Category Archives: WRITING

The easy guide to building your own website, from a beginner.

As regular readers of this blog will have observed, I have let this blog lie fallow for quite some time. I still really like this blog but found I had less and less to contribute to it over time.

I was inspired to try another medium and decided to try my hand at creating my own satirical news website, thinking that it could be a fun way to keep writing and a good stress reliever because I often find myself furious over something in the news and unable to get anyone else to care about it. Forcing myself to find comedy in everything has to help the stress levels.

When I decided to make The Empty Shirt, I said I would go all the way and make my own website. I think wordpress.com is an amazing resource but I wanted to have more control over things myself. The internet seems to be bursting with tips and tricks to make great websites but here’s what you need to do, boiled down:

Domain name – The domain name is what appears in the address bar at the top of the screen, like google.com. If you have a wordpress.com blog you’ll be given a sub-domain name. Your website is a smaller branch of wordpress.com’s domain name. If you want your own one, pick a good one. The extension at the end (.com, .net, etc) can be different, country-specific or related to what your site is about. Businesses tend to be .com by default.  Tip: .biz is going out of fashion fast, is often the cheapest option and has generally been taken over by dodgy spam websites. If you want a reputable business, choose .com

Register your domain name – The name you choose may not exist on the internet yet so you need to register it to alert the internet that your site exists. It may be the case that the name you would like has already been registered by someone else, in which case you’ll need to settle for a variant (or you can try to buy it from them).  To register your domain, you need to go to a domain registrar site. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed at this stage because the domain registry business is crowded with providers that offer pretty much identical services for pretty much identical prices. It seems like everyone is trying to outbid each other with sales and promo codes. GoDaddy is the largest registrar on the web, but I would recommend you try elsewhere. (They took a very questionable stance with SOPA and their CEO is a terrible human being).  I went with internetbs.net  for a reason discussed in the next section.

WHOIS privacy – The WHOIS directory is kind of like a phonebook for the internet, detailing who owns websites. If you are a business, having your WHOIS information publically available can be a good way of instilling confidence in potential customers that your site is legit. However, if you are a private individual, you may not want your address and phone number available to so many people. You may also be more susceptible to spam this way.  You should not falsify your information. If you wish your information to be private you can choose to add on WHOIS privacy when you register a domain. The standard for domain registrars is to make this  a separate charge. However, sites like gandi.net and internetbs.net include WHOIS privacy in the registry price by default.

Your domain is registered! Yay. Now, wait for the domain to “propagate” – basically for the domain to make itself known to the internet. Mine took about 30mins, but it can take up to 24 hours. During this time, do not be alarmed if your domain still seems to be “available” if you type it into a registrar site. The main registry has been updated.

Hosting – For your website to become active, it needs space on a server where all the information about it can be stored and a continuous connection to the web can be maintained. Most people let a company host for them but it is possible to do it yourself. Many domain registrars also offer hosting and may have attractive packages, like a free domain name if you host with them. However, it’s good practice to separate the two. When looking for a good web host, it can be tempting to get sucked in with words like “unlimited bandwidth” and “only 1.60 a month!” but read the fine print. A lot of promotional offers only apply for the first month or two of your time with a company and the “unlimited” bit may not be what it seemed. Shared hosting is a good option for new website owners or small websites. Ideally, your web host will have servers in the same country as you and 24/7 customer service. When researching hosts, I contacted a few with easy queries to see what the response time was like. After all, if your site goes down, you’ll want to get it back up as soon as possible  – especially if it’s a source of income. One had a jaw-dropping wait time of 3 days before a response. Another, 2 minutes.  I chose the latter. I went with A Small Orange hosting. I ignored my own advice because their servers are in the US and I am not but I really liked the idea of their business – small and personal, in a business which generally is anything but.

“Point” your domain to your host’s servers – If you go into your domain’s account information, you should see two fields called “name servers” which are blank. Your hosting company will send you the details of what to write in there to connect your domain name to its host.

All in all, I got a domain name, WHOIS Privacy and hosting for 29e a year, which is pretty good going.

