sprouts as a substitute for the noodles.

The advantage of the Fat Fasting recipes is that most are single-serving recipes— which is grand if you are cooking low-carb for one and don’t fancy eating the same meal again and again. And the recipes are high in percentages of fat, which is good if some of your regular low-carb foods are also too low in fat. (Remember, fat in your food is what makes you not-hungry!)

KetoLife: Funner Than Water

Nothing is worse torture than to be sick, barely able to ‘watch’ TV with my eyes closed, and have that dreadful Vitamin Water commercial come around again and again and again. They say ‘Vitamin Water’ is funner than water. You know what would be even more fun? Frosty chocolate milkshakes!

I was appalled when they first started marketing drinks with flavorings, sugars or sugar substitutes, possible carbonation,  carbs and calories as ‘water.’ That’s so unfair to consumers! We are all taught when we are dieting or trying to be more healthy we don’t have to restrict our ‘water’ amounts. But when they sell us a soft drink called ‘flavored water,’ what does that do to us? We may think we can consume any ‘water’ freely.

The purpose of water— actual water— is not to be fun. It is to hydrate our bodies. Without enough hydration, human beings die. That’s why it’s a popular method to execute disabled people— just quit hydrating them and they die quick, though probably not without a lot of suffering.

Before putting any soft drink called a ‘water’ into your body, check the nutrition facts on the label. How many carbs does it have? How many of those carbs come from sugars? How many from fiber? How does it compare to a typical sugared soft drink? A diet soft drink? And you are expected to be drinking it as a ‘water?’

Water has zero carbs, zero sugars, and, for those who still care, zero calories. That’s why you can drink as many glasses of water as you like without worrying about breaking the low-carb/ketogenic lifestyle OR a low-calorie hunger plan.

Need more flavor to your water? The traditional solution is to make the water into tea or coffee. Both tea and coffee are now held to have health benefits— though if your drown your tea or coffee in sugars, artificial sweeteners, and non-cream ‘creamers,’ you have only yourself to blame for bad results. But if you can manage to learn to drink plain tea or black coffee, you are set with ‘funner’ water for life. There are also keto things you can put in tea or coffee to make them ‘bulletproof,’ or more helpful for getting into ketosis and staying there.

What about the vitamins? If there are vitamins in your bottled drink, it’s because someone put them there, artificially. But you don’t need those vitamins. If you are on keto, you are taking your vitamin-and-mineral pills every morning (plus probiotics, I hope) and these plus the vitamins in the actual real food you will be eating will tide you over, vitamin-wise. You don’t need vitamins in your bottled drink! You are already getting those— and your real-food vitamins are of higher quality than any you get from bottled drinks.

But what about when you need hydration but can’t drink enough cups of actual water to achieve that? As when you are sick? I had that problem recently. I did not resort to buying  Vitamin ‘Water.’ I looked at it, in the shop, found the kind they carried was sweetened with sugar, and bought something else called ‘Bai’ which is sweetened with stevia, which is one of the few fake sweeteners which is considered mostly safe even in the keto community. It has a few grams of carbs per serving (and more than one serving per bottle,) but since I intended to drink it in small amounts— thinned down with actual water in most cases— just to add some variety in my hydration when I felt too ill to bother much with food or water. (I also purchased some Atkins drinks— my standby food when I’m sick— which they now carry at the Dollar General store in Stephenson, MI.)

Hydration is an essential in our ketonian way of life. But don’t let the ‘funner’ ‘water’ sellers fool you. Water is water. Other things are not. (‘Bai’ drinks don’t claim to be ‘water,’ even though they are more water-like than sugared ‘Vitamin Water.’)

#AspieLife: Forgiveness

Yes, even if you have Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and people are mean to you all the time, you still have to forgive people. It’s an essential social skill you have to cultivate. And if you have certain religious beliefs (Christian,) you are expected to forgive people. Even if they ‘discriminate’ against you.

It can be really hard, though. I have had an instance when a person who had been rejecting me for years really wronged me, and this person staged a confrontation with me, in which the person was clearly very angry, but the person claimed to not be angry. Another, non-Aspie person in the room at the time confirmed my impression that the person in question was indeed angry. I hate being lied to that way, because as an Aspie I have limited social skills, and a tendency to believe I am the one at fault in any social situation. If the person would have just said he didn’t like me because I was ‘weird’ and it made him mad to have to have any contact with me at all, that would have been easier to forgive than the lie.

Yes, I know, the person is probably in denial about his own emotional state. And I know that as a Christian I need to forgive if I want God to forgive me. But it’s hard to forgive someone who is not sorry, who blames me for the problem, who will continue to wrong me and blame me for it, and will not change.

The situation makes me angry, for reasons I won’t go in to here. But the Bible teaches ‘love your enemy,’ and if someone chooses to act like my enemy, I not only am required to forgive that person but to love him. It ain’t easy, though.

As a person with Asperger Syndrome, I know I often need forgiveness because I say the wrong thing, or say things where eavesdroppers can hear me and be offended. It’s part of my weak social skills. But it’s harder to forgive a neurotypical person for something I feel he should have not done to me, because I assume they have better social skills and just choose not to exercise them in my case. But, really, being neurotypical doesn’t mean having perfect social skills or being a nice person or being free from bad traits such as passive-aggressive behavior.

To forgive my ‘person,’ I have decided to pray for that person. My goal is to pray one decade of the rosary per day for that person. If you don’t know what a rosary decade is, it is 1/5 of the ‘normal’ rosary prayer. I have had a hard time doing a whole rosary at a time for years, and since my stroke it’s even harder, so I am going for the shorter 1 decade at a time rosary prayer.

If you have a problem with a specific person that it is hard to forgive, I recommend prayer for that person as a solution. It’s a way of reminding yourself that God is in charge, even of that person. God can make that person more enlightened and a better person— or God can make you a more forgiving person. Or both.

Wednesday is now the day for Aspie Life posts. I hope.

Have you ever had a social situation that called for forgiveness, and had a hard time forgiving that person? What did you do about it? What would you suggest other people do in that situation?