Don’t Forget to Write: 3 Tips for Beginning Bloggers

01/24/2019

Search “writing tips for bloggers” and you’ll find lots of technical advice on how to pick a website name, use blogging software, make a logo, and check social media account availability. You’ll also find practical web-writing advice about shorter paragraphs, subheadings, bullets, and lists.

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You’re writing this blog so that people will read it…’ Illustration by Josh Quick

All of these early steps are necessary, but they overlook the most important part of writing a blog: writing.

The following tips will help you refocus on the three things that matter most: your mission, your experience, and your readers.

Write Toward Your Mission

If you’re blogging solely to earn money, or to show the world how cute your children are, or how good your marriage is, your well will run dry quickly. But if you’re focused on a specific mission, you’ll never run out of things to write about.

What do you want your blog to do? Expose life on staff at fancy restaurant? Chronicle a struggle with anxiety? Find the perfect taco?

The most important question to ask yourself about your blog is “So what?” What will your readers gain from reading your blog? What point are you making that they can’t find elsewhere?

With your mission in place, you have an easy screening question for any piece you write: “Does this advance my mission?”

At snackdinner, my mission is teaching parents to become better researchers. But it didn’t start that way, as evidenced by some of my little-read early posts about crafting and homemaking, where there’s clearly no larger mission than “hey, I can make some clever Dumbledore references here while also getting people to click on my Amazon Affiliate links.”

Your mission can—and should!—change as you write. All bloggers need time to figure out what they want to write about, so don’t beat yourself up if your early posts feel a bit thin. Just keep asking yourself what you want your blog to do, and eventually you’ll develop a strong, specific vision.

You might feel tempted to delete old posts in order to refocus your blog around a new mission, but I encourage you to resist this urge, if for no other reason than to preserve a cache of embarrassing examples to choose from when writing advice columns like this one.

Use Your Experience Wisely

The specific and unique circumstances of your life should, of course, inspire your writing. These experiences are sometimes so obvious to you they have become invisible, so it helps to start brainstorming lists. Let’s say you want to blog about teaching. What are your ten biggest classroom triumphs? Your ten most disastrous teaching fails? The ten strangest requests from parents? The ten most adorable malapropisms your students used? Make lists regularly, and mine those lists for blog post topics.

These lists, however, should just be starting points. Don’t simply list off ten crazy things that happened to your substitute teachers and click “publish.” Instead, take each item on the list and spin it out into its own idea. Use your personal experiences in service of something larger. What did each experience teach you? What questions did it open up? What existential problem did it create for you?

“But I’m writing a parenting blog!” you might say if you’re one of the millions of parents typing away about their kids. “Shouldn’t it be about me and my kids?”

I’m never surprised by the self-delusion that the world needs another picture of your cherub, because I’m guilty of that thinking, too. But for anyone—including your grandmother—to keep reading, your blog has to be bigger than you.

Treat Your Readers Well

You’re writing this blog so that people will read it. How do you get readers to your site, and how do you keep them there? Implicit in these two questions is a third one: how do you make money?

That third question may lead you to try all sorts of reader-getting techniques: writing engaging titles, installing pop-up e-mail subscription boxes, optimizing your SEO strategy, throwing up some Google ads, and (boom!) maybe gaining a profitable side hustle.

This strategy has two major problems. First, you’re not going to make money at it. Those blogging income statements you found when you searched “How to make money blogging?” may not be outright lies, but they’re riddled with inaccuracies.

Second—and this is the much bigger problem—this strategy hurt readers. Instead of focusing on how to get readers, think about how to treat them. Apply the Golden Rule and do unto your readers what you would have them do unto you.

Do you like clickbait headlines? Your readers don’t, either. As you’re getting started, make your topics as clear and unambiguous as possible. If you wrote an argument, your title should state your position. If you wrote a how-to post, the title should be “How to do x.” As you write more and more posts and establish a community of regular readers, you can get more playful with the titles because you’ll already have buy-in from your regular readers.

Do you like pop-ups? Your readers don’t either. So-and-so of the get-rich-blogging blog will tell you that even though nobody likes pop-ups, they will lead to more devoted subscribers on your site. Reader-hostile behavior like this ignores the whole reason you are writing in the first place. When you feel tempted to plaster your blog with advertisements, think about your own experiences as a reader and let them guide your decision-making.

Do you like opening an article only to find that it is thinly-veiled product placement? Your readers don’t either. Reject any sponsored content request that doesn’t align with your mission, and perhaps don’t accept any sponsored content at all.

Trying to “get” readers will inevitably lead to the kinds of cash-grabbing tendencies that will turn readers away. Think of your blog as a training ground for your ideas, a hands-on education in writing that teaches you how to interact with readers. Keep your readers front-of-mind and eventually, your blog will come to be a portfolio that you can use to get writing jobs, speaking engagements, and other (paying) creative opportunities.

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Stephanie Loomis Pappas (Guest Blogger)

Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned write-from-home parent committed to debunking all the bad parenting advice on the internet. At snackdinner, she offers research tips to help make readers better parents and people.