How to Start a Blog

(Image/blog.ringcentral.com)

(Image/blog.ringcentral.com)

Feral Wife asked:

Hi Matt, I have truly enjoyed reading your blog. I found it shortly after asking my husband for a separation (we decided not to). Your words were a blessing, and long story short, you and the many commenters have inspired me to start my own blog. The premise of my blog is I am the wife of a shitty husband, a husband who was shocked when I asked for a separation. Now we are trying to work it out and stay married. So I want to share my journey in hopes of helping other wives and husbands. But I don’t really know where to start, I am assuming your blog didn’t start off as fabulous as it is now (if it has, more props to you!) so I am asking for tidbits/advice on where to start. I would like to remain anonymous, for a variety of reasons. Anyway, you said we could ask you stuff, for free, so I thought I’d ask: “How do I start my own blog?”

There are countless reasons to start blogging.

Some people love writing. Some people like telling stories. Some people dream big and hope people will like their writing and that it might create future writing and career opportunities. Some people process information and life events best when they get thoughts down on paper (or a computer screen). Some people want to help and be a resource for others.

If you ask me today why I write here, those are my reasons.

But that’s not why I started.

One night, less than three months into my marital separation, I was self-medicating with vodka before some friends were picking me up to go out.

I was feeling sorry for myself because my wife was seeing someone.

I was feeling sorry for myself because my son wasn’t home.

I was feeling sorry for myself because I was taking my first crack at online dating and it was a colossal failure by every measurable standard.

I was totally losing it. I called an 800 number off a card someone at work had given me for over-the-phone counseling.

I don’t remember anything about the conversation except for the part where the therapist lady told me I should start writing down my thoughts and feelings. Normal people keep journals. I thought: Maybe I’ll just write anonymously and publish it! That might be a fun experiment!

I thought Must Be This Tall To Ride was going to be a sarcastic, juvenile journey through my online-dating stumbles—the story of this bumbling, depressed, freaking-out newly single 30-something father trying to “date” for the first time in his life.

I started blogging because I’m a total spaz and as soon as any idea pops into my idiot little head, I rush off and do it until I get bored or distracted by something else and move on.

But then something happened I didn’t expect—some people gave a shit. People were reading. Not a lot. But some! Whoa.

Writing has some magic qualities for the people doing it. Something intangible that, no matter how many times people tell you, you can’t really understand it until it starts happening. That therapist lady knew it. But I didn’t. Not until, for the first time in my life, I took things from the inside of me and turned them into words.

It was a little scary. A little embarrassing. But, man. It worked. I really started feeling better.

And then something even crazier happened.

Some of the people reading said it helped them feel better, too.

I’ve written PLENTY of immature bullshit here. Sorry. I am immature and sometimes I make bad decisions that are bullshit.

But mostly? I started really caring about being someone who wasn’t adding to all the noise and negativity shrieking and clanging around out there.

Maybe this can matter. 

How to Start a Blog

1. Have a reason. A concept. A thing.

No matter how much I don’t want to be, I’ve sort of become this divorce/relationship blogger, which makes no sense, but whatever. Sometimes things don’t make sense.

2. Think of good blog names, and pick one with a sensible, AVAILABLE URL (or if you’re not hiding your identity, try to secure your name. Example: BobRodgers.com)

I picked Must Be This Tall To Ride because a week earlier I wrote to some 5’2” online dating chick one night who wouldn’t date guys under six feet, and I used it as the subject line. It made me laugh. She wrote back, but not because she wanted to go out. I’m glad the URL was available. That was lucky.

3. There are a variety of blogging platforms. I like WordPress for many reasons. Choose a non-sucky theme

I picked this theme (called “Chunk”) because it’s SUPER-clean, and I like clean. I like Google’s home page. I like Apple’s advertising. I like white space.

So I chose this because there aren’t any distractions.

I thought I would be able to customize it so that I could take some of the things that live WAY down at the bottom of these pages that most people never see, and move them up to the sidebars. But this theme doesn’t let you do that, AND I suck at HTML coding, so even if it did, I probably couldn’t have pulled it off.

