How to Start a Blog: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

How to start a blog
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So you want to start a blog?

If you’re a writer, it makes perfect sense: You can use a blog to serve as your author platform, market your book or find new freelance writing clients.

But where do you begin? Though you’ve got the writing part down, the rest of the process can be overwhelming. Hosting, themes and all that other techy stuff can stand in your way for years.

Well, today is the day that ends. We’re here to help you navigate every step of starting a blog, from choosing your domain name to publishing your first post.

Here’s how to start a blog as a writer:

1. Pick a domain name

First things first: Where are people going to find you online? As a writer, you are your brand, so we recommend using some variation of your name. To check availability, simply visit Bluehost and click on “new domain.”

Or, search this handy domain-name checker!

If none of the obvious options are available, try tacking a “writer” onto the end of your name, as in susanshainwriter.com. You could also use a “.net” or “.biz” domain, but keep in mind that most people automatically type in “.com” before thinking of other endings.

You can, of course, opt for a creative blog name, but remember that your interests and target audience may change as the years go by. When I started blogging in 2012, I focused solely on adventure travel and named my blog Travel Junkette. Since then, I’ve expanded my niche and recently switched to susanshain.com — because my name won’t change, no matter what I’m blogging about. I wish I’d started out using my name as the domain, and would advise you not to make the same mistake I did.

Once you’ve settled on your domain (or domains, if you’re like a lot of us writerpreneurs!), don’t wait to buy it. Even if you’re not ready to start a blog right now, you don’t want to risk losing the domain you want.

Before you actually click “purchase,” though, you might want to read the next step; we’re going to tell you how to get your domain name for free.

2. Purchase a hosting package

Now that you’ve picked out your domain name, it’s time to choose a web host. Your hosting company does all the technical magic to make sure your site actually appears when people type your newly anointed domain name into their browser. In other words, it’s pretty important.

We use MediaTemple to host this blog, but it’s typically better for blogs with lots of traffic, so you probably don’t need that if you’re just starting out. For a new blog, try Bluehost. It’s used by top bloggers around the world and is known for its customer service and reliability. Bluehost’s basic hosting plan costs $3.95 per month — and as a bonus, the company throws in your domain name for free when you sign up.

Be sure to put your purchase (and all the purchases listed in this post) on a business credit card and keep those receipts; they are investments in your business and are therefore tax deductible.

3. Install WordPress

We’re almost through with the techy stuff, we promise! You have several different choices for blogging platforms, but we like WordPress best. Not only is it totally free, but it’s easy to learn, offers a wide variety of themes, and has an online community and lots of plugins that make blogging accessible to everybody.

You can read comprehensive instructions for installing WordPress on your new blog here. Once you’ve completed that, you can officially log into your blog and start making it look pretty.

Still too techy for you? Try WordPress.com (as opposed to WordPress.org). It’s a cinch to set up, but won’t allow you as much control over your site’s design and functionality. If you choose to go this route, you can skip steps one and two of this post. Simply visit WordPress.com and click on “Create website.” Though the free default inserts wordpress.com into your domain (susanshain.wordpress.com), you can pay to use your own domain (susanshain.com).

startablog

4. Put up an “under construction” sign

While working on your blog’s appearance, you might want to put up an “under construction” or “coming soon” sign to greet visitors. You don’t want any potential clients or readers to Google your name and find a half-finished site. (And you may think you’re going to finish setting up your blog tomorrow — but we all know how badly writers procrastinate when there are no looming deadlines!)

To set up a little sign that says “under construction,” just download this plugin. You could even include a link to your Twitter or Facebook page so visitors have an alternate way of getting in touch with you. When you’re ready to share your blog with the world, simply deactivate and delete this plugin.

5. Choose a theme

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff! Your theme determines what your blog looks like, and you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Yes, there’s a wide range of free themes, but if you’re serious about blogging, the customization and support offered by paid themes can’t be beat.

