It’s easy to feel like you aren’t a real writer when no one can see the fruits of your effort. If you’ve started to cringe when you tell someone, “I’m writing a novel” or you hesitate to call yourself a writer to your friends (because you don’t have any searchable content out in the world), blogging could be for you. Writers write. And if you don’t exist as a writer on the Internet, you don’t exist. Don’t wait until you have a book to build your brand. Now is the time!
Blogs will establish you as an authority in your field. They’ll help you set deadlines. They’ll give you the instant satisfaction that longer projects can’t. And they’ll help you build your brand and your audience. Best of all, the more you write, the better you’ll get!
So how do you write a blog? It’s easier than you think…
1. Create a Word Cloud.
A word cloud – an image composed of words that describe your interests – will not only help you build an accurate profile of yourself, but also, of your intended reader. It will help you visualize your blog’s direction and cherry-pick topics to write about when you’re stuck.
The more words you add to your word cloud, the better. Think of it like an ingredients list on a package at a grocery store. (PS – You can create your own word cloud here.)
One of the most common mistakes bloggers make when they’re starting out is thinking they need to limit their blog to a single unifying “theme”. Such as, you need to be a cooking blog or a travel blog or a holistic lifestyle blog. While this advice was regularly dispensed years ago – when blogs were getting their start – nowadays, not having a cohesive theme can actually work to your benefit.
Think about it – why are you blogging? Maybe you want to build your profile as a writer or artist. Perfectly reasonable, but that doesn’t mean you can only talk about writing or art. In fact, have you ever known someone who only talked about one thing? And…did you want to hang out with them? Or were they a complete bore? Our brains crave variety, because people are varied. We don’t all like only one thing; so why should our blogs be only one thing? Let the world be your muse. Gather ideas like a crow gathers shiny objects – variety makes your blog beautiful.
You’re blogging to find a tribe. And your potential readership are people that are going to be interested in what you’re interested in. If you’re a fan of The Great British Bake Off, Harry Styles, scuba-diving and travel – like I am – talk about those things. All of them! (Just maybe not at the same time). YOU are the brand. Not your genre. We want a dynamic world. The unifying feature of your blog is your voice.
2. Post Often.
Another misconception is that you should only post once a week, so as not to annoy your readers and lead them to unfollow you. While this may be true about emails – your blog isn’t or shouldn’t be post after post of pushy sales pitches. If I see a topic I’m not interested in appear in my reader, I’ll just scroll past it. If I like the writer and their voice I’ll continue to follow them unless they post something outright offensive.
When you’re starting out, try to post three days a week or more. The more you post, the faster you’ll gain favor in google algorithms. Have an active blog, with dynamic content. If you create a lot of content, it can eventually be turned into a book of its own. Or at the very least, you won’t be ashamed to say you’re a writer when you hand out a business card directing someone to a website with actual writing. Plus, writing consistently makes you a better writer. The more you write, the more you distill your voice into its purest essence.
When starting out, post as much as you can.
3. Have Fun!
If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? If you wanted to pull your own teeth, you could have become a dentist. Building a readership shouldn’t be painful. It’s about finding connections, a tribe, a community of people who care about the things you do. And unlike writing a novel or working on any sort of long-term project, once you have readers, you’ll make instant connections. You won’t have to wait months or years for a response to your words. And if no one’s reading – blog to yourself – blog into the ether until you’re not blogging into the ether anymore.
Make yourself laugh. Grow as a writer. Be light with it. Blogging doesn’t have to be serious business – marketing schemas and posting times and analytics. (Ok, there is some of that). Find out what works for you. Figure out what posts draw attention and why. Is it their content, tone, unique storytelling, their of-the-momentness? Be willing to experiment. Post at different days, at different times, on different subjects. Use pictures, use gifs, embed youtube videos. And most of all – make it fun – because if it’s drudgery for you, you can bet it’ll be drudgery for your reader. An audience and opportunities will be come, but they should grow organically. Have something to say, not something to sell.
If blogging is a chore, you’re doing it wrong. Have fun!
4. Don’t Get Too Fixated On Your Follower Count.
I’ll admit it – I obsessively track my stats. I get excited when I see that someone from Botswana or Romania or Dubai is reading my posts. As a kid, when the Internet was just becoming a thing, I could never have imagined having the sort of international readership I do today. And I don’t have to wait for my novel to come out – there are people all over the world who want to read my writing now. You don’t have control over how many people will follow you. But the more you write, and the more dynamic content you create, the more you’ll attract readers to your blog.
Building your audience, starting conversations and forming friendships through your blog are all good goals that don’t have a number attached. My advice is to be patient. A lot of people want success overnight. Many feel that they’re putting in the work and not seeing the return. To them I say: Keep writing. Write about anything and everything. Write about what confounds you, interests you, angers you, excites you and odds are, you’ll eventually get a reaction. Don’t worry about having a thousand readers your first month. Just keep writing and they’ll come.
Write what you love and your readers will follow.
5. Be a Storyteller.
I’ve always viewed storytelling and craft as two separate entities. You can have a bare-bones story that seems straightforward, but shines when it comes to its lyrical language and turn of phrase, like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Or you can have not-so-great writing, but really engaging storytelling like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. (It has become popular to badmouth the Twilight series and its genre, but there’s a reason it’s been as popular as it has and that’s good storytelling).
