Tag Archives: advice

The Art of the Expensive Combo

In Magic: the Gathering, I gravitate toward late-game awesomeness. Forget quick and easy combos–I want something that takes several turns to set up, so that I can savor the win when it becomes unstoppable. The idea of building an invincible combo one unassuming card at a time is so much fun.

This tendency certainly hasn’t dimmed or vanished in recent years. One of the recent decks I’ve been working on is basically a combo deck involving Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection.

The epic–and expensive at 10 mana–combo

I LOVE This Idea…

These two card effects blend beautifully, making my opponents lose double life every time I gain life. I’ve actually been able to use two Whitesun’s Passages to defeat somebody in one turn with that combo on the table.

With Boon Reflection on the table, you gain 10 life instead of 5. Two of these played while Sanguine Bond’s out, and you’ve just made your opponent lose 20 life… 😀

…But It Took a Lot of Work to Get Here

However, just because a combo works beautifully in your head doesn’t mean that it will ever come to fruition. I worked on my Sanguine Boon deck (as I’ve come to call this particular combo deck) for almost a year before it really got off the ground, because I couldn’t draw enough mana to play all the combo pieces when I needed to play them. Either that, or I couldn’t even draw the combo pieces at the right time. Since it’s a deck that involves enemy colors working together, I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t expect it to be impossible.

So, I ended up chatting with one of my friends about this conundrum I was having, forgetting momentarily that he was quite knowledgeable about many of the cards and strategies available to Black. I was (admittedly) venting about my frustration with the deck, and after a few thoughtful moments, he said, “Hey, you ever tried Dark Ritual or Demonic Tutor in that deck?”

These cards solve two problems: having enough mana and getting the card you need at the right time.

I hadn’t. Truth be told, I kinda knew the cards existed, but I hadn’t really paid attention. Black has never really been “my color” in M:TG, so I didn’t know the color inside and out like I know White and Green. His question made me ask myself: why am I not using Black’s support cards to get my combo, anyway?

Making This Expensive Combo Run Right at Last!

I realized then that I had been relying completely on the luck of the draw with this deck. I had built the deck with only Sanguine Bond as the main Black card, and had not used Black’s wealth of searching cards (also called “tutor cards”) to get the cards I needed into my hand. When you have an expensive combo like Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection, you need both the actual cards to play AND the available mana to play it, fast!

The addition of Demonic Tutor and Dark Ritual has helped Sanguine Boon become a truly winning deck in the games since then. The Black components (deck-searching and mana generation) helps all the White components be able to gain their life and defend life points long enough to get the combo in play. Once Sanguine Bond and Boon Reflection are both in play, White takes over and begins to kick butt by gaining life (a LOVELY strategy if I’ve ever heard of one!).

Moral of the Story

Don’t put aside the idea of a combo just because it takes too much mana to pull off. There are plenty of cards in M:TG to support even the most expensive of combos, if you’re willing to look outside your comfort zone!

Puzzling Through PHP, part 1: Give Variables a Value

PHP is a strange animal, as I’ve noted before. And, since most of my webdesign and development experience is self-taught and I’ve mostly worked with front-end design in HTML and CSS, PHP has been more of a frustrating puzzle than a new horizon in my coding skills.

Because of this, I’ve run into a couple of PHP fails in my attempts to teach myself this new language. That story follows!

Problem: Can’t Search My Own Database

I couldn’t understand why my variable-laden code for a simple database search wasn’t working, since I had gotten the majority of the code off a fairly reputable PHP code website, and I thought I’d input all the variables correctly. But the code continued to return an error, saying that the database was not “a valid result resource.”

Debugging with a Good Friend

One of my good friends is a computer programmer by nature, and though he knew little of PHP at the time, he was able to express one of the fundamental truths of PHP in a way I could understand it. “Basically, PHP sounds like a function-based language,” he said. “You tell it things to do–functions–based on the variables and values you give it.”

What this meant to me: if the variable isn’t right, or you haven’t got a way to give the variable any value, you’re in trouble! Certainly I had already run into that problem when I was trying to make the PHP code search the MySQL database; the darn thing just wouldn’t budge, and now I knew at least one reason why.

