Blogging Tips, I Wish I Knew When I Started

An honest article about stuff I wish I knew when I started my blog. I'll cover motivation, writing process, content, tools, audience and marketing. At the end, I listed valueable free resources to give you a headstart with your own blog.

It's simple. Start to write and put it online, the rest will follow. However, if you are willing to learn or to get inspired by my experiences I am going to write about, get focused and soak it in. I'll cover motivation, writing process, content, tools, audience, and marketing. I want to share concrete tips and action points with which you can start right away. It is important for me to set realistic expectations since there is a lot of optimistic marketing bullshit out there. First of all, let's begin with a big

Why?

Maybe you love writing stories, maybe you want to share your first-hand expert knowledge or maybe you just want state your opinion on things. Whatever it is, ask yourself the question "Why do I want to start a blog?". Have your reason to start writing, and let it become your mantra.

Another essential question is: "What is my relation to the audience?". Are you a storyteller, mediator of facts, or a writer who has an intimate relationship with his or her audience. I casually jump from one to the other, it depends on the topic. I started out, because I wanted to improve writing and English. Besides, I like to share first-hand knowledge on programming.

Roughly five years later I stuck to it, plus, I enjoy myself writing this now on my OLKB Preonic with Cherry MX blues - props to the typists out there. Strong consumer and weak producer, sounds familiar? Let's try to change this.

Producing Content

Producing starts before writing text. It starts with aggregating ideas, researching and prioritization. I accumulate notes and ideas which might later turn into text. Ideas fade away, you need to write them down or save them somewhere. Keeping those references is essential for connecting the dots and put them into a bigger picture.

Letting ideas mature is a good way of selection. I like to keep a physical journal in which I write down all my ideas. I try to keep them creative and un-selective as possible. In our age of information overload it is necessary to offload information e.g. ideas in either a physical notebook / journal or the digital equivalent.

Even though pen and paper offers more flexibility, I just started to evaluate the digital counterpart Evernote. One of many solutions to keep important notes in sync. If you are unsure what to write about, here are some general ideas: Share first-hand knowledge of your expertise (write for your own target audience), write about your weekly experiments, share stories, opinions, elaborate on Quora questions etc.

Writing Process

There are different ways how to start writing. Some people have a ritual, some people need half an hour to warm up with stream of conscious writing. Whatever your strategy is: Remember, often you write nine crappy and one decent page. However, writing the first nine pages is essential to get to the decent page.

Write a lot of text, break free from premature selection and too high standards for your work. Once you have all the key ideas covered, you can treat your text like a dough. Extend it, make it shorter, break it apart so that it will meet your expectations. Needless to say, I do it anyway: Writing is a process which involves adding as well as deleting.

In Writing Hacks from Stephen King, it is said that it is poisonous to watch Television, any passive consumption I guess, and beneficial to start reading and writing as much as you can. Further, it says, you should write active voice, use simple words, be bold and don't overvalue the opinions of readers. If you suffer from writing blocks, change the font color of your text to white and type whatever crosses your mind. Alternatively, just dim the background light of your laptop while writing. It's a muscle, be resilient and practice when you can.

Blog Hosting

Guess what. You need to host the text somewhere. The most frictionless alternatives are Medium, Wordpress and Blogger. These solutions come with a rich-text WYSIWYG editor and you can start typing right away. However, if you want to independently self-host your articles with more freedom in design and functionality of your blog you should check out static-site generators like Jekyll, Octopress and Pelican. I was happy to see that I inspired other people to use static-site generators already: Crafting a Simple Blog with Metalsmith.

Tools of the Trade

I go simple for writing. I am using the Atom editor with my favorite programming font Inconsolata. Other interesting tools are the online editors for e.g. collaboration: Dillinger and Fiddle. Both have the functionality of exporting the text to your filesystem or some cloud. Usable without any user login. While these editors focus on Markdown, the other editor which I recently stumbled upon is CalmyWriter. Done with your draft? Check typos, grammar and style automatically via the Hemingway Editor or Grammar.ly. Let it proof-read by your friends or experts in the field.

Audience and Marketing

Authenticity is a crucial factor. You are a human, you make mistakes. Understand your readers - this is especially easy when you have a niche blog. Further, when focussing on a specialized topic you have a higher chance to stick out in search engine results. Don't make too long articles and have a good beginning, with a brief summary of the content, and a good ending. We all suffer from short attention spans.

You need to generate leads to your blog. Otherwise it will not even reach the surface before it might drown in the sea of information. Don't be afraid of self-promotion and cross-posting your articles on all social media, social bookmarking channels. There are tools like Buffer and IFTTT which automate the process. For SEO, just make sure your blog has all correct meta tags (e.g. Social tags).

Analytics is another essential you need to get your hands on to measure your growth. Remember the old saying: You cannot optimize what you cannot measure. Either you have built-in analytics in your blogging service, or you can add e.g. Google Analytics or Mixpanel. Keep your audience informed by offering a newsletter with a summary of new articles. Mailchimp offers a generous free plan. And finally make your blog articles sticky, with a list of resources like the one I give now:

Recommended Resources

One or two mails a month about the latest technology I'm hacking on.