Blogging? Not Again!
Read our lips: this is the last time we write about blogging on this website. Ever.
We didn’t plan on writing anything else about blogging after publishing Who The Hell Reads Your Blog Anyway? We don’t enjoy blogging about blogging, because, well, generally blogs about blogging are banal and vapid and they just don’t interest us (Corbett Barr’s Think Traffic being the exception that proves the rule). Heck, we don’t even read many blogs, but…
Reasons You Should Blog
Today we were inspired to research and write this essay after reading Joshua Becker’s 15 Reasons I Think You Should Blog, in which essay he discusses 15 great reasons why you should start a blog. “Why” being the key word here. In other words, he talks about the purpose of blogging, not just the “how to” aspects. That’s what all these other blogs about blogging seem to miss, they miss the purpose—the why.
Reasons You Should NOT Blog
So Becker gave you 15 reasons why you should start a blog, and we’re going to show you how to start one, step-by-step, based on our personal experience, but before we give you that type of detailed instruction—which could literally save you the hundreds of hours of wasted time—we want to give you some good reasons why you should not start a blog. (Keep in mind that these reasons are just our opinions and we do not pretend to offer them up as some sort of collection of empirical blogging maxims.)
- Money. You should not start a blog to make money. We need to get that out of the way first. If your primary objective is to replace your full-time income from blogging, forget about it. It doesn’t work that way. Do you think that Jimi Hendrix picked up his first guitar so he could “supplement his income”? No, he didn’t. Rather, he did it for the love of it, for the joy and fulfillment he received, and the income came thereafter, much later actually.
- Notoriety. Don’t plan on getting “Internet famous” right away. Not every site grows as fast as ours did, but that’s totally OK. The truth is that we kind of got lucky. We got a great domain name, somehow cobbled together a logo and site design that people really liked, we write fairly well, and our content connects with people in a unique way. We didn’t start this site to become “famous” though. That’d be ridiculous. Our notoriety and quick rise to “fame,” as it were, came as a surprise to us, and was a result of a little luck and a lot of hard, passionate work.
- Traffic. Not all traffic is good traffic (as we explained here), so don’t worry about getting thousands of readers right away.
The funny thing is that all these things can happen. You could make a full-time income off of your blog; we do it, Corbett Barr does it, and so do many others. And you could become Internet famous like Leo Babauta or Chris Brogan. But if these are the sole reasons why you blog, you’ll be miserable, and it will seem like a job, and if it feels like a job you won’t be passionate about it, and you’ll either (a) hate it, (b) fall flat on your face, or (c) hate it and fall flat on your face.
Instead, write because you’re passionate about it…
Recommendations for Your Blog
We get emails every week asking for advice on starting a blog. These are the things we tend to recommend.
- Find Your Niche. You needn’t have a niche, but it helps. What are you passionate about? Have you found your passion? If so, write about that. If not, then you must first find your passion. And you probably shouldn’t blog about…
- Minimalism. Do not blog about minimalism. There, we said it. But, more specifically, what we mean is don’t just start another minimalism blog. Minimalism, almost by definition, is void of substance. So don’t write about minimalism—or anything for that matter—unless you’re certain you have a unique point of view that will add value to others in a way that other sites don’t add value currently.
- Define Your Ideal Readers. Once you’ve found your niche, you need to know who will be reading your stuff. For example, we write about living intentionally; our ideal readers are people who are interested in exploring minimalism so they can clear the path toward more meaningful lives. If you want to write about your newborn baby growing up, that’s great; your ideal readers are probably your friends and family, and that’s cool. If you want to write about restoring classic cars, that’s great too. Tailor your writing to your readers (whether it’s your family or your local community or whomever else will read your blog).
- Add Value. Your content must add value to your readers’ lives. This is the only way you will get Great Quality Readers to your site (and keep them coming back). Adding value is the only way to get someone’s longterm buy-in. We both learned this after a decade of leading and managing people.
- Be Original. Yes, there are other blogs out there about the same thing you want to write about. Q: So why is your blog any different? A: Because of you. You are what makes your blog different; it’s about your perspective, your creativity, the value that you add.
- Be Interesting. Write epic, awesome content. Especially if you want people to share it with others.
- Be Yourself. Part of being interesting is telling your story. Every person is unique, and your story is an important one. The important part of story telling, however, is removing the superfluous details that make the story uninteresting. A great storyteller removes 99% of what really happens—the absorptive details—and leaves the interesting 1% for the reader.
- Be Honest. Your blog needs to be real—it needs to feel real—if you want people to read it. You can be your blog or your blog can be you. That is, do you really embody the stuff that you write about? If not, people will see through you. Be the change you want to see in the world, is the famous Gandhi quote. Perhaps bloggers should be the blog they want to write for the world.
- Transparency. Being transparent is different from being honest. You needn’t share every detail about your life just for the sake of being honest. Always be honest, and be transparent when it adds value to what you’re writing. (You won’t ever see pictures of us using the restroom on our site; it’s just not relevant.)
