My tips for new bloggers - part 1

*Magnolia cupcakes via Bobokim (and why cupcakes? Why not? It's more fun than a picture of someone sitting at a laptop!)

Since I have a few friends toying with the idea of blogging I wanted to share some of my experience.  Starting a blog can be heaps o' fun! It can also be a little stressful.

First up, defining your blog or deciding on a theme
This can be hard especially if you're someone who loves so many topics (like moi).  I wasn't sure at first should I blog about food, fashion, decor, crafty stuff? I decided instead to center my blog's theme around a journey, a certain moment in my life, a journey to figuring out what my "thing" was. Since then, it's evolved to be more focused around writing, but it's still a bit of a mixed bag, and if you're a hobby blogger, that's okay!  Still it helps to have focus.

Here are some themes and ideas to get you thinking. Your blog could be:
  • A personal scrapbook - You might decide not to decide, just let it flow.  This is totally an option!
  • A family scrapbook - many bloggers like to capture family experiences - pictures of children, little moments, vacations, family dinners, holidays - both for themselves and to share with extended family and friends.  
  • Centered on a topic or passion or style or POV - Paris? Mid-Century modern? Baking cookies? Sci-fi book reviews?
  • Supporting your business or professional life. For example, a blog about flower arrangements from a budding florist. Or a blog about writing from a writer!
  • An intimate diary where you share your thoughts and feelings and musings.
  • Built around a challenge or a project - Julie and Julia is a great example of this. Her blog was built around her challenge to cook every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook over the span of a year. Many bloggers have done gimmicky project blogs like this. It's fun, it propels you forward, defines your blog, and it can be catchy.
  • Or it might be less of a project, but more about a particular life experience - losing weight, infertility,  medical challenges, planning a wedding, remodeling a house, etc.
Give it some thought and when you start blogging you'll have a direction. But you're not locked in. So don't get paralyzed with worry that you have to make it perfect. You can evolve and change!

Picking a name for your blog
Some people know from the start what they want their blog name to be, but if you don't know, it helps to define your theme and purpose for your blog first. Once you've done that, brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm. Brainstorm words, then mix and match to brainstorm combinations of words. Come up with tons of possible names, then narrow it down. Make sure the name has the emotional tenor that you want. And don't forget to check whether or not there are other blogs or businesses by that name.

Deciding which platform to blog on, deciding whether to own your own URL and blog on your own server
This is not my area of expertise. I don't currently consider myself a pro-blogger, so I went with the simplest option on Blogger.  But there are lots of options. The hard-core pros tend to recommend using Wordpress, buying your domain name, and hosting it yourself. If you plan to build a business or professional presence off of your blog, it's worth consideration, but if you're not dead serious about making money, if it's just a fun outlet, I wouldn't recommend sweating bullets over this choice.  And besides Blogger and Wordpress, you could also look at other easy options, like Tumblr, Posterous, Pinterest, etc.

Tumblr and Pinterest are super fun and easy to get started and they're a bit more anonymous and less personal. The downside is that they are more visual, more collective, communal and stream of consciousness (and sometimes you'll find your consciousness polluted by that stream - or at least that's my experience on Tumblr where I occasionally find stuff that is NSFW and pisses me off). Also, if you want to write long, wordy posts, it's less of a fit andTumblr and Pinterest (in my opinion) don't offer as many ways to easily personalize your space and make it your home with things like widgets. But if you're feeling nervy about putting yourself out there in public domain or afraid blogging will be hard, try one of these to start with and get comfortable - then consider moving into something like Blogger or Wordpress. Also, Posterous and Blogger have private blogging options if you want to start out private while you're still learning your way.

Designing your blog (egads!)
This is isn't easy, but it's very possible. I'm not a web geek, but I've learned enough to get by and if I can, you can too. It's hard if you're a longtime blog lover, because you're used to gorgeous blogs, and when you design your own, you choke. Your first attempts don't match up to the ideals in your mind. It's like "what do I do? how do I get my blog to look pretty?"

When it comes to actual design, there are several easy approaches ('cuz I'm all about the easy, baby). First, look at Etsy. There are lots of people on Etsy offering pre-designed templates, banners and images, as well as totally custom packages. One approach would be to use a simple template on your blog, but pay someone to create a gorgeous banner image that captures your style. If you're wigged out by the prospect of design but you want your blog to look amazing, you could also pay someone to do the whole thing. My blogging friend the Fairytale Hausfrau is a great example of a lovely blog soup to nuts, with design services from Happy Loves Rosie. I've certainly considered having someone design my blog, but for now DIY works for me.

If you want to go the DIY route, I recommend finding blogs you read whose style you like, then look for things they have in common. For example, in my case, I noticed the blogs I liked had a white background, a certain text layout and a photographic banner at the top of the page and a relatively minimalist feel. With that information in mind, I went looking for the Blogger template that was most similar to that and worked from there. With photography, color, font choices and simple photo editing, you would be amazed at what you can do to add your own personality onto a simple template like the one I use in Blogger.

Simple can be amazing. A few examples:
One tool it helps to know: Picnik. Maybe you think you need Photoshop. Well, I haven't needed it yet. Picnik. It's online. It's free. It's easy. Hard to beat. I use Picnik to crop, resize, brighten, lighten, and do special effects.  I also use Picnik to make the banners and images on my blog. I can insert stickers and text and pick my own font and font color and size.

Take lots and lots of photos of all sorts of things that appeal to you. Your camera is your friend. Start to use it creatively. Your own photo is yours to use and abuse as you see fit and it provides a more personal feel to your blog. You can use those photos, picking something evocative and visually appealing and adding your own fonts, colors and stickers to make banners and buttons.


So that's enough of an info dump for today! But sometime soon I hope to share a bit about building your about page, where to get photos, some of my favorite blogging classes and information sources.

Happy blogging, friends!


  1. Good work!

    anyjazz (Thinks Happen)

  2. These are all great tips!

    I've been using the self-hosted Wordpress for years, and I highly recommend it for professional bloggers. I've read far too many horror stories of sites like Blogger going down and people losing some of their posts. I would die! lol

    Years ago I had someone professionally design one of my blogs and do all of the web stuff for me. It worked for me at the time; but now as a professional blogger, I simply do not have the time to wait on someone else.

    Now, I learn as I go and continue to teach myself design, html, etc. I designed my own blog, edit my photos, etc. I love doing it all on my own; there's nothing more fulfilling than that.