Solution: You MUST Be VERY Specific When You Work with PHP

Once I finally understood that I had to give PHP a variable’s value before I could ask it to make that variable jump through flaming hoops, one of the main problems in my searchable database became clearer: somehow, one of the variables that related to the database was not being given a correct value. Otherwise, what else could be making the database an “invalid result resource?” (We eventually discovered that the database connection itself was to blame–I had mistyped ONE comma as a period, and the whole code had gone bonkers as a result.)

It may seem like common sense to people who have already mastered PHP and MySQL, but for a non-mathematical person who would have preferred to leave variables back in algebra where they belong, it was a very tough hurdle to jump. Even realizing this small piece of information was a victory.

Whenever you work with a highly technical language like PHP, remember that it is unforgiving of most errors. Double- and triple-check your code, testing it often, to make sure your changes actually work. And please, for the sake of your eyeballs and blood pressure, make sure your database connection works so that your database variable has a proper value!

Next Up: The Triumphant Fixed Database

Thankfully, this wasn’t the end of the story! Head on over to Part 2 of this article to see how we transformed this broken database script into a functioning one! (Samples of PHP code, oh my!)

For More Info:

PHP Variable Explanation @ W3Schools.com (low-tech explanation)
PHP Variable Explanation @ PHP.net (high-tech explanation)

A Twist in the Web: Complex Subplots in Simple Storylines

In the last few sessions of writing my novel, I’ve found a cool little subplot that I wanted to work with more in the storyline. It is a much more complex and dark subplot than the larger story it’s couched in, but I’m finding it to be surprisingly interesting and driving.

Why This Works: It’s a Little Shock of Mystery

Overall, my novel up to this point has been fairly straightforward, focused on one character and that character’s impressions and perceptions of the world. The lightness and relative simplicity of this larger storyline seems to set off this little shadowy gem of a subplot quite well–the smaller subplot is more other-focused, more about the wider world around the main character, like a glimpse out a window.

I somewhat planned this and somewhat didn’t–I knew that this subplot’s initiating event would happen, and I wanted the story to be more other-focused at that moment, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve that until I began to write it. Then this subplot began to emerge from my fingers, seeping into my keyboard and into the Microsoft Word file, and I began to marvel at what was being created. It was a sudden touch of mystery in an otherwise fantasy/Christian-fiction story, and it just WORKS. 😀

The great part about this is that it helps break up any monotony that might have formed for readers thus far. And there are a few more complex subplots to be written as well before this first novel of mine ends. It certainly is a twist in the story’s web, but it makes a very neat little pattern all its own, and I like it!

How to Introduce a Twist in Your Own Stories

No matter what size your story is, you can give your readers the same interesting turn in a story’s plot without having to make the whole story “suspense/mystery.” Here’s a couple of tips:

  • Place your twist in the middle of a particularly peaceful scene or section of the story, giving your plot a bit more texture (like the surprise of crunchy peanut butter in a PB&J sandwich).
  • Whatever you decide to write as your “twist,” reveal it slowly–don’t give all the information to the reader at once. I find that writing my “twist” subplot works best if I intersperse mentions of it in between other, lighter parts of my novel, giving my readers time to wonder about what’s really going on.
  • Try writing your “twist” subplot from the perspective of a new character, or maybe one of your minor characters you haven’t developed much yet. (You may not end up including this in your story, but it will be good background information and will force you to view this subplot with a different character’s perspective!)

Scheduling Posts Using WordPress

One of the things that first drew me to using WordPress is the ability to schedule posts. Since I had horrible 26.4 kbps dial-up internet at home when I started my blog in January 2011, I had to grab Internet time at libraries and coffee shops as I could. Thus, scheduling posts worked beautifully for me, enabling me to write posts at home and upload them for later publishing to keep my blog active. And now, even though I have fast internet at home, scheduling posts still works for me–I can work ahead and still space out my posts across days. Awesome!

How to Schedule Your Posts

When you’re on the Add New Post page of your WordPress Dashboard, look over to the right side of the screen. A module will be on display there (shown at left), with options to save your draft, discard what you’re working on, etc. One of the options reads “Publish immediately.”
You can click the “Edit” option beside the text “Publish immediately” to expand a form with text boxes (shown at left). This will allow you to change the post’s publish date and time.

