Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help! My Blog is Ugly!

I started this blog in October of 2005 after reading a New York Times article about blogging and about super famous, book deal blogger Stephanie Klein. I didn't know a thing about computers, except how to type on them and look up stuff on the Internet. I didn't even consider myself a writer back then. I just knew that I had some funny stories. When I wrote about my old job my blog blew up overnight. I had crazy traffic. I had literary agents and TV executives interested. None of that worked out because I didn't have enough real writing experience. Then I got busted by a coworker, pretty much threatened with legal action and I used that as the catalyst to quit my job and go to grad school where I was offered a position as a graduate teaching assistant. I decided to try grad school and I loved it. Three years later I had an MFA in creative writing. I was a real teacher then.  I started seeing myself as a real writer and I grew so much creatively. The problem was that as I grew as a writer, my blog shrunk. My traffic now is a fraction of what it was and I get that. I still have plenty of followers and daily visitors, but my writing about my life doesn't have the same shock appeal (usually) as my old stuff. I like how I write now much better and I have plenty of material from the people I know and the things that I observe and remember.

I don't work anymore because I need to stay home to take care of Baby Lawns. Right now it wouldn't work for me to go back to teaching and I like being home with her while she's so little. I don't mind sacrificing a paycheck and all that comes with it for her, but now I find that during the day I have more free time to write. She's napping right now as a matter of fact. I miss all the writing I did in grad school and this blog provides me with the structure and feedback I need to keep writing now in my new life. It motivates me and it's fun. I like interacting with all of you.

I want my blog to grow though. I read some hugely popular blogs and I think all the time that my stories are just as good and just as entertaining, if not more so. I want to share my writing and my life with more people. It's not to make money and it's not because I'm an attention seeking fame whore. It's because I'm a writer and we writers want to be read. I want to interact with even more readers because that makes me write more and the more I write, the better I get at it and the happier I am. I'm miserable when I don't get to write. I'd write all day if I could.

I think a lot of the reason that my blog isn't all that popular is because it's ugly. Since October of 2005, I have never changed it and that's because I'm a Luddite and don't know how. I can barely post a picture without messing everything up. My blog is like the frumpy girl in Clueless who is secretly hot and super cool and just needs a makeover. It's like a house whose decor is stuck in the 70s with wood paneling and big floral wallpaper on the ceiling. It needs a designer to come in and revamp it.

I need help people of the Internet. My blog needs a serious makeover. I need the Stacey and Clinton of web design to intervene. It's time. I just don't know where to look and I can't afford most of the blog fancying up services I've found. I thought the best thing to do would be to ask you all for advice. Does anyone know where I could find someone to spice up my blog (who wouldn't charge a fortune) to make it pretty and hip and no longer frumpy so maybe it can finally take off its glasses and cardigan and slip on some leather pants, get a perm and dance with the hottest guy in school inside a fun house?


AlexMac said...

I don't know if it's your style and I certainly don't know how much they charge, but the girls over at http://www.shatterboxx.com/ always make an incredibly cute site and everyone says they are a lot of fun and easy to work with.

Melissa said...

Blogger has elegant customizable templates now. You could do it yourself without having to hire anyone. In your dashboard, click on "Design" and play with it. Or perhaps before changing your real blog, you could create an additional blog that's hidden from the public, and experiment with the template design on that one until you're confident about making the changes to Wide Lawns.

Anonymous said...

Here: http://theborrowedabode.com/2011/03/cheap-easy-blog-design-tool/

Linking to the blog entry itself because this chick deserves a bump for being so awesome, plus there is her own testimony on the software.

Here's another post you may find useful: http://theborrowedabode.com/2011/02/blissdom-scott-stratten-unmarketing-made-it-awesome/

Good luck, lady. Been a follower for a few years (at least) now. :)

Anonymous said...

Looks have nothing to do with blog popularity (as long as you aren't actively driving people away with stuff like annoying music or pop-ups). It's 100% content. Well, 100% of the things you can control.

Your Subservient Worker blog drew traffic because people love stories about rich people (meaning anyone richer than the reader) behaving badly and they could identify with you. And not just as someone subjected to the abuse of those who considered themselves your betters, but as a person with a difficult (and interesting) past who was trying to get by and, later on, improve herself.

Those of us who got to know you in the early days are still your loyal fans, but without the craziness of your original subject, there's not nearly as much there to bring in a stream of new readers. There's going to be a smaller audience for community college creative-writing-instructor blogs or start-up mommy blogs, no matter how well you write or how pretty the website is. It's just the nature of the beast.

