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Blog of the Year Award 1 star jpegI’ve been posting regularly (at least weekly) on this blog for a year now, and since May 2012 I’ve posted twice a week (on Mondays and Wednesdays). I’ve had some successes, but I also know I can improve.

Here are the top ten lessons I’ve learned in the past year about blogging, as well as some questions I have for my readers about how I should shape this blog in the future. Please leave a comment if you would like to see any changes made.

1.      Know the purpose of your blog.

Much of the reading I’ve done about blogging says that it’s important to know what you’re trying to do with the blog. Do you simply want to make your writing public? Do you want to sell your books or other products? Are you trying to build a service business by showing your expertise? All of these can be good reasons to write a blog.

In my case, I decided I wanted this blog to focus on the two directions my writing is taking – historical novels about the Oregon Trail and California Gold Rush, and personal essays about  family and life generally. I want to write about these topics, to promote my work (sometimes), and also to write some posts might serve as drafts for submissions to other publications (like “My Son Made Me Tweet,” for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenting) or for another anthology like my Family Recipe anthology.

cropped-nasa-topographic-map-oregontrail.jpgFrom these purposes, I developed the title and tag line, “Story & History: One writer’s journey through life and time,” and decided to use the Oregon Trail banner. 

My title and tag line set the scope of what you should find on this blog. They give me direction, but are broad enough that I can find a lot to write about. After all, a journey through life can encompass almost anything!

Readers: Am I holding true to my purpose? Do you get what you expect when you read this blog, or do I sometimes go off topic?

2.      Have a blog plan.

Related to the need to have a blog purpose is the need for a blog plan – a schedule when you will post, a topic or well-defined set of topics you will write about, a plan for rotating among your topics to keep it balanced.

My plan involves posting every Monday and Wednesday. I want to write at least one post each month about Oregon Trail history (though occasionally I’ll write on another historical topic from the 19th century) and at least one post each month about writing. Most of my other posts are about family stories, involving either current or past generations.

Readers: Would you like me to write more or less about any of these topics in the future?

3.      Keep a list of topics for your posts.

Most blogging authorities recommend that you keep notes on topics you could post about.

As I research my novels and read about writing techniques, I try to jot down ideas for posts. And about once a month I look at those notes and try to plan out the posts for the next few weeks. But I frequently find myself with holes in my posting schedule. Then it’s a mad search for something to write about.

4.      Anything can be a blog topic.

Related to keeping a list of topics is the discovery that almost anything could be a blog topic. It takes discipline to decide what to write about, consistent with your blog’s purpose and plan.

For example, I was driving down the street the other day when someone cut me off. I thought about writing a list of my top ten peeves about other drivers. So far, that topic hasn’t become a post, because it’s pretty far off the theme of “one writer’s journey through life and time.” But on a day when I become desperate for a topic to write about, you might find it surfacing. After all, I could make a case that driving is a journey and is part of life.

5.      Feeding the beast is difficult.

Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of PaperMaking the commitment to blogging is a difficult thing. I write two posts a week. They range in length from about 300-1200 words, with most being between 500-1000 words. That’s a lot, particularly when I’m trying to work on novels, personal essays, and short stories as well. Each post takes at least an hour to write, and often half a day when I have to research the post or when I need to find pictures beyond simple clipart.

Readers: Would you prefer more shorter posts, or should I keep them about the same frequency and length?

6.      Try to write ahead.

Related to the commitment is the need to write ahead when you know you’ll have difficulty writing. You can also use guest posts to help you out also.

When I’ve had plans to be on vacation, I’ve tried to write ahead a couple of weeks, and I’ve had the good fortune to have posts by Beth Barnett and Pam Eglinski, and a post based on Norm Ledgin’s press release about his novel Sally of Monticello.

Readers: Would you like to see more guest posts? If you’d like to write a guest post for me, please let me know.

7.      Food sells. 

Two of my most viewed posts are restaurant reviews of Catalpa in Arrow Rock, Missouri, and Whiskey Warehouse in Alma, Missouri.

But you won’t see many restaurant reviews on this blog. First, my waistline won’t permit it.

Second, both these restaurants have some historical connection. Arrow Rock, Missouri, was a stop for steamboats up the Missouri River during the days of the Oregon Trail, and the Whiskey Warehouse is in a mid-19th century building of historical significance in Alma.

8.      Writers read about writing.

My journal

My journal

The blogging world is naturally full of people who like to write, and many of my readers are professional writers. Others are great readers.

Some of my top-viewed posts have been about writing. See my posts about  keeping a journal, about writing memoir and family myths, about plotting a novel, and about critique groups.

Readers: If you’re a writer, what writing issues or techniques would you like me to write about? If you’re not a writer, would you like to see fewer of these posts?

9.      Be grateful for friends and family, old and new.

I always appreciate a comment or thank you from my readers. You are the reason I keep writing. It means a lot when my father tells me I am teaching him something about our family history, or when friends tell me I’ve made them think about their family in a new way.

And I’ve “met” some wonderful bloggers whose blogs I now follow. I learn from what they write and from the comments they leave me.

Readers: No question here – just a simple “thank you” from me!

10.  Don’t devote your life to your blog.

Balance the time spent on blogging with time spent on other writing, or other work, or family, or whatever else is important to you.

Despite what I said about making the commitment to blogging, and about anything being a blog topic, your life is not your blog. Like anything, the blog must fit into the rest of your life. Balance is important to a life well-lived.

Thanks again to all who read this blog! I look forward to our journey together in the year(s) to come.

Remember, please leave a comment if you have any changes or improvements you would like to see me make in this blog.

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