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How do you write for your blog?
August 14, 2009 5:17 AM   Subscribe

How do you write for your blog? I'm just starting out and would like to know how others approach writing and editing ...and maybe if there is a secret Bloggers Bible no one's told me about?

After hanging around the sidelines for a while I've plunged in and started publishing posts on my very own wordpress blog. It's a personal/individual blog, but will likely be related enough in topic to get linked in to my career identity/professional life (ie: it's not about trolls). I listened to an inspiring little podcast by merlin mann and john gruber which talks about being-your-bestest at your one true thing. I can't say exactly what that thing is yet, but I'm okay with the probability that my blog is going to suck for awhile. So I'm keeping it off the market and not telling anyone (nope, not even my SO) until I'm convinced I can keep it up. I feel like my biggest challenge is getting my once-weekly post done and posted. I'm hoping if I just keeping writing I will hear my "voice" more clearly, and figure out wtf my blog is actually about. Does that sound right?

I'd like hear from some long-term bloggers (I know you lurk around here. I've read your blogs). Extraneous advice is also very welcome, and you can email me at whachameanwhatsablog@gmail.com, but here are my concrete questions:

1. Do you write on the fly, or have an editing process? While there are no doubt people in both camps, did you maybe start out your blog one way and change process? Any thoughts on one way or another? I can't decide if writing on Monday, editing Wednesday and re-editing for the post Friday is going to yield better results or just strangle me into dullsville.

2. What keeps you going? I'm sure there are more reasons for starting than you can swing a cat at, but (assuming you don't make cash-money with your blog) what keeps you at it? Any advice on getting through the slumps that will no doubt assault me? Any big no-nos here (like, maybe: Don't write about writer's block)?

3. Can you recommend a book/blog post/podcast/something that really helped you with blogging? I like reading. If you don't have the answers, please, give me something to read. (And yes, I read blogs ;). And if the aforementioned Secret Blogger's Bible does exist, then an Amazon link would be kindly appreciated.

Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
1. Write on the fly. I do a brief spell-check / re-read immediately after, but that's it, then I post. That said I don't do a once-weekly post and I'm not looking to have a famous / professional blog - its strictly personal and mainly light fare, but more often than once-weekly. To me the MWF schedule seems a little...I dunno, oppressive (for lack of a better way of putting it).

2. Sometimes nothing, sometimes the blog just sits for a month or two when I get busy with life. I've been writing for at least 5 years now, and there have been periods where I've blogged 5x a week, and periods when I haven't. Sometimes I'm on, sometimes I'm not. I don't beat myself up about it much. My only big no-no is that I try not to write about anything too personal (i.e. anything that there's even a *remote* chance that I might at some point look back and say "wish I hadn't let the world read *that*...").

3. Reading Lileks' blog was what finally tipped the scales for me to start writing. He wrote about every-day stuff in an engaging and funny way, which is what I wanted to do myself, so I started doing just that (well, trying).

I'm pretty sure there's no secret bloggers bible...but maybe you could turn your blog into an exploration on that...just an idea.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:33 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like reading (despite the name) psychotactics.com. He's got a newsletter in which he encourages people to write quickly and passionately, which tends me towards more interesting blog posts.
posted by rev- at 5:37 AM on August 14, 2009


I've had my personal blog since 2003, and I think you're overthinking it. Unless you mean to get professionnal or something with your blog, you don't need to care about "best practices" or "500 things every blogger should now". You wann write? Just write and get it online!

At first I wrote about happenings around me, friends, parties, university and such. Now I just write what comes to mind: a movie I liked, a wierd coincidence between a book I'm reading and reality, or a whole study on the works of an artist I like.

There are no rules. If you need some, these seem sensible (apart from #2, I'd say).

Really, your blog should not be about trying to please readers or "the blogosphere", but yourself.
posted by XiBe at 5:42 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


As far as books about blogging go, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging is a big seller at the old Narnes and Boble I worked at... Perhaps you may want to look into that?
posted by Pleadthefifth at 5:52 AM on August 14, 2009


Hi there,

If you want to create a web presence that promotes your talents, (from what i've learned) write about the things your audience (need to define that!) wants to know about or would find helpful.

Check out Top Blogs for Writers, posted on copyblogger.com, an authority on blogging your way to online success. Even if you don't intend to devote your career to making money as a blogger, the site provides great information on writing effective blog copy.

