So, as WordPress has just reminded me, 35hunter has just passed its 36 month birthday.
I’m always keen to share what works and what doesn’t, so here, based on my experiences with 35hunter, and the other blogs I’ve been writing since around 2004, here are 36 tips to help you begin (and continue!) your own blog. I hope you find something helpful.
1. Pick a topic that’s going to be a sustainable interest.
When I started 35hunter it was going to be about early 1980s film compact cameras with 35mm f/2.8 lenses as that was all I was shooting with at the time. But I figured my interest in those would only last so long (I was correct!) so I broadened the scope to “hunting for beauty and balance”, which has been the core theme in the three years since.
2. Don’t write about everything.
Slightly contrary to tip 1 above, I think you still need some continuity of subject to attract and keep a core community of readers. If you write about such a wide range of subjects that any one reader is only interested in one in five or 10 posts then they’re unlikely to stick around. Unless your writing itself is spectacularly exciting, insightful, witty or all three, whatever you write about, in which case, go ahead, your readers would probably even enjoy if you posted your grocery shopping lists.
3. Write at least six posts before you publish anything.
I’ve lost count of how many blogs I’ve come across with one lonely post, then the writer stopped. It reminds me of a ghost town where someone had great intentions to build a whole new community, but stopped after just one house, which was then almost immediately abandoned.
If you write 6-12 posts before you even publish, you’ll have a good idea of how much you have to say on the topic(s). If you can only manage two post’s worth of words, then pick a topic you find more interesting and have more to say about. When you have six, you can start publishing, and continue to write and schedule new posts.
4. Schedule your posts for consistent output.
Over a year you might write 50 posts, so on average one a week. But maybe some months you’ll only write one post, other times you might write four in a week. Schedule your posts ahead of time so you can supply a steady stream of new posts for your readers, and relieve pressure on yourself during the more lean times, when you have less to say, or life is just getting in the way.
5. Find a writing schedule that works.
You might write two or three posts in one late night session, once a week, or maybe prefer dipping in and spending 20 minutes a day writing before breakfast. Experiment with different times and amounts and find what works best for you. Then combine this with the tip above on scheduling posts ahead of time. This gives you a writing schedule that works for you, and your readers regular content.
6. Keep posts short(ish).
I’m going completely against my own advice with this 3000+ word post of course, but generally I stick to around 500-700 words. Many would say even that number of words could make two or three blog posts, and it could. I’d say start with shorter posts more frequently (which will also be easier and quicker to write) then build up the length if and when you need to.
7. Vary post length.
If you become known for long posts then you might put off some more casual readers who like your style and content, but don’t like reading 2000 words of anything in one sitting. Others really enjoy lengthy posts they can really get their teeth into. So by varying your post length, you keep it interesting for yourself, and attract a range of readers. Maybe those who enjoy your shorter ones, in time will be happy to commit a little extra time to your longer ones.
8. Use your own pictures.
Especially if you’re writing about photography, or another topic that needs photos of the stuff you’re writing about. Using your own photos makes your blog so much more personal, and you’re in control of keeping the images in the posts.
9. Use other people’s pictures.
There are a huge range of free to use pictures online these days, and if you’re not really a photographer and just want a pretty image to brighten up your posts, this is probably the best way to go for you. (I’ve noticed Pexels.com being used often lately.) The main downside is you’re not in control, so if the picture’s creator deletes their image from wherever it’s hosted, you lose it too. But then with any site online we’re beholden to others one way or another – WordPress, Flickr, Google etc. Oh and make sure you give credit and a link where requested if you’re using other people’s pictures.
10. Don’t regurgitate the manual.
One of my pet hates with photography blogs is simply describing the camera and all of its functions. That’s what the manual is for. Instead, tell us what you like or don’t like about it, and why you would (or wouldn’t) use it again. This goes for any other topic – your own views are generally far more interesting than the tech spec of your kit, which can be found in manuals or particular gear-centric websites that specialise in that kind of dry data.
