How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

So you want to start a blog?

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name. To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.” Or, search this handy domain-name checker!

Even if yourname.com isn’t available, you might find it with a different ending, such as yourname.co or yourname.io. If you’re super committed to this whole writing thing, you can also  try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com.

Alternatively, you could opt for a creative blog name — but remember your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. After expanding  my niche and services, I switched to susanshain.com because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about.

Although it wasn’t a huge deal, I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like many of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, domains are cheap — and you don’t want to risk losing the one you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

While we use MediaTemple to host The Write Life, it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out.

For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep the receipts; as investments in your business, they’re tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise!

You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and abundance of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

4. Put your site in “maintenance mode”

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” sign to greet visitors.

You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (You may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow, but we all know how writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up maintenance mode,  just download this plugin. On your maintenance page, you could even include a link to your email newsletter or social media profiles so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete the plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. On my first blog, I used Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

If you want your blog to be a marketing tool for your writing services, you might look for a theme with a static home page (like mine). That way, your site will look professional and appealing to everyone — whether they’re there to read your latest post or hire you for a project.

Whatever you do, make sure your theme is “responsive,” which means it automatically adjusts to look good on any device. Since more than half of website visits are made on mobile phones, this is crucial for your blog’s aesthetic.

6. Create a header

I think it’s always worth getting a custom header for a new blog.

You can ask your favorite graphic designer, create one with Canva  or order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

Starting a blog can seem like a lot of work -- but we’ve made it easy with this step-by-step guide just for writers. Here’s how to start a blog from scratch.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change. (“Pages” are different from “posts,” which are the daily/weekly/monthly entries you publish on your blog.)

Here are some pages you may want to create:

About

The about page is frequently touted as one of the most-viewed pages on blogs, so don’t overlook it. Include a professional headshot and brief bio, and explain why you’re blogging and why the reader should care. What makes you an expert? How can you help them?

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through — blogging is a personal affair!

Contact

You want your readers to be able to get in touch with you, right? Then you’ll need a contact page.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just tell your readers how best to reach you. Avoid putting your full email address on here, as spambots could get ahold of it. To work around that, you can use a contact form plugin, which we’ll link to below, or simply write something like “yourname AT yoursite DOT com.”

Portfolio

It’s your blog, so flaunt what you’ve got! Show your prospective clients and readers that you deserve their time and attention with examples of your past and present work.

You can see examples of great writer portfolios here; personally, I love Sara Frandina’s.

Resources

Do you have a list of favorite writing tools? Or maybe books that have inspired you? Readers love resources pages, and for bloggers, they can also be a clever way to earn income from affiliate sales. Check out The Write Life’s resources page for inspiration.

Start here

You probably won’t need this at first, but a “start here” page is smart once you have a decent amount of content. It’s a great opportunity to express your mission and highlight your best work, so your readers can see the value of your blog without wading through months or years worth of posts.

Joanna Penn does a good job with hers, encouraging readers to download her ebook and then choose a topic that interests them.

Work with me

If you’re using your new blog to sell your writing services, this page is essential. Be clear about how you can help people and how they can get in touch with you. You could even list packages of different services, like Lisa Rowan does on her site.

Once you’ve set up all your pages, make sure they’re easily accessible from the home page. If they’re not showing up, you may have to adjust your menus.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, especially those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into:

Better Click-to-Tweet: Encourage readers to share your content by including a click-to-tweet box within your posts. This plugin makes it easy.

Contact Form 7: If you want to avoid putting your email address on your contact page, use this plugin, which is frequently updated and receives good reviews.

Hello Bar: Want to get readers to sign up for your free newsletter? Or want to announce the release of your latest book? This plugin allows you to create a banner for the top of your blog.

Mashshare: These share buttons are similar to  the ones you see here on The Write Life. Another minimalist  option is Simple Share Buttons Adder. It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose; it’s just important to  make social sharing easy for your readers.

Google Analytics Dashboard: This plugin tracks the visitors to your site so you can see what people are interested in and how they’re finding you.

Akismet: One of the headaches of blogging is the plethora of spam comments. This plugin will help you reduce the number of spammers that sneak through.

WP Super Cache: Another plugin that’s not sexy, but is important. Caching allows your blog to load faster — pleasing both your readers and Google.

Yoast SEO: This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you optimize your posts so you can get organic traffic from search engines.

