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Keep Writing Blog Posts

This is my first blog post written in English. Even though I have had lots of experience in writing in Chinese, now I'm a beginner again. I love this challenge! No matter what language you use for writing, the core elements are same. (I'm reading The Elements of Style recently) But I will discuss about some others skills helpful to me right now.

Three common problems

There is really no secret to write about writing and no magic. In the process of writing, the following problems are most likely to be encountered:

  1. What should I write down? Want to have a certain amount of content forming output, you must have enough original accumulation. There is a old saying in China -- "One can’t make bricks without straw." I think the most effective way is reading. Specifically, you need to read works that are similar in type to your writing. Good works are worthy of imitation but poor works are still worth learning. Once you read enough, you will be inspired, which is equally effective when writing a thesis or a research paper. In order to avoid the exhaustion of the fountain of inspiration, you need to maintain a lot of habitual input. That means keep reading.

  2. Half written up. When you catch some ideas and want to write them down but find getting stuck. Most of the time it is due to your lack of writing experience. Writing experience needs to be cultivated for a long time, but using some proper writing skills can make you less struggling. The more typical technique is: before starting the text writing, draw a mind map, and sort out the general structure of the article, so that the essay becomes a fill-in-the-blank question, then the difficulty drops a lot. If you always write something not systematic, it shows the lack of logical training.

  3. Delete old articles. This situation usually occurs after a period of time (short for days, long for years) after the article was published. If you review an article written before but find it's too naive and makes you shame. Congratulations! Your thinking and cognition has improved. Compared to the direct deletion of this approach, I suggest you do an offline backup first, because it is really fun to read the articles you have written before.

Will at least 100 people care about this topic three years from now? @Philip Guo

The following don't qualify, so I rarely write about them:

  • commentary on news events or fads
  • reactions to someone else's article
  • personal notes that only my friends would care about

Finally, if I see many people writing about a topic, then I avoid it unless I have a drastically different perspective.

The most wonderful thing is that reading and writing can help you become a better one with critical and independent thinking. And the key is -- JUST DO IT. KEEP DOING IT.

Some things need to be noticed

Incorrect concepts will make writing a harder thing.

  • Copyright. Don't copy and past any other's original content to your blog. (Theft behavior!)
  • Don't start series writing directly. I know that setting a grand goal looks cool. But if you lack strong execution and willpower, it will make things worse. Especially when you announced your plan to people around you before, you may feel ashamed when failed then people teases you. Don't overestimate your abilities. But don't be discouraged yet, you can write some piecemeal articles and then further refine it, not to underestimate your potential.
  • Spend enough time on the layout. This is very important for the reader (I recommend you do this even without readers). Think of each of your blogs as a work of art, carve them like Michelangelo. Everyone needs to have some design ideas in life, not only writing. It can refer to The Non-Designer’s Design Book. And you'll find a new world.
  • Differences between note, blog and article. There are many related discussions on the web.

Technical requirements

I have used a lot of blog platforms. Most of them can be classified as dynamic or static websites:

  • Dynamic websites with database like WordPress usually can provide a richer set of plugins and features. If you are running a website on your own server, you need to spend a lot of time to maintain or upgrade, and know some Linux knowledge to prevent server downtime caused by excessive traffic pressure, etc. This is not the best choice for me.
  • Static websites' source code are usually built by rendering engine sucn as Hexo/Jekyll/Hugo, which makes you focus on the text content. But you better have some basic front-end knowledge including HTML, CSS and JavaScript. You can deploy static sites on the Github Pages service. You should learn how to use Git and GitHub. Also need to read the official documentation of the engine you are using.
  • Third-party blog hosting is not recommended, not a geek way.

Those are some of my personal insights. It depends on you finally. Let's share more.

Here are the basic features I have to consider when designing my blog:

  • Markdown syntax that supports inline HTML. The markdown syntax can provide a good infrastructure, in addition to the global CSS design, sometimes we need local style customization. Support for additional JS plugins will make content design more imaginative but it slow down the loading speed at the same time.
  • Support for \LaTeX. Mathematics is a rigorous discipline. Writing mathematical formulas requires professionalism and accuracy. Accurate symbol usage and neat formula layout will make the reader understand the content better. MathJax is so powerful. In order to facilitate writing formulas on this website, I wrote some \TeX macros.

    \sigmoid (x) = \frac{\exp (x)}{\exp (x)+\exp (0)}
  • Support for code highlighting. For programmers, code highlighting is self-evident. Highlighting specifics line of code will be more helpful as you saw below:

    import smtplib
    server = smtplib.SMTP('smtp.gmail.com', 587)
    
    #Next, log in to the server
    server.login("youremailusername", "password")
    
    #Send the mail
    msg = "
    Hello!" # The /n separates the message from the headers
    server.sendmail("you@gmail.com", "target@example.com", msg)
    
  • Data backup and security. In fact, this is the most noteworthy point, unless you expect a big 404 when visit your website one day. Don't put everything only on the cloud server.

  • Website loading speed. Selecting the appropriate CDN service like CDNJS can speed up user access to the website and enhance the experience. Once my Chinese blog could not be loaded correctly according to the baned Google fonts in China. For static sites, it is also necessary to find a suitable image management service like ImgURL. After all, Git is not suitable for recording changes in image format files. Another trick is to compress the image before uploading it. I suggest TinyJPG.
  • Responsive/adaptive style design. Many static website templates already support this, which makes your site suitable for different devices. I usually use the developer mode of Google Chrome to check it - F12 then Ctrl+Shift+M.

Conflict between Markdown and Mathjax

Keep in mind that the browser interprets your text before MathJax does.

Another source of difficulty is when MathJax is used in content management systems that have their own document processing commands that are interpreted before the HTML page is created. For example, many blogs and wikis use formats like Markdown to allow you to create the content of your pages. In Markdown, the underscore is used to indicate italics, and this usage will conflict with MathJax’s use of the underscore to indicate a subscript. Since Markdown is applied to the page first, it will convert your subscript markers into italics (inserting <i> or <em> tags into your mathematics, which will cause MathJax to ignore the math).

For more details, please visit TeX and LaTeX in HTML documents.

The good news is that the MkDocs theme I'm using now, Material for MkDocs, have sovled it by Arithmatex Mathjax -- A pydown extension. This is why I use them to build my blog now.

Writer or photographer?

Read this post: 11 Best Practices for Including Images in Your Blog Posts.

Conclusion

  • The images you use in your blog posts tell a story as much as the words do. It’s crucial not only to include images but also to include the right images to help you craft and tell that story.
  • Imagery should be an integral part of all blog posts. You should think of images the same way you think of your introduction or title: Your blog just won’t work without them.

Great writers know how to combine pictures and texts in an article, just as great artists know how to combine vocals and instruments in performances.

Conclusion

To become a writer with craftsmanship spirit, things need to consider are a lot: text content, images, layout, style design, copyright, user experience, reading experience and many more. As long as you continue to polish them as works of art, you can always strive for excellence.

I believe that the previous writing experience will be helpful to me in the future.