40+ Blogging & Social Media Resources

This week, I’ve been sharing my thoughts and ideas on blogging, which feels weird to me because I don’t consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been sort of bumbling through this process for the last three years, and even now, I know that there are things that I’m not doing yet that I really should be — whether it be behind-the-scenes or in the world of social media.

So for all of us who are feeling our way along the foggy path of the Blogosphere, I’ve compiled a list. There are a lot of smart people out there offering guidance, tips and tutorials for all sorts of things blog-and-social-media-related. These are just a few I’ve found.

Some of them I’ve tried and found useful, others I’m hoping to slowly work through soon in order improve what I’m doing (while, you know, trying not to kill my soul.) I’ve also pinned most of these on my Blogging Tips & Resources Pinterest board, so feel free to follow that as well!

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Blogs about Writing, Blogging & Social Media

Blog Design

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Content

  • This list of The 21 Types of Content We All Crave is interesting. It’s not all that useful alone, but perhaps if you use each item as a beginning to a mind map…it could be. Where does this category intersect with your blog’s themes? What unexpected directions could you take each one of these ideas?
  • Another similar idea — only this one is “kinds” instead of “themes” like the previous one. 20 Types of Blog Posts for Writer’s Block. Again, I’d suggest using each of these only as a start to a mind-map. Where could you go?
  • This post (whose heading The Secret to a Gazillion Blog Post Ideas seems a bit…exaggerated) suggests using magazine headings to springboard into topic ideas of your own. Sounds interesting and like it might have potential.
photo credit: delgrosso via photopin cc

photo credit: delgrosso via photopin cc

Technical Stuff

photo credit: infocux Technologies via photopin cc

photo credit: infocux Technologies via photopin cc

Images

  • I have always loved using the Flickr Creative Commons. There are great photos there, and if you use the ones with the Attribution license, you have the right to modify them (read: Pinterest-ify) as long as you cite the source.
  • My new best friend, though, is Photo Pin, which allows you to more easily search photos in the Flickr Creative Commons and provides a coded attribute link when you download. That means all you have to do is Copy and Paste the attribution code into the “Caption” box for an image, and you’re all set. Super easy!
  • There are tons of other sites for free images. I found this list of 53+ Free Image Sources super helpful. The ones I use most often are morguefile (which doesn’t require attribution), Death to the Stock Photo (which sends you a packet of photos every month that you can use, attribution free) and CreationSwap (which has more “religious” type photos but does require attribution.)
  • To modify photos, I like to use PicMonkey or Fotor. These free sites allow you to filter your photos and add text. (Here’s a linkup of 17 cool tutorials on fancy ways to use PicMonkey). Also, this one that tells you How to Design a Free Media Kit for Your Blog with PicMonkey looked cool too.
  • I tend to use Fotor a little more often than PicMonkey, mostly because it allows me to use fonts resident on my computer (instead of just a basic set.) It also has an option for creating Covers for your social media pages, which allows you to create a uniform look across the board for free! (When I changed up my blog last year, I had my blog designer do this for me, but if you’re looking for a free options, this looks really easy and nice.)
  • This site has all sorts of free textures. This can be useful when you’re trying to create a pin-able quote.
  • I love this because it combines my addiction to DIY’s that I can’t possibly actually do myself with…blogging! This DIY Photo Light Box has the potential to erase my terrible kitchen counters and make my pictures look a little more professional perhaps.

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Social Media

  • Did you know that there are “best” and “worst” times to post on different social networks. I didn’t. But here’s a handy chart
  • I don’t know if I’d use these exact categories, but I like the idea of creating a kind of “posting schedule” for Twitter and Facebook. For those of us who never know what to do besides sharing our blog posts.
  • This was a good basic article about using Twitter Lists. I wish I could find more information on helping to sort your followers to make them easier to interact with. That’s my problem. I suppose I’ll have to come up with a system on my own.
  • This post has some ideas of how and why to use Pinterest Group Boards, which I’ve never thought about but might try out soon
  • This post tells you how to Add a Pinterest Mouseover Button to Your Blog Images — which is great, particularly for readers who are reading your stuff on their phones. Much easier.
  • There’s a site called PinAlerts that allows you to sign up and receive an email whenever someone pins something from your website? I recently signed up for it, hoping it will help me to figure out if the images I’m using are effective. Time will tell.
  • Amy Lynn Andrews provides a wealth of information on using your Facebook fan page here.
  • For those of us who are scared of Google+ this Ultimate List of Google+ Tips might help.
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photo credit: mkhmarketing via photopin cc

Other Ideas

  • Rachelle Gardner has a super interesting idea about Creating Your Own Marketing Team. It functions like a writing group, only instead of focusing on craft, it focuses on the project from a marketing standpoint. I love this idea and hope to try it out soon.
  • After three years of blogging, I’m totally intrigued by this 30-Day Creative Business Cleanse. The first thing she brings up is organizing your images. Woah.

