How to Start a Blog

A friend of mine solicited advice in Facebook on this topic, and since what I’ve written is probably too long for that platform, I’ll make a blog post out of it!

 

  1. First think about what the purpose of your blog is. All of the decisions you make will flow from that, so be clear in your mind on why you are doing it. What is the theme, if you have one? Pick out a title that fits the theme and purpose. While doing business blogging as part of my living, I was taught that one of the purposes of blogging and other social media is to give your company a more personal feel and create a connection with the audience. Whether your purpose in blogging is to make money or just express yourself, informality is expected so if you want to go off topic now and then and write about whatever is on your mind at the time, that is ok to do.
  2. Decide whether you need your own domain name. Is it acceptable to have your blog at myblog.wordpress.com for example or is it important to have www.myblog.com? If you want your own domain, is there a domain name available that fits your chosen title?
  3. Decide whether you want to use your real name or a pen name.
  4. Decide what email address you want to associate with your account. If you’re using a pen name, you might not want to use the same email address you use when you’re using your real name online. Also if you want readers to be able to contact you by email, it might be useful to have a separate email for this so you can better manage the spam settings. On most platforms that I’m familiar with, allowing readers to contact you by email is voluntary.
  5. If you have any interest at all in Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms, get an account in each to complement your blog – using your pen name if you have one, or it’s ok to use accounts under your real name if you don’t mind revealing all your online activities to the world. Many blog platforms allow you to link your blog to these accounts and it makes promotion of your blog a lot quicker and easier and gives people more ways to interact with you. You will most likely to be prompted to link these accounts when you set up your blog so it’s convenient to have them ready before you start. It’s a lot of work to fill all the social media platforms with content, so whenever you can have one account propagate content to the others automatically it’s a big help. For example, my Twitter account accepts feeds from my other activities, mostly automatically, and I rarely have to go straight to Twitter to add content, though I still can if I want to – http://www.limegreennews.com/ – the rest of that web site is very out of date, but the Twitter feed at least is current!
  6. Select a blogging software platform. Make sure you picked out a title and how you want to identify yourself online before you start playing around with the software because you often cannot change the name after you start setting up your account. I don’t think you can go far wrong with WordPress because people have written a lot of useful free plug-ins and you will be able to do a lot with it. If there are certain special features that are important to you it might not hurt to look at a comparison chart of different blog software, such as this one – http://startbloggingonline.com/blog-platform-comparison-chart/ or this one – http://weblogs.about.com/od/choosingabloghost/p/BlogSoftware.htm. It isn’t strictly necessary to use “blogging” software to have a blog because the meaning of the word “blog” comes from “web log” which is just a web page that is updated frequently. If you use “blogging” software it will make it easier for people to understand what you’re doing but if you want to get more creative with the format, you can do that.
  7. Select an avatar image to identify yourself as you set up your account. There will be other decisions to make as you set up the account, they will vary depending on the platform, just keep your purpose in mind while doing it and those decisions will be easy.
  8. Now comes the fun part – filling the blog with content! Whether doing personal or business blogging, if I’m stuck for an idea I ask myself, what’s going on right now in my life that might be interesting to someone? A project, an observation, an interesting event? If you have an interesting life, finding time to write will probably be more of a problem than finding things to write about. In any kind of creative work, I find it helpful to keep a notebook or scrapbook at hand to jot down any ideas that I can work on later when I have time. Also if you’re stuck in a situation where you are in a waiting room or a line or something, writing is a great portable activity – write a rough draft and refine it when you get home! With today’s mobile devices, you don’t even have to wait until you get home!

Other tips for getting ideas for content:

 

  • Do you get emails with interesting topics that might spark some commentary from you? Collect them in a folder in your email software, and when you’re feeling dry, read some and see if you get inspired.
  • Have you read articles online or in publications that are interesting? Clip them or print them out and put them in a folder to look at on days when you want to write but need ideas.
  • Have you written a substantive or interesting email or social media post? Turn that into a blog post! For example, a fellow artist at an outdoor show once asked me for advice for finding shows. I wrote him an email and later used it as a newsletter article because I thought it would be helpful to other people.
  • Reviews are enjoyable to read and a good service to the readers and are always a good fallback if you’re stuck for ideas.
  • If you want to cover a certain topic, you can use the Yahoo News service to have emails sent to you with links to news articles that include keywords of your choosing. Open yourself up to news outlets that cover the topics of interest to you – free community papers, bulletin boards, newsletters, online magazines? A blog is a good place to report timely news since it’s meant to be frequently updated and informal, and posting news is a useful public service too.
  • Is someone you know doing something interesting that fits your theme? Interview them!
  • Consider allowing guest bloggers. Perhaps you have a friend with a blog and you can strike up a deal where you can occasionally write a post for their blog and they write one for you. Be sure to allow including a link back to the guest author’s blog – that will expose both of your blogs to new readers.
  • If you don’t have time for a substantial blog post, don’t feel intimidated – it’s ok to post just a photo, or a couple of lines of commentary, or embed a video you like now and then. Remember it’s informal! It’s more important to post frequently than it is to post long, substantial articles. I personally like to read long, substantial articles, so I would not follow a blog that did not include one from time to time. However I’m probably not typical and many people in your audience would probably rather read something short. I’m always being told to cut down my writings – but I usually refuse if I can get away with it! My reasoning is that people who want to read my blog want to read things written in my “voice”, so I don’t want to mess with that. There are literally millions of other people they can read if they don’t like my style. There is a lot of competition so the way to stand out is to be yourself, in my opinion!

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