Starting your own blog

I’m getting a few questions about how to get a blog up and running from fellow artists or peer workers, so I thought I’d share my process. I originally wanted to get a website up, primarily so that people could find my details when they were looking for my art. But building a website from scratch is a little challenging, and finding free hosting that doesn’t come with ads likewise. (I have a passionate loathing for ads!) Gradually the idea of a blog became more appealing. You will need some basic computer know how, but you don’t need to be a computer engineer! There are a few different places you can start your blog, they’re called platforms. This blog is hosted by the Blogger platform – which is why the address has “blogspot” in it. Another really popular one is WordPress, and if you do a google search there are many more such as LiveJournal and so on. How to choose?

I spent a bit of time looking at blogs from different platforms. I also did some reading about the pros and cons of the various platforms out there. Some of them provide everything for free while others ask for money for some services. Some allow you to put ads on your blog if you wish to make money that way, some have more features and ways you can customise them, some are easier for a beginner to learn to use. People can get very passionate about their favourite blogging platform, like the Mac/PC debate or Ford/Holden, so it pays to read around a bit and get a feel for the differences. I ended up choosing Blogger because everything was free, it’s pretty easy for a beginner to put together, and it’s a popular choice which means when I google a question about how to do something on it, there’s always lots of people asking and answering those questions on the net. However, one of the downsides is that it is more limited in how much you can customize it, which can be a shame at times.

To start with Blogger, you sign in with google and then start a new blog. You’ll start with the behind the scenes details of choosing a background and the layout. Don’t worry too much about this, you can always change it later. Then you add widgets if you wish, these are the features on the blog such as the “Follow by email” option or the labels. You set up a page if you wish, for example a page for your biography where people can read about who you are and what you do. Lastly, you write your first post. 🙂

I started my first blog, which was a travel blog. This was just for friends and family while I was away on travels. It gave me time to work out how a blog works and what the various options are without irritating the general public! I spent three months learning the ropes with that, customising different parts of it, learning how to upload pictures and change the size of the font and suchlike. I also started following other good blogs. Some are in my fields, art or mental health blogs, while others are just examples of good quality blogs by authors or singers or other people. This has helped me learn more about blog etiquette, and given me a general idea about things like how long I can let posts be before I should break them up, how to make a blog easy to navigate, how to write my own biography.

Next, I launched this blog. I was very pleased to find that my name hadn’t been taken, as finding a simple but memorable address for your blog can take a few tries! (blogger tells you if the option you want is available when you start your own) I initially planned to write a new post every week or so until a colleague advised me that I needed to consider updating every day if I want to keep readers interested. At first I was really daunted and worried I’d run out of things to write about. Now, I have a page and a half of post ideas that is growing quicker than I can catch up! You may be different however, and it’s important to find your own pace. It will help if people have some idea when to expect new posts, for example every Sunday, but really the most important thing is having interesting, quality material, not how often you add to it. Putting out a badly written rant every day is not better than one good thoughtful point a month!

I use Picassa to sort, crop, watermark and upload my photos, it’s free software and interacts directly with Blogger. The practical details are important to pay attention to – there’s a lot of exciting backgrounds available, but some of them are very difficult to read over. Sometimes you get options to make titles crazy colours or flashy effects. Most of these are really irritating after a short time! Good font size, post titles that make it easy for readers to guess whether they’re interesting in the contents, breaking up lots of writing with some pictures if appropriate, doing a spell check, these are easy to overlook but they do matter.

Once I started this blog I quickly realised that it was a platform for sharing information about mental health and recovery, so my posts are now a mix of my various interests, some news, some articles, some art. If I was only sharing about mental health I doubt I’d be able to update daily because the posts are too draining and take too long to write and edit to a standard I’m happy with. I was originally toying with the idea of separating the different areas into blogs of their own, but managing a whole bunch of them felt like a lot of work, and I hoped that mixing things in together the way I have would give people a break between heavier posts and also showcase that people with mental illnesses are individuals with a lot more going on than an illness. The downside is that when someone comes to this blog just looking for one thing, such as information about my foster cats, there’s a lot of posts they won’t be interested in. That’s where using labels comes in handy. I like to only use a few labels, some blogs go a bit mad with hundreds of them but that can confuse more than it helps! I’ve also recently set up an “About this Blog” page to help people find what they’re looking for.

Once you’ve started your blog, ask people who write or blog for feedback on occasion. They may be able to point out difficulties you hadn’t noticed. I’m indebted to readers who have let me know when issues like small font size have been causing problems. Keep in mind the point of your blog and stick to it! It’s not uncommon for blogs to degenerate into rants and whining when people think they’ve got a captive audience! Always get your own posts sent to your email account. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and again a blog does get eaten and disappears! You want all your hard work backed up on the off chance you need to set it all up again. If you haven’t had a lot of writing experience, you may want to develop more skills in that area at TAFE or WEA classes. If you’re an artist you may not need or want to write long detailed posts, you can post new photos of your art and details about upcoming events instead.

Lastly, especially for other peer workers or people sharing personal information, if your blog is open to everyone try to keep that in mind when you post. All the same issues I touched on in how to share your story about not exposing yourself or giving more information than you can cope with apply. One way around this is to write under a pseudonym and not use names or photos so that your identity is protected. Another is to decide in advance what you will and wont share about, and stick to it. It can get a little tricky when you start out just having friends read your blog, and you can feel comfortable sharing a lot of information that later people you don’t know end up reading, so be careful. You can of course always edit or delete posts later on if you change your mind, but the general rule about the internet is that once it’s out there, you can’t really take it back.

On the off chance something does go terribly wrong and you do wish to delete your blog, please don’t use the simple ‘delete this blog’ option. Go through every post, delete all the writing, and save it. Otherwise you will be locked out of your blog, but it may continue to exist on the net for a long time. If you feel that a blog is too long and involved for your needs, I know of other peer workers who prefer twitter and other social media that allow them to share short bites of information, or to join bigger projects like Mindshare, so it may be worth considering those options instead. Good luck!

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