The list was compiled by Michael Stelzner of WritingWhitePapers.com.

have fun!!
posted by ritabean1 at 6:28 AM on August 14, 2009


It really depends upon what your goals are. If you're trying to become some recognized, niche expert, then you focus on a narrow range of topics and establish a reputation with your knowledge of those subjects. That's probably the best approach if a wide reach is your goal, though there's no guarantee that people will prefer your take to someone else's

If you take the more personal route, you blog about whatever you like, and people like it or they don't. It's quite possible to combine both, to have some posts that are geared to a certain niche that interests you and to have others that are on various topics.

I think some of the best focus mostly on one narrow range of topics but also include enough personal stuff that you get some idea of the writer. Think of Zeldman and Gruber. Zeldman is mostly concerned with web design and standards, but he posts about other things as well. Gruber is mostly concerned with all things Apple, but he veers into politics and other things from time to time.

Compositionally, WordPress gives you all the tools you need. You can compose immediately or save drafts and work on them. I find most of my better stuff happens in one writing session, though I sometimes have a longer or more complicated piece that requires working on in stages. At any given time, I'll have several drafts that may or may not see the light of day, but I generally have an idea before I sit down to write. So I only cull through the drafts after I've published whatever was on my mind.

I don't really trust WordPress not to eat my posts, though, so I sometimes compose offline (in a text editor) and paste it in. I'll exploring some desktop blogging interfaces to make that smoother.
posted by wheat at 6:52 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it's a personal, non-commercial blog there's no right or wrong here. Just start writing.

I post to my blog about once a week, which is less frequently than when I started in 2001—but a lot of the stuff that would have been a blog post in the past is boiled down to a delicious link or a tweet now (and those appear on my blog as well, but not as blog posts). The stuff that qualifies as a blog post now is a slightly longer piece. I'll usually write it, edit it, preview it, catch some mechanical errors, fix them, publish it, and get a message from a friend that I missed some other misspelling, so I'll fix that after it goes live.

Once in a while I've got a more complicated and unformed idea, so I do a brain-dump and save it as a draft while I let the ideas percolate, but that's rare. Very rarely I'll go to the trouble of preparing a graphic to illustrate a point.

Nothing in particular keeps me going. When I have something that I want to write, I write it. If I don't have anything to say, I don't post filler.

I've got a friend who started a blog with a specific theme in mind. She's strayed from that theme, but clearly still gets something out of blogging. She's tried a few structural approaches; for example, she blogged every day for several months. A lot of that involved filler, but she did a good job of it.

If it's a personal blog, you should blog for your own benefit. If other people get something out of it, that's a bonus.
posted by adamrice at 6:54 AM on August 14, 2009


I blog on the fly. The closest thing I have to an editing process is an unpublished post called todo. It's full of posts that I should write up if I ever feel like writing but don't have an idea. This isn't really an editing process at all, but it's the closest I've got.

What keeps me going is that I like writing. I don't even care if anybody reads the damn thing. It's just a place for me to write when I feel like writing.
posted by valadil at 7:18 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I blog on the fly, writing when I feel it most, but I have learned to schedule posts for those days when I'm just not inspired. In other words, I write like crazy when I'm motivated, edit and all the rest, post some immediately and schedule others.
posted by misha at 7:30 AM on August 14, 2009


My blog is for business.

1. I dump ideas for posts into Evernote as I get them. Then, when it's time to write a post (used to be weekly, now it's less often) I poke around in those ideas and write one. I often let the draft sit for at least an hour, often overnight, before I click Publish.

2. What keeps me going: Responses from readers.

I've had four blogs. The first one (business) got little attention except for snarky references from immature Big Boys in that field (I'm female). Kathy Sierra's situation blew up at about the same time and I got pissed at the whole scene and left blogging for awhile.

The second blog, in a different business niche, got thoughtful, professional comments from almost the first post. That's now my main blog, with a little over 3k subscribers now. I'm very happy with the passionate and detailed discussions that happen in the comments.

I also have a hobby blog that I post to infrequently but that I keep alive mainly because of the response from readers. Finally, I had a travel blog that no one read, so I let it die.