When you first open the Scheduling option, the current date and time will be in the text boxes. In this screenshot, it was May 4th, close to 2:00 pm (WordPress has a 24-hour clock, so keep that in mind!)

Now, all you have to do is fill in the date and time you want your current post to appear!

I have deliberately highlighted the date and time text boxes to call attention to the changed publish date and time: May 16th, 2011, at 9:01 AM.

Click the white OK button, and the text in the box subtly changes to “Schedule for: May 16th, 2011, at 9:01,” as seen at left. (This is how my blog posts magically appear at the same time every day, whether I’m actually awake/at my computer or not–another great function of scheduling!)

Why Scheduling Posts is Awesome

  1. You can schedule dozens of entries well ahead of time. This is what I’ve done with my Friday link posts–I’ve scheduled them several weeks in advance, since they are easier posts to put together. This means less writing overall for each individual week.
  2. You can get around having limited Internet access or blogging time by scheduling the week’s posts in advance. I generally upload the coming week’s posts on Saturday or Sunday of each week, so I don’t have to worry about it during the week.
  3. You can have posts lined up for publishing even when you’re going on vacation or will otherwise be away from your computer. This is a good option if you want a week or two without having to worry about blogging, but you don’t want your blog to lie un-updated for all those days.
  4. You can post announcements ahead of time, right when they need to be posted (such as a warning an hour before an online contest closes, etc.). Timely updates ensure your visitors that the site is being watched and updated regularly, and is a great interactive tool.


WordPress makes it easy to do posts in advance, for whatever reason, with its Scheduling option. Try it out sometime–it’s certainly been a lifesaver for me!

Think Before You Type

Have an idea for a hilarious joke to post on Facebook? Maybe a prank comment on one of your friends’ statuses? How about a note detailing all the crazy things you and a bunch of friends got into on Saturday night?

Instead, how about not clicking “Post” just yet, and instead rereading what you wrote?

Why Reread? Because It Could Save You a Lot of Pain

Rereading won’t take long. Just for a few seconds, think about how your parents will understand this post, or how your boss will take it. If it’s a joke or prank on a friend, think about how this friend might interpret your words. Is it as funny? Does it make sense to post it now? And, most important of all, would you be comfortable with a potential employer, new friends, or a future significant other seeing this five or six years from now?

The reason I bring this up is because a lot of things get posted on Facebook these days that really shouldn’t be broadcasted. Though writing statuses or notes on Facebook seems harmless, sometimes thoughtless words can get you fired or spark fights (like the Facebook fight over a boy which resulted in a girl’s death).

If You Didn’t Reread Before Posting, You Can Still Delete

We all have things out there on the Internet that represent who we WERE, not who we ARE now–especially if you’ve had an online presence for a long time. But if we don’t delete things that no longer represent who we are, they don’t just vanish into the digital mist; they’re still archived somewhere, and someone may well access it one day much later when it’s embarrassing (or even incriminating) rather than funny or cool.

This is one reason I’ve gone about the Internet deleting and cleaning up my very old profiles. I’ve changed and grown up a lot since I first started using the Internet; I used to curse a lot, for instance. Now that I’m older and more professionally-minded, I don’t want bosses or new friends coming across things I posted that no longer fit my personality, my hopes and dreams, or my ambitions. (I am aware that archives of my old stuff may still exist somewhere on the Internet, but at least my deletions will make it much harder to retrieve.)

So now, before I post anything on the Internet, even blog posts like this one, I stop and think, “Could this possibly get me in trouble someday? Could someone take this the wrong way? How does this reflect on me as a person?” This keeps me from posting a lot of (usually frustrated) statuses that wouldn’t serve any good purpose anyway, and it also keeps me from accidentally offending anyone, which could easily come back to bite me in an uncomfortable bodily region later.


Since so much of our lives are on the Internet these days (even our work and family lives), it’s important to think carefully before posting anything online. This doesn’t mean that we live “fake” lives on social media, but that we just think as much about what we type as what we say in person.

Blog Content, Ahoy!

Each week on this very blog, I’ve been challenging myself each week to write good content for my blog posts, so that people will want to read more of my writing.