 

I wanted to get up to 50, but I’m too tired. Blogging for an entire week about…blogging…has pretty much done me in.

So I’ll leave it to you to add to the list. What are your favorite resources? Who do you read when you need to get inspired? When you’re looking for technical tips? When you want to learn something new about social media?

How to Gain Followers (Without Losing Your Soul)

Everything I know about promoting your blog and gaining followers can be summed up in two words:

Be kind.

Really. I know that there are tricks and ideas and best practices, and I’ll try to share some of those here. But kindness is where it begins and ends. Get too caught up in getting numbers, and you begin to forget a lot of other things. You start to obsess about stats. You start writing what you think will get you numbers. You forget to write the things you meant to write in the first place. Slowly, you begin to lose your soul and become just another carbon copy of everything else on the Internet.

Listen, I’m all for getting more readers. I work really hard on my blog posts, and I want people to read them! To share them! To come back and buy my book and love it and pass it on to all their friends and family and then to tell me that I’m fantastic!

And yet, most of all, I want to remember that people are people. Not numbers. I want to remember that I’m a person, worthwhile and important regardless of how many people read my blog on a given day or follow me on Facebook or Tweet a link to a post. I want to create meaningful connections — for myself and for others. I want my blog to be about more than just “platform.”

I have no perfect solutions. I still struggle, and there are still days when I judge my self-worth by comments or blog traffic. But there are also some things I’ve learned that seem to help me stay true to the kind of blogger that I really want to be.

Here they are:

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1. Make sure your content is valuable to your readers

We’re all allowed a navel-gazing post every now and then, but for the most part, your readers are coming to your blog because they find something valuable there. It might be something tangible like a recipe, tutorial, or list…or it might be something a little more intangible: empathy, community, understanding, hope.

As you write your posts, ask yourself questions like these: What do I want a reader to take away from this post? What am I giving to them? How is the writing I’m doing about more than just myself? How might it connect to others? When what your giving is intangible (as my content mostly is), this can be harder to spot, but I think it has to do with vulnerability. With how much you’re willing to let others into your own heart…and somehow a little deeper into theirs.

2. Resist the temptation to make people into anecdotes

In a world where we often get ahead at one another’s expense, this is easy to do without even realizing you’re doing it.

Assume that the person you’ve written about is going to read it. Because even if you think that there’s no way in the world that they will ever read your blog, they will. They’ll find it. (This happened to me once with a post, and I’m still not totally over it.)

This is not to say that you shouldn’t ever write about anyone else. I don’t think that’s realistic or necessary. Only that as you write and edit, you must do so with great care, remembering that this is a person with feelings and fears and hopes and dreams. Hold their stories carefully; make room for complexity; resist the urge to turn them into a caricature to suit your post or your point.

3. Approach “hot-button issues” cautiously

For my own reasons, I tend to shy away from the major “hot button issues” on the internet. But I also recognize that there’s value you in engaging these issues — questioning the way things are being done, sharing stories, crying out for change.

Sometimes it’s tricky to find the line between being honest and being kind. Sometimes the truth is not kind. And the rotten truth of it is that hateful, mean, or blaming posts will get a lot of traffic because we flock to that sort of stuff. But when we write that way, I think that we lose a piece of our humanity.

Listen: if this is what you have to say, say it! But do so with understanding, honoring the complexity, respecting the person on the other side of the battle line, who is as human and as precious as you are.

A few things to think about as you post about “hot button” issues: Am I being reactionary? Am I being kind? Would I say this to this person if they were sitting across from me at a table?

With A Megaphone By A Wall

4. Make sure your posts are easy to share

Links to social media should be available at the end of every post, and links to connect to you on social media or via email should be easy to spot. I’m partial to having them at the top right of your screen. That’s where I always check first.