Here at The Write Life, we use Genesis, which is one of the most popular premium themes available. Another popular and flexible theme is Thesis. For my personal site, I use Elegant Themes, which has a wide selection of beautiful themes at a reasonable price. All of these themes come with unlimited support — essential when you’re starting a blog.

6. Create a header

If you truly want your blog to look professional, it’s worth getting a custom header. You can ask your favorite graphic designer or create something yourself with Canva.

My favorite option? Order one on Fiverr. I’ve had great luck getting headers and other graphics designed in this online marketplace, where thousands of people offer their services for $5 per gig.

7. Write your pages

Though you’re starting a blog and not a static website, you’ll still want a few pages that don’t change. (“Pages” are different from “posts,” which are the daily/weekly/monthly entries you publish on your blog.)

Here are some pages you may want to create:

About

The about page is frequently touted as one of the most-viewed pages on blogs, so don’t overlook it. Include a photo and brief bio, and explain why you’re blogging and why the reader should care. What makes you an expert? How can you help them?

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through — blogging is a personal affair!

Contact

You want your readers to be able to get in touch with you, right? Then you’ll need a contact page.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just tell your readers how best to reach you. Avoid putting your full email address on here, as spambots could get ahold of it. To work around that, you can use a plugin, which we’ll link to below, or simply write something like “yourname AT yoursite DOT com.”

Portfolio

It’s your blog, so flaunt what you’ve got! Show your prospective clients and readers that you deserve their time and attention with examples of your past and present work. You can see examples of great writer portfolios here; personally, I love Sara Frandina’s.

Resources

Do you have a list of favorite writing tools? Or maybe books that have inspired you? Readers love resources pages, and for bloggers, they can also be a way to earn income from affiliate sales. Check out The Write Life’s resources page for inspiration.

Start here

You probably won’t need this at first, but a “start here” page is smart once you have a decent amount of content. It’s a great opportunity to express your mission and highlight your best work, so your readers can see the value of your blog without wading through months or years worth of posts.

Joanna Penn does a good job with hers, encouraging readers to download her ebook and then choose a topic that interests them.

Work with me

If you’re using your new blog to sell your writing services, this page is crucial. Be clear about how you can help people and how they can get in touch with you. You could even list packages of different services, like Sarah Von Bargen does on her site.

Once you’ve set up all your pages, make sure they’re easily accessible from the home page. If they’re not showing up, you may have to adjust your menus.

8. Install plugins

Plugins are great for everybody, but they’re especially useful for those of us who are less comfortable with the technical side of things but who’ve managed to set up a self-hosted blog. Think of them as apps for your blog; they’re free tools you can install to do a variety of things.

Though having lots of plugins can undermine the functionality and security of your blog, there are several we recommend everyone look into:

Better Click-to-Tweet: Encourage readers to share your content by including a click-to-tweet box within your posts; this plugin makes it easy.

Contact Form 7: If you want to avoid putting your email address on your contact page, use this contact form plugin, which is frequently updated and receives good reviews.

QuickieBar: Want to get readers to sign up for your free newsletter? Or want to announce the release of your latest book? This plugin allows you to create a banner for the top of your blog.

Mashshare: These “Mashable-style” share buttons are like the ones you see here on The Write Life. Another popular option is Digg Digg. It doesn’t matter which plugin you choose; it’s just essential you make social sharing easy for your readers.

WP Google Analytics: This plugin tracks the visitors to your site so you can see what people are interested in and how they’re finding you.

WP Super Cache: Another plugin that’s not sexy, but is important. Caching allows your blog to load faster — pleasing both your readers and Google.

Yoast SEO: This all-in-one SEO plugin helps you optimize your posts so you can get organic traffic from search engines.

9. Install widgets

If your blog has a sidebar, you might want to spruce it up with a few widgets, which are small boxes with different functions.

