A Fuddy Duddy’s Guide to Starting a Blog 

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Shortlisted authors often say, “I’ve been meaning to start a blog, but I haven’t done it yet.” Do you have to have one? No. But as more readers engage online, adding a new dimension to the experience of reading, it really is a good idea. You know it’s a good idea, and that’s why you’re reading this article.

rolodexI am a very low-tech person. I do not have a smart phone, and I have no training in web design or computer technology. I’m just figuring it out as I go along, and sometimes this is the best kind of person to offer advice. This personal aside has two specific purposes.

  1. It’s meant to make you, the deer in the blog woods, comfortable with my presence and avoid scaring you off. No scary tech words are used in the writing of this article.
  2. It assures you that even I, the oldest young person on the face of the Earth, can create a website without exploding the Internet.

I’ll start with why a blog is a good idea, and then I’ll go into some of the earliest and most important choices you’ll have to make in order to begin. 

Step 1: Decide it’s time to take the plunge.

Why should you have a website?

  1. It gives you legitimacy beyond your talent. As good as you are, or even as great as you are, there are thousands of other great writers with great stories. Your blog shows potential readers and publishers that you mean it, that you can put your Big Writer Pants on and take your craft seriously.
  2. Writing is always a good idea. You’ve taken thoughts and imaginings out of your head and sculpted them into sentences. All outlets for this activity are encouraged. Personally, I think best when I’m writing things out, and sometimes those things are worth sharing.
  3. Your blog hones your voice. You can experiment with different styles and see what fits you best and what readers respond to. Because blog posts are usually very short, you can enjoy the playtime without committing to it as a big project.
  4. And, of course, you build an audience. So when your novel comes out, you’ve already done some of the legwork and filled the pool of your first readers.

Step 2: Choose a domain name.

As I brace myself for another brief foray into talking about myself, I’ll discuss the two options for domain names. Some writers name their websites after themselves. It’s direct, and it makes you into a brand. It makes your name searchable. Others prefer to give their blogs titles that relate to their content.

Enter, Black Squirrel Workshop.

Someone else who shares my name already has a website named after herself, so that decision was easily made for me.

How did I come up with Black Squirrel Workshop? The simple answer is: I asked my friends what I should call it. We went to Sarah Lawrence College, a Liberal Arts school where the black squirrels that roam the campus are an inside joke, “Sarah Lawrence College, where even the squirrels wear black.” (I also wear a lot of black.) Because my website is both my writing blog and a platform for my editing business, I like “Workshop” instead of “Editing Services.” It will allow me to be more versatile with my content, and it refers to writing as a craft. Black Squirrel Workshop also has a lot of potential for unique graphics on the website, and it’s catchy and unique. It pleases me.

Phew. Now, the point of that burst of personal exposition was to show you that you can name your website in a way that is meaningful to you. Think like a writer. The blog is a story, and the domain name is its title.

If anyone reading this already has a blog or website, what did you call it, and why? Share in the comments. Feel free to share a link.

Step 3: Choose a platform.

Here’s a quick definition of “hosting.” Hosting is the service of providing you with a space on the Internet. It’s like the landlord for a rented apartment, and it comes with different services depending on the host/landlord you choose.

This is where you think it gets scary, but it’s only as complicated as you let it be, and you can do it for free. I’m not going to get into the high-tech aspects here, but I’ll give you the information you need to make a choice and get started.

Of all the free website hosting services, Blogger and WordPress are the most popular. I use WordPress, but I asked Mash Judge, Amanda Pleau, and Mash Chief Editor, Cheryl Whittaker, who have experience with both, to help me compare.

Blogspot, now called “Blogger,” is free. Google bought it a few years ago, but it maintains its appearance, brand name, and services. All the features they offer are free to all users with no hidden fees or extras. All the gadgets of Google are at your disposal if you choose to use them, and you can decide to incorporate them after you’ve had time to get comfortable. You have to have a Google account to use it.

