“So You Think You Can Blog?” Advice for New Bloggers

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In September of 2015 one of my posts went viral. I had been blogging almost daily for four years and had built up a loyal and amazing group of readers. The law of averages could have predicted that given the sheer number of pieces I was writing, at some point one of them would get picked up. Of course it was the post that I spent fifteen minutes on instead of a week. The piece is Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis and to date it has been shared on Facebook 596 thousand times. (596,000) That being said my first piece of advice is Do not blog because you want to go viral. No. NO. NOO. That’s not why you blog. You pick a reason, and you stick with it. I wanted to repost this piece because in the last week I’ve spoken to at least 20 people who want to start a blog.

So this is for you who are beginning this journey.

It’s the new year and last night you had a blast of inspiration – as you were thinking about 2014, you suddenly realized you wanted to start a blog.

That’s what happened to me in 2011. And it’s one of the best activities I’ve ever started.

So there’s some things that I want to pass on to you who are beginning this journey in 2014.

  1. Keep it real. Be yourself – don’t try to blog about something you don’t know. Your blog will attract people who are interested in the subject, they’ll stay connected because they begin to like you, your style, your writing. Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. Readers are smart – they’ll figure it out.
  2. Be fully present. In other words — Care about your readers. If readers come to your blog and take time to comment, reply to their comments. There are literally millions of things to read on the internet. They’ve chosen to read you. Be fully present and willing to respond to them. Read the comment well and think about how to respond. Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words. That being said – watch out for spammers. If they have a dot com website and say inane things like “I have looked all over web and truly I found this site to be quite surprisingly wonderful how do you do it” then don’t approve their comment. They are spam.

Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words,

3. Connecting happens when you least expect it. Rachel Pieh Jones said this recently “Some posts will resonate with people and some won’t. Sometimes it is surprising to me which way things go. I think a post will fall flat or almost don’t publish it ….and it goes nuts. I think a post is wicked good and it barely raises a flicker on the traffic stats. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that makes a post spread.” Sometimes what you spend the least amount of time on ends up making the biggest impact. There is a mystery to this. Don’t spend too much time analyzing. Just continue connecting and writing.

4. Freshly Pressed is wonderful….but even more wonderful is when the post that didn’t get Freshly Pressed gets some traffic. I was incredibly grateful to WordPress for highlighting 3 of my posts on Freshly Pressed. The two on Egypt were purely because Matt Mullenweg found them. I will always love Matt for this. That he found these posts was a gift and allowed my unknown blog to be seen by a record number of people. What I found however is that readers will arrive from Freshly Pressed, but only a fraction, say five to ten percent, will stay. You want the readers who will stay, the readers who will engage with the piece and each other. 

5. Don’t write controversy for the sake of controversy. It’s tempting to get on the social media circuit with what’s enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame, but there is no staying power in those posts. Once the controversy is over, no one cares about your post anymore. Besides that, there are hundreds of other articles written on the same subject and you are a new blogger so people won’t find your post. You want the post that can be resurrected two years later and still be shared. If you feel strongly about something like this or this, don’t hesitate to write about it, but don’t do it just to get views. It won’t last.

6. Blogging takes time. There are other people in my family that are far better writers than I am. The difference is that I do it. Every. Day. Every day I write an average of 500 words. I can’t tell you any secrets, any suggestions — it’s a bit like the Nike commercial: “Just do it”. Just write. Even if you post once a week, just write. And always, always do the spell and grammar check. All mistakes won’t be caught but a number will and for the rest you will have cousins and friends who take the time and mercy to gently let you know where you erred.

7. Keep posts relatively short. We’re in an age of short attention spans and vying websites. 700 words for a post is ideal. If it will be longer, just warn people to get a cup of tea and sit down. That way they’ll be ready and willing to sit down and spend a bit more time.

8. Keep a note-book on hand. Always. Small moleskin journals are perfect for this. Ideas for blogs will come when you least expect and you can’t always rely on your memory. The idea for this one came while I was sautéing onions to put in an egg dish on New Year’s Day. A note-book where you can write your ideas down is critical to keeping your blogging fresh and real.

