Promote Your Blog

A few weeks ago, when I finished my series on blogging, I invited readers to post a link to their blog. No one did. I know many of you have blogs, so I’m not sure what went wrong. Perhaps the offer got lost in the post or maybe the series dragged on too long.

Anyway, here’s another chance. In the comments section, please post a link to your blog. If you want, give the title and share your tagline or a short description. Grab this chance at some free promotion! After all, “If we don’t promote our blog, it doesn’t matter.”

What’s the web address of your blog?

The Rhythm of Writing

To be a successful writer, we’re encouraged to do many things:

  • Write every day.
  • Study the craft.
  • Read regularly, both in our genre and outside it.
  • Build our platform.
  • Maintain a blog.
  • Participate in a critique group.
  • Attend writing conferences.

The list goes on, and it overwhelms me. Though I do well at writing every day and blogging, I struggle doing the other items on a consistent basis. And this is when the rest of my life is in order. When something disrupts the rhythm of my life, it sorely disrupts the rhythm of my writing. Mostly I feel guilty over what I’m not doing to advance my writing career.

I’m in that season of disruption now. My wife and I are simultaneously selling our house, packing, and planning for the next one. To adjust, we’ve made many changes to our normal schedule. Everything that can be put on hold is on hold. I’ve even curtailed my daily writing routine and am struggling with blogging.

I share this for two reasons:

First, for the next three Saturdays, my posts will be different. They’ll be short and you will have the opportunity to finish them. I’m excited for what you will contribute.

Second, as writers we all go through these cycles, but we mostly keep the down times to ourselves. I think we need to talk about them and not pretend they don’t exist. Then we can encourage each other to press on and not give up.

What season is your writing in today? Are you encouraged or discouraged?

Forbidden Words: Traps to Avoid in Your Writing

Most anyone who has heard me talk about writing, knows of my disdain for the word very. I’m quick to strike it whenever I see it; only rarely does it survive my critical eye. Along with very, here are some words to avoid in your writing:

Very: Writers use very to intensify the word that follows it. But if that word can’t stand on its own, then it’s the wrong word for the job. Pick a stronger one. Usually the sentence is stronger by simply deleting very; if not the sentence needs work.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are very, very rare. (Or should I simply say exceptions are rare?)

Really: Another intensifier is really. Really doesn’t do much to improve writing. Only very is more useless. Don’t say, “The rose was really red.” Try, “The rose was a vibrant red,” or be content with “The rose was red.”

Really avoid using “really.” (That is, avoid really.)

Just: The word just is another word to watch out for. Instead of intensifying the word that follows it, just lessens its partner. Would we ever say, “I’m just a writer?” Of course not!

When it comes to “just,” just skip it. (That is, skip using just.)

Almost and Somewhat: These two words also serve to lessen the words that follow. Don’t say, “It was somewhat cloudy.” That phrasing diminishes cloudy. Even the weather term “partly cloudy” is questionable as far as good writing is concerned. Instead, try “clouds scattered among a backdrop of blue.”

Using almost is somewhat weak writing. (Using almost is weak writing.)

Sort of and kind of: These two pair of phrases waffle on what follows. My favorite pet peeve is “sort of pregnant.” Either you are pregnant or you aren’t; there’s no middle ground. While most other examples aren’t so unequivocal, the principle still applies.

It’s kind of bad whenever we use sort of. (It’s bad to use sort of – and kind of.)

These words creep into our writing, and intentional examples aside, I had to edit a few occurrences out of this piece. So join me on a campaign to improve our writing by avoiding these weak words: very, really, just, almost, and somewhat, as well as the phrases sort of and kind of.

Which ones of these trip you up? What would you add to the list?

Is Your Writing Improving? Seven Tips to Grow as a Writer

My original blog, Musings, has over 500 posts, totaling about 130,000 words, enough for two or three books. While many posts wouldn’t make for good book content, about half of them have potential. So, I’ve taken the best ones and organized them by topic to repurpose as a book, codenamed Woodpecker Wars.

I’ve enjoyed reading my past work. I’m also editing as I read, because I’m now a better writer than when I first penned them. What an amazing realization. I didn’t know my writing was improving, but looking at my work from a few years ago shows that has happened. How affirming.

Here’s what I think contributed to my improvement:

  1. Writing Every Day: I start every day with at least an hour of writing, usually more. I write when I want to and when I don’t. I write when I’m inspired and when I’m dry.
  2. Blogging Regularly: Popping out four or more blog posts every week (I have multiple blogs) means I’m always looking for ideas, frequently turning them into short essays, and meeting deadlines.
  3. Attending a Critique Group: Giving feedback to other writers and receiving input from them is critical to hone our craft. Some groups are better than others; look for one that is both nurturing and honest.
  4. Reading Books: Understanding how others put ideas into words and construct paragraphs provides fodder for our writing. Their work, style, and voice inform ours.
  5. Evaluating Other Writers: Aside from being a critique group member and working as a magazine editor, I sometimes have the opportunity to read new and not-yet-published writers. Giving some of myself to them requires I remain sharp so I can provide them with value.
  6. Attending Writing Conferences: Being in the company of other writers is a treasure. At writing conferences, there is the opportunity to learn from others who are further ahead of us on this writing journey and encourage those who are not as far. We must give and receive; both are rich experiences.
  7. Working to Improve: A key item is simply striving to get better. For a couple of decades, I sought to write with greater speed. And I did get faster, but I didn’t get much better. If we are to improve, we need to focus on it.

