Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What I've Learned About Blogging

Every so often I get an e-mail from a reader asking me for advice on starting a blog, or requesting that I link to their newborn blog. And when I mention to people that I have my own blog, it's inevitable that someone in the group will say that they were considering starting their own. I completely understand where they're coming from, as I was in their position about a year ago, but I also feel like their perception of what it's like to write a blog is very different from the real thing. I thought I'd spend today's post sharing my story of how I started FGB and what I've learned during the last 10 months.

When I began writing Faking Good Breeding in October last year, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I was spending a year as an exchange student at another liberal arts college and wasn't making friends or enjoying my classes. I needed something to fill up my time and distract me from my boredom. I've always liked writing and was frustrated with the lack of thoughtful writing from the fashion and beauty blogs and magazines I regularly read, so I thought it would be fun to start my own blog.

In about 10 minutes, I had a blogger account and could begin writing. The wonderful thing about blogs is how easy it is to start one, and with the availability of free hosting services, you don't have to pay a thing. Originally the blog was focused on etiquette and fashion, kind of a modern mix of Miss Manners and What Not to Wear, but within a couple of months, I ran out of topics to discuss and decided to take on other subjects (celebrities, pop culture, magazines, beauty, etc) to make it easier to find things to write about.

As I continued writing, I also realized that I needed to change my tone. During the early days, my posts were instructional and I wrote with an authoritative voice. It didn't take long before I realized that many of my readers were more knowledgeable about the things I was discussing than I was, and also that so much of fashion and beauty is subjective and it just wasn't my place to always make definitive claims on what was good and bad.

I began presenting my perspective as just that- my opinion based on my experiences, and let readers chime in on their views. Having greater reader participation vastly improved the blog. Two minds are better than one, but when you have 25 people chiming in with their thoughts on a subject, everyone benefits. I truly believe that FGB has some of the most intelligent, insightful commenters of any fashion/beauty/pop culture blog and I've learned so much from reading everyone's views on a given post.

By December, as the blog began to slowly grow, I began realizing what a commitment I'd made. By this point I was spending about 20 hours a week on the site, posting 7 days a week, trying to respond to every comment and answer every e-mail. I spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with other bloggers, many of whom played a huge role in FGB's early days by linking to me and giving me advice. It was tough getting through finals week and the holidays while feeling obligated to continue posting quality material every day.

I had to learn to fight through days and weeks when I was never in the mood to write, when I couldn't come up with post ideas or type out coherent thoughts. Establishing a schedule of posting daily was great for attracting readers and encouraging people to check back every day, but it was stressful to feel like I could never take a break. I plowed through these weeks by forcing myself to write something every day, even if it was just a few paragraphs, or a post outline, or a list of ideas for future posts.

In 99% of cases, a blog's growth is very slow, especially for the first few months. You put in all this work, feel great about your content, and still you're only getting a couple hundred visitors a day. But it's actually a good thing that not a lot of people are reading you during that time, because you're figuring out your voice and trying everything for the first time, learning from your mistakes. You don't want to make those early mistakes when 1,000 people are reading.

I think now is a good time to mention that I wasn't totally alone in my blogging. My boyfriend Andrew has been a huge help since day 1. He looks over all of my posts before they go up, helps me with the programming/coding side of the site and provides a great sounding board for ideas. I can't tell you how important it is to have someone else to look over your writing before you go and post it for the whole internet to see. Having another person's perspective helps tremendously, as it's very hard to objectively read your own writing and interpret it the way a stranger would.

Today I spend about 30 hours a week working on FGB and he spends between 5-10. I'm really not sure whether I'll be able to continue posting at the same rate when I graduate from college next year and get a real job, and if you're out of school and working long hours and want to start a blog, take a long, hard look at how much free time you currently have, and how much you're willing to sacrifice to work on your blog.

Blogging has been extremely fulfilling and rewarding for me, and at this point I can't imagine my life without it. It's time-consuming and stressful, no doubt, but it's made me very organized, improved my writing tremendously, introduced me to a lot of really interesting people and given me opportunities personally and professionally that I never would have had otherwise, so I feel it's been more than worth it.

If you've got any questions about blogging, or you're a blogger who wants to share your own tips, leave them in the comments. Tomorrow I'm going to post 10 tips for new bloggers, so be sure to check back!


jamie aka socialite shops too much said...

I can't believe you spend so much time on this! I am so glad you do though, I love reading your blog everyday.

Ayomide said...

Great tips! I just wanted to add a few of my own, since by this point, I've actually kept 4 blogs, and have learned a great lot.
1. Be realistic with yourself as to how much time you actually have to contribute to writing a blog. Allow yourself breaks, but don't go AWOL on your readers. Much like you wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) just NOT show up for work. Blogging can quickly become a part time job at first, andit can be pretty thankless too, if you aren't advertising and pulling in some sort of revenu.
2. Find a topic to write about that truly excites you and makes you want to keep writing about it for months on end. Don't write a blog about how you and Tina went the the mall the other day and saw George, and OMG he was totally with that other girl. They're tired, and done, and not really interesting to read unles you're keeping a private blog for a few of your buddies. Unless of course, the Tina was Tina Turner, the George was Boy Goerge, and OMG the other girl was Beyonce. Then by all means, pray tell!
3. Find a name for your blog that you really, really love and want to tell everyone. It's import in the whole scheme of self branding.
4. Well...actually those are the top three tips I have without geting into Captin Obvious territory. Except maybe get a Sitemeter so you can see where your visitors are coming from. It's important to know who your blog is reaching.

Pat said...

I love your blog and really appreciate today's post. As a fairly new blogger, I'm lookng for ways to improve my blog and increase the readership. This helped!

Meg said...

(from the Meg)

It's nice to hear about your experience blogging. It's been fun starting my own blog, but definitely time consuming. For me, it can definitely be a bit intimidating knowing how little I know about some topics, so focusing on giving my opinion has been helpful.

I think one of my tips would be that it is ok to use other blogs' posts as a starting point (assuming that it doesn't resemble plagiarism). I've found a lot of inspiration commenting on and sharing links to other sites.

Another tip to new bloggers, break long topics up into a series of posts. You get more posts out of a topic and give visitors a reason to come back :)

Shopalicious! said...


Thanks for sharing this info! I believe the hard work is going to pay off for you, because you're already as good, if not better, than most professional beauty editors out there!

Anonymous said...

How do you feel about taking on advertising?

camilledelrosario said...

hi :) i just want to say that your blog is so inspirational :) i'm starting one of my own as of now, and i'm still in the process of finding my "voice". Thanks for all the tips :) hugs!