Sunday, December 14, 2014

THE JOY OF BLOGGING – A Virtual Person of the World

PART II (continued from Dec. 10 )

ILLUSTRATION: Carol Aust - carolaust.com

CREATURES OF HABIT
Several friends and family members have asked me about how to get started blogging. Of course, I’m happy to share what little knowledge and experience I have. After all, I ask them, what have you got to lose? At worst, you’ll spend countless hours writing and posting for your own and perhaps a few other sets of eyes. At best, you’ll become the next Life Hacker or Mashable, get absurdly rich and never leave your computer chair again.

Start with what you know best. Perhaps it’s stuff related to your nine-to-five, but which isn’t fully appreciated by your boss. Maybe it’s some hair-brained theory you can’t get folks to listen to. Or maybe, as in my case, it’s just a series of unforgettable life experiences strung together on threads of spirituality, philosophy or some other theme. Whatever you know, care deeply for, or just wonder about...that’s your content.

You produce something heart-felt and interesting 
on a regular timetable or people will go somewhere 
else for their blog fix.

A word of advice, though: If you’ve ever been in charge of producing a newsletter, you know that all the best intentions in the world are not enough to save you each week, month or quarter when that merciless deadline approaches. I have, and believe me, that publish-or-perish date seems to sneak up on you faster every issue. You’ve got to produce something heart-felt and interesting on a regular timetable or people will go somewhere else for their blog fix.

How often should you post? If you want your site to attract and retain a following, you must commit to a regular schedule. The frequency will hinge on how much you have to say, how efficient a writer you are, your resourcefulness in wrangling content from yourself and other contributors, and of course how much time you can devote to your writing.

(For the first year or so, I managed a new post every third day. Now, it’s more like once a week—and that seems to be the threshold at which I notice daily readership starting to fall off.) Remember, blog followers, like newspaper readers, radio listeners or podcast fans, are creatures of habit.

PACKAGING THE WORD
Just a word or two about design. Without even reading a word, it’s pretty easy to see who the credible bloggers are and who are the rank amateurs. Not even the most engaging content can hold its own against a poorly organized, unappealing, visually unwelcoming design.

PHOTO: r77designs.com

My goal was to position my One Man’s Wonder as far toward the professional end of that spectrum as I could with the resources at my disposal. As I mentioned, I spent nothing on design (though I am a career graphic designer and know how to make the best of even a limited number of design options). Perhaps you have a friend or two who are conversant in design and would give you some pointers.

Here are half a dozen design and style tips you might consider:
  • Strike a balance between verbal and visual content. Use sub-headings, featured quotes, photos and illustration to both support the story and lend visual relief to long blocks of type.
  • Limit your paragraphs to three sentences if possible. Even if technically it’s not a new thought, breaking it up like this makes it much easier to follow on a glowing screen.
  • Use fonts that are easy to read. Serif fonts are well-known to be easier to follow in blocks of text, while the occasional use of sans-serif type can lend variety for headings and captions. Try not to use more than two different type styles in a single post.
         If you need a bit of encouragement—
         let me know and I’ll be glad to help. 
  • Use comfortable language. You don’t want potential readers turned off by too much technical jargon or a stilted tone; they can get their fill of that in an academic textbook. Use connecting words and transitions to let one thought flow easily into the next.
  • Avoid garish colors and backgrounds that compete with your text. You’ve probably seen them: blogs where the author’s favorite color gushes from the page, drowning the other content. And that forest green type on a royal blue background? Bad idea! You want as much contrast as possible between text and what it sits on.
  • Maintain a consistent look. You wouldn’t wear a disguise when showing up for a second date, right? Well, your readers shouldn’t have to take a second look to recognize your blog either. Not to say you shouldn’t freshen up your face once in a while. Between the occasional make-over, though, keep it familiar with your usual fonts, colors and layout.
And, if you have any questions—or simply need a bit of encouragement—let me know and I’ll be glad to help. We bloggers, I've found, are mostly an open, supportive bunch. Happy blogging!

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