14 Posts on Better Blogging (Plus 9 More)

For the last 14 weeks, I’ve been running a series on blogging. I’ve enjoyed interacting with everyone who’s commented: it’s been fun. I hope you’ve picked up some good ideas to make your blog better. I know I’ve reminded myself of a few things I need to work on.

In case you missed a few of them, here are the fourteen posts:

  1. Eight Reasons Why Every Writer Should Blog
  2. Four Elements of a Successful Blog Post
  3. Why Every Blog Needs a Theme
  4. How Often Do You Post on Your Blog?
  5. How Long Should Your Blog Posts Be?
  6. Four Ways to Make Scannable Posts to Attract Readers
  7. Don’t Forget Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Your Blog
  8. Three Tips for Reader Engagement
  9. Does Your Blog Need Pictures?
  10. Make One Point Per Post
  11. Proof then Publish
  12. Blogs and Links: The Art of Helping Readers and Improving SEO
  13. If We Don’t Promote Our Blog, it Doesn’t Matter
  14. Don’t Go Forward Until You Backup

Plus, at Peter DeHaan Publishing, where I blog about book publishing, I recently ran a seven step series on using WordPress for blogging (or a website):

  1. Using WordPress For Your Blog: Two Options to Consider
  2. Getting Started with WordPress
  3. What’s the Difference Between a WordPress Page and Post?
  4. What’s a WordPress Theme?
  5. What’s a Widget and Why Do I Want Them on My WordPress Blog?
  6. What’s the Difference Between a Category and a Tag on Your WordPress Blog?
  7. Essential WordPress Plugins

Lastly, here are two bonus posts from prior years:

  1. Seven Tips to Successful Blogging
  2. Six Reasons Why Your Blog Needs a Reader Profile.

Now it’s your turn: In the comments section post a link to your blog. What’s your blog cover?

Don’t Go Forward Until You Backup

I’m a fanatic about backing up my writing.

  • Each time I take a break, I make a backup copy.
  • Each time I finish working on a piece for the day, I make a backup copy on my local hard drive and a backup copy on a networked computer. Both those computers automatically backup to file cloud-based storage services (one to Carbonite and the other to Dropbox). At this point, I have five current versions of my work, saved in four places.
  • As an added precaution, once a week I backup all my files to an external hard drive, where I keep historic versions until I run out of space. Presently, I can go back as far as thirty months.
  • On those occasions when I work remotely, I save a copy on my laptop, which also backs up to the cloud. I put another copy on a thumb drive. Then I email the file to my Gmail account. Of course, once I return home, the file is added to my desktop computer, where it’s subjected to my normal backup procedures.

I never want to lose my work, and my backup compulsions prove that.

I feel the same way about backing up my blogs and posts. First, it would be overwhelming to recreate an entire blog if something happened to it. Second, every post I write is with an eye towards future reuse, be it in a book compilation, an anthology, another blog site, or turned into an article.

Here, then, is my backup process for my blogs and posts:

  • A copy of each post is automatically emailed to me when it’s posted. I keep the email for one year.
  • I also maintain a text copy of the post on my computer, where I add it to a Word document, which is a chronological record of every post for that blog for the year. This document is also backed up to cloud-based storage and my external hard drive.
  • Before I make a change to my blog or do a WordPress or widget update, I export all my posts, pages, and comments just in case something goes wrong.
  • I automatically make a weekly backup of the entire blog, which is stored off site.
  • My hosting company makes periodic copies of the blog database. Though I can’t access these files, they can if needed – and once they needed to.
  • Once a month I make a manual copy of the entire database to save on my host’s system and another that I save on my desktop, which is then backed up to the cloud and to external hard drive.

While you may think my backup fanaticism is foolish, I think it’s even more foolish to not do any backups. Pick a backup method that works for you, and then follow it faithfully. Start today.

How do you backup your blog, posts, and writing? Have you ever needed to revert to a backup?

If We Don’t Promote Our Blog, it Doesn’t Matter

When I started blogging in 2008 my readers came from two sources: friends who knew about my blog (that is, I told them about it) and people who discovered it online. I had more readers who I didn’t know than people I did. The power of blogging became apparent when, after two weeks of blogging, someone in Africa commented on one of my posts.

While that still happens today, it’s far less common; there are so many blogs out there that few people will accidently stumble upon our particular blog.