But what does “good blog content” mean? How do you write an article that people actually want to read? Here’s what I think makes a great article:

It’s Well-Informed and Well-Researched

Good blog content is the result of study AND experience with the subject matter. When you include not only your own thoughts, but reference the thoughts of others, you have a much more interesting article, no matter how long it is. (In fact, a concise, well-thought-out article is MUCH better than a long-winded one!)

It’s Thoughtful and Respectful

A good article is balanced, not biased. It shows that you’ve taken time to explore your subject matter from many angles, and you’re not disparaging any one opinion just because you personally don’t like it. (This is especially key in religious or political posts, but any article benefits from a respectful tone.)

It’s Personally Connected

Articles without some sort of emotional/personal investment in the subject matter also lack one other thing: READERS. We all write more compellingly when we care about a topic, and that kind of attitude toward a topic will draw people in to read what you have to say.

It’s Got Pictures

Photos, graphs, charts, or any other visual aids you can put in to accent your content is key. But I’m not advising you to fill your article full of pointless clipart–choose images that help explain your points, or mean something in the context of your article, especially if the article is long. This also helps visually break up your writing so your article doesn’t suffer from “Wall of Text” syndrome.

There Are Subheadings and Headings

Headings and subheadings, like the ones in this article, help break up long paragraphs just like visual aids do. Also, if you write your headings with summary words (like I’ve done in this article), readers can also scan your post for its content much more quickly.

You’ve Put Links In

Since we blog authors are writing for the Internet, linking to others’ opinions has never been easier. When you provide links, it’s clear that you’ve “done your homework” about this topic, and you can give readers a list of good sites to go if they want to know more. (Just make sure that your link text isn’t just “click here,” and you’re good!)


Blog content is part writing and part designing–you have to write content that IS interesting, but you need to make it LOOK interesting, too. These 6 tips will help you shape your own content so that readers will want to read and talk about what you’ve said…which is a blogger’s dream!

Confront the Giant in Song

As a piano/vocal songwriter from the age of 12, I’ve written songs about the things I see in life that make me happy or catch my interest. But more often, my songs are about things that bother me; expressing my sadness or frustration in song has been one of the key ways I vented. I am definitely not alone in that, either, since many songwriters use music to talk about important social and political issues. Writing music about problems–confronting our problematic “giants” within the context of a melody–seems to be human nature.

Why Write Songs About Problems? Because It Helps

Songs are a great way to work out problems, as I found out at an early age.  I could sing and bang the piano keys about my problems more readily than I could even talk to somebody about what was going on.  Through music, I could put it more eloquently…and I found out through performances that other people identified with what I was singing about, even if it was sad.

Within a song, somehow, it seems easier to deliver a message that people will readily listen to. Even if the message is controversial, it seems less so when wrapped in melody and rhyme. And often, such a song can be the instigator of positive change, as it raises awareness about the problem–one such song is Jesus, Friend of Sinners by Casting Crowns, available through the video below:

The “Problem Song” Writing Process

In the act of writing a song about a problem, it forces me to condense my message and really “get to the bottom” of what I’m trying to talk about.  It makes me dig around in my conscious and subconscious mind–why does this problem bug me so much? Once I start trying to explain my point of view as if speaking to someone else, I finally find the little nugget of truth hiding underneath the layers of my own thoughts, and that truth becomes the basis of my song.  Then I write about how I see that truth, how that truth affects me, and the song begins to emerge.

Self-discovery and expression collide and combine once I finally sit down to the keyboard (either to type or to play).  As I write the words, sometimes I find myself adding the melody with it; as I hum the melody, sometimes I find myself adding the words where they best fit.  Either way, I am changing the word choice and rhythms to flow better together.  This is a highly instinctive process of addition, deletion, and rapid editing until I find the “right” way the song is supposed to work, how it’s supposed to deliver its message.

Once I feel that the song is done “right,” I perform it for myself, in many rehearsals.  Generally, the way I know that a song is good enough is if it either raises the hairs on my arms, or it makes me cry. (Yay for built-in quality control!)


The most challenging part of the whole “problem song” process, for me, is the first performance of the song for anybody.  I am challenged to deliver my message as if I am a keynote speaker, and in a way, I am.  I need to keep their interest, sing clearly, and express the nugget of truth with emotion and description, to help someone else understand how much this means to me.  My song should go out to the audience and travel straight from their ears to their hearts, giving them the message in a way that makes them think without being hostile to the idea in my music.

