Tuesday, 3 February 2015

10 things no one told me about starting a blog

As an internet fan and avid blog reader, there came a point when I thought, "Hey! I have things to say! I can type words and take pictures! I should start a blog!"
Starting a blog seems like a great idea. You think you will pick a host website like blogger or wordpress, enter some info, click some buttons, write some words and then BAM! Internet superstardom will be yours. You will be like all those bloggers you have been following and admiring for years. People will flock to follow you on Twitter (lol. Punny) and social media and you will need to turn off notifications because all the likes and favourites are crashing your phone. No? Well, maybe you had more realistic expectations than me but some part of me thought that's what it would be like.
No one told me that it would be any different and frankly I had no idea what I was getting into.

So here is a list of ten things that no one told me about starting a blog. :]

1. It's addictive
If you start blogging, you had better have plenty of time on your hands (and a smartphone helps too) because you are going to want to be writing posts, taking pictures for posts, writing notes/planning for future posts, thinking about posts, trawling other peoples posts, checking social media, checking view stats, replying to comments, retweeting and liking and favouriting and hearting and anything else that you can think of even remotely related to blogging.
You will want to do these things at all times of the day and night. You will go to sleep thinking about blogging and wake up thinking about it. Your day will be divided into things that would make good posts and then just everything else.
I never realised how much of my brain would become preoccupied by thinking about my blog all the time.
I sincerely think I need to join some kind of Bloggers and Tweeters Anonymous program. :/

2. Posts take time and planning
Great blog posts are so much more than just words typed on a page. When you read them on someone else's blog they might seem effortless and simple and they might make you think, "Well that doesn't seems so hard. I could totally write something like that." However, great posts generally represent a great deal of consideration, planning, and deliberate choices on the part of the blogger.
You had better be prepared to put in that planning if you want to create something great.

This is something that I am still learning. For ages I would just sit at my computer and type all the random crap in my head, slap on a title, call it a blog post and expect that people would not only read it, but also connect with it to the point of wanting to comment on it or share it.
Turns out that my thoughts generally don't come out in ways that are logical, interesting, or even coherent. When I get bored and read back over some of my earliest blog posts it's really just one cringe worthy, unplanned, nonsensical post after another.

It seems super obvious in hindsight, but I now realise that for me at least, writing a good blog post requires a lot of planning. Before writing a post I need to at least think about things like what the point of the post is, what I am trying to say, how I want people to react, why do I think people care, how do I want the post to flow (ie what is the beginning, middle and end), will it make sense to someone living outside of my brain? etc.

I also realise that I need to be consistent with my writing while at the same time trying to create something new and interesting. By this I mean that a blog needs to have similar themes and topics. As much as a blog is a place of freedom (see number 9) there is also a limit to how random you can be if you want to keep people reading. One of your regulars isn't going to be impressed if they come to your blog for information about the latest fashion trends, only to find that you have started writing about different breeds of fish or endorsing a new type of cross country skis.
So general themes need to be consistent, but you also can't write the same thing every week. You need to mix it up and write things that no one else is writing.
Complicated much?

3. It's insanely hard work
I guess this encompasses what I said above about the planning, but unfortunately planning and writing posts is not the only bit of hard work that you need to put in. Oh no. You also need to work at creating a great space for your words. This means you need a good layout that makes sense and is easy to navigate. The aesthetics also need to be right and they need to fit with your writing. It's no good having flames and skulls and evil stuff when you are writing about butterflies and rainbows and unicorns.
It has to fit.

Sounds simple enough right? Just pick one of the ready-made templates that works for you. That counts as customising. Nope. For most of us, customising a blog means finding pictures and themes and fonts that all work with the content and then learning to code so that it can all be inserted and edited without breaking the page each time something needs to be changed.
It might also mean investing time (and possibly also money) into creating some custom artwork and banners to make the blog really unique.

Bloggers also need to work at cultivating an online presence. You need to be reading other people's blogs and replying to posts and tweets and emails and instagram pics. You need to be sharing your ideas and personality. You need to be engaging readers, and you need to be an engaged reader.
In some parallel universe the readers might come to you, but in the one that I occupy, readers have to be actively sought.

You need to keep up with the times. This means staying abreast of trends and events in your field and also just the world in general. This is important so that what you are writing is relevant to what people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives.
A snowstorm where many of your readers live might be the perfect time to publish your post on keeping warm in winter or your favourite types of tea, even though where you are it's hot and sunny.
Trying to theme your posts with holidays and celebrations can also be a really good idea because people will probably already be in the mood for what you are writing.

You also need to be (somewhat) consistent in terms of the time that you publish. You cant just blog randomly with ten posts on one day and then nothing for a month. You need to get yourself into someone's routine. For example, I am a HUGE fan of Post Secret. Every Monday morning while my work computer is loading up I am on the Post Secret website reading the new Sunday secrets. It's part of my routine to the point where my day is kind of ruined if for some reason there is no new post and it's still showing last weeks secrets or if the page wont load. That blog is 100% part on my Monday routine and if you look at other successful bloggers, they tend to try and do the same thing.  

4. It's not the fast track to fame
As I have stated above and as I will state below, blogging takes time, hard work, planning, and perseverance, none of which add up to making you an internet superstar overnight. While some people might go "viral" and pick a significant following early on, that's not going to be the case for the vast majority.

Most of us will have to start with just a few followers and work our way up to more and more people with weeks and months and years of really great content and dedicated networking. If you are looking for a quick fix, blogging is definitely not the thing for you.