My brilliant agent, Rachelle Gardner, often includes potential tweets at the end of her posts, so that if people want to share, they don’t have to spend time coming up with something that communicates the heart of the post while staying inside the character limit. They can just copy and paste what’s already there. Brilliant.

5. Include pin-able images when possible

I’m not great at this, but I’m trying to get better. It’s very easy to modify an image to include a quote from your blog post or the title of your post, using free programs like PicMonkey or (my new favorite) Fotor. Pinterest has become sort of huge, and creating images that give a good idea of what your post is about might help bring some new traffic your way.

If you’ve had a blog for a while, but have never done this, it’s not too late! Pinterest wasn’t as big (or even existent? I can’t remember) when I started my blog. But I try to go back into the archives once a week or so and change the image on one of my old posts to one that plays nice with Pinterest. Then I pin it to a correlating board. (I’ll post more tips on using Pinterest tomorrow.)

6. Read and comments on lots of blogs — both in your niche and outside of it

This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Read, read, read. Comment, comment, comment.

Some blogs you’ll just visit once or twice, and that’s fine. Others will be ones that you’ll want to keep up on. Comment regularly and cultivate a relationship with bloggers and with other commenters on their sites. Be genuine and kind. Ask questions. Tell them which parts of their blog post was most meaningful to you. Do the work to build these webs of friendships. They will be what sustain your blog, even as your other numbers ebb and flow.

Use a reader like BlogLovin or Feedly to make reading blogs easier. You can also subscribe to most of them via email — though you have to then click into the blog itself to comment. Make sure that when you find posts you like, you Tweet them or post them on Facebook.

The practice of reading lots of blogs will probably ebb and flow for you. Right now, my blog reading is kind of pitiful. I have very limited time as I work toward a deadline for Book 2, and I just can’t read as much online writing as I used to. But once that project is off my plate, you can bet I’ll get back to it.

Ideally, you should spend at least a half hour every day, reading and commenting on other peoples’ blogs. It doesn’t have to all be at once. Do you have five minutes while you’re sitting in the parking lot, waiting to pick up your kid? Read and comment. Show up early for a movie? Read and comment. Chances are you’re reading plenty on the Internet already — now just add the comments. (Again, remember our cardinal rule above: be kind.)

photo credit: Lisa S. (d.delight) via photopin cc

photo credit: Lisa S. (d.delight) via photopin cc

7. Write guest posts

As you begin to read and familiarize yourself with lots of blogs and websites, you’ll get an idea of where your writing might fit. Make a list of those places, and spend a few months familiarizing yourself with those blogs and getting to know the bloggers.

When you’re ready to begin guest posting, don’t send general or form emails. Email each blogger personally. Tell him or her why you like they’re blog and then suggest a couple of post ideas that you could contribute. We can tell if you’ve never read our blog, so don’t pretend you have if you haven’t.

Give the blogger a few weeks to respond, and then it’s okay to send one more little nudge. “Hey there. Just wondering if you’d had a chance to think about this!” I know that my email box gets quickly out of control, and sometimes I need a little reminder to bring that post back to the top of my priority list.

8. Participate in blog link-ups, carnivals or syncroblogs

We already discussed this a bit in yesterday’s sustainability post, but it bears repeating. Keep an eye on what community blogging opportunities that are going on…and take part! Not only does it give you a break from coming up with a topic, but it also helps you connect to other bloggers and connects them to you!

9. Use Social Media Intentionally

Social media is most definitely not my best thing. I know how I’d like to be on social media, but I haven’t come up with a really good way to balance being present online and present in my own life. So, most often, I choose the latter.

Still, there are few shortcuts I’ve learned that I’ve found valuable. I use Buffer almost exclusively to tweet links to my blog posts. Buffer allows you to schedule your tweets and other social media posts ahead of time. I have mine scheduled to send tweets about five times a day, and whenever I publish a new post, I spend about ten minutes in the morning, filling up my Buffer with short variations about that post. That way, I can step away from my computer and still know that my blog is being publicized.

On the days when I don’t have a post going up, I try to fill up my Buffer account, instead, with links to other peoples’ posts. This way I can share the love without spending all day online.

I also have separate personal and public Facebook accounts. I write mostly about spirituality on blog, and I didn’t want to annoy or antagonize my friends, family and colleagues who don’t find that particularly interesting. Every now and then, I’ll post something really important on my personal Facebook page (book publication news, etc.), but for the most part, all of my blog posts go directly to my public Facebook account.

