How to start a blog: 8 steps to telling your story.
I have been something of a wallflower in the blogosphere for more than eleven years now. What began as a space to overshare bad poetry and an abundance of teen angst has, over the past decade, turned into a haven for me to grow and change and break and heal and learn. It has helped me stretch my wings and build community, and it has seen me finally find my footing just to leap all over again. And lately, I've been asked a handful of times, often by people I haven't seen in years, how to start blogging. In fact, I've fielded the question so many times that I thought it would be best for me to just go ahead and share some thoughts and tips here. I am by no means an expert -- these are just little pieces of advice that I have collected over the years and found to be helpful in my own writing and blogging. They're not meant to be prescriptive, so by all means, feel free to pick and choose what you think will work best for you.
Number one: pick a platform.
Over the past 11 years, I have used Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blogspot, and Wordpress.com (all free), and now a self-hosted site through Wordpress.org (paid). I know a ton of people who have used Squarespace, but I don't have any experience using it, so for the purposes of this post, I'll stick to what I know, which is WP. While it might not be the most user-friendly, I have found that if I am willing to do a little bit of research and put in some elbow grease, I can generally get the look and feel that I want.
Number two: own your name.
As perhaps you can imagine, my blog has undergone as many identity changes as it has platform swaps. This was, at least in part, due to the fact that I was trying on new identities, too. For example, for awhile, my blog was called Egypt and Courage, and then it was called A Life like the Lilies (which is now the working title for the book I'm fantasizing about). But now, eleven years later, I feel like the only thing that fits is my own name. Claiming my own name has helped this space feel more settled and more like home.
Number three: choose a theme/design based on how you want your blog to feel to both you and your reader.
For my tastes, this means a theme/design with a lot of white space (which feels like fresh air to me), but your own tastes might be totally different. The great part is that if you're willing to stretch yourself and put in the time, you can come up with a design that is totally you. Wordpress has a ton of free themes that you can practice on, several of which are super customizable. And I'll let you in on a little secret about me: I know next to nothing about HTML and CSS coding. My blog looks the way it does right now thanks to a few hours of copying and pasting and searching forums for answers to questions like how to center my post title and how to widen page margins. Don't fret when it comes time to ask for help, because chances are, someone has already asked the question you have, and with any luck, it has already been answered.
Tip: it has helped me to check out a few blogs here and there for decoration inspo. Here are a few of my faves:
Erin @ Reading My Tea Leaves
Bailey @ LoveBaileyJean
Alannah @ Rose & Bliss
Number four: ditch the niche. Burn down the wheelhouse.
This is where I often get stuck, to be perfectly honest. Because there's nothing I love more than writing about Jesus, but I also really like this lipstick, and one of my recent guilty pleasures are those "what's in my handbag" posts. I'm also interested in politics and would like to highlight causes that are important to me. And I would love to do a home tour (provided I would ever clean my house, but I digress!). But then I get a little dizzy and start feeling a bit guilty, because those things aren't my "wheelhouse." More and more, I see people telling bloggers to stick to what they know, and it is absolutely infuriating to me, because we are multifaceted human beings with diverse gifts and interests. So if you want to write about your faith and your latest ride or die mascara, that is what you should write about. If you want to write about politics and that incredible pair of jeggings you picked up last week, then please write about those things. If you want to write poetry or creative fiction and do a home tour, you would be doing us all a great disservice to not write about those things. Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't share on your blog.
Number five: just start.
Let's just get this itchy fact out of the way: your blog won't be perfect. But don't ever let that stop you from writing. 11 years later, there are still things I want to change about my site, and I still find plenty of typos in my posts. If you spend your time freaking out about the things you want to change, you'll lose focus on why you started blogging in the first place, which is to tell your story.
Number six: click publish and share your story with the world.
Trust me when I say that it is so incredibly easy to fall victim to the lie that there is not enough room for you at the table. There are other people who are better writers, take better pictures, and have more followers -- so what makes you think you can cut it? If no one has ever told you this before, allow me the honor: the world needs your story. It sounds wildly cliche to say that there is only one you, but it is true. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Let me say it again. The world needs your story.
Number seven: remember that the numbers mean nothing.
This is, of course, not the case if you're trying to monetize your blog. WP has a statistics page which shows you how many people have viewed your site, which post they looked at, how they got there, and where in the world they are reading from. This is a really cool feature, but it can quickly become dangerous if you start to find your worth in it. So as a general rule, I try to avoid looking at my statistics page, but honestly, I'm not always successful in this. A few months ago, I shared a letter I wrote that meant a lot to me. To this day, it is one of my favorite things I've ever written, but the stats on it aren't all that great. I had to muddle through my disappointment for a few days before realizing that regardless of who did or didn't read the post, writing it had changed me. And that was enough.
Number eight: keep a junk drawer and write it down now.
Have an open document, either a draft on your blog or a file on your computer of words that haven't found a home yet. You never know when you could be working on something new and find the perfect place for those words that you worried would never belong. And if something comes to mind that you want to share, don't wait to make a note of it. I can't tell you how many times I have stumbled upon some new idea that I wanted to write about here and then forgotten it completely because I failed to write it down somewhere since it came at a time when I wasn't able to craft an entire blog post.
"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." -- Ernest Hemingway
If you're curious about more specifics about WP or how I started blogging, I'd love to chat with you. Feel free to drop me a line here.