Here are some ideas:

About box

You’ve probably seen this on a lot of blogs; it’s a box in the upper right hand corner welcoming you to the site. Check out Jessica Lawlor’s blog for a simple — yet excellent — example.

Social media icons

Make it easy for your readers to follow you on social media by including links to your profiles in the sidebar. Here’s a basic tutorial for adding custom social media icons.

Popular posts

Once you’ve been blogging for a while, you might want to highlight your most popular posts in the sidebar, which you can do with a basic text widget. We do this here on The Write Life so you can find our most popular content quickly and easily.

10. Purchase backup software

Don’t overlook this important step just because you don’t have content yet! It’s better to install this software early than to start blogging and not remember until it’s too late.

Free options exist, but I’ve never had good luck with them — and for something as important as my entire blog, I don’t mind paying a little extra. (It’s a business write-off, remember?!) Popular backup options include VaultPress, BackupBuddy and blogVault.

11. Start your email list

I know, I know — you haven’t even started blogging and I already want you to build an email list. Trust me; you’ll be so glad you did.

Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, agrees with me. “If I could go back and do one thing differently for my business, it would be starting a newsletter earlier,” she writes. “My email list is THAT important for my business, bringing traffic to my website, buys of my products and opportunities I never could’ve expected.”

Even if you don’t have anything to send, just start collecting email addresses. The best way to entice people to sign up is by offering a free ebook or resource. For great examples, check out The Write Life’s How to Land Your First Paying Client or Grant’s social media strategy checklist.

Our favorite email newsletter platform is Mailchimp. It’s intuitive, fun and free for up to 2,000 subscribers. There are lots of other tools you could choose, though; here are a few more options for building your email list.

Once you’ve created your list, entice your readers to subscribe by adding a subscription box to your sidebar, and maybe even installing a plugin like PopupAlly.

12. Write!

If you really want to start a blog, you’re going to need to… start blogging.

We recommend creating an editorial calendar — even if it’s just you blogging. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it can even be scribbled out in a notebook.

What’s important is that you plan your posts in advance, so you can keep track of your ideas and stick to a schedule. It’s also a chance to assess and tweak your content strategy. What do you want to write about? How will you draw the readers in?

Don’t forget you’re writing for the web, so your style should be different than if you were writing for print. Keep your tone conversational, use “you” phrases to speak to the reader and break up text with bullet points and sub-headers. Keep SEO in mind, but don’t make it the focus of your writing.

13. Promote, promote, promote

You’re almost there! Now that you’ve started writing, it’s time to get readers. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for many writers, this is one of the most surprisingly time-consuming aspects of blogging. Though it’d be nice if we could just write (that’s what we love to do, right?), it’s nicer to have people actually reading your work.

One of the best ways to attract new readers is guest blogging on more popular blogs. To help you out, here are seven writing blogs that want your guest posts, plus seven more. (And don’t forget about guest posting for TWL!)

It’s also essential to interact with other bloggers. Share their content with your community, comment on their posts and support them when and where you can. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor!

Social media is another great way to get more traffic to your new blog. In addition to sharing your posts and networking with fellow bloggers, make sure you’re constantly trying to grow your author following on social media.

14. Get help if you need it

If you feel stuck at any point, don’t be afraid to invest in a course or ebook, like these ones:

Sometimes a little outside help is all the boost you need.

Other than that, creating a successful writing blog is about hard work and consistency. Keep posting helpful and engaging content, optimizing it for SEO and sharing it with your networks — and you’ll soon see your new blog start to blossom.

Congratulations, you’ve now officially started a blog as a writer. Guess it’s time to get writing!

Do you want to start a blog? What stood in your way until now?

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life and we thank you for that!

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Susan Shain helps people shake up their lives through travel and adventure. If you’re sick of the daily grind, sign up for her free email newsletter.... .