My advice: Choose a theme that allows people to follow you via email up in the sidebar, and showcase other information they care about like recent posts, or popular posts, or how to follow you on social media, or whatever. When you bury it at the bottom of your blog like I do here, most people never see it because they’re busy and don’t care. You have to make it easy and obvious for them to follow you.

4. Use photos in your blog posts.

I usually stick with just one image up top. Credit the photographer or at least the source whenever possible in the caption. People like images.

5. Write as much as you want, but 800 words or less will help readers stay with you.

I usually write over a thousand because I’m wordy and don’t always do what I’m supposed to.

6. Write well.

This is subjective. I don’t think I’m a particularly great writer. But (usually after publishing a mistake or two every time) I’m pretty good about keeping the copy clean. Typos are bad. Using “their” instead of “there” is bad. Bad punctuation is bad. Bad everything is bad. Unfortunately, I do some things poorly. It’s because I’m only moderately intelligent AND because I rush through this stuff, never planning ahead, and hastily hitting Publish during my lunch hour at work. It’s a bad blogging and writing strategy.

7. Make it easy for people to share your work.

WordPress plugins make it easy to embed social media sharing on your blog. Twitter is the only social media I use to share posts and it generates very little traffic because I’m shitty at Twitter. Facebook is obviously the biggest and best place to share. Because I’m afraid of family members and people in my professional network reading about accidental vaginas or my grandmother hypothetically marrying a Liam Neeson movie character, I’ve always been too scared to share stuff on Facebook. But it’s still the place where my posts that do get shared, get shared most often.

8. Reply to comments.

I’m not always good at this, but I aspire to be.

9. Try to develop a regular posting schedule.

Posting every day only worked for about nine months for me. That was masochistic. I generally stick to Monday-Wednesday-Friday now and I find it more manageable. There’s no right or wrong way. But consistency is smart.

10. Tag and categorize your posts thoughtfully.

I just sort of guess. There’s a science to it, but I’m always in too big of a hurry. Tagging or categorizing my posts “Marriage” or “Divorce” or “Penis” allows people to find content that interests them and lets regular readers know what they’re getting into.

I’m probably leaving stuff out because I’m out of time and need to stop writing this.

In Conclusion

Feral Wife called my blog “fabulous.” Which is too kind because of all its structural deficiencies and sometimes-shitty writing.

If it is fabulous, I have a hard time believing it started out that way. Some people have read every post, and they would know better than me.

I’ve published close to 500 posts in just over two years here, and any time you do something hundreds of times, you get better at it, but that’s also subjective because some of you are reading this (or quit 700 words ago) and are thinking: Why the hell am I still reading this?

Fair question.

I have no idea.

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28 thoughts on “How to Start a Blog

  1. mjmsprt40 says:

    Starting a blog is easy. What to do with it, and keeping it going after you’ve started it— that’s harder.

    Professional journalists may have an advantage, you’re used to putting out something every day. Most of the rest of us have a hard time coming up with something once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      There is zero doubt that spending 10 years-plus writing something for publication almost every day makes this easy for me in ways it wouldn’t be for someone without that experience.

      No doubt, I take that for granted.

      That said, some of my favorite writers only post something a couple times a month, and they’re fantastic.

      There are so many ways to do this well. Still so much to learn and improve.

      Like

  2. I read your blog because of the self-growth inspirational stuff. In the beginning you were very hard on yourself, then you became more empathetic. That resonated with me because that was what was happening with me too. It took a while for me to be kind to myself.
    So even though our situations are different, they are the same.
    As for the word count, I must admit I look for blog posts under 700 words, although I still flick yours open (when the subject matter appeals) because I know they are worth reading but I only skim read if they are longer rather than shorter in length.
    Thanks for the continued writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I’ve been thinking about making a concerted effort to tighten up my writing. The problem with that is it requires thoughtful planning, and diligent editing–two things I never have time for. (Doh.)

      Maybe someday. I appreciate that you read some of this stuff. Thank you. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Samara says:

    I totally suck at 6 of the 10 things.

    And you ARE a particularly great writer. Do you really not think so?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I think that I’m probably good compared to the average human who doesn’t write every day, or professionally.

