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13 Tips for Beginning Bloggers (Which I Learned the Hard Way)

This article is by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.

I started The Happiness Project blog as a way to test the argument that novelty and challenge bring happiness (turns out they do!), but I knew nothing about blogging when I began.

Here are some strategies that I learned the hard way, through experience. As Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

  1. Start simple. Add bells and whistles over time. Many people get paralyzed at the outset, because they’re overwhelmed by the desire to figure everything out before launching. Don’t get it perfect, get it going.
  2. Post every day. It’s counter-intuitive, yes, but strangely it’s easier to post every day than to post three or four times a week. You don’t procrastinate, you loosen up, you stay engaged with your subject, and you’ll be taken more seriously by readers. But if you stop writing for a while…
  3. Don’t point out that you’ve been lax about posting! It’s boring, it shows a lack of commitment, and maybe readers won’t notice if you don’t say anything.
  4. Include the text of the post as well as the URL if you want to bring a post to someone’s attention by email. Often, people won’t bother to click through, even though they might like your post if they did!
  5. If you feel squeamish about posting something—don’t. Wait a day or two, and think it over.
  6. Join the community. Link to other bloggers who write about your subject, shine a spotlight on their work, get to know them. Blogland is a friendly, helpful place—and the truth about human nature is that people become interested in you when you show an interest in them.
  7. Read about blogging. My favorite resource is ProBlogger, of course.
  8. Use lists when possible. People love reading lists, especially tips lists. I know, tips lists seem like a simplistic way to present information. But people love them. I post a tips list every Wednesday.
  9. State the purpose of your blog very prominently. A new reader shouldn’t have to ask, “What’s this blog about, anyway?”
  10. Maintain quality. I have checklist to try to keep my posts interesting and my voice true:
    • Am I being funny?
    • Am I giving interesting information from science, history, literature, etc.?
    • Am I revealing my character?
    • Am I telling stories?
    • Am I showing what it’s like to live in New York City?
    • Am I linking to other bloggers?
    • Am I comfortable with my parents reading this? (I never work blue.)
    • Am I criticizing anyone except myself?
  11. Keep a separate document containing your blog entries. I have an 800-page document containing every post I’ve ever made. That way, I can easily search, copy, and paste the material on my blog when I need it for other purposes.
  12. Keep a running list of ideas. Invaluable.
  13. Most important? Have something to say with every post, and with your entire blog. This sounds obvious, but it’s a lot easier to write when you’re trying to tell a story, explain an idea, give a review, link to an article, or whatever. If you’re having trouble with your blog, forget about the blog and focus on what you want to communicate instead.

More experienced bloggers, what are your top tips to help those just starting out?

This article is by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin, and buy the book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, the #1 New York Times bestseller.

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Comments

  1. David says:

    Hasn’t the myth of posting every day been thoroughly debunked by now? Other than that one, I agree with the list.

  2. Even I believe posting every day helps and incase if that is not possible one should at least write every day… That way you exercise your mind and the rhythm never breaks!

  3. Maintaining quality and posting every day can be a chore. Your capacity increases but in the beginning it kind of stinks.

    So doing a little each day is probably what I advocate.

  4. Maggie says:

    Don’t delete your drafts! If you had an idea that kind of dies on the vine as you’re writing it, save the draft anyway. Many times I’ve found my mojo again after letting a post sit for a few days.

  5. I like to have a series of posts in my planning each and every day, this keeps my post frequency high.

    But I agree with you Chris, sometimes a break is very much needed.

  6. Nice tips. I use WLW for storing my posts as a backup rather than a hardcopy.

  7. 13 Tips? 13 Is’nt considered to be unlucky? BTW I’d really appreaciate if you can expand point 7.

  8. Gretchen,

    Yep, I made a few of the mistakes when I started my first blog. I do not think posting everyday is required but consistency sure is good, if blog owner posts everyday and then next week in 5 days that flags readers, at least me.

  9. Gretchen, this is an excellent post. I can relate to each one of your bullet points as having done the wrong thing. However, over time, if you keep at it, these things come almost as second nature.

  10. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that a beginning blogger needs to commit to the blog- I went through all the low hanging fruit and great ideas that I had within a month, and then after that had to really start working on developing ideas and building great posts. The hard work is worth it though.

  11. Kenneth says:

    I don’t know if it’s an unintentional bias, but I frequently find that advice on blogging is most on-point for those who happen to be producing a blog about blogging. The truth is, the habits you are going to have to cultivate are going to be at least somewhat dictated by the type of blog you create.

