Just because a person is retired doesn’t mean s/he can’t keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world, what’s fashionable and what’s successful. So reading this week’s Guardian colour magazine I read the article on the right. This chap had invented an app that offered people the chance to share their lists of likes or advice or recipes or whatever. Just lists, the app is called Li.st. The chap, BJ Novaks, reckoned if you asked people to write an essay about something they would find that hard but if asked to write down 5, or however many, items about their chosen topic they would find that easy. His app had become ridiculously popular (250k lists so far) in the few months since he set it up.
So if lists are what brings the crowds in, so be it. I will start my own attempt to be hip by offering you my list of 5 things you should know about blogging. I’ll do a five tips about retirement next. I know there are actually six here but that didn’t sound so snappy. You will appreciate of course that this is an entirely personal view and notice I don’t say something like the 5 habits of the successful blogger. That would be stretching credibility too far. So with that health and safety warning here goes.
- Don’t worry about the numbers (of people who visit your blog), you’ll drive yourself crazy and mostly this side of blogging is beyond your control – see point 2 – which means that you need to enjoy writing for its own sake, for some reason, any reason. For me it’s often writing as therapy or specifically helping me cope with this tricky time they call retirement. It’s good for mental health to get stuff out of your head and onto the page. You might also enjoy writing because you like language or using different words that you would find difficult to slip into every day conversation. Yes, this pub is quite esoteric, isn’t it? Unless of course it’s a blog of pictures which some are. Sometimes it’s just the content area that interests you and you want to share a bit of knowledge. Really doesn’t matter but you need to enjoy the act of writing (with the above qualification). I’d get somebody to take care of the technical side unless of course that’s the attraction of blogging.
- If the numbers, despite my advice, are important to you then make sure you do everything in your power to increase your readership and, despite what I said in 1, there are a number of things that you can do and there are people out there who email me all the time, who will tell you there’s lots you can do and only they have the secret of success, for a price of course. These people / companies are generally talking about getting on the first page of Google or using social media to promote your blog or whatever. It can be done I’m sure, although I’ve never managed it and I reckon it needs a lot of hard and on-going work and you could end up spending more time promoting your blog than actually writing it. It seems to me to involve an awful lot of self-promotion, if that’s your thing, then God bless you. So fine if all that is what turns you on, a pain if it isn’t. A lot of this advice relates to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), you need to look it up because I’m not going to go on about it here. Some of it is ridiculous like key word density. It means you have to put the word, in my case, retirement, in every bleedin’ sentence (I exaggerate a bit). If you care about the quality of your writing you won’t want to do this. You can also advertise your blog in suitable places. I have advertised The Summerhouse Years, a blog bout retirement if you haven’t already worked that out, in The Oldie magazine. It costs a bit of money but then if you see blogging as your hobby then why wouldn’t you spend a bit of money on your hobby? This strategy seemed to have some positive effect for me but it didn’t exactly send me viral. You could put a postcard in your local shop window – free but smaller catchment. You also might ‘take advantage’ of the hundreds of emails that I receive offering you thousands of ‘clients’ who will come to your website. The fact that they talk in terms of ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ and ‘websites’ shows you they have no idea what you’re doing or what your aspirations are. So I’ve never taken up their ‘success guaranteed’ offers. One strategy I have employed that costs money but is both useful and enjoyable is to go on courses. The Guardian runs courses about increasing your blog readership. They’ve been fun and I have got one or two ideas and we’ve enjoyed our visits to London (it helps to enjoy what you do). This list is turning into an article. I need to get a bit snappier.
- Blog regularly and consistently. At least once a week and if you can on the same day even the same time. I think people like predictability in the blogs they read. Maybe that’s too snappy?
- The first ‘how to blog’ course I attended, the one that started me off 350 blogs ago, was run by The Gentle Author for The Guardian. His course was excellent but he seems to have stopped running them now. Shame. One bit of advice to us was to find your own voice. I think this is quite hard and one of those things that you’ll know it when you’ve got it but maybe not until. My voice is that of the grumpy old git, not original but it fits me well. An easier version is to choose the subject of your blog carefully to ensure that it has legs and will keep you writing for as long as you want it to. In a sense this is your USP (Unique Selling Point). Under this general heading it is useful to have sub-categories (the software below will prompt you to choose your categories) that give you guidance as to your possible writing topics. You’ll find it easier to keep on having ideas if you have categories. And if you use these sub-headings reasonably consistently they help your Google ratings somewhat. The same with your descriptors in a programme like WordPress which most bloggers seem to use. There’s two versions of WordPress, paid and unpaid with advantages to both. Again I’m not going in to this now but choose carefully because I think it’s hard to change mid-stream. I use the paid version because it means ‘they’ can’t put adverts on your site without your permission.
- Given that one of the great challenges of blogging is to continue to have ideas maybe over a number of years any strategy that oils the wheels of creativity is to be cherished. I have a couple of separate topic areas that I can go to on a regular (monthly) basis. One of these is the vineyard happenings. Even better if you can count on somebody else to make regular contributions whether directly related to your main area or not. I’m lucky in having Mrs Summerhouse aka my wife to offer regular blogs on her art and her yoga. I have to confess I have had less success in getting other people to write for my blog, the occasional twinkle but nothing regular or reliable. Shame. So far, touch wood, I’ve had very little difficulty putting out two blogs a week. It helps if you have the kind of mind that recognises and collects the trivia of life. Call it being a sensitive, artistic type. It doesn’t make for a quiet life but it’s good for writing blogs about the area of life you’ve chosen to blog about – in my case, again, retirement.
- Carry your mobile / cell phone or notebook with you wherever you go. Anything that takes your fancy, snap away, write it down, the photo / note might either spark an idea at a later stage or can be used to illustrate a planned blog. You might even use the facility your phone has to make notes. If you’re like me you won’t remember at a later time what your idea was, so write it down. Personally, I prefer to record possible ideas in my diary but the phone works nearly as well if you can see what you’re writing, get your fingers to hit the right keys and remember how to find it at a later date, that’s assuming you remember that you had an idea in the first place. In retirement you lose a little of your organisational abilities. And here I have tried to nod in the direction of SEOing – finishing with the key word – retirement although I didn’t as I try to do, start with it – retirement that is and specifically blogging about retirement but I did get the word ‘retired’ in there which is almost as good.
Except that’s not quite the end so if you have any thoughts on what this blogging business is all about feel free etc.