Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be
This post contains affiliate links. If you use the links to purchase the books recommended, GlutenFreeBaking.com earns a commission.
Welcome: How to Start a Blog
Oy. Each week, usually on Facebook, I see a post that proclaims, “blogging is dead!” At the same time, many friends tell me that they’d love to start a blog but don’t know how.
Here’s the good news:
#1. Blogging is not dead. Blogs give us a creative outlet to express ourselves. To thrive, I think we need creative outlets. Think of blogging the same way you think of painting, writing, or any other art. It’s not going away and it’s not dead.
#2. If you want to learn how to blog, you can! This series will teach you how to start a blog. No experience needed. We’ll mix tech talk with ideas about creativity. And I’ll share all the things I’ve learned about blogging—and the things I wish I’d known when I began.
Speaking of beginning, are you ready? Let’s go!
The First Key to a Successful Blog: Knowing Why You Want to Blog
Want a successful blog?
Answer this question: I want to blog because___________________________________.
Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Yet I find that many bloggers have trouble with it. Serious trouble. Some struggle to admit to themselves why they want to blog. Let me help you with this: no one but you needs to know why you’re blogging.
While you will tell everyone what you blog about, you don’t need to tell them why you blog. Perhaps you’re blogging as a path out of depression or because your second grade teacher told you that you sucked at writing and you want to prove her wrong. Maybe you want to earn enough money from blogging so that your husband can retire. This is no one’s business but yours.
But it is your business. You need to know why you want to blog. Notice that we haven’t even talked about the subject for your future blog. There’s a reason for this. Honestly, I wish someone had mentioned this to me when I first started: to create something, no matter what the subject or format, it helps if you take the time to understand why you want to do it.
Any creative endeavor requires commitment. At first, it’s fun. You can’t wait to blog. You want to blog. You NEED to blog. And then…you hit a dry patch. You feel like no one is reading your stuff. You aren’t sure if you want to continue. If you are clear about why you started blogging in the first place, it will go a long way toward encouraging you to continue when the newness of blogging wears off. Trust me.
Before I start most projects, I sit myself down and ask “why” I’m doing it. The times when I haven’t done this have ended….badly. One time I drove 8+ hours to give a baking class for free to a group. Now, understand, I teach baking classes. I even teach them for free. That wasn’t the problem. The issue was that I wasn’t clear why I was teaching this particular class, other than the leader asked me. She showed up late. They never promoted the class. Something like five people turned up and I resented the entire experience.
Oh, and there was that time I wrote for a very popular organization. I did it because several people in my life encouraged me to do it. I never took the time to ask myself why I wanted to do it. Over time, my pieces lost focus and I hated sitting down to write each week. HATED IT.
In contrast, when I’m clear about why I’m doing something, I tend to enjoy it. Even when it’s hard work or puts a squeeze on my schedule. The last book I wrote is a great example of this. My publisher hired me to take 30 photos for the book. I decided that I wanted to photograph each recipe. It would be my offering to the book. This meant that each day, for about six weeks, I baked and photographed my way through the book. For me, photography doesn’t come easy. Heading down into my tiny makeshift photo studio, I’d remind myself that why I was doing the project. I wanted readers to see a picture of what they were making. Even though I struggled with the photos, I never thought about quitting. I’d put on some music (thank God for Pandora!) and get to work.
I created a very simple ritual for discerning why I want to do something. I turn off everything. I get quiet for a few minutes and ask myself out loud, “Why do you want to do this?” Then I write down all the reasons that come up. Something magical happens when you actually write down your thought. I get serious about my work when I think on paper.
The hardest part of this practice for me (this is so embarrassing to admit!) is getting my ass in the chair and doing it. It’s easy to talk to friends about an idea for a project. It’s easy to think about. Getting myself to sit down, get quiet, and clear? That I’ll sometimes avoid at all costs! Clean my room? Sure! Reorganize my spices? YES! Author Steven Pressfield calls the feeling of not wanting to get in the chair to work “resistance”. In this book, “The War of Art” (affiliate link) he talks about the fear that comes with just getting starting. That fear of asking ourselves why we want to do something and then, by god, doing it.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
― Steven Pressfield
I’d love to tell you that once you sit down, it’s easy and that you zip through the list, straighten the papers on your desk, and get to work. Only…it’s not easy. Often when we sit down and get quiet with our creativity, some really toxic, negative voices start talking to us. They whisper (or shout) things like:
- your work won’t be good enough.
- someone else has already done this and they’ve done it better than you ever will.
- if people see you, they’ll make fun of you. What would your [fill in the blank] think if s/he read this? You should be ashamed of yourself!
- you can’t learn the technology! You can hardly use your phone!
- remember what XXXX said about you in school? They were right!
Do any of those reasons sound familiar? I bet they do. Most of us have some wounds, serious wounds around our creativity. Here are some things to ponder when those negative voices start yammering.
- It might not be good enough at first. And that’s okay! You have permission to be a beginner. You have permission to create. You don’t need to be perfect. No one is keeping score. In my opinion doing terrible work is better than doing nothing at all. In fact, for years (and years and years) my blog was a hot mess. I still showed up. I’m proud of that. Accept that your work in the beginning might not be perfect and love yourself in spite of that fact. Oh, and listen to what Ira Glass had to say about being a beginner.
Dealing with this fear? Remember: Allow yourself to be a beginner. no one starts off being excellent.
- Someone probably has done whatever you want to do. So what? You haven’t done it! Take the picture. Write the story. Post the recipe. We haven’t heard from you and your voice matters. How many times have you read something that resonated with you? What if the person who created it has stopped themselves and said, “Eh. This has already been done.” My god. The world would be a boring place!