SusanShain.com | @Susan_Shain

Susan Shain
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Comments

  1. Great practical suggestions!

    I would add one more step: Get a fresh pair of eyes to look at every single post before it goes live. Build that stage into your blogging schedule, so it doesn’t put you behind your self-imposed deadlines.

    Remember, your blog is a collection of online writing samples that may get you work, or keep you from getting work. A simple typo on the worldwide web can make you seem unskilled and unprofessional. It may not seem fair, but in a competitive market, it’s just how it is.

    As a professional editor, I would love to say that you always need to hire an editor to check every post (frankly, I would love to say that you always need to hire ME), but I must admit that’s not necessarily the case. You may, for example, be able to arrange a barter with a fellow-blogger to email your posts to one another before rolling them out for your respective audiences. However, keep in mind that not every writer has an eye for detail in another’s work. A professional editor is worth at least considering.

    Though I can only really speak for myself, I believe most editors would be open to negotiating an affordable arrangement in return for predictable work. (Like writers, we tend to face a feast-to-famine schedule.) If the first editor you contact is not interested, you can always try another.

    I wish you all success with your blogs!

    Trish O’Connor, MDiv
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Thanks for your input, Trish! I’ve never thought about getting my personal blog posts professionally edited, but you’re right: your blog is essentially an online portfolio. I like the idea of partnering with another writer to review each other’s posts!

      • You’re welcome, Susan! If the right people pair up, it would be a great way to interact with a fellow-writer and help each other make those online portfolios the best they can be.

        Of course, do keep in mind that writing and editing are different gifts, and not everyone has both. A writer who isn’t a natural editor may need to be resigned to paying several dollars per post, rather than bartering.

        For people in that situation, I am considering offering “blog post critiques” in my Etsy shop, but I would also be happy to negotiate terms directly through my own website. Again, I can’t speak to what other editors might be open to doing, but I think if there’s an editor you think you might like, it’s worth contacting them to see if they would be open to working on very short but regularly scheduled pieces.

        Best of luck on all your blogs!

        Trish O’Connor
        Epiclesis Consulting LLC
        epiclesisconsulting.com

        • The more I thought about this post, the more strongly I felt that bloggers should have an easy option for getting the “fresh eyes” I was talking about, even if they don’t happen to have a ready connection with a fellow-blogger or a professional editor. I decided that the idea of putting something on my Etsy shop would give people a simple way to do it. I hope no one minds my posting it here. By all means, if you can barter with someone to swap posts, that’s a great way to go!

          https://www.etsy.com/shop/EpiclesisConsulting

        • Susan is cute enough, I’m sure she’ll have no problem finding another writer to trade with her. Her writing can’t be that bad. 😉

    • I would second this opinion. I went on to a publisher’s website and was embarrassed for them by the blog posts. I would never attempt to send them anything

    • Trish o conner I need your editing services…
      Williamware2008@gmail.com

      Please contact

  2. Fantastic post, Susan — and super valuable. I’ll be sharing this far + wide, but in the meantime, wanted to say thanks so much for including my portfolio as an example! Much appreciated 🙂

    Cheers!

  3. Great post with great practical suggestions. Well done. The only things I would add is to encourage people starting out to try free versions of more than one host to get a sense of how each works and which interface they feel most comfortable with. While Wordpress.org is infinitely customizable and offers lots of options via plugins, it can be overwhelming to folks not accustomed to site design. Squarespace.com and Wix.com are great alternatives. ….Happy blogging. D

    • Great points, Dena! I haven’t tried Wix or Squarespace but have heard good things — especially about the latter.

      • Wix is a lot easier to use than Wordpress, in my opinion. Especially for the less web-tech folks out there. Less hosting options though, as Wordpress can be migrated or hosted elsewhere, and Wix discourages that quite severely, but as long as you don’t mind them hosting, it’s the easiest platform I’ve seen to use and customize. My current site was done thru Wix.

