Blogging 101: Do you have what it takes to start a blog?

A handful of writers have approached me recently asking for help with their blogs. Some are trying to decide whether they should start a blog and how to go about it. Others want to improve an existing blog. So this week I’m running a series that will address three questions: Should I start a blog? What makes a blog successful? And how do I get started blogging?

Part I: Should you start a blog?

This isn’t about why you should blog. I think most writers — and everyone else who wants to promote themselves or their services — realize it’s an essential tool for building a platform, networking, etc. I want to help you think through whether you’ve got what it takes to start one.

I’ve heard people suggest that new bloggers get started as soon as possible, even if they’re still figuring out their focus, format and logistics. I advise the opposite. Everything you publish on the Web is out there for the whole world to read. Forever. So you want to get it right the first time. That means having a well thought-out plan and a good-looking site before you launch. Or at least before you tell anyone about it. Sure, your focus, style and approach will morph as you get the hang of blogging. But you want to look and sound professional from the get-go.

If you’re considering starting a blog, here’s what you should ask yourself:

What do I have to offer? Blogs have a bad rap because too many people use them as personal diaries. Please, for your sake and ours, do not make this mistake. Have a clear vision of what you hope to offer your readers. Not thoughts about your annoying neighbor or ramblings on your dog’s favorite toys. What’s your focus? (More on picking your subject in Part II.)

What are my goals? You know you should have a blog to “build your platform,” but that in itself isn’t a good enough reason to start one. In fact, that term makes me want to gag, partly because it’s so vague. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish through blogging?

Maybe it’s networking — I love connecting with other writers, especially people writing memoir. Maybe you’ll stir up interest in your soon-to-be published book.

Or maybe blogging will help you think through whatever you’re blogging about, help you come up with ideas or do your job better. This is a benefit bloggers often overlook. Writing here forces me to flesh out my ideas and express them in a cogent way instead of letting them mull around in my brain. It forces me to come up with conclusions. It helps me document my writing process so I won’t make the same mistakes the next time I write a book. I’m not only sharing with you here — I’m helping myself by keeping track of what I’ve learned and improving my own process. This blog helps me brainstorm and learn.

Am I okay with my posts being in the blogosphere forever? When you write something on the Internet, it stays there forever. Even after you erase it. Google saves everything.

I think about this a lot. Even though I’m not working as a journalist now, I might in the near future, which means I can’t express my opinions about certain issues. So while I try to reveal pieces of my personality on this blog, I’m careful about every single word I write, making sure I don’t say anything that might jeopardize my career.

What are your considerations when it comes to telling the world your story? I wouldn’t worry too much about privacy — it’s your blog, so you get to decide what to share and what to keep to yourself. But if you’re the type of person who over-shares, maybe you should consider a diary instead.

On the bright side, this lives-on-forever aspect is also what makes the Internet so valuable to us. It’s what allows that popular post you wrote a year ago to remain at the top of Google’s search results, making you findable to people who care about your subject. So embrace it. Leave your permanent footprint. Just make sure it’s a good one.

Do I have time? In my mind, this is the most important consideration, and it’s what I’ve been bringing up with my (small business) clients when we talk about whether they should start a blog. None of us really have time for a blog, but lots of us make time. Are you willing to make that time? Because blogging — I’ve gotta be honest here — is super time-consuming. It’s also rewarding. But every minute spent blogging means less time for writing or building your business or whatever’s your main focus.

How much time? Several hours each week — at least. There’s a learning curve, so if you don’t know how to use a blogging platform, you’ll have to figure that out as you go along, and it will take extra time initially. But once you get into the groove, you’ll pump out posts, preferably about three each week. I enjoy blogging, so I don’t mind putting the work into it. But if you’re already feeling pressed for time, stressed or overwhelmed, maybe you should think twice about taking on this new responsibility. Because as I wrote in my last post, it’s not worth your time to maintain a half-ass blog. Do it well or not at all.

Am I committed? Don’t expect your blog to take off right away. Building an audience takes months. If you’re not committed for the long term, it’s probably not worth getting started.

~ Still not sure whether you want to blog? Here’s what I recommend:

Pretend you have the blog set up. Every time you have an idea for a post, write it on a notepad. You don’t have to write out the entire post, just jot down the idea. Do this for a few weeks. Are you constantly coming up with ideas? Or did you have a few ideas at the get-go and then quickly run dry? Would you be excited about writing those posts? Or are you already sick of your not-yet-blog?

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Bloggers, it’s your turn to chime in. What else should potential bloggers consider?

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16 Responses

  1. Alexis – You’re absolutely correct, it takes a TON of time to put together content that provides value to other people. It might also be noted that there is additional time spent interacting with those who visit your site. Creating community is probably something you’re going to cover in a future post, but as it relates to asking yourself “do I have the time,” I think potential bloggers should keep in mind that not only do you spend time creating valuable content, you also spend time interacting with those who are generous enough to swing by and leave a comment or two.

    Great post as always.

