Liz Writes… In Little Rock

I’m back on the road, baby!

Last month I spent some time in Little Rock, Arkansas, a small enough city that I felt like I saw most or all of it during a six-day work trip. It had the feel of a big city, the grime of one — but the charm of a smaller town, seeing as how I kept seeing the same faces over and over throughout the week.

I had a really great week learning in a professional capacity and having fun in a personal capacity. It is a nice city, full of all the things that make cities familiar. Walking the half mile from my hotel to the conference center was reminiscent of my time in Chicago, in Cincinnati, in London. It felt like home, like I had just returned from a long time away.

While I didn’t do a lot of writing in Little Rock, I did do a lot of thinking. It felt nice to be in a new place, with my little family in tow. It helped me solidify some thoughts about some things I want out of my life: more travel, less stress, more time with my family. I worked on a couple crochet projects and learned more about my field and spent time with folks who know exactly what kinds of challenges I face every day at my job.

Now that I’m home…

One thing that came through clearly at the conference: We need to take more time for ourselves. Make time to be offline. Do other things that aren’t work. I haven’t been doing that a lot lately. It feels like I’ve been going, going, going, and that’s not good for my mental health.

I’m going to take some real time off in January, I think, and settle back into myself.

These blogs are always a testament to the amount of time I spend thinking about how, exactly, to do that. How do I settle back into myself? How do I force myself out of bed to go exercise in the morning? How do I help myself feel more secure in where I am, in the choices I’ve made? How do I let myself be okay with the things I’m doing, and the goals I’m achieving (or not achieving)? I think about all these things for exactly as long as it takes to write this post, and then throw myself back into the humdrum of everyday work.

Seems like I need to carve out some real time to figure things out. Time to make some lists and get back to where I need to be. That’ll be the next post. Stay tuned.

Liz, a glasses-wearing, brown-haired, white, female-presenting person, gives the "peace" sign in a mirror selfie in a hotel room in Arkansas.
I’m a professional.

Literally 2 Cents!: Managerial “Coping” Strategies

This week, we took a deeper look at the kinds of strategies the managers of the content mill used to cope with the fact that they were the middle man between overworked, underpaid employees and clients who, in all seriousness, were probably sold a bill of goods about the content they would be getting from the company.

A quick disclaimer: I promise we will not spend the entirety of this podcast dunking on the content mill. We have just been doing it a lot lately; we’re working on a chunkier episode that will be coming soon!

Another quick disclaimer: I mention this at some point in the episode, but it’s worth reiterating. The managers we worked with absolutely were doing their best. They cannot be fully faulted for the lemons they were handed.

SEO Cope And Change—And StarCraft! This Too Too Solid Flesh

Listen now (59 min) | What it's like to be a manager at an SEO content mill
  1. SEO Cope And Change—And StarCraft!
  2. The Top 10 Things We Wish We Didn't Know About Content Mills
  3. The Knife Alien File: A Content Bonanza
  4. 002b: Content algorithms: We’re the tools and Google is the operator
  5. 002a: IMDb What to Watch, AWS, and algorithmic selection

Liz Writes… At Lake Hope

I started this post four years ago, the last time I went to Lake Hope. In the Before Times, you know. Before all the big life changes came tumbling across my proverbial windshield (pandemic notwithstanding).

I have been to Lake Hope State Park (in southeast Ohio) several times over the years, the first time with friends from college in what seemed like the spring of my life. It seems like whenever I go, it’s time to reset. To recharge. The first time, it was at the end of my first year of graduate school, and I was limping on to the next semester having learned exactly what I DIDN’T know, and how much I needed to learn. The second time, it was at the end of my second year of graduate school — and I was prepping to defend a thesis I wasn’t quite sure I believed in anymore.

This time was no different. I hadn’t had a vacation — a true vacation with just me, filled with things I wanted to do — since 2019. Since before everything. So this was a much-needed diversion, a moment of relaxation in the midst of busy times and bad brain vibes all around.

I brought my new Chromebook along so that I could work on my novel, which is coming along nicely. I’m really happy with this purchase. It was $100 and it’s easily worth more. I had a small laptop in college that I bought specifically to take to England when I studied abroad, and this is reminiscent of that (it was probably the most useful of laptops I’ve ever purchased). Plus I get to learn something new and use Linux for the first time.

As corny as it sounds, Lake Hope represents a renewal for me. A kind of hope. It’s always a great time — but more than that, it’s a place that I can retreat when things become too much. I am happy I got to do some good work — and crochet, of course — in a familiar place. I am also grateful I was able to take my little family with me (because of course Cora had to come too!).

Cora the Explora (a brown striped tabby cat) sits in a bunk bed
Cora had her very own bunk bed.

Literally 2 Cents!: Top 10 Things

This week on 2 Cents: The Top 10 Things We Wish We Didn’t Know About Content Mills.

We came at this one like we would any piece of content for our previous employer. The “Top X” things post was probably the most popular schema of post that we would write — because, for whatever reason, the Google algorithm prioritizes content like this.

