Blogging Q & A

July 8, 2015

I get a lot of questions from friends or acquaintances about my blogging and blogging in general. These are usually from people who ask me how to get started or who tell me that they just don’t have the time or don’t feel confident that they could do it. Soooo, I decided to do this little post about blogging, in hopes that it answers a few questions and inspires a few more people to start blogging themselves. I guess this is my take on Blogging 101.

What the heck doe the word BLOG stand for anyway?

A few years back, when the internet was still fairly new, people began keeping and sharing web logs, which were initially just like keeping a public diary of what happened to them that day. From the web site comes this explanations of the origin of the word – The term ‘Blog’ is the evolved term coined by Peter Merholz in 1999. It’s not an acronym,…it’s a colloquialism. It comes from the conjoined terms web and log…as in weblog. Then it evolved into simply blog when Peter Merholz coined the term in 1999.

People keeping web logs discovered that others, sometimes many others would find and read their blogs about current events, such as coups in foreign lands or the doings of celebrities in the U.S. Software was developed to make creating these blogs easier and companies like WordPress and Blogspot began offering to host them for free. They provided what the internet and apparently the world was begging for – content. That really what blogs are – they are content; something for someone else to read. Blogs were added to web site all over as well as a means to provide easily updated content for those sites.

What good is a blog to me or my business?

The web has become the “go to” place for everything, with the latest trend being the movement of users off the desktop and onto mobile devices. People who need information about almost anything these days, just “Google it” and wait to see what comes back. What comes back is often dependent upon what they put into the Google inquiry to begin with. Google yourself and see what comes back. Now Google your business; not your company per se, but, just the line of business in which your company competes. What came back? Did your company show up? Now Google the problem or product category in which your company provides a solution or product. What showed up there? Was your company in the results? All of these example are things in which having a blog may help you gain position in the Google results that come back.

The other thing that posting regularly to a blog might do is to let people get to know you better and let them get comfortable with you as a person and not just a businessman. You can accomplish some of that on Facebook and I advertise all of my blog posts on Facebook, so that the people that I know there will see that I’m posting something that they may want to read. A blog can give you a little more formal setting in which to post things than a Facebook account might and can establish more of a professional reputation for you than most Social Media sites. I used the terms may and might above because your blog won’t do those things for you if you don’t faithfully post to it and make some effort to share it with others.

How do I get started?

You can jump right in by setting up your own blog on WordPress or one of the other free blogging sites and setting up an account. It’s relatively straightforward and the hardest part is probably choosing a theme (look) for your blog. There are lots of themes to choose from; but, start with something simple and don’t spend all of your time and effort on customizing your blog theme right away. You can go back later and change the theme if you want to. The important thing is to fill out your profile and get started with your first post. Another important step is to link yor blog in with your other social media sites – Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and others, so that anytime that you post to your blog a post will also show up on those site alerting your friends there that there’s something new from you for them to read. After all the point of a blog is to share what you are posting. It’s not a secret diary that you keep locked away from the world. You hope that over time people will “like” what you post and sign up to “follow” your blog.

What should I look for in a blog hosting site?

Some blog sites have better editing tools than others, with ways to add more content, such as graphics and pictures and even video into the content. Some sites have fairly crude or simplistic editing tools. Find one that you feel comfortable using and one that supports the things that you may wish to add to your posts. Also look at the size of the blog hosting site/operation and the things that they do or the tools that they provide to promote the blogs that they host. There are a few larger blog hosting sites, like WordPress, Blogspot and Tumblr and tons of others. Here’s a link to a good read on the DearBlogger site about some of  the top blog hosting sites.

What does it cost to have a blog?

You can have a basic blog for nothing. If you desire to use your blog more like a web site and perhaps conduct business from it, you may need to pay to get some of the more advanced features that the free sites also sell. On the WordPress blog site you can also buy the rights to the domain for your blog (assuming that it is not already taken) for a relatively small annual fee. Owning the domain name makes it much easier for people (and Google) to find your blog. On WordPress my blog started out as because it was a sub-domain of the WordPress site. That is a cumbersome URL name and one that Google may not have seen or bothered to index, so I bought the domain name and that is all that anyone has to enter now to get to my inspirational blog.

How long does a blog entry have to be?

It can be as long or as short as you wish it to be. I get a daily feed from a blog called Jack’s Winning Words, which is written by Jack Freed, the retired pastor of my church that is never more than one paragraph long. Jack starts each entry with a quote from someone or somewhere (maybe something he saw in a book, on a sign or on a poster) and adds a couple of sentences of his own thoughts about the quote. He normally challenges his readers at the end with a question about what it means to them. I use Jack’s little quotes all the time as the inspiration for my own blog. I usually write 4-5 paragraphs, sometime more. Which of these is the right length? Both are. There are no rules about length, except maybe not to bore your readers.

