If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know that I spent much of 2007 perusing writer’s blogs for my Project 20/20: Build my Blogroll Project. I spotlighted 20 writer’s blogs (one a week for 20 weeks) and added them to my Blogroll, where you can still find the links.
Even though I didn’t start blogging officially until April 2007 with this, “The Writer’s Perspective,” I’ve been following the blog world for years. In 2001, I wrote, I believe, one of the earliest articles about blogging for Personal Journaling, The Art of the Blog. It was difficult back then to even find people who could speak knowledgeably on the subject. It’s amazing how blogging has changed in seven years. Now many professional writers, journalists, industry leaders and politicians have gotten into blogging. And the reason is obvious: Blogging is one of the quickest, most effective, and certainly least-expensive ways to get a message across. (For more, check out Brian A. Klems’ “What is a Blog?”)
But it’s not easy—at least it’s not easy to do well. I’ve decided to download the full contents of my brain where blogging is concerned, into this online-exclusive article. And because I’m the editor of Writer’s Digest, writers were first in my mind when composing this article. But I think there’s beneficial information here for anyone who wants to start blogging or improve their blogging expertise.
1. Starting a blog is easy. There are many free blog services. Blogger.com is very user-friendly and will lead you through a pain-free set-up process. If you want to keep a specific domain (without “blogger” in the URL), you’ll need to set up your own domain and import it into another blog service, such as wordpress.com.
2. Decide what you want your blog to be. Who are your target readers? It’s important to decide from the beginning whether you’re blogging for professional or personal reasons. If you want to blog strictly as a diary or a way to get the creative juices flowing, password protect it. Think hard about who your potential readers are and what sort of image you want to portray. Announce your full vision for your blog in your first post.
3. Post one time a week at the absolute minimum. This is important, because once you develop a regular readership, you don’t want to lose it. Every day is ideal, although there’s a high burnout rate for bloggers who post this frequently. Aiming for three to five posts per week is a good goal.
4. If you write on your blog that you’re going to do something—do it. A lot of this has to do with building a solid level of trust with your readers. If you write that you’re going to post every day, or that you’re going to post something specific, be sure you can and will deliver.
5. You don’t have to be perfect, but still try. Yes, grammar and spelling expectations are somewhat more relaxed with a blog, but don’t get lazy with your posts. Respect your reader: at least run a quick grammar/spelling check before your post.
6. Remember that blogs are forever. I also like to call this tip “friends don’t let friends post drunk.” Like a tattoo, a piercing, or those expensive shoes you bought that kill your feet, a blog post may be around for a long, long time, so use due consideration before posting something inflammatory, overly critical or anything that could get you fired/expelled/sued/grounded.
7. If you know you’re the sort of person who will ignore tip #6, make sure your blog is password-protected, so only your friends will know you posted drunk.
8. Be a good neighbor. One of the very best ways to establish a readership is to reach out to other bloggers, by visiting their blogs and leaving comments. Link to specific posts you find on their blogs and comment in a positive way. Also include blogs you like and recommend on your blogroll.
9. Try to be positive. Don’t use your blog to lash out at your boss/spouse/probation officer/the world in general. You probably won’t develop much of a readership that way as it gets tiresome very quickly, not to mention, it could land you in trouble (see tip #6). There’s a kind of karma to blogging. If what you’re putting out is negative, what you get back is negative.
10. Keep your posts short. No one wants to read a Master’s thesis on your blog. Keep your posts concise. 300 words a post is a good target. You can occasionally go longer if you’ve got really good stuff—run it by an honest friend first to find out if it really is good stuff. The art of blogging is more about clarity and brevity. Note: Yes, I violated my 300- words tip with this very post. My managing editors, Brian and Kara told me it was good stuff.
11. Realize that blogging is an endurance sport. Anyone can start a blog, but very few people can keep a good blog up, week after week, month after month, year after year. Yes, it gets exhausting, but like training for a marathon, it can also be exhilarating. If you know you’re more a sprinter than a marathoner, maybe a blog isn’t the right format for you.
12. Can you land a book deal with your blog? Maybe. It happens, but don’t let that be your primary motivation, because it’s unlikely. You might think of blogging as a sort-of farm league for publishing. But it’s all about establishing a readership. If you have a devoted audience base, you can bet it won’t be difficult to score a publisher.
13. Encourage your readers to comment. Create clear, well thought out opinion pieces. Don’t be afraid to pose provocative questions to capture your reader’s attention. Get them emotionally/mentally involved in your blog. If you want to develop a rapport with your readers (if you don’t, then you shouldn’t be blogging), encourage their comments, and don’t deride them when their point of view is different from yours.
14. Remember that readers want information. It’s certainly not difficult to find information on the Web. But it is difficult to find it from a trusted, reliable source. Try to provide them with information they want, whether it’s from your own work, or linking to the work of others.
15. Develop your own style. What keeps readers coming back is you—your voice, your style, your point of view and your clear, polished writing. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.
16. Have occasional guests. Yes, if you develop a readership, you’re the primary draw back to your blog. But it’s good and healthy to mix it up every now and then with fresh perspectives from trusted guest bloggers. In fact, it may give you a much-needed mental break away from the relentless demands of keeping up a good blog.
17. Visual aids can be good. But don’t overdo it. Blogging is primarily a written medium. If you’re a writer and trying to develop an audience for your writing, then write. Don’t over-rely on cheesy photos and other digital eye candy.
18. Let your blog evolve. A blog is a lot like a magazine, in that it’s a constant evolution. Be generous and flexible about letting your blog develop over time, as you do.
19. Don’t be overly promotional. Yes, a blog can be a good promotional tool, but if you’re only trying to sell something, it becomes obvious very quickly. If you’re promoting something, be a soft sell. And only do it occasionally, as it will turn readers away.
20. Keep it fun. Don’t take it too seriously. If you’re
having a good time with your blog—and if you’re not then ask yourself why you’re doing it—people are going to have fun reading it and will keep coming back for more.
Feel free to comment: add to, agree or disagree with anything I wrote here. It is a blog after all, comments are always welcome. That’s part of the fun.