There are bloggers (thinking of Glennon Melton Doyle, Jen Hatmaker, and my friend Leigh Kramer) who are GREAT at interacting with their readers on Facebook. They say quirky things, post funny pictures, make everybody laugh and like, like, like everything. I still haven’t figured out how to do that. But I aspire to be! I’m also still trying to figure out a way to interact more personally on Twitter. I’m not very good at using it to deepen relationships or to enhance what I’m doing at the blog, and I’d like to get better than that.

I have no idea about Google+. So don’t even ask me.

photo credit: kdonovangaddy via photopin cc

photo credit: kdonovangaddy via photopin cc

10. Avoid looking at your numbers

It is so easy to figure out how many people are reading your blog on a given day, a given week, a given month. It’s easy to check a hundred times a day to see if the number has climbed at all, to see how today’s post measures up to last week’s, how your traffic measures up to someone else’s.

I get it. When I reformatted and changed my blog from How to Talk Evangelical to the lovely new addiezierman site you see before you now, I lost all my Facebook Likes. It seems like a small thing, but there was a minute there when I felt like I lost my bearings. I didn’t realize how much I’d been measuring my success by how many people had “liked” what I had to say. When a few months later, it happened again, and my one single viral post lost it’s hundred thousand likes, it hit me again like a punch in the gut.

What I learned from this experience is that numbers are fickle. They can disappear in an instant, and the things that they measure are not the things that really matter. But when you get too caught up in checking stats and “likes” and “Retweets,” you begin to feel twitchy and nervous and anxious. Let me tell you: it’s toxic.

If you can, reconfigure your blog’s dashboard so that your statistics don’t appear right away, the second you click in. To see mine, I have to scroll way down to the bottom of the page, and believe it or not, having them out of sight helps me keep them a little more out of mind.

Once a month, give yourself permission to check your stats. Are there sites that have been sending traffic your way that you didn’t know about? Thank the writer there. Which posts got the most shares and which got the least? Did your average increase or decrease since last month? Give yourself time to sit down with these numbers, to think about them, to make a plan and goals for this month…and then close it down. Let it go. You can’t control it, so try not to let it control you.

 

What about you? What has been most helpful to you in cultivating readership? And how do you guard your soul?

12 Secrets of Sustainable Blogging

A lot of times, blogging how-to’s focus on how to be a successful blogger. Or how to make lots of money blogging (still a mystery to me…) or how to have THE BEST BLOG EVER.

I don’t know much about any of that. But I do think that the biggest key to creating a “successful” blog is the same boring, unsexy thing: time.

In order to have a successful blog, you have to keep doing the work. You have to be consistent. You have to come to the screen time and time again, ready to give a piece of yourself to invisible readers on the other end of the Internet.

What I’m interested in when it comes to blogging is not so much “success,” but sustainability. How do I keep doing this work? How do I continue to come up with new things to say? How can I stick with this thing even when it seems like I’m in a slump and no one is reading at all?

In the past three years, as I’ve navigated my own highs and lows in the world of blogging, these are a few things that I’ve learned and that help me to take the long view of this work…and to keep on going.

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1. Choose quality over quantity

This is not the most popular blogging strategy, but it is has been one of the most important decisions I’ve made for my own writing process and blogging sustainability.

I know the arguments for blogging quick and often. It’s better for stats and SEO and all of those types of things. And — hey – if it works for you that’s great! But for me, particularly with the sort of heavy faith-related topics I generally cover, I can’t choose quality and quantity. It has to be one or the other.

Not all of my posts are fantastic, but I work hard on each one and I feel I’m learning something and offering something of myself just about every time I send something into the blogosphere. To me, this feels integral to what I’m trying to accomplish as a writer and as a person of faith. And I like to think that it’s what keeps people coming back long after that one unexpected “viral” post has fizzled into nothingness.

2. Recognize that this is a time commitment and make a plan

Even if you are a super fast writer, blogging takes time. I’m a pretty slow writer, and each post takes me between two and three hours. And that doesn’t even count all the social media stuff.

Figure out where you’re going to find those hours. Can you get up early? Stay up late? Hire a babysitter a couple hours a week? Use your lunch hours to write?

Almost anyone can make the blogging thing work, but you need to have a realistic idea of what you’re getting into and create a plan for getting it done.

