Sunday, April 21, 2019

Just blog it

Many people wonder, or even ask, “Why bother blogging?” To some, blogs are relics, to others irrelevant indulgences, or maybe they think they’re just unreliable. But blogs are so much more than any of those things, and writing one is good for a lot of reasons.

This topic came up because I was chatting with my dear friend from my Chicago days, Linda, and realised that while I’ve talked about blogging, and how I do this blog, I’ve never put it it all together in one post for anyone who wants to start blogging, but doesn’t know how or where to start.

To break down the topic, I’ll use the Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How questions that are actually very useful when forming blog.

Why blog?

This is the first question a prospective blogger needs to answer, because it sets the direction for the answers to all the other questions. So, why do you want to blog? Is it to share your special expertise? Because you want to practice and improve your writing skills? Because you have a topic you feel strongly about and want to have your say? Because you want to make money from blogging?

To put it simply, I blog because I want to. I also enjoy the process, and even taking photos or making graphics to illustrate what I’m talking about (which, sadly, I don’t always have the time to do). There are things I want to say, and sometimes there are things I need to say. And, blogging an average of one post per day over a year has improved my writing through the constant practice. But all of that is secondary to the simple fact that I blog because I want to, and I enjoy doing that. When either changes, I’ll stop.

Who are you writing for?

Are you writing for yourself, your friends and family, or for people you don’t know? All are valid choices, but deciding who you’re talking to will help you focus your posts.

I address my posts to curious people, people who want to know about the things that capture my attention, or who are curious about the things I talk about. In general, and there are exceptions, I do my blog posts and my podcasts the same way: I imagine I’m talking with someone who’s an old friend, but maybe someone else is listening who may not know everything I’m talking about. I prefer a more casual, personal style, which, fortunately, suits a blog like this. A more formal and focused blog may require a more fomal approach.

What is your blog about?

Blogs don’t need to stick to one topic—this one doesn’t! This blog is a “personal journal blog”, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s about whatever I feel like writing about at the time. It could be something about me or my personal life, about politics, pop culture, science, history, whatever. I’m a “Magpie Blogger”, as is my friend Roger Green (https://www.rogerogreen.com/). In fact, all my favourite blogs are the same.

But, that’s just me: A single topic blog can be pretty awesome, too—if you’re interested in the topic, of course. When I started this blog I intended to write a lot about being an expat, and about living in New Zealand. As time passed, it evolved into what it is now (and, in fact, posts about New Zealand and being an expat are not necessarily the most-read posts). So, even if you think you want to blog about one single topic, you, and the blog, can always evolve.

Where will you keep your blog?

There are two dominant free sites for blogging: The one this blog is on is the Google-owned Blogspot (also known as Blogger), but there’s also a free version of WordPress. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses. However, if you want to use a free site, I’d still recommend that you buy a custom domain and use that for your blog. The reason for that is that if you really like blogging and want to move it to a paid site, you can easily do so without losing readers: They can bookmark your domain rather than the Blogspot or WordPress address.

It’s worth noting that both sites allow you to restrict access to your blog, so if you want to entrust a few close friends or family members to help you fine tune your blog before you go public, or if it’s deeply personal, that’s always an option.

If you do want to pay to host your blog, WordPress is a great option, and it’s used by many well-known companies—and both my podcasts. But why not try the free versions first and see f you even like blogging?

How do you blog?

Every blogger has methods and techniques, and these are some of mine. I always write my posts on my computer using a word processing program (the specific program doesn’t matter). That allows me to edit and spellcheck, and to save a copy to my computer. Then I copy the text and paste it into Blogger’s “New Post” window. I paste into HTML to avoid extra charatcters and codes from the Word Processing files. If you want to see all the code that, say, Word puts into a text file, paste it into the “Compose” tab and then switch to HTML.

There are a lot of resources to help you figure out how to format your text, use photos, add links, etc., all of which is beyond the scope of this post. But I can say it’s very easy to pick it up, and you don’t need to learn HTML coding or any other thing—you can concentrate on your writing.

Whatever specific technique you choose, there is one thing I need to stress: Back-up your blog! Because my blog is on Blogger, I’m unlikely to lose it completely—but that’s not impossible. As I said, I keep copies of all my posts on my computer. From time to time I download my database to my computer so I have a complete backup.

How to choose what to write about can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. No matter your subject area, there will things you see that will make you think, “I’d like to do a blog post about that”. Do it! Sometimes it can be as unexpected as the chat with a friend that inspired this post, but it really can be almost anything.

Roger Green plans out specific posts for specific times of the year. I’m nowhere near that organised, particularly because I usually write a post just before I publish it—which is what happened with this post. Even so, I have some annual posts I do, like for my birthday, as well as for the many and varied anniversaries I have over a few months, wheich led me to jokingly call them part of my “Season of Anniversaries”.

There’s a real advantage to planning posts in advance: You can write them when you have time. If you also write some “evergreen” posts, that is, ones that aren’t time specific in any way, then you can publish them at times you’re too busy to write new posts. I’m much better at doing this than I used to be, and it’s incredibly useful. Takes away the stress of needing to do a post when you just don’t have the time.

There’s one last thing about the process of blogging that’s reputed to be very important: Predictability. If you want to blog every day, once a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, once a month, whatever, then stick to that schedule without fail. Everyone I’ve ever seen offer advice on how to be a successful blogger repeats this like a mantra. I don’t follow it, at all. When I have the time, I write a new blog post every day, when I don’t, I’ll skip one or more days, then catch up later with two or three posts in one day. But, as I said earlier, I blog because I want to, so I don’t mind breaking the rules.

And finally of all, I’ve never made any money whatsoever from blogging, nor have I ever been given free samples or anything else of value. That’s not why I blog. If you want to make money from blogging—and there are a lot of resources to help work out what to do—you’ll need to pay far more attention to the who, what, where, why, when and how of blogging than I do.

Good luck—and happy blogging!

See also: Roger Green frequently answers questions about blogging on Quora.


Linda Sanora said...

Love this! Thank you, Arthur, for all your thoughts, and advice on this topic. I'll take this as good counsel and share as well!

rogerogreen said...

I was sick for three days this month. Having content already done helped a LOT. As a matter of fact, I have all my posts written through May 4 (except April 30, which is a link day), but mostly because soon I'll be away for four days, and I have no idea what time I'll have