Sunday, March 30, 2014

Blogging Tips: My Personal Take

This is not the kind of thing I usually write about.  My philosophy is to live and let live—I’m not a preachy person by nature, probably because I don’t like when others tell me what to do, how to do it, or how to think and/or feel.  So I tend to stay away from things that tell others what to do or how to do it.  However, I have seen this topic discussed a lot lately, and I have gotten a few questions about blogging in general.

I am by no means an expert in writing or blogging.  I didn’t go to school for either, though I have had a lot of experience with writing throughout school (thanks to many English classes and an emphasis in English in college) and growing up (I did a lot of creative writing as a child, mostly stories for my family).  It comes naturally to me.  It’s my medium of choice when it comes to remembering things and getting my feelings out (though music is great for feelings too, but lyrics are a form of writing, so to me, they go hand-in-hand). 

Because I am not a trained expert, I am not one to tell people how to go about blogging or writing in general.  I sort of fell into the world of blogging—once I found Philofaxy and saw that readers of that blog were starting their own, I decided to take the plunge as well.  However, in my four and a half years of blogging and following hundreds of blogs, I have picked up many useful tips and tricks.  Because it’s been on my mind lately, I thought I’d share my list of blogging dos and don’ts.

Pick a Topic
Some blog experts would probably tell you to pick a niche for your blog and stick to it.  I say, pick a niche for your blog and use it as a jumping point.  True, you want to mostly stick to a topic—you want to gain readers who have an interest in what you’re saying, and if you stray too far from that topic you might lose them.  This is not to say, however, that you only ever need to write about the niche you choose.  In my case, I chose planners as my starting point.  I gained many readers with this, and over time, I started expanding my writing to organizing in general, time management, reading, music, and other areas of my life that I wanted to discuss.  Basically, I write about whatever is on my mind.  I do try, though, to come back to my original topic between my “other” posts; I try not to do too many “off-topic” posts in a row.  While I want to gain new readers with various other topics, I don’t want to neglect those original readers who got me where I am today.  I try to keep that in mind when selecting a topic to discuss for the week.

Organize Your Thoughts
This might seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many blog posts I read where I can’t exactly follow what they’re trying to say.  Too often we start off in one place and end up in a different place altogether.  Sometimes there is a need for a side or back-story or an explanation.  Just make sure that the reader isn’t lost along the way.  Your paragraphs should flow too, meaning that one should lead into the next as seamlessly as possible.  If you jump around too much, your readers will be confused and have no idea of what your point is.  I pride myself on my organizing skills, and my writing is included in this.  One of things I consistently heard from my teachers was how well organized my papers and writing were.  I try very hard to carry this over to my blogging.

Assume Nothing About Your Readers
One of the greatest things about blogging is that you can instantaneously reach readers from all over the world.  They come from many different backgrounds, many different schools of thought, many different experiences.  And that’s great!  Each person brings something new to the table when he or she reads your blog.  This also means that he or she might not be familiar with an idea you’re trying to present.  When I write, I assume that anyone reading my post has never read my blog before.  Therefore, if I refer back to a post I wrote previously, I always link to it so that the reader can grab that information right then and there if they so choose.  The less searching they have to do, the better.  It makes for an easy reading experience for them.

I don’t use an acronym without first explaining what it means first.  (This is my rule for each and every post.)  For example, assuming your readers will know what “RAK” means will leave them confused and curious if they don’t.  (It’s Random Acts of Kindness, by the way.)  So, upon first mention, use the full term followed by the acronym in parentheses.  After that you can use the acronym in the rest of the post.

Giving readers the most information you can allows them to access it as easily as possible.  It’s up to them whether or not they want to or need to.

A word of caution: even though you might want to give the reader as much information as possible, don’t be condescending about it.  By this I mean, don’t assume your reader knows everything, but don’t assume they’re stupid either.  Treat all of your readers with respect from the get-go.  I find this goes a long way in life in general, too.

Follow Basic Grammar Rules
Again, this might seem obvious, but every day I read so many posts that have multiple run-on sentences, are missing periods or commas, or use the incorrect form of a word.  I’m not saying that everyone should be a grammar expert.  And I know that for many English (or whatever language they’re writing in) is a second language.  But what I am saying is, make your writing as grammatically easy to follow as possible.  To me, it’s a part of being organized with your writing.

