This is the second in a series of posts discussing how to set up and run a WordPress blog from a relatively experienced expert, which will feature many helpful and hopefully relevant tangents.
Last time I discussed the first few steps, involving sign-up, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org, and your social media presence.
In this article I’ll discuss writing your first post using the WordPress content management system (CMS), but first, here are some general writing tips for bloggers using any platform.
Chances are if you’ve gotten this far you already know what your blog will be about. Hopefully by this point you’ll also have thought of a name for the blog that you’re happy with and that hasn’t been taken already.
If you followed the advice from last time, you’ll also just have a fairly simple, clear template on which to publish your insightful ramblings. We’ll cover template tweaking later.
As I said last time, no matter how confident you are that your writing will be a certain style or tone, it rarely works out that way. If you’re new to writing it can take while to find your ‘voice’.
- Take a few practice runs first. The key is not to be afraid. Often the most stressful, angst-ridden time in the writer’s journey is the time spent before actually putting finger-tip to key. Get rid of that awful stage by just sitting down and beginning to type.
Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. At least you’ve started and you’re already ahead of the thousands of people who say “I’m going to start a blog” but never get round to it.
- Just remember that whatever you’re writing, it isn’t set in stone. It can be changed, edited, redrafted, gutted and reconfigured as much as you like before publication. You’re the boss.
- If it helps, handwrite in a notepad first. It can take the pressure off as it doesn’t feel as urgent somehow.
Quentin Tarantino writes all of his first draft scripts in notepads. Although one tip: don’t get hung up on using a particular pen, or going out to buy the perfect one. It’s just another method of procrastination.
- You need to start writing. Now.
- You’ll only become good at writing by writing more, and often. It really is through frequent and regular posting over a period of time that you’ll improve as a writer.
This next piece of advice isn’t meant to put you off, but it may sound like it will…
- If you’re new to writing, the first handful of articles you write won’t be very good. In fact they’ll be dreadful. It’s the same for everyone that starts doing this.
No one comes out slugging Pulitzer Prize winners out of the literary arena. My first six months of blogging were beset with failed experiments and mixed metaphors.
The only way that you improve though, unfortunately, is by pushing on through and realising that you have to make these mistakes along the way in order to grow.
This is starting to sound more like life-coaching then writing guidance. Sorry.
- Just remember that after your first rubbish handful of awful blog-posts, your next handful WILL be better. And so on.
There are ways to make your content more readable though, no matter how brilliant or amateurish your spiel may seem.
- White space is your friend. It makes the page seem much more ‘reader-friendly’ if you paragraph often. On this blog we tend not to use blocks of text more than three lines deep.
- Illustrate with high quality images and videos that are relevant to the text. Again, anything to break up the page to make it more visually interesting.
There’s loads of brilliant guides to writing for the web on the Econsultancy blog. Check out David Moth’s 11 things I’ve learned from writing 1,000 blog posts and 14 places to look for blogging inspiration when writer’s block strikes.
Easy on the hooptedoodle
I’ll share with you one of my favourite guides here. It’s from Elmore Leonard, who’s 50 or so novels I’ve been gradually working my way through over the last decade.
He’s a genius of sparing prose, and although he’s quite obviously talking about novel writing here, this is still applicable for writers anywhere.
- Never open with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said”.
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose”.
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
(originally published in The New York Times in 2001)
Also, readers never skip dialogue. They’ll skip long descriptive passages but never dialogue. Sometimes you’ll find in my blog posts that I’ll make a certain complicated point by fabricating an imagined conversation between two characters. It can make things more interesting.
Ordinarily I recommend writing your initial article on a Word document, then transferring the text into a plain text document, before transferring it into the blog dashboard. It helps to uncover any mistakes, typos and grammatical errors seeing it in three different contexts.
The WordPress ‘post page’ is nicely designed though and optimised for writing directly onto the blog.
This is great once you’ve had a bit of experience and are confident enough to do so.
The WordPress CMS contains the following features.
- It has an inbuilt spellchecker.
- A very regular automatic save function, which has spared many an accidental window shut-down tantrum.
- Simple to use buttons for bold, italic, strikethrough, quotes, alignment and inserting quotes, all utilised by highlighting the desired text and pressing the respective button.
If you want to include a link to another webpage, either within your own blog or from another site, this is very easy to do.
Copy the URL you wish to link to in your post. For this I’ll be copying my own Twitter profile.
Then in your post, highlight the words you wish to link and press the link button circled in red.
Out pops this box, in which you paste your URL. Don’t worry about ‘Title’ for now.
You can tick the ‘open link to a new window/tab’ if you like. If you’re worried about readers leaving your site and never coming back, tick it. However they probably will come back if your content is good enough, and if you leave it unticked, you’ve earned yourself another page visit in your stats (more on that in a later article).
You’ve just created a hyperlink.
If you want to remove the link, click on the linked text and click the ‘remove link’ button.
The following buttons are also very handy:
- Sets a page break
- Pops the screen out so you get a full screen view of what you’re timing. Highly recommended
- This button reveals even more options…
Here you get options for underlining, text colour, undo and a help button.
The handiest feature here is the drop-down menu that allows you to format your text accordingly
Heading 1 is probably the only one you’ll use often, other than paragraph, as it breaks up the page nicely with large bold subject headings.
If you’ve copied and pasted text directly from a Word document, and you’ve found that the formatting has gone all wonky, it’s worth playing around with this feature. There’s a chance the text has been set to ‘preformatted’, if so highlight the offending text and set back to ‘paragraph’.
Inserting photos is really easy. It just plucks one from your computer.
You can then edit the image clicking on the above highlighted button.
Here you can adjust the size, change the alignment, add your choice of link URL and even add a caption.
In the ‘Title’ field, try and describe the image for relevance. Don’t be too detailed; it’s just a good way to get people searching for images on Google to come to your site.
Finally don’t forget to input relevant tags in the bottom field, using commas to separate phrases.
Then, very importantly, preview your post to check if it looks okay and reads well.
Finally, hit publish.
One last tip: do better than this. It won’t be hard.
In the remaining chapters of this series I’m going to offer some tips for SEO, tips for customising your templates and lots more bits of advice from my years of experience in the blogging world.