Dealing with this fear? Remember: Comparison is the thief of joy.
- People might not like your work. Honestly, if you are going to put stuff out into the world, some people won’t like it. Think of, oh, every comment thread on every internet post that’s ever existed. I wish I could offer you some magic solution. They only solution is to not put your work into the world. And that’s a terrible solution. Know this: criticism of your work hurts but you get used to it. Over time, you learn how to deal with it. It’s the price you pay for showing up. For specific information on dealing with the fear of being seen, read Brené Brown Brown’s book, “Rising Strong.” (affiliate link)
Dealing with this fear? Remember: Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.― Eleanor Roosevelt
- Tech “stuff” is learnable! People share a lot of fear with me when it comes to learning the tech side of blogging. While there is a learning curve, the tools you need to blog are pretty easy to learn. (If you are scoffing at that, hang on! We will do these things together!) Really, everything you need to know about running a blog is google-able. You CAN learn all the technical know-how that you need. There are videos, podcasts, and, of course, blogs to help with this. Don’t let the a fear of the tools stop you.
Dealing with this fear? Remember: Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams.
- Discouragement hurts. So many people don’t allow themselves to fully come into being because someone hurled a discouraging comment their way. Discouragers visit us all. As you know, I have food allergies. When I was a culinary student, one of my instructors said, “There’s no place for someone like you in this field. You’re like a turned off radio. We’re broadcasting good information but you can’t pick up on it because you are allergic to everything. Don’t waste my time by asking me questions. I’m here for the students that can actually do something with what I’m teaching.” Just sharing that story makes my stomach twist into knots. It takes a great deal of bravery to overcome discouragement. I know it hurts. And I know that you can work through it and put your voice into the world. We are all waiting to hear from you.
Dealing with the pain of past discouragement? Remember: At any given moment, you have the power to say, “This is not how my story is going to end.”
Now it’s time to discover why you want to blog!
Creative Blogging Practice #1
tools: paper and pen/pencil. crayons & markers optional.
time required: 10 to 30 minutes.
Grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Use a pen or pencil or, if you feel like it, crayons and markers. You want this to feel fun. It’s not homework!
Shut off anything that makes noise and will distract you. (read: put the phones, tablets, etc. away. But finish reading this first. 🙂 )
Close your eyes and breathe. Give yourself a minute or two in silence.
As yourself out loud, “Why do I want to blog?” (This might feel silly. Whisper to yourself if that feels better.)
Write down everything. You could write simple words, phrases, or long paragraphs. Whatever feels right is right!
After you finish, look at your paper(s). Read it over. Circle the ideas that mean the most to you.
Done! Be sure to save this and look at it when you need some self-lead inspiration.
Creative Blogging Practice #1: Extra Joy
Create something beautiful with your “Why.” Perhaps print it out in a pretty font and frame it or paste the paper into a journal only you will see.
The Second Key to a Successful Blog: What Do You Want to Blog About?
Once you know why and understand that fear might pop before you even begin, it’s time to think about what you want to blog about! The interesting thing about exploring why you want to blog is that sometimes it changes what you want to blog about. Maybe when you started you thought you wanted to blog about one thing and now you know you really want to write about something else. That’s so great! Or maybe doing the “why” exercise helped to further solidify the idea that’s bounced around in your head for a long time.
Let’s say you want to start a beer blog. Awesome! Beer is great! People love beer. They LOVE it.
Some topics your beer blog could cover:
- beer reviews
- the history of brewers
- the beers of your region.
- foreign beers
- the history of beer cans.
- a specific brewery. (Seriously, you could blog all about the long forgotten history of the, I don’t know, Schlitz brewery. (Are they even around? Seriously, I have no idea.)
- beer and food pairings
- beer and cider
- fruity beers
- gluten-free beers
- seasonal beers.
- all the beers found at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT (Not kidding. Someone does this and they do it well.)
You get the point. The list is endless. If you try to cover all of those topics, your blog probably won’t be as great as if you focus on one subject. When starting a blog, it’s better to focus on a niche and expand as your blog grows than try to cover everything right from the start. For the beer blog, it would be best to pick one of the topics and focus on it. A general beer blog? Meh. A beer blog that focuses on beer and food pairings? That’s a blog I want to read! And that’s how you nail your niche.
Gone are the days where individual bloggers need to post many times a day. Now, focusing on one topic and covering it well is where it’s at.
Creative Blogging Practice #2
tools: paper and pen/pencil.
time required: 10 to 30 minutes.
Note: this activity is very similar to the first practice. There’s a reason for this. In this activity, you’ll explore your topic. It’s the companion piece to the first.
Spend a few minutes in silence. Shut off your phone. Turn off music. Just sit there. Close your eyes and breathe.
Brainstorm the topic you want to cover in your blog. Write down everything you think you’d like to cover on your blog. Don’t censor yourself. Write everything down. Try to be both general and specific.
Review the list. Cross out any subjects you don’t love. Circle what feels like the main subject for you.
Write down at least fifteen possible blog subjects based on that topic. (If you can’t think of fifteen, your subject might be too narrow.)
Answer this question: I blog about_________________________. Evaluate how that sounded to your ear. (If you can’t answer that question easily, start over at step one until you can!)
Done! Save this list! We will use it in an upcoming lesson.
That’s All For Now!
Now that you know why you want to blog and what you want to blog about, next week we’ll do a deep dive into the technical side of setting up a WordPress blog! See you then!