11. Encourage comments with specific questions.
I’ve noticed an increase in interaction on my blog posts where I’ve asked a direct question at the end. For example I might write a post about taking photographs at night, the ask “How about you, what do you enjoy about taking photographs at night? Let us know in the comments below…” When I don’t this, there’s usually a stunned silence, and no, or very few comments. People like that nudge, that invitation, in how to join the conversation.
12. Encourage comments by always replying.
I’ve followed blogs before where I’ve enjoyed a post, then, along with a number of other people, left a fairly detailed comment that adds to the conversation. And the original author has not responded to anyone’s comments. Personally I just think this is rude. If you want to have people follow read and comment on your writing, you need to factor in enough time to allow for responding to comments. If you can’t, don’t expect people to comment again.
13. Prompt people to think.
Write in a way that means people have to think a bit more deeply than they may have done before on a specific topic. You can do this partly with your own writing, and partly by asking questions, as in tip 11 above. Even if your core topics have been written about thousands of times before, if you offer a different slant and approach, it’ll be interesting to others.
14. Break long posts down into a series of posts.
This is a good way of splitting down a single post that got too long. By publishing, say a 36 tip post as three 12 tip posts, you have three times the number of posts, plus you create a kind of anticipation after each one – the reader looks forward to the next instalment. Er, even if again I’ve ignored my own advice with this post! Well, it is a special anniversary post!
15. Write ongoing series posts.
For example, a photography blog might have a series of posts about testing M42 lenses, or a series of posts with just a photograph and no words. Create a name for these series, then use tags and categories each time so over time you can easily guide people to other posts in the same series. Over time it’s great to have these connected collections of posts – like a more specialised mini blog within your larger blog.
16. Always write your own posts.
This is a contentious one, as I know some people openly and frequently invite guest posts. Personally, I don’t like it. I prefer to hear the consistent view of the person writing – that’s the reason I started reading and following the blog in the first place. There have been a number of blogs I’ve stopped following because the number (and poor quality, see below) of guest posts have diluted the author’s original voice.
17. If you do use guest posts, make them at least as strong as your own.
Yeh, I know I said don’t use guest posts, but if you do, I think it’s crucial to make them at least as good as your own. Otherwise they have a negative impact on how your readers see your blog overall, and they’re more likely to skip posts in the future. Again this is something I’ve found very disappointing in blogs I used to read religiously – too many weak (and badly edited) guest posts have meant I couldn’t be bothered to hang around for the one in ten posts of great quality written by the original author.
18. Avoid ads.
I really dislike ads anywhere. But on a blog where you want to encourage a reader to immerse themselves in your work, whether it’s words, pictures, music or a combination, ads are a horrible distraction. It’s like reading a treasured novel and every few pages they’ve inserted an extra page covered in ads. It ruins the flow and breaks the spell – that special experience you want your readers to be lost in when the read your posts. Don’t do it!
I notice with some blogs I’m subscribed to I even get the ads appearing in the emailed version of the post. Yuck. Reclaim the sanctuary of your blog for yourself and your readers!
19. Write often.
This doesn’t have to mean writing whole blog posts often. Just writing sections – or writing something else entirely, like a journal, or comments on other people’s blogs – keeps your writing muscles in good shape. And makes it easier to get into writing whenever you sit down to.
20. Capture your ideas.
This is possibly the biggest tip here. Years ago when I used to write poetry profusely, I carried a notebook with me and jotted down ideas as they came to me. I worked for a while as a cashier in a supermarket, and would keep a piece of blank receipt roll in my pocket. As it’s not the most intellectually taxing kind of job, my mind was free to ramble, and when it came up with fragments of poetry, I’d scribble them down between customers. Most nights I’d go home with pocketfuls of new ideas, and shape the isolated pieces into whole poems or stories.
The same applies with ideas for blog posts. When you have an idea, write it down. You almost certainly won’t remember it otherwise! Using this practice, I currently have nearly 100 posts in draft form, so I never worry about coming up with a new idea for a post.
21. Eliminate writers block.
For me, the main cause of writers block is not having enough (or any) new ideas, and just sitting staring at a blank page or screen with literally no idea what to write. You can eliminate this entirely by always have a stash of ideas and/or draft posts, as described above.
