Recently I wrote something similar for Twitter where I gave an overview of how I’d strategically and tactically leverage the social service if I were to start new (and from scratch) – I got a lot of great feedback and I’m glad it could serve a ton of people.
I’ll admit that there is a small bit of irony since I plan on leaving Twitter at some point in time – I imagine that this year will be the year that I leave it all behind. I still need to do a little soul-searching and, of course, I’ll post my thoughts when the time comes here on the blog.
But that’s not why you clicked the link (LOL, via Twitter perhaps…), right?
I’ve been blogging since 2001 and have done so continuously, every single day, for the last 13-going-on-14 years. My first CMS-powered post came via XANGA on May 6th, 2002; before that it was SFTP into a server and uploading static .html content by hand. But the moment this could be done automagically I was hooked and since that moment I’ve continued to use content management systems to publish my blog posts to the world.
I’m not dogmatic on the platform or technology that one should use to blog. I have used them all and continue to experiment with the newer ones as they arrive on the scene. For instance, I’m continually messing around with Ghost (I’ve paid for their premium service) and Medium and this recent post here won me an award. Svbtle also intrigues me quite a bit.
What I am dogmatic about is the fact that you should be blogging. There is something incredibly powerful about it and I have shared countless times about the importance of writing (and public writing).
One of the saddest dialogues that I have weekly (if not daily) is when I get a note via Twitter, or email, or even in-person from someone who essentially tells me this:
I wish I had started blogging sooner.
I wish I had not stopped / quit blogging and kept it up.
It’s a regret I wish I could remove from their memory and from their experience when I hear it (there’s very little reason to have regret in the first place). I wish I could go back in time with them and help encourage them to keep writing (or to start).
On the flip-side, one of the best things that I hear just as often is the fact that blogging has literally changed someone’s life through a connection, a new relationship, a new opportunity (even a new job), or through the blog itself as a source of financial freedom or just simply supplemental income.
I tell people often that they have no idea what they are missing out on and the opportunities that they’ve close themselves off to by not sharing their story, their journey, with the world.
If you need any more motivation, here are some posts that you could possibly review to light an even greater fire under your bum:
- The Power & Importance of Storytelling
- 20 Reasons to Blog
- Why I Blog
- Blogging for Business (specifically a Developer’s Blog and how it’s really worked for me this past year)
- Personal Branding (and why a blog does this better than anything else)
I could go on and list out 100 more blog posts but I got a bit exhausted searching through my archives of thousands of posts.
My assumption is that you’ve generally understood the value and you assume that having a blog is a really good thing for your own personal and professional development and that you’re here to read a few “tips and tricks” from a so-called “seasoned” professional.
Heck, I even tried “Problogging” for a time and one year I made $44,000! It’s not crazy or a pipe-dream and you can get profitable fairly quickly (if you work your booty off), like this blog experiment that reached $3,000 per month in revenue in 143 days.
That particular experiment was exhausting but it was financially-rewarding and it especially proved to myself that content-focus and a dogged determination to go hard can prove its own worth. And, perhaps even most importantly, that the “room” for another blog isn’t as crowded as we believe. In fact, it’s still as wide open as it’s ever been!
The point is this: There is room enough for you to have your voice heard. You simply may not have given it the time and attention that it needs and deserves. That’s on you (but you knew that already).
Okay, with all that being said, let’s get to it…
Starting Fresh (or Starting Over)
So, if I were to start a new blog today, knowing what I know after over a decade of public writing on a near-countless number of blogs (this blog here houses nearly 9k posts itself!), the following is what I’d probably do.
The overall goal, by the way, is speed because we need to get you writing as soon as humanly possible.
Remove Technology ASAP
I’ve discovered that many people get hung up on the technology part of blogging way too much. In other words, they use technology as an excuse to not blog or not get started.
Perhaps this is a good thing because it may actually betray your own motivations (or lack thereof). If technology gets in your way then you may not really be interested in taking public journaling seriously enough to warrant your time and attention. That’s a good thing, mind you, as you can now relieve yourself of the burden and pressure of thinking it’s something that you should do when you probably should go do something else with your very valuable time.
What this practically means is the following:
Choose a Blogging Platform and GO
Doesn’t matter. Just choose one, any one. DO NOT WORRY about the pros and cons about this and that platform or the “SEO” benefits that one might natively have while others do not. That’s all a glorious waste of time.
Why is this a waste of time? Because the focus should be (and always should be) writing, not your technology platform. So how do you go about choosing which one to use? That’s simple as you choose the easiest and cheapest one that will get you started.
