One Year Later: If You Want to Write Better, Start a Blog

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It’s been a year since I published the first post on smplife (now Quiet Habits). To celebrate I wanted to share some of the wisdom I’ve learned from writing on this blog and other (now defunct) blogs that I wrote during High School.

I have no idea when I started blogging, but I know it was sometime around 2008. I started several blogs during High School and wrote at varying intervals during that time. Up until last year I had been writing a little bit about minimalism. I didn’t think I, just a young college student with a schedule full of work and classes, had anything to add to the conversation kept up by some of my favorite blogs such as Zen Habits, Becoming Minimalist, Be More With Less and others. They seemed to be giants in the simple living blog realm. I desperately wanted to start a successful blog and write about minimalism.

So, during the summer of 2014 I started smplife.com (now used as a personal website of sorts) as a way to share my simple lifestyle with the world. I bought the domain name and found some cheap web hosting. I spent a lot of time setting up my site and getting it just perfect before I actually published any posts. I wrote some half-decent posts for a few months, but mostly I got really good at searching for and modifying WordPress themes and plugins. Anyone who has worked with WordPress knows how tempting it can be to search for the perfect theme or the best plugins.

I wanted my site to run well and look amazing. The problem was I didn’t have any readers. Nobody was coming to admire my slightly modified WordPress theme or take note of how quickly my site loaded. Eventually I realized that I had it all backwards. I was spending time on the wrong things. I want to write great content that people find useful enough to try in their own lives. I want to document my journey into simple living and habit improvement so I can keep track of what I’ve done and where I’m going. I want to write about what works and what doesn’t for habit change. Finding and tweaking a WordPress theme is good, but writing great content is much better.

So I took my site down, wrote a ton of content, found a simple design and simplified my process for writing, posting and site management. That was in November of 2014. In May of this year I realized that smplife.com (Simple Life) was too generic. I needed a domain name that was more specific. After a lot of thought, searching and writing I found my new home at Quiet Habits.

I share my own journey with you for two reasons. First, I hope that you will not make some of the same mistakes that I made if you start a blog. Second, I want to write about how writing a blog is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So, without further ado, here’s some simple steps for starting a blog:

The Simple Way to Start a Blog:

  1. Choose something to write about
  2. Start reading and writing about your topic of choice
  3. Sign up for a free blog at WordPress.com, Tumblr or Blogger (or somewhere else, if you’d like)
  4. Start publishing and sharing your content
  5. Keep going!

That’s the simplest way to start a blog. Pretty easy, right? Although I try to keep things as simple as possible, writing and maintaining a blog can often get complex and require a lot of work. Below I’ve provided a bunch of tips and tools to get a great blog up and running. If you just want to write a blog as a hobby, a journal or just for family and friends, I suggest you keep it as simple as possible. Blogging doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t require any money or technical know-how to get started.

Decide on a Topic

Many of the blogs I wrote on in High School were kind of random lifestyle/journal blogs. There’s nothing wrong with this type of blog if you want to write for yourself and maybe some close friends and family. Random-topic blogs tend to stay pretty low-key with few readers. This is a great option for a virtual journal.

If you really want to build an audience, gather a following and even make some money, pick something specific to write about. Find similar blogs, communities, social media accounts, etc. to see what’s being discussed. Find your niche and stick with it. If you’ve got other things you want to talk about, make a secondary blog or website for those musings (I use smplife.com for this purpose). Your blog will be more easily discovered and shared if it is specific and stays (mostly) on-topic. This should be your first decision after deciding that you want to start blogging.

Money

This is a big factor that I struggled with when starting a blog. Since I wanted to blog somewhat part-time and hopefully sell some content, I decided to take the plunge and buy a domain name and an entry-level hosting package. Decide if you’re willing to spend money. There are tons of awesome free options out there for people who don’t want to spend a dime. There are also tons of ways that you could spend a small fortune on your blog. Decide where you fall in the spectrum. I would recommend trying out a free option to start off and then pay for services as you need them if you stay committed to your blog.