Assuming we want people to read what we write, we need to promote it. Here are some ideas:

  • Let our social media friends, followers, and circles know about our posts. The greater our reach on the various platforms and our degree of activity, the more people we will drive to our blog and posts.
  • Include a link to our blog in our email signatures.
  • Put our blog on our business cards and promotional materials.
  • If our blog is part of our website, make the posts easy to find.
  • If our blog is separate from our website, link from one to the other and add supporting info on the blog, such as an about section, a bio, contact info, photos, and other interesting content.
  • Go old school and actually tell people about our blog.
  • Start an email list and promote our posts to our list.
  • Guest blog on other like-minded sites, and some of their readers will become our readers.
  • Follow best SEO (search engine optimization) practices.

When we get people to our blog, we want them to keep coming back. Here are some tips to do that:

  • Let them subscribe via email and be notified of each new post.
  • Provide a link to an RSS feed so they can easily access posts from their blog reader.
  • Post according to a schedule. That way they can form a habit of reading our posts on a regular basis. (I post here every Saturday morning.)
  • Ask for comments and interact with those who comment. While some comments don’t warrant a response, most do.
  • Make it easy for people to comment; don’t require them to log in, sign-up, or be approved. If you must moderate comments (which I do not advise), approve them quickly.
  • Post great content!

When we take these steps more people will read our posts – and isn’t that what we want?

What is the purpose of your blog? What tips do you have to increase readership?

Blogs and Links: The Art of Helping Readers and Improving SEO

Great writing is essential to successful blogging. Using links when we blog helps us better serve our readers and aids in search engine optimization (SEO), which lets more readers find our work.

This blogging tip has three considerations:

Link to past relevant posts: Within a post, link key words or key phrases back to other relevant posts or tags, (as I did with “blogging tip”). This makes it easy for readers to read more about the subject, discover background, or explore related posts.

A variation of this is to include “related posts” at the end of each post. As a bonus, once setup, this happens automatically, so it requires no extra work or thought. The results are usually quite good, provided we have a sufficient number of posts in our blog.

Link past posts to the current one: This SEO strategy increases the SEO standing of a new post because existing pages link to it. As a bonus, when someone discovers those older posts, they will see a link to the new one.

Include a link when commenting: Another SEO strategy is to go to other blogs of interest or that our audience might read. Make relevant comments on those posts.

For most blogs, the commenters’ name automatically links to their site (assuming they provided that information when they posted their comment). This link should be to our home page or main blog page.

Sometimes it’s acceptable to include a link to a specific post when we comment. We must do this with extreme care. Make sure the link is relevant and adds to the discussion. Shameless self-promotion will result in disaster.

When commenting, don’t leave a generic comment (such as “great post” or “I agree”) and never ever leave a nonsensical one. The comment should advance the discussion or share relevant information. There should be no doubt we read the post and considered our response. (I hope you will take a moment and comment on this post!)

I do a good job at the first and last suggestions, but usually forget the middle one.

How do you use links when blogging? What other ideas do you have?

Proof then Publish

Another blogging tip is to proof and then publish. That is, once written, review with care and post without delay. It’s that simple.

Some beginning bloggers are afraid to share what they write. They fear it’s not good enough or people will criticize their words. They talk themselves into waiting until it’s better. They search for a title with pizzazz or a conclusion with punch. They worry about formatting, search engine optimization, and finding the right picture. And if the post is controversial, they dread the firestorm that could erupt – or that no one will react. Will anyone even read it? Given all that, the safest thing is to never post.

I once fell into that trap. Fortunately I escaped quickly. If no one reads our words, they mean nothing. We must publish.

The other extreme is to gush a flurry of words, and toss them to the world without a worry. Who cares about typos, word choices, fact checking, or excellence? Just spew forth our stream-of-consciousness and call it good. Disregard the craft of writing; seek quantity over quality.

I understand that mindset, too. In my early days as a blogger, circa 2008, I sought to write quickly and post even quicker. I hoped one scan of my draft would catch all errors. My objective was a twenty-minute post. And though I sometimes hit my goal, the results fell short. Typos overshadowed my prose; sloppy writing detracted from my ideas. I needed to turn off the timer and to take more time. Though perfect posting is an illusion, we need to be close; errors should be the exception and not the norm.

Successful blogging requires a rhythm: we sit down and write; we proof our words and then publish the results. No more, no less.

Have you struggled with deliberating too long or posting too quickly? How did you overcome it?

Make One Point Per Post

Another blogging tip is to make one, and only one, point per post. Trying to cover two or more points is a distraction that will turn off readers, cause confusion, or risk them missing key communication.

For some bloggers this is easy, while for others, sticking to one point is difficult; but remember, we respect our readers with concise, focused writing. Keeping our posts short will help us achieve the goal of one point per post.

To re-enforce our one point, we can certainly make sub-points, often in the form of a numbered or bulleted list. If the explanation of each sub-point balloons out of control, then perhaps each sub-point needs to be a separate post.

Usually I know what my one point is before I begin writing. Other times, the point emerges as I type my explanation of the title. If a second point materializes, I just break the text into two posts.

Some bloggers have a free-form style; their writing is a stream-of-consciousness narrative. They have no idea where their writing will take them and neither do readers. I think this is sloppy, a sign of undisciplined writing. While some bloggers who do this have a following anyway, most avoid falling into this habit. We should do the same.

What do you think about making just one point per post? Is this hard or easy for you to do?