Sunday, January 6, 2013

Blogging: So you want to start a blog. Here's how.

I got a note from my sister asking for a few pointers to start her own blog.  I thought I would share them as a blog post.  Hope that you find something of value.


Ok.  So you want to start a blog.  Welcome to blogging.

Although it may not seem obvious to you, blogging is a journey.  I encourage that you get your pleasure out of writing.  Writing is of curious art.  It not only creates something that you can leave behind.  It also helps you think about things.  Learn to enjoy how it makes you feel.  Because as you will discover, finding readers in this vast World Wide Web is not going to happen over night.  Unless you draw your pleasures from writing itself, you will get frustrated and stop.  More on this later.

Today let's get started with blogging.  There are many crafts that people will tell you about.  Just google 'how to start a blog.'  From Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners to Commonly Made Mistakes by Bloggers, there are many self-guided instructions.  Don't get overwhelmed by them.  They tell you what you need to do to sell your blog, look for audience.  That's great, but it all starts out with far simpler, but disciplined act of writing.

This is the most important lesson there is in blogging.  Once you start, you have to write.  Set a schedule, whether daily, Mon-Wed-Fri, every week, every month, you have to carve out time to seat down and write. It's a promise that you are making with yourself to consciously serialize your thoughts.  Your most important audience is you.  Don't let yourself down.  Write it religiously.  Thankfully there are many inspirations scattered all around the web.  I will share them with you along the way.

To get your blog started, let's talk about what you need to do:

  1. Decide what to write about
  2. Set up a blog using Google Blogger
  3. Write About Me page
  4. Post the first blog
  5. Email friends about your blog
Simple enough.  Let's start.

1. Decide what to write about

First you want to pick some topics.  This is perhaps the most difficult part.  When you establish a schedule and sit down in front of your computer, you'll find that half the time you know exactly what you want to write about.  The other half, you'll struggle to even pick a topic.  You'll spend many hours to look for topics, and it can make you doubt whether you can continue writing at scheduled time.

Finding a topic that you know and care about can help you.  Write about things that you do.  Write about things that happened to you.  But keep a consistent theme in your blog so that readers are not reading just about your story.  It has to be your story about a few topics.

For instance, topic can be child's education.  Or it could be working as an accountant.  Or it could be living in Southern California as 1.5 generation of Korean American immigrant.  Or it could be all of the above.  Key is that it has to be about something about you (so that you don't have difficulties picking a topic and providing content) and at the same time something that you feel interested in.

Don't worry too much about whether other people might be interested in or not.  You'll have plenty of chances to tune your voice and even the set of topics that you talk about.  Key thing is that it has to be something that you know and interested so that you can keep you the consistent writing schedule.

2. Set up a blog using Google Blogger

The blog that you are reading is set up using Google Blogger.  I find it easy to use.  Lot of people also use Wordpress to run their blog.  You can go with either.  But I'll provide Google Blogger set up link.  You can start here.  Use your existing gmail address, and Google will tie your gmail address to your newly created Blog account.

One thing to note about Google is that they are a very powerful force in the Internet.  They know lot of information about you, and anything that you do when you logged on to Google will be tracked by Google as your behavior.  They are using this information to serve more targeted ads to fund the free blogging service that you are using.  Be aware of it.  Even your search results will be affected by your login status.  For that reason, I do all my Google search from IE so that I get unbiased results.

3. Write About Me page

Once Google Blogger is set up, you want to create a new blog.  It's as easy as clicking on 'New Blog' button.  Don't worry too much about the title of blog for now.  You'll get a chance to change it later.

One thing that you want to spend a bit of time on is writing About Me page.  About Me is a few paragraphs describing who you are and why you are writing this blog.  Write a few words there so that readers know a little bit about you, if anyone stops by.  It's also customary to put in your email address or social media account, especially Twitter handle.  We'll talk about this more later.

4. Post the first blog

A note before you make your first post.  Anything that ends up on Internet will be in public domain forever.  If you are not sure whether the blog that you are about to write is okay to post, use this test to decide.  Imagine every post that you make can end up in NYTimes.  If you are okay with that prospect, then go ahead and write about it.  If not, you should not.

Now is the time to write your first post.  Click 'New Post' or pencil icon to create a new post.  When you create a post, it will ask you to write a title first.  I usually give it a title before I start write the body.  Writing a title is more than half the work.  If I have trouble writing the title, that usually means I will spend lot of time trying to find a topic to write about.  My advice is to come up with your title before your writing schedule.  It will help you write faster.

One trick to fast writing is to write down the skeleton of your post.  I think I learned this trick in Korean writing class in elementary school, but I still find it useful.  I also heard that others have used this technique to boost their writing performance with measurable results.  Say what you want to say in a sentence, and write the supporting evidence or examples that you want to talk about as bullet points.  Then repeat the point that you want to make.  Once you have this skeleton ready, you'll find fleshing out the paragraphs are far easier and quicker.

After writing the body, 80% of time I end up coming back to my title and revising it.  Often while I write my thoughts, I find myself reversing my position or catch a new insight that I haven't noticed.  Be flexible.  I think it's only natural that we find flaws in our thinking.  By the same token, don't be embarrassed to change your position when new discovery is made or new perspective is provided.  It's a part of blogging.

One thing that I recommend that you do is to give it a label.  Label allows you to group your blog posts by topic so that you and readers can categorize your posts.  Don't make too many labels.  I think creating maybe a dozen or so labels and reusing them is the right strategy.  You can use multiple labels.

5. Email friends about your blog

Now once you've hit 'Publish,' it's time to let others know about your blog.  There are many ways to let people know.  People have built a whole new category of businesses around marketing personal blogs.  Don't get distracted by these marketing efforts.  Start small.  Share with people whom you care about and those who care about your work.  Definitely send it to me.  I'll read over and provide my feedback.  Include other friends or coworkers who might be interested in what you have to say.

I intentionally left out technical bits of setting up Google Blogger.  If you need help, you can find resources like this to help you get the blog set up.

Again, welcome to blogging.  Hope to read your first blog soon.

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