- Time. Blogging takes a lot of time, especially if you’re as neurotic as we are (we spent over 10 hours testing the fonts on this site). And see those black Twitter and Facebook icons in the header? We spent four hours on those). That said, once you have your design set up, don’t tweak it too much, spend the time on your writing.
- Vision. The reason our site design looks good is because we had a vision of how we wanted it to look, and then we worked hard to make that vision a reality (N.B. neither of us had any design experience prior to starting this site). It’s hard to create a great looking site if you don’t know what you want it to look like.
- Find Your Voice. Over time good writers discover their voice and their writing tends to develop a certain aesthetic, one that is appealing to their readers. Finding your voice makes your writing feel more alive, more real, more urgent.
- We Instead Of You. The best bit of nonfiction writing advice we ever received was from Joshua Becker when we wrote a guest essay for his site. He asked us to use “statements of ‘we/our’ rather than ‘you/your’ especially when talking about negative behaviors or tendencies.” It reads far less accusatorially. Think of it this way: we’re writing peer-to-peer; we are not gods.
- When To Post. Q: When is the best day/time to post a blog post or an essay? Answer: It doesn’t really matter. We don’t adhere to a particular schedule. Some weeks we post zero essays; sometimes we post three.
- Social Media. Yes, we recommend using Twitter and Facebook to help connect with readers and other bloggers, but don’t get too caught up in it. Focus on the writing first, social media thereafter.
- Negative Criticism. Sure, we get a lot of negative comments and emails from people who aren’t really our readers (e.g., “Are you guys gay?” and “You’re not real minimalists” and so forth). We call these people seagulls: they fly in, shit on your site, and fly away. But we pay them no mind; our site is not for them. Delete their comment and move on.
- Research. Spend your time researching what you’re writing about. The reason we are able to use so many helpful, relevant links in our essays is because we put in the time to research our topics. That doesn’t mean that we read every blog regularly, but we do put in the time reading them when we’re doing our research.
- Keep It Simple. This is where minimalism can be applied to any blog, irrespective of its genre. No need to place superfluous advertisements or widgets all over your site; stick to the basics and remove anything you don’t need, remove anything that doesn’t add value.
- Picture. Put a picture of yourself on your blog. People identify with other people. If two goofy guys from Ohio aren’t too afraid to put there pictures on their site, then you have nothing to worry about.
- Comments. If you’re going to have comments on your site, then read The Five Words That Kill Your Blog by Scott Stratten.
- Live Your Life. You’re blogging about your life (or about certain aspects of your life, at least), so you still need to live your life. There are things that we always put before writing: exercise, health, personal relationships, coffee (Joshua), advanced-knitting and crochet classes (Ryan).
How to Start Your Blog: Step-by-Step Instructions
Now you have a bunch of advice and a bunch of homework (i.e., links to read), and you know what you want to write, you’re ready to get started. But you don’t have any idea where to start, right? Guess what, neither did we. At all. Literally. We were clueless. We could hardly spell HTML when we started our website last year.
But good news, you can learn from our pain and suffering. This is what we did:
- Domain and Hosting. The first thing we did was go to InMotion and register our domain (note: we didn’t set up a WordPress page first; InMotion does all that for you). We pay InMotion less than $6 a month to host our website (note: readers at The Minimalists can use this link to receive a FREE domain and a 20% discount off the monthly price). Then we did an advanced install of WordPress through InMotion (and if we had any questions we could chat with the “live chat” folks at InMotion for free; they pointed us in the right direction and made it super easy). There are also free WordPress or Blogger domains available too if you want to go that route.
- Theme. A good theme gives you the look and feel you want for your blog, allowing you to design your blog exactly how you want it to look. And if you’re not a coder, a theme makes the design work a million times easier. The Minimalists uses a version of Spyr Media’s beautifully simple tru Theme. Other themes, such as the (in)SPYR theme, are also available if you want something with more options.
- Tinkering. Once we had our domain, hosting, WordPress, and theme, we spent a lot of time tweaking the theme to get the look and feel we wanted (i.e., making our vision a reality). Then we spent even more time tweaking the theme and arguing about it and tweaking it some more. We also set up a free Feedburner account so people could subscribe to our site via email and RSS subscriptions. And we established a free Google Analytics account (to track our stats from time to time). Feedburner and Google Analytics were both easy to sign up for.
- Plugins. We only use a few plugins on our site: “Google Analytics for WordPress” and the “Really Simple Facebook Twitter share buttons” plugins (it’s important to make your posts easy to share with others). They take just a few seconds (literally a few seconds; it’s just a click of a button) to install once your site is all set up. If you really want to play around with some cool plugins though, check Eight Deuce Media’s 11 WordPress Plugins That Will Get You Laid.
- Content. Last, we started uploading our content/writings (via our WordPress site). We designed the logo using some free images we found online and text from a regular word processing program. We put our pictures on the site and we started new writing essays. And the rest is history.