Begin the Blogging

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

I received my first diary the Christmas I turned nine years old. My entries read: “today I played at Bonnie’s house” or “I saw a real turtle in my yard.” I commemorated world events with phrases like “Space Shuttle” clicked out on a piece of plastic label maker tape.

My second diary was a blank book, a graduation gift when I was 17. Like a lot of folks, I usually only wrote in it when I was angry. When I looked back over it, the more interesting entries were nearly illegible. I filled it during college, during particularly anger-inducing relationship, and began a second blank-book style diary. Once the relationship ended, so did the diary.

I got a new blank book in 1996 and returned to the old “write when angry” style. After a couple of nasty entries I would be embarrassed to reread, I abandoned the diary. At the time, writing was my job. After working on newspaper pieces all day, the last thing I wanted to do with my time off was writing.

In November of 2001, I somehow found Blogger and I created a weblog. It’s the longest-running life chronicle I’ve maintained and it has kept me writing consistently through creative highs and lows.

Many of us have heard the advice “Write every day.” For me, it’s a fairly unreasonable request. Having a weblog has made the goal of daily writing more attainable. I may not do creative writing as often as I’d like, but I am writing something at least once a week, regardless of whether my Muse has paid a visit. If you are looking for a way to jump-start the quantity of your writing, a place to document the trials of the writing life or if you need a place to vent your frustration about the price of gas, it’s possible that it’s time to create a weblog.

Where to write

There are several places to create a weblog. For ease of use, begin with a free, easy-to-use system like Blogger, Diaryland or LiveJournal. Google has a directory of free blog hosts.

These sites give you a free URL, like “myblog.blogspot.com.” If you like, you can publish your weblog via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) at your own URL.

With some hosts, you can create more than one weblog per username. We’ll talk more later on the different kinds of blogs you might like to maintain.

If you have more html experience, you may be interested in blog software like Movable Type or Greymatter. It’s not necessary to use software to create a blog. You could set up a page at your own URL or at a free web-hosting site (like Geocities) and just type up your entries as you would any other webpage content.

What to write

There are over 13 million weblogs in existence. What do these people have to say?

  • Weblog as a list of links. You could use your weblog to link to news stories, personal websites, e-zines you discover, anything you’d like to share or track. Many of the earliest weblogs followed this format.

    Examples: DayPop’s Top 40 Links, Robot Wisdom Weblog, Slashdot

  • Weblog as index page. Some sites use a weblog as their index page, keeping visitors updated on additions and changes to the site and allowing for site navigation from the weblog.

    Example: Fiona Horne

  • Weblog as journal. Most weblogs seem to be about the daily life of the blogger (the writer of the weblog). As a writer, you can turn the most mundane trip to the Piggly Wiggly into an amusing adventure. If, like me, you feel you may use your weblog as a soapbox or a place to vent frustration, writing in a journal style is probably the best choice. With a journal, you are your entries. In other words, the audience feels close to the blogger and a journal allows for more intimate writing than an op/ed style.

    Examples: So Anyway…, erin-go-blog!, LocoBellaTuna

  • Weblog as op/ed. If you like political debate or have ever dreamed of having a daily op/ed column all your own, why depend on a newspaper to give you one? Create a column and be your own editor. There’s no limit on your content and, unlike a journal, the blog is about your opinions, not about you. An op/ed style blog allows more distance and privacy between blogger and audience than a journal.

    Examples: InstaPundit, James Landrith – Taking the Gloves Off, GoDubya, Kick The Leftist (more political weblogs are listed at Political Blog Directory)

  • Weblog as writing tool. You could use a weblog to do creative writing. Write a little of your story as an entry. Don’t be a slave to linear storytelling. If you’re in the mood to write a certain type of scene that doesn’t belong at this point in the story, go ahead. It is easy to lift out and rearrange blocks of blog entries when editing your piece. You could also use a weblog to create characters. Just make sure that it is clear that you are writing as a character if you have a public weblog. If your faithful readers find out it’s “not really you,” there could be a backlash.

    Examples: ana’s Diaries, What’s in Ravyn’s hair?

These are just a few ideas for weblog content. As a creative person, you will probably be inspired to use your weblog in a unique way – like a photo weblog (example: Juvin.com). You could get your feet wet through a “slam” style weblog, one with multiple participants who each add content (example: Bloghouse, A Mixed Blog, Crescat Sententia).