I am very comfortable, as a developer, to install and spin up any type of blogging platform at this point in time. You probably are not. In that way, why not just choose a free WordPress.com or Blogger or Tumblr or Svbtle or Medium?
I fear that even giving you 5 options may actually be wasting your time as some of you will signup for all 5 and then compare and contrast them. At that point you’ve already lost valuable time to actually write! But, I’ll let you self-manage that.
If you are a little more interested in taking more control of your overall experience, going the self-hosted route with WordPress is fantastic. I have a small “Starter Kit” that may help you but it’ll burn up a lot of time so tread carefully.
If I am to give you any direction I’d just go with
Medium and be done with it.
Update: Actually, Medium sucks. Instead, use Indie Hackers or go the newsletter route with Substack — both are free, easy to use, and you can get started in just a few seconds. Literally. Keep on reading, but, I wouldn’t use Medium,
You can register quickly (if you have Twitter or Facebook) and can be writing in a few clicks of your mouse. See? A few clicks:
That’s about it. Amaze.
Now, if you don’t want to log in and register via Twitter or Facebook then you should just use WordPress.com:
And then you can start writing.
Entirely Forget Design & Customization
The next suggestion is related to “technology” choices but can throw many new bloggers (and experienced bloggers) for a serious loop.
Your blog is your new digital home, it’s personal, and I’ll admit that it’s very, very emotional. It should be and that’s a really good thing. I think one naturally invests themselves, warts and all, in their writing and the better and more successful writers allow this transition and communication to happen naturally and organically.
Consequently, you will have a natural desire to customize the look and the feel of your new blog and website because you want it to represent you. I want you to fight this impulse to the death, especially in the beginning.
This is why I recommend very strongly Medium for many people since it does not give you the options for styling and customization. In other words, you do not have a choice in the matter. But, if you do choose another option, like WordPress, you’ll be tempted to spend an ungodly amount of time designing and customizing the look and feel. Again, do not do that.
Instead, this is what you do:
- Sign up for a new blog.
- Start writing.
That’s it. You do this as quickly as humanly possible.
This is the exact same advice I give to returning bloggers and even those that are looking to “reboot” their own properties this year. Just start writing. Period.
Heck, even I, after many years of writing, have chosen to use the default Twenty Fifteen Theme that comes when you install a self-hosted WordPress blog. I have customized very little out-of-the-box and most of the customizations are actually underneath the hood, sotospeak.
If you want any more reason to just keep the “Default Theme” I’ve written a post extensively on my reasons why: The Kickassness of the WordPress Default Theme. That should do the trick.
Remove All Distractions
Again, the reason I like Medium and similar blogging platforms is that it removes distractions that can really screw you up when you first start writing (or get back into it).
This includes anything related to “plugins” that you also may be tempted to install because some “guru” on the internet said so. Those are lies and you need no pay attention to anyone claiming that you must have so-and-so plugin or additional software for you to be a blogging “success.” Trust me on this. Read this paragraph (and the next few) and do not touch your “plugin” area. This applies to any 3rd-party software as well.
I would also turn off all comments as these can be incredibly distracting to your writing effort. Besides the fact that you won’t be getting many (you’ll be getting more spam than comments) when you start it just serves as a layer of distraction based on some misguided belief that comments serve as a signal for your success. It does not.
I wish I could go back and turn off comments sooner. My writing has become better because I no longer feel obligated to respond and the motive to write for comments is no longer applicable.
If you’re using WordPress, goto “Settings” and then “Discussion” and then turn off everything:
Uncheck them all and be on your way.
There are, sadly, an infinite number of technological distractions that you’ll want to avoid and I can’t list them all for you. The bottom-line goal, though, is that you must get to writing as soon as you possibly can and anything that impedes your progress here is not worthy of your time.
And, you must run away from it. Constantly. Run. Keep running. It’ll try to catch up so never stop running from distraction. It’s a beast you can never quite kill…
Heck, I’ve even gone as far as developing my own app so that I can continue to minimize all distractions in my effort to write.
Your “Social Strategy” is Nothing
I was tempted to use a stronger word for “nothing” but I cuss like a sailor in many of my other posts so I’ll attempt to limit it here. But, I do not want this point to escape you: Strategy is non-essential at this point in time.
There is only this: Writing.
You’ll be tempted, though, to start “strategizing” not only your content but also all of the social layers as well, including sharing to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, yada yada yada yada.