  4. Fabulous post – I am loving all the examples . Nothing helps me better than SEEING successful blogs.

    Thank youuu – this is getting bookmarked ASAP! 😀

    LOVE
    Kit

  5. Thanks for the helpful article and great links.

    I’m just starting out and am having technical problems sending out my blog, as well as issues with content. I sometimes wonder if need to begin with a specialized niche and go out from there. Is it better to do this or just go with whatever post comes that week. Thanks for any help. – Therese

  6. Susan,
    Great work! This is a fabulous article for anyone wanting to start a blog. The advice holds true for any niche – not just writer blogs.

    I’m a freelance writer who started a pet guide blog a few months ago. I didn’t expect to be bombarded with traffic right away, but I also didn’t realize the amount of time it takes to market a new blog and gain a reader following. I’m struggling to get my content seen but hanging in there!

    Carla McKinney
    http://www.DogTalkPetGuide.com
    http://www.CarlaMcKinney.com

  7. Very helpful!! I will be bookmarking and sharing this info!

  8. I loved this article!I just started my blog in June 2015. I’ve been getting good traffic.I’ts basically a blog full of writing. Straight and to the point! I don’t want my reader’s to get bored. I’m thinking about adding pictures of myself?Or pictures of reader’s from different parts of the world. I think this would be a way to show the different nationalities reading my blog and help with the excitement.Check out my blog!

  9. I have to take issue with the use of Wordpress. I code my own website, but I can’t figure out Wordpress to save my life! it’s way too cumbersome and not intuitive at all. I recommend Blogger all the way. Or, if you want a more functional website, try Wix.com, which has its own blog app. Wix.com has to be the easest way to create a website/blog out there! If I hadn’t spent hours upon hours coding my own website, I’d be using Wix.

    Good luck!

    • Doreen Myers says:

      Thanks for the tip. I’ve just started using Wix and like it, too, but after reading about Wordpress, I thought I’d made a poor choice. Glad to know I didn’t!

      • Nice post,

        This is my first visit on your blog and found this article pretty helpful. I started my blog career with blogger platform but immediately shifted to WordPress .I am pretty happy now on this platform and the points you have discussed on ho to start a blog is pretty helpful for newbies for sure.

  10. Ahamdi Okpara says:

    Very helpful and inspiring! Thank you.

  11. Hi Susan,

    Great article! I’ll be bookmarking for future reference.

  12. This is excellent help. Thank you Susan.

  13. Hi Susan,

    Okay. Your post has officially inspired me to – finally – end my procrastination and begin my baby-steps into the vast (and slightly scary) world of blogging. Thanks for taking the time to provide the thorough and necessary pieces of the process which, for extreme newbies like me, is priceless, time-saving and definitely helpful in keeping me focused on building toward my ultimate goal of becoming a (hopefully) successful writer. Thankfully, I am familiar with most-things-techie so am not intimidated in the least by the technical process and have been reading several other blog posts regarding best design/domain/hosting sites (my personal favorite is WordPress for the design piece and BlueHost seems perfect for my hosting needs at this time).

    My 30+ years as a professional secretary includes wearing many (and I mean MANY!) different hats (some fit way better than others…). I especially enjoy editing/formatting/proofreading. I agree with Trish that even the slightest typo (spelling/grammatical) lends an air of one who hurried through their thoughts too quickly to either be unaware or (yikes…even worse) not care to take the time to have another set of eyes read their post(s) before publishing. Our perception is our reality and, sadly, I have read many bloggers’ posts that this seems to be the case. [Hmmm…I just realized I may be able to offer free (?) editing/proofreading services to other bloggers as a means of promoting my blog….definitely a thought I’ll certainly consider.]

    Your advice on creating an editorial calendar is brilliant (at least for the procrastinator in me), along with best practices for promoting my blog — especially suggesting stepping into others’ successful blogs and becoming a host blogger.

