As of late, I have been accumulating more experiences, not just with CW, but also with QRP operations. Indeed, a number of recent portable operations were quite instructive for me. What I hope is that by sharing these perhaps, minor details, I might be able to save some other operators the trouble of so much frustration.
Voices of Experience
First, and as always, I think the number one thing I am continuing to find is that the best source of advice and help is Elmer's. Operators with years of experience. This is a source of knowledge that can never be underestimated. Oh, and don't be like me. Don't selectively take advice from Elmer's while ignoring some things in favor of stubborn personal ideas. The object really is to operate. These guys usually know how to help you get up and going. If you need help; ask for it.
If I had to guess, Antenna devices are likely one of the bigger sources of frustration and problems for many operators. Being a new operator, and attempting to participate by operating QRP, can potentially compound the issue. It did for me. My experience in this same situation, almost without exception, has been that the more simple you keep things, the better your results will be. For QRP and QRP portable operations, I tend to believe that the simple Antenna forms are the best: the venerable Dipole, ¼ Wave Verticals, and basic forms of the Long Wire.
It is very easy to get caught up in the Antenna game. There are countless blogs, articles, and web sites devoted just to this topic; most of which contain basic true Antenna principals. Many are littered with confusing information that is not always true. Further, there is a lot of contention and disagreement about various Antenna topics. If you look at all of this long enough and do the math in your head, you will probably see the futility in it. For me, the main focus was simply to operate. What is the best way to do that? Put up a simple antenna and get on the air. Everything else is really going to eat up your time and take away from the fun of HAM radio. Find your local Elmer and get some basic advice on using one of the simple Antenna types.
BIG Waves SMALL space
If with your license level, you are able to operate on some of the higher frequency HF bands, chances are probably good that you might be able to operate from home without too much trouble, even if your location is restricted. Antenna's for some of the HF bands are not huge. If however you are like me, interested in operating on the lower bands, you may find yourself struggling for Antenna space. If this is the case, do yourself a favor. Build a simple wire Antenna and the lightest pack you can, and get out to a local park or some other suitable location and operate. Parks and other such locations can be wonderful for erecting Antenna's for the lower bands. Moreover, creating the most efficient pack for portable operation is quite a challenge and can be an enjoyable part of operations. My own experience has generally been that portable operations are a breath of fresh air; literally. QRM/QRN is generally much lower when operating portable which makes searching for QRP contacts far less frustrating. Overall it has been an enjoyable experience for myself and one I would recommend trying if your own circumstances permit. Again, your local Elmer can help you here as well.
Learn to play the Propagation game
In my estimation, HAM radio is not truly a hobby. It seems, at least to me, to be more of a vocation or craft. A field of science combined with the potential & privilege of serving others. It can be fun, frustrating, rewarding, irritating, and even bothersome at times. Nevertheless, above all, I esteem HAM radio as being an entity that should be attended with professionalism. I suppose that this is a matter of subjective interpretation, however, my own experience has been that when I have focused on deliberately being organized well, exercising good ethics and accuracy in my operations, and in trying to follow good practices, that things have generally gone better. More contacts get made. My equipments stays in good order and a host of other positive things. Attending HAM operations with the same level of professionalism we do in our employment could lead to better outcomes overall.
Specific to QRP Ops
Most, if not all of the QRP operators I have communicated with have shown me one thing above all; an extreme level of sophistication and expertise. QRP really is a different animal so to speak. It requires not just patience, but a dedication to becoming refined enough in all aspects of operating and to a such a fine degree that no stone of efficiency has been left unturned. Most of these operators have stations that are far more capable than are those of higher power simply because QRP requires it. This includes all physical parts of a station and operator techniques. It is a challenge to be sure and not to be taken casually. But, as I have found, the rewards of QRP are unique. QRP is equivalent in definition with the word efficiency. QRP does work and QRP is not a cute toy in the world of Amateur radio. It is a precise and high level of operating. Personally, I have had no feeling quite like making a contact on almost no power when compared with a high power station. So, if you are new to HAM Radio & QRP and perhaps feeling frustrated, hang in there. Learn, read, ask questions, and then get out there and operate. Experience is probably your best instructor, even when the experience is an irritating string of successive failures. It will pay off...