3. Book/blog/podcast: There's always Copyblogger, but it's focused more on income-producing blogs.

I took a rather hard-nosed approach: I read all the blogs in my niche, identified a gap that wasn't being addressed and that I was passionate about, and created a blog to fill that gap. I started out with a weekly schedule but let it slide once the blog reached a certain level and
posted by PatoPata at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


1. I keep a bunch of open drafts of ideas, half written posts, and other things I'm working on. I finish each as I have the motivation and desire to. I do some editing, but also have learned to realize that a blog is not a newspaper and it will not kill me if everything is not 100% grammatical and structured perfect.

Over time, I've also analyzed the days which have the best traffic, and have altered my publishing dates to take advantage of when articles will have the best visibility.

2. Feedback from the community, friends I've made through my sites and of course, money, keep me going. My more professional level sites also look great on a resume. My more personal sites are mostly a visual scrapbook for me, I enjoy looking back over them and don't care if anyone else is reading.

3. I wrote this a while ago, which may help answer some of your questions about keeping things updated over the long haul:

http://www.copyblogger.com/new-blog-content/

Feel free to mefi mail me or stalk my email down through my site if you have any other questions.
posted by finitejest at 8:02 AM on August 14, 2009


Do you write on the fly, or have an editing process?

I don't write on the fly, and I do have an editing process. (My blog is totally noncommercial and unrelated to my professional job.) I often start by writing in a Moleskine when inspiration strikes, and I type it up later. Even if the post is typed from the beginning, I usually won't publish it instantly. I'll work on it in stops and starts, the way I would with any writing project. This may be considered inauthentic or unbloglike, but your readers won't be aware of this any more than someone reading a book is aware of the many drafts and edits that went into it.

In addition to letting me do more editing and thinking, this process also lets me keep a more regular schedule than I'd be capable of otherwise. I'll occasionally have a super-productive weekend where I churn out multiple posts. Posting these all at once would be wasteful, so I schedule them to get published periodically. If I write 3 posts over the weekend, I'm likely to schedule them for, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then I can focus on my 9-5 job for that week and not necessarily write anything for the blog.

Any big no-nos here (like, maybe: Don't write about writer's block)?

Yes, and avoid posts apologizing for not posting often enough. Bloggers write this posts because it's what they're concerned about, but it's not going to be interesting for most readers, especially ones who are reading your blog for the first time. If I happen upon a new blog that looks potentially interesting to me, but then I notice that the top post is saying "Sorry I haven't been posting often enough" or "I might not be posting much for a while," I lose interest. That said, it's OK to occasionally post a notice if, say, you're going on vacation for a week, to assure readers that you haven't just gotten tired of blogging. But do this very sparingly.

What keeps you going? I'm sure there are more reasons for starting than you can swing a cat at, but (assuming you don't make cash-money with your blog) what keeps you at it?

My basic motivation is that it's an outlet to express ideas and address the issues/questions/mysteries that I happen to care about -- and we have such amazing freedom to do so! I continually marvel at how lucky we are to live in conditions where we have constant access to free expression that can be seen by random people around the world, most of whom I'll never meet but who suddenly have a connection to me. I feel driven to take advantage of this incredibly rare opportunity, which has only existed for a few years out of all the millenia in human history.

Now, what about the inevitable slumps? This is another advantage of scheduling posts in advance: let your backlog do the posting for you! I also have a list of ideas for posts that aren't fully written out yet but that I know I could in a few minutes -- this makes me feel like I have a safety net in case I need to post something but am short on time or inspiration. Also, give yourself permission not to make every post a fantastic work of art; go ahead and post something quick and light-hearted. It could be a one-liner observation about life that just occurred to you, or even just a link to something else you found on the web.

Can you recommend a ... blog post ... that really helped you with blogging?

Fair warning -- this is going to be a self-link (I think it's appropriate, but the mods are welcome to delete this if it's over the line) -- I wrote this blog post of "15 rules of blogging for myself," after a year of blogging. As I explain in the post, they're my personal "rules" I like to follow, but of course I encourage you to freely follow or break them depending on your style.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:05 AM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, one more thing: enable comments. If you post about any remotely controversial issues, expect the comments to be mostly negative, and don't be discouraged by this. (People prefer to write a comment saying "You're so wrong and here's why" than "Gee, I really agree with your points!") Though comments are certainly a mixed bag, the best ones can be a great asset to your blog. Writing a blog with comments from other people who might have a different perspective from you, or might vehemently disagree with you, or might know more about a topic than you -- helping you continually refine, correct, augment, or rethink your writing -- is arguably a more intellectually rigorous process than holing yourself up in a room for a year and producing a perfect 200 bound pages called a book and hoping your readers love it and think it's perfect.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


My blog might be something like yours -- it's a personal blog, with a lot of stuff about books I read and the baseball team I follow, but about 30% of it has to do with math, and a lot my readers are math colleagues.