3. Be consistent but reasonable

When I started blogging, I thought I’d blog three times a week. Two weeks in, and I was already burned out…so I switched it to two. And listened: not one person cared or noticed. 

There are people who will tell you that you won’t succeed if you don’t post three times a week or five times a week or seven times a week. I think that’s untrue. The key, I think is to be consistent. If you say you’re going to post on Tuesdays and Thursdays, try to stick to it. But don’t kill yourself trying to do more than you can. If readers resonate with your voice, they’ll be happy to hear from you, even if it’s not as often as they’d like.

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4. Understand the difference between online writing and other writing

We read things on the Internet differently than we read them on paper. Online, we’re more distractible and more prone to skim. I’ve read that often people will scroll to the end of an article or post to see how long it is before deciding whether or not to invest their time.

To this end, make sure you take the time to format your posts. Short paragraphs. Lots of white space. At least one picture. I try to keep my posts around 800 words normally and rarely go over 1000. (Except, obviously, for this one. Whoops.)

5. Find ways to become part of a larger blogging community

Sometimes it can feel really isolating to have to put out your own content all the time, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. All the time there are link-ups, blog carnivals, and syncroblogs — ways for you to join a group of people addressing the same topic. These can be great ways to find new voices and to make your own voice heard.

(I’ve taken part in Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality synchroblog, Sarah Bessey’s What is Saving Me synchroblog, and every month, I participate in Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into Linkup. When my book came out, I hosted my own When We Were on Fire synchroblog, which remains one of the most precious and worthwhile things I’ve done here. And recently, I took part in a My Writing Process blog-hop that allowed me to link to other talented writers while talking about my own writing practices.)

Carnival Rides

6. Be selective about which comments you read and interact with

I learned this the hard way the first time I posted for a major publication. Naively, I assumed that since Relevant Magazine is a Christian publication, people would be, you know…civil. NOT SO.

What I’ve learned is that – particularly at bigger, more anonymous sites – people tend to be at their nastiest. And I know how my brain operates. Even if there are 900 great comments and 2 excruciatingly mean ones, guess which ones I’ll be obsessing about for weeks? Ding, ding, ding!

For me, choosing sustainability means to avoid even looking at the comments sections at those larger venues. I work hard to answer the comments on my actual blog posts, but other than that, I let them go. (Cue Frozen soundtrack.) It’s just not worth it to me.

7. Interact with your readers in small, meaningful ways

On the subject of comments, I think it’s really important to interact with your blog commenters and readers (not the Internet Trolls, who are not worth your time).

I’m not always awesome at this (anyone who’s ever gotten a response to an email three months later knows this.) But I think it matters to make this a priority.

Granted, you won’t be able to send long, thoughtful emails to everyone, but even a small Thank you acknowledges that the comment is important. And once you begin blogging (if you haven’t already), you’ll realize how very important those comments and emails truly are.

Take a minute to thank each person for their small acts of kindness.

8. Write what you want to write, not what you think readers want to read

Here is what is going to happen: you’re going to write a post that you think is maybe your best ever…and no one is going to care. You’ll get one comment. From your best friend. And that’s it.

Then, just because life is insane, you’ll sluff off one quick in twenty minutes and it’ll go viral. There is no rhyme or reason to this and absolutely no way to predict what readers will love and react to.

So don’t write for them. Write for you. Don’t write to “go viral,” because that’s like banking on a slot machine. Instead, do the work. Write what you feel good about and what you most want to say.

Get out in the world and jot things down as you go. Keep a notebook with you when you’re out and when you read and when you check out posts online. Write down any questions you find yourself asking, any connections you find yourself making.

Write what you know and write it as well as you can. Then try not to stress. The rest is not your business.

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9. Recognize (and accept) that not every single post you write will be brilliant

If, like me, you are prone to perfectionism, blogging will beat it out of you. No matter how hard you work, not every post will be brilliant or even all that good. It’s okay. Keep writing.

10. Invite guest posts

After you’ve given readers a chance to get to know you and to fall in love with your voice, it can be really good to bring in guests to post on your blog.

I’d suggest waiting at least a year to do this. Give yourself time to settle into the identity and feel of your blog and to begin to build a platform. Then, invite voices that you admire to come stand there with you. This is a great way to give yourself a little break while inviting new insight and readers to your space.

