Why am I offering advice on how to start a blog? The internet is cluttered and congested. Companies compete for our attention. Such is the vast extent of content available for consumption, that most of us suffer from information overload and need not more time online but less. Surely contributing to the blogosphere only adds to the fray? Despite how it seems, however, there are good reasons for starting a blog — and precisely because of all I have described above. Writing a blog helps on at least two counts: first, it can help us to become wiser consumers, thinking critically about what we read online; secondly, it enables us to move beyond consumption to contribution, to creating material that we think is important and worth sharing with others.
Ideas are powerful in shaping societies. We only need to read the broadsheet headlines or watch the national news to see that this is plainly the case. And yet our world is one in which information is exchanged by increasingly sound-bite media. Even tweets apparently constitute diplomatic relations between nations. There is a need, perhaps now more than ever, for long-form pieces of writing — blogs, articles, and essays — which wrestle with the key issues of our day and the big questions of life. If you love to write and are interested in starting a blog, take a read of these five pointers for getting started.
Work out why
The most important question to ask yourself when starting a blog is why. Why do you want to start a blog? The more specifically you can answer this question, the more deliberate and focused, therefore successful, your blog will be. Do you want to champion causes of justice, giving voice to the voiceless? Perhaps you wish to open up political debate around climate change? If you love literature, why not share book reviews? Or are you learning to live more ethically and have tips for the rest of us? Your blog should not resemble an excerpt from your private diary; instead, it should be a platform from which you share your gift, your passion, your unique contribution.
Remember your reader
Though you must be true to your own voice, remember that you are writing for an audience and take them seriously. Depending on whom you are trying to reach, adjust your style and content accordingly. As a general rule, do not assume specialist knowledge and avoid jargon or unnecessary technical language. Write in as simple and clear a fashion as you can. In short, be more like Ernest Hemingway and less like William Faulkner. After all, the goal of your writing is to communicate concepts and ideas, about which you are passionate and think worth sharing; if your reader struggles to understand you because your language is too difficult, you are failing them.
Get the details down
Decide in advance on the practical details. How often will you write; weekly, fortnightly, monthly? What will be the length of each piece; five-hundred words, or a thousand? There are no set rules, but consistency is key and your readers will thank and respect you for it. Gradually, you will build expectancy in your readers, and they will be waiting for you to publish your next piece. Last year a friend challenged me on this issue, and having heeded his advice, committing to consistency has transformed the way I write.
In order to be consistent, however, it is necessary to write regularly. I set aside twenty-five minutes every morning. I boil the kettle, sit down at my desk, and start to write. After twenty-five minutes a timer sounds and I get up and on with the rest of my day. This works well for me, but something different might work for you. A friend of mine, studying for a PhD, dedicates a day each week to pursuing ‘passion projects,’ which include writing for things other than his research. Try different routines and once you have found one that works for you stick with it. Set apart that time, dedicate that space and commit to developing your craft.
When starting out with a blog, do not worry about your reach. Pay no attention to analytics. If you are writing only for the page hits you are writing for the wrong reason. Instead, think of those close to you, friends and family, and share your work with them. I often send drafts to a friend interested in the topic or even to my always willing and ever-patient mother, and ask for feedback before publishing for a wider audience. Focus on your immediate network, and if your readership grows it will do so gradually because people recognise in your writing something of worth.
Alex writes regularly about issues of minimalism, spirituality and learning over on his blog The Coffeehouse Cleric.