To start your own blog, there are two aspects: the technical aspect and the content aspect, what is, what to blog about. Let’s look at the content part of blogging first:
Find Your Blog Focus
If you write whatever you feel like writing (as I did when I started), you will never find an audience. Pick one topic as your blog’s focus. Then go to the next step.
With your blog topic or focus determined, brainstorm for ideas. Don’t stop until you hit at least twenty ideas you can blog about. You may not use them all, but at least you know you have plenty of ideas to write about. If you can’t come up with twenty, then you won’t likely be able to sustain your blog, so search for another topic.
Pre-Write Five Blog Posts
Before you even set up your blog, write your first five posts. Some people launch their blog with several posts already there.
Set a Blogging Schedule
You should plan to blog at least once a week. How long did it take to write each of your posts? Do you have that much time every week to devote to it?
It’s never been easier to publish a book, but that doesn’t mean we should
I once read a self-published book, a novella. I read it for several reasons: it was recommended (which turned out to be a bad reason), it would be a quick read, I’d never read a novella, and it was free (I got what I paid for).
On the plus side, the opening captured my attention, the storyline was intriguing, and the ending was a delightful surprise. On the negative side, the book did not flow smoothly, was poorly edited (or not edited at all), contained many errors, and was poorly converted into e-book format. Overall, the great ending did not overcome all the negative elements.
Self-Published Book Success
For a self-published book to be successful, it needs what all great books need:
1. A Promising Idea
If you don’t have a great story idea or theme, don’t start writing. This novella did, but its implementation fell short.
2. A Compelling Opening (a Hook)
The opening didn’t grab me, but it was sufficient to make me want to read more.
3. Great Writing
I felt I was reading a rough draft. Elements of good writing were present, but they were too sparse to be effective.
4. Professional Editing
The novella may have been self-edited (never a wise idea) or done so on the cheap, but the result wasn’t even close to professional. While publishing perfection is hard to achieve (if not impossible) the goal should be to get as close as possible.
5. A Satisfying Ending
The ending of the novella was superb. It was the most notable element of the work. But one good line does not make a good book.
6. A Memorable Title
Some titles are hard to forget and others are hard to remember. I can’t recall this novella’s title.
7. An Attention-Grabbing Cover
The cover didn’t hurt the book, but it didn’t help either. If I were judging this book by its cover, I would have passed.
8. A Pleasing Layout
In print, a self-published book shouldn’t look self-published. (We can’t always define it, but we know it when we see it).
In electronic form, the formatting should flow smoothly with no glitches, misplaced text, bad alignment, or floating words or titles. In any good book, the interior design should be innocuous.
When people notice the layout it becomes a distraction.
9. Effective Marketing
The above items all relate to the quality of the product. (There are more elements to consider, but these are the main ones.) A quality product requires effective marketing. A stellar book with no sales will not be a success, nor will great marketing of lousy writing work out.
If you’re considering self-publishing, be it in print or e-book, make sure you cover all nine of these items before proceeding. Your book’s success will depend on it.
Some writers discover as they write while others plan their journey before they start
In writing, as in life, people tend to follow two modes: pantsing and plotting.
On one side are the pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I prefer the label of “discovery writers.” They don’t know where their words will take them. Writing reveals an adventure as they watch their plot unfold, learn about their characters, and sometimes paint themselves into a corner with no way out.
In contrast, stand the plotters who map out their writing journey before they write one word. But I don’t like that name because it sounds too much like a plodder. I prefer the alternate labels of outliners or planners. These folks know their story arc, strategize the various scenes (or at least chapters), define their characters, and have the end in sight before they type their first word. (NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, allows writers to do this sort of preplanning, though actual writing may not begin before November 1.)
While each side of the debate holds firm opinions, neither is the method that will work for everyone. Each writer must determine which style works best for him or herself; there is no one right answer.
If you’re unsure which you are, look at how you live life for clues. Do you plan things out or wing it? The answer likely reveals your preferred writing mode. Though you can test out the opposite method, don’t let someone talk you into trying to be what you are not.
My default is to plan in detail, both for life and for writing. (I am, however, more open to detours when I write.) For trips, I make lists, verify details, do research, make maps, note addresses, and phone numbers, make reservations, pack carefully, and set timetables. Planning calms me; it provides the structure I need to enjoy my vacation. Encountering the unexpected is unpleasant.
Yet within this framework, I allow for flexibility to relish the journey and explore as I go. Some of my most enjoyable memories are within those moments of discovery. Yet without my planning, I would have never been confronted by those spontaneous, serendipitous delights.
Others are the opposite. They would forgo a vacation if they had to prepare for it as much as I.
So it is with pantsers and plotters. Know which one you are, and learn when you can deviate. This will provide you with the most enjoyable writing experience and the most satisfying results.
I write a lot and in many areas: magazine columns, newsletters, multiple blogs, non-fiction books, memoirs, and I recently added short stories. But this doesn’t sap my creativity; I still have more ideas than the time to explore them.
