It's a new year. Hello!
One of my recent newsletters covered the topic of blogging advice, and it received such a positive response from readers that I wanted to share it here to kick off 2013.
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Almost exactly one year ago, I was fighting off a cookie craving by standing in the hallway with a book of poetry in my hands. Eat This Poem was born just hours later, so it's only fitting that I'm in a reflective state of mind as 2012 comes to a close.
When a friend suggested I start a blog in 2008, I laughed it off. Only after we discussed it more did I realize that a blog would solve a very critical problem in my life: I needed a creative outlet. I had always been interested in writing and photography, and had been teaching myself to cook for the past five years. I didn't see what an opportunity it was at the time, but I realized much later that this was a space to find my voice. I also resisted starting a Twitter account, but have now made genuine, real life friendships because of it. What a world we live in!
I've given a lot of thought to blogging, what it means to me, and the opportunities its provided, but have rarely written about it. Almost five years in, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the final authority on blogging, but I have learned a few things along the way that I offer to you here.
10 Tips for Blogging with Soul
1. Blogs are planted like seeds in the ground, so start where you are. The blog you have now will grow and change in ways you might not be able to imagine in two or three years from now. You'll be a better writer or cook or artist in six months or a year. Don't let this stop you from beginning.
2. Write, create, and dream for yourself first. It's crucial you don't lose this ability when starting a blog.
3. Authenticity will go further with your readers than any giveaway, promotion, or recipe.Whatever your unique niche is, food philosophy, or worldview, be that 100%. There will be others who connect with it. We must let go of this notion of trying to please everyone, because we never will. There will be readers that don't understand, don't believe the same things you do, and don't resonate with your work. But you're not writing for them, so don't let this hinder you.
4. Over time, if you work hard and cultivate it, your community will be revealed and you'll feel like it's exactly where you're supposed to be. That's been my experience, at least, but it took time. Years, actually. Relationships are like that, so if you're prepared to be in this for the long haul, you'll do just fine.
5. Embrace your niche. Julia Child said something that you may have heard before, but I think it's especially useful to remember when thinking about blogging and determining your niche.
My first niche was easy recipes to make after work. My food blog Cooking After Five kept me tremendously interested in learning to cook, and that helped build confidence for the moment when poetry would slam back into my life and my only option was to embrace it and change course.
6. If you're still unsure what to write about, it all starts with passion. What do you care about most? Reconnecting with your family history through food? Navigating how to eat while traveling the world? Encouraging mothers to cook from scratch for their kids? Cooking to fuel exercise? Be specific! Don't feel like a niche will be limiting. Your niche is the lens through which you see the world, and everything else important in life—family, work, faith, travel, hope, love, etc.—will be reflected through your unique perspective.
7. Get your website together so you can focus on content. I began my blog journey with Wordpress, and have been using Squarespace for the last three years. If you use a platform like Wordpress or Blogger, you'll also need a web host like BlueHost or GoDaddy. (Squarespace is a platform and host in one, so it's more self contained and offers clean layouts for simple blogs.) If you're serious about blogging, I would also recommend buying your URL (I use Nettica). All of this will cost some money to set up properly, so be prepared to spend a bit every month to do it right. Once your website is set up, you can focus on creating great content.
8. Find inspiration and get to know people. It's easier than ever to find tips, inspiration, and connect with other creative-types online. Try ALT Summit classes, attend a conference, or brush up on tutorials. One of the most important things to do is read other blogs, comment, follow people on Twitter, start a conversation, and start building relationships. It will take time and effort, but the best thing about the blogging community is the people I've met along the way who all bring unique perspectives and ideas to their online spaces. Once you identify folks you resonate with, you'll find yourself inspired every day.
9. Know your weaknesses. Something that took me a while to learn is that my skill set is not in logo or web design. You should have seen me at the beginning. I must have changed my banner every two weeks as I taught myself the basics of Photoshop and InDesign. Even though I'm comfortable with those programs now, it still doesn't change the fact that I'm not an artist.
I decided that my time was too valuable and my skills too limited to keep going on this way, so I hired a graphic designer friend to design my logo. If you're just starting out, it's ok to use a great font and not have a logo, per se. As your build your platform and settle in, if you're interested in updating the look of your site, it might be time to spend a little money and do it right.
If you're looking for a logo, blog design, or need to set everything up behind the scenes, check out Wooden Spoons Kitchens. My friends Melissa from The Faux Martha and Erin from Naturally Ella have joined forces to work with bloggers and small business owners, and their work is just beautiful.
10. Find flow with your posting schedule. Some bloggers have detailed editorial calendars, partner with brands to create posts with their ingredients, and treat their blogs like a business. There's a place for that, but it's not what I do. For this reason, I've tried to design a posting schedule that suits my lifestyle. Don't schedule your posts for anyone else but you. Whatever you feel most comfortable with will be what your readers come to expect. If you post valuable, honest content, it won't matter whether it's every other day, once a week, or once a month. Your voice is what people should come for, regardless of the frequency. Just be consistent.
In his 1876 book, How to Write Letters, J. Willis Westlake offers this advice, which can be applied to our blog posts also. (Thanks to Brain Pickings for this!)
"Take pains; write as plainly and neatly as possible – rapidly if you can, slowly if you must. Good writing affects us sympathetically, giving us a higher appreciation both of what is written and of the person who wrote it. Don't say, I haven't time to be so particular. Take time; or else write fewer letters and shorter ones. A neat well-worded letter of one page once a month is better than a slovenly scrawl of four pages once a week."
I hope you are inspired to start fresh with your blogging in 2013!