How often should I post new entries to my blog and how long will it take?

This is another question with no right or wrong answer. If you have the time and enjoy doing it, there is nothing wrong with posting to your blog every day; however, you can go a week or more between posts. Keep in mind that people may be visiting you blog more often to see if there is something new to read there. If you go too long between posts they may stop visiting. I recommend posting something at least once a week at a minimum. How much time it will take depends upon how long the post is and how fast you can think and write. I spend about 30 – 45 minutes (sometimes an hour) on each post (this one took longer). Some posts require more time because I may have to look up some things or confirm something that I think I know.

What about adding pictures or graphics to my blog?

writer-2Pictures and graphics do add to the appeal of a blog and can be an important part of the content. You should be careful not to use copywrited pictures or graphics without permission. There are sites like to which you can go for free photos. I also use the clipart graphics out of MS Word or from free clip art web sites. Many people don’t use anything but words and that’s OK; but in our modern, Tweet-oriented world a lengthy blog with no pictures (like this one) will look to many like a “wall of words” and they will avoid them. You must balance off amusing the reader with educating them and I realize that you are not very amused by this post.

I’m not an expert on anything; what can I write about?

Blogs are not necessarily about rendering expert advice on things; although if you do have expertise on a particular subject that will give you lots of blog fodder. Rather blogs are about expressing your opinion on a topic, adding your insight to a subject or sometimes just getting things off your chest (be careful with that). Some bloggers try to act like reporters and post about the events going on in their lives or their areas of the world. Some like to render advice on life situations, sort of like a Web version of a Dear Abby column. Some just post whatever random thoughts they may have that day. The time is well passed when anyone cares what you had for breakfast, so give that approach a rest or move that important information about your life to Twitter or Facebook.

I advise peopled to write about things that interest them and write as if they were carrying upon a conversation with someone about that topic. One way to start is to sit down and think about your life – what you like or don’t like, what you do for a living, what you know about what you do for a living, what your hobbies are and what you know about those, what life experiences you’ve had that you might be able to share with others, places where you’ve been that you might give someone else some insight into or maybe opinions that you hold strongly and want to share with others. All of those things provide potential blog posts for you to explore and share, so make a list and save it as future blog topics.

So, what am I waiting for?

That’s a good final question. What are you waiting for, an invitation from the Pope? Jump in and get started writing. I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

I don’t know what to write about…

October 7, 2014

I get that statement a lot in emails and comments from followers of my blogs, along with the question, how you do decide what to write about? How do you get started? So, I thought I’d write a little riff on that topic.

As all of my followers know, I get lots of inspiration for what I write about from another blogger – Jack Freed. Jack is a retired ELCA Lutheran pastor who has found a new callingJack Freed and a new congregation on-line with his blog Jack’s Winning Words. Jack posts to that blog every day during the week, but never on the weekends. Jack’s format is simple and consistent. He starts each blog post with a quote that he has found and adds usually no more than a paragraph of his thoughts about the quote. Jack’s posts often take the form of questions about how the reader interprets the quote or what it may mean to them.

So, I read Jack’s post every morning and most of them (but not all) inspire me to write something in response to the quote or using the quote as the theme for my expanded remarks. Sometimes I’ll end up with a few paragraphs, sometimes more. But it is that approach that I try to pass on to those who as me about writing blog posts. Write about what something means to you. Do you have an opinion on that topic; then, let it find a voice through your writing. Does the quote resonate with you in some significant way, perhaps a life experience? Then write about that. Does the quote inspire you to take some action? Then write about that and the actions that you took. Does the quote beg a response? What is your response to it? Write about that. Is the quote too negative for your? Why? Write about that. Is the quote a positive inspiration to you? Great, write about that.

AppraiserSome days I don’t have much of a personal reaction to Jack’s blog (not many to be sure); so, on those days I have to look elsewhere for inspiration. Many days I find it in the news, in stories about things happening in my area of beyond that I have some reaction too or feeling about. That is actually how I get most topics for my real estate blogs. Yes, I do post to multiple blogs; although most of them not on a daily basis. In the real estate world I get 3-4 daily news feeds from various national sources. It is usually easy to find something in them to react to and write about. In the case of real estate my point of view is slightly different than just “what does this mean to me?”; it has more to do with what does this news mean to my real estate clients? Whenever and whatever the Federal Government does something with a program aimed at homeowners, whether good or bad; that supplies a topic for a blog post, maybe many posts.

