Blogging for beginners - 1

19 June 2013
Yesterday I wrote about blogging and said then: "now we've all got our own printing press sitting inside our computers and we can all publish whatever we like." I've been thinking about that and it's not completely true. Yes, we've got the ability to print what we want now but we also have to have a belief in ourselves to make it happen. So it's what's inside our computers as well as what's inside our heads that counts. I believe we all need to start with the truth. Nothing will lose readers faster than lack of credibility and while the truth may not always be pretty, you can create beauty with words and by writing with integrity. 

Like many of you, I blog about the ordinary domestic life I live. I see beauty in that and I hope my words and photographs portray what I see, as well as the truth of it, to you. But blogs can be about anything, the subject matter is crucial, so choose your subject carefully because you'll spend a lot of time thinking and writing about it. And remember, blogging is not compulsory. There will be many people who prefer to read blogs but not write them.

Before you start you'll have to decide a few things, the most important being who is your audience. Of course your family and friends will be your audience, but who else? If you don't want an audience, if your blog really is for your own family and circle of friends, you can change your settings so that only those people can access it. However, if you are hoping to develop a wider audience, then you'll need to decide who you're writing for and then keep your audience in mind when you write. That doesn't mean you must write about that topic every day but it does mean that most of your writing will focus on that topic. I write about families, ageing, retirement, the value of work and other things in addition to my main topic, simple living. I also try to mix practical posts with more philosophical ones. Writing my blog that way gives me a lot of satisfaction and I hope it shows that I'm not just a work horse; I take time for myself too.

You'll need to choose a blog name. Pick a name that relates to your topic but also means something to you. You won't be able to choose a name that's already in use and Google will check the names before registering a unique one for you. When you're setting up your blog remember the blog only becomes public and available for reading when you have your readers (in basic settings) set to "anybody" (so that anybody can read it) and then you press the "publish" button. All your changes of templates, column width, colour and font can be changed over and over until you hit on the right mix for you, but none of it becomes public until you press "publish". So experiment, change things around and be bold. Remember though that the background should never overshadow your writing and photographs. Aim for clarity and subtlety rather than flamboyance if you're hoping to attract an audience. Dazzle your readers with your words and thoughts rather than your background or template.

The other thing you'll need in the set-up phase is a header. My header is the photo at the top of my blog with Down to Earth and the chicken on it.  Actually, there is the option to have either a header or just the blog name. If you choose just the name, you don't have to worry about a header but if you want one, then you'll need a program like Photoshop, Coreldraw or a free program I use is called Inkscape - available for Mac and Windows. You start off with a photo, crop it, add your blog name and save it as either a jpg or png file. Then you can load it to your blog in the "Layout" section.

Some experienced bloggers advise newcomers to have a number of posts prewritten before starting. I very rarely pre-write posts because I want my blog to be about daily life so I have to wait until I do it to write about it and take my photos. When I started, it took me about a day to look through all the options and find a template and style I was happy with. Then I wrote a couple of blog posts but didn't publish them. I came back the following day, fine tuned a couple of things, re-read the posts and was happy with them, then I pressed "publish". Remember, you can change your template, colours, font etc at any time. I regularly change mine, mainly to keep things fresh and to add interest.

Books are written about building an audience and many bloggers have differing ideas about how to do it effectively. I never expected success when I started I just tried to write well and give my readers information they may not find elsewhere. I guess what I'm saying here is not to worry about numbers of visitors when you start. While it's definitely not a build it and they will come-type situation, you do need to actively build your readership if that's important to you. But we can talk about that later.

I use the Blogger software to connect to you. There are other more complex programs with more features such as Wordpress, Tumblr and Typepad but Blogger does everything I want it to do, it's easy to use, free, and those of us who blog using Blogger have Google looking after our security. On some other programs you have to take care of that yourself. I've been using Blogger for six years and I can count on one hand the number of times I've had problems with it. You may want to move to another program when you're well established, but whatever you do, Blogger is a good starting point.

Here is a very good video on how to set up a Blogger blog. How to set up a blog video. You'll need a gmail account to start, then log in to Blogger and start setting up your blog following the video as your guide. To do that, open two tabs on your computer - one with the video open and one on your Blogger page. Just switch over from one to the other while you go through the process.

Take your time, make notes as you go and enjoy the process. Blogging is a wonderful pastime and one that will give you a lot of pleasure. I had no idea I had so much to say about blogging. This post is getting quite long and I haven't written half of what I want to share with you so I'll stop here. You have the information here to allow you to get a Blogger account and set up a basic blog so go ahead and do that if you want to. Tomorrow I'll have a list of more specific things that will help you on your way to press that "publish" button for the first time.