I can’t remember having writers block since 35hunter began three years ago, or at any point on my previous blog which ran for five years and nearly 450 posts because of using this approach.
22. Keep your layout simple.
With my aforementioned previous blog I must have spent dozens of hours tweaking tiny things like column indents, fonts and font sizes. I also originally had a number of plug ins and widgets. The problem is, aside from that initial set up time required, every time there’s an update of some kind you risk something changing that you don’t know how to fix again, or having to start from scratch entirely.
So with 35hunter I’ve always just chosen a simple theme and not messed with it, and used virtually no add ons. It runs smoothly and simply, so I can focus my time and energy on writing and sharing new posts.
23. Don’t use a phone to write blog posts.
This is a personal thing, but I find whilst I might reply briefly to the odd comment, or just read comments, on my phone, any more than that is terribly fiddly and not at all time effective.
If you’re going to write consistently, invest in a device with a keyboard, whether it’s a tablet with an add on keyboard, or a laptop or desktop computer. It’s so much easier and more efficient in the long run (not least of all by learning and using a few simple keyboard shortcuts and trackpad/touchscreen gestures), and will also save you the cost of replacing your phone after hurling it out of the window in frustration.
24. Use WordPress. Avoid Blogger.
We don’t know what the future might bring, but right now, WP is huge and in my experience is a very reliable, easy to use platform. You can start with a free account, though I would recommend the Personal plan which costs about £3 a month, and means no ads. See above!
Around 2004, my first ever blog was on Google’s Blogger platform, at the time the most popular. When I come across the occasional Blogger blog these days, I’m transported right back to 2004. It doesn’t seem to have changed at all, and compared with other platforms just looks terribly clunky, dated and awkward.
With all Google have done for the online experience (I’m a daily user and big fan of GMail, Chrome, Maps, Photos, Play Music and Sheets, to name a few apps) it absolutely baffles me that their blog platform seems so far behind. So I would avoid it.
25. Write in the WordPress editor directly. But perhaps avoid the app(s).
Four or five years ago the WP editor was a bit clunky and awkward, and far too busy in layout. I used to write posts in a beautifully serene app called OmmWriter then copy and paste into WordPress to add any links and insert pictures.
But as WordPress evolved it looked and functioned increasingly more like OmmWriter anyway, so I switched. The added bonus is your posts are saved as draft in WP so easier to pick up and continue than having them saved elsewhere and have to copy and paste across.
Having tried the WP app on a phone (very briefly, see tip 23 above!) and iPad, I’ve found it limiting and frustrating. So always reverted to just using the regular WP editor within Chrome on these devices and found it the best option. By all means try the app, but be open to reverting to the full site if it’s easier, like I did. On my ChromeBook and MacBook, the only app I really use is Chrome, then use the website versions GMail, WordPress, Flickr, GooglePhotos etc. I like that simplicity compared with having a different app for each.
26. Use Flickr to host your pictures.
I’ve been doing this for years, as it means you don’t use up your limited WordPress storage allowance, and it gives you a second source to attract readers to your blog, as you can feature the blog’s link in photos posted in Flickr.
Another aspect I like is you can upload photos to Flickr and keep them private (ie visible only to you) but still show them in posts on WP in exactly the same way. The only downside is your’e dependent on another site. If Flickr disappeared, so do all your pictures in your WP posts. But as we talked about above, we can’t do anything online without depending on some services or other, so there’s always some risk. WordPress might not be here in five years, who knows?
27. Write snappy and interesting titles.
This has been good advice since long before blogs existed, when any advertiser or newspaper owner would try to attract interest and ultimately sales by having headlines that draw people in. I think it does no harm at all to sometimes use titles like “10 Reasons You Should Use A Digital Compact Over A DLSR” to attract readers. But make sure you deliver and the title is an honest description of what’s contained in your post, or you’ll lose trust and readership fast.
28. Write poetic or literary titles.
I was (and still am) a big fan of The Smiths, and loved Morrissey’s rambling song titles like “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before” and “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”. I personally tend to find these more interesting than the “10 Reasons” type titles I mentioned before. Hence previous wordy posts here called things like “The Restlessness Of Betterment” and “Beneath The Old Elm – A Nostalgic Wander With A Former Flame“. Maybe a good combination is to have part snappy, part poetic titles.