5. Collaboration is key
Working with bloggers you admire through collaborations and guest posts is pretty great. It will help you reach new audiences and make new friends.

It can be hard when you join the blogging community. It seems like everyone knows everyone but no one knows you. No one wants to know you either. It's like changing schools in the middle of semester. Everyone is already established in there little groups, and then there's you, tagging along and trying to join in. It can be demoralising and downright depressing to feel so left out and alone all the time.
This is where collaborating on a post, joining in discussions with meaningful comments (not just links to your blog posts) and writing guest posts on other people's blogs can be a great help.

6. Social media matters, but it's not the end of the world
As I said above, creating an online presence is really important for a blogger and social media is one of the easiest and best ways to go. It can be a great tool in helping  you reach readers and connect with peers. It can also be a huge detriment if you get a bit hot headed and blast someone or say something controversial or make any other kind of mistake. You can remove these posts but someone will always have gotten a screenshot before you manage to click delete.
How you act online is how most people will see you. Most readers don't know  you in person, so who you are on social media is often all that they have to go on.
In saying this, it's not the be all and end all. We all make mistakes and most people understand that, so don't let fear keep you from the awesomeness that is social media.

There will also be some tweets that just disappear into the aether without a single like or reply. In fact most of my tweets are like that. Don't be disheartened. Make sure you take the time to connect with others the way you want them to connect with you, but don't get too caught up in it.
Twitter and Instagram and Facebook aren't real life.

7. No one is Youer than You
You are the best person in the world at being you. You are also the best person in the world at writing YOUR blog, so try not to compare yourself to others. This is something I struggled with at the start. I was constantly thinking about who had more followers than me and who got more comments on their posts and who did a far better job of writing that post than I ever could.

While it can be helpful to look at other bloggers work and try to learn from them, it's important not to get bogged down in making comparisons.
It is especially important to not just throw out your ideas and your personality and try to copy them instead, just because what they are doing seems to be way more popular.
You will never be as good at being someone else as you are at being you.

Focus on creating a blog that you love. One that reflects who you are and what you want to do. You might find that most people just don't get it, but someone will and they will love you all the more for being different to everyone else.
You can grow and change and get better, but don't sell out and just try to be like someone else.

8. It can be hard to find the right audience
This one is pretty simple, but it is also pretty easy to forget. Finding the right audience can be the difference between a popular blog and one that is only read by you and your mum.
Not that there is anything wrong with your mum...

In a world where follow-for-a-follow is an accepted part of social media etiquette, it can be easy to get a whole lot of followers just by following other bloggers and friends and stuff. However, while having lots of followers might look great and make you feel like you are achieving something, it's not necessarily the right way to go.
Just because you have a huge number of followers, doesn't mean you have a huge number of people who are reading and engaging with your work. Hell, your followers might not even like what you are doing but as long as you follow them, they will follow you back.

At the start my twitter feed was full of beauty bloggers. They were just people I found and followed and who followed me back. While I have nothing against beauty bloggers (I love their posts and frankly I need as much help in the beauty department as I can get), they aren't really my target audience.
What I write about is kind of niche. I mean, everyone wears clothes (yay for fashion bloggers) even if they don't really care about fashion. But not nearly as many people can relate to my writing about depression and suicide and poetry and stuff. Once I stopped and thought about this I realised that I need to take a completely different approach when it comes to engaging with readers.

It takes some time and planning to figure out who is the right audience for your blog, but ...
"Readers that engage are worth a hell of a lot more that someone that follows for a follow." - @BlogBeth

9. It is complete freedom
One of the most wonderful things about blogging is how liberating it is. When you write a blog you are 100% in control all the time. You can say what you want, you can do what you want and you can be whoever the hell you want. There is nothing stopping you. The possibilities and limitless.
You can make friends, generate income, find yourself, lose yourself, and just generally have the time of your life. :]

10. Don't Give Up
It isn't always easy and it certainly isn't always rewarding but if you love it, don't give up. You are amazing. Your blog is amazing. Someone out there probably loves it already and it's only going to get better with time.

I am not an important blogger by any means. I am pretty sure that about 99% of the people who go to my blog or follow me and like my posts on Twitter don't even read my posts. But you know what? That's fine. It's fine because it only takes one person to make all the time, all the energy, all the preparation, all the coding, all the obsessing, and all the ignored posts seem worthwhile.
I am lucky enough to have had that one person. She introduced herself to me and told me that my blog helped her when she was feeling really down. She read my words and didn't feel quite so alone.
I have to say that hearing that was one of the best feelings in the world. Here was this total stranger, half way around the world, who felt like I felt. Who connected with me to the point where she took the time to find me and contact me. It was beautiful.

Don't give up.


    1. These are great advice. I feel like blogging has become like a part time job to me. But I wouldn't want it any other way! It is very therapeutic.

      1. Haha. I know what you mean. I have no idea how people manage to blog successfully and still have partners and kids and write novels and things.
        I can barely find time to make another cup of tea. lol

        You are right though. I wouldn't want it any other way either. The crazyness is all part of the fun. :]

    2. I've been blogging for a while now, but I haven't posted for some time. It's not easy, indeed, thinking about what to post and sticking to your blog's niche. I also had the same expectations as you did. On a positive note, I thank those high expectations 'cause they introduced me to the world of blogging, and I've been enjoying the experience every since. Thanks for sharing! :D