Domain Name

This is a great way to stand out from the crowd. If you’re going to seriously blog, you need a domain name. It’s your home on the Internet. Your own little piece of virtual property. Choose wisely, though! Spend some time brainstorming domain names. Test them out on friends and family. Search for similarities online and be careful to not infringe on copyright. You don’t want to choose something too similar. I buy my domain names from GoDaddy because they often offer lots of discounts, but there are literally hundreds of places to buy from.

Web Hosting

I like to find things that are both high quality and inexpensive. It’s not often that I find things at that crossroads, but I think I found that in A2 Hosting. They’re an independent hosting company (they’re not owned by some other massive corporation like many other hosting companies). They have stellar support, amazing hosting and competitive prices. I’ve never had any downtime yet and my support tickets are always answered or resolved within a few hours. I’ve been hosting with A2 for almost 2 years now.

I recently upgraded to VPS hosting to handle increased traffic on my site, but their Shared Hosting packages are great for lots of beginner, personal or hobby sites. The migration process from shared hosting to the VPS was seamless and quick.

I am an affiliate with them and up through Cyber Monday they’re offering crazy low prices on several hosting packages. If you sign up using the link and codes below you can literally start a blog today with just a little cash.

Click the link to choose your hosting package and be sure to enter the corresponding coupon code below:

A2 Hosting Hosting Sale (good Nov. 25 – Nov. 30, 2015)

  • “FAST60” = 60% Off Web Hosting Packages
  • “VPS50” = 50% Off Dynamic VPS
  • “50QUICK” = 50% Off Managed VPS (this is what Quiet Habits uses)

If you don’t want to spend any money or you’re not quite ready to commit to a hosting company, there are three popular options for a free blog:

  • WordPress.com
  • Tumblr
  • Blogger
  • Medium (note: some people wouldn’t consider this a blogging platform, but if you want an easy way to just start writing, this is a great choice. You just set up an account and start writing)
Find a Great Theme

This is a weakness of mine. I love visual design, functionality, simplicity and great typography. There were weeks that I would spend hours browsing for themes or editing style sheets to get the perfect look. I abandoned 95% of those projects. I did learn a lot about WordPress theme design in the process, but my writing and readership suffered on my blog because of it. Spend some time searching for a good theme, whether free or paid, and then focus on the content. This is an important step, because people trust a professional-looking site. Choose something simple that shows your unique personality and reflects your chosen topic.

Write Like Mad

Once you’ve set up your blog, whether free or hosted, it’s time to write. This is the most important part of blogging. Ultimately, if you write awesome content people will read what you’ve written. A good store focuses on selling great products. The look and feel of the store is secondary to what they’re selling. Don’t worry too much about publishing a post as soon as you can. Write and research about your topic for a few weeks while you get your site setup. Once you have a bunch of articles written, figure out how often you’d like to post and then send that first post out into the world! Keep writing, reading and sharing. Readers will come slowly at first, but if you write interesting content that’s well-written, you will see the readers trickle in.

Extras

There are many tools that make writing a blog a lot easier. Here are some tools that I use all the time:

  • Pexels/Unsplash – free, use how you want hi-def photos
  • Ulysses – amazing writing app for Mac (sorry Windows users)
  • Hootsuite – great tool for sharing across social media platforms
  • nvALT – simple yet powerful note-taking
  • Mailchimp – makes RSS feeds, newsletters and other emails easy and worry-free.

Note: some of these links are affiliate links. Any money I earn from these links goes right back into keeping this blog online and creating more great content.

4 Comments

  • I had a similar learning experience when I started my current (second) blog. I now keep design very simple, try to check my stats only once a week, and focus on the writing. Since I stopped obsessing over stats or design, I have been more creative and write more, so it’s such a win!

    • Nathan says:

      That is so true! Thanks for sharing. I am also trying to work on not checking stats as often. It is a huge temptation to waste time looking at blog stats. Thanks for reading Sofia.

  • Congrats on the anniversary. November 24 also marks one year since I first published a post on my blog, which happens to be the first blog I’ve ever ran. I am learning a lot from the experience, though just doing it as a fun experiment and a way to express. One of the highlights has been meeting some really nice people from different countries. Good luck on your journey

    • Nathan says:

      Thank you and thanks for reading. Blogging is such a great way to express yourself. Ultimately my goals as a blogger are to better express myself and help and connect with other people.