For my more personal blog (this one) I also made the conscious decision to try to write from a positive perspective, instead of letting cynicism or negative vibes creep in. I’m not always 100% successful in filtering out the negative, but I try. There are enough blogger out there already spewing hate and negative posts about almost any topic. I don’t want to be a part of that group. Sometimes I find inspiration I the daily newspaper comic strips. Anyone who experienced the amazing and entertaining wisdom of the Calvin and Hobbs strip knows what a great source of inspiration that can be. Sometimes I just do a Google search
for quotes on a topic of interest. If there is nothing that sparks an interest or a reaction that day; I just don’t write that day.

So, how do I write? Well I will admit that I’m a stream-of-consciousness style writer. I usually write in the first person and I just take off on a topic and see where my brain leads me. Many times that means a lot of editing and rearranging things. Sometimes it writermeans abandoning and deleting entire paragraphs or multiple paragraphs. Most of the time it also involves a lot of typing corrections (I’m a terrible typist) and spelling or grammar corrections. Even spell check can’t save me from myself many times and really weird or incorrectly used words end up getting posted, that I have to go back and correct later. As I write, I’m less concerned about those errors than trying to capture my thoughts on the topic. I don’t get hung up on the mechanics the first time through. I can fix those mistakes later. That’s what great authors had editors for.

Another “technique” that I sometimes use and almost always advise others to consider is that your writing should be the same as if you were in a conversation with tpainted into cornerhe intended reader, maybe at a cocktail party or maybe on a park bench. This conversation isn’t really all one sided, it’s just that you have to give a “voice “to the questions that the other party might ask. Often when I get around to asking myself the “why” questions that I imagine a listener might ask, I find that I have written myself into a corner and there is no good answer to the question. Delete, delete, delete and start over again. I am occasionally surrounded by an imaginary pile of wadded up paper that has been ripped from my imaginary typewriter.

Is there a right or wrong to what I write about? I suppose that on occasion there are things man with questionthat others will not agree with – an opinion after all is just that and not necessarily the point of view that is shared by all. Advice given to others, as well meaning as it might be, may not fit the situation that the readers finds themselves in and thus is not well taken. However, taken in the spirit that it is written, my writing is my opinion or feelings about the topic at the time, shared in hopes that others might find it of some use. There is a term in comedy writing for an item that is tossed into a routine to see if it can get a small laugh. It is called a throw-away. It’s usually a single line or thought that may be added in the middle of a longer routine or even in the midst of a larger joke. Much of my writing could probably be considered a throw-away, but I toss it out there to see if it gets a laugh or a smile or a reaction. It has no big, earth shattering, life-changing intent or meaning. If you like it, great; if not, oh well, I enjoy doing it anyway.

For all of the stymied writers out there who can’t seem to figure out how to get started; just do it. Pick something out of today’s paper that you have some reaction to and write about that. Just start writing and see where it takes you. Post it and see if anyone comments. If no one seems to care, write something else and post that. Keep at it as long as you have something that you want to say.

 So you want to write…let your brain loose!

August 29, 2014

I get emails or comments to my blogs quite often asking for advice on how to write a blog post. These requests are usually from people who say that they’d like to write, but can’t think of anything to say. While
the specifics might vary from reply to reply the underlying theme of my answers is always the same – let your brain loose.

Our brains are amazing things that house unbelievable amounts of data, information, stories and man with key to mindexperiences. Writers apparently have just found a way to tap into that storehouse and let it work. At least that’s what I think I do. Quite often, in this blog in particular, I will play off the thoughts of the day from my favorite source Jack Freed and his Jacks Winning Words blog. Jack is the retired pastor of my church and he writes a short post each day (Monday thru Friday, only) that is always a quote of some sort and his take in 2-3 sentences on that quote. Jack usually ends by challenging his readers to think about their reaction or answer to the quote. I take that same quote and riff on it for 4-5-8 paragraphs, sometimes in directions that are completely different from where Jack went with it.

digital thinkingSo, how do I do that? The answer is that I tend to turn my brain loose and see where it takes me. I write in a stream of consciousness mode by asking myself questions like “what do I think about that?” or “maybe what experiences or stories do I have about that?” Sometimes I’ll just see a completely different meaning in the quote that Jack saw. Sometimes I’ll take off in one direction and end up going to a completely different place. I often have to edit and abandon earlier sentences or paragraphs altogether. Many times I may stop to look up something, maybe another quote that might fit and express what I’m trying to say. During those searches I will often find other quotes that I like and save or future posts. I have a whole list of topics for future posts sitting on my Desktop on my computer.