Here’s how I fuel my writing:
Keep a List of Blog Ideas: I have a running Word file of concepts for posts. Whenever a thought comes to me, I jot it down on whatever is available and transfer it to my blog file. Some ideas are immediately useful and some evolve over time, while a few fail to materialize. With this list, I always have a starting point for my next post.
Maintain a File of Book Concepts: I also have a running list of book ideas, which currently exceeds four dozen. It has a list of working titles, along with a premise, logline, or theme. As the idea blooms, I start a separate folder to collect a growing body of ideas and resources for that book. Soon an outline follows. When I contemplate my next book, I simply pick the most developed or promising item on my list.
Record Every Presentation: I don’t often speak publically, but when I do, I always record it. This isn’t because of ego but because my words may be a basis for a book. If so, I simply have the file transcribed, and I edit as needed. An hour of audio roughly equates to 10,000 words.
Save All Cuts: Each time I remove a scene from a book, a section from an article, or a paragraph from a post, I keep it. It may come in handy one day. Often it becomes the basis for another book, article, or post. Whatever I cut, I always save.
File Every Published Work: Once I publish something, that’s not the end; it may be the beginning. Books can come out in different forms or formats; articles may be reworked; posts can be repurposed. I never want to recreate when I can tap something already finished. (There are legal and ethical limits to this, so proceed carefully.)
Retain All Non-Published Work: Just because I can’t find a home for something now, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It could be the timing’s off, the right outlet hasn’t been found – or formed, or the audience is temporarily looking elsewhere. Perhaps I need to set it aside for later tweaking. Regardless, I never delete or dismiss it. Sometime, somewhere readers will be waiting – and I want to be ready.
By implementing these steps, I always have ideas on what to write.
For years I made the mistake of not investing in learning the craft of writing. Though I certainly put in the time, for years I was reluctant to spend money. But taking the cheap way out merely held me back.
Here are some investments I’m now making to become a better writer:
Study magazines about writing and publishing
Read books and blogs about writing and publishing
Listen to podcasts about writing and publishing
Attend writing conferences
Hire editors: developmental editors, copy editing, and proofreading
Join online classes about specific writing-related topics
Take part in online writing communities
Hire mentors and teachers
Of course, none of these things would help if I weren’t regularly applying them every day by writing. This is a long list, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Pick one item to invest in and add more over time.
Note that not everything costs money but merely time. Reading blogs and listening to podcasts is a free option to learn about writing and publishing.
Bonus tip: The one mistake I almost made but didn’t was quitting my day job to write full time. This was about eight years before I was ready. Yikes!
The Elements of Style is an excellent writing resource. Start with it. Then build on that foundation.
For a comprehensive reference on punctuation and formatting, there are several notable resources. Unfortunately, none of them are in complete agreement, with obvious conflicts. Each guide has its advocates. And many have specific applications.
While some people know the major style guides and their differences, I struggle to comprehend one. I selected The Chicago Manual of Style because it best addresses the various types of writing I do. I use it as my go-to reference.
Personally, when it comes to finding balance, it seems something is always slipping, with the areas of writing, work, and life being in a constant state of tension. Yes, there are times where I may go a couple of days keeping everything in balance, but one little bump in the road and the whole thing falls apart.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.
Many writers starting out try to blog and write a book at the same time. They end up doing neither one well. Or they try to write a book before they’re ready.
Then they end up with something not suitable for publication, waste a lot of time, and endure much frustration. That assumes they finish the book. But they’re more apt to give up before they finish—because they’re not yet ready to write a book.
Unless you’ve done a lot of writing—say about one million words—and invested about 10,000 hours honing your skill (see “10,000 Hours”), I recommend you start with blogging or writing short articles, essays, or flash fiction.
Blogging (and short pieces) offer several advantages:
Blog posts are quick and easy to write.
Blogging is a great way to hone our writing skills and find our voice.
Feedback is fast.
Errors are easy to fix.
Bloggers develop a habit of writing regularly, even when they don’t feel like it.
Blogging according to a schedule—which is what all bloggers should do—trains us to meet deadlines.
Blogging prepares us to write longer pieces.
There are many other benefits associated with blogging, but these outcomes are some of the key ones, which is why I recommend starting out with blogging or writing other short pieces. Save the book for later (see “Work Up to Writing a Book”).
Finding time to write is a dilemma most writers face at one time or another. Maybe all writers do.
I think the problem, however, is in the question. We don’t need to find time to write as much as we need to make time.
We each have 24 hours in our day. While work and sleep occupy part of each day, we exercise some degree of control over the rest. We decide what we will do with it. We can choose to write or opt to do something else.
Before you say, “But my situation is different,” let me agree with you.
Then let me ask, “How much time do you spend each week watching TV or on social media?” That is a prime opportunity to write instead.
If writing is important to you, you will make time to write. It may be a little or a lot. It may be every day or only once a week, but make it happen.
If you can carve out ten minutes a day, every day, and write one hundred words each day, by the end of the year you will have written 36,500 words.
If you can carve out one hour a week, every week, and write 500 words, by the end of the year, you will have written 26,000 words.