You need to decide what you want out of blogging. If it's page views that really matter to you, then you need to figure out a subject that will bring new readers in and keep them hooked. My guess is that going back to your blog's roots and focusing on the craziness and assholery of South Florida's upper classes would work. Although the fact that you are now a detached observer rather than the brunt of it may limit the appeal compared to your early posts. So you may have to do something else to amp it up. Maybe name names? The nanny post about what are presumably the Sheen kids would have seen huge numbers if you had not kept it anonymous. Maybe you could make a specialty of relaying the stories of others who are in the position you were once in? Someone should do it and you have both the background and the writing skills. But you'd need to reopen the Subservient Worker posts to show your bona fides. Which you should do anyway, your closing them off was unfair to those who never got the chance to enjoy and learn from them.

- lowwall

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I read you and other blogs through an RSS feed, since I actually don't like blogs that have stuff all over them. Depending on your readership, a change of look may up your readership. I'm not sure what you can do just with the RSS feed to attract more people that read that way. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Melissa, I don't think you need to hire someone to spiffify (that's not a word is it?) your blog. Wordpress has tons of themes and make the blog look really awesome. There are tons of instructions on the net about how to do this.

I love the way your write and I totally get the part about wanting to be read. Keep on writing


Carrie Ann said...

Just keep it simple looking whatever you do. I hate busy blogs, especially ones that take forever to load. The blogs I visit most frequently are usually white on the background, a simple banner and a good font. I love your stories just as much (if not more so) than when you wrote about your job. And that's what I go to your blog to see. Not ads, not cutesy clip art, just your stories. Stick with that and you will keep your readers.

leslie said...

I really like that your current design is clean looking and easy to read. Be careful with colors and fonts...no one wants to read a blog that you have to strain to see.

Your writing is so much fun, keep up the good work!

beatgrl said...

I also read your blog through a news feed so I don't actually visit your site except to comment. Your content is all I care about :) That said, I second Carrie Ann - I love white and simple pages. I use wordpress for my blogs and they have some really slick themes that make you look like hot stuff when really you didn't do anything. Good Luck!

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Try not to make it too busy-looking, I do agree with that advice.

you have EXCELLENT content, but it might be time for some sprucing up of the visual setting. I had a great designer do my blog, she doesn't charge a fortune, she's a mom making a go of graphic design and blogging to make extra $$ while staying at home with her kids: http://733design.blogspot.com/

She does stuff a la carte (spell?), so she could do JUST a banner for you, or just one area at a time. I can't recommend her enough.

You can click on my link to see what she did for my blog. I'd show you my "before" blog (it's still out there), but I'm embarrassed. Really, truly embarrassed. It was amateur hour.

Not trying to talk crap about your design, but it's a standard blogger design and maybe it could use some refreshing. Even if a lot of people read through a reader, I think you could use a new header. Play around with the different blogger templates and colors, and maybe investigate a lower-cost designer; but keep it simple and easy to navigate.

(I'm also the Consultant Calamities blogger, this is my other blog. I haven't updated CC in a while, need to do that.)

Sixteen Chickens said...

I read her blog, too. She does web design. Check it out. http://www.sumydesigns.com/

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I come here "first" on my daily blog reading tour and there are six blogs that you list on the side bar that I've grown very fond of too. So after I read your daily post, I go over to the side and click onto those blogs.

I like the streamlined design of your blog because it is like an elegant-but-homey newspaper/magazine. And because you keep it simple, the page loads super fast.

I think part of the charm of your blog is the text that you've placed in the headline area. Those words are better than an illustration or photo.

Perhaps you could experiment with a different font and color/texture for the background? For example, I really like “Bookman Old Style” font. Take a peek at one of your blog friends, "Bye Bye Pie." http://byebyepie.typepad.com/bye_bye_pie/

Now look over at the upper left corner - the color behind the font has a greenish parchment paper effect. Maybe something like that would look nice in the background (the layer that's seen on the left and right side bars). I also like her font - which I think is Bookman? And I like the newspaper print design of her background layer too...but don't know if that would work for you - but it could look really cute with the same (or different shade of green) in the middle, with the newspaper print showing in the background, or something very simple that you could change when the mood strikes - like a muted design.


Rick said...

Blogger might have the easiest template editor ever. I'm not sure why it's an issue.


Miss Monroe said...

I actually like your blog as is. You could play around with the color a bit?

Moi said...

I love your blog, regardless of what it looks like! It is one of the few blogs that I read religiously, and find it as interesting now as I did four years ago :)

Maybe try Suck My Lolly for a new template though? www.coaxwithcandy.com

Anonymous said...

I agree with the others. I actually don't think your blog looks that bad. I like the clean, simple look. I even like the green!