Use Images
That is, use images when your post calls for it.  Not every post will call for it.  For example, this post has no images.  It’s not really needed.  But when you’re trying to explain something, an image or two will go a long way in making it more clear for your readers.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
This is kind of a pet peeve of mine.  In many cases, it’s obvious when people haven’t read over what they’ve written.  If you’re not an organized person by nature, or if you’re not good with grammar, this will help.  In most cases, taking the time to read over what you’ve written will tell you whether or not your readers can follow what you’re saying regardless of anything else.  If YOU can’t follow what you’ve written, probably no one else will either.  Write your post and leave it for a day before proofreading if necessary.  Often, this will help you read what you’ve written with a different mindset and may help you to clarify your points.  Proofreading will also help in catching those run-on sentences and missing periods.

Of course, even with proofreading, you might miss something, and that’s fine.  But your mistakes will be few and far between if you proofread.

Link to External Sources
This goes along with assuming your readers know what you’re writing about.  If, for example, you’re discussing a product, link to the product’s website.  A reader might be familiar with it, but for every one who does, there is probably another who doesn’t, specifically if it’s a first-time reader.  This is also good general practice for giving credit where credit is due, especially if you’re discussing a topic that originated elsewhere.

*Respond to Comments*
This is my biggest pet peeve as a blog reader.  When I leave a comment on other blogs and get nothing in response, I can’t help but wonder if the writer even knows that’s I’ve left it, let alone appreciate that I’ve done so.  I know people are busy—I don’t hold them at fault for that.  But a response doesn’t have to be instantaneous.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy.  What matters is that you respond at all.  It shows me (the reader) that you (the writer) appreciate that I’m reading your blog.

This is why I respond to every single comment I get on my posts (spam excluded, which doesn’t get posted at all).  I don’t make money on my blog.  I do it purely for enjoyment.  Therefore, for anyone who takes the time to follow or read my posts, I am grateful to them.  Without you readers, my thoughts would just be out there in space, not making any kind of impact whatsoever.  I appreciate every minute you take out of your precious lives to read my thoughts.  I am especially grateful for those of you who take the extra time out to comment on my blog.  It shows that someone is indeed reading what I’ve put out there, that it resonates with you in some way, that we’ve connected on some level.  Therefore, I want to show my appreciation by commenting in return.  Even if it’s something as short as a “Thank you,” I want you to know that it means a lot to me that you’re both reading and commenting.  As a blogger, I want you to know that I appreciate your time.  As a reader of hundreds of blogs, any acknowledgement of my comments goes a very long way.

Write Often
This is a tricky one because what is “often”?  Well, there’s no set rule.  From my experience, the more you write, the more interest people show, and the more readers you will have.  However, not everyone can write every day.  At the most, I’m lucky to get two posts up per week.  On average, it’s only one.  And sometimes—if things are especially busy—I can’t even manage that.  If I didn’t work full time, I’d put up a post everyday.  My suggestion is to do it as often as you can or would like to.  However, don’t let months and months go by without updating, even if it’s a two-line “I’ll be back next month; thanks for checking in.”  You will inevitably lose readers by letting too much time pass between posts.  Set a semi-routine schedule and stick to it as best you can.  Even if it’s only once a month, your readers will look forward to that one post a month.

Choose a Clear Layout
With the number of news and feed readers out there (Feedly, Bloglovin, etc.), this one isn’t as important as your content.  However, you still want to choose a layout that isn’t going to turn a reader off before they have even gotten to the content.  Whether you create your own site or use a template from a blog platform (such as Blogger or WordPress), my suggestion here would be to choose colors that don’t strain the eyes, choose a font that is easy to read, and choose a layout that doesn’t distract your reader from your posts.  Many blogs have a lot going on—I can understand why, as one has to choose what content and links to highlight.  But the more you offer in your blog layout, the more distracting it is.  I find that the cleaner the layout, the more pleasing it is (but perhaps that’s just my preference for clutter-free environments talking).

Subscribe to Other Blogs
By reading several other blogs, you will quickly learn what you like and don’t like as far as writing style is concerned.  Do you prefer a more personal approach, as if you’re having a conversation with someone, or a more essay-like style, where you’re talk to someone, rather than with someone?  In addition, the more blog you subscribe to and comment on, the more exposure you will get and perhaps gain more followers yourself.