  2. Such a good point, Steven. I’ve blogged before about creating community, and it DOES take a lot of time:

    https://alexisgrant.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/the-challenge-build-community-around-your-blog/

  3. A good discussion. Blogging does take time, as I’ve discovered in just over three months since I began to blog on Blogger (with 127 “followers” so far, though I know they don’t all end up following). I started out on WordPress, but even with some (minimal) help from my son, I couldn’t do it. But the publisher of my soon to be published novel said that since I’m full-time caregiver of a disabled daughter and am housebound I need to blog. So spurred on by a friend I went on Blogger, have followers who say they want to read my autobiographical novel when it’s published, and a friend on Facebook who says she’ll be my greatest supporter, etc. So, there is something to creating a community of readers/followers through these resources. This IS networking, I think. Most of my followers so far are published authors or authors in progress.

    And, aside from networking to promote a work in progress or a published book, for someone like me who is housebound, blogging is quite simply fun. Time consuming it can be; and if you’re not careful, you can end up not having time to write. This you have to control.

    You talk about focus. This is good. Now that I’ve somewhat mastered the mechanics (though I still don’t understand all of the “gadgets” or how RSS works — it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks!) I’m thinking more about focus. I’ll still do the “personal” (not diary entries; there’s a difference) because my writer/followers like this; but I’m getting geared up to supporting the authors I’ve met through blogging. And I know they’ll reciprocate. I’m very grateful to my “first” blogging friend who steered me to Blogger, which is indeed more user friendly than WordPress for seniors like me!!

    I’m going to bookmark and follow you, BTW, especially since memoir is my favorite genre, followed by YA and murder mysteries. l’m excited to read your travel memoir and hope it will soon be done and published.

    • Hey Ann — Good for you for getting going! And you’re so right, blogging IS networking. Worth it in many ways. I’m heading over to your blog to check it out.

  4. All great tips, Alexis!

    I completely agree that your blog should look good and you should have a plan (and maybe a week’s worth of posts) ready to go for your blogs launch.

  5. I mostly just want to say that some of my favorite blogs ARE those that are focused on “thoughts about your annoying neighbor or ramblings on your dog’s favorite toys.” People who are truly great writers (particularly if they have an excellent sense of humor that comes across in their writing) can make even blogs themed around their personal lives seem fun and entertaining to read. I think of someone like David Sedaris, who often complains about other people, but in a way that connects his audience to what he has to say. (He’s not a blogger, of course, but he is a writer, and the best bloggers are great writers–at least for me, anyway.)

    I recently finished Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything, and it occurred to me that his book read like a blog–lots of stories whose only real common threads were Steingarten and food. He complains about all manner of things throughout the entire book, but he’s absolutely brilliant at it; by the same token, if someone writes well about themselves, I’m happy to read their blog. One that comes to mind immediately, is http://40goingon28.blogspot.com/; ranty, ridiculous, yet never failing to make me laugh. A lot.

    Teresa Strasser is another favorite of mine; she writes exclusively about herself, but her prose is alternately funny and beautiful. She doesn’t update the blog constantly, but has a large, loyal following.

    Perhaps these two I’ve mentioned are the exceptions that prove your blogging rules, but they are two of my favorite blogs, and they each have a dedicated legion of fans.

  6. Such good stuff here in the post and the comments!

    I started my blog on blogger in 2007 and then moved to wordpress in 2009 because I liked their templates better.

    My blog started while I was balancing working FT and attending a low-res MFA program. I was studying poetry, yet I wanted a place to think about balancing work, life and writing. I definitely just started it as a place for me but as I started to read other blogs, to create a community, I found that I had more to offer than just me gathering my thoughts and instead my blog is now a place to talk about all aspects of being a writer as well as a place for me to keep track of my own publications.

    It is amazing how much my life has changed since I started blogging but it is the one networking thing I couldn’t give up. Even if all my readers went away 🙂

    Oh, and a small note. I’d say avoid posts that are too long especially when starting out. 500-1000 words seems good for most!

    • Avoid long posts, period. I don’t like to read them, though I will stay with one if it’s exceptionally well written and interesting. But generally speaking….”short words are word of might.” Blogs too.

  7. Thanks Alexis, another helpful post. The comments are interesting too. I agree that blogs should have a nucelus of focus – one or two interworking elements (in my case writing and travel as I’m writing a travel memoir) but randomness can flot about that, I think, and work well. As Sarah said rants can be great when the writer has a really unique personality or style, but if that is the nucelus that will draw people who love reading that sort of thing. I think the nucleus is important so that readers can judge if it is worth coming back, the more random the posts the more erratic the readership, I suppose.

  8. […] Blogging 101: Do you have what it takes to start a blog? Filed under Blog, Personal, marketing ← Taking on the Venerable “Elements of Style” […]

  9. […] Blogging 101: Do you have what it takes to start a blog? Filed under Blog, Personal, marketing ← Taking on the Venerable “Elements of Style” […]

  10. […] useful or entertaining? Can you point us to one that’s not? As one reader brought up in the comments on Part I of this series, the best blogs tend to break rules. So maybe this is a rule that’s waiting to […]

  11. Passion – what causes you to sit and brood bs what causes you physically react, to start writing, even if it is simply collecting thoughts on a topic on paper or on the screen in front of you.

  12. […] recent posts that I found particularly interesting were: – Blogging 101: a three part series on the if, why, and how of blogging for writers – Losing the play-by-play in […]

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