    Keeping a steady stream of product is a universal, though. Your particular genre may lead you to into writing ambitious process pieces, and it may take a while to pull together research & interviews, or access to demo products. However, it is imperative to continue getting something to the page, whether it be an editorial piece you’ve been kicking around for a while, or a fresh take on an article you were reading about last week.

    Grinding out & keeping on-hand a few of these ensures that you stay ahead of your posting curve, and always have some material available, when your meat-and-potatoes piece may be taking a little longer to materialize than you anticipated. In short, work ahead, whenever possible.

  12. Great tips, Gretchen! Enjoyed reading your insight. I started off posting less, but now post about 5 days a week, which is still a good amount. I think putting pressure on yourself to post more than you need to can create burnout, which I’m trying to avoid.

    I also asked my readers for some ideas on what they’d like to see me talk about & that post gave me a lot of good things to pull from. So, readers are a great source of inspiration too! I’m in a certain niche group and sometimes need new topics to get excited about again. Haven’t run out of ideas yet!

  13. Eric says:

    Writing a bit everyday, not posting, will definitely excercise your mind and keep you up and going with things. Also change up your posts a bit to keep things fresh.

  14. Melyssa says:

    Ah yes, good idea about keeping a log of all my posts.

    Thx once again for the awesome tips!

  15. Jacquie Marroquin says:

    Gracias! As a brand-spankin’ new blogger, I can’t tell you how helpful this is. Now, if i can only get my very first one completed…

  16. Joey Sargent says:

    Thanks for the great list, especially #3. I’m a little behind (guess I shouldn’t admit that) and was wondering if I should apologize in my next post.

    I’m glad to see I’m doing a few things right, even if posting every day isn’t one of them.

  17. Great tips! I love the checklist you ask yourself…I definitely agree with posting every day!

  18. Sudeep says:

    If I can add some thing to the list … then I would just love to add this point : Be Yourself when you blog.
    Do not try to copy any one …. be honest and be yourself and see how you blog.
    Thanks for a wonderful list by the way..
    Regards

  19. Kevin says:

    Well I feel a little better about my first two days as a blogger now. I think I am doing all these steps in one form or another.

  20. Jared says:

    Although people ma think the “Write Everyday” is overrated, I beg to differ. Why?

    Primarily because it shows your commitment and your eagerness to share. Take for example my other site presstheword.com . The few posts there have amazing content (according to those who read it) but I haven’t posted in a while primarily because I’m relaunching it soon (then I’ll post everyday). When I check my analytics, it’s half that of mediain5.com Where I post 3-4 times a day. Take my young 1 month advice. It’s worth it.

  21. Producing quality 5-7 times a week leads to burnout. It also means you are unlikely to be able to promote your posts. So you just keep flogging for your blogging for the same readership. Since I stopped blogging every day (where my readership initially increased then flattened out) I’ve been able to promote/guest blog etc. and I’m back to growing my blog again.

  22. jason says:

    I believe in starting simple. Definitely something every new blogger needs to think about.

  23. I’m definitely in the noob category, so I’m not going to pretend to be able to offer advice. I’d like to say thanks for a down-to-earth list of reminders that sound like this morning’s paper to a blogger like me just starting out (I’ve been up and running since June, 2010.)

    I was definitely glad to see “post every day” up there, although I know this is a bone of contention. Personally, I consider it the one reason I’ve made it to nearly 100,000 words already posted. It’s tough, but it’s sooooo worth it.

    Thanks again!

  24. Alison says:

    One of the things I’ve come to learn over time is to be real. An honest reflection of self will go a long way if it’s wrapped in good content.

    I hear from my readers that they enjoy learning about my views on health and nutrition not because I live and die by calorie counting or a Nazi like fanaticism for all things organic, but because I take a realistic “anybody can do it” approach to my subject matter (health & wellness).

    I openly confess that sometime my kids get fed hot dogs that were probably made with not so savory pig parts or that sometimes it’s ok to make a naughty dessert.

    Staying true to yourself is a good way to keep people interested in your point of view.

  25. d3so says:

    Those 13 tips are helpful for those who are inexperienced with blogging.

  26. Gretchen,

    Awesome tips for a new blogger like myself. Well eat’m up!

    Thanks

  27. Sven Graham says:

    To 1) Start simple.

    That’s also what Seth Godin talks about in Survival is not enough.

    It’s important for you and for your happiness to create some kind of fast feedback loop.
    A fast feedback loop usually means lunching a product early (but not unfinished) and working on it as you go.
    -> The product/blog improves in the right direction
    -> You get feedback on your work and have a chance to feel happy faster (or satisfied with your first couple of visitors & positive comments).

  28. Ngozi Nwoke says:

    Starting simple is very important.