Tip: When you are researching registrars or hosts, keep in mind that a lot of companies offer affiliate schemes. This means that, if I were to write a blog post called “The Ten best Web hosts 2013”, I could list a certain one at the top and provide a link which, if a person clicks on it and then goes on to buy hosting with that company, I would get a financial reward or discount from that company. So, keep that in mind if you hear people being oddly militant or defamatory about certain companies as a lot of these schemes don’t require that you be a customer of the web host so they cannot honestly tell you about their experience.

What next?

The fun bit!

Decide which Content Management System you want to use to load, edit and publish content on your site. There are many to choose from, depending on the function of your site. You have vBulletin for message boards, Joomla or Drupal for e-shopping websites and (my favourite) WordPress for sites that are text and picture heavy, like news sites.

Bear in mind that this WordPress is a different thing to WordPress.com. The software you may be familiar with if you have a wordpress blog is available for you to use for free with many more features and plugins in its open-source form at WordPress.org. Most big web hosts will let you install WordPress (or Joomla or many others) with one-click installs from their control panels. It’s very easy.

From there, you can start uploading content and thinking about the look of your site. WordPress themes, from the very basic to premium pay-for-use, are available to showcase your site.

For my news site, I chose a theme called Thrilling Heroics, available for 15usd or for free if you hook up with thillingheroics.com.

Final tips: BACK UP YOUR SITE. SWEET JESUS, BACK UP YOUR SITE. This can be accomplished with wordpress plugins or can be done from the control panel of your web host account.

Buy more domains if you are serious about a company or business – If my main website is google.com, I want people who type in google, fr and google.ie to get to my website and not a blank page or someone pretending to be me. If I buy lots of domains and redirect them to my main page, this will not be an issue.

Most importantly, have fun.

If you have any questions, comment below or email me at sarah@theemptyshirt.com. Check out The Empty Shirt to see my first website in action!

Pluggity Plug

*Here lies Nepotism*

Whether you’re a fan of the rise of e-readers and e-books or not, one thing you have to concede is that it’s never been easier for emerging writers to get their stuff out there.

There is a sea of books out there, each with an author behind them who would love you to take a chance.

My cousin, A. B. Wells, is one of those authors. Her debut novel, Housewife with a Half-Life, is out today and is well worth a look.

The Book

What is a housewife to do when she becomes 42? Write a book about life, the universe and everything….

Susan Strong is a suburban housewife who is literally disintegrating. When, Fairly Dave, a biker jacket & kilt wielding spaceman arrives through the shower head to warn her, she knows things are serious. When she and her precocious 4 year twins Pluto and Rufus get sucked through Frozen Peas into another universe it gets even messier. In a world where household appliances are more alive and dangerous than they seem, where the Geezers have Entropy Hoovers and the Spinner’s Cataclysmic convertor could tear the world apart, Susan Strong is the only thing holding the world together.

Through this madcap, funny and feel-good adventure, Susan Strong and Fairly Dave travel the alternate universes where Susan has to find her many selves, dodge the Geezers and defeat the evil memory bankers. From dystopian landscapes and chicken dinners, to the surreal world of Las Vegas and bubble universes, can Susan Strong reintegrate her bits and will it be enough to save us all?

The Author, in her own words

I’m Alison Wells, writer of flash fiction, short stories and novels, and mother of four from Bray, Co. Wicklow. I’ve worked as a technical writer and studied Psychology and Communication Studies. I’m part of the #fridayflash Twitter community and am resident blogger for writing.ie.   I admire the beautiful and clever prose of writers such as Nabakov, Urquart, A.S. Byatt, Bradbury and Steinbeck and the quirky wordweaving of Ali Smith. This year I’m lucky enough to have been awarded a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, Co. Kerry to work on my second literary novel The Exhibit of Held Breaths.

House-wife with a Half-Life is available to purchase on Amazon UKAmazon US and Smashwords.

NA

This is a short story which appeared in the 2012 anthology of ROPES, mentioned previously in this post. It is my first piece of published writing.

(Some formatting may appear different than in the published text).

 

“So…what’s your story?”

He had to be speaking to me. There was no-one else here yet.

“Uhm, I didn’t think we were supposed to start talking until the whole group was here”.