    Goodness! There seems so much to think about doesn’t there? I’d certainly be curious to know how you finally took the plunge to begin your blog and, as you so aptly asked of us readers, “What stood in your way until now?”.

    Thanks so much again for inspiring me — I’ve already saved this page in my Bookmarks as a favorite go-to reference to keep me focused and empowered with the knowledge that, with the right tools, time and determination, I can (and will!) be a successful blogger.

    Best regards,

    Dianne

  14. So i need to open a blog site to create article or i can writ one and publish it in different blog ?
    i don’t get it ?

    • Tal,

      Although it is possible to write an occasional guest post on someone else’s blog, this article is about starting a blog of your own.

      Keep in mind that as a guest blogger, you must write on the topic the owner of that blog has decided to publish at that time, and must be the one writer chosen to do so. If you write your own blog, you set the subject matter, length, and schedule. Best of all, every single one of your posts is guaranteed publication, if you decide it meets your own standards. (This can be a two-edged sword; if you choose to put substandard articles on your blog, whether written by you or by a guest blogger, it ultimately reflects negatively on your judgment as an author.)

      Hope that helps!

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      epiclesisconsulting.com

  15. Wonderful advice. Thank you.

    I’ve just started my blog ‘The Two-Wheeled Writer’ at http://www.heather-ellis.com. In these early days, it details my journey to published author. My travel memoir, Ubuntu: A Search By Motorcycle Through Africa, will be published by Black Inc. Books in April 2016.

    I just need to tackle the very daunting ‘tech heavy’ task of promoting my blog. I will be returning to your post often. Thank you again

  16. Bluehost offers bas support and the worst services. Check user reviews before you recommend anything…

    • Mark,
      I’m sorry you had a bad experience. Please trust that the products we recommend are those that we use ourselves or have reviewed thoroughly!
      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa
      TWL Editor

  17. Sheila Zimmerman says:

    Thank you Susan,

    I can see the clearing, especially now that I’ve stepped into to the present with my new Mac vs. my ’04 desktop using Windows XP. Like Dianne, I have 30+ years of wearing so MANY hats (data entry, admin. asst., accounting asst., etc.) while supplementing real estate. I’ve been writing poetry since the early 90’s along with entries here and there to my upcoming book. It’s all been sitting in the archives while I’ve been caught up in life struggles and “paper mills” trying to fit in as a subcontractor. I’ve written SEO articles and papers for students since ’08. I knew of WordPress but am more interested in setting up my own website with the intent to offer Ayurvedic and natural products along with holistic and other information via articles and links.

    I initiated a trial through Squarespace after researching some of the best DIY website options. As several have mentioned I’ve bookmarked this article, for my confidence leaped into second gear after reading it. Even the comments were full of fantastic advice and feedback! It’s been a few months waiting to afford my Mac since initiating my trial on Squarespace, but isn’t there a blogging option offered through Squarespace that I can link or include on my website?

    Again, I am very grateful for this article and those who added a chock full of additional info.

  18. Very Inspiring information to start blogging. Thanks

  19. Thanks for your step by step guide into blogging. How can you make money by this blogging?

  20. Sally Anne Gist says:

    This is so helpful! I didn’t even know what questions to ask, and you’ve posed/answered the questions for me. Outstanding guidance and resources! Thank you!

  21. Musau Matheka says:

    One of the best DIY articles that I have read in years. Thanks.

  22. Maek Bolton says:

    Great advice. Thank you!

  23. This is useful article for those who wants to work on new Blog. After this post surely, I will start work on niche blogs and try to earn few bugs from it.

  24. This is a very informative article, thanks for sharing, my applause,
    Regards

  25. Hi

    Wonderful Step by step guide post. I’ll share it with my friends.

    Btw: Nice writing style 🙂

    Thank you!

  26. This is very informative and very helpful for new writers.

  27. HIII,
    You’ve really well written a complete guide for a newbie to learn how to start blog !
    +1

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