In this episode, we talk about how much we actually used to write every day (too much), how everything on the internet is actually ghost-written (sorry), proprietary content management software (it’s trash!), and on-prem vs. cloud-based solutions (barf).

Enjoy!

Happy National Crochet Day!

Today (September 12) is apparently National Crochet Day. (There is a day for everything, it seems.)

This is a perfect opportunity to gloat about all the stuff I’m making and how much progress I’ve made with this craft over the last couple of years.

My mom taught me how to crochet using a hairpin lace loom when I was eight. For years, we made blanket after blanket after blanket — we are never not making a hairpin lace blanket. For reference, a hairpin lace loom looks like this:

A golden crochet hook attached to red yarn and a hairpin lace crochet apparatus
And that blue and gray blanket I’m using was also hairpin lace.

So for the longest time, I only knew how to crochet using this specific method. Several years ago, however, my best friend started learning how to crochet from her mom, who is basically a professional. I wanted to learn how to make things from just yarn and a hook, too — and so my best friend showed me how to hold the yarn and how to do a single crochet stitch.

Then there was a pandemic.

The rest is history!

Here are some recent projects I’ve been working on:

Celebrate the day wisely, friends! Grab your hooks and get makin’!

Literally Two Cents! Episode 3: The Golden Rule of Content

This episode was extremely fun to record (in case you didn’t notice: I was laughing the entire time) and even more fun to chat with Alex about before and after. Turns out that the golden rule of writing for a content mill doesn’t have anything to do with “treating others the way you’d want to be treated…”

SEO Cope And Change—And StarCraft! This Too Too Solid Flesh

Listen now (59 min) | What it's like to be a manager at an SEO content mill
  1. SEO Cope And Change—And StarCraft!
  2. The Top 10 Things We Wish We Didn't Know About Content Mills
  3. The Knife Alien File: A Content Bonanza
  4. 002b: Content algorithms: We’re the tools and Google is the operator
  5. 002a: IMDb What to Watch, AWS, and algorithmic selection

Liz Makes Stuff: Mittens! (& other announcements)

I have been working on this set of gloves for a while. Island Grandpa of CGRH fame turned me on to this pattern, and I wanted to try something new!

It works up really nicely and quickly, and I’ve made two pairs now. I’m working on a third for a friend. It’s such a nice little project to do while watching a show — most of the second pair was completed while watching a K-drama called Her Private Life (which, by the way, is a super cute show and highly recommended).

The pattern I used is by Sheep & Stitch, and they have a video walkthrough that was really helpful — especially because this was my first time using double-pointed needles and knitting in the round. It was a little uncomfortable at first, because it took a minute to figure out how to hold the needles. But the mittens worked up so nicely once I got the hang of it.

I’m enjoying the art of crochet and knitting… and as a true millennial bitten by the gig economy bug, I am thinking about selling small crochet / knitted items here on my website!

I am still in the process of figuring out exactly what that’s going to look like, but I’m excited to dip my toes in the small-business world and see if anyone actually wants the things I’ve been making. I mean… I want them. I love this stuff. So maybe someone else will too!

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the things I might sell. (Hint: Bookmark this page and let me know what you think!)

Liz Writes… with software

Have I ever talked about the program I use to work out my novels?

It’s called yWriter, and it’s an open-source program created by novelist Simon Haynes, who decided that one simple text document wasn’t enough for the stories he was concocting. He wanted a place to organize scenes, character information, worldbuilding activities… He wanted to be able to jump easily from scene to scene, and do it without creating bespoke documents for each chapter. He wasn’t finding what he wanted in the current software market (especially since apps like this often are a vehicle for a lot of marketing garbo that no one wants). And so he made it! (The full story behind the app can be found here.)

A screenshot of my yWriter setup for the novel.
It’s blurry on purpose because spoilers.

I’ve been using yWriter for probably close to… fourteen years… now, and it’s still got everything I need. (Of course, you could make the argument that all you ~~really~~ need is your brain, pencil, and paper. Blah, blah, blah, yes, we know.) It got me through undergrad, saw several drafts of my graduate school thesis, and has been a constant companion through the tumultuous times. I like having a place to keep my thoughts about plot progression, vague notes about character motivations, and even tidbits about appearance that you add as you write but can’t remember later — you can add a note in the character profile that you gave them one gold hoop earring, or that they only wear green on the first day of every season, or that they have a tiny scar on the middle toe of their left foot.

It’s a great way to organize information. And so when I realized recently that I wanted a new laptop, of course the first question was: Can I put yWriter on it?

A laptop, mug full of tea that says "I do what I want," a Nintendo Switch, and a crochet hook laid out on a table
The mug says it all: I do what I want.

Well, I’m happy to say that my brand new Chromebook … will eventually run yWriter. Simon is working on an Android version, which I will immediately load once he is finished. (And I can be patient! He’s a busy guy!) In the meantime, I’m… going to learn Linux. And run it on my Chromebook using Linux, I guess. (The screenshot above was taken from a Linux-terminal-loaded app!!)

After the tumult of COVID, and divorce, and just a lot of stuff going on at work, I hope I’m ready to get back to writing fiction again. Talking and thinking about yWriter and my novel feels like a step in the right direction.