The start of my first blog roughly coincided with the beginning of 2009 and the halfway point in a long term temp assignment took to hold me over between freelance gigs in February of 2007. Other than a regular paycheck the only major saving grace of the assignment was that with minimal expectations I had about 6 hours of quiet time every day to get my own work done. I wasn’t entirely without responsibilities but there always seemed to be long stretches of downtime bookending periods of furious activity the effect of which was enervating in a way you can only imagine if you were there. Other than quit, I had two options. I could sit and stare at the ugly partition walls all day, or find a better way to channel my ennui. So, I decided to learn how to blog.
My earliest blog featured mostly bad photography and quickly devolved into a hodgepodge of innocuous links photos and obnoxious Seinfeldesque observations. There was no real method to my madness as I happily flitted from blog to blog in rapid succession frankensteining new blogs from old with each iteration being a slight improvement on its predecessor. I went from “Ubiquitous,” to “30 Days of Yoga” to “Julia Lite,” and failure however frequent was irrelevant because like any good mad scientist it just gave me another opportunity for success. I filled in my office based downtime with tutorials on everything from editorial calendars to basic HTML. I made a lot of mistakes and committed all the major blogging sins. I wrote about myself, I had no real focus and sometimes maybe I had a little bit too much. Even though my early blogs were not by any definition particularly good, successful, or read outside of the few friends and family members I coerced into reading them.
Four Letter Word was born on January 31, 2012 and even if it wasn’t exactly lucrative, blogging was always an exciting process for me to work through. If I wasn’t writing I was developing my next story, outlining a project, finding interviews, editing images, promoting posts on social media, tweaking the layout, learning some code, streamlining my workflow and looking for collaborators. There was always something else to do and by 2015 Four Letter Word was read by thousands of people in more than 130 countries worldwide.
So, how DO you start a blog?
First up, decide what are you going to write about. As a suggestions, I would say don’t write about yourself.... at least not initially. I know we live in a climate of social media stars but if you are planning on starting a blog, or want to start a blog, don’t start by writing about yourself. I’m not trying to be an asshole about this, and I’m sure you’re a lovely individual, but writing about yourself without coming off as a raging narcissist, or even worse... boring, is really difficult to do. I honestly think at some point everyone, could benefit from trying to write about themself, the act of self reflection is uniquely enlightening, but its probably best not to do it right off the bat. So start with something else first.
This brings me to my next point. Blog about something you are genuinely interested in. You could try and write about everything under the sun but you will feel suffocated under the sheer weight of what you’ve set out to do. It’s probably better if you start writing about something you are really passionate about. If you love hockey, write about hockey. If you love movies, write about movies. You can always use it as practice and start your “real” blog down the line.
Write in your own voice. Are you sarcastic? Seriously? Funny? We’re not all Mindy Kaling or Lena Dunham. Just be yourself and people will like you for it.
Now the nuts and bolts. Decide who you want to host it. Do you want to self host your blog (i.e. organize all the images, writing and data, back end blog structure and organization, manage updates and get into the minutiae, as well as writing the posts. OR do you want to use a platform (of which there are many) that will provide you the structure and the tools for administration etc… while you focus on providing the content (words, pictures, audio). Suffice it to say depending on what you are comfortable with, technology wise, how much you want to spend and what exactly you are looking to do with your blog will determine which service and hosting plan is right for you. When choosing definitely read the find print, and don’t get surprised by additional charges.
Try a few different templates before you setting on one. Take into consideration what you plan on posting, because some formats are going to be better for images, some for writing and some for both. Also remember that while blogs are being read on desktops, more often than not they are being read on personal electronic devices and templates have to be adaptable in order to offer the optimal user experience.
Try different mediums. The biggest revelation I had about blogging was that blogging was a platform not a medium. The blog could be anything I wanted it to be and could incorporate multiple mediums. That means that within your blog you can incorporate written text, pictures, cartoons, video, audio, photogalleries, infographics, quotes, interviews and so on… Of course some of this depends on where you host your blog because some platforms don’t support everything. Micro blogging platforms for example, may not support all forms of media, but generally speaking the sky is the limit as far as a traditional blog goes.
Pick a good blog title and learn how to craft enticing titles for your blog posts. A blog post title should be kind of catchy and enticing and say something about the post to follow.
Start Writing. The idea of writing 1000 words to someone who isn’t a writer is enough to stop them dead in their tracks. So, instead of trying to write a 500 page novel, try to get a good 200 word post down instead. As you continue blogging you will eventually start to write more, and probably not even notice that your posts are getting longer.
Don’t be afraid of using an outline. Outlines work, and if you’re not sure what you’re doing they are an indispensable tool.
Don’t worry about followers or monetizing initially. If your biggest concern is finding followers and monetizing your content and not finding something good to blog about, then you’re you probably don’t really care all that much about the content you are creating. My suggestion would be: don’t put the cart before the horse. First figure out what you want to blog about, THEN once you’ve started figure out how to gain followers and make money off of your work.
As trite as it might sound Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan pretty much sums it up and makes a lot of sense. The more you practice something the better you will get at it and the easier it will be. So, the more you blog the better you will get. That’s the theory anyways.
Give yourself a deadline. Sometimes we all need a little extra motivation. I like put my deadlines on a wall calendar, you might like putting notices on your phone. Whatever you need to do to motivate yourself when you are getting started will help. If you are doing this for yourself, give yourself a deadline and do your best to stick to it.
Take breaks. When you get frustrated (and you will) go for a walk. Don’t watch TV, don’t play on your smartphone. don’t lie down, don’t sulk. Go outside and get some fresh air. Seriously, it will help you clear your head and then you can go back and try it again later.
Include pictures! A picture is worth a thousand words, right? One well chosen image can help breath life into an otherwise word dense post.
Be patient. Be patient with yourself, everyone has their own learning curve. Don’t worry if your blog isn’t immediately perfect, there are glitches and you don’t have thousands of followers. You will learn as you go.
Don’t worry about what you don’t know, just know that there is a lot to learn and you will always be learning. There is so much to learn about blogging, multimedia and multimedia storytelling, and the genres are always expanding so there is no way anyone knows everything. Don’t worry about it, just worry about getting your next post out and then keep learning
With that being said when you get comfortable take some time to learn about the specific elements that make up a blog post and possibly learn a little code too.
Be consistent. I know everyone says that and its hard to be consistent when you are trying to learn so many new things at once. So, once you’ve hatched your idea and have started blogging, then try to be consistent about when you post.
Have fun with it. Unless you are getting paid to blog professionally (and even then) you should absolutely be having a good time as you blog. If you aren’t having fun then take a break, or stop all together and try something else.