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, aka small boxes with different functions. That said, the minimalist look is in — so skip this step if you want to keep your sidebar simple.

Here are some ideas:

About box

You’ve probably seen this on a lot of blogs; it’s a box in the upper right hand corner welcoming you to the site. Check out The Write Life editor Jessica Lawlor’s blog for a good example.

Social media icons

Make it easy for your readers to follow you on social media by including links to your profiles in the sidebar. Your theme will probably include this feature, but if not, here’s a basic tutorial.

Popular posts

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, you might want to highlight your most popular posts in the sidebar, which you can do with a basic text widget. We do this here on The Write Life so you can find our most popular content quickly and easily.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and forget until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra. (It’s a business write-off, remember?!) Popular backup options include VaultPress, BackupBuddy and blogVault.

11. Start your email list

I know, I know — you haven’t even started blogging and I already want you to build an email list. Trust me; you’ll be so glad you did.

Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, agrees with me. “If I could go back and do one thing differently for my business, it would be starting a newsletter earlier,” she writes. “My email list is THAT important for my business, bringing traffic to my website, buys of my products and opportunities I never could’ve expected.”

Even if you don’t have anything to send, just start collecting email addresses. The best way to entice people to sign up is by offering a free ebook or resource. For a great example, check out The Write Life’s Freelance Writer Pitch Checklist.

My favorite email newsletter platform is Mailchimp. It’s intuitive, fun and free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are many  tools to choose from, though; here are a few more options for building your email list.

Once you’ve created your list, encourage your readers to sign up  by adding a subscription box to your sidebar, and maybe even installing a plugin like PopupAlly.

12. Write!

If you really want to start a blog, you’re going to need to…start blogging.

We recommend creating an editorial calendar — even if it’s just you blogging. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can even be scribbled out in a notebook.

What’s important is that you plan your posts in advance, so you can keep track of your ideas and stick to a schedule. It’s also a chance to assess and tweak your content strategy. What do you want to write about? How will you draw readers in?

Don’t forget you’re writing for the web, so your style should be different than if you were writing for print. Keep your tone conversational, use “you” phrases to speak to the reader and break up text with bullet points and sub-headers. Lastly, keep SEO in mind, and grab a feature photo from sites like Unsplash and Pexels to make each post shine

13. Promote, promote, promote

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve started writing, it’s time to get readers. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for many writers, this is the most surprisingly time-consuming aspect of blogging. Though it’d be nice if we could just write (that’s what we love to do, right?), it’s nicer to have people actually read your work.

You can try guest posting on other blogs, reposting on sites like Medium and LinkedIn, or including links when writing responses in forums, Facebook groups, or on Quora. Just make sure you’re adding value — and not spamming people with your URL.

Social media is another great way to get more traffic and grow your author following. Instead of merely tooting your own horn, be sure to interact with editors, writers and bloggers, too.Share their content with your community, comment on their posts and support them when and where you can. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor!

14. Get help if you need it

If you feel stuck at any point, don’t be afraid to invest in a course or ebook like these:

Sometimes a little outside help is all the boost you need.

Other than that, creating a successful writing blog is about hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and engaging content, optimizing it for SEO and sharing it with your networks — and you’ll soon see your new blog start to blossom.

Congratulations, you’ve now officially started a blog as a writer. Guess it’s time to get writing!

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life and we thank you for that!

This post was updated in February 2019 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers!

The post How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers appeared first on The Write Life.

5 Lessons I Learned at My First Writing Residency

In January, I packed my car and drove 12 hours alone from Florida to North Carolina. This was not a typical road trip, but I had plenty of soul-searching planned: I was headed to the Penland School of Crafts, a bustling art school nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As I embarked on my first writing residency, I knew I’d be joined by artists from all over the country seeking a focused period of independent work. I was ready — or so I thought.

I had packed and repacked the car. I had checked out helpful library books for research. I had acquired plenty of snacks. I had obtained not one, but two new notebooks waiting to be filled with the fresh inspiration that was sure to come.

What I didn’t expect was to feel like a fish out of water, as the only writer attending during my two-week session. Being a lone ranger wasn’t a big deal. But I had no other writers to turn to for perspective, or for a boost of encouragement. It was up to me to forge my own writing path.

I made the most of my time at Penland and returned feeling accomplished. But I also learned important lessons about planning for writing productivity while you’re away from home.

