My Journey into Code…

#Feminist Hacker Barbie

At the beginning of November I had the joy of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, and one of the things I quickly learned is that I need to be better at my internet game. Sure, I can do twitter and Facebook, I’ve been doing those for years, but having a definitive web presence is now an essential part of being a writer in the modern age, especially when your audience is likely to be made up predominantly of young adults.

“It’s ok, I’m bright, and I like challenges, I can definitely do this!” I thought, setting up my basic WordPress site. It looked pretty cool – it took me a whole weekend to get right, and I liked it.

However.

I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to be the right kind of website for what I wanted to do. A tiny private blog that was never really going to get read by anyone other than my Mum? Sure, basic WordPress is great! But to handle anything a teeny weeny bit more sophisticated? It just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. Because I would need things called ‘plugins’ that would allow my site to be indexed better and found easier, and I wanted to change little things about the way the site looked, which would require even more scary sounding things.

I’ve written this post mainly for those of you who might be in a similar situation to me, or want to know what I’m doing, and the how and why.

So the first thing I should say is that if you can afford to get someone to set up and manage your website for you – DO IT. If not, and you’re up for a challenge, then listen closely…

Computers have changed a little bit from when I had to learn about them in school. I remember secondary school IT lessons teaching me how to put a Word document together, and how to make images in Paint. But now, its really useful to know something called Code. Code is the language of websites. It is what they are built on, in the same way that songs are built on sheet music. Code is the sheet music of the internet. And even if you want to do tiny things (like change the font size of your name on your website front page – my personal pain) you will first need to know how to read code, and then how to manipulate it.

When I was in school and desperate to keep up with all my musician friends who could read music and sight-sing (we were all in choir together), I bought myself a recorder and learnt how to read music too. What I am doing now is essentially the same. I’m not about to give a concert any time soon (if ever!) but I am learning about the notes, and how they work, and what things sound like when I change my finger positioning.

I have bought my own web domain (the site you are on now!) – for any newbie author this is ESSENTIAL (yes, you will have to spend a little bit of money, but for authors this will count as a tax deductible expense) – and I have a host (Godaddy) that gives me the props and support that I need. They are rather lovely on the phone when I get myself into muddles! Then I decided, because I really liked my basic WordPress site, to use WordPress as the building blocks for my own site. Building the site itself – still a little tricky. WordPress doesn’t give you all the easy functions to change appearance like it does on its own basic service. You have to do stuff yourself. Which means you have to learn to code.

You too can learn to read the matrix…

I’m using a free online course called Code Academy. So far, they’re pretty great! I’m being gently taken through the basics, and hopefully at the end of it I should be able to change the darned size of my website heading!!! I feel exactly the same as I did when I learnt my first tune on that recorder.

To be honest, it’s a little fun. I’m spending a couple of hours each morning going through the exercises, and I’m slowly learning the language (it really is just like learning how to speak a new language!). This is a new skill I can put on my CV! And it keeps the cogs in my brain oiled! And the satisfaction when you can see your work right in front of you is brilliant.

I’ll keep you posted on how its all going (tbh, you should be able to see how I’m doing from how my website changes and improves!) and if you want to ask me any questions, please do! For members of the SCBWI gang, go hunt down the wonderful Candy Gourlay – she is amazing and inspiring and it’s basically because of her that I’m on this journey in the first place.

One final note for those that are terrified by the prospect of this journey – it’s ok. It really is. Find a way to learn that you’re comfortable with, find out which of your friends can help you if you get into a jam, and just play around. You don’t have to be a brainiac, or a nerd, and these are skills that will be useful as the world changes. Have a go! If you pick up that recorder and hit a few duff notes, don’t worry! Just spend a bit more time with it, and soon enough you’ll be playing the song along with the rest of us.