From the start

It’s a good idea to take a few precautions as you begin blogging. Here are a few that others and I take with our weblogs:

  • Use a pseudonym and give pseudonyms to others. Certainly you don’t need to give a fake name to the President but you might want to give one to your boss. There have been cases of people being fired over weblog content. You also don’t want your sister, friend or neighbor to read an entry out of context from a day you were angry and have them take it all wrong.
  • Think about whom you share your blog with. If you want to be able to vent about the aforementioned sister, friend or neighbor, don’t give them your blog URL and don’t give them a way to find it (ex: by posting your blog at your website). LiveJournal, for example, lets users lock individual posts. This allows you to adjust the level of privacy from entry to entry. If you just have to blog about the barbecue sauce incident at Aunt Midge’s house, just lock the entry and she’ll never know.

Not every weblog needs to be public. It is perfectly reasonable to keep your entire blog to yourself, like a locked diary. If you change from a public to a private diary, you may have to change your URL since readers may continue to visit your weblog, regardless of its private status.

“Private” can mean a few different things, blogwise. If you don’t want your blog listed by search engines, they can add a no robots metatag: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow,noarchive”>. It’s not foolproof but it will keep you from being the top Google search for “Karen from Winnipeg’s Personal Private Weblog.”

Additions

There are plenty of ways to individualize your weblog.

  • Commenting. Free comment systems like BlogBack and backBlog are available across the web. If you are using a blog service, these commenting systems can insert their coding into your blog’s template. Again, you don’t need to be computer savvy to blog. There is a separate comment box for each blog entry and you can see the number of comments on each entry alongside the entry itself. Blogger has added a commenting system in their latest overhaul.
  • Tagboard. Tagboards are another way to let people comment on your weblog. Compared to other comment systems, it has more of a chat feel. Comments on tagboards are often related to one another instead of to the blog entries. Tagboards are popular with high school age bloggers who use their weblogs to keep in touch with friends.
  • Memes. Pronounced “meems,” these are bundles of questions, like the FUM at Toasted Cheese, that act as writing prompts for bloggers. There are themed memes, daily memes, introspective memes, silly memes… memes to match any style of blog you write. Beware using too many memes; if your blog is all meme answers and no real content, readers can get bored and you lose valuable creative writing time. Get started at The Memes List.
  • Quizzes. Once in a while it’s fun to take on online quiz and post the answer in your blog. These are quizzes like “Which Hobbit are you?” or “If you were a form of cheese, what would you be?” Most of these quizzes may be found at Quizilla.
  • Links and rings. Reading blogs can be as much fun as writing them. When you find a blog you like to read, share the URL with your readers. Bloggers like to reciprocate links and you may find a new audience as well. Joining webrings can increase your readership and introduce you to related blogs. Some rings are content-specific while others are rings of redheads, Buddhists or chocoholics. Blogrolling is an easy way to set up a list of links. You add, edit and delete sites at your discretion. Your Blogroll can be listed on your blog’s page or you can use it as personal list on your computer to keep up with blog reading.
  • Template. Most free blog services provide templates, which dictate the look of your blog. You can add photos, change colors, create a logo or whatever you want to make your blog reflect the style and content of your entries.
  • Personal Information. Introduce yourself to readers with an “about me” page or a “Top 100,” which is a list of 100 odd, interesting or otherwise individual facts about yourself. If you prefer privacy, a cool tagline can suffice. The five taglines nominated for a 2004 Bloggie were:

    Tenth-Muse.com: “Fabulous since 1973, blogging since 2003, drinking since noon”
    Mighty Girl: “Famous among dozens”
    The Art of Rhysisms: “Stealing traffic cones from the Information Superhighway since 2002”
    C:\PIRILLO.EXE: “Getting screwed while everybody else is getting laid”
    Sabrina Faire: “All the fun of a saucy wench, none of the overpriced beer”

What, me write?

If you prefer writing on a computer to writing longhand, blogging is probably a good way for you to exercise your writing muscles. Blogging provides a quick, easy way to dash off a few thoughts while you’re surfing the web.

As a writer, you already have an advantage over many bloggers. You can string words together in the best possible way and you understand the importance of a polished piece of writing. Your blog will have a level of readability that many weblogs don’t have. It gives you an audience (possibly even fans). Famous and quasi-famous bloggers include writers like Dave Barry, Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Stuart McLean and William Gibson.

Nobody would have cared one bit about the brief notations or pages of angry rambling in my old paper journals. By keeping a public weblog, I’ve been able not only to share my ups and downs with my readers (some friends, some strangers) but I’ve also been able to maintain a level of writing exercise through moving, having a baby and other distractions that would have shut my writing process down in some way.

By keeping a weblog, even if you only drop in once a week to share a link, you can increase your sense of accomplishment. It always feels good to be able to say, “I wrote something today.”

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