Reaching Out to Readers: Creating Your Own Blog

I’d planned a dialogue workshop for this month, but then I realized something: I’ve never really delved into the subject of writing a blog. Blogging allows you to reach out to readers all over the world for free and to build your own little community. It also gives you a place to showcase your professional work to potential clients. Maintaining a scheduled blog also helps you build a writing routine. Not only that, but most of the time, it’s fun.

So why not create your own blog? It’s free, it’s easy to set up and it’s the most reliable–or at least easiest–way of getting your work out to readers. If you’re looking for a summer project that will help your writing career, creating a blog is the thing to do.

Since I’ve never really talked about it before, I’ve decided to walk you through the basics of blogging over the next few weeks.

Today’s goal is to create a conceptual plan for your blog. While my first several blogs were created on a whim, that’s not the best way to do things. Your blog is a career tool: it is a showcase of your work, and it brings readers–in other words, potential customers–to you. Creating it on a whim might be better than not creating it at all, or it may be a recipe for disaster.

Most new blogs shut down within six months. There are a number of reasons. People expect instant results and are disappointed when, like everything else in life, blogging takes hard work and time. Some bloggers realize they’re just not that interested in the topic they started the blog about after all. Others burn out creatively. Sometimes it’s because of outside stresses and other life pressures. Sometimes it’s because they set themselves a schedule that demanded too much of them. Other times it’s because they jumped in without a plan and have written all the ideas they could come up with on the fly.

Don’t let this happen to you. Follow my advice–which I followed for this blog, which might have been the ninth or so, no comment on the ones before–and hopefully you’ll manage to avoid the burnout that kills so many blogs after just six months.

1. Choose your Topic Wisely.

You’re going to want a topic which you’ll enjoy writing about, which you already know quite a bit about, and which you want to learn more about. If you don’t enjoy writing about it, it’ll show and the writing will be dull and uninspiring. If you don’t know anything about it, that means hundreds of hours of research–or looking like a complete idiot. If you don’t want to know more, eventually you will come to the end of your knowledge and be completely out of post ideas.

For me, writing was the obvious choice. I’m passionate about it, I’ve studied it for a long time, and I don’t plan to ever stop. For you, it might be related to your current day job–say, a finances blog if your alter ego is an accountant–or to something you studied in school and always wanted to study after school.

You might also want to make it something you’re going to have goals related to. For example, if you want to do an hour of yoga every day for a year, you might blog about that. If you’re trying to save money and put a down payment on a house, you might blog about that. If you’re trying to write one million words of fiction in a year, you might blog about that. Just make sure it’s something that will still hold your interest once your current goal is met.

2. Test your Topic.

Take the topic you think is most suited and create a mind map. Each bubble branching off from your topic should be an idea for a post or a series of posts. Time yourself and brainstorm for 15-20 minutes. If you come up with seven or more on your first brainstorming session, odds are you’ll be able to blog about the subject. If you didn’t, try the exercise with something else you think you might be able to blog about. Try it again until you find a topic where the post ideas flow easily.

Remember that if the post ideas don’t flow easily now, at the beginning, it’s going to be a lot harder to maintain your blog in the long run.

3. Choose a platform/host.

There are several blogging platforms, most of which are free. Some of them, like Blogger, host–as in provide the space for–your blog and allow for several pages as well as offering blogging software which makes it simple to post things even if you don’t know anything about web code. Others are just software packages which you upload onto a website hosted by another company.

WordPress, the most common and generally considered the easiest to use, comes in both formats. My blog is hosted by the primary site, but Darren’s Problogger, while it uses WordPress software, is hosted by a completely different company.

Self-hosting your WordPress or other blog has benefits such as more flexibility with advertisements, design and how the blog is run. Free hosting from Blogger or WordPress is a great way to start, but limits your design choice quite a bit and doesn’t give you a domain, which is essential for maximum traffic. The other option offered by WordPress–I’m not sure if Blogger offers it–is to register a domain with them. Which means they’re still hosting you–and some of the hosting cost is figured into the domain registration, I’m sure–but you have the domain of your choosing.

Your decision should be based on two factors: what you want from your blogging platform and what you’re willing to invest in your blog. There are comparisons between blogging platforms all over the web. Just ask Google which company can provide what you’re looking for.

4. Design a Schedule&Marketing Plan.

Your average blog updates between two and five times a week. Some post more, some post less. In order to develop a loyal following in most niches it’s important to post at least once a week. Fewer people will follow a blog that updates more frequently than five times a week due to time constraints, unless the updates are fairly short.

When creating a schedule it once again comes down to two factors: what is the minimum or maximum I can post without losing the reader’s interest, and what is the maximum I can write without burning myself out.

Ideally, you’ll choose something in the middle of both factors. I COULD write five posts a week, and most of you might even read them all, but I’d burn out after a while. I still burn out sometimes at three posts a week, but by segmenting my tasks into small chunks of time, I can usually prevent it.

As for your marketing plan, this doesn’t have to be complicated, especially at this stage. The main thing to do is create a list of forums, social media sites and email groups that you’re part of that are appropriate for promoting your blog. Then decide which ones you’d share each blog post with, which ones you’d only share a few of them which and which ones would be better suited to something like a link in your signature.

Voila, you have the beginnings of a schedule and a marketing plan. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

5. Start Writing Blog Posts.

Although you’ve decided which platform you’re going to use, don’t start creating your actual blog yet. Let ideas for the design and colour scheme bounce around in your head for a couple weeks before you make decisions.

Instead of jumping into design, go back to that mind map you made in step two. Start fleshing out each idea. Make it your goal to turn one of those ideas into a blog post every day until you’ve got them all written out.

Next week we’ll discuss designing your blog and creating your about page.

Are you starting any other new projects this summer? Do you already have a blog, and if so, what are you planning on doing there this summer?