Also, I've been reading since 2006. I really posted to say how happy I am for you that writing the blog unearthed a talent and turned into an advanced degree and a career.

I loved the original content. It made me laugh so much! I liked the way you could write about things that were essentially sad, like the way the rich treat their children, and make it funny at the same time.
I don't have those posts to compare to what you write now, but I would have taken you for a professional (or at least aspiring professional) writer then. When you talked about being an MFA student, I assumed that was true when you started the original blog.
Anyway, great work and good luck. I hope you find some use for all of those old stories and characters.
BTW, I've always wondered for some reason if it was the woman who hoarded pens and highlighters who outed you? I have a vivid memory of the picture you posted.

PS. I sympathize with your struggles giving up chocolate. I have never been able to do that for Lent!
J., longtime reader.

Hilary said...

Melissa tells you true. You don't need someone to do this for you. Blogger makes it very easy for change. You just need to play around with the template. Click on "Design" at the top right and you're set to get started. It's truly easy.. and fun.

booda baby said...

Ditto on the Melissa advice. They're actually really attractive themes. Finally.

catherine said...

WL you have always been a great writer. The way you write in an easy coversational style makes me feel like you are sitting right here having coffee. I think the blog had more readers when you wrote about your job because people love gossip. You can really weave a believable character no matter how absurd their story is. I do miss some of the oddballs, like that HOA lady who measured the peoples driveways and because the one was 6 inches off, threw a fit.
Or the lady who bleached her teeth so much they were clear. I didn't know what you meant until I met this lady who runs a restaurant whos teeth are like that, lol. Kind of a bluish tinge that looks like coloured glass. I can't stop staring at them, lol.

Keep doing what you do,
I love it!

Lara said...

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who can do more to help you with the aesthetics of your blog than I can (mine isn't too pretty, either), but it occurred to me that I've been reading and enjoying your blog since the Basura days and I've never commented on it. I'd like to say that while it's always nice to do a makeover from time to time, I think the readership dropped off only because the Basura stories were so hilariously outrageous. At this point I like to read about your every day life simply because I feel like I know you (doesn't that make me sound like a creepy stalker?), but my favorite posts are the ones about the crazy people you worked with and have encountered in the past. In my opinion, you're the best there is when it comes to documenting insanity. Your challenge now is to figure out how to come up with new material now that your life, and the people in it, are sane and normal.

Best of luck,

Andrea said...

I happen to love the way your blog looks. But it is "yours" so do something that makes you smile when you look at it!

Anonymous said...

Like previous commenters, I'm also a reader through an RSS feed. I come back again & again just for your words.

Jean_Phx said...

I loved the stories at the club in Basura. Great stuff, but I digress. I like that fact that your blog downloads quickly due to the simplicity and before my boss can ask what I'm reading :-)

up in the bush said...

I like your content much better than Stephanie (me!me!me!) Klein and Dooce. Honestly, the reason they are more popular than you and make a living at it is because they've sacrificed anonymity. In the age of over-sharing great stories just aren't enough. Design wise, that lady who writes about home-schooling (and is decidedly non-wacky) on pioneer woman's site does great clean-looking web-design. I think she calls herself 'OSMH'. Wishing you lots of luck from cold snowy northern alberta. Filled with many crazies, but a far different sort than south florida.

Jala Pfaff said...

Blogger's own templates under "Design" (on your far right top of the page) are pretty great without spending a penny. Just play around with them.

Almost American said...

Here's another vote for playing with the blogger templates first. I, too, read your blog through an RSS feed so I only see the blog if I visit to comment (and when's the last time you remember me doing that?!) Have to say, I don't like the green though!

Anonymous said...

I think you need to be a little less whiny and a bit more positive. Your blog can be a bit of a downer sometimes.

Stephani said...

I think Anon needs to STFU.

Just sayin.


I agree with what some of the others have said- no need to pay someone to bling out your blog- Blogger has some really cool templates, and it's pretty easy to customize yourself.

English said...

I love your current stuff, but I also loved your old stuff. I used to laugh until tears literally came to my eyes when you wrote about the original "Wide Lawns," and I would like to bitch slap the co-worker who busted you. I wish I had saved all your blogs from that era. You should "fictionalize" it all and write a book.

Still, your new stuff is fabulous and I enjoy reading it. I don't care what the blog looks like; I read for content. Keep writing...

JoeinVegas said...

People keep coming for the content, not the look. Don't worry about making it complicated.

Stephanie said...

You might consider getting your own domain name. www.widelawns.com sounds a bit more established in my opinion than widelawns.blogger etc

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