      I think I have A LOT of work to do (and I’m constantly trying to improve) if I want to achieve the level of writing to which I aspire. (You, for example, and Jen down thread, are exceptional.) I know how to write grammatically correct (sometimes!) sentences competently.

      But it almost always falls short of art. Of craftsmanship. Maybe someday.

      I’m glad you like it, though. Means a lot. Thank you.

      Like

    • jgroeber says:

      Look at you, two. See what I mean about a sense of community? And for Mr. Writer to put my name in with Samara’s? (She scrolls down realizing there’s probably another Jen…) I blush. Such a fine compliment.
      I was going to say, the four you do, Samara, you do with pyrotechnics, a gospel choir and sexy back-up dancers. Who cares about the other six at a show like that?
      (Also, you’re such a moving writer, Matt. The pace of your writing, the way you pile clauses and repetition and then BAM, concise, shot to the heart. It inspires.)
      Now what otherworldly school parking lot would I possibly be having this conversation in?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Samara says:

        Jen, your comments are better than some people’s entire posts.
        You give great comment.

        Pyrotechnics and sexy back up dancers? You make me feel like the Madonna of WordPress!
        Well, not the jacked up Madonna today, with that gold grill she stole from Lil Wayne. Madonna circa 1990. Vogue Madonna.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jgroeber says:

          That’s not all I do. (Mind out of the gutter, I was going to say I give good granola. Also jazz hands.) I was picturing Like a Prayer, hence the gospel singers AND the sexy back-up dancers.
          (Seriously, thanks, rockin’ Mama. You and Matt are both such awesome participating thought-sharers, if you know what I mean. It does a body good.)

          Liked by 2 people

  4. anitvan says:

    I must be weird because I prefer longer posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jgroeber says:

    Oh. I think I could have used this 2 years ago! My blog is almost as cluttered as my mind!!
    May I add? Go live with 4-5 posts already in place. And become a part of a community, develop relationships. That is something you do beautifully, Matt!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      You most certainly may add, Jen. :)

      I don’t think you need any blogging advice, though.

      Few people can turn everyday experiences into something laced with magic and beauty quite like you.

      When you can make people feel–really feel–the rules matter less.

      Like

    • Samara says:

      Matt’s right. You don’t need any blogging advice. That would be like someone giving Madonna (to stay with a theme here) career advice.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Madeline Harper says:

    You’re blog is fabulous and I love to read. Great post. Great advice.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Is this your first-ever comment, Madeline? I think it might be (because I had to approve it–I’ve seen your avatar many times). Regardless, thank you. I love that you read it and I appreciate your time (and fun avatar) very much.

      Like

  7. I loved your post ending …but that’s also subjective because some of you are reading this (or quit 700 words ago) and are thinking: Why the hell am I still reading this?….

    lol… you always provide a good perspective and a bit of a chuckle.

    Like

  8. Matt says:

    Awesome of you to make it to the end. Thank you for that.

    How are things going for you? Are you happy with the blog traffic and engagement you’re getting right now?

    Like

  9. andi says:

    You are fabulous. And you’ve inspired a lot of people. <3

    Like

  10. GG says:

    Well, isn’t this super helpful. :) Like actually helpful, no sarcasm intended. I’m four posts in to my blog, so this gave me some good ideas. I hope when I’m 500 posts in that I’m as good as you. ;)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I’m quite sure this will be the nicest thing I read today. Thank you so much.

      I’m really glad you thought there were good ideas in here. I don’t profess to be great at this, but internet marketing (which I do a HORRIBLE job practicing with this blog) is what I do professionally, and it’s my pleasure to help whenever I can. Feel free to reach out anytime.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope you have a good day.

      Like

      • GG says:

        You’re welcome so much. I hope you have a good day too.

        I keep reading and thinking, yes, yes, and yes. It’s validating to check the boxes that some of these I’m already doing. Maybe I’m a natural. Ha!

        I’ll spend some time reading here today. I like your voice.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. feralwife says:

    Hi! Thanks Matt for posting my question and for all for the advice everyone. I took it to heart and have been working on my blog. I have 5 posts, I don’t think any of them are more than 700 words, and my initial plan is to write at least once a week. If you get a chance, please visit!. I’m at http://www.theferalwife.com

    Liked by 1 person

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