Have Fun!
Above all else, have fun with your writing and your blog!  Even if you want to discuss some serious topics, you don’t have to be serious all of the time.  Laughter is the best medicine, after all.  And in my experience, we can all live happier lives if we don’t take ourselves too seriously.  If you’re not having fun blogging, what’s the point?  Enjoy each and every post you put out there, and don’t be afraid to let that show a little (or a lot).


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Clearly these are not the only “rules” for blogging, nor are they the best suggestions by any means.  They are just my suggestions based on what I’ve experienced as both a writer and a reader.  Some of these tips may work for you; some may not.  And either is fine.  Make your blog your own.  Your personality will come through.  The right readers will find you.

18 comments:

  1. This was a very inspiring read...thank you so much...

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  2. Thanks for a great post!
    I'm struggling with my own blog at the moment. so this has been a timely read for me :)

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    1. Thanks, Anita! I hope my post helped, if only a little. :)

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  3. Great post! I've given up the idea of blogging myself -- not sure if forever, though. (Things are usually *not* forever with me, haha!) The thing is, I love reading blogs, and love writing BUT (big but) I don't blog well. I mean, I thought it'd be my thing, and I've kept blogs since 2008 or so, but I don't have much to share. There are awesome blogs out there, while I can't even choose a niche or whatever. It's probably just a matter of lack of clarity -- but lack of clarity is something I can't stand. So, until I actually know what I want, I'm letting that idea go. I'm revamping my whole life to make it simpler & more authentic anyway. This is just part of those things I felt I needed to let go (for a while, at least).

    I'm saving your tips though. I agree with the politeness of leaving comments and/or commenting back. Honestly, when I leave more than three comments on a blog (on different posts, obviously) and they go unnoticed (no reply)... I simply unfollow. I think it's rude and it reminds me of those fake friends I used to have in high school that ignored me for no reason LOL. I mean, no, I'm no doormat, or sheep. I appreciated a few blogs and a rude blogger makes me forget why I followed in the first place.

    That being said, I totally think about how clear and organized your writing is. It's just flawless.

    xoxo

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    1. If blogging doesn't feel right to you (at least for now), then you're ahead of the game in knowing that. However, just to throw this out there, you could start a blog based on your simplifying your life. You can talk about why you want to do, what got you started down that road, how your progress is going, etc. I know there are a lot of people out there who are interested in the idea of simplifying. That's just a thought though, not a push. :) Either way, do it when you're ready. Then it will be something to enjoy rather than something you feel obligated to do.

      I just don't understand why bloggers wouldn't want to comment back to people. That's a way to engage and interact with your readers. It makes the relationship between the writer and reader stronger. Though, maybe that's the difference -- perhaps some people aren't interested in that relationship; they just want a platform to dictate from. Thankfully, in the Philofaxy community, I find the lack of comment response the exception, not the rule.

      Thank you for your kind words. *blushing* :)

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  4. Thanks for this post! I started a blog in January and definitely agree about reading other blogs.

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    1. Thank you! What's your blog? If I'm not already subscribed, I'll definitely check it out.

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  5. Great post with helpful tips. I also like the idea of a clutter-free layout. Writing often is really tricky. I usually have many ideas for a post and even pictures, but just can't seem to get them posted. Thank you and have a wonderful day.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, that's my biggest struggle. I have a ton of ideas but can't seem to get them posted fast enough. And course, new ideas pop up which seem to get written before previous ones. Some day I'll get to them!

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  6. Thank you for this post, I have just started a running blog and still post about once a month on my knitting blog. I really like these tips so I am going to pop this post on to my Evernote so that I can refer back from time to time.

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad it resonated with you. What is your blog? I'd love to check it out.

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    2. I'm not confident I replied to you correctly so I apologise if this is duplicated. Thank you so much for wanting to have a look at my blogs. My running blog is found here: http://throughthefieldsofmersea.blogspot.co.uk
      and my knitting blog (just posted about my knitting organiser so that might be of interest to you) is here:http://tarviragusknits.blogspot.co.uk
      If anyone does find time to pop over and have a look - enjoy!:-)

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    3. Thanks for the links. I'll definitely take a look. :)

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