1. The first few days will probably be a wash

Anyone who’s sat down at their desk and waited (and waited…and waited) for words to come knows the anxiety of not being productive enough during a writing session. This gave me some anxiety as I embarked upon my first residency.

A friend advised me to give myself a few days to settle in, both to my surroundings and my temporary writing routine. Of course, someone doing a shorter retreat or residency may not have the luxury of spending a half day importing their chapters to Scrivener, or avoiding writing by reading a book on Cold War-era bunkers, as I did. But I was grateful to have the first few days of my stay to putter around and get comfortable, not only with my space but with myself, and no other tasks to complete but writing.

Tip: Plan a few low-energy tasks to get you started in the first few hours or days of your residency. A valuable way to start your stay may be to read over the work you’ve already done, to remind you why you’re here — and what needs work.

2. It’s good to have goals

Here’s where my strategy of “ease into the residency!” has its drawbacks.

Working in a residency for primarily visual artists meant it was easy to say, “Hey, what did you make today?” to a fellow resident, and be shown beautiful works-in-progress at a moment’s notice.

When they turned that question back to me, asking, “What did you write today?” I would chuckle half-heartedly and give them a big toothy grin. Then I would change the subject.

I didn’t always have something to show for my day of work.

In my first week of my residency, my major accomplishment was figuring out the emotional catalyst for my entire story, and summarizing it in a paragraph. It was a huge accomplishment for me, but on paper, it didn’t look so massive.

My colleagues were still excited for my progress. But because I didn’t set any goals before I started my work, I couldn’t truly gauge my progress during this valuable time.

Tip: Make a work plan, however minimal. Whether it’s a set of chapters, a character development arc, or research for technical aspects of worldbuilding, you’ll want to be able to look back on your time and say, “Yes, I did (at least part of) what I set out to do.”

3. Distractions are everywhere

It’s natural for others to be curious about your work at a residency, and it’s natural to be curious about theirs.

But it’s easy to let those side conversations about your work, your life back home, your pets, and that one city you visited once derail your productivity.

An artist at my residency referred to procrastinating as “chasing squirrels.” Everyone did it. Some of us more than others. If you let distractions like conversations, social media, and fiddling with the coffee pot take over, and you’ll wonder where your day — or entire residency — has gone.

Tip: Set a writing schedule, even if it’s as simple as working two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. That way, you can protect those hours — and let distractions run rampant outside those limits without feeling bad.

4. You will hit a wall

Right when you think you’ve hit your stride and it’s going to be nothing but multi-thousand-word writing sessions from there, you’ll hit the wall. Stuck. Burned out.

It happened to me: I started my second week of residency with a super-productive day where I wrote several pivotal scenes in my work in progress. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Until the next morning, when I sat back down at my desk and…nothing.

The cure? A 90-minute hike on a cold, but sunny day fixed me right up. I knew I needed to clear my head, and when a fellow resident volunteered to keep me company along the path, I happily took her offer. Leaning into this opportunity for distraction helped me reset my brain and sit down at my laptop with clarity and confidence the next day.

Tip: Accept that even in a special environment, some days will be more productive than others. Embrace the ebb and flow of your residency and listen to your body, mind and surroundings along the way.

5. Make a work plan before you depart

Your residency might feel like a rush of creativity and uninterrupted writing. But you can’t take it with you — at least, not in the same form.

When I returned from my residency, I chatted with my mother on the phone, who asked if I had a productive trip. Then she said, “Now you’ll have to keep up the momentum.”

Again with the half-hearted chuckling and toothy grin she couldn’t see through the phone.

I didn’t have a plan. In fact, in the month after my return home, I wrote zero additional words. I did zero additional plotting. I felt inert, sluggish back in my surroundings, with a day job to attend to and errands to run.

The momentum of a residency is hard to replicate for writers who don’t typically get time and space to write.

Tip: Before you depart, make a plan for how you’ll continue writing when you return home. Sure, maybe life will require you to tone it down from 2,000 words each day to 500 three days a week. But setting expectations for yourself will help you feel motivated to follow up on your residency-facilitated burst of creativity.

My lessons might seem obvious to someone who has taken writing trips before. But for a newcomer who loves planning and reviewing agendas, I felt overwhelmed with lightbulb moments. Of course it takes planning and preparation to make the most of your time — just like writing at home.

Now, it’s a matter of applying those lessons as I daydream about my next residency.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

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