You could spend a lot of time here but I wouldn’t about it at this point in time. Besides, you won’t really know what’s going to “work” in terms of you social strategy until things get really started. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what’s the “best” at this point in time even for my own properties. I use Twitter but that’s about it – everything else is on auto-pilot and I don’t monitor any metric of any kind.
Many internet and blogging “gurus” are going to try to have you spend a ton of time in this area and it’s just not worth it. You’re starting or restarting your blog and what matters most is that you get a feel for writing (again). Get your practice in and worry much, much later about this social strategy stuff.
It’s nothing, to be honest because you don’t even know if you’re really committed to getting back on the blogging horse. You’re in “experiment mode” and you’ll be there for quite some time.
So put all of that aside.
What to Write About (and How to Begin)
This is another area that’ll hang you up really quick as the moment you get into your editor you’ll try to think really, really hard about what to write about.
My suggestion has always been this: Just start.
What does that look like? It means that you start “vomiting on the page,” sotospeak. Just take whatever is in your head and throw it down into that content editor of yours.
And DO NOT, for the love of all things holy, edit yourself and your writing. This is the hardest part as you’ll feel tempted to edit everything that you write, in real time, as you put those thoughts down on digital paper.
There is going to be a violent reaction to this idea because it doesn’t feel natural nor will it be easy. You’ve been trained to put your “best foot forward” your entire life and that’s just not what writing is about.
You know what writing really is? It’s about putting your completely incomplete and perfectly imperfect thoughts on paper. It’s about facing the stark reality that you’re not as smart as you thought yourself to be and that your beliefs about life (and everything within it) are not as clear as you had hoped them to be.
Writing is introspective. It’s self-reflective. It’s humiliating and yet, at the exact same time, our way to salvation. It’s how we tell the stories and how we express the fabric of our very lives.
So, if (your) writing is to be perfect then you should quit before you start. Don’t bother. But, if you can come to terms with your own imperfection then please do yourself and everyone else a favor and tell your story, as imperfect as it truly is.
With that being said, just start. Just go. Write from the heart. It’ll be bad. That’s okay. It’ll be bad for quite some time. How long should it be? Doesn’t matter. Categories? Doesn’t matter. You should:
- Start writing.
- Hit the “Publish” button.
Everything in between is not worth your time right now. 99% of my own blog posts are categorized as “Start” for example. If it were up to me I’d have no categories but WordPress requires at least one and I’d rather not keep it as “Uncategorized.”
Writing is a Journey. It is Hard. It is Worth It.
The reason that I’ve been so heavy on “just start” over anything else is because there is no point in wasting any time on anything else, especially when you first begin (or begin again).
The only way that you’ll learn about blogging and writing is if you actually write and blog. There’s nothing else that matters.
And, through the process of writing and publishing publicly to the world you’ll actually make better decisions about your technology and strategy because you have actually published.
You see, at this point in time all of that so-called “knowledge” in your head is just theory – you do not actually have any empirical understanding or pragmatic experience with blogging to know if what you’ve heard is actually true. All of that information that you’ve read from those marketing and blogging “gurus” is just not applicable quite yet; at some point they might prove to be useful but until you get a good feeling about writing itself it’s just a colossal waste of time.
But beware – writing will change you. It’ll change the way that you see the world and it’ll change the way that you see yourself and even change the very fabric of your own identity as a human being. It is not to be taken lightly and the call to write and share your experience and story with others is of the highest that there is.
When you think about it, when you really think upon it, is there any greater activity, any greater responsibility that you might have as a human than to pass on the legacy (and learnings) via your experience to the rest of humanity? Perhaps, especially, to your own kin? I personally think about how important my writing is for my children and how they will lead better lives because I have taken the time to document my life so that they will have an even better one.
Consequently, when you think upon this great opportunity to write and create everlasting value for others, the extraneous things such as themes, plugins, social media strategy, widgets… all that seems pretty ridiculous and small, right?
Your goal, therefore, is to just write. Do yourself a favor and remove all distractions. Learn how to write better through the act of writing itself. And, if you find yourself with a bit of extra time (since we are so packed with other things to do), only then should you engage with “online strategy” around your blog and property.
But I’ll wager that overtime you’ll find yourself coming all the way back to the very basics – I know I have many, many times. And even this post here makes me realize that I am far more bloated in my writing “activities” than I need to be.
Just like editing a great piece of work you will constantly want to “prune” your writing methodology to get back to what it really means to be a writer: One who simply writes.
Good luck and godspeed.