Blogging 101, Take Two
So weird to casually start off an email to you with an easy breezy “hi.” I half feel like I should address you as Ms. Storch or something equally formal, but then the other half of me feels like I know you, like you’re one of my best girls. I’m sure you get that a lot.
Anywaaaay, I am writing to ask your advice about blogging. I don’t think this is the type of topic you usually cover in the Advice Smackdown, or if it is something of general interest, so I decided to write you at this address. I am planning to start a blog. As an avid blog reader – like since before Dooce got dooced – it’s something I’ve toyed with off and on for years. I’ve been a reader and a lurker (I’m shy!) but never active in terms of commenting, message board participation, etc. I have two main questions for you:
1) What pearls of wisdom do you have for a new blogger? (how’s that for broad and vague?)
2) What is the etiquette for linking/calling out other blogs? I know there is this concept of link swapping, but that’s not exactly what I mean. Rather, is it cool to just name drop in my own posts? I know in theory I am free to post whatever I want, however I want, but are there dos and don’ts? A code of conduct?
I have a few reasons for deciding to start my blog and start it at this point in my life. I am getting ready to quit my job and go live in a house in the woods for 5 months. I’m also trying to get pregnant. And my husband and I may be relocating within the next 18 months. All big exciting life events that I want to document. I also feel like blogging is a good way to get to know yourself better. I suppose I could just journal privately, but frankly I need to public exposure to keep me diligent as I have very little self discipline. Oh! I guess that is my third question:
3) How does a blogger gain public exposure? I’m not even talking enough readership to make ads worthwhile, just readership period.
Okay. Now that I have shared more than you probably care to know, I’ll wrap this up.
I really value your opinion, Amy, and I hope you can find the time to answer my questions.
Thanks for the advice in advance and for the years of entertaining, amusing, thought-provoking and poignant blogging,
Okay, so first, go back and read this old Advice Smackdown column on Blogging 101. It goes into a bit more technical detail than you’re probably interested in (hosting, domain names, different blogging platforms, etc.), but it DOES answer a couple of your questions pretty well, I think. But let’s see if I can’t come up with any NEW advice, especially considering that a one-year-old column is practically Methuselah-like, in Internet Years.
Broad and vague pearls of wisdom for a new blogger? It might not apply to you and your motivations for blogging, but please. Oh my God. Please don’t start a blog *because* you want to make money. *Because* you want ads and free samples to review and Internet fame and Oprah and fortune. And I’m not saying this merely because I think that’s tacky (although…yeah, it is), but because it’s just not probably going to happen. I think it’s MUCH harder now for new bloggers. There are just so many blogs, so many voices and stories and people courting scandal and aggressively self-promoting and social networking and Twitter zapping the hell out of our attention span and now I feel old and WHERE ARE MY TEETH, MABEL?
But! You do want to start a blog for the express purpose of quitting your job in less than six months, or for free detergent samples*, or so various famous people follow you on Twitter. You are old school, like me: You have a story to tell, a desire to document it and a need for public accountability. If a storyteller gets pregnant in a house in the woods and no one reads about it…it’s probably because she never got around to writing any of it down. Enter the Almighty Publish Button.
What should do you do first when you start a blog?
So. My advice is to start a blog and START WRITING. Don’t fret over your entry point to your story. Get on and re-type old embarrassing short stories you’ve already written to help you get used to the format and the weird sensation of seeing your words OUT THERE, in public, where omg people can read them. (You can always delete them later, like I did, GAAAAH.) Critique yourself AFTER hitting Publish, otherwise you may second-guess yourself into having an empty blog and wholllllllle lot of crap in your “saved drafts” folder. Write every day at first, no matter what. Don’t have anything to write about? Tough tuna. Think of something — you’ll be happy for the exercise down the road when you REALLY get whalloped with a serious case of writer’s block. The thing about blogging is that no matter how good of a writer you are, you’re going to publish some real crap, given the frequency. The sooner you get over yourself and any need for every entry to be the greatest! thing! you’ve! ever! written!…the sooner you’ll discover your real, authentic voice and connect with an audience.
Finding an audience for your blog.
As for finding an audience, most of the stuff from the Blogging 101 column still stands: linking to other blogs, sending them traffic, and leaving thoughtful/funny/interesting comments on other blogs. I would definitely add Twitter to this list of essential tools, even though I sometimes freaking despise Twitter (so much DRAMA and WANK and STUPID BEHAVIOR FROM PEOPLE WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER!) and what it’s done to blogging, or at least to my own personal creativity level. (Sometimes all I ever had to start a blog entry with was one funny sentence or observation, so I would have to work and work at it to find the rest of the entry, and those kinds of entries are still some of the best stuff I think I’ve written. Now? I just dump it on Twitter and leave it at that. This is…not Twitter’s fault, but at the same time it totally is.) But! There is no doubt that Twitter and Facebook and participating in other social networking communities (like Blogher) are absolutely essential to someone trying build an audience of loyal readers. Get on Twitter, follow a ton of diverse people, respond to other people with thoughtful, creative tweets, leave witty ones of your own…and leave links to your latest blog entry. It’s like commenting on a grander, more visible, slightly more annoying scale.
Blog Linking Etiquette
So…I’ve answered your first and third question, and left the easy one for last. Linking etiquette. No, you do not have to ask permission to link to someone, either for a blogroll/sidebar link or for a link within your own entry. Linking is the lifeblood of blogging, as is having other people talk about your blog and writing. If you quote them, make sure you attribute it clearly, either with quotes or formatting. Some bloggers might appreciate a heads’ up (via email) that you’ve written about them — while others might see it as you trying to bait them somehow. There are no “rules,” except that it is considered poor form to directly ask someone to link to you. Those link-swapping and link-exchange emails? Pretty much universally scoffed at and ignored by anyone who has been around for awhile. (The exception being if someone has linked to you and has your URL wrong or you’ve changed domains or something.)
And I’m sure you know this as well — but when you DO write about someone else and link to them, remember that it’s kind of like talking about them behind their back in the girls’ bathroom…while they are right there, in the middle stall, listening. Just because you might think they’ll never in a million years happen across it, that’s not necessarily true. This can go both ways, with both cruel and kind things you write. Even the smallest blog with zero comments on entry after entry does not exist in an Internet vacuum. It really is a series of tubes, so that old advice stands too, and look, I shall properly quote and credit my own damn self:
“And of course, no matter how anonymous you are or how few people you tell about your blog, DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING ABOUT ANYONE WITH THE ASSUMPTION THAT THEY WON’T ONE DAY FIND IT. Trust me, they will. And they will take it badly. Stay as anonymous as you want, but keep yourself accountable. Think before you hit publish and weigh the possibility of very hurt feelings or a damaged friendship against whatever satisfaction you’ll get from that post going live.”
-Spoken by Amalah, July 2008, Who Still Has To Remind Herself Of This Rule Everyday, Because MAN, Some People Are Just Begging For A Good Internet Whuppin’Published September 21, 2009. Last updated October 12, 2017.