How Can You Confront Your Own Giants with a Song?

I find that writing a bullet list, outline, or even just random notes about things that concern you is a great starting point toward writing your own songs (or poems, if you aren’t musically inclined).  Amid the detritus that you will inevitably produce (as everyone does), there will likely be a phrase or sentence you write that will point you in the direction of your own nugget of truth.

From there, try to dig into it, to completely explain that nugget of truth as you see it.  Your own poem or song will emerge from your pen or your keyboard–and you just might be surprised at what you’ve come up with!

Stress Test: Being the Healer

Players of MMOs, like World of Warcraft and City of Heroes, know the value of a “healer”–the character who heals damage in a team, so that the team’s big bruisers and snipers stay alive long enough to do their job. Healers are always in demand, whether a group is advertising for a priest or for an Empath; they know they will need someone backing them up with supportive, team-oriented powers.

But not everyone is cut out to play a Healer. If you like to deal lots of damage and kick a bunch of butt, the Healer class is not for you. If you don’t like playing with other people, and prefer to go your own way, the Healer class is also not for you. Creating and playing a Healer is about being defensive and supportive, being team-oriented, and most of all, maintaining that team as long as you can. It can be a lot of hard work, but I like to think of it as a “stress test.” If you can handle being a Healer, you can handle just about anything the game throws at you.

Throughout this article, I’ve used actual screenshots from a session of playing Lyssadia, my Empathy/Energy Blast Defender. Empath Defenders are one of the most common builds for Healers in City of Heroes, and Energy Blast typically knocks enemies back so that they are stunned for a few seconds, so her attacks still work to support the team.

Healers have to care. A LOT.

No longer can you just run ahead of your team, heedless of everything the other players are doing, and shoot or slash the living daylights out of everything. If you’re a healer, you need to care about what your team is doing, because without you to back them up, they can easily get wiped out in the middle of a big enemy spawn.

You also need to care about the welfare of each of your teammates mid-battle. Your particular MMORPG, like City of Heroes, may allow you to have a sort of “Team Window” where you can monitor each member’s health and other vital stats.

This little window is a godsend for healers. Out to the side, you can see all the little icons representing many of the buffs each character has on them–this helps me figure out who needs which buff, who needs healing, etc. I just look for the bright green icons to know whether I’ve buffed somebody recently, and I can easily watch their red Health and blue Endurance bars, too.

Believe me, as a person who’s played just about every Archetype available in City of Heroes/Villains, damage-dealing characters do depend on their healer teammates to be the “net,” to catch them if they fall! Caring healer players can literally be the saviors of their teams during huge battles.

Healers have to be responsible.

Caring also entails responsibility. You have to be paying attention to where the team is going, not wandering off randomly by yourself because you accidentally closed your Map (*raises hand* Guilty). You also need to scan the battlefield at all times, not just focus on the particular enemy or ally in front of you. This helps you stay alert to rapidly-changing battle events.

For example, here’s what happens when you focus too long on one particular thing as a Healer:

I’ve selected one of my teammates’ names in the Team Window at left, denoted by the white box around the name, and have just healed him close to full health. My own health bar isn’t looking so great, though, because in healing my teammate, I’ve come a little too close to the battle front.
See all those red numbers above Lyssadia’s golden halo? That means somebody’s damaging her. The red and blue bars just above the halo show her health and endurance–her blue endurance bar is nearly full, but her red health bar is almost half gone. I have to get her out of the line of fire fast!

Healers have to be careful not to make themselves targets; that’s one reason I say to keep moving and keep watching your screen. Otherwise, you can end up with one very dead Healer…

(This is what happens when I’ve gotten a little overzealous shooting stuff and forgotten to heal myself. Poor Lyssadia. Learn from my fail.)

Healers have to FOLLOW the team, not lead.

Healers actually work best at bringing up the rear–many healers have secondary attacks that they can fire off to prevent a few straggling baddies from stabbing the group in the back, and you can also monitor your teammates more carefully if you are behind them rather than in front of them. As the healer, don’t be the first to fling an attack or explore ahead of your group, because this is a good way to get your Empath character killed.

