The Beginners Guide to Starting a Blog
Not one of my most cryptic titles, but there you go. Just a note before I begin. This is not a guide written by an expert, experienced, seasoned blogger. It is written by a beginner. That’s why it’s called “The Beginners Guide…”. I know quite a few seasoned bloggers, and I sincerely hope they will use the comments to add to this guide. This is just a list of a few things that I have come to realise in my first couple of months of blogging. I would have found a guide like this helpful when I started, so I hope that maybe this will help others. I did come across this guide on Atheist Revolution a few weeks after I’d started this blog, and did find it very useful, so I advise readers to check that out as well. Anyway, in no particular order:
- Take the plunge! If you are thinking about starting a blog but are apprehensive for any reason, the best thing you can do is just give it a go – you have nothing to lose! You’ll never get to a point where you feel completely confident about it without starting it, confidence only comes with actually doing it. Just write one, short article, sign up somewhere and post it.
- Come up with a good title for your blog. Once you’ve done it you’re stuck with it, so put some thought into it. I sometimes think I could have done better, but I’m generally content. To be completely honest, I never thought about this when I came up with “A Load of Bright”, but the fact that my blog title begins with an ‘A’ has helped me slightly. Most blogrolls are listed in alphabetical order, and as a result this blog tends to be at, or very near the top and therefore, probably more likely to get viewed when readers decide to systematically check through a blogroll. Of course, if everyone did that, it would be pointless.
- Get ahead. There is quite a lot to consider when maintaining a blog, but actually writing articles is always the priority. Without the content, everything else is academic. Try to always have a few articles ready to post if you get a touch of writer’s block, or have a busy few days doing something else. If I’m completely honest, I rarely do this, but when I do I find it very beneficial.
- Variety is the spice of life. Vary your articles. Aim to have a mixture of full length essays, book reviews, press article critiques, discussion points, satires, musings and rants. Try to vary length as well. If your articles are always short, they will invariably end up lacking substance. If they are always long, they will come to seem long-winded and laborious. Also vary your tone between different grades of being serious or humorous, and formal or informal, depending on the topic you’re writing about.
- Patience is a virtue! This is one that I learned from Vjack’s guide and it really helped me to hear it. I wanted to establish a reader base over night, but it just doesn’t happen like that. The popularity of this blog, while still humble, has grown a lot since it started, but it has been gradual. Think of it like evolution! It will take long term persistence, not a short burst of energy to start reaching people.
- Learn some basic HTML code. While I am a confident computer user, I was completely illiterate in any computing language before I started. It really is worth learning a few basics, like blockquotes, including links and bold, italics etc. It will make writing seem much quicker and easier, and leave you more time and energy to concentrate on the content.
- Learn to touch-type. If you’re confident that you type at a reasonable speed, by all means carry on, but if you’re worried that your fingers won’t keep up with your brain, it really is a good investment of your time to learn to touch-type. I learned when I was 18 and have always been grateful that I did. I don’t know if I would keep up now if I hadn’t.
- Become a PR officer. I was completely naïve about the PR side of blogging, but it is essential to building up a reader base. Email other bloggers and tell them about your work. Submit articles to blog carnivals. Sign up to blog directories. Comment on other blogs, and be sure that your internet handle links back to your blog. Sign up to blog aggregators. Also, try to post comments on discussion forums (something I’m particularly lazy about) like IIDB and RDF, always leaving a link back to your blog.
- Reference other blogs. It’s very unlikely that you will have any readers who just read your blog. By linking to other blogs you get noticed, through ping backs and track backs and other things that I still don’t completely understand. However, make sure that you just link, don’t copy and paste articles into your own blog. Which brings me onto number ten.
- Maintain blogging etiquette. Always include links to your sources. If you see an article you like and want to guide your readers to it, do it via a link so that the reader has to visit the original site, and therefore the author gets the traffic. It’s what you would want others to do, after all.
- Be original. At least for most of the time. Some points are so important that they can stand to be repeated, but on the whole, try to create your own material. This is one of the biggest challenges of good blogging, and one of the factors that put me off starting a blog for a long time. I was scared of just regurgitating what I’d read else where. So far, I hope, I’ve managed to avoid that.
- Have a comment policy. I tried to manage without one, but in the end you will probably need one so you may as well have it from the start. At least that way it’s there in writing for all to see, and you can’t be accused of making the rules up as you go along.
- Sign up to news alerts. It’s a great way of keeping tabs on what’s happening quickly and finding material to write about.
- Read off paper once in a while. Try to keep reading regular books as well as on the internet. It will provide yet more material to write about, as well as giving your eyes a rest!
- If you’ve got nothing to say, say nothing. You should aim to post regularly, but don’t compromise quality. If you post for the sake of posting, it will show in your writing.
- Read other blogs. Use a feed reader, it’s much more efficient. You will learn a lot from reading other blogs, and find a lot of ideas for things to write about, not necessarily directly from other people’s articles, but from the trains of thought that they will send you on.
- Proof read! I’m not saying I never make mistakes, but some blogs are littered with them, in nearly every article. There’s really no excuse. Before posting any article, read through it slowly, sentence by setence, weeding out errors and making sure that it’s coherent. (By the way, if anyone now points out an error in this article, I will actually cry.)
I’ve probably missed some things out, but that’s all I can think of for now. If you’re thinking of starting, or have recently started a blog, I hope you find this helpful.