9. Promote your blog to non-bloggers. While most people will tell you to connect with other bloggers — and that is great and sound advice — I would also encourage you to try to connect with non-bloggers. Other bloggers are working towards their own blogging goals and audience. The people who don’t blog? They will be a huge encouragement and impetus to write and write well. Use social media of all types to do this – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest — all of it. Sometimes you’ll connect with people who don’t have a blog but want to write. Encourage them to write by asking them to do guest posts.

10. Have fun with your blog. Above all, have fun. Enjoy learning to craft a post, to put words together, to learn how to respond to others. Don’t do it for the money you think you might make! Making money on a blog takes a long time and more than our allotted 15 minutes of fame. Along with that, you become a slave to the products that you write about. Do it for fun – do it to find your voice – do it to become a better writer – do it to connect – but don’t do it for money.

So you think you can blog? I know you can! And if you just started, leave a comment with a link to your new blog.

Note: WordPress always does some great posts at the beginning of the year encouraging new bloggers or those who want to revive and old blog. Take a look here and here. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote a great post with lessons learned from her last year of blogging. I’ve linked above but if you missed it go here. 

Pick up your copy of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging today

This book is a set of essays on living between worlds. It is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section.

Between Worlds is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

21 thoughts on ““So You Think You Can Blog?” Advice for New Bloggers

  1. Hi Marilyn! I’ve enjoyed your blogs (and Robynn’s too) for some time now. I’ve begun blogging a few months ago but want to write more. I’m learning a lot through trial and error too (ie, using WordPress, etc.). http://www.joycestauffer.com/ Not very original but fun to be able to “control” some elements. Thanks again for all your writing! Blessings!

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  2. Thank you for this very inspiring post! I’ll try to keep up the writing, even if with all (work, kids, volunteering and my projects etc.) it’s quite a challenge, but I love to do it. Thanks again !

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  3. Really appreciate the words of advise. Started blogging about 6 months ago during a year of great personal change and responsibilities. Beginning now, I feel that I can take your suggestions and be consistent in my writing. Writing for fun and expression that will be my challenge and my goal for 2014. Thanks
    Living Life with Denise.com

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    1. Denise – so great to hear that you’ve begun. My blog started at the same point — a year of a lot of personal change. Amazing the amount of material that emerges to write about during these periods of our lives. I look forward to heading to your blog today and thanks for coming by.

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  4. Great post! I have grown Geek Alabama into a very popular blog with extremely high Alexa rankings, all without any of my posts being Freshly Pressed. It takes time for a blog to find its niche and a audience. Just keep writing and you will find an audience!

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  5. Thanks for posting this little bit of inspiration, Marilyn. I need to work on reviving my blog this year. As work got busier and busier last year, I let it drop – something has to give. But I want to focus on it and find some ways to pack it into my schedule this year.

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    1. I will be your conscience with joy! You are too good a writer to not keep up that blog :) But I totally get it. For those of us who work full time – it is a huge commitment.

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  6. As always I am impressed how well you write even when simply providing guidelines on how to blog. For now, I indulge in reading your blogs. After all any good blogger needs passionate readers. Happy blogging in 2014.

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  7. Great post, Marilyn! More and more by blog has turned into a photo album. I would love to get back to writing more, and I appreciate the encouragement to write.

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      1. Yes, it was really blogging that piqued my interest in photography. I always loved it, and when I realized how easy it is to learn about photography online, I was captivated. So many blogs have beautiful images that bring the words to life. Photography has become a creative connection to a creative God, and I find myself really wondering about developing the concept of photography in and as worship. Maybe 2014 will be the year that the writing and photographing come together more. I would love that.

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  8. I loved your post – great insights.
    I have been at my blog (www.browney237.com) for just over a year and get so much pleasure out of it not because it has huge stats (it doesn’t ) but because I enjoy writing.

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    1. It was fun to take a look at your blog and I’m so glad you came by! I began blogging in my 50’s as well and it seems a good time for it. I’ll look forward to keeping up with yours this year!

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