This past year, I ran a series of guest posts about everyday ways to engage in social justice, which I called One Small Change. For me, it was perfect. Social justice is an area that interests me but that I don’t know much about. Running this series gave me a chance to bring together all kinds of thoughts and insights from others and to share them every week for several months.

11. Take intentional blogging breaks

The Internet is like a water park wave pool. It’s constant and crowded and choppy and loud. It’s exhausting work to keep yourself afloat in it. But no one is going to blow the whistle and tell everyone it’s time to get out for 15 minutes, so sometimes, you have to be your own life guard.

Get out. Lay in the sun. Take a minute to rest. It’s important, and in the end, it’s the only way to keep yourself from drowning. (If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been doing that a bit this summer.)

Here’s the catch – there’s a difference between taking intentional blogging breaks and letting your blog lapse entirely. The online space is full of the smoldering remains of blogs that have just fizzled out. This is extremely easy to do. You can’t think of anything to write about this week, so you decide to wait. Then two weeks go by. Then two months.

Give yourself time away, but also make sure you have a deadline for coming back and a plan for re-entering. It will be a lot easier to get started again if you know when it will be and what you’re going to say.

lifeguard

12. Learn as you go

You are not going to get it perfect right away. You will make mistakes. You will post things that you’re not in love with, and you’ll mess up on social media, and you’ll accidentally forget to credit as photo source.

Give yourself grace.

It takes time and practice to learn any skill, and blogging is no different. Give yourself time and space to figure it out as you go along.

 

That’s all I’ve got. What about you? If you’re a blogger, what makes blogging work for you?

7 Things to Do Before You Publish Your First Blog Post

Start a blog the way you start anything Big and New: with a lot of careful planning and a hearty dose of courage. And a few (semi)-sound tips like these.

before you publish

1. Figure out what your blog is going to be about.

In the end, your blog will always be, at it’s root, about you. How you see the world. How you make sense of things. Your life and your interests and your voice.

But if you’re going to cast a larger net than your friends and family, it has to be about more than that, especially at first.

When you first begin blogging, you will likely be an unknown entity in the online space. Other than, perhaps, angry exes, few people will be googling your name. Therefore, if you want people to find your work, you’re going to have to tap into something else that they care about. Spend some time thinking about the following questions. Make a list of at least ten items for each one. Hopefully some themes will begin to emerge for you.

  • What do I love?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What makes me angry?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What do I want people to come away with after reading my blog?

Think more specific than food or faith or family. My writing group friend, Andrew Blissenbach, writes a blog about what it looks like to be a modern man in America, while Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy is exploring modern womanhood. The brilliant Micha Boyett began her blog writing not about simply “faith” or “parenting” but rather by writing about the intersections between motherhood and monasticism (she used to call it Mama Monk). Ree at The Pioneer Woman isn’t just marketing a “food blog.” She’s a marketing a way of life — that down-home, snarky, cowgirl feel. It works because it’s specific and different and absolutely compelling.

If you already have a blog but are feeling a little unmoored, this is a good practice for you too. Make these lists, and then look back at your posts. Which ones do you love the most? Which ones did you feel energy writing? Which ones did people respond to? What does your blog want to be about?

The more unique and creative you can be as you decide on a “theme,” the more you’ll set yourself apart. Eventually, as your fan-base begins to grow, you’ll be able to branch out into other topics. (This blog started off as an “annotated glossary of evangelical terms” and has since become about a lot more.) This is because once your readers grow to trust and love your particular voice, they’ll care about what you have to say about lots of things.

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2. Fill up your Reader with like-minded blogs.

You can learn a lot from other bloggers — especially those who are doing something similar to what you hope to do. So Google. Once you find one blog similar to what you write, check out their blogroll or lists or links. Who are they reading? And then, who are those people reading? Before long, you’ll create a web of other voices similar to yours.

Study these blogs. What are they doing that you love? That you don’t love? How would you say it differently? As your read their posts jot down ideas that come to you. They might be useful later on. (Also jot down the name of the blog that inspired this thought. If you post about it later, you should include a link-back to this blogger — a great way to let them know that they got you thinking and to get yourself on their radar!)

In order to enter the conversations already happening on the Internet, it helps to know what’s being said. This also might help you narrow your focus. (I was thisclose to naming my blog “Emerging Mommy” as I began to explore the emergent church movement and became a mother. Then I discovered Sarah Bessey, who then called her blog Emerging Mummy. Whoops. But seriously…learning what was already being done helped steer me toward my own unique take on things and gave me the courage to embrace it.)