29. Write “How To” posts.
One of the core questions to ask if you blog or want to blog, is what value can I offer to the reader. It might be simply your irreverent and amusing writing (hello Brytin), but more often than not I would suggest people read blogs to learn something, and/or to be inspired and encouraged.
So writing posts that begin “How To” and then teach the reader to do something they might be struggling with or have not tried before, can be very popular. The golden rule is to make sure you follow through. Don’t write a how to post that doesn’t actually show people how to do what you say it will.
30. Respect your readers’ intelligence.
So much online is overly dumbed down these days and written in very basic language to try to appeal to everyone. In my day job a recent web editor course informed us that the average reading age in the UK was about 10 years old (scary enough in its own right!), and we should aim our websites at that level so as not to confuse or alienate people.
But if the average reading age is 10, this means a number of people are below that, but also a number are above that. So don’t be afraid of using words of more than two syllables if that’s how you actually speak in day to day life. Delve into your vocabulary (and a thesaurus!) to use a more interesting and colourful range of words. It will enrich your writing an make it stand out more amidst a sea of sites linguistically pitched at pre-teens.
31. Develop your own voice.
You know how different parts of our personality come to the fore depending on who we’re with? So you’re not quite the same person with your parents as you are with your partner, or work colleagues, or friends. Each person/group gets a slightly different window into the real you. Well, with blogging you can choose which person to be too, and have the time with each post to develop that persona. I’m generally smarter, funnier and more handsome on my blog than I am in person, and perhaps you would like to be too.
32. Be authentic.
The above said, stay true to yourself. This could mean that maybe you have multiple blogs. I follow one blogger whose posts are mostly photographic with a few words of background. The same person has a different blog which is vastly more wordy, usually flippant, and often very witty. Both read as authentic blogs, but just from different aspects of the same person. Maybe this is an approach that’d work for you too.
33. Don’t obsess over stats.
I’ve gone through phases in the past where I checked my visits and page views multiple times a day. It doesn’t really serve any purpose and distracts my effort and time from something more useful, like responding to comments or writing new posts. If you’re chasing views and likes, you’re probably not writing and sharing for the right reasons in the first place. Perhaps Instagram is a better match for you.
34. But you can use your stats to give you an overview of your blog’s progress.
It can be useful to see for example whether certain posts you thought might be popular and provoke many comments do, or not. And over time, it’s encouraging and inspiring to see a growth in readership.
Just be aware of falling into the trap of focusing only on the posts that get most views and trying to duplicate them. My most read post on 35hunter every month since the two years plus I wrote it is about shooting film without a light meter. If I had just tried to sequel after sequel of that post, I wouldn’t have written any of the 200+ posts I have done since!
35. Don’t over edit.
Much like post processing digital images, the potential tweaks are infinite. With photography, you can end up with an image that looks nothing like the original. With writing blog posts, I try to write the bulk in one go, then return and check for typos, and how it reads generally at a later date, and make any small changes necessary, as well as adding links and photographs. Then schedule it for publishing.
Yes, perhaps my posts could be better if I spent an extra hour or two on each fine tuning and honing every last word. But (again, as with processing photos) I prefer to spend most of my time in the initial rush of creation, and keep the editing fairly minor. Then, if it’s worked out good enough, get it out there in the world!
36. Enjoy yourself.
If blogging is a chore and a stress, you’re probably not in it for the right reasons. Think about why you want to blog, find the posting frequency that suits you and just run with it, see what happens.
If you enjoy it, maybe write a little more often. It’s all about finding that balance and the blogging being challenging enough to be exciting, but without dipping into obligation/”just for the sake of it” territory.
Well, this post has gone against probably half a dozen of the above tips, but nevertheless, I hope you have gained something from most of them.
Please let me know in the comments below which one(s) you have found most helpful – and I’m happy to expand on anything if you’d like more details. And if you’re a blogger yourself, what’s are the top three tips you can share with us?
Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.