How to Start a Personal Blog

Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I blogged my way out of a career I hated.

Five years ago, I went from HR into freelance writing.  At the time, if anyone asked me how I did it, I’d say I listened to my instincts and went from there.  But looking back, I know my career change wouldn’t have happened without my blog.

I started said blog, which I called ‘Fake Blonde Procrastinator’, back in 2010.  I didn’t plan exactly what I was going to write in it or think about who might read it.  All I wanted at the time was a fun outlet for the random thoughts that buzzed around my head on an average day.  Setting them out in words was the equivalent of swatting an irritating fly.  No more, no less.

I updated my blog regularly over the years that followed, in the process casually and unwittingly honing the voice I would later use as a professional writer.  

(Fake Blonde Procrastinator became a book in 2018, which is something I’m rather proud of.)

It goes to follow that I’m an enthusiastic advocate of blogging.  There are so many wonderful reasons to start your own blog.  Not only do you get to write about anything you choose to write about, but you also get to write completely as yourself.  That feels like a genuine gift when you spend the rest of your time being all things to other people, or you usually write fiction or copy, which involves borrowing other people’s brains and wringing them out for new words.

As if that wasn’t enough, blogging is free… there’s even the option to make some money from it if you choose the right platform (such as Medium or Substack.)

Recently I was asked to present a talk to a writers’ group about blogging.  Their questions about reach and audiences and SEO and purpose made me realise that back in 2010, blogging wasn’t the behemoth it is now.  

If I chose to set up a blog from scratch in 2021 then I think there would be pressure to pre-attach a sense of worth to it, even if I wasn’t using it for business.  I’d over-think what to include and who I’d want to read my blog and whether it’s even good enough, and then I’d obsess about the best day to post for people to see it and comment on it and share it with their friends on social media.

I’d do all of that before I wrote a single word.

So, if you’re feeling the same pressure, it’s time to shake it off and finally get started with that personal blog you’ve been thinking about setting up.

My first tip?  

Don’t overthink it.

Blogging is supposed to be relaxed and informal.  There aren’t the same expectations of perfect spelling and grammar that apply when you read a website or a book – and anyway, if you make a mistake, you can go back edit your posts later.  No harm done.

Just concentrate on saying exactly what you feel like saying.  Which brings me to…

Write for yourself first

At least when you start blogging, don’t worry about how other people might react to what you write.  Just write.  

Some of the people I talk to about blogging ask about sharing personal thoughts and feelings or saying things they know other people won’t like.  To this I say, use your instincts as a guide.  

You will know deep down if something feels too ‘much’ – in which case you could change some names and distort some facts (I do this sometimes, especially when I’m recalling certain conversations I’ve had).  Other options include asking someone else to read your post before you share it, or even setting your blog up anonymously at first.

Your instincts will also tell you when you’ve written something others can connect with.  You’ll probably feel nervous, but also a tiny bit excited at the thought of someone else reading those personal words of yours, and maybe finding something they can relate to.

Over time, you will get a natural feel for what will resonate and what may not.  But at the beginning, blogging is all about trying things out and seeing what works – as much for you as for anybody else.

What about structure and regularity?

In terms of length, 500 words per post is a good target to aim for (that’s around one page of A4) – it’s a nice, friendly reading length. 

That said, if you want to write freely and just let yourself come to a nice, natural stop, do.  You can always read it back and edit later if you need to… remember, blogging is supposed to be informal!

To add even more reader-friendliness, you might also find it helpful to break your text up into shorter paragraphs than you would if you were writing a traditional article or story.  

Your first post could be an introduction to your blog, what it is and who it’s for, which you then ‘pin’ to the top so it’s the first thing readers see.

(Just to show how weird and imperfect your blog is allowed to be, here’s what my ‘introduction’ post looked like back in 2010.)

Ethereal

It will take time to build an audience (if that’s what you want)

If you want to build an audience with your blog, you should make sure you post consistently, and on the same day, if possible, whether that’s every Monday, or every first Wednesday of the month.  

Then, if people like what they read, they will naturally fall into step with your routine and they won’t have to guess when to expect your next post (it’s a bit like having a favourite newspaper or magazine columnist in that respect!)

Building an audience through blogging also means being in it for the long haul.  You won’t get hundreds of views on your first go-around (unless your subject is extremely controversial!) – and you may not even get tens.  

But persevere, and wonderful, utterly unexpected things may well happen in the weeks, months, and years that follow.

That’s the strange beauty of blogging.

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