He made a face of disgust and waved his hand, dismissing me. “No, I don’t mean your ‘NA story’; I mean your life story. You haven’t become your addiction have you? That’s the worst.”

It was hard to read him. He looked completely relaxed, sitting with his fingers interlaced behind his head and his legs stretched out on the floor in front of him. Doing his best to be horizontal.

How could he be at ease in a place like this? It was like the start of every bad horror movie ever made.

Interior. Night. Non-descript school hall. Drab, dreary. Sinister without the schoolchildren. A circle of chairs.

Our two protagonists occupy chairs at a respectable distance from each other. The air is joyless.

If this was a horror movie, this is when the window would break. Or the door would slam. Both characters would be startled and the female would look to the male to protect her. Because we all know who dies first.

“My story? I don’t really have one.”

“Well, now. That’s pretty sad. Everyone has a story”.

“Mine’s not very exciting”.

He was one of those people who find it easy to make prolonged eye contact, to look interested in the person they’re talking to. I have never been good at that.

His stare was making me uncomfortable. It was unsettling to be under such scrutiny. I hadn’t looked in the mirror that day but I knew what he was seeing. The deathly-white skin. The rings under my eyes which deepened in colour and depth with every passing day. The bleary eyes. I focussed my gaze on the artwork on the wall. Some of the younger students had drawn pictures. The usual: Houses with white picket fences, Mummy and Daddy. I think I saw a unicorn. Or a deformed horse.

He didn’t look the type to be a drug addict. But, then again, I suppose I didn’t either. Elderly people smile at me on the street. Occasionally men offer me their seat on public transport. I’ve never been dragged out of a gutter. My septum is fine.

They tried to make me go to Rehab and I said no, no, no. Rehab is for people who try to sell their children for heroin. Or people who murder their husbands when they’re high on Meth. Not me.

“Sleeping pills”. I turned to him and looked him in the eye. “It started with sleeping pills. And yeah, I think I have become my addiction. That’s why I’m here, right? You too, I’m guessing.”

He smiled at me sadly.

“Do you like video games?”

“Video games?”

“Yeah”.

“I guess, I don’t play them much. I don’t have a console.”

“That’s going to be your new hobby”.

I grinned. “What makes you think that?”

“You need a new thing.  I picked gamer. There aren’t enough girl gamers.”

“I’ll do my best to plug the shortage”.

His lips moved to form a smile. He suddenly moved his chair to straddle it and sat with his arms on the back of it, leaning forward.

“Why did you start taking sleeping pills?”

“I couldn’t sleep”.

“Oh ho ho ho”, he feigned laughter, clutching his stomach for emphasis. There was a pause and he looked at me expectantly.

“I don’t know. I watched too much Bill Hicks over a short space of time and just lost the ability to sleep”.

“Surely Hicks has suffered enough already without you blaming your problems on him”.

“I don’t blame him. If anything I would like to thank him. He woke me up. The only problem was I couldn’t get back to sleep again.”

He cracked another smile. He looked awfully happy for someone at a Narcotic’s Anonymous meeting. It was weird. It was like going into a wake to find the widow telling jokes about horses with long faces walking into bars.

I glanced at the wall clock, the ever-present feature of schools everywhere. Tormentor of the young.  I had to stare at it for a minute before I could figure out what time it was. The tiredness was making me stupid. Ten minutes until the meeting began. I guess people don’t like hanging around beforehand.

He raised himself up from his chair, revealing his tallness. Making for the refreshments, he called back to me, “Is this your first meeting?”

“Yes”.

“Excellent. I have the honour of introducing you to the special brand of hell that is NA coffee”. He balanced two coffees and a small plate of questionable looking cookies as he drew nearer to me. I wondered who had laid them out. As if reading my mind, he said:

“These are leftovers from the Cancer survivors. They’re on earlier in the evening. They let us have the dregs if we promise to clean up.”

He moved a spare chair between us to use as a makeshift table and set the cups and the plate down on it.

He grinned at me conspiratorially: “Just keep the powdered doughnuts away from the Cokeheads. It invokes a Pavlovian response”.

My mouth fell open somewhere between a laugh and a gasp.