(Through the confusion of colors, you can see the two names in green in this screenshot–those are my two teammates up ahead of me. Since I’m behind them, I can visually monitor what is going on, and I can click-and-heal them if I need to.)

Several of my healers can fly, so usually I will hover above the fracas, healing, buffing, and offering a bit of cover fire when needed. This elevated position helps a Healer see more of the battlefield, and it can keep you in range of allies who would otherwise be out of range of targeted heals and buffs. Whether you choose to fight from the air or ground, however, it’s important to stay in a central position in the team–if you’re too far forward or too far back, you might not be close enough to a teammate to help them.

Here’s Lyssadia in flight, going “pewpewpew” at the Auto Turret in her sights. My teammates were still in sight in the larger version of this screenshot, so I could take a few shots, then heal or buff if necessary.

Healers have to heal/buff first and fight second.

Even though most healers on City of Heroes are ranged attackers as well, they really work best if you focus on buffing everyone and healing everyone first, and only attacking if absolutely necessary. It can be very tempting to start fighting along with your teammates if you start taking damage yourself, but stay the course–if you can keep your teammates alive by a few well-timed heals and buffs thrown their way, then you won’t have to worry very much about taking damage!

(In this shot, I’ve targeted onto one of my teammates, marked by the green box around his character, and am sending an application of Fortitude his way, which will increase his Damage Resistance to just about every type of damage for 1 minute.)

Healers have to focus.

Eating, watching TV, or doing anything else while trying to play a healer will not work. Even if you can type quickly, sometimes even chatting with your teammates takes too much attention away from the job at hand. Since much of the team depends on you to keep them in fighting shape, you have to maintain a focus that you don’t necessarily have to have when you’re playing a damage-dealing character.

It can be a bit stressful, especially if you’re trying to keep up with a team whose members don’t talk about what they’re going to do before they do it. But if you’ve got a good team going, with lots of communication, it’s relatively easy to stay focused.

(I’m staying a bit further back from the fray in this shot, because there are still several high-level enemies alive, but my teammates are generally mopping ’em up okay. I just need to be alert in case a teammate gets caught unawares by an enemy shot. This time, I’m not making Lyssadia fly into the fight just to get shot!)


Playing a healer does require a bit more work, but it is a very rewarding type of character to play if you enjoy being needed. It’s a team-oriented mindset that can make battle less boring and more involved…for certain, it is a VERY different kind of challenge. If you’ve never played a Healer before, give it a shot!

The Difficulty of Pricing Design Services

Doing web design as a career and not just as an (expensive) hobby is something I’ve been tumbling about in my mind for quite some time now. Instead of watching money go down the drain every month for hosting, and every year for my domain name, why can’t I use my skills to monetize my sites?

But it’s a harder decision than that. There are, as I’ve unfortunately found out, many roadblocks to making a success of yourself in web design, not the least of which is the knowledge required to do it. But for those who wish to pursue it as a career, there’s one final hurdle to jump: how to price your design/development services?

Today’s article focuses on the 4 most important concerns any would-be designer/developer needs to figure out before jumping into a career:

#1: People need economical services, not exorbitant prices.

As much as you might think you’ve trimmed costs, somebody will always want the price lower. These days, most people can’t afford to pay a web designer/developer much money unless they are part of a corporation. You have to find the balance in pricing between “selling yourself too short” and “never getting any clients.”

I found this very difficult when I was trying to price my designing abilities. I generally overshot what most people wanted to pay for maintenance services, and undershot the original layout and development price. Finally, I took to writing it all out: what I valued my coding skills at, what I valued my graphic design work at, etc. I came up with a list of prices I could live with:

HTML/PHP Coding (Page Coding Structure)

  • Each Page of Content: $10.00
  • Main Page Layout Coding: $12.00

Graphic Design of Page (Visual Layout)

  • Each large image (layout pieces): $20.00
  • Each small image (icons, buttons): $10.00
  • Full layout (1 page, with images and appropriate coding): $35.00

Layout Mockups

  • Each mockup beyond the first: $7.00

Are these prices exorbitant or economical? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I have strong reasoning behind each of my prices. Given that it takes me about 30-45 minutes to put together a fully-debugged page of anything, and 45 minutes to an hour to make small images of any good quality, I reasoned that 10 bucks covered that time investment that I put into creating a quality product. I then scaled up the prices on large images, full layouts, etc., using these price baselines.