1. I write on the fly. This keeps me from overthinking and overwriting; the blog is a hobby, so (at least for my blog) there's no need for a post to be as carefully written as something intended for formal publication. Taking this view also makes it easier to keep going. I do keep a list of "to be blogged" topics, just a sentence each.

2. Xibe has it -- a personal blog is really a kind of journal with the extra feature that other people can read it. It's for you, not the world. You look at an old entry and say to yourself, "I'm glad I recorded that thought/event/conversation; otherwise I'd have forgotten all about it," and that's what motivates you to keep recording. Blogging is worthwhile only if it would be worthwhile without any readers!

That said, comments do help -- I strongly encourage turning them on. A small blog like mine gets only a couple of comments per post, but it makes the process more fun.

3. By far, the most important advice I got was: "remember that the threshold of bloggability must be kept very low."
posted by escabeche at 8:27 AM on August 14, 2009


I've blogged since 2003 and post between 1-7 times a week. My blog is subjective in the sense that I've developed a recognizable voice over the years, although it's not "personal". My posts range from one-liners to several pages, and are about diverse subjects (science, culture, language, nature, whatever I like, sometimes it's even job-related!). I have a very small, but stable reader base (less than 200, I think).

My blogging practice kind of developed by itself, I never thought about it. I've become so used to blogging over the years that it now seems like a natural part of my life and not a big thing at all. So my main advice would be: just start, don't think about it, it's not a huge thing! You don't need any theory for this!

1. Do you write on the fly, or have an editing process?
I have a workflow process in the sense that I immediately bookmark/write down every subject I want to blog about at some point, and then come back to this list when I feel like blogging (i.e. an "upcoming" queue). This just developed over the years and I find it very helpful - YMMV. Some of the stuff has been sitting there for years, and its kind of reassuring to know that "oh, and one day I'm going to blog about the history of the table fork" or whatever. Otherwise, I re-read posts after posting them, do a quick spell-check and that's it. I'm O.K. with not being the NYT.

2. What keeps you going?
My reasons are that a) I intrinsically enjoy writing, and b) I like the kind of semi-public audience you get in a blog. It's public, but still protected from the "big" outside world, so you will get critical remarks sometimes, but usually you'll just get applause (because people who don't like your style will just go elsewhere.) A small blogreader audience, IMHO, is a very good creative environment, which makes blogging effortless and enjoyable (for me). This might be totally different for blogs with more readers, though, they seem to attract trolling. I get about 1 or 2 trolls a year. If I had more trolls, I'd probably stop blogging.

Any big no-nos here (like, maybe: Don't write about writer's block)?

Exactly. In my experience, blogging is simply a habit which appeals to some people and doesn't appeal to others. You won't find out whether you'll be able to keep it up before you start trying. It's totally ok if you don't enjoy it and give up - the only thing that I find (mildly) annoying are bloggers who obviously struggle with coming up with anything to say and constantly apologize for their inability to deliver more content. If it's not for you, just do something else! Otherwise, your readers will suffer with you, and not in a good way.

3. Can you recommend a book/blog post/podcast/something that really helped you with blogging?
Sorry, no recommendations. I found all this "how-to" and "10 things" stuff about blogging unnecessary and unhelpful. If you know all the internet basics, there isn't much you can do wrong. Just write and press "publish"!
posted by The Toad at 8:57 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been blogging for almost five years now on my same old personal blog and I do it on the fly. I used to try to keep unfinished posts around for later but that didn't seem to work for me: I would try to go back and find that I'd lost interest. I started blogging to give myself more discipline - to force myself to write regularly and it's worked. I just sit down every couple of days and post something, even if it's a sort of random stream of consciousness list. Sometimes I get on a roll and come up with something longer; sometimes it's not all that easy and I just put up a couple of paragraphs. I used to try to post every day - and that was good for me; I recommend it. Nowadays I usually post two or three times a week. I think of my blog as my notebook, my journal - it's supposed to be kind of on the fly and quick.