Many times I will find that I’ve somehow gone down a rat-hole with my thought process and have to back up and start off in a new direction – more paragraphs go into the bit-bucket when that happens. I try to stay positive in what I write, but occasionally will explore the dark (or cynical) side of a topic. I find more facing new daypleasure out of writing upbeat posts than I do from venting on a topic or taking the negative approach.

If the topic is one that I’m trying to give advice about, I will try to draw on my own experiences or stories. Such experiences and stories are all in there, in your brain, you just have to let them loose. I try to avoid rendering my own opinion of topics, especially controversial topics, although I’m sure that it comes through in the tone or content bias of the piece.

So, how do you get started? You could scan the daily news for stories that interest you. Why do they interest you? Do you have an opinion about that topic? Is there a story about a cause that you also support? Why? Do you know someone afflicted with whatever the cause is trying to prevent or help with? Have you helped in the past? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe you see a quote on the wall in a poster or in the paper or on the Internet somewhere; what does that quote mean to you? How do you relate to it? Do you have a story or experience that relates to it? Let your brain loose and write about it. Maybe a cartoon or a quote that you see triggers some thoughts in you. Run with it. Get those thoughts out and then look for more. Let your brain loose.

snow globeGary Larson is the creator of Far Side, one of the more offbeat and funny cartoons that appears in daily newspapers. Being able to create single panel cartoons that express such humorous thoughts is a real talent and one that he gets by letting his brain loose, or as he puts it –  “You know those little snow globes that you shake up? I always thought my brain was sort of like that. You know, where you just give it a shake and watch what comes out and shake it again. It’s like that.

So, for those who write to me asking how I come up with things to write about, maybe the answer is that I just shake up my brain, too, and watch what comes out. You might amaze yourself. Startuncage typing and see what your brain creates. If you go off in the wrong direction back up, hit delete and start again. The real secret in that is to let your brain loose.

Who really cares…Why do I write?

February 21, 2014

One of the age old questions for writers and bloggers is “Why?” Why do I write? Who really cares? I may have 20 -40 -100 followers on various blogs; is that who I’m writing for? Am I creating prose and blasting it into a great unknown void called the blog-o-sphere in hopes that someone finds it, like finding a note in a bottle that has washed up on shore? Does that make sense? Does the Internet make sense? Does anything about writing and posting to blogs make sense?  Must it?

One can make the case, that Arianna Huffington started this way, so why not me. Of course, then one could look at the amazing success of Adam Kutcher, who garnered over a million followers on Facebook in a short period of time and ask “Can there be that many lonely, bored and pathetic people who need to know what Adam Kutcher thinks about anything?”

So, millions upon millions of the rest of us blog away in total anonymity; posting into the wind, in hopes that someone, somewhere will see it and perhaps even read what we have written.  To have our posts read; perchance to even have a comment posted; what joy.  But then, one must be willing also to put up with the tons of spam and trash ads that are sent your way by every yahoo (no offense Yahoo) who ever took a t quick course on SEO optimization and now positions himself as an expert. A thousand idiots will email assure you that they can help you make money from blogging and ten thousand more try to sell you their services to improve your obviously struggling little blog. There aren’t enough rocks to hide all of the slimy little characters out there just waiting to pounce upon the poor little bloggers who fantasy themselves to be authors.

So let me give you this piece of advice for free.  You are an author if you write. You may be a crappy one, but at least you are one.  If you have something to say; say it. If you care about what others think of what you have to say or how you say it; ask someone that you trust, and who has the ability to render a valid and educated opinion, to look at your work and make suggestions. Understand your limits, but work at it like you would work at anything else.

The next thing to consider is that what you are writing about must matter somehow to the reader. I don’t care (nor does anyone else) about what you had for breakfast or where you went last night (unless, of course you have a great story about what happened last night). I’m more inclined to read about your opinion of something that is affecting both of us and something that you’ve been through that I’m still facing. Tell me something that I can learn from your experiences or maybe just something that I’ll enjoy reading, get a chuckle out of or shed a tear about.

Lastly trust that your message in a bottle will wash up on some distance shores and be read. I  get comments on my blogs all the time from all over the world.  Most were written in native languages of the countries that the readers liven in and most have suffered greatly in the translation. The translations of some are humorous and some just make no sense, but most have this in common – they are from someone who read what I wrote.

So back to the beginning; why do I write? I write because I enjoy it. I hope others will enjoy it, too; but just the fact that I wrote it and posted it and sent it on its way into the blog-o-sphere is enough for me. Somewhere out there someone will see it and perhaps read it and maybe even comment on it; but I’ll be smiling just because I wrote it. For some there is no reward without accolades, but, I suspect for many of us writers in the blog-o-sphere, it is enough reward just to have written it in the first place. That’s what allows you to call yourself a writer.