You’ll need to determine what your own prices will be for yourself, taking into account how much money you need to make and how low on prices you’re willing to go. Since I want to help individuals and maybe a few small start-up businesses, I wanted to make sure my prices would be accessible; your price reasoning and money goals may be different.

2. How much work do you want to put in?

When people say “I need a web designer,” they sometimes mean that they need a little HTML-driven personal site, and sometimes they mean that they need a huge database-driven multi-user site. You have to determine for yourself what kind of work you want to put in. If working for the “big guys” fires your engines, then by all means go for it! Just remember that it will be a LOT more work than likely any of your personal web design projects have been.

You also have to take your lifestyle and current available time into consideration. If you want big-money projects, but web design is only a side business for you, you will likely run into trouble trying to keep up your time commitments. Web design is one of those things that you can dip your toe into or dive in completely and still be okay; however, you have to take on the jobs that are sized for your time allotment.

For me, personally, I am not experienced enough yet in design to where I’m comfortable pitching my skills to corporations and the like; likely, they would not even look twice at somebody like me who’s completely self-taught in this field. I’m more comfortable working with individuals who need personal sites and perhaps small business sites because I simply don’t have the knowledge yet to do large-scale sites. Neither do I have the time allotment in my schedule as of yet to completely devote myself to a web design career–I have many different interests and am enjoying pursuing them all. Thus, smaller projects work better for me overall.

3. Do you do design, development, or both?

This is one of the huge stumbling blocks I found when first trying to decide on pricing my designs. Did I want to do just layouts, icons, and buttons, or did I want to do just HTML and PHP coding? Or, instead, did I want to offer both types of design services?

For people who do one or the other very well, you may be better off to go ahead and specialize in either the graphic design side or the coding side of web design/development. If you have wonderful visual design skills, then you might have a great career in web graphic design awaiting you. Conversely, if you’re a “code ninja” and can make sites that function beautifully with scripts and databases, you can easily specialize in web development with no problem.

Now, if you’re a designer like me with some skills in both web design and development, you’ll likely want to offer both design and development services, so as not to shut out clients. I don’t do awesome digital illustration, nor do I write my own super-sleek web applications, but I can write HTML/CSS and design a page. These skills are still marketable, regardless of the methods.

4. Don’t sell yourself short—make a contract!

When trying to figure out how to price design services, don’t let anything slide by for free. Some unscrupulous customers may want you to do more than you first bargained for, such as saying “Well, I thought icons and buttons would just come with the layout design–can you go ahead and make me some?”, or “Hey, can you add about 5 more pages? I just realized I need more pages about these other topics.”

That’s why I suggest making a contract beforehand, so that both you and the client know exactly what needs to be done and how much money it will cost. Getting the contract in unalterable writing, either on paper or in a PDF file, keeps anyone from falsifying the contract terms later. That way, if the client wants you to do something extra that’s not on the contract, you can simply refer to the document and say, “I’ll be glad to do this for you, but we’ll need to add this to the contract and re-total up the price.” Clients changing what they want done is okay–it’s just that you need to be compensated for extra time and effort investment.

5. Paid by the hour or by the project? I think it depends on the situation.

There’s a big debate in the web design world about whether you should be paid according to the number of hours you’ve worked on a project, or whether you should be paid according to the size of the project you did. I thought that I was solidly on the side of “by the project,” until I started trying to price services myself. Now, I think it depends on the type of work you’re doing.

For One-Time-Only Projects, Get Paid by the Project

If you’re doing a one-time-only design/development project–say, if a client wants a layout and coding to go with it–then I’d likely choose to get paid by the project. Since you’re not going to be doing ongoing maintenance, and assuming you’re going to complete the work in as quick a time as possible, asking for payment based on the number of images you made and the pages of code you created seems to be a better fit than asking to be paid based on hours you worked.

