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I thought of entitling this ‘Blogging for the terrified and decidedly nervous.’ More people are asking me for advice about starting to blog and the early stages of blogging, so this is the first part in a short series for the new or nervous bloggers.

Why blog?

Do you need to blog for work?

No? Then you don’t have to blog if you don’t want to – but you might find it a useful skill in the future, and you might enjoy it.

Did you know that you can set up a private blog to which only you, or people you invite, have access? You could have a family blog (but be careful still about how much detailed information you have in it – just in case the security of your blog is breached).

Yes? Why not set up a personal blog (preferably before you need to blog for work) to try it out? Your own blog will give you space to get used to how a blog works, and you are likely to gain confidence as you get your first positive response from a reader.

Breaking down barriers to blogging

Let’s get these reasons for not blogging out of the way:

I don’t have time to blog!

You’re thinking you have to write a degree-length essay or 40-minute seminar paper every week? Why? Unless you are blogging for work and have someone telling you there’s a minimum word count for your blog and that you have to publish weekly, you can make your blog whatever length suits you, and publish at what intervals suit you.

Remember, just because your blog is sitting there on a server, it is not a tamagotchi and it is not going to die if you don’t feed it with posts. It might not build up a regular readership if you don’t add anything new for a year, but it should still be there when you revisit it (unless you set up your blog on Posterous and didn’t migrate it before 31st May 2013).

Sometimes, the short posts are the most read and retweeted. One of our Weekly Blog Club members, Richard Overy, does a post with a digitised vintage or antique photograph that he’s found, usually with just a couple of sentences about it. His posts are popular. More on what can go in a post later…

I’m not technical so I couldn’t set up a blog

Do you use email that allows you to use bold text and to put in working links to websites? Have you typed something in Word or a similar programme that allows you to put in different headings and pictures? Then you have the technical knowledge you need to blog.

Setting up a blog

This is easy but – be prepared! It’s easier if you are. You will need:

  1. a device connected to the Web (it’s possible to use a mobile, but better to use something bigger eg a laptop);
  2. an email address (this is used to verify that you are a real person);
  3. a username – have at least 3 versions ready, especially if it is based on your actual name, because the chances are that someone is already using your name;
  4. password – these usually need numbers as well as letters, and remember to note it down somewhere (I give myself cryptic clues that have proved to be too cryptic for me to );
  5. a name or title for your blog – have more than one version ready (someone else may have thought of the name) and one that will work within its URL/website address – sometimes the name that appears on the page can be different to the one that goes into the website address. Avoid ampersands – ‘&’ – and it usually works better without punctuation.

Optional extras (you don’t need these to set up a blog, but they help to make it more personal):

  1. picture suitable for your avatar – this is usually a small, portrait-format image under 100 pixels long;
  2. a wide picture that works as your header image (if you choose a blog that has a header image at the top) – this will be wide but not very deep, and it is quite tricky to find images that will work in this format;
  3. a picture that could work as your background – this shows at the sides of your blog and usually can be a large picture (bear in mind most of it will be covered up) or a small image that is ’tiled’ (repeated).

Which blogging platform?

Have a look at the blogs you like and see what they use. The best free ones are:

Tumblr is good for short posts in different formats and for sharing but doesn’t provide comments space.

Blogger If you have a Google account, you already have access to this. It can be good for longer posts but is not quite so easy for sharing and commenting as some of the others.

WordPress.com is good for sharing and enabling comments (you can choose to moderate them – which is always advisable). WordPress.org, the self-hosted version of WordPress.com, tends to be the blog of choice for the more technically-minded.

Weebly is another one that might be worth a try if you want more of a website look but still have a blog.

Tumblr, WordPress and Blogger are the platforms most commonly used by the bloggers I read, and I have used all three for some time. WordPress and the late Posterous have been my favourites during the past 4 years. I’m beginning to like Tumblr for the short, random things.

When you set up your blog, do write something in the About page (possibly why you want to blog, maybe what sort of work you do or what your favourite music and foods are – just something that gives readers a sense that you are human.

Don’t worry too much about getting the look of the blog absolutely perfect. Look for a template that you like, choose it and use it. You need some content before you see what it really looks like with your content. Then one rainy day, after you have published some posts, you can have hours of fun with choosing another template or theme. You can change the look without it affecting your content (apart from minor changes to how it might display).

Now you’re ready to blog.

The terror of the clean, blank space

But what do I blog?

Do not panic in the face of that pristine writing space. Get in there! Dirty it up! The world is not going to condemn you to literary purgatory if your grammar is less than proper, your prose more purple than perfect, or if your topic is not the most riveting.

You could simply start by saying why you want to blog, why you are nervous about blogging, perhaps saying something about how it might fit in with your work if you are considering blogging about work. You could write about what you think you will want to cover in future posts. You could write about your weather, what wildlife you can see in your garden, how tiresome the commute home was. Or you could share a picture, or links to videos, or a list of music tracks (please be aware of copyright issues, and don’t use copyright material illegally), or a few links that have caught your attention – and write a few sentences about why, and what relevance they have to you.

If you’re unsure about what you’ve written, publish it privately and invite a friend to read it through before you make it a public post.

Remember, the entire population of the human race is not waiting eagerly to read and criticise what you write. If you get something a bit wrong, the sky will not fall in (usually, unless you publish as a freak super-cell thunderstorm hits, maybe).

So, hit that Publish immediately button. Post it on Twitter, and Facebook, maybe G+ or even LinkedIn. And start planning what you will post next.

And in the next part, I will tackle ‘Carry on blogging.’