A how-to guide on how-to guides

I spent most of today on Dosh Dosh, a blog on internet marketting. It has lots of useful guidelines, but the best part is … it’s filled with Manga. Yes, I am partly Otaku.

The thing with sites like this is they can be a little … scary. I’m sure the word I’m looking for is intimidating, but I will stick with scary.

Working online isn’t anything new, and lots of people have done it before me. So it makes sense to borrow their wisdom and not make the same mistakes. But when you read a post like this, well, it’s overwhelming!

The post gives 50 very specific things that you should not do while blogging. Some of them are standard, like

Don’t use tiny fonts.

Others are finicky, like…

Don’t use page titles with ‘The’.

Some seem sensibly obvious, like…

Remove the homepage link; it’s confusing.

or even

Blog links should say where they go.

I’d never have thought of that.

But some of the tips are things you do naturally, almost without thinking, like changing the colour of visited links, which I think is automatic.

When you read a post like that, you can use the formula to create a perfect, working website, but then it feels contrived. Maybe it’s because I’m an artist. I’d prefer to be given a block of wood and a chisel and told to carve a goat than be given a mould and liquid metal.

Not that I can do anything with visual art … I’m strictly a wordsmith. Couldn’t draw to save my last five cent coin.

I always fall back on Ken Follet. He’s written hundreds[?] of novels that are all pedge-of-seat-page-turners. You start the book and you can’t put it down because he’s used all the classic plot tricks: start with action, end each chapter with a cliffhanger, introduce one character at a time, and blah and blah and blah. And because he’s used the formula so well, you read his books in record time.

But when you get to the end of the book, you’re thinking, ‘So now?’ It leaves you with a void, which many people fill by buying another book. Which is great, because that way, he makes more money.

For me, it isn’t quite enough because I find his books hollow. There’s lots of content, high interaction, the story is gripping … there’s even a moral. But there’s very little soul. And I like soul.

That’s what you get when you follow a how-to guide: beautiful content, but very little context.

Sometimes, there’s merit in doing things the hard way, stumbling along, making mistakes like everyone else, using the same old clichés … and telling your story from your own perspective. After all, two people can eat a banana, but when they talk about it, it won’t sound the same. Writing is like that, and so is life.

How-to guides have their place. They’re a pretty nifty shortcut to good work, and I like shortcuts. But I like to make my own rules too … even if they end up being the same as everybody else’s. It’s cool when you do something your way, then hear expert advice which proves you were right all along. You won’t feel quite as confident if you got the advice before you used it.

When my baby was learning how to walk, she would hold on to tables and chairs for support. But one day I noticed that she’d sneak behind the sofa, run a full stretch unaided, then come back to the front and hold chairs the chairs to walk. It was almost like she didn’t want us to see how good she was. That way, she could one day surprise by learning to walk ‘overnight’.

I realise I’m using adult psychology on the games of a 1 year old child, but I can’t help thinking that she was a lot smarter than the rest of us. After all, when we bought her squeaky shoes so we would always know where she was, she learnt to move on tiptoe so we wouldn’t hear the shoes squeak.

How-to’s teach us skills overnight. They’re the ultimate shortcut. But sometimes the best way to learn how to walk is to put one foot in front of the other and move.

Speaking of shortcuts, here’s a pretty good one for you. Instead of doing all your word-work on your own, you could simply hire me. I’m pretty good at it, and I  rarely disappoint…