by Rita Ramstad
Before I dive into this month’s column, a little disclaimer is in order: I’m far from a blogging expert. For the most part, these columns relate my own experience of writing in the blogosphere and what I’ve learned along the way. I hope you find some useful information in these articles.
Perhaps you’ve read last month’s column and have decided to start your own blog.
Some of you may be thinking about making money directly from a blog. I am not addressing that process today as it can be long and complicated (and most people don’t make money from blogging alone).
In today’s column I’m writing for those of you who have never blogged before and are much like I was when I began blogging: curious, wanting to learn, playful, willing to experiment, and not super tech-savvy. I’m not going to lay out everything you might eventually want to know about beginning a blog, as that would be overwhelming. I am going to outline a few simple things to help you get started.
Step 1: Choose your blogging platform.
The first thing is to find a service that will let you create a blog. The two most popular services as of today (which means this might be outdated by next week) are Google’s Blogger and WordPress.
I’m not entirely sure about this, but I think the Blogger vs. WordPress question is a bit like Beta vs. VHS back in the early ‘80s. And if that’s the case, WordPress is VHS. I’ve lost count of how many posts I’ve run across about how to switch blogs from Blogger to WordPress.
The primary reason bloggers end up wanting to switch is that WordPress has more design flexibility. You can check out this post from Savvy Blogging for a rundown of reasons many choose WordPress over Blogger.
I really can’t speak to the merits and possible limitations of Blogger because I’ve never used it, so I’m going to share my experiences with WordPress.
Before diving into the how-tos of WordPress, though, I want to tell you about the two kinds of WordPress: WordPress.com and WordPress.org.
With the .com version, WordPress is hosting your blog, meaning they are storing it on their servers and making it available to those who type your URL (Uniform Resource Locator) into their browsers. With a WordPress.com blog, there is ease of use, which is great for a beginner, but not as much control over the design and features of your blog.
With WordPress.org, you’ve got much more control over your blog, but you’ll have to do much more to manage the technical aspects of your site. You’ll be self-hosting your blog, which means paying another service to store your blog on their server (how much depends upon the size of your blog’s audience.) WordPress provides a great overview of the two options here.
Today, I’m not going to delve into the world of self-hosting. We’ll stick with WordPress.com for now.
When you go to the WordPress site, you’ll see a screen that looks like this (click any of the images to see them at a larger scale):
Just follow the on-screen prompts, which will lead you through the process of setting up your blog.
Whichever service you use, one of the first things you’ll need to do is create your domain name (URL).
A few words about your domain name:
1. You want the name in your URL to match your blog name as closely as possible. This will make it easier for others to find. If your blog’s name is “Great Writing” but the URL is “www.annesgreatwriting.com,” those who look for sites by entering the site name into the browser might not get to your site. The challenge here, of course, is finding a name that hasn’t already been taken by someone else.
2. Think about how your blog’s name/domain will stand up over time. If your blog takes off and develops a real following, you don’t want to change your name/domain at some later date. For a writer’s blog not dedicated to a particular topic, a safe bet is to use some form of your name for your domain (e.g., annesmith.com).
Step 2: Create your domain
With WordPress.com, you’ve got two options: A free account or one you’ll pay a fee for.
With a free account, you’ll have the word “WordPress” in your blog’s URL. For example, your URL might be:
For $18 a year, you can have your own domain, which would look like this:
If you start out with the free option and decide later that you’d like to remove WordPress from your URL, you can upgrade later. There are two benefits to having your own domain:
- It’s shorter — which means others can get to your blog more easily.
- It’s more professional.
Once you’ve got your blog registered, it’s time to dive into setting it up. This is the fun part.
Step 3: Choose your theme.
A theme is the template for your page. To get to your theme options, navigate to your dashboard, which looks like this:
The menu along the side of your dashboard is where you’ll set up everything for your blog. I suggest starting with the Appearance tab, which is where you’ll choose your theme.
There are a number of free themes as well as some you can pay for. By clicking “Live Preview” under any theme, you can see what the theme will look like.
Different themes will allow different types of features. My best advice is to preview several themes, which will help you see the various design/layout options and learn the vocabulary that goes with them.
It’s important to know that you are not stuck with a theme forever. You can always change it later.
Step 4: Add some widgets
Once you’ve chosen a theme, you might want to choose some widgets, which are also under the Appearance menu. When you click on that tab, you’ll see a page that looks like this:
Widgets are tools that will show up in your sidebars. There are several choices for widgets. You don’t need to have those all in place to get started.
Step 5: Start Writing!
There are two types of content you’ll likely want to create: Posts and Pages.
Pages are for static content on your blog. At a minimum, most blogs have an “About” page, which writers use to introduce their blog to readers. You’ll want to use the “About” page to share information about yourself and the purpose of your blog.
You might also create pages to showcase your published work, or to provide contact information, or for some other kind of content that you’d like to highlight so that your readers see it each time they access your blog.
Posts are the articles you’ll write that you don’t want to have in front of your readers at all times. While some of your posts may have a long shelf life, most will not. They’ll appear on your home page for a while, to be replaced by other posts that come later.
To figure out how all this works, create a post. Back at the menu on the left side of your dashboard, select “Posts” and “Add New.”
Type “test” and hit “Save Draft.”
Once you’ve done that, you can see how it looks when you go live.
Step 6: Make sure others can read your blog when you’re ready for it to go public.
It’s important to know how to make your blog accessible to others. You don’t want to go to all the trouble of creating great stuff that no one else gets to see.
Under the settings tab, navigate to “Reading.” Make sure that you have NOT selected the option to make your blog private.
And that’s it.
You are now in business. The next thing you’ll need to do is start building your audience. We’ll tackle that next month.
This is the second in a series, “From Blocked to Blogger,” where we follow Rita Ramstad’s journey from frustrated poet to ecstatic blogger. Now a prolific writer, Rita shares her experience learning the art and craft of blogging as well the technological tips she’s learned along the way. If you’re a beginning blogger, this column will shorten your learning curve and give you the boost you need to become an unblocked writer.
Rita Ott Ramstad writes about second chances on her blog This (sorta) Old Life. In a previous writing life, she was a poet. Her collection The Play of Dark and Light received the Stafford/Hall Oregon Book Award for Poetry in 2003.