    Many times new beginners are overwhelmed by the successes of older bloggers and they become intimidated. Beginners should always remember that the gurus also started small.

  29. …and #14 — Just do it!

    Reading tips is well and good but at some point you have to put all your big plans into action!

    There is always something new to learn — you could spend three years reading about how to start a blog without ever doing a thing yourself.

    Get in there and get going. You will make mistakes setting up and every now and again…but that’s okay. Really. ;)

  30. Great stuff. Thanks Gretchen.

    I’m interested in more information about number 11: “Keep a separate document containing your blog entries”

    How do you do that? Is it private, or like a table of contents of your articles?

    Thanks.

  31. This is a helpful list, and Sudeep’s addition to be yourself is so important.

    One other suggestion is to mix it up. I write about aging, so many of my posts have to do with health and health care.But a humorous piece I wrote about being a Little Old Lady got a good response. Or sometimes I write about people doing terrific work in their 60, 70s, and beyond (think Betty White) and include video clips of concerts, movies, or TV shows. It all fits in the niche of negative myths about growing older but adds variety.

  32. HomeList says:

    I think the first tip is the most important. Don’t overextend yourself, start off small and build your way up; Don’t focus on anything besides the content.

  33. I was overwhelmed when I first started blogging because I too wanted all the bells and whistles, so I think starting simple is such a great tip… I’m still adding, tweaking and learning.
    I just did my first list post yesterday and I don’t know what took me so long?!

  34. Jhay says:

    I do keep drafts of my blog posts as text files but not as a single Word document. It’s easy to search and doesn’t slow down MS Word or OpenOffice Word Processor.

  35. BettyMingLiu says:

    What a concise, practical post. I teach intro blogging on the college level. Will definitely have my students read this. P.S. — Tip #11 speaks to me personally; how time-efficient to keep a running list of all my post urls — instead of continually going to my blog to look up the links. Thanks!

  36. Marinka says:

    I have a list of “don’ts”.

    Don’t force a post. If it’s not flowing, stop. It’ll come in when it’s ready.

    Don’t start a post with “I really have nothing to say!” Because that makes everyone except your grandmother (probably) stop reading. Maybe forever.

    Don’t skimp on the proofing and the editing. No one wants to read a rough draft.

    Don’t bore people out of their minds.

  37. I agree with many of the comments in that not every niche will warrant (or can you produce) a blog post every day. But consistency is absolutely key! Whatever your frequency, maintain that frequency.

    Also, I just started using Evernote to store copies of each of my posts – which makes it great for searching even when I’m away from my computer.

  38. Gretchen, thanks for sharing this. I love that bloggers are so open to giving such great tips. I love reading your blog!

  39. courtenay says:

    blog stuff that is meaningful,not you ”bathroom trips and nose blowing.”

  40. chrislwagner says:

    Hi Louise. Thanks for the tips. I like when you say not to point out that you’ve been lax in posting. Everyone thinks that people are waiting breathlessly for your next post. chances are they didn’t notice you were gone.

  41. Amanda says:

    More great ideas – thanks!
    I particularly like the idea of a separate document for entries and keeping a running list of ideas is one thing that I try to do, too.

  42. David says:

    I like the start simple comment. And I would add that things can be built incrementally as I evolve my site.

  43. I think people get caught up with things having to be “perfect” and then they never launch their blog or publish that post. It’s not going to be perfect. Ever. But you can make progress and improve day by day by writing and posting and making improvements along the way.

    My tip, especially early on, is to not worry/overwhelm yourself with the statistics at first. Focus instead on posting daily/weekly. Then, after about a month or two, check in on your stats. But don’t obsess over them. That will cripple you more than help you in my opinion.

  44. Blogging for me sometimes can be difficult because I have mental blocks or I just don’t get inspired with what I am suppose to write. Reading other blogs help and having interesting daily experiences. I hope to be better at what I do someday.

  45. My god, I wish I had read this before I started my blog!! This has been bookmarked, delicious-ed, and I will follow this to the letter when I start my non-business blog.
    Thank you for writing such a sensible, useful post I can take action on. Now if only I had a time machine…

  46. Jay says:

    I think point number one and ten somewhat contradict each other. Other than that, I really like it.

  47. Thanks for all the great tips! I started my blog a few months ago and so far so good. I’m starting another brand new blog right now so I found this post very helpful. I even learned a few things I was doing wrong with my current blog!

  48. Great post. I can see that I am mostly on the right track. I still have some kinks to work out, but who doesn’t. If we never made mistakes we would never learn :)

  49. Thanks for the tips.

    For me the most important one is the n. 10.

  50. Uncle Ray says:

    The list thing works. Is it because it’s easy to read, or people just think it’s “factual”?