Recently, Donna Papacosta updated her 2014 post “Advice for new bloggers“. It’s a good read and certainly worthy of passing along to someone interesting in blogging themselves, including students. As I started to read it again, it seems to me that there’s good advice there for all bloggers, whether you’re new to the party or not. I decided to share my own thoughts on her points.
Blog about a topic you’re passionate about
I think this is a great place to start. There’s nothing worse that pretending to be an expert only to shoot yourself in the foot. Once you’ve started blogging, I’d suggest that it’s time to turn things around. Do some learning, discovering, and become passionate about something that you’ve blogged about. We can’t all be experts but we can sure demonstrate that we’re willing to learn. When people realize that, they don’t criticize to be hurtful; they can help you with your learning.
Know what you want to accomplish with your blog
There definitely needs to be a raison d’être. You’re probably not going to create the next Huffington Post but there are so many benefits to knowing where you want to head. If you’re an expert on something, you’ll get tagged for advice. I like to think that this blog is my celebration of lifelong learning. Many times, I’ve sat in a class or presentation listening and then promptly forgot everything. If I take notes and put the topic in my own context, I’m more likely to remember. I feel so good when I’m thinking about a topic and that voice in the back of my head says “you know, you wrote about it on your blog”.
Imagine who’s reading it
This was really tough in the beginning. You write things and imagine millions of people flocking to read your wisdom. I’m still waiting for that to happen. But what really helped was a simple handshake. I was at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia and Mary Beth Hertz came up, introduced herself, and said “I’ve read your blog”. That was a big moment for me. People, and people I don’t know, actually do find you and read your thoughts.
Take the time to create an editorial calendar
This is such a wise bit of advice. In the beginning, I waited until inspiration hit and then I blogged. As you can imagine, inspiration often ignored me or life otherwise just got in the road. I might blog once a week or every couple of weeks and just didn’t feel the need to do more. Then, I was poking around and noticed that there was an option to schedule posts. Now, I can write any time; I just schedule a completed post for 5am and, provided I’ve done it correctly, the post magically appears. Now, I keep my eyes open for interesting things and maintain a big list of topics that I might eventually blog about. The best part? I don’t have to write it all in one sitting.
Be sure your headlines are compelling
If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that I’ve taken on this challenge recently. “Analysing Titles“. I’ve come to the conclusion that it certainly isn’t as easy as you’d think.
In Donna’s original post, she says “Refer to smart thinking by others, and add your own two cents.” I’m doing it now! You can’t always come up with something original and unique but you can sure expand and develop on the great thinking of others. Together, we’re so much smarter. The other thing that this does is allow you to expand the type of writing that you do. It’s interesting to see how others style their creation, how they format things, and how they make their efforts interesting. No matter who you are; you can always learn.
I’m definitely better at this when I’m doing screen captures of something I’m running on my own computer. Shutter or Jing are my go-to tools. A list of others can be found here. If I need an image (and remember to insert one), there are many options including my cellphone or online creative commons resources.
Amplify your blog content with social media
This was initially difficult to do since I think most people are hesitant to do so. At first, I thought I’d remember to do it but not always. When I found that I could get WordPress to do it automatically, then I was so happy. Then, when I discovered packrati.us and its ability to send my links to Diigo, I was over the top.
Even more helpful are the efforts of your community. A simple retweet on their part sends a notification to people I would never have know.
Check your stats but don’t obsess over them
There’s nothing better than looking at a bar chart and seeing what posts are most popular. It’s also interesting to see what days of the week are most popular. Does it make sense to blog on the weekend? Don’t forget to check the number of people that subscribe to your blog via email. They’ll read your posts in their email and may never click through to the site itself.
Engage with readers
As Donna notes, this may not just be through comments on your blog. It might be that someone has shared the link or commented on Twitter or Facebook. I wouldn’t obsess over this but it doesn’t hurt to do a search for yourself on the services every now and again to see if you’re not missing something.
Get the technology right
That’s always good advice for anything dealing with technology. But, it’s OK to learn as you go. I use ScribeFire for the most part and it’s easy to flip back and forth between editing visually and digging into the HTML that makes the magic happen. It’s also terrific to have a resource open in one tab while I’m editing with ScribeFire in another.
For all its features, the one thing that I’ve never been able to do is insert a horizontal rule while editing visually.
But a quick switch to the code lets me insert a <hr> where necessary.
Know your terminology
I think it’s specially important if you’re writing about technology to begin with. You don’t see professional writers talking about the “thingy” and you shouldn’t either! I find having another tab open is a great writing tool for me. If I want to make sure that I’m using a term properly, a quick search will confirm. More importantly, if I’m wondering if I’m using a word properly (including spelling), I’ll just search for it. I never fail to be amazed at what a simple search can do for you – check spelling, convert units, find an image, find an expert, find a product review, check out some technical specifications, …
That sigh you just heard was me sitting back and having the satisfying feeling of completing a blog post. I think I’ve included most of the elements from Donna’ original post in here. For regular readers, did I analyse myself properly? What did I mess up on?
For bloggers, do you agree with these points?