Think of BuzzFeed – it’s like Internet junk food – with it’s flashy gifs and numbered list format. But what do you actually retain from reading 18 Mean Girls Facts That Will Make You Feel Really Fucking Old? Do you remember the writer’s name? Do you want to read more from them? Or do you shovel the words into your mouth like movie-theatre popcorn, before following the next clickbait in the sidebar?
BuzzFeed‘s strength is that it’s universal and plays into people’s nostalgia or desire for ordered lists. But it doesn’t build the kind of relationship you want to build with your reader. What will set your blog apart from all the others writing about the same things? Well, for one, if you’ve set up your word cloud, your writing will be tailored to a laundry list of interests that will differentiate you right off the bat. But really – it’s your unique voice and storytelling that will make you stand out.
Write antidotes or funny travel stories or stories about people you’ve met, experiences you’d had. Even identical twins – who are the same in every physical way – will have different interests and different life experiences. And that’s the stuff people are interested in! Look at any celebrity – we don’t care about how their latest indie movie made them “grow as an artist” – we want to know what they eat, what they last cried over, if their relationships are real or for publicity, what books they read, what songs are on their Pandora playlists, what’s in their underwear drawer. We crave intimate knowledge (and yes, there’s some things you should keep to yourself to retain a sense of mystery and decency) but you should at least hint at intimacy. At sharing something of yourself with your reader. Otherwise, it’s just words.
You should shine as a storyteller!
6. Build a Relationship With Your Readers.
You want your blog to be like the office water cooler, a place where you and your readers can start having conversations. It should be a casual place – an unintimidating forum where readers are encouraged to share their own experiences or thoughts, to have fun and connect. Blogs are to entertain or inform. What do your readers come away from your blog posts with? What makes your readers want to engage with your content? Which of your posts generate the most comments?
Don’t overthink it. People want to come and have a good experience. How can you provide that for them? By offering a new perspective, by presenting information or resources, by sharing your experiences through story-telling, by making them laugh or cry? There’s tons of ways to connect to your readers and you don’t have to use only one, but you do want to create relationships organically, not by using clever gimmicks or tricks or incentives. Just be yourself. Write about what you want to write about.
Your comments section should be like the office water cooler – a fun place to hang out.
7. Moderate your comments.
If you want to build a relationship with your readers and for your comments section to be a fun place to be, you have to moderate your comments. Having a civil conversation with someone who has a different viewpoint is great and can be eye-opening. But don’t engage with trolls. Just delete them. If you allow bullies in, people won’t want to comment and may even unfollow you. It’s your blog – your space – and it’s in your best interest to facilitate the kind of experience your readers will have.
If you do choose to engage with trolls, be careful of the tone you set. If you post a ranting, angry reply to a commenter, your readers might be turned off or uncomfortable sharing their own feelings. Or they might be turned off seeing an ugly side of your personality. Your blog can and should be a place for healthy discussion or gentle education (not proselytization) , but it shouldn’t be a polarizing place. Yes, you want to attract an audience that’s interested in the things you are; but you also want to attract people who like your voice.
Make your blog a No Troll Zone.
8. Put Your Name On It.
You wouldn’t turn in a test without your name. Why would you create a blog without clearly labeling it as yours? It’s okay to have Pioneer Woman or Nerd Nomads as your brand and blog title, but both blogs also have the writers’ real names in the first page of content in a clear, easy-to-find spot. I can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve visited where I had to scroll or pick through posts and pages to find the bloggers name so I could address them in the comments.
If you’re using your blog as a platform to build an audience for your novel or creative project, you want your readers to know your name. What’s the point of generating content not linked to your name if you plan on putting out a project under your name? It seems obvious, but there are a surprising amount of people who don’t adhere to it.
Be consistent across the board with your online branding – if your website is JaneDoe.com, make sure that the rest of your social media reflects that – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Linkedin should all be under the “JaneDoe” handle. This makes it easy for your existing Instagram followers or Facebook friends to find their way to your website and for your blog readership to find you elsewhere on the web.
9. Tag Your Work Appropriately.
Tagging your writing will help Google direct the right audience to you. Put your keywords in your blog title, add them into your tags and categories and in to the first paragraph of each blog post. For example this post might have: “blog”, “blogging” “how to blog”, “authors”, “writing” and “on writing” as tags. I would also include my name: “leigh hecking” as a tag so my name and brand become more searchable.
Also, think about what people might Google to find your post. Check what comes up in Google autocomplete. Check the section People also ask to give you some ideas about what search terms people use. Put those questions in your tags as well.
10. Add images, gifs or video to your posts.
If someone clicks a “read more” on a blog and it opens onto a solid block of text 2,000 words long, most people are going to click away. Break up your paragraphs with pictures or gifs. This can have the added benefit of aiding your story-telling. Have you ever seen a travel blog post without pictures? Would you even want to? It’s so much more fun to read about a trip to Cambodia when it’s supplemented by actual pictures of the temples of Siem Reap. It’s not just travel blogs, having visuals tricks the mind into thinking you’re not reading as much as you are. Readers will spend longer on your site and be more likely to comment.
Plus gifs and pictures can add an element of humor or a moment of levity. Memes are popular because they’re relatable – and at the risk of sounding like an old person trying to stay with the times – you want to be relatable too.
So go forth and blog. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.