Again, even if you already have a blog, this is still a really good thing to do. The blogosphere is a dynamic place, and things might have changed since you last looked around. Take some time to explore what’s out there. You might find yourself inspired.

3. Choose a title and buy your domain names.

People say all different things about this, and like I said, I’m no expert. When I first started out, I found it helpful to name my blog “How to Talk Evangelical” (after earlier drafts of my book) and to purchase the correlating domain name. I thought it made my blog more searchable and more theme-based. However, since I’ve changed the name of my book to When We Were On Fire and have broadened my scope and platform, I decided to change the name to simply my own: addiezierman.com.

People generally advise against naming your blog after your working book title…as it’s liable to change. This, obviously, is what happened to me, but I still think naming my blog after what I was trying to accomplish instead of what my name was, was a good move. However, if you go that direction, I’d advise you to purchase, for later, the domain of your actual name. It’s usually something like $18 a year to reserve a domain, and I think it’s worth it — particularly if you expand your subject matter or get tapped to write a book.

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4. Scour the Internet for really well-designed blogs and study them.

What are they doing with their header? How much white space do they use? What is in their side-bars?

What do you like? What gives you a headache? What fonts make you want to throw up? (Just say no to Comic Sans.) What do you find helpful when navigating a new website? What frustrates you?

Jot down what you like (and don’t like), and a blueprint for your own site will begin to emerge.

(If you already have a blog, take a look at what you’re presenting to the world. Does it seem too busy? Does the design reflect the thematic elements you’re going for? (I totally stripped down my own busy and cumbersome sidebar after I read this article from my friend Micah Murray.) Try to see it from the perspective of a new visitor. It might be worth making a few changes!)

5. Find a simple, uncluttered design and make it your own

When you’re first starting out, it might not be worth it to have your blog professionally designed. Depending on who you use, that can get spendy, and my personal opinion is that it’s better to wait and see how your blog evolves before you spend the money.

Still, first impressions matter, so it’s important to have a blog that looks nice and is easy to read. There are lots of sleek and simple free blog themes that you can customize fairly easily. However, DO make sure that you customize! Don’t just use the stock photo that comes with the WordPress Twenty Eleven Theme (can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve come across with this exact same picture.)

It’s not difficult to create your own header using tutorials like this one or this one that tells you how to create graphics in Microsoft Word. I’m not computer savvy at all, but I was able to troubleshoot my way through the initial design of my blog. There are even color palette websites to let you know which colors work well together (so that you don’t accidentally pair something hideous.)

Make sure you include your photo and lots of different ways for people to both connect with you and share your content.

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6. Brainstorm topic ideas

You’ll feel less panicky in your first several months of blogging if you have a nice list of topics to work from. So take some time to sit down and brainstorm.

I’m a fan of the tried-and-true mind-mapping diagrams, with all the lines and bubbles. Think of every facet of your topic that you can, and then get more and more specific. As you jot things down look for natural groupings. Could this become a short series? A regular monthly feature?

Write down everything you can think of, even if it seems stupid. As my Dad always says, There are no bad ideas in brainstorming!

7. Write your first few posts and create images to go with them

Before you launch your blog, take some time to write your first couple weeks worth of posts. Some experts suggest having no fewer than ten posts already on your site before you start marketing it on social media. I don’t know about that, but I do know that having a strong idea of where your going in your first month or two helps a good deal.

While your doing this, take time to find and customize images for each post. You’d think that this would be just a quick add, but often, it’s one of the putziest parts of the process for me. You’ll want to find a good, free image that you have the rights to modify. That way you can add your awesome title or a particularly brilliant quote from your post and make it Pinterest-friendly.

Also make sure your basic pages of your site are filled out. Every blog should have some kind of About page and a simple way to contact you. (Nothing drives me bananas quite like not being able to find the information I need to get in touch with someone.)

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That’s it! Once you’ve done those things, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and hit Publish!

It might seem like a lot, but doing your homework on the front end of the process will make it easier to stick with your blog in those inevitable hard months where it feels like you’re talking to yourself. You’ll be thankful when you hit that first slump to have a plan and a mission statement and a backup chart full of ideas.

Good things take time, and that includes blogging. Do your work, be consistent, and be patient. That’s really all there is to it!