What keeps me going? Partly it is the knowledge that I do have a lot of regular readers - they don't comment much but I get a surprising number of emails. That's kind of weird, too, though; my blog has gotten a lot less personal and revealing over the years as I've realized just how many people in my little town know who I am and read my blog. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: it's forced my focus outside myself and hopefully made me a more well rounded writer. And then I still need the discipline. I'm lazy - I have to force myself into artificial strictures or I won't get a damn thing done. Also, I've made a lot of friends through blogging, oddly enough. When I started out there was only a small group of bloggers here and we all got together, started a community blog and even though the original group has grown tremendously, we're all still pretty much friends. It's nice to be part of a community.

And no, I've never read a book about blogging, unless you count Pattern Recognition. I do read other blogs though and I find them inspiring. Current favorites are Izzle Pfaff (written by a mefite!) and Mimi Smartypants.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:00 AM on August 14, 2009


I haven't blogged for long but I blog a whole hell of a lot, with over 900 entries over the past 1 1/2 years. As far as what keeps me going, it's just a decision I made when I started: to have at least one blog post go up every day. I don't want to break the chain. So far it's worked.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:46 AM on August 14, 2009


For figuring out why you actually want to write, what your blog will be about, and what your one true thing is, I think you've got the right idea... start, write, and continually evaluate what you're creating against what you're trying to figure out. My personal blogging ended up being a directionless compilation of a generally random and unconnected series of topics matching the chaotic swirl that's always in my head. On the other hand, I've had a fansite type of blog forever that's got a very narrow focus.

1. Back when I was doing my personal blogging, I really appreciated the Scribefire addon for Firefox. This tool was nice because I could be offline, begin the draft and take it as far as time/material/inclination would allow, then park it as a Note until I was ready to finish it or kill it off. I did not follow any schedule like you mention; I posted whenever I felt like getting something out of my skull.

2. What kept me going for several years with the personal blog was the urge to express myself in some way on topics that I couldn't discuss with most of my real-world acquaintances. Just being able to put in words and publish these things was pleasing, and in the back of my mind I assumed there were lurkers and random Googlers that might read and appreciate.

Eventually the complete and utter lack of any feedback or participation got me thinking that nothing I was writing was really clicking with anyone, and it started to feel like a giant waste of time and effort. I eventually killed off my personal blogs because I was concerned that my 'anonymous' pseudonym was going to get compromised and that would lead to problems.

However, I stuck with microblogging via Twitter and Facebook because in those places I would get feedback (Twitter with stars and @s, Facebook with comments). I think I really blew it as a 'real' blogger by recognizing that participation was as important to me as it apparently is. I should have been commenting on and participating in other people's blogs. That seems like a pretty clear way to bring people into your own world.

My fansite blog has become a bit of a struggle to keep up despite logs showing hundreds of daily visitors, email feedback, and etc. I think the issue there is that I've just lost interest in the topic.

The only No No I can think of is picking a topic for your blog that you aren't knowledgeable or passionate about and forcing yourself into regular posting. It'll show. Also, I can't imagine that a directionless compilation of a generally random and unconnected series of topics is a particularly great idea either, unless you can make the individual sentences sing.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 1:29 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, I can't imagine that a directionless compilation of a generally random and unconnected series of topics is a particularly great idea either

I can! That sounds like most of favorite blogs.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2009


*my favorite
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2009


I keep a personal blog. I used to edit my posts, but I've found that I write more if I edit less. Since I'm just writing for myself and not for publication, I think getting the words on the page is more important. I do correct minor grammar and spell mistakes but that's about it. As for motivation, I usually post about ideas and thoughts that I want to keep preserved. I guess the fear of losing an interesting idea is what keeps me motivated.
posted by qmechanic at 9:22 PM on August 14, 2009


Though I write little and rarely these days, back in the days of yore I wrote this, which was probably my most notorious and heavily-linked screed. Going on six years ago, which kinda blows my mind.

It seems... naive, I guess, now, and idealistic, but I stand by my point back then: don't let anyone tell you how to write on the web. Just do it, and try and do it as well and as honestly as you are able.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:52 PM on August 16, 2009


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