When we heard that three of our favourite writing bloggers – Stephanie Ayers, Wendy Strain and A.L. Mabry – were joining forces and starting up a new writing website called OurWriteSide.com, we were excited! We reached out and asked them if they would share what they have learned during their years in the blogosphere that might help bloggers who are just starting out. Here is what they had to say.
In Retrospect, On Blogging
Guest Post: by the Our Write Side team
Stephanie Ayers, CEO
When I started blogging five years ago, I didn’t understand what I was doing. I wanted to write, be read, and make people laugh. It was a process that became both therapeutic and stressful as I learned what works, what doesn't, and how to get people to read little old nobody me. While I’m still mastering that last part today, I am miles away from where I was when I first started. In fact, I wish I had someone with experience (like the current me) to guide me as I started out. I lucked into a writing group, which helped me blossom and love blogging as much as writing, feeding my poor hungry writing soul with readers and comments. It created a beautiful online existence.
This took a while coming. There are things I wish I’d known before I put that first word on that blank space and hit “publish” in Blogger a long time ago. There are things I wish I’d known about sharing and putting your stuff out there, before I did exactly that. Now that blogging has become the “it” thing to do, plenty of experienced bloggers offer advice on how, what, where, and why you should blog, but if you are lazy like me, you don’t research before you leap. If you’re like me, you dive in head first and suffer whatever consequences befall you later. So, since you’re reading this, I’ll let you in on the secrets I wish I had known when I wrote my first blog in February 2010.
The best blogging platform.
I started on Blogger. While there is nothing wrong with Blogger and many still use it, I discovered Wordpress had more offerings and fewer glitches after Blogger ate about six of my posts one day. I moved to Wordpress, and I haven’t looked back. In fact, when the Our Write Side team discussed self-hosting, we knew we wanted to stay with Wordpress as well. Why? I’ll tell you. They have a great assortment of themes, plugins and protection. Great formats and limited hassle. And, the most important points of all? I could move all my followers to the new domain, AND they have never ever swallowed any of my posts, ever. An added benefit of Wordpress is that the founders have a huge database of information, a forum for questions about everything. They also highlight the best posts from Wordpress users everywhere, including a Freshly Pressed badge to display with pride on your sidebar. I know; I had one.
The proper way to use Categories and Tags.
It has taken me almost five years to understand the concept and reasons behind “category” and “tag,” but I’ve finally got it. Let’s never mind the chaos that is my category grid with all the unnecessary categories and overused words from when I didn’t understand it at all. I mean, really, who needs “prompts” AND “writing prompts”? Apparently, I did. Plus? Yeah, I had “prompts” as a tag, too. I’ll explain what I’ve learned.
All the “pages” you add to your menu do NOT have to be actual pages. In fact, categories work just as well and offer easier editing options. So, I discovered that is the best use for categories. You need enough to create homes for your posts. For example, on Our Write Side, we use categories to group similar posts together. If you visit our menu and click on “Causes”, the page opens with a pretty display of all the posts related to causes we have shared. The categories list is unique to your blog and the interests you share there.
Tags are what you use to get people to notice your posts outside whatever social media pushing you do. They are your “keywords”, so to speak. If you post about Halloween costumes, you’d want to tag it so everyone who Googles “Halloween costumes” comes across your post. This is particularly handy in Wordpress as you can read other Wordpress posts tagged the same way right from your tag.
So, categories are blog-specific and tags are not. That is the biggest difference.
Be careful what you share, especially if you dream of being published.
Because blogging and Facebook have become so popular, more publishing companies are cracking down on accepting material already published on the web. This includes your blog. I write to be read, but I have learned to be choosy about what goes on my site. Rather than post an entire story, I’ve posted only excerpts, teasers of the larger part I’m withholding. This intrigues the reader while giving me the ability to say, “I never published it.”
Wendy Strain, Social Media and Marketing Manager:
My first experience blogging was as a part of a class project while I was studying for my Masters. I had been freelancing for years, even writing articles intended for internet use, but had never put two and two together to consider what I’d been doing as blogging. I’d even run my own online store for a few years before returning to school and yet, before January 2011, had considered nothing I did as blogging. So I guess you could say that one thing I wish I’d known before I wrote my first blog was that I was already doing it in an unfocused way.
Coming to it as a former newspaper reporter, though, it instantly spoke to my community service/journalistic heart. It became my way of letting the world know what was going on and how people could become more active and engaged in the things they loved. Like Stephanie, I started on Blogger because it was easy to set up and pretty intuitive (and what my professor introduced). And I agree with everything Stephanie says about the two popular platforms, although my transition from Blogger to WordPress was not as smooth – my fault.
What I wish I’d known sooner was how to let people know we had this shared interest and could spend some enjoyable hours discussing. I’m getting better at that, but the key is being part of the larger conversation, not just at your place but at other places where people meet. This can take a lot of time, something most of us don’t have in abundance, but it makes all the difference if you want visitors at your site. You see a lot of advice on the web about how to increase traffic, but the real idea is not to make the street out front busy. What you want are friends to stop in and share a cup of coffee (or beverage of choice). If it turns out to be a party, all the better.
A.L. Mabry, Executive Editor
When I first started blogging, it was my way of reaching out for support. I found myself as part of a niche of special needs parents. We were all looking for and giving support by sharing our experiences and resources. Like Stephanie and Wendy, I began my journey on Blogger and eventually found myself on Wordpress where I have stayed. A lot of the essential elements of blogging came slowly.
In retrospect, my writing was horrible. I didn’t care – I needed to be heard – and I wish I had a better understanding of the fundamentals from the start. My advice to a new blogger would be to test a couple of blog platforms before throwing your heart into one. And I would recommend the importance of proper networking, using social media sites.
However, the biggest thing I wish I had known: Use your own, authentic voice. I wrote to please readers. I gave great advice and chose topics I felt people needed. But I burnt out a lot because I ignored my real, true voice. I discovered I am more than a little sassy and very creative. As I let these elements trickle into my writing, I became more comfortable, and my writing flourished. You can’t write to please the audience. You must write for yourself first; the audience will come, and they will be authentic.