I have to be honest, the art of blogging isn’t an easy thing. It took me a number of failed attempts to even get a decent number of blog posts behind me. Not necessarily well written, or thoughtful, or informative. Just…. well, behind me. At first, I just assumed it was me and I just couldn’t get the knack of it. But in speaking to more and more people, I’ve discovered there are many people who have a similar feeling of just “being stuck” when it comes to writing. People start blogs, then abandon them when they lose the inspiration. Even worse, trying to hack away at a blog “because I was told I have to have one.” Again, not really finding the motivation there.
While I understand that blogging can be tough for a number of reasons, I also know that, once you pick up enough steam, blogging can really be rewarding. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by an embarrassment of proof that there are a wide variety of people who are, indeed, blogging. Let’s not talk about the number of students we have blogging as part of their coursework. I promise to save that for another day. But let us do talk about some ways we can start–and reduce the barriers to–blogging for ourselves.
Find a Platform.
There are as many blogging platforms out there as there are types of blog. The best way to choose one is to decide what general type of blog you want, and then choose a blogging platform that is conducive to it. Here are a number of options, and (bonus!) all of them free.
- Tumblr, Posterous: Great for quick, short posts; perfect for a 365 (a post a day) blog. They are super easy to create (pick a name, pick a theme, GO!) and you can submit posts from your laptop, your email, your phone (audio files, photos, as well as video clips). Hosted by the platform, your URL will look something like: http://robin2go.tumblr.com/ or http://robin2go.posterous.com/.
- Blogger, TypePad, WordPress: More extensive platforms, these provide more options, more themes and, as a result, require more time to set up. Still relatively easy to maintain, with a variety of plug-in widgets that can add functionality and coolness to your blog, these can be hosted by the the platform (again with a URL like http://robin2go.blogspot.com/ or http://robin2go.typepad.com/), although the more serious bloggers may use the option to export to their own domain (http://mywebsite.com).
- The Blogs at Penn State: Every faculty, staff, and student member of the Penn State community gets personal webspace for their own use. The Blogs at Penn State project provides a MovableType platform for your blogging needs. While this is an incredibly powerful platform, the bulk of the heavy lifting is already done for you. All you need to do is pick a name for your blog and a theme. The added bonus, here, is there are templates to take your personal blog space and transform it into an ePortfolio, like mine. Your URL will be a lot longer, but I simply use a personalized URL shortener to make it more convenient for people to remember how to access my portfolio (http://tr.im/robin2go) or just my blog (http://tr.im/renegade). It comes in handy, and makes it easy to connect to my work.
Find a Topic.
Okay, you have a blog. Now what? Now you find a topic that is near and dear to you. If you’re starting a blog for your workplace, then you have an easier time in coming up with work-related topics to publish. But if this is a personal blog, it might be a bit harder to figure out what to write about. Do you work in Student Affairs? Write about that. Do you have a hobby, or love a specific sport? Tell us about it. Do you work in web design? Show us stuff you do. Do you like finding cool stuff on the web? Show us stuff you like. Do you just enjoy finding the funny side to life? Share it with us. The idea here is to write about what you are comfortable writing about. I know an author that uses his blog to write short stories. Whatever you find to talk about, it better be a topic you know something about, or want to explore. One guy I know only posts when he’s done some type of professional development at work. It may not be a frequently updated post, but at his yearly review, he can go back and see all the pro dev he’s done. And that’s both helpful and inspiring to see.
Find an Idea.
This can be the hardest thing: Your very first post. The blank page can be deafeningly loud: So fill it up with a little bit–introduce yourself. Tell us why you’re starting this blog. Tell us what you are hoping to get out of this experience. It doesn’t have to be long. Just get it down and hit publish. Now see–that wasn’t so hard, was it?
The second hardest thing: Your next post. You think I’m kidding, but it can be hard to find something to blog about. I am one of those souls who has a hard time churning something out unless I have a topic that inspires me. Even now. So how do I keep going when the going gets tough?
- Keep a short list of ideas for those times when you can’t get to writing the post. I use Evernote (yes, I am a geek) because my iPhone is always with me, and it synchs my notes from my phone to my computers.
- Post links to ideas or sites that inspire you, or make you think about what you’ve read. Sharing resources is a great way to encourage people to visit and connect with your blog.
- Write a response to somebody else’s blog post–but on your blog. If you link to the article itself, then you can let your readers see the original post, and the author can see the track back.
- Take pictures. Post them, and tell us why you are posting. (It was funny; the sky was beautiful; this sign makes no sense). After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
- Ask questions or seek out opinions. Blogging sometimes feels like you’re by yourself at a keyboard. Asking questions can sometimes spur your own mind into action, in addition to gaining input from your audience.
Find a Rhythm. (Or not.)
How often should I blog is not a question I can answer for you. Some people blog regularly, and some blog only on the rare occasion that they are compelled to write. I’ve had several opportunities to participate in a Post A Day Challenge, where we have to post one blog entry each work day for a month (weekends off). I fail, usually about halfway through the month. My first time I didn’t make it through the first week. Clearly, this rhythm is forced and doesn’t work for me on my work blog. [I should point out, however, that I fare much better when I am on my Tumblr or Posterous blogs, because they provide the freedom to post a quick picture and/or thought; this is definitely my kind of daily blogging!] Otherwise, I typically write when the mood strikes. I am getting better at writing-on-demand, but I find that it is more reasonable to expect to find a suitable topic that inspires me on a weekly basis for my professional blog. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but a decently written post each week is doable.
Find a Time.
I’m fortunate to work around a lot of people to blog. In my current work environment, blogging is strongly encouraged. Thus, I tend to strike while the iron is hot (and as long as it doesn’t interfere with other work). Some work environments are not conducive to blogging. In a production environment, for example, blogging–even about higher ed issues or work-related topics–can be seen as detracting from the overall goals of the work unit. In this case, it may be necessary to jot down ideas for writing after work hours. My last job was like that, and I found that early morning hours before work (but with coffee mug in hand), is a great time to set aside for blogging. Of course, it might not be a great time for you. Carving out a place or a time to blog can help you keep on blogging even when life gets hectic.
ind Your Community.
ind Your Community.
This was a hard one for me. As I was getting comfortable with blogging, I felt weird telling people about my blog. Rationally, I’m completely aware how insane this is, but emotionally, I had a hard time trusting that people wouldn’t make fun or point out how flawed my writing/thought process/ideas/feelings really are. So I wrote by myself, for myself. But I’m here to tell you, that doesn’t do much to inspire conversation. If you build it, they will not come … unless you tell them about it. So tell your friends. Tweet a link. Ask for feedback. Beg for visitors to leave comments. Your community tends to be supportive and encouraging–we know what it’s like to have our thoughts hanging out there for others to read! So build a reader base, and you can breathe easier knowing that your community has your back. When you talk to your readers, they respond in kind… and before you know it, you have a lively discussion on your hands, because people keep coming back. Nice, huh?
In the end, blogging is a process. It takes time to start a blog, find your voice, gain a readership, and build your community. Consistent blogging brings readers to your blog. Interesting discussions gets people engaged with your blog. But one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: Be authentic. Find your own voice, and use your own words. Blogging isn’t about getting every word, or every thought perfect. It’s about getting it out there so people can read and discuss, and interact. Engaging with others, sharing our toys, is what it means to be social. Have some fun and get out there. Because there’s no time like the present, and that blog won’t write itself.
What are you still waiting for? Need more ideas? Then blog this.