He continued his interview while munching one of the cookies, which had gone soft from being exposed to the air. I didn’t reach for my coffee, my hands had been shaking ever since I stopped taking the sleeping pills and it made grabbing things awkward.

“Are you nervous about your first NA meeting?”

I thought about it for a second.

“I’m not…anything, really. I haven’t slept in about 45 hours. You kind of lose the ability to suffer from nerves.”

“Yikes…how are you still functioning?”

“Your body gets used to it. I’m freezing most of the time and my mind is a bit foggy but I guess it’s the price you pay to get off the stuff”.

“What made you decide to come to NA?”

His coffee was going cold. He reached out for a new cookie and I noticed the edges of some sort of tribal tattoo on his wrist where the sleeve rode up.

“When you re-read ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and no longer find anything wrong with what’s happening it’s probably a bad thing. Plus I figure it will be less traumatic than a Weightwatchers meeting”.

“Never read that one.”

There were footsteps in the hall.  A group of three emerged, bundled in large parkas and coats. They shed their layers and strode purposefully toward the circle. They had been here before. One shot me a cursory glance but the others ignored me.

I was glad. It was suddenly a bit real.

He noticed me tense up.

“Don’t worry. No weighing scales here. Just terrible coffee and people on the fringes of society.”

Several more people drifted in from the cold and he rearranged his seat to form the circle. I looked around for the group leader, the voice on the phone who had taken my tearful call and convinced me to come.

He cleared his throat and looked around at the group:

“Good evening, everyone. Nice to see all of you. I see we have a new member so I’d like all of us to introduce ourselves. I’ll start. I’m Marcus and I’m a drug addict. I grew up in foster care and dealt with my problems by burning myself and using glue and painkillers, along with alcohol. I’ve been sober for 5 years. I like video games”.

“Hi, Marcus”, the group echoed. Like schoolchildren in a classroom.

Ropes is available in several bookshops in Galway, or online through the ROPES website.

Baby steps towards becoming a “Writer” with a capital W.

I’m going to be published for the first time. One of my short stories (you can read it here) was accepted by a local literary journal and will be hitting shops (that’s just about a plural) in April. Discounting the time a horribly embarrassing agony aunt letter appeared in Mizz Magazine and the time a 6-year old me self-published (stapled some pages together) my first book, my words have never appeared in such a tangible, public form.

It’s exciting. If you’re a writer, you’ll know that validation isn’t essential but that it does feel quite nice. It’s a boost.

This was one of the first short stories I’d ever written (I wouldn’t consider it my most comfortable form) and was the first time I’d submitted something for publishing consideration. Having it accepted has encouraged me to submit more stuff, take more chances. It’s made me realise that publication isn’t necessarily for “others”, it can be something achievable for me too.

Script Frenzy, the little brother of NanoWriMo, is fast approaching and I’ve decided to attempt it for the first time. Despite being a NanoWriMo veteran at this stage (I’m a masochist), I had never considered trying screenwriting. Again, it was “other”. Something other people did.

I think one of the most important things you can do as a writer is force yourself outside of your comfort zone. Never wrote poetry before? Why not try it? You could be the next Yeats. Try a genre you’re uncomfortable with (for me, it would be sci-fi) and give it a go. So what if it’s bad? It might inspire you in other ways.

To sum things up, I think writing is a vocation for some people. They couldn’t stop if they wanted to. For others, it’s just a job. (And it shows). Good writing is extremely subjective.One of the saddest things people say is “I would love to write a book one day…but I could never do it”. I’ve even had these people come to me with their ideas and ask me to write their books for them. I could never do it as much justice as they would; it’s their story.

Keep writing. Celebrate the victories. Improve on the losses. Don’t force yourself to write like someone else, be the person so unique that people want to imitate you.

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Ropes is on sale in April in a few selected retailers in Galway, or you can buy it online here.

A fun little website to find out who you write like is I Write Like, where you copy and paste a sample of your work and it’s compared to famous writers. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t store or save your work).

I write most like Cory Doctorow,  British-Canadian blogger, journalist, copyright liberalisation activist and sci-fi author (the irony is strong in this one).