A Blogger site is very easy to set up and use. You can work with design templates, so you don’t have to know anything about website design. Blogger is great for people who just want to post blog articles and tell the world a thing or two about themselves or a specific topic. If you want basics, you get all the basics you need, and for some people, that’s perfect.

WordPress has a very versatile free option with much more exciting design templates. If you stick with the free template, your domain name will end in “.wordpress.com.” WordPress will try to guilt you into upgrading to a paid account, but you can resist and still have a beautiful blog.

WordPress-200x200Hostgator WPYou can also pay WordPress $13 a year to remove their name from your domain. You can also design your website through WordPress but use someone else to host it. At Mash Stories, we use Hostgator, which is American, affordable, and has great 24-hour chat service if you come up against questions.

In the long haul, WordPress has more features that allow you to grow the blog into a more complex platform as your needs and experience increase, but this does mean that it has more of a learning curve than Blogger.

Tackling it one task at a time, a little bit each day, a WordPress site took me a week to get ready to go live. And again, I came into this experience with no web design knowledge and a tendency to tackle new tasks without asking for help. As I learn more about it and become more comfortable with using it, I take advantage of the fancier features little by little. Now I have menus, several static pages, posts, and even some fill-in contact forms.

Think about what you want to accomplish with your blog and what you want your blog to accomplish for you, and decide from there what option is best.

For those of you who do have blogs, what hosting service do you use? Share your experiences and observations in the comments.

Step 4: Create content. Make some choices.

Before your blog goes live you should have some posts lined up so you don’t lose momentum. I had three articles on the website before I let it go live, and I had a couple more ready to go. I post two to four new articles per month, and they are all related to writing and editing.

Again, you have to know what you want your blog to do for you. It should have a focus. It’s harder to gain followers if you don’t have a niche or topic. Your readers should know what to expect from you.

Along with whatever name you choose, you should have a brief tagline, which is a very short sentence that sums up what your blog is about. Again, people like to know what to expect. This also serves to attract new readers if your title and tagline are engaging.

Do you want a static welcome page with a certain message or introduction, or do you want your most recent article to be the homepage?

Last of all, once all the words are taken care of, you’ll need images. There are plenty of websites that offer free no-royalty stock images. Make sure they’re clear and sharp. Some images will be part of the website’s design, and ideally each post should have its own image as well.

Explore the blogs you enjoy and think about what choices they made.

Step 5: Add and engage with content regularly.

If you want your blog to be taken seriously, you have to update it regularly. It can be just as often as you can handle, but it shouldn’t go two months without new content. Some blogs keep their posts current by posting not only articles but also short quotes, reviews, and asides that are related to their topics.

You also should make sure to follow other blogs and make comments from time to time. This is the best and most sincere way to gain followers and get a real community experience.

Step 6: Go forth with confidence.

This isn’t technically a step, but the best way to start your blog is to take the leap and go with the momentum. I toyed with the idea of starting one for years, thinking, “What do I have so say that anyone will want to read? Will I have enough to talk about to sustain a blog long-term?”

It turns out the answer is “yes”. Once you get going, if you choose a subject that means a lot to you, you start finding ideas in your everyday activities. My blog satisfies the side of me that misses academic exploration in writing and gives me an outlet for my nerdy literature musings. It shows that I can write something well, and it gives me a way to show my prospective editing clients that I know what I’m talking about. It’s very grown-up.

As a reader, some of my favorite blogs are very simple and creative, and their only premise is sharing that creativity. If you are true to yourself and your talent, your audience will find you.

In January, I was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award, which is a nomination-based trend that encourages bloggers to give each other kudos for great content. Someone I don’t know nominated me, which is the best compliment of all. To think, this time last year I had no intention of starting a blog anytime soon.

If I can do it, so can you.

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Kate has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She enjoys all the equipment on the writing playground, evidenced by her many simultaneous projects. She is a freelance writer and editor, author of the poetry collection How to Love an Introvert, and is working on a piece of non-fiction while dabbling in children’s books and flash fiction. She’s the Platform Manager at Mash Stories and the owner of Black Squirrel Workshop LLC.

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