January 12, 2009

Make Your Mark

Sorry for the hiatus—things have been swimming along and I’ve been having a bit of a time keeping my head above water. But, not to worry: such is life, this too shall pass, etc., etc. I’m getting there. =)

So, I’ve had several requests in the last little while for blog template advice. I thought maybe I’d just post some hints here for those of you who would be interested. (For those of you who are not, stay tuned, normal programming to resume shortly.) I just want to start out with a short disclaimer. Everything I have learned about blog manipulation, I learned from this thing called the internet and from splitting headache, seemingly endless frustration, plain old trial and error. There have been days where I’ve gone to bed with my eyebrows throbbing because of this, so if your template doesn’t come out right the first or second time, my advice to you is: try, try again. (And google it some more.)

With that being said, there are tons of tutorials, tips, and hints out there on the web to help you do just about anything you want with your blog. It really is fabulous. When you start discovering what’s out there, you will be amazed. Trust me, if you thought of it, it’s out there already: directions just waiting for you to discover them.

First of all, here is a list of sites that put out numerous tutorials that cover everything under the sun to do with manipulating the code in your blog:

Blogging Basics 101
This site provides loads of blogging advice, from how to add elements to your blog to how to be a better writer to how to promote your blog. I believe I used this site to find out how to make a favicon. You can search by topic or you can just type in a term in the search bar.

Tips For New Bloggers
This is one of my all-time favorites for tutorials. What’s so great about it is that they will list the separate blogger templates (since I use blogger) to show how to change each. Blogger’s templates are not all created exactly the same, so this is very useful when trying to manipulate code. (Here’s an example, which explains how to make your blog into three columns) And everything is written out in detail with examples, so the instructions are really easy to follow.

Those are my favorites, but I’m sure there are others out there. If you can’t find a tutorial to match your request, then try just googling a couple of the terms, and see if something pops up, either on a website or perhaps a forum. That has worked several times for me.

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, you can also try Blogger Help Group. It’s a forum blogger set up to help you troubleshoot or guide you in other ways. I’ve found it very helpful, and in a day or two someone will usually post back. They will usually tell you one of three things: they’ve give you a url that will lead to someone who’s posted a tutorial, they’ve simply tell you how it’s done, or they’ll tell you it’s pretty much impossible.

For example:

Pocket. I just found this blogger help site, and it’s really good. I found it from asking a question on Blogger Help Group, and a nice user answered with this website!

Then, if you aren’t into learning that much about CSS and HTML, there are also lots of websites where you can get readymade backgrounds that you can just paste in:
Cutest Blog on the Block (which is right now under construction, I believe. To see when it's back up visit here.)

BlogSkins These templates are a little more "modern," perhaps "edgy." I think they are fun.

And I’m sure there are lots more too.

I just want to say a word about digital scrapbooking. A lot of people lot to use digital scrapbook elements to spice up their blogs. In order to use them, you have to have a program like Adobe Photoshop. Although, I heard from a friend that you can get much the same thing with a free program called Gimp. Cutest Blog on the Block has a fantastic tutorial on how to use scrapbook paper and other elements to make your own blog backgrounds. (Check to see when it's back up here.) I used the tutorial to make the backgrounds for these websites:




They are just kind of little “files” that I use to keep quotes I like.) It's pretty easy. You can find free digital elements on tons of websites, some are of better quality than others. My personal favorites are

Shabby Princess

Free Digital Scrapbooking.com
(Remember, however, when you use free digital scrapbooking elements, you can only use them for personal use. [i.e. You can’t use them if you make money on your blog.])

A way to get images into your sidebars (look at my links and blogs column and my navigation bar for examples) is to host them on Photobucket or Flickr and then you copy and paste the code, shown here:

into a widget on your blog. The widget you need to choose is the HTML/Java widget, shown here: (Sorry, I don’t know about other blog hosts; I’ve only used Blogger.)

If you want the image to be a different size, you can edit it in Photoshop, Gimp, or even Paint. Save it as a JPG, and upload it to a photo hosting site, named above, and follow the rest of the above directions.

To conclude, if you see something on someone else’s website that you are dying to have, and if all else fails, you can right click on the page and then click, “View Source.”

Then you will be able to see the entire code for the website. This is the most difficult way to get material, and you’ll need to be somewhat familiar (meaning, be able to recognize it) with CSS and HTML before this will do you any good. Because, then you can scan the code, find the element you want, and cut and paste. It takes trial and error as well to get it to work, but when it does finally work, it’s the greatest feeling ever!

One last note: Anytime you manipulate code in your template, make sure you save your original template BERFORE you change and save ANYTHING. Trust me, this will prevent some aggravation down the line in case things go terribly wrong. =)

So, there you have it. That’s about all I know about blog templates/design. I hope it was somewhat useful for you. If you have specific questions, I’m also happy to answer them with my novice-ish knowledge of coding. (comment or email at cambookclub@gmail.com) Also, if you’d like me to help you create an element or whatever it may be, I’m also happy to do that as well.

Just remember as you are working away at your blog that it does take time. I only mention it because a lot of times I would sit down to do something that I thought would be a quick fix, and 4 hours later I have a terrible migraine. So, I hope to prevent some headaches in your future by saying not to be surprised if something that seems like it should be easy turns out to be a little harder than you expected. But, don’t let that scare you off! I’ve really enjoyed learning how to do this stuff. I’ve had SO MUCH FUN figuring out new things to do on my website; I know you will too!


laurylaro said...

Cam- you rock. Thanks soo much for all these tips-- I can't wait to spruce up my blog.

Gini+Eric said...

Thank you thank you thank you! I have the email you sent me printed out and waiting, but haven't had the spare time to do anything yet. This post is AWESOMELY helpful as well. Thanks lady!