For Ongoing Projects, Get Paid by the Hour

However, for continuous maintenance job on a website, I’d personally get paid by the hour. Since you’re likely doing daily to weekly maintenance, you need to be compensated for that time you spend each day or each week. It’s not really a “project” in and of itself–it’s keeping up the quality of the project by checking in on it and making sure things are still current.

This is, however, a personal decision that each web designer has to make for himself or herself. These are simply my reasons for choosing which type of payment style works best for me.


If you want to do web design/development as a career, you need to consider methods of payment, client relations, type of work done, and contracts. This all goes into how you want to price your design services. I hope this article has helped jump-start your own thinking, and given you some food for thought!

Awake in the Middle of the Night? Write!

Insomnia. It’s a frustrating feeling to be so tired and not be able to sleep–or to be so bored that you can’t even bear trying to close your eyes. Couple that with the feeling that you’re the only person awake or alive in the whole world, and insomnia can be very lonely, too, even with the electronic companions of computer and TV.

Generally, we’re usually awake in the middle of the night because of worries or something weighing heavily on our minds, unless it’s a physical symptom of an underlying condition. For me, my mind tends to start whirling as soon as I try to find a comfortable position on the bed–I suddenly recall all the minutiae of my day, at a breakneck pace. Very, very aggravating.

A New Approach: Using Insomniac Time as Writing Time

Instead of taking a pill or just tossing and turning for several hours, I’ve taken to writing during sleepless nights. Sometimes the coolest and most beautiful stuff comes out of my brain when I’m absolutely worn out from the day. Maybe it’s just because I’m too tired to self-censor anymore, but I write more freely and creatively, somehow. I also seem to be able to express more emotion and capture scenes better.

How can you harness this same wakeful time to get down some of your best ideas (or most random thoughts)? Try these tips that have helped me:

Use whatever medium you like to write out your thoughts.

I prefer to type because I type so much faster than handwriting, and my brain is usually going a zillion miles an hour. (Handwriting infuriates me now because it’s SO SLOW!) Some people, however, enjoy the sense of pen on paper–it slows their thoughts down enough so that they can capture what they’re really worried about or really thinking about. You may even want to arrange words graphically, like a collage (either digitally or actually writing out the words in artistic form on paper). Choose whatever method is most comfortable for you.

Start out writing formlessly.

You don’t have to write perfectly. Just write your thoughts without worries about punctuation, idea continuity, or grammatical sense. Some people have suggested that when you find yourself stuck, you should write a nonsense word over and over (like “potatobug”), just to keep yourself writing. I, however, don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to keep writing the whole time, writing nonsense words if you can’t think of anything else. (I produce enough nonsense that I don’t need ready-made nonsense to write down. LOL)

If writing nonsense words similarly annoys you, try focusing your writing on a particular topic, like why you’re mad about that guy cutting you off in traffic today (and why you’re still thinking about it in the middle of the night, etc.).

When you’ve run out of things to say about one topic, switch to something else.

This is not only a way to keep writing, but a great way to get at issues that are bugging you or that you’ve had on your mind for a while. One night, while doing this writing activity, I randomly discovered that I was still upset about what a friend had written on my Facebook wall months before. She had said something pretty innocuous, but I took it the wrong way and stewed about it long after I should have given it up. I set about resolving it the next day, and it was all good in the end. If I hadn’t written about it, who knows how long I would have hidden that grudge from myself?

Keep writing till you’re too tired or don’t have anything left to say.

Whichever of these comes first, follow the impulse and put aside computer or pen for the night. I usually get tired before I’m done writing, but some nights I get on such a roll I can’t stop! Those nights, I finish up my idea and collapse into bed, feeling like I’ve run a mental marathon. 😀

IMPORTANT! Keep That Writing!!

Now, once you finish writing, don’t throw your paper/digital file away–keep it and look at it again in the morning. you might have a winner of an idea hiding in there! (This actually happened to me; I wrote something down, looked at it in the morning, and thought “You know, that’d be a great poem.” Thus, a new poem was born out of utter randomness.)


Being awake in the middle of the night doesn’t have to be a lonely, unproductive time. Writing about what you’re feeling, even if you think you’re not a good writer, even if you don’t like to write a lot, can really help you sweep your brain clear of mental clutter so that you can sleep. And who knows, you might find an awesome creative idea along the way. You never know what you’ll find hiding between your synapses!